HL Deb 08 April 1987 vol 486 cc1021-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Hunt

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in modernising Fylingdales early warning radar station in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we announced on 22nd May last our decision to proceed with a programme of modernisation of the ballistic missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales in co-operation with the United States Government. Since then, a notice of proposed development has been submitted to the North Yorkshire Moors National Parks Committee, and a memorandum of understanding has been concluded with the Government of the United States.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. While totally accepting that NATO defence must have absolute priority, I should like to ask whether he would agree that the present design and location of the station at Fylingdales is totally at variance with the character and purposes of a national park. Does the new technology embodied in the modernised design of the station not permit of some latitude, some flexibility, as regards its location? Has the noble Lord's department looked into the possibility of moving that station to some other place outside the national park, taking that fact into account as well as our treaty obligations?

Lord Trefgarne

Yes, my Lords, we have looked very carefully at the point which the noble Lord raises, but I am afraid we have had to conclude that topographical and geographical factors, which constrain the selection of a site very considerably, are such that there is no prospect of moving it elsewhere.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that forewarned is forearmed and that our early warning system is a crucial part of the air defence of the kingdom, including the most beautiful parts of it? Will he therefore ensure that Fylingdales is given the highest priority of equipment, of manning and indeed of location?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly share my noble friend's view about the importance of this facility. He may be assured that we shall fully follow the concepts that he suggested in his supplementary question. But we must, too, do our very best to ensure that environmental considerations are fully taken into account in the design and construction of this facility.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if we get into a nuclear war there will not be any beautiful parts?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right, but then the whole essence of our policy and of our equipment, including Fylingdales, is to ensure that no such conflict should ever happen.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does Fylingdales have a strategic defence capability? If not, could it be given one?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, Fylingdales is not part of the strategic defence initiative.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the Minister accept that we are agreed on the importance of maintaining an early warning system? But can he say whether it is true that alternatives are available which would be just as good as Fylingdales and which would not cost a great deal to bring into use? Can he say how much weight was given to the fact that this was in a national park and how much effort was made to get the site out of the national park? In other words, how many other sites were seriously considered before this new proposition went ahead?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we are in the process of modernising the facility at Fylingdales. It is not a new facility, as I am sure the noble Baroness will understand. As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a moment ago, there are very stringent topographical, geographical and indeed operational criteria which have to be met with regard to this facility, or modernised facility as it will become. That meant, I am afraid, that it was not possible to find another site to meet the purpose. Having said that, I have accepted and do accept the need to ensure that the facility imposes the minimum possible impact upon the environment.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that the work undertaken by the United States Government at Fylingdales is in strict conformity with the narrow interpretation of the ABM Treaty of 1972?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord is talking about the work now going on to modernise the station. If that is what he has in mind, I can tell him that Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the modernisation of the system fully conforms with US obligations under the ABM Treaty.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, has the noble Lord been up to see Fylingdales, as I have many times? If he has, does he agree with me that it possibly provides an interesting feature in a very large area of plain moorland and that the environmental aspect, except to enthusiasts, does not arise?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a point of view, but I have accepted at least twice this afternoon already that we need to ensure that the facility represents the minimum possible conflict with environmental considerations. Having said that, a large antenna of this kind will create some sort of an impact wherever we put it, I am afraid.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, will the modern equipment be taller and bigger than the equipment there now?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the details of the modernisation were submitted to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park Committee last year. It will be a new pyramid-shaped structure to replace the so-called golf ball structures that are there at present.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, as a former member of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park Committee, may I ask the Minister whether the existing signal station at Menwith Hill near Harrogate has been considered as an alternative site?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that we looked at all possible solutions to the problem, but the conclusion we reached was that the right way to proceed was with the modernisation of the facility.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, in the light of the questions will the noble Lord assure the House that there has been and will continue to be full discussion and consultation among his department, the Department of the Environment, the Countryside Commission, the North Yorkshire County Council and the voluntary bodies concerned?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Lord that we shall continue with the detailed consultation procedures that we have always followed in the past in connection with this matter. As he may be aware, the national park committee has decided not to raise any objection to the proposed development, although I understand it is regretted by the committee, and naturally I too understand the position on that. However, its decision not to raise any objection was subject to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment being satisfied that there is no possible alternative site. I understand that he will be giving his decision on that shortly.