HL Deb 21 January 1991 vol 525 cc3-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the present state of the planning application in respect of the proposed radar installation at St. David's Head.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, we have commissioned an independent environmental impact assessment for the proposed development at St. David's. This is still in preparation, and my honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will wish to consider it carefully when it is completed. Our aim would then be to submit a notice of proposed development to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park later this year.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply, but are he and the ministry fully aware of the extent of the criticism of and the opposition to the proposal on environmental grounds, on grounds of public health and also because the installation will be within very close proximity to St. David's Cathedral? Is he in a position to give a firm undertaking that if the planning application, when submitted, is turned down by the National Park planning authority, the department will not then invoke Crown immunity?

Earl of Arran

My Lords, because of the very fact that I believe that this is the fourth time that the Question has been asked in your Lordships' House since May of last year, I am indeed aware of the importance that your Lordships attach to this matter. Most of the worries mentioned by the noble Lord will be covered by the environmental impact assessment which we hope will be published shortly. When it reaches the local authority—in this case the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park—it will have 16 statutory weeks during which it can receive objections, if any, to this installation.

As regards Crown immunity, it is true that the Crown is not formally bound by planning legislation, but in common with other government departments it is always the practice to adhere strictly to planning processes in conformity with the appropriate department, be it the Department of the Environment or in this case the Welsh Office. If the application is turned down it would be open for my department to refer the matter to those authorities.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the village of Trefgarne is but a few short miles from the proposed development? As regards the last part of my noble friend's answer, can he say whether it is the intention of the Secretary of State for Wales to call in this application, which I believe he is entitled to do?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is far too early to say precisely what will happen. As yet the environmental impact assessment has not been published, nor has it been sent, together with the notice of proposed development, to the relevant authority.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, can the noble Earl give a precise answer to the last question asked by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies? Given that both the Secretary of State for Wales and the Ministry of Defence have powers to override the decision of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, do we have an undertaking, which I believe would be merely to repeat an undertaking given by Mr. Alan Clark, that that will not happen under any circumstances?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have to judge the case on its merits. As I have already made clear, it is always open for the Ministry of Defence in particular circumstances to refer the matter to the appropriate Secretary of State. We shall have to judge whether to do that when the situation becomes clearer.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the fact that this matter is to be the subject of an environmental impact assessment will give a great deal of comfort to many people up and down the land, particularly in the Principality of Wales, and not least to many noble Lords in this House who supported such action only last week in a debate on the Planning and Compensation Bill?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while the Government are rightly showing respect and reverence for holy places in the Middle East, will they show equal sensitivity to the holiest place in Wales and one of the holiest in the United Kingdom?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that the Leader of the Opposition can have our assurance that that will be done. It will be respected, examined extremely carefully and objections can be made known at all times because we are aware of the sensitivity of the subject. However, I must make one matter clear. Our beholden duty at all times is to make sure of the defence of this country.