HC Deb 06 May 1943 vol 389 cc337-44
The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, to leave out "Act," and to insert "section."

This is really a drafting Amendment. The present reference in the Bill is to the Act as a whole, but the matters to which we wish to refer are confined to one Section of the Act. To save people the trouble of looking through the Act as a whole, we think it better to substitute the word "section." It will help those who will have to interpret the law.

Amendment agreed to.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 6, line 21, to leave out "have taken possession under," and to insert "are in possession in pursuance of."

This Amendment also is of a drafting character, but I wish to say something about it because there has been some misapprehension about the present form of the Sub-section. It is intended to make clear that the provisions of this Subsection are of a purely temporary character and operate only between the time when the Board takes possession and the time when the Board gets a proper legal title. After that, the powers of the Board will be regulated by the title. In order to remove a misapprehension that the powers given her may have a permanent effect, I think it right to offer that explanation.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)

I beg to move; in page 6, line 22, to leave out from "may," to the end of line 23.

The Sub-section, from which I am moving to omit the words from "may" to the end, reads as follows: Land of which the Board have taken possession under this section may, notwithstanding any restriction imposed on the use thereof (whether by any Act or other instrument or otherwise), be used subject to the provisions of the scheme by the Board in such manner as they think expedient for the purpose of carrying out the scheme. These powers could hardly be more sweeping and might cause serious injury. The Sub-section itself directly calls attention to possible serious injury to amenities. Otherwise it would not have been included. I think the Secretary of State must have felt that when he had these words put in. I fully sympathise with the idea of electrical development in this part of Scotland. It is essential that electricity should be developed as much as possible, but we have to realise that it will not end there. This development will mean the construction of reservoirs, the laying of hydraulic mains, the building of generating stations, pylons and cables, transformer stations and all sorts of other buildings, as well as factories in the future and a whole lot of housing. Although I would enthusiastically support the development of electricity in this part of Scotland, we must be sure that it will not ruin the amenities there. Men in their wisdom in the past have made restrictions, and it is our desire to preserve the natural beauty of this part of the country as far as possible. It can easily become one of the great playgrounds of the country, and now that aircraft travel at 300 miles an hour people will be able to get there in two hours from any part of the island.

Mr. Kirkwood

Only the rich can get there.

Mr. Bossom

Everybody can get there. We are in danger of not only destroying it for ourselves out of jeopardising it for future generations. We should, therefore, take every precaution and be most careful in looking after it. Everybody who knows this district and the development of electrical work knows that it is possible to do the electrical work satisfactorily and at the same time, if proper care is exercised, to preserve a large part of the natural beauty. The Minister has endeavoured to meet us as far as he can, and no one would be worried if we could have the present Minister as the permanent Secretary of State, but when he disappears somebody else will come along, and if these words are still in the Bill, the new Minister will be able to override every condition that has been made to preserve the beauty and the amenities of the Highlands.

Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)

I hope I shall be forgiven as a mere South Briton for interfering in a purely Scottish Measure, but in view of the fact that this Amendment concerns the preservation of the amenities of the Highlands, which are of national, indeed, I might say, an international, concern, there is a justification for my intervention. The Amendment will do something towards making it easier to preserve amenities. In the next Clause provision is made for giving to an amenity committee and a fishery committee power to appeal to the Secretary of State for the prevention of any interference with the amenities of the Highlands, but this Clause is drafted in such a way as largely to undo Clause 9. Therefore, the Amendment does something to bring Clause 8 into line with Clause 9. It is a sound principle that in a Measure of this kind, which is planning the electrical and industrial development of the Highlands, we should, before we actually make the plans, decide where we should place the industrial development and where the neutralised areas should be where no industrial development should take place. As one who has frequently been to the Highlands, I have always taken notice of the social and economic conditions of the people, and I have often been horrified at the extreme poverty of large areas of that beautiful country. Therefore, it is the duty of those of us who are not living there to do what we can to assist the people. At the same time, it is possible, side by side with industrial development, to preserve the natural amenities.

I had occasion last August to go on behalf of the Forestry Commission to see the National Forest Park at Ardgarten and to see how far the existing amenities for giving the public access to and enjoyment of the Highlands were being used. In order that I may impress my hon. Friends behind me with the fact that it is not only the people who are engaged in shooting and salmon fishing who are able to use the Highlands. I would point out that all along the side of Loch Long and Loch Eck in the National Forest Park of Ardgarten, and near the great Benmore arboretum, there are a number of little hostels scattered about, all of which were being used in very large numbers by the workers from the Clydeside who go there from Saturday afternoon until Monday to enjoy themselves. There are already arrangements, in which the Forestry Commission has played a part, for providing facilities for camping and living in hostels in those places. There should be no passage in this Bill which might mean that the Board could come along and completely ignore all the arrangements which have been made or are in process of being made for allowing these facilities. I do not doubt that the Secretary of State has got this matter as much in mind and that it is as dear to his heart as it is to most of us, but he may not always be in office, and we must make the Bill watertight. It may be that there are safeguards in other Clauses, but this Amendment would strengthen the Bill.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I rise with considerable temerity as a mere Southerner to add a few words on a Scottish Bill. I reinforce with all the sincerity I can command what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom). There are, perhaps, vested interests behind this Amendment, but they are really the vested interests of the people who have an interest, whether English or Scottish or from other parts of the world, in the beauties of Scotland. We find these words objectionable and, in fact, indefensible, because they are extraordinarily sweeping and allow the Board to disregard work which has been done for the preservation of amenities for the public owners not only by private owners but by such bodies as the National Trust or even, according to the phraseology of the Clause, by Parliament. We feel that this is too wide a power to give to the Board without the overriding responsibility of the Secretary of State and of his responsibility to this House. The Amendment should be read in conjunction with the next Amendment, which will make the position clear, namely, in line 31, at the end, to add: but nothing in this Act shall empower the Board to take possession of land already designated in perpetuity for the enjoyment of the public, nor authorise the Board to prevent access to land to which the public have a right of access under the law of Scotland unless the exercise of such rights would be a danger to public safety. It is not moved in any restrictive or crippling spirit, but is moved with the idea of clarifying the Bill and tidying it up. We seek to fix the responsibility upon somebody who will have an overriding responsibility beyond the Board.

I have no doubt we shall be told that some other over-riding authority, such as a Minister of Town and Country Planning for Scotland, will later on be set up with power over the Board. I contend, however, that that will be legislation by implied reference to an unsubstantial body not instituted and in fact uncreated at present. I notice with great personal regret that the Secretary of State has apparently broken his arm, and I express my sympathy with him in that misfortune, and the sympathy, I am sure, of the Committee, but he will forgive me if I remind him that he might have broken his neck. In that case, as the Lord Advocate pointed out yesterday, we might have had a new Secretary of State, with a totally different point of view. Therefore, it is important to fix the responsibility not upon the Board but upon the Secretary of State, and through him upon this House. The Clause should be framed as though it were the last word that was ever going to be said upon the subject. It should not be left, as it were, in the air for some other theoretical body to over-ride the Board.

Sir Francis Fremantle (St. Albans)

We are now dealing with a subject which concerns general legislation, and that is the real reason why so many of us are concerned with the particular question being raised here. I am strongly in favour of the general purpose of this Bill, but one has to consider points which, though they may seem rather irrelevant, may have to be looked after by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Hon. Members, especially those on the other side, who talk so much about private interests and vested interests—I do not want to defend selfish interests—ought to be reminded that there is no such thing as nature in the amenities that we are considering. The countryside which we know is the result of developments over the last 10 centuries. In that period the land has been developed, trees have been imported into the country and cultivated, and various things have been done which have made the forests, the fields and the pastures what they are, made the beauties of this country. Much has been done under various Acts of Parliament which while containing restrictions have at the same time conferred privileges which have always been spoken of by those opposite as though they were selfish privileges. They are not. They are the enshrinement of the principles which have produced all these amenities, and I fear lest these principles should now be swept away by the words contained in this Clause which the Amendment proposes to deal with.

Mr. Gallacher

Does the hon. Member want principles or people?

Sir F. Fremantle

I want the principles on which the future of the people depends, together with their amenities, their comforts and their whole conditions. Those are principles laid down by Parliament, and they can be amended by Parliament at any time, but to do away with them in this sweeping way seems to be very dangerous, and therefore I wish to support the Amendment.

The Secretary. of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)

I hope that my hon. Friends from the South of the Border will not persist in these two Amendments. As they know, and as I am sure the hon. Member who moved the Amendment would be the first to acknowledge, the Government have in. this Measure gone to greater lengths in endeavouring to preserve the amenity side of the Highlands of Scotland than in any Act of Parliament hitherto. This Amendment must be read in conjunction with the succeeding one. There it is proposed that any restrictive covenant on land shall be waived only with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It says the Board are not to have any right to acquire land or to use land with any restrictive covenant on it except with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland. But that is in the Bill now. As the Bill stands, the Board cannot proceed with any constructional scheme, cannot stick a spade into the soil, without the consent of the Secretary of State, and, indeed, without the consent, implied at any rate, of both Houses of Parliament. Some hon. Members say that the position might be all right provided that the Secretary of State for Scotland had certain points of view. That is precisely why we have persisted in saying that every constructional scheme shall come to this House, so that it shall not depend on the whim of a Secretary of State for Scotland, but that in the last analysis this House shall be supreme and shall have the right of veto should there be any wanton or unnecessary interference with a beauty spot.

I beg of the hon. Member and his friends to believe me when I say that this was one determination of the Government—that though we all want electrical development, and want to see the amenities of civilisation provided for the people of the North of Scotland, we do not desire to give powers to any Board to interfere wantonly and unnecessarily with one of our great heritages, the beauty and the glory of the North of Scotland. I ask hon. Members to believe me when I say that the Bill as it stands ensures that Parliament will have the right to veto any constructional scheme which should wantonly or foolishly invade any beauty spot. I do not know that such a situation will ever arise, but there might be some instances in which a restrictive covenant had been placed upon a parcel of land which would interfere with the provision of the amenities of civilisation for large tracts of territory. The hon. Member and his friends admit that that might happen in exceptional cases, and in those cases they say they would trust the Secretary of State for Scotland. I say "No, do not trust any Secretary of State for Scotland, but trust to the veto of Parliament." I beg hon. Members not to press their Amendment.

Mr. Bossom

On the assurance of the Secretary of State that this matter will be brought to him and to this House before anything of this sort takes place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bossom

I beg to move, in page 6, line 31, at the end, to add: but nothing in this Act shall empower the Board to take possession of land already designated in perpetuity for the enjoyment of the public, nor authorise the Board to prevent access to land to which the public have a right of access under the law of Scotland unless the exercise of such rights would be a danger to public safety. The rights of access to property in Scotland are very much appreciated by all who go there, and we feel strongly that under this Bill those rights should not be taken away unless it be necessary for the safety of the public. It was for that reason that the Amendment was put down.

Mr. Johnston

The arguments which I put forward a moment ago apply with equal relevance to this Amendment. So long as both Houses of Parliament must have laid before them any constructional scheme Parliament will have the right of veto.

Mr. Bossom

On that assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.