Skip to main content

Hebrides Missile Range

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2009

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I rise to seek leave to move that the House discuss a specific and important matter that should be given urgent consideration: the proposed movement of the missile testing facilities from Hebrides range in my constituency, with the loss of 120 jobs—and unofficial estimates from Highlands and Islands Enterprise effectively double that. South Uist, North Uist and Benbecula cannot cope with that level of cuts. In a major city such as Glasgow, that would be the equivalent of 6,000 to 7,000 jobs gone at the stroke of a pen. Bad as that may be in a city, for an island community it is infinitely worse; it means depopulation to the next city or employment opportunities that are eight hours away by ferry and vehicular transport.

The people of North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula have taken the Hebrides missile range into their community and accepted and worked with its needs and demands. An entire community has shaped itself to fulfil its needs: a service and sacrifice that entailed forgoing many opportunities, at great opportunity cost to the community. The Ministry of Defence, through QinetiQ, cannot walk away leaving chaos and a vacuum behind. There is a social and economic responsibility here.

Over and above the social and economic responsibility, however, the Hebrides range is simply the best for purpose in missile testing. No other range compares to the Hebrides range; it is so large that the curvature of the earth becomes a factor. This difficulty is mitigated by the existence of St. Kilda as a monitoring post almost in the middle of the range. There is no equivalent in the UK—or in Europe—to Hebrides range.

Hebrides range is important to the defence of the realm, and also for the defence of Europe, as many other countries use the range for testing. It must not be decimated; it must not be smashed; it must not be ruined at the stroke of a pen. For the islands and also for defence, Hebrides range is too important. Its closure was considered 15 years ago under a previous Government and rightly rejected for many valid reasons. This proposal needs full parliamentary scrutiny in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I put this to you, Mr. Speaker, for your consideration.

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said, and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter he raises to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24. I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.