HL Deb 24 July 1990 vol 521 cc1320-1

2.57 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many war game sites there are in Britain; and what powers local planning authorities have to control them.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, there are no central records of the number of war game sites in England and Wales. The Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1988 allows land to be used for activities including war games for up to 28 days in any calendar year. This general planning permission can be withdrawn by a local planning authority making a direction under the order.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that factual Answer, which I find rather discouraging. Is he aware that the spread of these sites is such that there are now nearly 400 of them across the country? Is he further aware that there are serious objections to the ecological damage caused in some woodlands by the war games and to the noise that is caused to people living nearby? Will my noble friend consider revising the 28-day rule, which is not monitored? Therefore no one knows how many times these sites are being used. I hope he will consider limiting the rule so that where planning consent is given it is given only for a specific number of dates in the year which can be identified.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, 28 days is the time that applies under the general development order. Another example of such an activity would be clay pigeon shooting. A local authority can, if it wishes, monitor the number of days on which the war games take place. If it is unhappy, it can issue a direction under Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1988. It is also important to remind your Lordships' House that the Government are encouraging farming interests to try to diversify. The evidence to date with regard to flora and fauna is that there is no substantial evidence of long-term damage.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not a fact that the playing of war games, in the Lake District in particular, is causing a great deal of distress to local residents? Does the Minister not consider that it is an unsuitable activity for national parks? While one sympathises with farmers who wish to diversify, should such games not be kept as far away as possible from areas of beauty?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am given to understand that most of the participants are dressed in camouflage and therefore should not be easily visible. I remind your Lordships that such war games take place on private land and that the balance of legislation provides for the possibility of planning decisions permitting such activities up to a certain limit, which is 28 days.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, apart from the ecological damage and the noise which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, mentioned, is not the morality of such games a matter for grave doubt? I believe that they arc worse than acid house parties.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I have not attended a war game but I should have thought that it was better for participants to throw paint at each other than ammunition.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, perhaps I may first congratulate the noble Lord on his elevation to Minister of State in the hot seat at the Department of Trade and Industry. Can he give me some assurance about mid-Wales, where war games are conducted almost every week on common land? When will the Government bring in legislation on common land so that it will be treated on the same basis as private land so far as concerns war games?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will not wish me to anticipate the Question down in the name of his noble friend Lady Nicol for tomorrow.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, with reference to the answer that the Minister gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, does he agree that the objections to war games do not concern whether or not the participants are invisible but the tremendous racket that they make? The noble Baroness referred particularly to national parks, and I know of at least one case where such games are taking place in national parks. Although it may be inevitable that the Ministry of Defence conducts noisy exercises for defence purposes, does the Minister agree that the noise created by war games is singularly inappropriate in a national park because one of the objects of the national parks is their quiet and peaceful enjoyment by the public?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am given to understand that the weapons used fire paint and I am not convinced that they make a great deal of noise. The important point is that we are talking about private property. The law recognises that, and that is why there is a 28-day limit.