HC Deb 09 December 1936 vol 318 cc2073-132

7.39 p.m.


I beg to move, That this House urges the Government, especially in view of the new national health crusade, to take whatever steps may seem most appropriate in the light of the recommendations of the National Parks Committee, 1931, to stimulate and develop action for the preservation of the countryside and its amenities, including the reservation of areas of natural interest against disorderly development and spoliation and the improvement of their accessibility to the public. The subject of this Debate is one that interests millions of people in this country both organised and unorganised. All those people who like to take their holidays in the fresh air in the form of exercise in surroundings that have been fashioned by nature's magic hand and have not been spoiled by the vagaries of man, are interested. There has been a very remarkable increase in recent years in the number of ramblers and hikers. I have some information which shows the large numbers in different organisations interested in this subject. For example, the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland with 8,000 members, the Cyclists Touring Association with 39,000, the Ramblers Association with 40,000, and the Youth Hostel Association with 60,000, a total in these four organisations alone—and there are many other organisations —of 147,000. Apart from this, there are very large numbers who are entirely unorganised. This feeling for greater facilities in the form of national parks found its first definite expression from the point of view of the Government, I think, in the appointment of the National Parks Committee, which reported in 1031. I will quote the terms of reference which they had. They say: Our terms of reference specify four objects with which we deal in later chapters:

  1. (1) Measures for the preservation of the natural characteristics of the country.
  2. (2) Measures for the preservation of flora and fauna.
  3. (3) Measures for improving the recreational facilities of the people.
  4. (4) The selection of areas best fitted to further these purposes."
I am not going to refer to the question of the preservation of flora and fauna more than to make this passing reference. It is the fact, I believe, that of the 1,800 flowering plants and ferns which are natural to these islands, no fewer than 294, or one-sixth of the whole, have become extinct in one or more counties, and this shows the importance of dealing with it from that point of view. Some progress, it is true, has been made since the report of that committee, but very few of the recommendations have actually been carried out. Perhaps I ought to define a national park, and I cannot do this better than by using the words of the committee. They say, in paragraph 15: We exclude, as outside our terms of reference, any question of playing fields, organised amusements or motoring facilities: our concern is with the opportunities open to nature lovers, walkers, climbers and camping parties to enjoy natural scenery and to spend their leisure in the open air. In paragraph 18 they refer to the subject again when they say: We think that assistance should be provided by improving the opportunities of access for pedestrians to areas of exceptional natural beauty. In many cases it would be found that the need would be sufficiently met by the provision of well-defined tracks: by the provision of huts in mountainous regions where the climber could spend a night without coming down from the hills: by the provision of hostels, suitably placed, where the pedestrian could find food and a night's lodging at reasonable cost: and by the provision of additional camp sites. Those two extracts describe very well what we mean by the question of national parks. It may be said that some illustration should be given of the type of area which one has in mind in discussing this subject. I would quote such well-known examples as the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, the New Forest, Exmoor, Dovedale. In the case of Dovedale I would remind the House of the rapid developments that are taking place there through the generosity of Mr. McDougall, which are in a fair way to make this very beautiful area national property. There is more important work still to be done there, but very satisfactory progress has been made. There is the Peak District, South Downs, Bowland Forest, Forest of Dean, the Roman Wall between Gilsland and Chesters, Cannock Chase, West Riding, the Cairngorms area, the Trossacks, Black Mountains and Brecon Mountains. There are others that may be referred to in the Debate, but those to which I have referred are the most notable examples of the sort of thing we have in mind.

What is the position at the present time and what action has been taken? It is interesting to note that there are not less than 1,600,000 acres of common land in this country available for the public, or capable of being developed for public use in one form or another. There are various properties under the National Trust, where the most admirable work is being done for the country. A tribute must also be paid to what has been done by the Commissioners of Crown Lands. Under Section 23 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, they have made available for the public in a way that would not otherwise be the case 75,000 acres, mainly in Wales. It is very much to be hoped that this excellent example may be followed by the authorities in the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster, and by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Many liberal-minded and generous landowners are also very willing to grant facilities for the public to go upon their land of this description. There is a further possibility. Under the Finance Act it is possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept land in payment of Death Duties. Practically no use has been made of that provision, but it is worth following up from this point of view, because it must happen when landowners die from time to time that they have in their possession properties which they might be willing to make available for the nation along these lines.

Let me say a few words in regard to the work that is being done by the Forestry Commission. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) will be able to give us more detailed information. There is in existence the Argyll National Forest Park, which is being developed in association with the Glasgow Corporation. It covers 100 square miles, and I understand that among the camping sites available something like 10,000 personal nights, as they are defined, were made use of during last season. It will be interesting to note the different associations which have taken advantage, or are likely to take advantage of, this National Forest Park which is different from a national park. They are the Scottish Youth Hostels Association, the Scottish Ramblers' Federation, the Camping Club of Great Britain, Rover Scouts, Ranger Guides, the Scottish Association of Boys' Clubs and corresponding Girls' Associations, the Wayfaring Association, the juvenile organisations of Scotland such as Boy Scouts, Boys' Brigades, Girl Guides and Young Men's Christian Association. There are certain other areas that might possibly be developed by the Forestry Commission along similar lines, such as the Cairngorms area, where there is an opportunity of building up something like a national park on American lines. Then there is Allerston in Yorkshire, and Snowdonia. In regard to Snowdonia, there is reason to hope that through the goodwill of the Forestry Commissioners in happy co-operation with the local authorities, successful results may in due course be achieved in making Snowdonia into a national park available for the public.

I should also like to call attention to the third report of Mr. Malcolm Stewart on the Special Areas, in which he brings up the question of a national park. The area to which he referred is known as the Enchanted Vale of Neath, an area of 12 square miles. It is rather small within the meaning of a national park, but it does approach and lead up to the Brecon Mountains and the Black Mountains, which certainly would form a very suitable area. I understand that there, too, the Commissioners of Crown Lands and the Forestry Commission are doing work which may have fruitful results. Perhaps in order to develop this idea properly, we should want something on the lines of the Tennessee Vale Authority, which is an experiment in the United States at the present time. I imagine that the way to develop this area in Wales would be to provide hotels, good accommodation at farms, tea shops, camping sites and perhaps a golf course. In that way Mr. Malcolm Stewart hoped that it might be possible to attract a large number of visitors to this very beautiful area of country. Those who know the area better than I do may have something to say on the subject later.

The main problem remains, and we come back therefore to the report of 1931. That report considered the advisability of handing over the development of the national parks to some body like the National Trust, but they definitely rejected that idea as being unsuitable to meet the importance of the position. They held the view that a State authority of some kind is absolutely necessary. Two alternative recommendations were made. The first was that there should be a national authority for England and Wales, and another separate authority for Scotland, with a co-ordinating committee between the two. These national authorities should consist of five members, with a paid chairman, something, I suppose, very much like the Forestry Commission. The work of the authority would be to stimulate co-operation in the matter of planning between local authorities and land owners, and to supply them with expert aid. They suggest that there should be a sum of £100,000 each year made available for five years. Many people interested in this subject hold most strongly that a body of this character is essential if the work is to be carried out effectively.

There was a second and less ambitious alternative proposed by the National Park committee. It was suggested that on the assumption that only £10,000 a year would be available for five years, the work of stimulation and direction would be undertaken by the Ministry of Health, who would advise and direct policy, and that there should be associated with the Minister of Health in this work two advisory committees, made up of individuals and representatives of bodies who have much knowledge on this question. Since the report was presented the main event has been the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act. The view has been expressed by the Government that nothing more was needed than to allow that Act to work out its way and that the problem would become automatically solved. Perhaps that was a perfectly reasonable view to put forward, but we have had enough experience of the working of the Act to see how far it fails. I think that everyone who has any knowledge of the problem will agree that it is working far too slowly and that land is being spoiled while the authorities are endeavouring to agree upon a particular way of planning an area. One great difficulty is the absence of finance to provide the compensation to owners which is absolutely necessary in certain instances.

In talking of national parks there is no idea of purchasing vast areas. That is unnecessary. The proper control and planning of development is, as a rule, though not in all cases, probably quite sufficient. It is quite clear that action of some kind from the centre is absolutely necessary in order to stimulate and support the work of planners in the various districts. One suggestion that has been made is that this work could be undertaken by the Royal Fine Art Commission. Under their amended terms of reference they would have the authority to do it, but their Constitution would need altering. I understand that as at present constituted they are not really well fitted for the work, and they do not want to do it. Therefore, I hope that the Royal Fine Art Commission, who are doing such admirable work in other directions, will not be brought in to deal with this wholly different problem.

There remains another alternative, which I know the Government in the past have suggested as an appropriate one, and that is to call in the advisory committee on the Town and Country Planning Act and make use of it as the central body for dealing with this problem. I am not saying that that is the best course, because I prefer the larger recommendation in the report of the committee, but it is a possibility provided that certain things are done. It is clear, for example, that that advisory committee is not at present tackling this problem at all. No doubt they could be persuaded to do so if the Government were to go to the Committee and say that they were most anxious that they should undertake the work, that the Government would back up the work with the whole of their efforts, that they would provide certain sums of money for the purpose of compensation, and that expert advice would be made available to the Committee and their staff, and that this would provide that drive and initiative which is required if this work is to be a success.

There is a possibility that something might be done through those means, but that project has the disadvantage that it is only a Departmental Committee, whereas the problem is a very much wider and more important one than concerns any one Department. For instance, we should have to co-ordinate the actions of quite a number of different Government Departments. There are concerned the Central Electricity Board, the Forestry Commission and the Defence Departments. They would want to be brought in at an early stage. Then there is the Ministry of Transport and the county councils, as the highway authorities. Lastly, there are the interests of mining and agriculture which, as important national industries, would have to be borne in mind and their interests regulated.

What I am urging upon the Government is not that they should take any one particular course, but that they should take some definite action from the centre to deal with the problem. My Motion is conceived in an entirely friendly spirit towards the Government, who, I believe, are anxious to do all they can, consistently with the public support that they may receive. I hope that it may be possible to accept the Motion. Its object is to focus and concentrate national interest upon this problem, and to achieve some practical result before the work has been too long delayed. I appeal to the Government to consider, in the light of what may be said during the further course of the Debate, what is the wisest step they can now take. I think they will feel that it fits in with their crusade in the matter of public health, and I am sure that any resolute action they take will have an immense backing among the 45,000,000 people who live in this country, the finest country in the world.

8.1 p.m.


I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion, which, I apprehend, will meet with the approval of hon. Members on all sides of the House. It is not meant in any way as a criticism of Government action; very much the reverse. It is meant as a gesture of congratulation and encouragement. We all know the persistency of the Minister of Health, arid that whatever he takes on he will carry through. Therefore I say to him: Macte tua virtute puer, sic itur ad astra. Get on with the job; having made a good start, finish it. At this juncture the report of the National Parks Committee is of great interest. I do not propose to go into their recommendations in detail, and in some cases I do not think they are quite practicable. They fall under two heads: First, the housing and town planning recommendations. The Government Town Planning Act and the Ribbon Development Act have to a great extent cleared the air and done what is necessary in the circumstances, but there is a great deal to be done. The working of the Act is very slow and in the meantime beautiful parts of the country are being ruined.

The second recommendation is the preservation to the nation of areas of national interest, the beautiful English coastline, the English mountains and the places of historic interest. The acquisition and preservation of these areas, our coast line, our mountains and places of historic interest, cost money, and the amount required is a long way beyond what is available for private concerns such as the National Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The report makes two recommendations as to money—namely, £100,000 per annum for five years, and £10,000 per annum for five years, and they also re- commend a central authority. I do not recommend a central authority, because I do not think we are ready for it. The work to be done is very large and diffuse and is too much for any one body to take in hand. They also make some subsidiary recommendations, the appointment of two advisory committees to assist the Minister and to guide and stimulate local authorities. These two recommendations are extremely good.

I do not believe in a central authority at the moment, but I do trust the Minister of Health and his Department very much in this matter. They are very efficient, and if they have advisory committees to co-ordinate and stimulate local authorities I think it would be sufficient for the present. The housing part of these recommendations having been got out of the way a great push now is being made for the improvement of the physical health of the nation, and there is a great opportunity of doing something on the lines of the report. Open spaces are wanted for children and young people, and also for hiking and healthy holiday making by the general population, but there is a great danger of these beautiful spots being swept away by stupid building, which should be prevented. I hope, therefore, that the Government will give the matter their best attention. That is the line which I understand the mover of the Motion takes, and I have come to the same conclusion. The best thing to do is to leave it to the Government to consider what they had better do. If they are going to do anything they will have to arrange for the money which will be necessary. You cannot get a central advisory committee to do what is necessary in the way of co-ordinating and advising unless there is some organisation which will have to be paid for. Also, if you acquire these areas which are to be preserved you must have money to do it. I hope that the Government will go into this matter and that my hon. Friend will communicate what has been said to the Minister of Health, who I know takes a keen interest in this subject, and who, I hope, after this expression of good will and encouragement will do everything he can in the interests of the beautiful country of England.

8.10 p.m.

Colonel ROPNER

I am sure that all those who are interested in the preservation of the beauties of our countryside and those who are interested in the health of the nation will be grateful to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton East (Mr. Mander) for raising this subject to-night. I am sure also that my hon. Friend when he replies will give a very sympathetic answer to the questions which have been raised. By comparison with America or Africa, Great Britain is a small and densely populated country, highly developed, and it is impossible to follow closely the methods for the establishment of national parks which are employed elsewhere. But if we realise these limitations, and our special difficulties I believe there is scarcely anything which can be said against the encouragement of national parks. Perhaps we on this side of the House rather more acutely than hon. Members opposite, hope that in the establishment of national parks respect will be shown for the rights of private property. I do not say that in any selfish spirit. Landowners have been for generations the chief agents in preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside, and while it may be true that we live in a period of transition and that high taxation is leading to the breaking up of large estates, I hope that for many years private landowners will be allowed to make their contribution to the beautifying of the countryside. They have not been ungenerous in the past in allowing the public access to places of beauty.

I must utter this word of warning. Parliament must ensure that in attempting to preserve the beauty of our country we do not destroy it. In the report of the National Parks Committee issued in April, 1931, Mr. Gaye, a member of the Committee, makes a reservation, and in that reservation the following remarks occur: In Windsor Great Park and the adjacent Forest many acres of young plantations and heath are burnt every year by mischievous and careless visitors, cartloads of broken glass, paper and other rubbish have to be collected at great expense, the rhododendrons in the summer and the hollies in the winter are ruthlessly plundered. In agricultural districts I bear complaints of cattle and horses maimed by broken glass, of sheep worried by uncontrolled dogs, of fences broken and gates left open. I do not wish to accentuate the danger of the spoliation of the countryside, but I believe careful consideration must be given to that aspect of the subject. A more liberal education and the force of example, combined with a strict enforce- ment of by-laws, can largely prevent occurrences of that nature, but what I think would have a still greater influence in preserving the beauties of national parks would be a full realisation that national parks are national property, that they belong to the public and that if thoughtless things are done by visitors they would in fact be destroying what belongs to them. I am happy to say that in the case of the Argyll National Forest Park, which is administered by the Forestry Commission, there has been practically no ground for complaint; in fact, one neighbouring proprietor expressed by letter his appreciation of the manner in which the camps there have been conducted. Anyone who has read the report of the National Parks Commission must realise that the Forestry Committee is bound to be closely connected and intimately concerned with any development of national parks, and may I say at once that the Forestry Commission is in whole-hearted sympathy with the ideas underlying the proposal to establish a number of national parks.

In view of the important position which the Forestry Commission is bound to occupy, I hope the House will bear with me if I make one or two further observations with the object of defining more closely the attitude of the Forestry Commission, and making a few suggestions as to how the commission could assist. If time allows, I hope also to give the House a little more information than it already has with regard to the Argyll National Forest, which is administered by the Forestry Commission to-day. I hope I shall be forgiven if I remind the House that the first duty of the commission is to grow trees to provide a reserve of an essential raw material, namely, timber, for times of national emergency. The ravages of the War period have not yet been made good, and I hope the nation has not forgotten the demand for space in our ships for carrying timber during the War when we were having the utmost difficulty in providing the nation with that which is even more essential—food. If, as I know is the case, the Government are considering very carefully the difficulty of feeding the nation during a war, they must not leave out of account the relief which would be given to shipping by our being able to draw upon home-grown instead of imported timber.

I hope, therefore, that any proposal to sterilise large tracks of country, and especially to ban plantations on suitable ground, will be most carefully examined before any such policy is approved. These islands are not so large that we can afford liberally to make large areas unproductive as can be done in America. I must admit that I am one who believes that careful and thoughtful planting of trees very seldom detracts from, but nearly always enhances the amenities of the countryside. Even those well-dressed ranks of conifers, Scots pine, Sitka and Norwegian spruce, unnatural in their regularity, will some day be stately forests. The forester's axe will thin their ranks; their lines will be less regular; the Scots pine will take on an orange hue in old age; some day they will give shelter; some day, I hope, the weary town worker may find sanctuary and that peace which I believe can only be found in a forest with the giants of nature around one.

If I may assume that Parliament approves the principle of establishing national forest parks, the House may be interested to know that the Forestry Commission could increase the number of forest parks to ten or a dozen with comparatively slight expenditure of public money. We have been forced in our acquisitions to buy land which is unplantable. The Forestry Commission owns to-day something like 1,000,000 acres. Not very far short of 400,000 acres of that land is unplantable. A great deal of it is hilly or mountainous country on which no trees will grow, and it is ideal in many ways for the establishment of national forest parks. Further, the commission is constantly acquiring land in various parts of the country; we are thoroughly familiar with values, and frequently hear of impending sales of land suitable for national parks. If it should be decided to make purchases of land in districts suitable for forest parks, the Forestry Commission could do this simply and cheaply. Unfortunately, it is true that many excellent opportunities have had to be neglected when they might have been turned to the advantage of the nation.

Finally, with regard to the Argyll Forest Park, I would like to say that the Forestry Commission regards this park as something still in the nature of an experiment. From our management of the New Forest, which is the nearest approach to a national park, we know the difficulties of reconciling sylviculture and the protection of forests with access for the public. The Argyll Park has been established with the expenditure of only £5,000 of public money for equipment. The public in that area now has access to 35,000 acres and limited access to 15,000 acres of potential forest. The House will no doubt appreciate that when woods are young and the danger of fire is very great indeed, it is necessary at certain times of the year to restrict the liberty of visitors to a forest park of this nature, but no special organisation has been set up and no additional staff has been engaged by the Forestry Commission.

The Glasgow Corporation, the Carnegie Trust and the Jubilee Trust have worked in the closest and most harmonious cooperation. Four camps have been established, Ardgartan House has been leased, and, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton East has already said to-night —making use of an expression which was new to me, as I expect it was to him until he read the report—the number of those using the sites last season was 10,000 person nights. I may say in that connection that some of the camps were not available until late in the season, and the numbers are likely to be greatly increased next year. One of the most encouraging features in the life of our people is the growing desire for health-giving holidays. Hiking, rambling, and camping are rapidly growing in popularity. Let us then not only preserve, but give opportunities to the people to enjoy. I can assure the House that the Forestry Commission will do all it can to fulfil both these objects, while carrying out its primary functions of growing timber.

8.25 p.m.


I do not propose to detain the House long, but I hope the brevity of my speech will not be taken as the measure of the importance which I attach to this subject. I, personally, am much indebted to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) for having introduced his Motion, and I feel it a duty on my part to the Stoke-on-Trent Council, of which I am a member, to take some part in this discussion because we have sent representatives to the National Parks Committee and have given evidence in favour of the establishment of national parks, and in particular of a national park at Dovedale. Someone has said that there is a race at present between the despoilers of the countryside and those who are concerned with its preservation. I do not know why there should be so much hesitancy on the part of the Government about putting forward definite schemes arising out of the recommendations of the National Parks Committee. There is, I am aware, a financial consideration involved, but I hope to show later that this requirement may be considerably eased.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) that we cannot follow the practice or the methods adopted in some of the Dominions in dealing with large expanses of land under national park schemes. We have a problem here which is more acute than the problem in those countries, and which makes it even more necessary for us to have national parks. Our population is more dense in relation to the size of our country than that of any other country in the world, and it is essential that we should retain as much as possible of our open spaces and make them accessible to our people. Unless steps are taken to preserve at least some of the beauty spots of this beautiful country of ours, we shall witness the sad spectacle of their spoliation by speculative builder or by mining, quarrying and industrial operations. I am aware, as an hon. Member has already pointed out, that we must take cognisance of these latter operations, but we must not forget the demand of the open-air organisations of which there are many in the country to-day. Their representatives met in conference some time ago and they are pressing for some action in this direction.

With the increase of road traffic those who seek the open country are being driven more and more to by-roads and paths, and these are gradually being closed down, with the result that hundreds of thousands of hikers, campers and cyclists, the youth of the nation, are clamouring to-day for greater opportunities of access to some of the lovelier parts of our rural districts. The National Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England are doing excellent work. At the same time we want to have some sort of national planning and national control. That can only be achieved if the Government take into consideration proposals on the lines indicated by the Mover of this Motion, namely, national parks, nationally planned and under national control. Nothing would stimulate the health crusade better than the acceptance by the Government of the recommendations of the National Parks Committee, and I feel sure that once the Government took the step of setting up schemes for national parks there would be a generous response from landowners in the form of gifts of land. I feel confident of that from my own experience.

I can speak personally of the Dovedale proposal. I am a Staffordshire man and Dovedale is situated partly in Derbyshire and partly in North Staffordshire. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. McDougall on many occasions, and a friend of mine has written much on the proposed national park at Dovedale. The difficulties in the way of the acquisition of that 15,000 acres or 20 square miles are very small indeed because of what has already been done by Mr. McDougall himself and what has been acquired by the National Trust and by the good feeling of the landowners in that area. I wish that the claims of all districts could be met, but I know that the Dovedale scheme will cost very little. The area is in some of the most exquisite English scenery that I know, and includes two rivers, the Manifold and the Dove, and there are various vantage points commanding views over glorious country. I know every inch of the ground which is accessible but some of the more beautiful parts are not accessible.

The people of North Staffordshire have long recognised Dovedale as one of our beauty spots and we, along with the people of Derbyshire, hope that the time will soon come when the whole range of that lovely valley will be open to the public. As I say, I feel that the question of finance will not enter very largely into the project in view of the magnificent gifts of land which have already been mentioned, and I am sure that there will be more to follow. I make a special appeal to the Government to take steps to open up some of these areas by national park schemes, so that the hundreds of thousands of young people, trampers, cyclists, and others who like to go out to the countryside may have opportunities of enjoying the beauties of their country. While I make a special plea, personally, for Dovedale, I hope that other areas which have strong claims will also be preserved to lovers of the country and will be made accessible by the removal once and for all from them of that wretched warning "Trespassers will be prosecuted."

8.34 p.m.


I am sure it is unnecessary for anyone in this House to advocate the establishment of national parks. Hon. Members in all parts of the House are agreed on that one point, and I shall not attempt to deal with it further. I wish to deal shortly with two matters which, in my judgment, are seriously impeding progress in the direction indicated by hon. Members who have spoken. If you get into an aeroplane to-day and fly over some of these desirable areas, you find a blight of small houses, without any order or any arrangement whatever, and it is only a matter of time before we shall find places that should and could have been made into national parks so built on or spoiled that they cannot be used for that purpose. I think it is very important that we should try to prevent any of that sort of undesirable development.

National parks will have to be made in conjunction with the work of the town planning authorities. We cannot simply be idealistic in this matter; we have got to be practical, and we have got to get right down and define the location of these national parks, which must fit into the town planning schemes, and then what do we find? Only two weeks ago, when we were discussing town planning in this House—[An Hon. MEMBER: "And were counted out"]—there was a very good reason for that, because we had sat up all through the previous night. On that occasion the Minister called attention to certain reasons why progress had not been made in town planning generally, and one reason, I think, stuck in the minds of all of us. That was that when the Town and Country Planning Act was passed—and it had been brought in originally by the present Opposition and carried out by the present Government—everybody was generally in sympathy with that point of view of the Town and Country Planning Act, but there were not in existence at that time enough ordnance survey maps brought up to date to make it possible to carry it forward. He made a statement that there were 4,000 ordnance survey maps needed, and le hoped that by the end of 1938 1,200 of them would be ready. That was the statement of the Minister. I realise, as a practical architect, the difficulties which you have in making the very accurate surveys that are essential, and hence I would beg of the Minister to do what he can to increase the speed of production of these maps. We do not want to wait until 1938 only to get 1,200 of the 4,000 maps so that we may have our open spaces defined. This is a point that is very well worth considering.

There is another matter that has been brought to the attention of those of us who look upon this question seriously, and that is that a good many of our local authorities do not yet seem to give appropriate consideration to town and country planning. They have not got their vision widened sufficiently. I have made it my business to get the last five advertisements for town and country planning advisers invited by various authorities. I know that the majority of the work for this town and country planning is done in the county or borough surveyor's office, or in the borough engineer's office, the office of a man who already, very often, is quite overworked, and he employs an assistant called the town planning assistant to handle the town and country planning section of his work. Here are the last five advertisements that have been published: North-East Lancashire, a own planning assistant who must be a fully qualified man and a man of experience, and they offer £300 a year; the East Sussex County Council offer £210 a year, the county borough of Halifax offer £200, the Derbyshire County Council offer £250, and the Hampshire County Council offer £250 a year. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members in this House do not think you can get a man with the experience and the training that are indispensable for this vital work, work that will affect everybody, not only in this generation but in the years to come, at a salary like that. The local authorities offer for this important work, which must be done by trained men, who have had training such as required by the Royal Institute of British Architects, also the Town Planning Institute, or the Institute of Civil Engineers—all this training and then only offered £250 a year. I beg of the Minister to call to the attention of these local authorities that it is essential to pay commensurate salaries if they want to get this work undertaken. It cannot be done, I am sure, without.

I beg of him to take the action that has been suggested by the proposer of this Motion and to give a lead to the various local authorities. The local authorities have done good work and will do good work, but there is no one to-day whose duty it is to take the initiative in this national park situation. It is left to anybody, and I would suggest respectfully to the Minister that he gets a departmental committee, or some other committee that fits in with the general organisation of his Department, to take a lead in this matter and to suggest and give prompt advice—and I say "prompt" advisedly—to the various local authorities so that they can go ahead in this matter. I think it would be an advantage for the Minister to take sections of the very admirable National Parks Report that apply and have them reprinted and circulated to the various local authorities that they affect. We all know that these fine reports are very easily forgotten and that many pigeon holes are filled with things that are never read again, but if sections of this report were circulated in the way I have suggested, I am sure that many local authorities would appreciate it.

This proposed committee could bring the local authorities into sympathetic touch with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the National Trust. Very good work is being done by the Office of Works in preserving historic monuments, and around these monuments we should be able to get appropriate open spaces. There are a great many people in the hon. Gentleman's own Department who feel as deeply as we do on this matter, and they are very conscious of the risks and dangers that we are encountering by delay on this subject, for once an area is spoiled, it can never be reclaimed. We all know that, and so I sincerely hope that the Minister will receive this Motion with sympathy and see that real action takes place in the very near future.

8.42 p.m.


It is very encouraging to all of us to find that on all sides it is recognised that Britain is being invaded at the present time by a sinister army of vandals and that from all parts there is not only anxiety as to the issue of that invasion, but a deep desire to take some measures to save England from being overthrown by it. We must recognise that already, unfortunately, a great deal of the rural England that we all appreciate has passed from us for all time. Any of us who travel about this "green and pleasant land" must have been struck by the large areas of green and pleasant places that are steadily disappearing. We go into some area that perhaps we visited 15 or 20 years ago, we look around to see where it is, and we find that it is somewhere in that spot, buried, unfortunately, beneath hideous monuments of bricks and mortar. Still, however, there are many areas that remain, and I am very anxious indeed that from the Government benches we shall have an endorsement of the very fine plea that has been made by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton(Mr. Mander) for the presevation of some of the rural treasures of the country.

I speak, naturally, as a democrat—and I hope that most Members of this House speak from the same angle—in the sense that I speak on behalf, not only of those who, because of their financial position, can always have access to some vast area of rural beauty, but for those who are not in that position but who nevertheless are now securing more leisure, and therefore more liberty than their forefathers possessed to see something of the England that is beyond the end of the street. It is that democracy in which we are interested, the democracy that unfortunately is still limited by the work it has to perform, by the place where it has to live and still choked very largely by the very smoke that pours out of the chimneys of the factories where it earns its daily bread.

I want to assure hon. Members opposite that, although there may be less opportunity on the part of the working class to see and enjoy the real England that some of us know, the hunger for that England is there all the time—a very real and deep hunger. When once an opportunity is given to satisfy it, it is most moving to find how eagerly there is a response. We are all suffering to-day from an overdose of bricks and mortar, which accounts perhaps for our spiritual dyspepsia, but the youth of to-day are showing full well that before heavy domestic burdens settle on them they are intent on experiencing as much of the peace, the beauty and the health of the countryside as they possibly can. It is encouraging, when one realises to-day that though there is often a cynical sophistication in certain quarters and that though that may be true of some, there are many others who have found the antidote to that in the wide spaces of the countryside. The leisure which is the inheritance of an increasing number of people to-day would, I am sure, if only the opportunity were given, be enjoyed in the countryside, seeing and enjoying the real treasures of our own land.

If that is to be secured, obviously some action must be taken in order to prevent some of those treasures from being stolen. Unfortunately, when one mentions the very word "park" it conjures up in one's mind one of those oases in a wilderness of bricks surrounded by railings, as if, indeed, we were afraid that the very grass might be taken from us. The interpretation of the word "park" must be more generous. We must not think of a few pathetic acres in the centre of our cities neatly, far too neatly, ordered and regulated, but of vast areas left, as far is it is humanly possible, in their natural state so that we can roam freely through the countryside without being directed by a superfluity of notices and regulations. All of us on these benches agree with one hon. Member opposite in his protest against what are called "litter-louts." I would urge him to realise that these litter-louts are not by any means confined to those who come from the industrial areas of the town. In fact, I think a good deal of the criticism of some of the ramblers over the countryside on that basis is much exaggerated.

I live next door to what we call, if not a national park, a municipal park; I mean that it is not one of those little oases to which I have referred, but one of the great contributions that the City of London has made to this country—Epping Forest. Knowing Epping Forest very well, and appreciating all its rural beauties, and leaving it every day for this place as I do, sometimes with great regret, I can say emphatically that any accusation that the people of London are spoiling that very precious treasure is certainly grossly exaggerated. I do not say that there have not been on occasion evidence of misbehaviour and the like, and an insensibility to the real inheritance that is ours, but what can one expect when, after all, we have thousands of people herded in towns and cities. When they are let loose for a while in some green and pleasant place, it is not surprising that their return to the countryside is sometimes marked by a trail of broken bottles and paper bags. Those instances are very few, however. The great majority soon learn the art of treasuring the countryside, and I am certain that, although we do well. to appeal to all to treat the countryside with the respect it deserves, the appeal need only be given to that very small minority who as yet, unfortunately, have not learned, as they should have learned, to treat the countryside with respect.

I had hoped that some word of approbation could have been uttered to-night with regard to the excellent effort of the London County Council to create a national park round London. I am sure that there is sufficient detachment from party politics in the House at the moment to enable an expression of appreciation to be given to those who in the London County Council are trying their utmost to prevent London from sprawling still further into the countryside. If we can preserve round London that green belt, not merely as a well-regulated, pleasant place and a recreation ground, but as a real park, I am certain that London will be an infinitely finer place and that Londoners themselves will learn to appreciate their city far more than they have done in the past. It is true, unfortunately, that in many parts of the country the vandalism to which I have referred has advanced menacingly and devastatingly, not through any inducement on the part of those who sit on these benches, or through any incitement on the part of the working-man and woman, but because of the narrow greed of those who see an opportunity for exploiting the countryside in their own interests and do so without any reservations.

It is said that there are people who, when they see a lovely morning, almost instinctively say, "It is a fine morning, let us go out and kill something," There are those, too, who seem almost intuitively to say, when they see a pleasant place, "Here is a lovely view, let us blotch it with a wretched building." Many of the fair places of England have been spoiled and degraded, not through working men, not through the greater leisure that democracy has secured, but through the blind folly and the narrow greed of those who have no soul above bank balances and full pockets. Surely they have to be taught, as all of us have had to learn, that in the end the gracious things in life are those which we can share together and that it is far better that the countryside should be enjoyed by all than be a secluded spot to be enjoyed by a few. We all recognise that the old landowners of the past have contributed something to the heritage of England by preserving vast areas of land and by developing within those areas the resources that are there; they have left areas that have delighted our eyes and left an imprint of beauty on our memories. Those days are gone. The days when the old landowner could be relied upon to preserve vast tracts of rural England have passed away.

In these days of swift transport, of greater leisure, of an expanding population, in these days of an enlightened and hungry democracy, we cannot rely upon these old landowners; we have to rely upon our own communal and public effort. I trust it will be realised that, while some applaud the efforts of men and women and public authorities to preserve certain tangible treasures of the past, after all these treasures, which are herded in museums, are not to be compared in value with those national treasures which will never fade away but which, in fact, become of increasing value as years pass by. It is far more necessary that we should preserve the real beauty of England for us all to enjoy than that we should preserve the British Museum. The British Museum chiefly contains the relics of the past, whereas the England we want to preserve surely contains the potentialities of a great and wonderful future.

8.55 p.m.


It might, perhaps, be for the convenience of hon. Members if I intervened for a few moments to say a word or two about this Motion. I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) for raising this question, and certainly I am indebted to him, because his doing so has involved my having to make myself acquainted in some detail with an extraordinarily interesting subject, and one which, I think, is of general interest to the nation, and apparently, judging by the number of hon. Members who still want to speak, of considerable interest to this House. It certainly is extraordinarily appropriate to-day, in connection with the campaign we hope to launch for a fitter Britain and, certainly, for a fitter young Britain. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton mentioned the National Parks Committee of 1931, and quite rightly drew attention, as did a subsequent speaker from the benches opposite, to the fact that the committee, after taking evidence, came unanimously to the conclusion that this country was not suitable for the institution of national parks such as those we read of in the United States, Canada or South Africa. The committee went on to say that what they had in mind could better be achieved if development was controlled, and if steps were taken to try to prevent spoliation by building. They suggested that the best means would be the granting to local authorities of much wider powers than they enjoyed under the then existing Town Planning Act.

The National Parks Committee went on to suggest that the areas of the country which require safeguarding in the national interest are divisible into two categories. The first category they called national reserves, meaning areas of sufficient importance to be of interest to the nation as a whole. They suggested a second category of regional reserves, which would contain areas of beauty or amenities of special interest to individual industrial areas. In the first category, said the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, they gave as examples of what they had in mind the Lake District, Snowdonia—and I confess to wondering how anybody invented such a perfectly hideous name—the Broads, part of the Pembrokeshire Coast, the Forest of Dean, and areas of that nature. Among the regional reserves they suggested as the sort of thing they had in mind the High Peak area of Derbyshire, the Forest of Howland, Cannock Chase and certain areas round London.

The House will, I am sure, be glad to recall that the wider powers suggested were, in fact, given to local authorities in the Act of 1932, and the really practical question that we have to ask ourselves to-night is whether those powers, which are adequate in theory, are in fact being made use of to achieve the purpose we have in view. As regards what the National Parks Committee called national reserves, I have, I think, a satisfactory account to give. Planning schemes are either in operation or under active preparation for the Lake District, for the Broads, and for parts of the coast lines of Lincolnshire and Pembrokeshire. A committee is on the point of being set up for Snowdonia. The Forest of Dean is actually being dealt with. As regards the regional reserves the High Peak district, Cannock Chase, the Forest of Howland and a large area of South Devon, including parts of Dartmoor, are already being dealt with. And, as hon. Members know, a considerable area round London has already been dealt with.

I will deal in a moment with the question of finance, but I would like to remind the House that under the Town and Country Planning Act local authorities have, in fact, power to include any place of natural beauty, or whose amenities require to be preserved, in a scheme, and that the Act applies to all areas whether they have been developed or not. Therefore, in theory at all events, the Act does provide very considerable powers, and does carry out, I think I can fairly claim, the major portion of the recommendations of the National Parks Committee. I have said that these schemes are in operation or are in preparation, and the House will remember that in the Debate which was initiated by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) on 18th November I said that interim control, the important preliminary stage, was in fact in operation over a very large portion indeed of this country. Little has been done in the way of planning in Wales, but the House will realise that the need is not so urgent in Wales, because little or no development has actually taken place or is in contemplation. As I pointed out on that occasion, considering that owing to unavoidable delay the Act of 1932 has really only been in effective operation since 1935, I think we can take a certain amount of credit for the local authorities for having got on as far as they have.


Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he say if anything has been done with reference to Dovedale?


If the hon. Member will allow me, I will deal with Dovedale when I come to what was said by the hog. Member for Hanley (Mr. Hollins), because I have a suggestion to make.


I should like to ask whether the Lake District scheme covers the whole of the Lake District. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that all is being brought in under the action now being taken?


I could not say offhand, but I will make inquiry and let the hon. Member know before I sit down. Of course, in addition to the purely town planning activities of the local authorities a great deal is also being done in the way of extending open spaces and playing fields. For the purposes of my speech to-night I got out such information as we have about the areas that are available within the boundaries of some of the greater local authorities. The information is not complete, but I think I have enough to give some indication to the House. The National Playing Fields Association have said that in their view a reasonable standard would be the provision of five acres of public open space per 1,000 of a town's population. Fifteen of the great boroughs and corporations of England with populations exceeding 200,000, such as Birmingham, Bradford, Cardiff, Nottingham, Liverpool, and so forth, cover a total population of just about 6,000,000. They are shown at present as having open spaces under the control of their councils amounting to just over 20,000 acres. Arithmetic reveals that that represents about three and one-third acres per 1,000 of their populations. I am not saying that that is perfect, but it means that considerable strides have been made towards the figure suggested by the Playing Fields Association, of five acres per 1,000.

Hon. Members will probably be interested to have the figures in respect of loans which have been authorised for the acquisition of land, and which will serve as an illustration of the further progress which has been made. They are purely the cost of the acquisition of land; the loans that have been sanctioned are actually higher, because they include the cost of the provision of amenities and layout. These are the figures for the actual acquisition of land: In 1927, £527,000; in 1928, £707,000; in 1929, £615,000; and in 1930, £979,000. During the period from 1931 to 1933, the figures dropped, owing to economic and financial difficulties. In 1934 the figure leapt up again, and was £961,000. Last year it rose to over £1,000,000. Those figures show that local authorities have been active during the past few years in acquiring additional open spaces, and they show the extent to which public opinion has been effective in this important aspect of the work of local authorities.

In addition to the open spaces which I have mentioned, there is the National Trust who own some 60,000 acres, very largely acquired through the action of generous donors, and we have the not unimportant item of 1,600,000 acres of commons. That is the figure ordinarily accepted; it is based, I think, upon the figures of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society. I do not accept authority for it, but I think it may be roughly correct. It includes such items as Ilkley Moor.


'Baht 'at?


Yes. It includes also Hampstead Heath. Indeed London is particularly fortunate because it has no fewer than 74 commons within 15 miles of Charing Cross.

Now, as to the Lake District; perhaps I may give the answer to the hon. Gentleman who asked me a question. I am informed that each of the counties concerned is represented upon the advisory co-ordinating committee of the three counties. This committee was formed at the instigation of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I will find out more on this point to-morrow, and send further information to the hon. Gentleman. Now I come to the all-important question of finance.


Is the hon. Gentleman returning to the question of commons and to the specific recommendation about commons in the National Park Committee's report?


As a matter of fact, the Committee went into this matter very carefully, but I am afraid I have not the reference to it in the Committee's report. Could the hon. Gentleman quote it?


Yes, Sir. On page 42, the report says: We recommend a survey to be made into all lands which were subject to the rights of common on 1st January, 1926. I asked the late Minister of Agriculture a question last Session as to whether he proposed to introduce legislation this Session to authorise county councils to make that survey, and he said that he was considering the matter. One result of his consideration was that he was promoted to another office.


That rather lets me out of having to answer the hon. Member's question.


No, it gives the hon. Gentleman his opportunity.


Let me now turn to the important question of finance. I have heard it suggested—I think some hon. Members were on the point of saying to-night, although I did not actually hear them say so—that a good deal of the work that we want to see done under the Town and Country Planning Act was unlikely to be achieved, because many local authorities had not sufficient finance or resources. In other cases I have heard it suggested that local authorities, especially county councils in sparsely inhabited areas, are very reluctant to spend, on compensation, the money which would be involved in sterilising large areas of ground, because they do not see why they should spend their ratepayers' money upon schemes for the benefit of townsfolk from distant industrial towns. There is misapprehension on that point, and I would like to try to clear it up.

I will begin by saying that we all sympathise, of course, with local authorities in that position. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will realise that all local authorities are not as rich as his county council. There is a way out. The Acts at present provide that an industrial town, say, a large borough, may spend its ratepayers' money upon helping another authority to obtain and sterilise land and prevent its being built upon. I do not think that the existence of that power is sufficiently publicly known, and, if the House will forgive me, I would like to read the relevant Sections of the Acts so that it may obtain publicity. Section 158 of the Local Government Act, 1933, specifically says: A local authority may, with the consent of and subject to any conditions imposed by the appropriate Minister, acquire by agreement, whether by way of purchase, lease, or exchange, any land whether situate within or without the area of the local authority for any purpose for which the local authority are authorised by this or any other public general Act to acquire land, notwithstanding that the land is not immediately required for that purpose. The Public Health Act, 1875, defines one of the purposes for which a local authority can own land as parks and open spaces, but that definition has been held not to cover what I may call the Green Belt activity. For instance, a local authority could not be allowed to purchase a farm and to relet it as a farm, under the 1875 Act. Under Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, they have definitely been given the power to acquire that sort of land, even though it is in the area of another authority, provided that the land is subject to a town planning scheme. It is open to them to go to a rural area and to say to the local authority: "You have a beauty spot. It would be of great advantage if it were preserved for the inhabitants of our borough. We quite realise that you cannot afford to sterilise it yourselves, but if you are willing either to purchase it or to include it in a town planning scheme in such a way as to sterilise it and prevent its being built upon we, the borough, will go to the Ministry of Health and ask their sanction for the necessary expenditure from our rates, to help you to preserve something which is of value and benefit to our ratepayers." I hope that the fact that this Debate has been raised to-night will result in publicity being given to these powers.

While I am on the same subject, I may mention that there is a further provision of the law to which I do not think sufficient attention has been paid. That is the power which enables landowners to sterilise their land by agreement with local authorities. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for South Shields for calling my particular attention to this point. This power has a double-barrelled advantage. In the first place it saves the local authorities a good deal of expense which they might otherwise have to incur for compensation for sterilisation. On the other hand, it is of considerable advantage to the landowner, or rather to his children, because when he dies the Inland Revenue will only assess his land for Death Duties at what I may call for brevity the diminished value inherent in that land owing to the fact that it has been made subject to restrictions against building.

That provision again, as far as we know, is not widely known, and certainly it has not been taken advantage of as widely as I hope it will be. As a concrete example of what can be done under it, I would cite the case of the Hailsham rural scheme. That is a scheme covering 20,000 acres, of which no less than 10,000 were preserved, without any cost to the local authority, as a result of voluntary action by some 25 landowners, of whom the biggest were Lieut.-Colonel Gwynne, with some 1,400 acres, Lord Gage with 1,100, the Eastbourne Water Company—and I particularly include them, because I think it is worthy of notice that a large corporation like that could do it—with 2,000, and Mr. Brown and Mr. Michalinos with something over 700 acres each.

In addition to what I have already explained, there is, of course, what is known as the Green Belt. London, with the cooperation of the Surrey County Council and the Middlesex County Council—or perhaps, in order to avoid any risk of criticism, I should say the Surrey County Council and the Middlesex County Council with the help of London—have combined together and with great public spirit have acquired a considerable area of land round London. I personally hope that the example of London, Surrey and Middlesex, not to mention Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Bucks, will be followed by large county councils surrounding some of the more important industrial towns in the Midlands and in the North.

That brings me to the point raised by the hon. Member for Hanley with regard to Dovedale. I am not acquainted with the details of the Dovedale transaction, and therefore what I say now must be taken with a certain reserve, but it seems to me to indicate the nature of the situation that arises where a good deal of land has already been given to the National Trust, and where the completion of the scheme depends on a comparatively small area of land. That is one of the sort of opportunities that exist for bringing into operation the powers of a local authority under Section 30 of the Act of 1932. One of the neighbouring boroughs which had enough money could quite easily go to the local authority in whose area Dove-dale is—I am assuming that the local authority has not enough money to do it —and say, "If you will include it in your town planning scheme, we will ask the Ministry of Health to allow us to contribute to the cost." I must not be taken as saying that that is possible in this particular instance, because I am not sufficiently acquainted with the details, but, judging by the description given by the hon. Member, it looks as though that is the kind of case in which this power might be applied, and even if it does not apply to Dovedale it must apply in many areas around industrial towns in the Midlands.

The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) talked about the hunger of people for the country. I quite agree. There is no doubt at all that London has seen and shown how the people, once the opportunities are given to them, will take advantage of these facilities. I asked the Southern Railway to get out for me some figures for the purposes of this Debate to-night, and they have been kind enough to do so. I am very grateful to them for the trouble they have taken. I do not suggest that other railways could not give the same sort of figures, but it was the Southern Railway that I asked. They tell me that within the last 12 months no fewer than 25,000 people have left London on a Sunday to take advantage of the conducted rambling tours, quite apart from the many thousands who leave on Saturdays and other days with cheap tickets under what I believe is called the "Go as you please" programme.

They have also given me some figures showing the total numbers of tickets collected at some of the stations which serve these beauty spots. I have not time to give them all, but will give one or two which seem to me to be particularly striking. The number of tickets collected at Kew Bridge and Kew Gardens in one year was 818,000; at Banstead, 303,000; at Dorking, 316;000; at Purley, 526,000, and at Horsham 267,000. Of course, in addition, there are the people who go out by the omnibuses and coaches of the London Passenger Transport Board. This shows the extent to which people in London are taking advantage of the opportunities they are being given.

The hon. Member for West Leyton also mentioned the question of litter, and it was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) in his admirable speech. I was talking the other day to the education director of my own county of Lancashire, and he told me that he was getting extraordinarily good results in that direction from the elementary school children by impressing upon them that the places to which they were asked to go really belonged to them—an idea which I personally think is very sound—that they are not there as trespassers, but they are there as part owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear that there is general agreement as to the advantage of trying to inculcate that kind of idea.

I take it that it is hardly necessary for me to say anything to-night about the physical advantages of open spaces. Doctors, I suppose, disagree on many things, but I imagine they agree that there are three fundamental advantages of open-air exercise over indoor exercise. The first is—and I imagine that no one would agree with me in this more than the hon. Member for Derby, who is one of the best exponents of open-air exercise—the great stimulus it gives to the "energy output" of the body. The second is the freedom from dust. One has only to go into a gymnasium and look at a sunbeam coming through the window to see how, with the best will in the world in keeping the floor in the best' condition, there is nevertheless a large amount of dust. I am not going to suggest that, in a climate like ours, we can do without facilities for indoor exercise, but at all events it is clear that, however much we may increase those facilities in our forthcoming campaign, it is equally if not more important to see that there are adequate facilities for exercise in the open and moving air. The third, and I think probably the most important advantage, in view of the increased strain of modern life, which tends to be lived more and more indoors—in offices and workshops and factories—lies in the complete and stimulating change of taking exercise out of doors, which is bound to have a first-class psychological effect. I do not think that we can emphasise too much the effect on the health of people of being able to give them plenty of opportunities for exercise in the open air. My final point is to emphasise what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash about the activities of the Forestry Commission.


Before the hon. Gentleman comes to his final point, may I ask him whether he is going to say something about central guidance in this matter?


The hon. Member for Wolverhampton East suggested that it was necessary to have a co-ordinating body, and that the present advisory council for town planning was probably the appropriate body. He will remember that we had similar suggestions three weeks ago when we were discussing town planning, and I pointed out that, in fact, it was the small schemes which were going ahead the fastest, and that when you started to bring the larger regional bodies in it was—to use that blessed word—co-ordination which caused the delay. He will remember that I said that 10 schemes a month were being submitted for approval under the Town and Country Planning Act. The rate is, I am glad to say, being maintained, and we have grounds for hoping that it will be accelerated. At the moment no fewer than 144 schemes have been adopted locally and are awaiting submission to the Ministry. We do not believe that to entrust this particular job to the advisory council would help. It suffers from the drawback that it is a technical committee. I doubt whether it contains the personnel most appropriate for the job which the hon. Member has in mind. A great deal has been done in a short time.


All the hon. Gentleman has done is to say that this particular body is not a suitable one for central guidance. Will he tell us an alternative body which he thinks could do this in accordance with the recommendation of the committee?


Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say first what I have to say with regard to the Forestry Commission. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash gave a brief description, which I confess was news to me until I saw the papers to-day, of a new experiment which was being started by the Forestry Commission, and which they call the National Forest Park. From his description, and from what I saw in the papers, it seems to me an admirable experiment. You have, for instance, a large area extending from Carlisle right across to Newcastle over which you can walk uninterruptedly on Forestry Commission land. That affords a useful way out. I do not see why it should be beyond the wit of man to co-ordinate the work of the Forestry Commission, the National Trust, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and the various youth movements and youth hostels so that they can together make use of the magnificent opportunities which are evidently possible.

I have endeavoured to give a picture as shortly as I could of what is actually going on. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said that we want a guiding hand. It would ill become me to sing the praises of my own Department, but, after all, we are here to guide and help local authorities when they are in doubt. To-night I have tried to show and obtain publicity for practical suggestions which we have to make. The planning of those areas which were mentioned by the committee is actually being done. I hope that I have said enough to show that we have carried out what we believe were the most important recommendations of that committee. I hope also, that the House will agree that in the short time in which this policy has been in operation, we can show substantial results.

9.31 p.m.


I am sure that we have listened with great interest to the illuminating speech which the Parliamentary Secretary has given us. We realise that he has taken the matter into consideration sympathetically, and we sin- cerely hope that as a result of this discussion something will be done without further delay. Just immediately after the National Parks Committee's report was published, the crisis of 1931 came along. That, of course, involved the shelving of the committee's recommendations, seeing that they involved expenditure of a certain amount of money. It seems to me that this matter should now be tackled in earnest and that some scheme, either the scheme recommended by the National Parks Committee or some other scheme of equal usefulness, should be taken in hand. After all, the committee that reported was a very strong committee of experts and they gave the greatest possible attention to the matter, and on that account the Government should take their recommendations into favourable consideration. The urgency of immediate action in this matter is pointed out in one of the paragraphs of the report which emphasises the need of adequate measures for preserving the countryside, and this need is accentuated by the rapid progress of urbanisation, the extension of transport facilities, changes in land ownership and other modern developments. These are points that have been accelerated considerably since that report was published, and therefore it is vitally important that something should be done without further delay.

I should have liked to have appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he had been here, for generous consideration of this matter. It cannot be left solely to local authorities. In many cases it is impossible for local authorities to tackle this question, and without some financial assistance and some central board which would co-ordinate all this work and initiate it in some cases very little will be done. The recommendation that £500,000 be spent over five years was most reasonable, and if carried out would help us to go a long way on the road we all desire. As to the need for some authority with extensive power, I can speak from personal experience. I was hon. secretary of the Cannock Chase National Park Committee, which was formed in 1930, before the report of the National Parks Committee came out. Cannock Chase is one of the most beautiful of our open places in England and it is calling aloud for preservation. There are 25 square miles of very charming high moorland, with swelling hills, parted by deep gullies, with many pretty streamlets, and covered with bracken and heath.

That may seem a very curious description of a chase in South Staffordshire, which people who do not know it always consider as synonymous with the Black Country, but I can assure hon. Members that Cannock Chase, though it is within a few miles of industrial works of various kinds, is one of the most beautiful parts of the Midlands. It is commonlandin large measure, and it is for that reason that we have particular difficulty in dealing with it. Part has been taken over by the Forestry Commissioners on a 999 years lease, and I believe all the land that is to be planted has already been planted. I rejoice at the work of the Forestry Commission, though I have heard complaints from residents that so much of the land has been afforested that it is preventing the access of people who wish to stroll through the chase. Under this chase there are valuable coal measures, which are being worked from one side of the chase itself, and, if nothing is done there, there is great fear that, say in 25 years, or even less, much of what is now a most beautiful park will be desecrated by pit mounds and shafts.

We are delighted to know of the wonderful progress that has been made at Dovedale. That has been rendered possible largely by the fact that Dove-dale is under private ownership, and therefore it has been possible to buy the land and dedicate it for this purpose. Cannock Chase is common land and, although those who hold manorial rights are all favourable, as I know from personal experience, to its preservation as it is, there are difficulties caused by joint ownership, and also by the fact of these coal measures, which it is quite impossible for private negotiations to get over. Moreover, we have a number of local authorities in the district and it is impossible to get them together and to unite on one policy.

I should like to confirm what the Parliamentary Secretary has said with regard to the good work that has been done by the Town and Country Planning Committee. We have a very excellent committee dealing with the area but, unfortunately, they cannot deal with what is really the greatest trouble and fear, namely, the question of the working of these coal measures. It is a very serious question indeed and one which, if it is not dealt with in a large way, will ultimately spoil one of the most beautiful parts of England. Only a public authority, it seems to me, can cope with it. The House will understand why we are so anxious to preserve this beauty spot for all time. Although the population is very small in the area, within a radius of 20 miles there are 2,000,000 people, and it is therefore of great importance that this Chase should be preserved for ever for the use of the public. If once it could be dedicated as a national park, the cost of maintenance would be very low. It is a natural chase, and everyone desires that it should be left in a natural way, without any of the modern improvements of roadmaking, which would tend to spoil it.

What I have said about Cannock Chase is, I am sure, typical of other attractice areas of natural beauty in this beautiful land, and it seems to me that a national authority, on the lines set out in the National Parks Committee's report, is by far the best method of approach. If the Minister of Health can find an equally effective method, we shall be only too glad. May I quote part of the concluding paragraph of the National Parks Committee's report: We desire to record our conviction that such measures as we have advocated are necessary if the present generation is to escape the charge that in the short-sighted pursuit of its immediate needs it squandered a noble heritage. These are good, fine words and they must be borne in mind. They were written five years ago, and since then great changes have taken place, not only in the area but throughout the whole country. The sands are running out and every year's delay renders the object we all have in view more difficult. I would appeal to the Minister of Health to see that some recommendations are put before the House at the earliest possible moment so that we can make a step forward in this very important direction.

9.42 p.m.


It is a good thing that so many who have spoken are in agreement on the general principle that something must be done, and done speedily, to preserve natural beauty spots from spoliation and damage. We have on the Statute Book already a number of Acts which give us power to deal with the matter. The problem is really one of getting these Acts administered. I want to suggest that, quite apart from national parks, we have to consider, not just the beauty spots, but the country as a whole. I think the whole country is beautiful, except certain areas which have been spoiled by industrial development, and even they might be made better in course of time. What we really want is something that will deal with the country as a whole. We have that in the Town Planning Act, if it is carried out. Mention has been made of the Forest of Dean, the constituency for which I sit. The Parliamentary Secretary says that steps have already been taken to start a planning scheme there. I am inclined to think that he is intelligently anticipating, because I do not know that anything has been definitely done in this connection.

I should like to know, if possible, whether anything really is being done. Here you have a national park; not only a beauty spot, but an industrial area and an agricultural area, and you have to see how the future development of towns and industry will take place and to secure that it shall not damage the amenities of that district. You have a. national park in the sense that the Crown is the principal landowner. You have a national estate there, in fact. I should like to know how far the Forestry Commission have been brought into any discussions and plans that are being prepared for this project. I am sure that the Forestry Commission would, if they were informed about it, take the necessary action, but somehow I feel that there is not that contact between the various authorities concerned. It is a complicated matter. We have the Forestry Commission, the county councils and the rural and urban district councils, and all three have to work together, and I do not feel that there is that contact between them such as is necessary in a place like Dean Forest. In large wide areas where the Crown is not the principal owner and the landowning is private, it is a question of plans for development being worked out by the county councils and rural and urban district councils alone. They have to aim at the controlling of building operations.

Mention has been made of a green belt round London. But you want green belts elsewhere. You want them in the counties. I should like to see parishes reserved against building and housing schemes, and those schemes arranged for other parishes, with the necessary compensation being paid as is provided under the Town Planning Act. Green belts everywhere in fact. The Gloucestershire County Council in this matter has been progressive and is hard at work preparing plans along these lines. I think that other county councils are doing the same, but there are others which are very backward, particularly among the urban and rural district councils, whose co-operation is necessary in this matter, but of whom many are doing literally nothing at all. The county council cannot get ahead very well unless it has the co-operation of these local district councils. On the question of housing, I should like to see the Ministry of Health take some steps to advise the urban and rural district councils in regard to the type of houses to be built. I am afraid that there are cases where the local authorities are worse sinners almost than the private speculative builders in erecting a type of house in the countryside which is thoroughly unsatisfactory and out of keeping with the type of country in which the house is built. One knows of cases where great red brick houses are erected in districts where there is grey limestone, like on the Cotswold Hills. I know of plenty of this sort of case and even of rural authorities permitting this offence. I know similarly of cases in red sandstone or red clay districts where stone houses are erected with slate roofs, a type of building entirely out of keeping with the amenities of the district.

Not very long ago I had occasion to sell a plot of my own land to a rural district council for the purpose of constructing agricultural labourers dwellings, and I succeeded in getting inserted in the contract a provision whereby the council should consult the representative of the Council for, the Preservation of Rural England with a view to getting his consent and approval of the plans, but I found that the district council itself was tied down to a certain type of building and design and that very little latitude appeared to be allowed to it. The representative of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England had very little that he could recommend because his choice of materials and design was limited. I understood at the time that this was due to the regulations of the Ministry of Health. I want very much to know if that really is the case and whether the Ministry do tie down the local authorities to a specific type of house I Cannot they in this matter have a little imagination and allow more latitude in regard to the type of house which the local authority can erect?

I am afraid that it is the Department concerned which is drawing up and approving the plans and sending them out without any idea in what sort of places these houses are to be constructed. I think that it is necessary that the Government Department concerned should be helpful and give a lead to the local authorities in regard to dealing with this matter. Moreover, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) that some thing more is needed at the centre to take control of this problem. We do not want too much bureaucracy in these matters, or too much centralisation. There is a great deal to be said for local initiative. Much of our government is done on the basis of local initiative, and our local government is well developed, and long may it remain so, but even if the increased powers are not given at the centre there should be better coordination and more initiative in taking steps to bring the various authorities together—the Forestry Commission, the Commissioner for Crown Lands, the county councils and the urban and rural district councils. The lead in this matter can only come from the Government Department concerned who should facilitate as far and as soon as possible the working out of plans for our countryside, so as to see to it that our great national heritage which is in danger of disappearing shall be planned both in regard to the development of industry and of buildings, and that sufficient open spaces be left, not only for the townspeople—God forbid, I realise the need for them also to have these open spaces for which their lungs and their bodies crave—but also for the inhabitants of the countryside who shall not see the country in which they have lived and which they have loved destroyed by the developments of this modern age.


With regard to the Forest of Dean, I understand that the local authorities under the aegis of the county council have set up a joint planning committee for the area. I think I am correct in saying that interim development control is in operation. As regards the design of houses, it is true that they were in 1931, cut down owing to cost, but in the last 18 months I gather that greater latitude has been allowed and the Minister has called the special attention of the local authorities to the imperative need for decent design and decent standards in the houses.

9.56 p.m.


It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). It is true that England for a very long time to come will be what this generation shall make it. At the present time development is going forward on such a vast scale that it will be impossible seriously to alter what we arrange in the next few years. I would specially urge not merely the careful preservation of famous buildings but well-known buildings of the average kind, also old-fashioned cottages in our villages which really give something of the local atmosphere. My great objection to the council houses, admirable in their way, is their uniformity. You get the same sort of houses in Berwick, Cornwall, Wick, and in every part of the country. There are in old England houses of delightful local character and of local material. I have no sympathy whatever for distatorships, but having visited Germany and various other countries under that form of government recently, and realising the way in which they are attempting to keep all their old buildings, not merely in towns such as Hildesheim, where they are being kept as national museums, or national curiosities, but in great industrial cities like Hanover, where they are trying to preserve every old street and building. In that way, and that alone, I sometimes feel inclined to say, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Nazi," but I would not barter our democratic traditions even for that good work.

It has been pointed out with a great deal of truth that what we do cannot be effective for a considerable time, and yet I am immensely impressed by the magnificent work that is being done in what may be considered one of the grandest parts of the black country, by the Urban District Council of Coseley, in my own division, where by planning and by laying out gardens among old slag heaps a really beautiful park has been established. I want that work to be carried out on a very much larger scale. It is a part of the country to which the Mover of the Motion and myself belong. A tremendous amount of work might be done in the black country which, in earlier days, was probably one of the loveliest parts of the country, if the slag heaps could be turned into gardens and if on a large scale re-afforestation could be carried out. That is a work to which the unemployed could be put. It is not a matter of making work to keep people occupied but an urgent national duty.

While there are a large number of people unemployed in ordinary industry, I do not think it possible to find ways in which they could better be occupied in bringing again forests, gardens, parks and all those really beautiful things to parts of the country that are rather drab as a result of the most unfortunate industrialisation of the Victorian age. Therefore, I hope the Government will take up from every point of view the preservation of our beautiful England, the re-afforestation of country areas that have been spoiled in recent times and the employment of people who at present have no work. I hope they will vigorously push on with this most important work. There could be nothing more important than the appearance of our beloved land for generations yet to be.

10.1 p.m.


In spite of the kind references of the Parliamentary Secretary to myself, for which I thank him, I heard his speech with some disappointment. As one who has had to give a good deal of his time in trying to carry out this work in a district where it is comparatively easy, I am sure that it is not going to be carried out effectively without something more than advice from the central Government. It is comparatively easy in counties like Surrey, with their very high rateable value per head of population, together with the very generous assistance that has been given to them by the present London County Council, to deal with the problem that confronts us, but when one gets into other parts of the country it is a very different story.

One goes to rural district councils in those parts and they point out the double difficulty with which they are confronted. They have the chance of seeing certain land developed which will produce the rateable value of which they are urgently in need, but in producing that rateable value they destroy what we all desire to preserve. If they are prevented they not only have to lose the rateable value but to compensate the landowner for not producing the rateable value. That is the double difficulty that confronts them, and many county councils are very little more than an aggregation of rural district councils. While the dictum that the poor should help the poor is generally observed among individuals, it is not seriously practised among poor local authorities. I can assure the Minister that it would have heartened those on all sides of the House who are interested in this matter if he could have indicated that he and his Department would be willing not merely to offer their advice, which is valuable and costly to them, but is not very helpful to us in financing these matters, but that in certain places the Ministry and the Treasury would be willing to assist financially. I regret to have to say that we heard his statement on that point with very considerable disappointment.

There are one or two points arising from the report of the National Parks Committee to which I should like to refer. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the question of the commons. Even in connection with a thing like the London green belt the problems confronting different counties vary very largely in accordance with the extent to which the commons were or were not enclosed during the great enclosure period. Middlesex has very few commons left and, therefore, has had to buy very big continuous tracts of country in order to establish anything like a green belt, but Surrey is a county where very few commons were enclosed, and where some commons which were legally enclosed have never been physically enclosed. One of these places which comes in the green belt, called Ockham Common, along the Portsmouth Road, near the Wisley Hut, was a legally enclosed common, but not physically enclosed, and at any moment the Dowager Countess of Lovelace, the owner, if so minded, could have erected fences or have sold that desirable and beautiful tract of country and robbed the Portsmouth Road of one of its chief beauty spots.

In Surrey the main problem in dealing with the green belt is to provide effective links between the various commons which exist. In Epsom there is a point known throughout the world as Tattenham Corner. Anyone getting out at Tattenham Corner can spend a whole day walking over 20 miles of commons, a more extensive tract than there is in the five Midland counties of England. That gives an idea that commons are an essential part of a national parks scheme. We know the way in which small encroachments are made unless there is continual vigilance, and the National Parks Committee suggested that a survey should be made of all commons which were in existence on a given day in 1926. But nobody was empowered to make that survey, and it seems to me that this recommendation should be implemented by making it the duty of county councils to make arid file a survey of commons in their area, in the same way as rights of way are now being dealt with under the Rights of Way Act, 1932. The maps should be available for public inspection and freeholders of the common should have the right to make objections. There should also be some tribunal before whom disputes could be brought and prevent future encroachment on commons.

I want to refer to a matter which has perhaps more to do with the Minister of Transport. I hope that for the roads which are to supersede some of the existing trunk roads no land will be taken from commons unless it is absolutely necessary, and that in no case will a road be driven across a common. By driving an arterial road across a common you do not cut it into two parts, you destroy it from the point of view of its usefulness as a national park. We have only to remember the case of Mitcham Common, how it was cut up by a railway company, and Wandsworth Common to see the kind of damage which can be done by driving an arterial road through the middle of a great common. It is no answer to say that the same number of acres have been put somewhere else on the edge. In these days we like to get away sometimes from the sound and smell of the motor car. However useful it may be in certain circumstances, there are moments when we desire to forget that we live in a mechanical age, and I feel that a great work has been done in getting a green belt round London, so as to increase the acreage over which people can roam without wondering whether they are going to be mowed down by some fast moving vehicle.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to the Minister of Transport what is the obvious feeling of the House on this matter. The Minister of Transport will not be so readily accessible to local feeling as the county council. In some of the remoter parts of England a common may be destroyed and great local indignation felt, but people may find it difficult to make that indignation felt in the Ministry of Transport. While we greatly enjoyed the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and the obvious knowledge he displayed of the subject, and while we know his great sympathy in this matter, yet I would ask him to convey to the Minister the strong feeling which exists in the House that if the work is to be done properly he must come to the aid of the districts with some financial resources to enable this great national work to be successfully completed.

10.11 p.m.


While I listened with pleasure to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary I confess that I was a little disappointed. I felt that he was relying too much on actions which may be taken by somebody else and was not realising sufficiently the importance of some coordinating power or authority. I do not advocate the setting up of a new authority, but I think there must be something more than was foreshadowed in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, to see that something will be done. I will not say one word against the importance of the question of playing fields. It is a question which deserves a Debate of its own. Then, as the representative of an area outside London, I felt that too much attention was being paid to the belt round London and to the southern counties. There are vast areas in the Midlands and the North which should receive full consideration. It is a much wider question even than that. It is a question in which the people are taking a great deal of interest throughout the country. One of the great attractions we can offer visitors from other countries is the view of our countryside, and if we do not preserve our countryside we shall lose a great national asset.

I want to associate myself with the Motion and to thank the hon. Member for Wolverhampton East (Mr. Mander) for having brought it forward. Dovedale is situate in my constituency. I am well aware of the beauties of the district and of its value to the community as a whole. It is an area which cannot be surpassed in the whole country, and, I am informed, cannot be surpassed in many countries in Europe. It is of national interest that something should be done soon to coordinate the various authorities which are interested in that area, to see that action is taken. Hanley is interested, and is perhaps the nearest authority; but there are also Manchester, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Derby, and Stafford, in addition to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, which are within reasonable distance of this beautiful spot. They are districts which have the benefit of being able to visit it, but yet are not in a position to destroy it by being too near. That is of very great importance. All those are areas having very large populations which have the right to have preserved for them some of the beauties of the country. I must add my word of appreciation for the magnificent way in which Mr. McDougall has assisted in the preservation of that particular area. I do not think, however, that we ought to leave national questions of this sort entirely to the generosity of individuals; a bigger attitude should be taken up.

I am not one of those who believe that another authority should be set up, but I believe the subject is one sufficiently worthy to warrant the Ministry of Health having a separate department to deal with it and to see that something is done to stimulate the various authorities in coordinating their work in this matter. The question is one of very great importance to the people of this country. From a health point of view, they need to go into the country and to have the benefits of wide open spaces. Moreover, we ought to preserve the natural beauty of the country. Here let me say that, while it may be necessary to curtail the industrial activities of the particular areas to which we are referring, it is not necessary to curtail the advantages which the nation may derive from them, for while curtailing the industrial development of the areas, it would not be necessary and would be a mistake to curtail the agricultural development. Agriculture does not detract from the beauties of the areas, but often adds to them.

One hon. Member referred to the question of housing, and spoke of the difficulty of having houses built in what he described as disorganised ways. My own view is that if there is one thing which spoils the countryside, it is to have housing which is too organised. To build houses in rows, one similar to another from the architectural point of view, does not, in my opinion, add to the beauty of the country. I believe the promiscuous building of houses in various spots, without that regimentation to which we object, is very much more conducive to the beauty of the countryside than housing schemes on the general lines of schemes as we understand them at the present time.

While the public demands, and has the right to demand, access to these areas, I think people should recognise that in enjoying the advantages of access they must put up with and accept the responsibilities which go with it. They have not the right to spoil the countryside. I would add that I do not believe that all the people who spoil the countryside are people who come from populous areas, for there are others who are just as guilty, perhaps because familiarity with the countryside may mean that they are not as conscious as they ought to be of the values which they are destroying. I believe we ought to see that powers are taken and put into operation to preserve the amenities of the countryside.

I think we might preserve the beauties of our country in two ways. The first way would be to have national parks, which might be reservations for game, or take some other form; but I do not think it would be necessary to have the sort of national parks which some of us have had the opportunity of seeing abroad. We could not possibly permit such vast areas to be used in that way in this country. Secondly, there are other areas which might be controlled. I believe such areas would be of great value, and in many cases where a national park was not possible, it would be possible to have some very close restriction of the use of large areas which, while not injuring the utility of the countryside, in that agriculture would be allowed to go on, would preserve the amenities of the countryside. We must remember that all this natural beauty has not been created by us. It has been handed down to us for our use and benefit, with the obligation attached to it that we should hand it on to future generations and give them the advantages which we are claiming for ourselves to-day.

10.20 p.m.


I begin; by associating myself with the Minister and all those hon. Members who have congratulated the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on bringing forward this Motion. The House may also, I think, congratulate itself on this Debate. I hope that it will serve to stimulate opinion and that that opinion, in turn, will serve to stimulate the Government and the Minister to take rather more vigorous action than they have taken up to the present time. The House, I am sure, is aware from the speeches which have been made on this side that this is a, matter to which our party attaches great importance. I believe that fact is also shown by the record of the Labour party, both in Opposition and in the brief periods when it has held office in a minority in this House. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) said that in the preservation of the beauty of England the Forestry Commission ought to be concerned. I agree, and it is a fact that the first Labour Government of 1924 restored the original programme of the Forestry Commission, that is to say, did away with the cuts imposed by the Geddes axe.

It is also a fact that the second Labour Government in 1929 greatly increased the programme of the Forestry Commission and very nearly doubled the money which was available for its use. It is a fact that the Labour Government in 1931 exempted from Estate Duty lands and other properties made over to the National Trust. That was made permissive in the legislation then introduced, and I wish it could be made obligatory so that the Treasury would not retain the power to take that taxation, though I believe that, in fact, the power has rarely, if ever, been exercised up to the present time. It is a fact that the Labour Government introduced the Town and Country Planning Bill of 1931, which later, in a somewhat emasculated form, became an Act of Parliament. It is a fact that the Labour Government appointed the Committee on National Parks, the report of which this House is discussing to-night. It is a fact that local authorities, and particularly the present administration of the county of London, have done a great deal to create green belts and local parks in many parts of the country. It is a fact, I believe, that the Labour party is the only party which has in its election programme—as appears from the pamphlet "For Socialism and Peace"—put before the country a policy for the planning and use of land which will make provision for "amenities, for the preservation of natural beauty, for the provision of national parks," and so on.

I mention all this, not to make any party capital, but to assure the Minister that we are prepared to give him the fullest support in any action he may take, and that if he will go further than he has gone to-night as to putting up money he can rely upon our party not to oppose him, but to lend him the fullest support. We join to-night in the all-party appeal which has been made to him to take this matter seriously and to do more than he has already done. This Motion is very wide in its scope and urges the Government to do all that they can to stimulate and develop action for the preservation of the countryside and its amenities, including the reservation of national parks. The Debate, too, has covered a wide range, and over the whole of that range the Minister has given us an extremely optimistic account of what is happening. I do not want to dispute what he says, that, considering that the legislation of 1933 has only been in force effectively for one year, the results are very encouraging indeed. I agree that what he said about playing fields is very encouraging, though, as another hon. Member suggested, I think it would be a suitable subject for a separate Debate. But in spite of what he told us as to what has been done, I think, with most of my hon. Friends, that we need a national programme for the preservation of the countryside more ambitious than anything that the Government have yet given us.

We entirely agree that in times gone by the landowners have done very much to beautify the countryside, and I would like to say that so long as the system of private ownership of land continues, we should desire to respect private rights, so long as they were not in opposition to the public interest. I also agree that the public has a duty towards the private owner and that the public needs education in that duty, as long as the present system endures. But we also think that in this matter, as in afforestation, owing to economic causes, the present system has broken down. The present system does not provide for the preservation of the beauty of the countryside any more than it secures in this country the planting of trees which is required. That being so, we think it is urgent that Government action should be taken. A great deal of Government action has in fact, by general agreement, been taken; but we want more still.

I want to make a few suggestions concerning the national programme which we think is needed. Action by a great many different agencies is needed. First, by this Parliament. I will not elaborate the point, but I believe that the law with regard to building, ribbon development, control of elecations and designs, and so on, needs to be far stronger than it was made in the last Bill which was passed on the subject. In the second place, a great deal of the beauty of England is in what are called our private parks. I recall the evidence given to the National Committee on Parks, in 1931, I think it was, by the National Trust. They said in their memorandum that the private parks of England are unique in the world and are not one of its least beautiful possessions. They went to to say: In them, as in our hedgerows, trees are grown for beauty and not for commercial reasons, as generally abroad, and are allowed to attain the special beauty of old age. Again they went on: Both parks and hedgerows are rapidly disappearing, and unhappily it has continued to be true since 1931 that parks and hedgerows have rapidly disappeared. I believe that in this matter there are four different kinds of action to be taken. In the first place, there is that which has been mentioned by the Minister, namely, the "sterilisation" of land; and I should like to emphasise the point which he made—and it is important that landowners should understand it—that in sterilising land they would be acting with great public spirit, but, at the same time, it would not always involve them in any considerable financial loss. In the second place, I hope there is a considerable number of landowners who are reflecting carefully on the action of Sir Charles Trevelyan in donating his Wallington estate to the National Trust, and I hope his example will be widely followed. In the third place, there are a few enlightened local authorities which recognise the value to their communities of these private parks. I take as an example the ancient and honourable borough which I have the honour to represent. The borough of Derby, in the course of the last 10 years, has acquired two private parks, the Darley and Markeaton parks, which, owing to the operation of the death duties, were coming into the market, and in those parks they have now not only splendid open spaces for the people and magnificent gardens, but also the same ancient and beautiful houses have been retained as restaurants and tea-shops for the people of the borough. The same gardens and greenhouses have been kept on and the estates are worked as they were under the private owners, but now for the benefit of the town as a whole. I hope that that is an example which will be widely followed, and that it will be followed, in respect of parks further from towns, by local authorities that want hospitals, rest homes and maternity homes, like that maintained by the borough council of Bermondsey. In that way a great deal of our natural beauty in private parks may be kept for the nation.

In the fourth place—and I regard this as fundamental and I want to press it on the Minister with all my power—it is essential that the Government should exercise the power of which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton spoke, namely, that of taking land instead of money in payment of death duties. The exercise of that power might do more than any other single measure to save a great deal of the beauty of the country which is being threatened, because unhappy landowners are almost forced to turn over their beautiful estates to the jerry-builder.

Next, we believe that a much greater use could be made than has yet been made of the National Trust. Everybody in all quarters of the House admires and appreciates the work which the Trust has done. I believe that it could do a great deal more than it has yet done; and that for this purpose it should be given much wider powers, for example, the same power as a planning authority; the power, in cases of necessity, of compulsory purchase; and it should be helped by grants of public money. I do not want to diminish in any way what the Trust has done. It is beyond all praise. I do not want to do anything which would retard or diminish the private support which it receives from public-spirited private persons. But I do believe that the Government could do a good service to the nation by helping the National Trust more than it does.

Next, I agree strongly with the hon. Member who spoke about the Forestry Commission and its work in creating forest parks. I hope that in England, Wales and Scotland we may have many forest parks of the kind of which he spoke. I believe that it is a fact, which I learned from a book by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), that after Portugal this is the least wooded country in Europe. Considering our climate, that is a national scandal. Unemployment can be relieved by forestry schemes more effectively per million pounds than by other schemes. There are more man years of work in forestry occupations per million pounds than in perhaps any other use to which unemployment funds can be put. I would like to urge on the hon. Member who is a member of the Forestry Commission, and on the Government, that, in fulfilling this duty, the Commission really ought to plant more hardwood trees than it does. I have nothing against the conifer in its proper place. When it grows old it makes a respectable forest of its kind. The special beauty of England, however, lies in hard wood, and I hope that the Commission may be allowed to purchase the land and that they may be given more money, which they require for planting hardwood forests, than they have been given up to the present time.

Above and beyond all these things, I believe that we need more effective action than we have taken in respect of what to-night we are calling national parks or national reserves; in other words, more action to carry out the proposals of the report of 1931. What we have in mind are not forests, not the smaller kind of properties with which the National Trust deals, but they are the larger areas, and the action we want in respect of those areas is not merely the planning and the scheduling which the Minister said is going on at the present time. The report proposes that these national reserves should be reserves for the wild animals and wild birds that live in those areas, reserved for the plants and the flowers and the shrubs and the trees. It proposes that they should be made open to the public at large; that where there is not now access, access should be obtained.


That is always possible under the existing powers in the Town Planning Act.


I know it is possible, but we are not quite satisfied that it is going to happen.


The hon. Member is urging that the Government ought to carry out the recommendations of the National Parks Committee, and I pointed out in my speech that they definitely said that the appropriate method of carrying out their recommendations was to give local authorities wider powers and not to put all these things upon the central Government. We have carried out those recommendations, and the powers do exist to give access to those parts. The Town Planning Act also gives powers to local authorities to make natural reserves for nature purposes.


I quite agree that it can be done, but in many cases it will involve the expenditure of more money. In any case it will involve a more ambitious plan than we believe local authorities will undertake. After the park has been made it will require administration and management. I frankly admit that many of us on these benches believe that national ownership would be the best plan for dealing with the question of national parks. If you could have the whole Lake District taken over as a nationally-owned area that would be by far the best plan. I do not see why it should be impossible, if it is possible for the Forestry Commission to buy all the land from Carlisle to Newcastle although they cannot plant it. If it is possible for the Forestry Commission to take so much land as that, which it knows it cannot use, and to make it open to the public at large—I suppose some of it is used for pasture or farming of that kind —so we believe it ought to be possible to acquire the Lake District and other great areas in national ownership. Even if we do not do that, let us at least go beyond the mere planning which the Minister says is going on, and do so very soon, because the whole point about this business is the great urgency of getting a result. We must remember that some Government is going to build a great new network of roads in this country. We must remember that if ever we get over the world crisis, if ever the working classes get a fair share of the national income, the number of motor cars on the roads will probably be multiplied by five or ten in a short period of time, and that that will mean that there is hardly an acre in the British Isles which will not become potential building land or soon threatened by some kind of despoliation by the ignorant unless it is protected as a national park.


Is the hon. Gentleman asking us to plan for the day of the Labour party coming into power?


We think it is a good argument for coming into power, because we desire that all the people shall be able to have motor cars if they want them, and that all the people shall be able to enjoy the amenities of the countryside in full liberty, as the richer classes do. Let me come to one or two specific cases. We are not satisfied, as hon. Members opposite are not satisfied, with what has been done about Dovedale. The people of Derby take a great interest in the fate of Dovedale, and believe that it ought to be made a national park, and that to achieve that end a national initiative, and perhaps assistance from the National Treasury, are required. A great deal of the best country is enclosed for the shooting of game, and we believe that it is just as important to keep the best country for the use of men who want to walk over it as for the shooting of game, and that it ought to be made available for the mass of the people. I believe that national action is required again, with regard to the Peak. As to the Lake District, the Minister has told us that the three county councils have each made committees, and that they are trying to coordinate their activities. I know that a great many of those who have been most active about the preservation of the Lake District, and who are most concerned about its future, are very far from satisfied with the present position of the matter.

We believe that there are many other places—Cornwall, the West Coast of Scotland, Pembrokeshire, the North Downs, the Broads—where we ought to be taking action with the absolute minimum of delay, that is to say, at once. What is the reason for the delay? It is that we need money. If the Government adopted our plan of purchase they would need a good deal of money, although measured in comparison with the sums we spend on other purposes, such as preparation for destruction, those sums of money are extraordinary small. You can do art enormous amount without purchasing the whole of the area, and without making a national park. I happen to know intimately well the Valley of Buttermere and the schemes in connection with it, and I have talked about it with those who have organised the scheme and with the farmers and the workers on the land who have helped to carry it out. In the Buttermere scheme, the National Trust owns a few little pieces of the land and it owns the lakes. A good deal of the land has been sold or farmed out under restrictive covenant with the National Trust with an agreement that it shall not be built over or otherwise despoilt without the consent of the National Trust. That scheme has the enthusiastic support of everybody, with one exception, I think, in the whole valley of Buttermere. Under that kind of scheme you could do an immense amount by organising it on a national basis for the country as a whole.

I was talking to an authority to-day and he said that if this plan were adopted, the whole Lake District could be preserved for ever, quite safely, at a maximum cost of £350,000. What is that sum compared with a object such as this? It is trifling. We think that for this purpose the national authority proposed by the Royal Commission and by the Committee on National Parks ought to be set up, and given the income which the Commissioners proposed. They proposed £100,000 a year for five years. On these benches we would be very glad to vote £1,000,000 if only the Government would propose it. What is £100,000? I wonder how many hon. Members realise that the First Commissioner of Works, in maintaining the Royal Parks of London—Hyde Park, the Green Park and St. James Park—spends £100,000 a year now. They are very important parks for the amenities of London and for the citizens of this great city, but the preservation of the great areas of open country for the nation as a whole is also important. If the sum of £100,000 were voted now, and if it were put into next year's Budget, an enormous amount could be done for the country, and the Ministry and the Government would have our enthusiastic support.

One word about the proposals of this Mr. Malcolm Stewart for the depressed areas. I regard this as rather apart from the main subject of national parks, because his principal purpose is not to preserve the countryside but to try to bring money into the depressed areas. As to the enchanted vale of Neath, I think it is an admirable plan, though perhaps too small an area to achieve his purpose. For people to go and stay in the area and spend a good deal of money by having the whole of their holidays, you need a larger area than 12 square miles. Supposing we took the Black Mountains, or the West Highlands of Scotland. In the West Highlands you have derelict crofter farms, and a derelict fishing industry because the fish have gone away, and great misery exists among the population there. Suppose that an effort were made, by building a trunk road to connect that district with the outer world, by the Government maintaining that road, as that country would be too poor to maintain the road for itself, and by assisting in the building of hotels. In that way, the West Highlands might be made a holiday area just as might certain parts of South Wales. That would bring great benefit to the distressed areas concerned.

Once more I would press upon the Minister that for this purpose town planning is not enough. You need initiative in many different directions for these depressed areas schemes to secure the building of roads, hotels and so on. Some national body is needed which will push the matter as far as it can. We believe that there should be this national authority, and that it should be given the money which the Committee proposed in 1931. Someone has said that, if the national authority had the power to make grants and the money with which to do it, they would find that their capacity for guiding local authorities and persuading them to do what they wanted would be enormously increased, because it is a matter of experience that a 30 or 40 per cent. grant will greatly increase the chances of getting a local authority to do what you want. I would press again on the Minister the fact that this matter of money is fundamental; it stands to reason that that is so. The most sparsely populated parts of the country are those which you want most to preserve, but they are just the parts where the rateable value is lowest, and where any expenditure for buying people out or for other purposes is hardest for the local authority to carry. Therefore, we believe it ought to be done by the national Exchequer. The general grounds for this Motion are overwhelming. Someone has said that it is a good war policy. Certainly it is a good peace policy; and certainly it is in the interests of national health; and it can do something for unemployment. Above all, it will do that to which we attach the greatest importance; it will do much to preserve the beauty of the countryside. In conclusion, I should like to quote one of our great historians, Professor Trevelyan. He wrote some time ago: Without vision the people perish: and without natural beauty the English people will perish in the spiritual sense. In old days the English people lived in the midst of nature, subject to its influence at every hour. Thus inspired, our ancestors produced their great creations in religion, in song, and in the arts and crafts—common products of a whole people spiritually alive. We congratulate the Minister on the results which have been obtained, and, if we press him for more action still, it is because we believe that what Professor Trevelyan wrote enshrines the fundamental truth of the subject of our Debate. I hope that the House and the Government will recognise that what is now at stake is a part of the spiritual inheritance of the British people.

10.48 p.m.


I apologise for not having been present to hear the whole of the Debate. Members of my old college have been entertaining the Master and Fellows and we have had the pleasure of listening, among other speeches, to one from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). A subject often touched upon in connection with the Forestry Commission, of which I have had the honour of being a member since its start, is that of hardwoods. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) was quite right in saying that normally, owing to Treasury restrictions, we are not allowed to buy land on which hardwoods will naturally grow. We can buy little pieces round the edges, and we are trying to do that more and more, but we cannot buy hardwood plantations, for they need something like agricultural land, which cannot at present be obtained at a capital value of £3 or £4 an acre. Talking of capital value, it is interesting to note that the rabbit costs us more than the landowner. On the average it frequently costs us more to keep the rabbit out than to acquire the freehold of the land. If something could be done on that matter, it would enormously facilitate the operations of the Forestry Commission. With regard to hardwoods, it is a, fact that in the districts of England where they grow most easily and readily—for instance, in one of our divisions which stretches roughly from Southampton to Northampton, excluding the Norfolk and Suffolk conifer area—we have, I think I am right in saying, of recent years planted something like 84 per cent. under hardwood, which shows that we are very much alive to the idea of planting hardwood where hardwood is likely to grow.

I would like to mention one other thing. I do not think that people know anything like enough of how easy it is to transfer land to the National Trust —not to part completely with ownership, which they would feel, of course, to be a loss to their property and estates, but to hand it over on a long lease. My family transferred a large estate on a long lease—500 years—at a rent of half a crown a year. We feel just as much owners as before. We can, from the point of view of amenities, look after the forestry; our tenants put sheep on the hill; we let the shooting, if there is any; and we are generally regarded as still the owners. And yet the whole estate of Exmoor Upland is preserved from spoliation, harmful building and so on, at any rate, for 500 years. It would be easy in those districts where owners feel that forestry would spoil the amenities to transfer land. to the National Trust simply on lease, but under covenant that neither they nor their successors should establish conifer forests there. They would continue to regard themselves as owners and to get such income as is available out of the area, but their main object would be attained. It is not a great thing to ask people so to dedicate their land or hand it over to the National Trust that factories should not be established there, or only under limited conditions. I do not think that these things have been sufficiently explored.

The main point I want to make is to express my regret that the Minister, who has spoken, has not taken advantage of this matter being brought before the House to put before us any real prospect that the Government is likely to take a more active interest in it. That is a pity. We all know that in the next few years national defence must come before anything else. As a member of the Forestry Commission I heard a circular letter from the Treasury read out which adjured us to avoid any expenditure which we could possibly dispense with because the resources of the nation would be taken up with the defence programme. We understand that, but it is a pity that on an occasion of this sort—and it does not occur often—the Minister has not been able to say that when things clear up a bit and the clouds roll by in Europe, as we hope they will, and the bulk of the defence programme has been got through that this is one of the matters to which the Government will give practical attention. It is no good saying that local authorities can do it all. They can do a certain amount, but in this national inspiration, guidance and co-ordination are necessary, and I am sorry that we have had nothing of that kind from the Government to-day.

We have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) of the good work that has been done on very little money by the Forestry Commission. We have not even had any indication that the Government will make it possible for the Forestry Commission to make other areas available for the public, with hostels and that sort of thing, to which people are obviously only too willing to resort as soon as they are built and set up. We have not had any indication that we shall be allowed to go on with fresh areas. I am sorry for that, but I am glad my hon. Friend has raised the matter, and I only hope that the attitude that the Government has taken may be due to official caution and that, when times improve, they may be better than their word and that in several ways the cause of preserving our matchless heritage of natural beauty will be furthered by efforts in which they will co-operate.

10.56 p.m.


I want to refer to a small area of country in Derbyshire known as Dovedale, which is regarded with very great affection, and apprehension, by many thousands of people in the Manchester area and Birmingham and the industrial centres in the North Midlands. Indeed there is no other gem of the kind in the country so tightly encircled by an industrial belt as these wonderful dales in Derbyshire. I hope that in any move that is made, either by the Government towards National Parks or in the activities of the National Trust, every effort will be made to preserve these wonderful bits of Derbyshire which are still in a. natural state.

sir J. LAMB

It is in Staffordshire, not Derbyshire.


I am talking of Dove-dale in Derbyshire. It is in that area that industrial aggression may very well in a few years time spoil the chance that now exists of preserving this heritage, and I only rise to record the fact that anything that may be done by Government action or by the National Trust will be very highly appreciated by a large number of people

10.58 p.m.


I have to make the same excuse as the right hon. Gentleman opposite for not having been able to attend a discussion in which I have taken the keenest interest. I should like to endorse what has been said as to the desirability that, in a matter of such real urgency as well as national importance, the Government should take a direct, hand in the matter. It is not only a matter for leisurely planning but for direct initiative and direct expenditure. I do not mean necessarily expenditure through Government Departments. There is a great deal to be said for the suggestion that Government help might be given through such a body as the National Trust. Even at a moment of high taxation I do not see why it should be impossible for the Government to guarantee loans raised by bodies like the National Trust in order that something as necessary for the future generations of our people as our defence should be got on with at once. I wish to express the view that it is not only on the other side of the House, but that on all benches there is a desire to make as much of the beauty of England accessible to all its people as possible.


My right hon. Friend was not here during the Debate. Had he been present, he would have known that I did indicate in considerable detail the practical steps that could be taken without laying any financial charge on the Central Government.

Resolved, That this House urges the Government, especially in view of the new national health crusade, to take whatever steps may seem most appropriate in the light of the recommendations of the National Parks Committee, 1931, to stimulate and develop action for the preservation of the countryside and its amenities, including the reservation of areas of natural interest against disorderly development and spoliation and the improvement of their accessibility to the public.