HL Deb 11 December 1986 vol 482 cc1325-38

9.5 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask her Majesty's Government whether the Secretary of State for the Environment will hold a public inquiry into the proposal by the Ministry of Defence to construct FIBUA (Fighting in built-up areas) training facilities at Copehill Down, Wiltshire.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the issue I am raising this evening concerns the proposal of the Ministry of Defence to construct a mock German village—or FIBUA—on Salisbury Plain for military training purposes. This proposal, as the Minister will be aware, is being fiercely opposed by the communities in the immediate vicinity, by Wiltshire County Council and by Salisbury District Council.

I propose to go into some detail about the background because I think that it is right to analyse the past carefully in order to come to a conclusion on why there is such bitter indignation in the area concerned about the conduct of the Ministry of Defence in this matter.

In September 1984, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Heseltine, announced plans to build the mock village. On 24th September, a representative of the Ministry of Defence entered into preliminary discussions in private with a number of councillors at the offices of Salisbury District Council. Following that meeting, an army presentation of the proposed plans was arranged for district councillors and parish councillors from the villages in the immediate area of the German village. The villages concerned were Chitterne, Orcheston, Shrewton and Tilshead. That presentation took place on 24th November.

The party met at Bulford camp and was briefed with the help of a specially produced brochure from the Property Services Agency which sought to explain where the village was to be built, how it was to be used and the extent to which it was to be employed for military exercises. After the briefing, the party was taken to see the proposed site, which was indicated by a red light on a Land-Rover. On return to Bulford camp, there was an agreeable social ceremony—cups of tea and so on—but unhappily no opportunity was provided for a proper question and answer session. Shortly afterwards, the local parish councils decided on an individual basis to oppose the siting of the German village on Copehill Down and communicated their views on the matter to the district councils.

The reasons for the villagers' objections I think can be summarised fairly succinctly. First, there was the close proximity of the site to all four villages, somewhere between one and a half and three miles. Secondly, there was the risk of excessive noise from tanks and other vehicles, aircraft and simulated gunfire when exercises took place at battalion strength. An army publication, I do not know with what degree of accuracy, said that they could take place virtually every day of the year. Thirdly, there was the drastically reduced access to the area of the plain in and around Copehill Down. Fourthly, there would, they believed, be greatly increased local military traffic with the risk of local road closures; and, fifthly, there was the obvious problem of generally damaging consequences on the environment. At that time Wiltshire County Council decided that it would not object in principle to the siting of the village, but passed the matter on to the Salisbury District council for its consideration.

On 2nd January last year Salisbury District Council convened a meeting of the north western planning committee, which resolved to oppose the plan. Later the West Wiltshire District Council, the other local authority involved, met, decided and voted to raise no objection, save for some clarification on access. It is only fair to say that the vote was a pretty close one. It was eight to seven, with 10 abstentions.

In June 1985 one of the local Members of Parliament involved in this matter led a delegation of villagers to meet the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and to press the case for a public inquiry before the matter was proceded with. But the noble Lord made it quite clear that he was opposed to such action. On 9th July the Association of Local Councils wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment asking for a public inquiry, and on 4th August the Minister said no.

On 8th August the Association wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence also pressing the case for a public inquiry, and the answer was the same, no. The chairman of the Tilshead Parish Council, Mr. Druce, then made contact with his local Member of the European Parliament to ask for assistance. This led to a rather interesting discovery—that a precisely similar proposal for such a facility had been considered and it had been decided provisionally to construct this at Sennelager in West Germany. But there were strong local and Federal objections that resulted in the postponement of the proposal. It is interesting to note at this stage that fierce local opposition in Germany leads to proposals being dropped but in this country we are not even apparently prepared to have a public inquiry.

We then come to the far more up-to-date situation. On 10th October this year the villages concerned decided to launch a public campaign of opposition to what was being proposed and to press again vigorously for a public inquiry. Under the name the Wiltshire Villages Environment Protection Association there was a new concerted attempt to have the matter reopened by the local authorities and by the two government departments concerned.

Wiltshire County Council met on 21st October and passed a motion calling on the Secretary of State for the Environment to hold a public inquiry before the proposals proceeded. That is the situation up to the present moment, except that there has been a further meeting between Ministers and some of the local Members of Parliament. No one in the villages concerned doubts the need for proper military training facilities, and neither do I.

Many of the councillors involved are themselves former military officers. One is a retired major in the Royal Artillery, another formerly commanded the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. But all believe that they are being railroaded by the Ministry of Defence. They believe that there has been behaviour by the Ministry of Defence that is both arrogant and dictatorial. If one wanted evidence of that one has only to study a most extraordinary press report today about the pressure being applied by officials of the Ministry of Defence on some of their own employees who are living in the area.

Apparently a number of them were called to a meeting at Bulford Camp when they were addressed by an army officer and by a local and senior civil servant who is the district secretary for the region. They believed that they were to have some process of consultation. I understand that it was made clear to them at that meeting that they would have the opportunity of visiting some of the exhibitions which were being put on the road by the army to explain what was in their minds. But there was then some very strange language used. There are two versions of what happened. The villagers—and I am talking now specifically about those who themselves were Ministry of Defence employees—apparently believed that they were being threatened directly or indirectly by those who were addressing them.

The army's chief spokesman for the area, Mr. John Turner, who is quoted in the press today, denied those allegations. He said that the briefing took place because, some of our staff came and said they were concerned". They were a bit worried about their position both as villagers and as Ministry of Defence employees. There was no suggestion, he said, that they were threatened or told to back off. They were simply reminded of their service contracts and that they might possibly face a conflict of interest. I suppose it is possible to construct without a great deal of difficulty what was said at that meeting. There appears to be a fair amount of common ground, I should have thought.

What is even more extraordinary is what happened in relation to Lt. Col. Peter Heaton-Ellis, chairman of Chitterne Parish Council. I quote the words of the local Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr. Robert Key, who has sent a complaint to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence on the grounds that the colonel had been threatened with dismissal as a result of his part in the villagers' campaign. The colonel apparently, although stressing very properly his total loyalty to the army, had committed the unforgivable sin of describing the FIBUA project as "this horrible thing".

I quote again Mr. Key, who said: Col. Heaton-Ellis is now convinced he is going to lose his job. I don't know the truth of that but it does raise a very important issue. If the MoD believes its staff should not stand for election in the local community then it should say so in its conditions of employment. They should not wait until people have been elected and then tell them they mustn't do their job".

I think that this is a most disturbing series of allegations made by responsible people in the local community. All the people living in this area, or the overwhelming majority of them, have a longstanding relationship with the army and in the overwhelming majority of cases an excellent relationship. They recognise the need for proper military training facilities. But it will not be the people who have been applying pressure to them who will be suffering the consequences of this plan if it goes ahead without a public inquiry. It will be the local villagers. They claim that they have been pressurised wholly unreasonably by the military authorities who have attempted to prevent them expressing their views on this proposal. I think that this series of allegations deserves an answer from the Government.

I must make this quite clear. The overwhelming majority of the local community believe that they are entitled to a public inquiry, but I think—and I come back to this point—that the whole thing has been handled quite atrociously by the Ministry of Defence. Let me give another illustration. We had a statement made by another public relations officer who set out his position very clearly when he said about the villagers that there were not many of them but they made a great deal of noise. That is really the authentic voice (is it not?) of the gentleman in Whitehall who really does know best.

I hope that the Minister, as he represents the Department of the Environment, will indicate tonight that the public interest really would be best served by having a proper public inquiry into this proposal. He must realise the depth of all-party opposition in the area concerned, which has been joined by three Conservative Members of the House of Commons, by my own political colleagues in Wiltshire and by many others who have no fixed political position at all. I believe the Government will make a serious mistake if once again they try to brush off this local campaign as though it was a matter of no account. The local community want a public inquiry and I believe they deserve to have one.

9.21 p.m.

Earl Cathcart

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for raising this question of constructing a village complex of 90 buildings at Copehill Down on Salisbury Plain to enable the army to carry out training for fighting in built-up areas.

Before I say anything else, I must declare a slight interest since I live eight miles from Copehill Down. But anybody who lives on the edge of Salisbury Plain soon becomes accustomed to low-flying aircraft from Boscombe Down or, worse still, low-flying helicopters. We are also used to the distant thump of artillery firing on the Larkhill ranges, so that I do not think this new activity on Copehill Down eight miles away will, for me, add much to the general clatter of the area which I experience already. However, for the inhabitants of the five villages—I make it five, because Orcheston is in two parts—who live very much closer to this newly proposed training area the effect will be very considerable indeed.

There are 2,500 people living in these five villages, and Chitterne village, which is the nearest to Copehill Down, is only two miles or 3,000 yards away. I must stress, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Harris, stressed, that I realise the importance of providing proper ranges and facilities to enable the army to do this type of training. If our conventional forces allocated to NATO are to be properly trained to play their full part in Central Europe, where there are very many small villages and farmsteads, this type of training is essential.

I understand that the noise aspect of this training will be confined to blank ammunition, thunder-flashes and other pyrotechnics. The training exercises, I understand also, will continue by day and by night; and because Copehill will be used by both regular and territorial army units the training area is likely to be in almost continual use. Also, because the territorial army are included this implies that such use will be at weekends as well as during the week. I understand that tanks will naturally form part of these exercises and they, too, by the noise of their engines will add to the general noise.

Will my noble friend the Minister who is to reply to this Question say whether or not these tanks will be permitted to fire blank ammunition? If that is to be so, this will add very considerably to the noise factor as well. Furthermore, will my noble friend say whether other forms of explosion, such as demolitions, will be included in the training on Copehill Down?

I must say that in view of the size of the military training area already availale on Salisbury Plain, I am surprised that this Copehill site has been selected. Was it the only site considered? Why were alternative sites discarded and what advantages does Copehill have that could not be found elsewhere? For example, why could not this training village be sited near the now unoccupied village of Imber, which is right in the middle of Salisbury Plain?

I therefore most certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in asking the Secretary of State to hold a public inquiry so that the views not only of the people who live nearby but of all other interested organisations and local authorities can be heard.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, in view of the excellent presentation of the facts and the feelings which the House has already heard, I do not intend to delay your Lordships for very long. I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, how grateful I am to him. I may add that he may be assured I shall not say that very often on many other issues! However, I am grateful to him for seizing the opportunity that we have tonight.

The noble Lord spoke with feeling, and certainly he has done his research extremely well. I was absolutely appalled, having read what I read at very short notice. My noble friend Lady David would have dealt with this matter but there has been a problem. Nevertheless, it shows the juxtaposition of the two issues. My noble friend speaks on the environment and I speak on defence matters. I think it is quite right that the Minister who is to reply will speak from the environment brief.

I cannot believe that he will not be the first to be absolutely appalled if what we have heard is true. We rely upon being told, but if what we have been told is true, it is a scandal and a disgrace that innocent men and women who are desperately worried appear to have been treated so arrogantly and in such a cavalier fashion. The issue has been very well put, but I just want the Minister to take this on board.

An individual was quoted as saying, "They have been talking nonsense about artillery firing at night. I do not understand what they are getting at. There are few of them and they make a lot of noise". But I am not certain whether he lives in the middle of the area. I imagine that he lives somewhere else. It is like the architect who told us that tower blocks were good, but was very careful to live somewhere else.

The Minister ought to take on board the cynicism about this Government which people will feel if they do not recognise that little people, and handfuls of people, are as entitled as big corporations and big aggregations of power to a fair deal. The Minister knows how caustic I was about the way that people who live in the area of Canary Wharf feel at being deprived of the opportunity of having all the facts examined in the cold light of day by an independent person.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said, it is not a question of being anti-army; it is not a question of not recognising that something needs to be done. At the end of the day, these people may very well have to be satisfied that this is the best solution, but I think that the Minister has to take on board what has been said.

Let me quote the words of Mr. Frank Druce, who is the chairman of the protest campaign. According to a paper he said: The German village is all part of the process. There was no real liaison with the Army about it". The army might think there was, the Minister might think there was, but the people affected say that there was no real liaison. They say, "We weren't consulted". They needed to be advised. Somewhere, someone says that they were kept in the picture. To be kept in the picture does not mean to be consulted. To be told what is to happen does not allow them to question and to challenge. More importantly, when there are two arguments, one needs to see what one can do to take the people with you. I think the Minister will understand that if this plan is railroaded through against the wishes of the local people, we shall get a situation of the army doing its best for all of us in an atmosphere which will poison the relationship between the local people and the army for a very long time.

I think it is rich that we are debating here today the expenditure of £7 million on creating a village and putting in electricity, light and all the rest of it, when yesterday we were talking about the need to find billions of pounds to put right our housing stock in other places. I think the Government have a great deal to answer for. They seem to me to run away from the opportunities of justifying their actions whenever they are challenged. Of course it is not right that any group of people who demand a public inquiry should automatically get one. But here you have a place of historic interest, Salisbury Plain, here you have something that has grown up and you also have the charge of deception.

Somehow or other the people in the area feel that they have been "conned"; and although it might take time and money, if at the end of the day by holding a public inquiry the public at large, even though those individuals affected may not accept the decision, feel that the ministry has done its best to try to demonstrate why it is the only solution, I think it will have served a good purpose.

I promised myself that I would not speak for more than five minutes and I intend to sit down now. I simply say to this Minister, who in my eyes has a good record that there is no argument about the sites of special scientific interest or conservation. That is not the case I make. I believe that the convervation officers of the Ministry of Defence are very very good indeed in listening to what people want to say. They have a first-class record. I believe that the solution for the Minister and for the Government is perfectly simple. Listen to the local people, give them an opportunity of putting their point of view, hear what an independent person has to say and act upon it.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I agree straight away that this matter is about people. It is an important matter and it is people's concerns which count. I think it would be helpful, therefore, if I gave some background to the House. I do not want to quibble with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, but in September 1984 the Property Services Agency, on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, proposed the construction of a training complex comprising about 90 buildings on Salisbury Plain, suitable for fighting in built-up areas—the so-called FIBUA complex.

This includes mock houses, farms, shops, and a church in a style typical of that found in the North German plain. It will be used to practise the sort of fighting it is envisaged will take place in conventional war, and the training will include such skills as street and house clearing and preparing buildings to resist a major attack. There is also a requirement for sufficient space around the facility to enable troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers to carry out realistic manoeuvres. No—and I repeat "no"—live firing will take place; the soldiers under training will, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart said, use pyrotechnics.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence attached high priority to the provision of such a purpose-built complex to provide essential peace-time training for one of the Army's most important wartime roles. Other smaller facilities are being built elsewhere in England and Wales, but I understand that the only area in the United Kingdom where FIBUA exercises on this scale can take place is Salisbury Plain.

Prospective sites had to be considered against a number of criteria, namely, the suitability for the military training requirements that I have just described (an unsuitable site would restrict training too much for it to be realistic); the need to minimise the environmental impact on local residents; the need to avoid existing live firing areas because mutual interference would reduce essential training; the need for easy access and to be in close proximity to the main military users; the need for a wide radius around the area to be available for manoeuvre; the need to cause the minimum interference to known archaeological sites and to avoid existing rights of way; and the need to build the facility without excessive cost.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence concluded that the site would have to be in the area bounded by Tilshead, Chitterne and Orcheston. Copehill Down was the most suitable location in that area.

So far as usage is concerned, I understand that the training facility will be used by our own soldiers who will practise defending the buildings. Most of the exercises will be taken up by planning and preparation and not by staged battles. Normally during a five-day exercise staged battles will last less than one day, and, in shorter exercises of one or two days, fighting will be practised for only a few hours so noise from the exercise will be limited. The planting of hardwood trees round part of the site, as well as providing a visual screen, may also serve to alleviate noise.

There will thus be no increase in disturbance from training in and around Copehill Down. The area is already used for military activities on 350 days of the year. The use of the complex will not entail any live firing, including use of tanks, as I understand it, and there will be no increase whatever in the use of tanks and other tracked vehicles or in the use of helicopters or other aircraft. There will be no extra camps or accommodation built. In other words, army activity and noise around Copehill Down will not increase above what it is today.

As the facility is a development by the Crown, planning permission is not required. However, there is an arrangement under which Government departments consult local planning authorities before proceeding with development which normally would require planning permission. Local planning authorities treat such consultations in the same way as formal applications for planning permission. If they do not intend to object, but consider a proposal to constitute a material departure from the development plan for the area, they notify my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment who decides whether to call in the proposal and hold a non-statutory public local inquiry. If the proposal is not such a departure, or my right honourable friend decides not to intervene, the local planning authority is free to deal with the proposal as they see fit. If they decide not to object, the developing department may proceed. If the local planning authority objects to the proposal, it is for the developing department to notify my right honourable friend of the disagreement—in other words, under normal circumstances, to appeal.

This proposal was carefully examined, together with the objections to it from local councils and members of the public. The objections centred around the effect the proposal would have on the environment, the capacity of the local road system to cope with the construction traffic and additional military traffic, and the level of noise and disturbance that might be caused to nearby villages.

In March 1985 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment decided not to intervene in this matter. This was neither arrogant nor dictatorial; and nor was it cavalier. West Wiltshire District Council subsequently resolved that the project could proceed, subject to further consideration on the details of the buildings, landscaping of the site, access arrangements and traffic management.

However, as we have heard this evening, objections to the development were renewed this year by local residents, individual parish and district councillors, Salisbury District Council, the Wiltshire Association of Local Councils, and three honourable Members of another place. My noble friend Lord Elton, as the then responsible Minister, wrote to the honourable Member for Devizes saying that the decision not to intervene could not be reversed owing to no new evidence being adduced. I understand that the honourable Members for Westbury and Salisbury led delegations to my honourable friend and received assurances that every effort would be made to minimise any inconvenience that would result from the complex, and to protect the local environment. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces has also seen the three honourable Members individually.

On 29th October 1986, Wiltshire County Council informed my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Defence that the county council had changed their view on the proposal, and had formally resolved in favour of a public local inquiry.

On 8th December, I, together with my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, met the honourable Members for Salisbury, Devizes and Westbury to discuss the matter, but I could not agree to their request for an inquiry. In this case, in the light of representations made at the time, the local planning authority decided not to object to the proposed development. All the appropriate procedures were followed between October 1984 and March 1985, and it is notable that, when consulted, neither of the planning authorities in whose area the development is to take place objected. The county council have since changed their views, but essentially the position has not changed.

Since the area is already used extensively for military training for most of the year my honourable friend and I recognise that the concerns expressed in the meeting that I have referred to were environmental. I accept, in the words of noble Lords opposite, that they must be explained properly locally. The concerns are those of noise, timings of operational use and vehicle movements in the construction phase. My noble friend Lord Cathcart is quite right—people's concern is for the environment.

On further investigation I understand that this development will not be seen from any of the villages in the area; and I am satisfied that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence will ensure that steps are taken to minimise any inconvenience to nearby communities and to protect the environment. My right honourable friend is seeking to allay the very understandable fears of local residents by explaining fully what is proposed, and public presentational meetings are to be held in the area next week. I have in front of me an advertisement for these meetings. It says: The purpose is that everyone who is interested has the fullest possible opportunity to see for themselves precisely what the training complex amounts to. The display will open to the public in two sessions—on Tuesday 16th December from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m., and again on Friday 19th December from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m.". I can give this assurance to the House: questions will be welcomed.

The concerns that have been expressed today seem to me to relate to two distinct phases of this project: the construction stage and the actual use of the facility once it has been built. During the construction period, there will be no noticeable increase in heavy vehicle traffic through the local villages. The Ministry of Defence undertook a census of traffic movements on the B.390 (which, as my noble friend will know, is the Chitterne-Shrewton road) from Monday to Friday one week last month. This showed that the average of seven heavy vehicle loads a day that will result from construction will amount to less than 1 per cent. of the normal civilian heavy goods vehicle traffic that occurs already. I do not believe that such an increase could be regarded as significant.

Once the training facility has been built, there will be no increase in disturbance from training in the area. Indeed, this type of military training will often displace training that is currently carried out there. The training complex cannot be used for more than a single exercise at any one time. There will be no live firing as part of FIBUA training, and no increase whatever in night firing. In a real-life situation troops would rarely choose to fight in an urban area at night, so the battle phase would take place in daylight. The whole object of training is to simulate operational conditions.

Neither will there be any increase above what already happens in the area today in the use of tanks and other tracked vehicles, or in the use of helicopters or any other aircraft. On rare occasions, there might be as many as 30 tanks involved in the training, but for most of the time there will be fewer than that or indeed none at all. Tanks are already forbidden to pass through the neighbouring villages, and that restriction will continue. From time to time there will be varying numbers of light-tracked vehicles taking part in this training, and I understand that overall the Ministry of Defence expects to use tracked vehicles in the area in connection with FIBUA training on about 120 days per year and for about 30 days per year for other training. The existing use of the area for artillery firing should actually reduce as a result of the complex being built in it. In summary therefore—and I cannot stress this strongly enough—the building of the FIBUA training complex will not increase noise levels or general disturbance to those living in surrounding villages.

In asking this Unstarred Question, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was concerned about public access to Copehill Down. I am advised that there will be no changes to the Salisbury Plain military lands by-laws. The public will continue to have access along existing rights of way, though they will of course be excluded from the village and its immediate area. As there will be no live firing there will be no danger to the public from unexploded ordnance, which can happen in other circumstances.

Both noble Lords opposite mentioned an officer in the armed forces. I can tell them that Civil Service rules allow for civil servants to participate in political activities at parish level. However, those regulations are quite clear that a civil servant is bound to maintain a proper reticence in discussing public affairs and more particularly those with which his own department is concerned. In other words, they are confined by much the same conflict of interest rules as I am or as are any of my noble friends on this Bench.

Referring to that particular member of the armed forces, there have been no threats of dismissal, and I cannot underline that strongly enough. In the circumstances that I have outlined—

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord going to deal with the other question, which is this strange meeting with Ministry of Defence employees? Does he realise that if people think that the whole quality of their lives will be damaged and the value of their houses will be slashed, they believe they have a right of free speech? Does he agree with that?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, with the greatest respect, I think that the noble Lord is confusing two different things. I have already alluded to the two meetings for local people which are to be held on Tuesday and Friday next week, 16th and 19th December.

The other matter with which he was concerned was the employment of Ministry of Defence staff. Meetings held between them and senior officers are something on which I cannot comment in this House or indeed anywhere else. However, I can say that I have no doubt that it was what perhaps I may call a cards-on-the-table meeting, and that positions on both sides were explained and explored.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to make this intervention. An impression was gained by the employees who attended the meeting that when the cards were put on the table they were invited to play them in the proper order or else. That was the impression with which they left the room, and we believe that that is a very serious allegation. I hope that the Minister will take note of what has been said and what we believe took place, and that when the meetings take place next week a categorical rebuttal can be given to the people who have made the charges to the newspapers.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, if—as was suggested, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Harris—the people in question live in the village or indeed have what one might call a civilian interest in this matter, of course they will be fully entitled to attend those meetings and to ask questions and receive such replies as appear to be appropriate to the various individuals at that time. The noble Baroness looks restless.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I had not intended to speak but, as there is an invitation to do so, I shall take it up. The people may receive answers but if they are deeply dissatisfied with those answers what will the department do then? To be given answers which simply are totally unacceptable does not really get one very far. That is not consultation. People are asking for the opportunity to have a proper inquiry. That is not in the least met by being told that there will be a meeting at which they can ask questions, be given answers and then be sent home.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I sought to explain earlier, there are proper procedures for public inquiries or for the consideration of public inquiries in a matter such as this. I have assured the House and given your Lordships my own assurance that these procedures have been conducted fairly. I have said that public relations need to continue and, through the meetings to which I have referred, they will continue.

In the circumstances that I have outlined and after all the procedures, which themselves took some time, have been properly followed, and having been satisfied that there will be no significant extra damaging environmental effect, I cannot recommend my right honourable friend to go back on the decision made some 21 months ago not to hold a public inquiry.

House adjourned at ten minutes before ten o'clock.