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Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. He has a very serious case to make. But we wish to get on. With the greatest respect, I wonder whether he could perhaps cut down his remarks.
Lord Annaly: I have about five more lines to utter, if I am allowed the time to say them. No good reason exists why the military training areas such as Otterburn, with their excellent record for conservation and maximum possible public access, should not continue to afford enjoyment to the public without national park designation placed upon them. I beg to move.
Lord Vinson: I rise to support this amendment. I hope that I shall not be too verbose or take up more time than others on the opposite side may have taken up hitherto this evening. It is a probing amendment. It is designed to bring out some of the inherent and inevitable conflicts of interest that have arisen and that will continue to arise between those who wish to see no activity at all other than recreation in the national parks and those who, I believe more realistically, accept that these huge land areas, while being properly earmarked for recreation, also must have other important purposes.
One of the reasons why parts of those areas are so beautiful is that they have been largely undisturbed due to the fact that they belong to the Ministry of Defence. The national parks in this country are different from any overseas. Because of our limited land mass, of necessity our remoter areas have to serve at least two purposes. That raises a paradox. Those Army training grounds to which the public on many occasions has full access amount to only some 3 per cent. of the existing national parks. Yet the Committee will be aware of the virulent campaign mounted by a number of organisations to have the Army removed from them altogether. One wonders whether those who take this attitude ever stop to consider that their potential enjoyment of these areas has only been made possible by the ability of these islands to defend themselves in the past.
Interestingly enough, the presence of the Army is indeed welcomed by the vast majority of those who live and work in the park. The Committee will know of the rally for the national parks led by Mr. Chris Bonnington which, complete with television cameras, stormed the Otterburn ranges to demonstrate that the Army should go. Not surprisingly, in response virtually all the small
All that begs the wider issue as to whether in future the national parks authority should effectively dictate the nation's defence training policy. This is the heart of the issue. The judgment of the proposed new national parks authority will inevitably be subjective. To date its attitude has clearly demonstrated that it is unhappy living with the Army.
The amendment puts forward a simple solution that would be to remove the Army's training grounds from the area of the proposed national parks so that sensible, strategic decisions on training would be left in the hands of the people at the Ministry of Defence, who are the best qualified to take them. Incidentally, it also overcomes the problem of "quiet enjoyment" and the worries that that gives rise to.
The Army must train somewhere and withdrawal from German training grounds inevitably means that it must concentrate greater activity at home. The campaign mounted by the Council for the National Parks, whose ethos and philosophy will largely drive the thinking of the new national parks authority, illustrates that that potential authority may not be the most suitable body for taking balanced decisions in this matter. Currently the anticipated composition of the authority is heavily weighted with pressure groups and underweighted in respect of those who live and work in the national parks and those who apparently have the wider national interests at heartpeople who concede that both necessary defence training and recreation must and should share a common interest in the land use of our national parks on this small island. Therefore, either the composition of the new controlling authority should reflect that point or the training areas used for the defence of the realm should be regarded as outwith the curtilage of the national parks.
I might add that I live in a Northumberland national park area. I chose to go there because of the quiet enjoyment and because I was fortunate enough to be able to choose to lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh our strength. For all the nuisance and noise that the Army training produces in the area, I recognise that Britain's defence requirements are paramount. We should bear that in mind the whole time we are considering this issue.
The Earl of Onslow: Before the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I was tempted to make a short speech. After his intervention I was tempted to imitate Gladstone and go on to his lengths. However, I shall spare the Committee that torture.
I intervene only to say that five or six years ago I was then chairman of the commons and open spaces society, which has since sacked me because it did not agree with much of what I said. However, I was invited to Salisbury Plain by General Kitson to see the area where the Army trains. It was fascinating. Basically, it was the
Since the collapse of communism the world is probably a more dangerous place than it was before. It would be extremely irresponsible not to allow our soldiers and marines to have a proper place to train; that is, a proper and well-guarded place to train. I believe that we can trust them, as in the past, to look after the landscape and the flora and fauna of their training grounds satisfactorily.
Lord Redesdale: Behind the amendment is growing controversy over the Otterburn training area. I must declare an interest. I am a landowner next to the training area. Perhaps I can recount how the training area came into the hands of the Army in the first place. My great-grandfather sold it to the Army after a day of shooting with Churchill. The day was so poor that he turned to Churchill and said, "Well, if it is this bad we might as well turn it into an artillery range". That is what happened: it has been an artillery range ever since.
However, I must speak against the amendment. The arguments put forward would make sense if the Army were about to occupy the land. It has been there for 40 years. I do not believe that it has ever felt constrained by the fact that the area is national park. It would be ridiculous, considering that the aim of the Bill is to put high protection on the land, to remove it from one of the most beautiful areas of Northumberland. However, I should like to speak about the Otterburn training area.
I trained both on the Otterburn training area and in the Brecon Beacons in my capacity as an officer in the TA. I have almost frozen to death in both places. They are beautiful locations and the Army has played a wonderful role in their conservation. However, the present state of agitation is due to the new artillery system, the AS90. I believe that we should carry on training and using those weapons systems. However, I am slightly concerned, having received a Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, which informs me in quite bland terms that people outside the national parks will be exposed to impulse noise of no more than 130 decibels. Considering a pneumatic drill puts out only 90 decibels I felt that that was rather harsh.
There is a great deal of anxiety about the AS90. It is an issue that will come back. One of the great strengths of the national park is that it can question what the Army is doing. To put in the new artillery system the Army will have to build a large number of roads in one of the most unspoilt areas of Northumberland. It is unspoilt because the Army used it in the first place. I do not believe that that should be justification to allow it to put in any roads it likes. It must go through the normal channels. The area is a national park. I believe that the Army and the national park can cohabit very happily indeed.
Going back to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, if I were a cynical person I would say that there was a degree of to use rather unparliamentary language"stirring". When the AS90 is about to come into the training area of Northumberland, suddenly there is a mood among the local population that the national park is trying to remove the Army from the military area. That is not the case. The national park is trying to limit the effect the Army will have on the training area.
Lord Vinson: Is the noble Lord aware that a campaign was mounted to remove the Army from the Northumberland national park? That is my essential point, along with the noble Lord, Lord Annaly. My second point is that at the end of the day the best judges of the defence requirements of this country are not those who are likely to compose the new national parks authority but those in the Ministry of Defence who are there for that appropriate purpose.
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