§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Silkin)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This long-awaited Bill will be received with great pleasure by a large number of people all over the country who have witnessed with considerable concern disturbing trends in the development of these islands. We are today one of the most densely populated countries in the world. More and more people are living in towns. Today four out of every five are living in urban communities, and this has resulted in almost a complete separation of town and country. There are almost two different peoples with differing mentalities with a lack of understanding by the townsmen of the countryman's point of view. In particular, there is a very considerable lack of knowledge and appreciation on the needs of the countryside and its preservation. Yet with the increasing nervous strain of life it makes it all the more necessary that we should be able to enjoy the peace and spiritual refreshment which only contact with nature can give.
There is first of all the disfigurement of the countryside. This has been going on for 100 years or more. We have shacks, ribbon development, unsightly coastal development, mineral workings, quarrying, power stations, gas works, poles and pylons supporting overhead electricity, telegraph and telephone wires, radar and radio establishments, reservoirs, outdoor advertisements, nissen huts, hutments, hangars and other Service buildings. Each of these more or less necessary appurtenances of modern science, progress and civilisation makes a great contribution to the disfigurement of the countryside.
Then we have suffered a considerable loss of agricultural land. This is of primary importance to us today in view of the economic situation, but it is not so much with that aspect of it that I want to deal this afternoon, but with the fact that agricultural land contributes very greatly through its pattern of cultivation 1462 to the unique character and the beauty of our landscape. It is from this loss that we are suffering now. In recent years there has been a considerable loss of access to the countryside through the ploughing up of footpaths during the war, land required by the Service Departments, gathering grounds and so on.
Although owners of uncultivated land in various parts of the country have tacitly permitted trespass on their land, there are still many places where access is difficult, for instance, in the High Peak, where often the only contact with the lovely countryside is the remote one of being able to look at it from concrete or tarmacadamed roads, despite the fact that there are millions of people living in conditions of great congestion within 25 miles of the Peak district, whose only outlet to the countryside practically is in that area. Coupled with these trends is a considerable lack of public facilities for open-air recreation, and for opportunities of getting to the countryside and enjoying it.
The Bill before the House is directed to arresting and reversing these various trends. Its objects broadly are, first, to preserve and enhance the beauty of the countryside; and, secondly, to enable our people to see it, get to it, and enjoy it. This Bill is the culmination of the pioneering efforts of many public spirited persons who devoted themselves to the open-air cause through the agency of voluntary organisations. Some of them were formed as far back as the second half of the last century. If I may, I should like to mention some of the names of these organisations, and in doing so I hope I am not leaving out any body which ought to be mentioned. There is the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Ramblers' Association, the Cyclists' Touring Club, the Youth Hostels Association and many others. The results of their endeavours to interest and arouse public opinion have been slow but steady.
Today, for example, there are, I understand, 150,000 registered ramblers, walkers, cyclists and climbers, and other similar organisations have large memberships. Youth hostels are being put up in increasing numbers all over the country. That is a very good sign. The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, 1463 was a landmark in the history of these movements. It went a long way to protecting the countryside in general and agriculture in particular from further arbitrary and unnecessary inroads. There is now effective control over general development. There are provisions relating to the preservation of trees and of buildings of historic and architectural interests. There is control over outdoor advertisements, and the Act provides for areas of special control in which there may not be any outdoor advertisements at all in the countryside. That is a great step forward.
In addition, various efforts have been made in recent years to secure better access to the countryside for the public. The earliest attempt, so far as I have been able to trace it, was the unsuccessful Bill, Access to Mountains Bill, introduced by the late James Bryce in 1888. A later Measure, the Access to the Mountains Act, 1939, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, then Member for Shipley, met with a somewhat better fate. It passed into law in a very attenuated form—in such a form that it was regarded by the amenity societies as entirely unsatisfactory and unworkable. Indeed, one of the main planks in their programme in recent years has been the repeal of this Measure.
The national parks movement in this country goes back about half a century, but after the First World War the conception of national parks made more rapid strides. In 1930 the Government set up a committee to explore the question of national parks under the chairmanship of Lord Addison. This committee reported in 1931 at a moment when it was somewhat inauspicious for embarking on ventures of this kind. Sir Leslie Scott, as Chairman of the Scott Committee, made a number of valuable recommendations regarding national parks in his report in 1942, but quite naturally no action was taken during the war. In 1945, the late Mr. John Dower issued a report on national parks in England and Wales. He was a great champion of the open air, and it is a source of deep regret to us all that he has not survived to see the fruition of his efforts; but his work lives.
In 1947, we had a series of reports, published under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse. He published three 1464 reports, one on national parks, one on footpaths and access to the countryside, and one on wild life conservation. I should like to express my own great indebtedness and that of the whole community, to Sir Arthur Hobhouse and to his committee for the very valuable reports which they published. These reports are informative and stimulating and they have had a very great influence in the preparation of the Measure today.
May I say also, in all fairness, that the House is indebted to my predecessor the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), for having appointed the late Mr. John Dower and the Hobhouse Committee who produced these very valuable documents? The Government have accepted the Hob-house reports as to some 90 per cent. I should like to say to Sir Arthur Hobhouse that that is not bad going and that very few chairmen of committees have had the satisfaction of seeing their reports implemented within so short a time and to such a considerable extent. The Government have accepted the policy of creating a number of national parks in this country. The first two parts of the Bill provide the necessary machinery and powers.
At this stage, I should like to explain to the House the conception of a national park as applied to this country. The term "park" is misleading. Some hon. Members later in the Debate may even say that the term "national" is misleading, but we shall deal with that when we come to it. The term "park" in the Oxford Dictionary is defined asa large, enclosed piece of ground, usually with woodland and pasture, attached to a country house or devoted to public use; an enclosure in a town ornamentally laid out for public recreation.Of course, the national park is neither of those. The national park is defined in the Bill, both implicitly and explicitly, asan extensive area of outstanding beauty, suitable for open air recreation by the general public, but where the normal life of the existing community goes on.Such an area may run into hundreds of square miles. The largest of those that we propose is more than 800 square miles in area.
There are national parks in a great many countries throughout the world. The earliest of them to be created was in 1872 in the United States of America. 1465 There must be a number of hon. Members who have been to Yellowstone Park, which is, indeed, a very great inspiration. It was followed by a great number of similar national parks throughout the United States of America, owned either by the Federal Government or, in a number of cases, by State Governments. There are a great number of national parks in other parts of the world. For instance, Canada has 26, South Africa, Australia and the Belgian Congo have parks, and New Zealand has 10. There are other parks in places like Kenya and Eire, and in many European countries.
Generally speaking, those parks differ in a number of respects from what is proposed in this country. Many of those national parks have, for one of their purposes, the preservation of wild life or of flora and fauna. They are, in fact, to a considerable degree, large nature or game reserves. For instance, Yellowstone Park has a very large number of wild bears and other specimens of wild life which the public are recommended not to tease or to get into too close contact with. It has an area of 3,471 square miles, which is about four times the area of the largest of the proposed national parks, the Lake District. Nevertheless, it contains a number of features which are of interest and value to us in this country, and many of the facilities for recreation in Yellowstone Park and other national parks throughout the world will, it is hoped, be provided in our own national parks. They have hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, riding, motorbus tours, museums and information facilities. They have accommodation in the way of camping sites and tents and cabins that can be hired, and they have hotels, lodgings and refreshment houses distributed all over the area.
The most fundamental difference from our proposed national parks is that it is essential, and I think very desirable too, that in our national parks the ordinary rural life, such as farming, rural industry and afforestation, should continue to function. This is a small country, and we cannot afford, as can the United States, to set aside large areas solely for the purpose of public recreation or establishing a museum. National park areas such as are proposed in the Hobhouse Report represent no less than 10 per cent. of the total area of England and Wales. The conservation areas, some 52, that are 1466 recommended in the Hobhouse Report, account for another 15 per cent., so that the acceptance of the reports on both national parks and conservation areas will involve 25 per cent. of the area of this country. We have to be extremely careful how far we sterlise an area of that size. Those areas must be used to maintain the economic life of the community. It may be inevitable that different uses of land should exist cheek by jowl.
I have been severely criticised, particularly by the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Molson), for permitting a limited extension of a cement works in the Peak district, but the hon. Gentleman would not hesitate to attack me on the following day for the non-provision of houses. Cement is one of the necessary ingredients for houses. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways; or perhaps, as a Member of the Opposition, he can; but I cannot have it both ways. If we stop the production of cement we are automatically stopping the production of those items and articles from which cement is made.
Just as all life is dynamic and circumstances and conditions change, so must we be prepared for necessary and inevitable changes in our national parks. Any other outlook would be fatal to the success of the national parks themselves. Among other changes, there may be a need for further afforestation, and there will be discussions between the Forestry Commission and the National Parks Commission before it takes place. Other forms of development may also be necessary. The Bill does, however, recognise the special position of agriculture and forestry. In Clause 4 (5) it provides that both the National Parks Commission and the local authorities are to have due regard to the need for securing that agriculture and forestry as established in the parks shall be efficiently maintained.
Here I should like to make it quite clear that the closest consultation will take place between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself on any proposals affecting land used for agriculture whether in a proposed national park or in an area of open country to which the public is to have access or on the creation of a new public right of way. Indeed, this is merely 1467 perpetuating the existing practice, but I think it right to place on record that these consultations will take place. Incidentally, I hope that the national parks as well as the areas of exceptional beauty will be well signposted, and that, while I do not visualise anything in the nature of a physical fence running round them, the public will nevertheless be informed when coming into a national park or an area of exceptional beauty—and when they are actually in such an area—and will learn to take a pride in it and feel that it belongs to them.
I shall now briefly describe the proposals in the Bill for national parks. The proposals are contained in Parts I and II. It is proposed to set up a National Parks Commission. This will consist of a chairman, a deputy chairman and a number of members. The Bill does not prescribe the number of members. I think that we should probably begin with a small number and increase them as the number of national parks and areas of exceptional beauty increases. It would be a mistake to appoint a large number of people at the beginning without giving them an adequate amount of work to do. It is proposed that the chairman, the deputy chairman and the members should all serve part-time and that only the chairman and the deputy chairman should be paid. As regards the membership, no particular qualifications are mentioned in the Bill, but I have in mind that they should be persons with a love of the countryside and with a knowledge and understanding of open-air life and needs for recreation. I should like to see on such a Commission somebody with considerable experience in the provision of recreational facilities.
§ Mr. Silkin
Why not? He might make a very useful member. Anyway it would mean that he could not go into business in national park areas. There should be on the Commission people who are able to speak of the needs of the users of the national parks. I hope that, generally, the Commission will consist of people of wide experience of the need for national parks and the best way in which they can be used.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate Members of this House as members of the Commission?
§ Mr. Silkin
Speaking off-hand, unless there are legal difficulties which would prevent it, I would not rule hon. Members out of membership if they possess the necessary qualifications.
§ Mr. Silkin
I now want to discuss the powers of the Commission. This is one of the matters upon which the Bill has received some criticism. It has been said that the Commission will not have sufficient powers and that it will merely be an advisory committee. I want to tell the House what those powers are. They are distributed throughout the Bill, for reasons which are inevitable; they arise under different aspects of the functions of the Bill, under access, footpaths, national parks, areas of exceptional beauty, and so on. It may be convenient to hon. Members who form the Committee on the Bill if those powers are put together in a form which will enable the Committee to see what the powers are as a whole, with a reference to the Clauses from which the powers are derived. I hope that the House will allow me to distribute a memorandum on the subject when we come to the Committee stage.
The first task of the Commission will be to select the areas of designation as national parks. They will be asked to look at the areas recommended by the Hobhouse Committee first, and it may be that I shall ask them to look at specific areas from the point of view of urgency. It is more urgent to deal with some areas than with others, and I hope that that will be the criterion for selecting the first areas for designation. The Commission will advise the Minister on how park planning authorities are to be constituted; that is, on the question of joint boards, joint committees, special committees and so on. They will advise the Minister as to the persons to be nominated for co-option to the park committees. They will assist the park committees in formulating detailed proposals for administering the national parks and 1469 providing facilities, and generally keep under review the activities of local authorities in the national park areas.
They will advise the local authorities and the Minister on the development plans in the national park areas and in areas of special beauty. They will be consulted on particular proposals for development—whether by private persons, local authorities, statutory undertakers or Government departments—as well as generally. They will recommend to the Minister what grants are to be paid to local planning authorities. That is very important. The power of the purse is perhaps the most important of all, and although no Minister would consent to be bound by the recommendations of a Commission, I am sure that the House will agree that equally no Minister would lightly disregard the recommendations of a Commission. They will be responsible for telling the public about the park, about its history and its features, where accommodation is to be found, and where buildings of architectural and historical interest are and all about such buildings. In this respect, they will function as an information service.
Generally, the Commission will be responsible for drawing attention to any question affecting natural beauty in any part of England and Wales. I suggest that is a function of great importance, and one which is far wider than any proposed by the Hobhouse Committee, where the duties of the Commission were to be confined to specific areas. They will also be responsible for selecting the other areas of natural beauty to which special powers are to apply. These areas are defined in Clause 70. They will be normally smaller in extent than the national parks and for that, or some other reason, therefore unsuitable for designation as national parks.
The Commission will also be responsible for selecting the long-distance footpaths. They will report annually to Parliament and so to the public about their progress, and if they are frustrated in any way by the Minister or by Government Departments, they will have a full opportunity of drawing the attention of the public to these frustrations in their annual report. I would say that much will depend on the quality of the Commission. They have pretty formidable powers. They are capable of creating 1470 for themselves an outstanding position in relation to the natural beauty and the open-air life of this country, and it is certainly my intention to appoint a Commission which will be a responsible and important body, and one which is capable of undertaking the great powers with which they will be entrusted.
Now I want to discuss the detailed administration of the national parks. It is proposed that this shall be carried out by special park committees. It will be inevitable that most of the national parks which will be set up will be within the area of a number of authorities. Few will be in the area of one single authority, but where this is the case they will set up a special committee to deal with that national park. Where there is more than one, the Bill provides that there shall be set up a joint board consisting of representatives of the different local authorities or, with general agreement, an advisory committee. It is normally my intention to set up a joint board because I recognise the importance of uniform administration in a national park area. It would be contrary to the purpose of a national park that it should be possible to have different authorities administering different parts of it in different ways, and the normal and obvious method of that administration will be by way of a joint board.
Only in exceptional cases would I consider an advisory committee at all, and those would be where a large part of the national park area is in the area of one authority and a small portion is in the area of another or several others. Take, for example, the proposed Brecon Beacons. Of course, it does not follow that the areas set out in the Hobhouse Report will eventually be exactly the national parks but, taking those as an example, out of 327,000 acres in the Brecon Beacons, 1,344 are in Glamorgan and 12,000 in Hereford. It would seem to be somewhat absurd in such a case to set up a joint board giving Glamorgan representation and the opportunity of administering a very large area indeed in which it has little or no interest, merely because one-three-hundredths of the area of the national park happens to be within the area of the Glamorgan County Council.
The same applies to the South Downs where, out of 176,000 acres, 800 are in 1471 the County Borough of Brighton and 4,000 in Eastbourne. While I do not wish to commit myself at this stage, even in those cases, to the setting up of an advisory committee, I suggest that it might be a matter for consideration as to whether, where there are authorities having so slight an interest in the national park it would not be wise to set up an advisory committee rather than a joint board, but it is not one of those matters about which I would wish to be dogmatic. The joint board is an instrument of administration which has so far hardly been used. I would like to have an opportunity of trying both the joint board and the advisory committee, and there is nothing in the Bill which would prevent one from creating a joint board if an advisory committee were found to be unsatisfactory.
The Bill provides that at least a quarter of the board or of the committee shall be appointed by the local planning authority on the nomination of the Minister, after consultation with the National Parks Commission. This will enable the Minister to ensure that persons are appointed to the parks committee without local interest or prejudices, who are able to put before the committee the so-called "national" point of view, whatever that may mean. Probably what is meant is the amenity point of view. At any rate, these people will be on the committee and they will be of a calibre and with qualifications which will enable them to put the wider amenity point of view to the committee.
General powers are conferred in the Bill upon the local planning authorities to take any action to secure the purposes for which the parks are created. A great many of the purposes for which these are parks are being established can be carried out under existing legislation, under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and other enactments. Where it is possible for that to be done, it is proposed that it should be done under existing enactments, but specifiec powers are conferred to enable the local planning authorities to provide accommodation, camping sites, parking places, refreshments—including licensed premises—improved access for the planting of trees, the removal of disfigurements, such as shacks, and other unsightly objects, 1472 and the restoration of derelict land in the national park area. It is intended that in the provision of these facilities which I have mentioned—accommodation, camping and refreshments—the fullest use should be made of voluntary associations such as the Youth Hostels Association, the Workers' Travel Association, and others, by means of a subsidy, where necessary, from the local planning authority. But the local planning authority can provide these services where they are satisfied that no other body is able or willing to do so.
Powers are conferred on the planning authorities to improve waterways; I have particularly in mind the Broads, which represent a serious problem. The most serious threat to the Broads as a holiday area is the encroachment of sea vegetation on the open water. The only remedy is clearing and dredging. In addition, certain Broads once freely used are now closed to the public and, consequently, are overgrown. Thirdly, the three most popular yachting centres are greatly congested in the holiday season and new centres are needed. Finally, there are the further problems of pollution from sewage and the protection of wild life which is to be found on the Broads. This provision for dealing with the Broads and other waterways will be a source of considerable satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) who has, both in this House and outside, carried on a lively and well-informed agitation for the improvement of the Broads.
Under the Bill there is power to provide a warden service. I would like to make it quite clear that the wardens will not in any sense be a police force. Their main job will be to explain to visitors what they can and what they cannot do in the parks and to report damage to fences, trees and so on. It is not intended that this service will be a large one, for we believe that once people know what is expected of them we can rely upon them not to damage the parks.
There is power to restrict traffic of any particular description in a national park area and areas of extensive beauty or roads forming a long-distance route, subject to the approval of the Minister of Transport. These powers will be reinforced in three ways. First, there as shacks, and other unsightly objects, 1473 will normally be up to 75 per cent. of the cost, but in special instances, which are referred to in Clause 79, they will be as much as 100 per cent. I have explained already that the National Parks Commission will be responsible for recommending grants.
Doubts have been expressed as to the ability of the poorest local authorities to bear the burden of cost, even to the extent of the 25 per cent. which will be left for them to carry. I should like to examine for a moment the extent of the burden which might be imposed on the local planning authorities so far as this remaining 25 per cent. is concerned. I recognise that some local authorities have a very low rateable value. For instance, in Montgomery a penny rate produces £685; in Merioneth, £568; and in Pembroke, £1,141. But the largest part of the expenditure in the national parks will be capital expenditure and will be financed in some cases, for example, by loans repayable over 30 years. The poorest of the authorities concerned—the three I have mentioned—will, after allowing for rate equalisation grants under the Local Government Act, 1948, receive by way of total grant 90 per cent. or more of their expenditure. That will be the combined effect of this Measure and the Local Government Act. Therefore, in the case of the three counties I have mentioned, they will have to spend £150,000, £110,000 and £213,000 respectively in capital expenditure before they will have to levy a penny rate.
There will, of course, be some expenditure on revenue account. There again, those authorities will get 90 per cent. of assistance on the same basis as before in respect of those services which carry grant. In the wardens service, Montgomery could employ 30 wardens for the equivalent of a penny rate; Merioneth, 22; and Pembroke, 42. As a further relief, they will have the advantage of the use of the Commission's technical staff, if they want it, for the purpose of more efficiently discharging their duties. Therefore, authorities need not be held up through lack of means. They can do a very great deal for the product of a very small rate.
My second proposal for reinforcing the powers of the local planning authorities is by acquisition of land. Wide powers are conferred on the local planning autho- 1474 rities to acquire any land required for the exercise of their functions, either by agreement or, in cases where land is required for a specific purpose, compulsorily. This includes the acquisition of land for giving public access to open country. The Minister will have corresponding powers to acquire open country in national parks by agreement or compulsion. He will also be able to buy, by agreement, other land in national parks which needs to be preserved.
The kind of case I have in mind is where a large, and possibly expensive, estate comes into the market which it is desirable, for amenity and other reasons, to preserve substantially in its existing condition but which, unless it were acquired, might be split up and its existing character destroyed. In such a case, as well as in other cases where agricultural land is acquired and it is proposed to retain it as agricultural land, the usual practice will be to transfer it to the Agricultural Land Commission for management. My Department do not propose to hold or manage land if we can avoid it. Once the Minister has acquired land not suitable for management by the Agricultural Land Commission, he will normally dispose of it for management to somebody able and willing to manage it, possibly to a body like the National Trust.
The third means of securing the carrying out of the powers by the local planning authorities—
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
Could the cost of putting electric cables underground, instead of their being carried on pylons, be borne either by the National Parks Commission or by the local authority?
§ Mr. Silkin
That is not specifically dealt with in the Bill. That would not be the case.
The third means of securing the carrying out of powers by the local planning authorities is by the exercise of powers of direction. The Minister may require an authority to exercise any power in a national parks area, or an area of extensive beauty, and the Commission have the duty of drawing the attention of the Minister to any failure on the part of the local planning authorities. This power is enforceable by mandamus in the 1475 courts. It is possible under Clause 84 to authorise another local authority to act in place of the local planning authority. This is an additional default measure. There is provision for other local authorities to assist financially, or to act in a particular case, by agreement, in the place of the local planning authority. For instance, a city could provide accommodation, or other facilities, for ramblers in a nearby park.
The next part of the Bill is that dealing with nature conservation. As some hon. Members know, a Nature Conservancy was recently set up by Royal Charter—
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall deal with that under access and under footpaths. The Nature Conservancy will work under the authority of the Privy Council and the Lord President will be responsible in this House. The objects of the Conservancy are stated in the Charter to be to provide scientific advice on the conservation and control of the natural flora and fauna of Great Britain; to establish, maintain and manage nature reserves in Great Britain, including the maintenance of physical features of scientific interest; and to organise and develop the research and scientific services related thereto. Three hon. Members of this House have, among others, been appointed as the first members of the Nature Conservancy, the hon. Members for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) and Motherwell (Mr. Alex Anderson) and the hon. Members for Motherwell and for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) on the Scottish Committee.
The beauty of the scenery in the national parks and areas of beauty depends, to a large extent, upon the trees and other plants that grow there. To maintain and enhance the beauty of this natural flora calls for scientific knowledge and advice. It is obvious, therefore, that close contact will have to exist between the Nature Conservancy and the national parks. This contact will be provided in a variety of ways, one of which will be by overlapping membership. I intend to appoint one or more members of the Conservancy to serve on the Commission and 1476 my right hon. Friend the Lord President has left seats vacant on the Conservancy for the reverse process.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
With all respect, the right hon. Gentleman has not the power to appoint anyone to the Conservancy has he?
§ Mr. Silkin
The Lord President would suggest names for the Commission. These things can be done by good will, if we want to do them. I agree that I cannot directly appoint to the Conservancy; that is the function of the Lord President.
The Conservancy will, no doubt, follow the report of the Wild Life Conservation Special Committee, which recommends the setting up in England and Wales of about 70 nature reserves, having a total area of about 70,000 acres. It is expected that the total acreage needed in Scotland will be of the same order. The Bill empowers the Conservancy in England and Wales as well as in Scotland—and this is the only part of the Bill in which Scotland is concerned—to agree with owners of land for securing that the land is managed as a nature reserve, to pay compensation for the effect of any restriction on the land imposed by the agreement, and, in certain circumstances, to acquire land compulsorily. Local authorities are also empowered to set up local nature reserves. These provisions should, in the long run, be of great scientific value to the community and should provide considerable interest and pleasure for many people in every walk of life. There are a great many more people interested in nature reserves than one might imagine.
Part IV of the Bill deals with public rights of way. Broadly speaking, it carries out the recommendations of the Special Committee on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside and also of the Scott Report. Its main purpose is to provide a simple procedure for the settlement and establishment of existing rights of way. It requires the county councils to make a survey of existing rights of way within three years. It requires that, wherever possible, the district councils and parish councils should be used in making this survey. I think it is right that they should be used, because, obviously, district councils and the parishes would have a much more detailed knowledge of the existing rights of way than a county council might have.
1477 There will be a right on the part of members of the general public to object to the omission from the list of any particular right of way which they claim existed and there will be an appeal to the Minister. The Minister will be able to direct county councils to include a particular right of way if he feels that a prima facie case has been made out. There are 28 days allowed for objection to the list. There is widespread feeling that 28 days is not long enough and I would be quite prepared, in Committee, to extend the time if there is a general feeling that that should be done. There is also a feeling that not enough facilities are provided for appeal by the general public. I am most anxious that every member of the public should have the fullest opportunity of making representations that there was, or is, an existing footpath which should be included. If there is any defect in that direction, I should be happy to remedy it at a later stage.
There is provision for settlement of any disputes between owners of land who claim that there has been no dedication and the local authority by Quarter Sessions. That is a considerable improvement in the existing procedure, which involves all parties to a dispute in very considerable expense and very often in interminable delay. There is provision for publication of the final definitive map and the periodical bringing of this map up-to-date thereafter. There is also a very useful provision for ensuring that in future there is a presumption of dedication of right of way after 20 years user in all cases. I think that will remove a great many doubts about the law and make it very much easier to establish a dedication of a right of way.
The Bill gives the responsibility for creating new rights of way to the district councils. It is believed that they are more closely associated with the needs in that direction than are the county councils; but there is power for the Minister to transfer this function to the county councils if he so desires. An hon. Member asked about compensation. There is compensation provided to owners of land for depreciation in the value of their land arising from the creation of a footpath. The Bill itself makes no specific provision for the closure and possible divertion of footpaths. It may well be, however, that, in the interests of the farmer 1478 and the rambling public, an alternative footpath might be more convenient. I propose to discuss with representatives of the ramblers' and farmers' interests the possibility of making some arrangement in this Bill to facilitate the diversion and closure of existing footpaths.
The Bill provides, for the first time, for a liability for the maintenance of footpaths. This will now rest fairly and squarely on highway authorities. By maintenance I include not merely that a footpath should be kept in a usuable condition, but that it should be free from obstruction preventing its use. The Bill also provides for the establishment of long-distance paths. This has been one of the grievances of the Ramblers' Association and other associations. The Commission are entrusted with the duty of proposing long-distance paths. The Minister's duty will be to consider and approve, if desirable, and it will be for the local authorities to carry out the physical work of creating long-distance footpaths, for which the Exchequer will make a 100 per cent. contribution. There are a number of examples of the kind of long-distance paths which I have in mind; the Pennine Way, the Pilgrims' Way and a number of coastal paths; and there has been some talk of a Thames-side path.
§ Mr. Silkin
Perhaps the most difficult part of the Bill to prepare, and possibly the most controversial, has been Part V, which relates to access to the countryside. I have not been able to accept the rather sweeping recommendations of the special committee under which the right of public access is afforded automatically on all uncultivated land, mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff or foreshore, whether privately owned or not, and apparently unconditionally. I have come to the conclusion that where public access is in fact provided today—and I must in fairness say that applies to large areas all over the country—there is no reason why the machinery of this Bill should be applied. It is left to the local planning authorities in any particular case to decide whether or not it is necessary to apply the provisions of this part of the Bill. The Minister may intervene, however, where, in his opinion, a local planning authority is not taking steps to secure public access in a proper case and 1479 the Minister can, as I have explained, acquire access land himself in suitable cases.
It has been represented to me that the Bill would be strengthened by a requirement that local planning authorities should make a survey within a certain period of their access requirements and enter into access agreements or orders, or acquire land so far as is necessary within that period. I think that is worth considering. It is conceivable that some local authorities may, in the pressure of business and for other reasons, be slow in providing the necessary access, and I am prepared to consider whether they should be required to discharge this duty within a certain limited period. The main provision in Part V is that the planning authorities can by agreement, by order or by acquisition, give access to open country as I have defined it. One of the effects of the agreement will be that ramblers will not be trespassers as long as they confine themselves to the land which is subject to the agreement order, and so long as they comply with the not very onerous rules of conduct set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill.
If this Measure is to succeed these rules of conduct will have to be rigorously obeyed. The public are being put on their honour not to do anything which would create wilful damage to the farming interests. For the first time in the history of this country there will be a legal right on the part of the public to wander over other peoples' land. Some of it may be grazing land and other parts may be available for other purposes, although it is not proposed that this right should extend to purely agricultural land. The public must realise that they have a very great responsibility to discharge. They must not only not create wilful damage, but also they must not do anything else which will interfere with the enjoyment of the land by other people. There will be a considerable amount of educational work to be done. After all, that is not unnatural, having regard to what I said at the outset of my remarks about the separation of the town and the country; and to the fact that hitherto so few people have had the opportunity of learning about the needs and conditions of country life. I know that we shall obtain a great deal of 1480 assistance from the Ramblers' and other societies, and they have a very great part to play.
There is compensation provided under the Bill to owners of land for depreciation in the value of their land arising from the granting of public access. Perhaps I may explain briefly what are these provisions. It is obviously impossible at the outset when the access arrangements are made to state what will be the actual amount of depreciation in the value of the land. That must depend upon experience. The Bill therefore proposes that the actual amount of compensation shall not be fixed until after a period of five years, but it should be fixed at the end of five years on the assumption that at the beginning the amount of damage that will have been created during the five years would have been known, and the compensation will be the amount of such depreciation, together with interest from the date of the access agreement or order, at the prescribed rate.
These provisions are not limited to national park areas or areas of special beauty. I think it is right that if an owner of land suffers loss, and can prove that he has suffered loss, as a result of allowing the public to roam over his land, he should be entitled to compensation. It is for that reason that the provisions have been made. They extend to the whole country, but the Exchequer grants up to 75 per cent. for the cost of acquisition and for compensation apply only to national park areas and to special areas. It is intended that the access provisions shall apply to gathering grounds of value for open air recreation, subject to discussion in individual cases with the Minister of Health.
I have completed what can only be a very broad survey of the provisions of this Bill. Hon. Members might now like to have some idea of what will be the programme following, as I hope will be the case, the passage of the Bill into law. The first step will be the appointment of the Commission. Immediately upon their appointment I propose, as I have said, to ask them to consider designating those areas among the proposed national park areas which they deem to be the most urgent. They will, as I have said, look at the 12 areas recommended by the Hobhouse Committee.
1481 On the assumption that this Bill becomes law before we rise for the Summer Recess—and there I am in the hands of this House but I hope it may be possible—it might well be possible for the National Parks Commission to designate the first parks by the middle of 1950. In the meantime the counties which are well forward with the survey of public rights of way, and a number of counties have actually started this survey voluntarily, may make it possible to produce a number of provisional maps some time next year, so that it is conceivable, if all goes well, that by the summer of next year we may have a number of national park areas designated and awaiting approval by the Minister.
I do not propose to deal with anything like all the criticisms which I have received, which have been published in the Press and which hon. Members have made to me about this Bill. I should like, however, to say a word or two about some of the criticisms which have been made by some of the voluntary associations. Those associations have fought so long and with so little to show for their efforts that I feel that they find it somewhat difficult to realise that the battle is nearly won. Judging by some of the letters in the Press, I think that some may almost regret the realisation of their efforts. The spirit of battle has so entered into their souls that they are regretting that they are left with so little for which to fight. I would urge upon them to appreciate that what is important, to the general public at all events, is the provision of national parks and public access, and that the machinery for their administration is of lesser interest to most people, although it may be of great interest to a number of Members of this House.
These organisations express the fear that the Bill gives no guarantee that the national interest will prevail over local ones in the national park areas.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am not sure whether they and the hon. Member are quite clear as to what they mean by the national interest as against the local one. I cannot help thinking that what most people mean is probably amenity as against national needs, and that the real contest is one which in many cases is 1482 irreconcilable, due to the fact, as I stated earlier, that this island is so small.
These organisations therefore press for the full implementation of the Hobhouse recommendation that the local parks committees should have on them a majority of persons appointed by the National Parks Commission and a minority of local authority representatives. I have not been able to accept that recommendation, and I would like to tell the House why. Under the terms of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, planning powers were, for the first time, conferred upon the county councils because it was felt that they were more responsible bodies, more likely to act on wider considerations and more capable of acting on wider considerations. That particular proposal met with the general agreement of the House.
The county councils began to function in that respect last July. They have scarcely had time to get into the saddle, and it is monstrous to suggest, before they have had a chance of beginning to function properly, that they are incapable of discharging functions such as these. If any hon. Member wishes to stand up and say that county councils are bodies of irresponsible people who are not fit to be trusted with the administration of national park areas but that instead we should appoint a body with a majority of non-elected persons as being more responsible, I shall be very interested to see such a person. I do not believe that anyone in this House would have the courage to stand up and take that view.
I am a believer in local authorities. I believe that the local planning authorities will welcome the administration of national parks as a challenge and as a great opportunity, which they will discharge in a public-spirited manner. I do not think that they are likely to be influenced by purely short-term financial considerations. I have already indicated to the House that the actual burden falling upon even the poorest of the county councils is not likely to be of an order which it is unreasonable to expect them to bear. There is another factor.
It is hoped that the national park areas will attract a considerable number of visitors, and a good deal of the capital expenditure which will be incurred will be for the purpose of catering for the 1483 additional number of visitors. It is presumed that this additional number of visitors will bring increased trade and, therefore, revenue to the areas, which will assist them in meeting the burden. At any rate, wealthy authorities who are capable of bearing the burden of large capital expenditure do not hesitate to incur millions of pounds of capital expenditure with the intention of asking visitors to their areas, realising that the benefit to their ratepayers will recoup them for the large burdens which they are incurring. I believe that those considerations will apply also to the national park areas.
There are considerable safeguards in the Bill as well. There is the presence of not less than 25 per cent. of members on the parks committees who will put forward national considerations. There is the right of the National Parks Commission to be informed and to make representations to the Minister both generally and on specific cases in respect of private development and development by Government Departments and statutory undertakers. Then there is the power of the Minister to call in applications or to revoke decisions under the 1947 Act. I know that some people may say, as they always do say about every Minister, that they can trust the present Minister but that they cannot trust his successor. I remember that it used to be said about the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison). Of course, the Minister and the Government have to be trusted; if we have a bad Minister or a bad or unsympathetic Government the national parks will not be well administered. One must recognise that.
The alternative is to have some body or organisation which is above the Government and more powerful than the Government, and which can carry out its will regardless of the policy or the desires of the Government. I do not think anyone would particularly recommend that state of affairs; therefore, it seems to me that it is inevitable that we should in the last resort depend upon the local authorities, the National Parks Commission, the Minister and the Government for securing that our beautiful land is properly preserved, its beauty 1484 enhanced and the other functions of this Bill properly carried out.
I want to make it quite clear that I can give no guarantee whatever that it might not be essential to permit a certain amount of what some hon. Members will regard as undesirable development in the national park areas. It may be necessary in the future as it has been in the past to permit some part of the national park areas to be used for purposes of national defence. It may be necessary to utilise the mineral wealth which lies in those areas for the purpose of ensuring the economic life of our people. I do not think anybody would seriously suggest that we should ignore the existence of this mineral wealth and fail to utilise it, subject to a number of conditions. The first condition is that it must be demonstrated quite clearly that the exploitation of those minerals is absolutely necessary in the public interest. It must be clear beyond all doubt that there is no possible alternative source of supply, and if those two conditions are satisfied then the permission must be subject to the condition that restoration takes place at the earliest possible opportunity.
I realise that this Bill, good as it is, is capable of improvement, and during the remaining stages I shall welcome the co-operation and assistance of hon. Members in all parties, many of whom will have a wider knowledge of the subject matter in this Bill than I can possibly claim to have. I shall be very ready to consider any suggestions also from voluntary organisations, with their expert knowledge. But however good may be the machinery of this Bill as it finally emerges, it is largely machinery. Its success must depend on the courageous, determined and imaginative spirit in which it is carried out by the parties concerned, by the local planning authorities, the Commission, my Ministry and the Government. It has immense possibilities for enhancing the beauties of this island, but even more by providing closer contact with nature and in improving the physical, moral and spiritual welfare of our people. With all sincerity I can promise that, so far as this Government and I, as Minister, are concerned, we will do everything in our power to give life and reality to the terms of this Measure.
1485 This Bill is the third piece of important legislation which I have been privileged to introduce into this Parliament, all of them major implementations of great State Reports—Barlow, Scott, Uthwatt, Reith, and Hobhouse. That, in itself, I may humbly claim, is a unique record. All these documents will live in the history of town and country planning. It is a source of special pride to me that these Measures, together constituting the complete trilogy of planning, represent a code fashioned in this one Parliament by the same Minister. The New Towns Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, were designed to improve the broad material conditions in which we spend our lives, but the present Bill has a more direct and specific purpose. By preserving and developing the beautiful parts of our countryside we are seeking to promote happiness for ordinary men and women.
It is perhaps a reason for our country's greatness that in a difficult period like the present we are not afraid to set aside time and energy for the practical measures needed to help people to enjoy these beautiful areas. No one will wish to disagree with the wisdom of doing so, because the enjoyment of our leisure in the open air and the ability to leave our towns and walk on the moors and in the dales without fear of interruption are, with all respect to my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Health and of National Insurance, just as much a part of positive health and wellbeing as are the building of hospitals or insurance against sickness. I am particularly proud to introduce this Bill because it represents something which men and women have wanted for a long time and have struggled for, often with little hope of success.
Now at last we shall be able to see that the mountains of Snowdonia, the Lakes, and the waters of the Broads, the moors and dales of the Peak, the South Downs and the tors of the West Country belong to the people as a right and not as a concession. This is not just a Bill. It is a people's charter—a people's charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. Without it they are fettered, deprived of their powers of access and facilities needed to make holidays enjoyable. With it the countryside is theirs 1486 to preserve, to cherish, to enjoy and to make their own.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I am sure the whole House will wish me to congratulate the Minister on having survived a considerable mental and physical ordeal in the careful and exhaustive survey which he has given us in presenting this Bill today. The right hon. Gentleman took us fully into past history and voiced, in the concluding passages of his speech, so many of the aspirations which are common to all of us that I shall be able to limit the compass of my remarks. I need hardly say that I welcome the Bill. We all rejoice in anything which will make an understanding of the countryside a more general possession of our people. I agree with all the right hon. Gentleman said about the value, to body and mind, of encouraging proper access to our open spaces. He was good enough to mention my own contribution on this question during my term of office but, of course, much work was done before I came on the scene. Enthusiastic private persons had long agitated for something of this kind and have done, in the meantime, invaluable work in preserving from depredation many of the areas which they one day hope to see made national parks. If the right hon. Gentleman occasionally feels irritated by the zeal of these societies, I am sure he would be the first to acknowledge that they have done wonderful work in preserving for this generation areas which might otherwise have been spoilt.
§ Mr. Silkin indicated assent.
§ Mr. Morrison
In that task it is worth while noting which were the chief potential dangers to these areas. They did not, as is generally the case under town planning, arise from the private developer, although he might, by an unsightly building, ruin a fair prospect. Of course, quarrying carried out in thoughtless fashion can be a danger, but in the open spaces which are now considered to be potential national parks the main potential depredators have been Government Departments and statutory undertakings. It is against these powerful forces that those who wish to preserve the beauty of these areas have had to fight. That they have succeeded so well is a 1487 matter for congratulation to them and to us all.
If the House will permit me I should like to mention my late friend John Dower, whose report is with us today as a memorial to his own great knowledge, taste and zeal in the public interest. I am sorry that he is not with us today to see the introduction of this Bill, but I should like to mention the great debt that all these various societies owe to his untiring labours and skilled perception. Perhaps I may also say a word of thanks to Sir Arthur Hobhouse and his colleagues, because I appointed the Hob-house Committee although, due to causes over which I had no control, I was not in office at the time they reported. There is no doubt that the whole House and the country owe these gentlemen a great debt of gratitude for the enthusiasm and public spirit which they brought to this difficult task. Further, we should not forget, when remembering famous men, Lord Chief Justice Scott's Committee on the Utilisation of Land in Rural Areas. Many of the proposals which appear in later reports, and in this Bill, find their origin in that excellent Report, and I should like to pay tribute to those who laboured to produce it.
When so much divides hon. Members from one another, it is good to see a piece of good work, which has gone through several Departments, persevered with and coming to the prospect of fruition. I have, however, a complaint which I must make, namely, that considering the size and importance of the Bill so short a time has been allowed to the House and the public to study its provisions between publication and today's Second Reading. To those of us who are more or less familiar with the subject that is not so much a hardship, but this is a Bill which must affect many interests—not necessarily financial. Many people are interested in the multifarious aspects of this problem, and I think it would have been convenient if sufficient time had been allowed to enable those people to communicate with Members in all parts of the House. If that had been done, we might perhaps have had a more informed Second Reading Debate today.
As the right hon. Gentleman truly said, this is a machinery Bill and many of its 1488 provisions can be more adequately discussed in Committee. I understand that we shall not commence that stage until after Easter and, that being so, I hope there will be time for representations which people desire to make to be put in the hands of hon. Members. I do not want it to be said in Committee, if a point is raised there for the first time, that it should have been mentioned on Second Reading. I have heard that done occasionally by Ministers, but on this Bill, on which I hope we shall all collaborate to make it a success, I hope we shall not hear that sort of reproach.
The feature of the Bill which raises the chief question of principle, and which has incurred for the Minister the express displeasure of some of the societies he mentioned in the latter part of his speech, is the position to which he has relegated the proposed National Parks Commission. Both the Dower and Hobhouse Reports, following the practice in the United States, Canada and South Africa, recommended that for national parks there should be established a national commission. Paragraph 46 of the Hobhouse Report states:We concur with the view expressed in the Dower Report that the central administration of the National Parks scheme will require 'a body of high standing, expert qualification, substantial independence and permanent constitution, which will uphold, and be regarded by the public as holding, the landscape, architectural and recreational values whose dominance is the essential purpose of National Parks' and that these requirements will be fulfilled by a National Parks Commission. This body should be composed of persons whose qualities of judgment and wisdom will command the respect of Parliament and the nation, and should contain at least a proportion of members who have personal knowledge of some of the National Park areas and their particular problems and requirements.The report sets out what the Commission's responsibility should be:to frame policy for the planning and management of the Parks, to see that it is fully and effectively applied, and to supervise the expenditure of money for this purpose. They will further be responsible for the provision of advice and guidance, and the allocation of monetary grants, to the local authorities concerned with the planning and management of Conservation Areas.That was the definition of the functions and status of the Commission which emerged from these two reports. It is clear that this conception in the meantime has been through the departmental 1489 mangle and has emerged considerably flattened out.
It is not too easy in the present draft of the Bill to see what are the status and the powers of the proposed National Parks Commission. I welcome the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that we should be given a memorandum which brings them together. It seems from the Bill that really they are largely advisory and very different from what I have just read from the Hobhouse Report. For example, under Clause 2 (2) the tenure of office of these Commissioners is insecure. The Clause says:The members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Minister and shall hold office on such terms as to tenure and vacation of office as the Minister may determine.They seem to be given no permanent constitutional position or even contracts, as was considered desirable by the Hobhouse Committee. By subsection (4) they cannot even appoint a secretary without the Minister's approval, and their officers and servants can be appointed only with the approval of the Minister and the consent of the Treasury. By Clause 3 they have to comply with the general directions of the Minister. By Clause 5 they may designate areas to be known as national parks after consultation with local planning authorities and approval by the Minister, but thereafter the role of the National Parks Commission with regard to national parks, seems to be almost entirely that of an advisory committee. They can, of course, act in that advisory capacity. I am not decrying or trying to minimise the importance of skilled advice. They can make recommendations. Indeed, these are very important powers, but there is nothing in the Bill to say what is to happen to the recommendations supposing they are disregarded by those whose duty it is to pay attention to them.
The Hobhouse Committee recommended that the local committee for a park should have its chairman and half its members appointed by the Commission. In this Bill the Commission appoints no one to the local parks committee. The Minister nominates a quarter and he is supposed to, and will, consult the Commission before he does so. Clause 8 deals with the development plan for a national park. It seems that a local planning authority is enjoined to 1490 consult with the Commission and to take into consideration their observations. But what happens if the advice of the Commission is ignored, is not stated. As far as the Bill says anything, what happens is precisely nothing.
Clause 9 states the general duty of the Commission. It is clear from that Clause that, as I said, this is an advisory body. This is borne out by Clause 10 which says that they may make observations on the proposals of the local planning authority just as I can make observations on the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, but with as little effect. In every case, the Commission has to consult with the local planning authorities before they can do anything; but that traffic is one-way. For example, Clause 12 gives power to the local planning authorities to provide accommodation, meals, camping sites and so on. Nothing in the Clause says that they are under any obligation to consult the Commission on these matters. I should have thought that the National Parks Commission, if they were to have anything effective to say, should have had a say on the selection of sites of camps which is a matter for careful and expert guidance.
Similarly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Broads. That is a peculiarly difficult problem. Not only are there the difficulties to which he alluded but there is a multiplicity of authorities there. There are harbour authorities which have jurisdiction so far as the tide goes; there are other authorities concerned with river pollution, which is a most vital matter; and there are at least a dozen other bodies concerned with various features of the life of the place.
I should have thought that in all cases like that the Commission ought to be consulted on any plan for the area if they are to be of the status and qualifications mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, as I have no doubt they will be. I think they might be of great help in getting through the tangle, but it is clear that the Commission cannot hold any land in a national park. Clauses 15 and 63 make it plain that any land acquired in the parks is to be held by the Minister. Nor do they have the power, as was recommended in the Reports, to allocate money under a system of priorities to the various projects and purposes of the national parks.
1491 I go no further at the moment than to say that this is a very different conception of the status and functions of the National Parks Commission from that recommended by the Dower and Hobhouse Reports. If the right hon. Gentleman is a little nettled at the criticisms of the voluntary societies, he must, as I am sure he does, appreciate that these enthusiasts who have worked so long and so zealously for national as distinct from local parks feel a certain amount of disappointment about this matter. I have no doubt that they feel that to the Commission recommended by the Dower and Hobhouse Reports, this Commission bears about the same relation as what is called a baby's comforter bears to a real feeding bottle. It may, by superficial resemblance, attract and soothe the innocent, but it stops short and there is nothing behind it.
We on this side of the House have every desire to maintain the proper independence of local authorities and to entrust them with the performance of their own duties. We have had occasion to protest from time to time that local authorities have had their functions absorbed by the State. On the general question of town and country planning I have myself always believed that the local initiative is indispensable. I was critical of the proposal which is now enshrined in the Act of 1944 whereby planning functions were concentrated in county councils. I still believe that rural councils should have more say in their own locality. The county capital in some shires is as remote almost as Whitehall.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman and I happen to sit for an exceptionally fine county.
Those who have criticised the right hon. Gentleman for the shadowy and attenuated form in which the Commission is now presented to us, would regard the spectre with less misgiving if they thought that it resulted in a real increase in the independence and powers of the local planning authority. We must, of course, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said today, give this matter further consideration, and I shall content myself by expressing the opinion 1492 that it would have been best to form some body like this Commission which would have been able to be of more assistance to local planning authorities in carrying out this new duty.
Therefore, if it is the Government's policy that the Commission is to be of the character which the right hon. Gentleman described, we shall have to look more closely at the local arrangements for planning the parks. It surely seems necessary to secure that each of these areas shall be planned as a whole, with some coherent national purpose in view. I do not find that the provisions of this Bill are yet apt to secure this. When more than one county council is involved, I think it should be obligatory to have a joint board to cover the whole area of the park. The right hon. Gentleman instanced the case where the amount of land in one county was disproportionately small compared with the area of the whole, but I think it would be wise administratively to give them proportional representation on the joint planning body, so that it could not be said that one county was planning the land of another.
It seems to me that we have to look again at this proviso in Clause 7 (2), which seems to exclude the obligation in every case to have a joint planning body for an indefinite period which is described as "for the time being," of which I am unable to determine the length, and which I am not able to interpret. There are other points raising these more local conceptions of this work, but I think they are more appropriate to the Committee stage of the Bill.
Part III of the Bill deals with nature conservation, and I am sure it is very welcome to every hon. Member of the House. It is extraordinary that, in spite of its dense population and tremendous activity, this island should still be the habitat of beasts, birds and plants of the greatest interest and variety. These are our fellow creatures with us in our own country. They are, it is true, unrationed and they do not pay any taxes. They follow their own way of life, and perish like us in time, to give place to fresh generations of their kind. Their observation has been a delight to the simple and their study a pleasure to the curious from the beginnings of human history, and I am in agreement with what is proposed 1493 here, which is in line with the Dower Report.
I cannot, however, refrain from commenting on Clause 23. It is a short one, and it says:Where the Nature Conservancy are of opinion that any area of land, not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve, is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features, it shall be the duty of the Conservancy to notify that fact to the local planning authority in whose area the land is situated.That is all right, but what happens then? The Bill does not say, it goes on to talk about the annual report of the Nature Conservancy. It seems to me that, whenever the right hon. Gentleman opposite comes up against a local planning authority, he seems to strike against a sort of iron curtain. It is the same here as with the national parks. Commissions and Conservancies can notify, inform and recommend, but, if the notification, information or recommendation is disregarded, nothing happens. We are left with the pious hope that all these, together with all other relevant considerations, will be borne in mind. We may even be promised active consideration, whatever that means. As a broad administrative point, I say to the Minister that there is no surer way of asking for trouble than providing for a conflict of opinion and failing to provide some means for resolving that conflict.
I have only one other comment on these proposals. I feel sure that those who manage these nature reserves will be at pains to ensure that they do not become reserves for harmful vermin—rats, rabbits and common predatory creatures of all kinds. If this is not done, apart from the damage to food production in the neighbourhood, these reserves will be regarded with aversion by the surrounding local population, and this would be an unhappy start which none of us wants to see.
I come now to Part IV, which deals both with public footpaths and rights of way. I am sure that everyone will be in general sympathy and agreement with these proposals. The process must, of course, begin with a survey, which is provided for in Clause 27. I hope it may be possible to complete it in less than the three years, but I am at the same time fully aware of the difficulties created 1494 by the absence of skilled staff. There is one point about these footpaths which I would suggest to the Minister and to his colleague the Minister of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman himself referred to it in his speech, and I was glad to hear what he said, though I was not quite sure if he goes as far as I would wish. The point is that the Bill provides for the creation of new footpaths and rights of way, and that is an excellent thing. There is no better way of protecting farms from damage by ramblers than by the ample provision of places where they may walk and do no damage.
But, now that we are to have this survey and the whole matter is being looked at anew, should we not take this opportunity to stop up some old rights of way which are embarrassing to agriculture, substituting for them new paths equally convenient or more convenient for ramblers? What I have in mind is that some of these old rights of way in the country date from a period long before the present location of the buildings and farms which surround them. We often have a right of way going right through a farmyard, with all the risks of gates being left open. The risk is not so serious when the path is used only by country neighbours, but, with the increased access of urban dwellers, for which this Bill provides and which we hope to see, the risk becomes greater. Again, we may have an old path or right of way running diagonally across a field, transforming its quadrilateral into two separate triangles, which complicates ploughing very greatly and increases the time and cost of the whole operation. I suggest that this aspect of the matter should be looked at carefully in order to find means of substituting new paths for old in the interests of food production in our agricultural districts.
I also extend a very hearty welcome to Part V of the Bill, with its provisions for access to open country. I find that the term "open country" itself has given rise to misapprehensions and misunderstandings. In a sense, the most highly cultivated farm is open country if we compare it with a built-up area. It is clear from the definition in Clause 48 that what is meant by "open country" in this Bill is, in the main, really uncultivated land. Of course, cultivated and uncultivated land 1495 are often neighbours, and it is here that the danger of damage comes in. In my view, damage arises much more from ignorance than from wickedness, though there is sometimes an element of wantonness which is a sort of amalgam of the two. The real safeguard must, in the long run, be education in country courtesy, but this takes time and experience to cultivate.
It is true that under the Bill a rambler loses his immunity from an action for trespass if he does any of the things forbidden by Clause 49, but I personally have never had much faith in or liking for actions for trespass. To start with, we must rely on the power to make by-laws which is contained in Clause 73, and on the wardens whom it is proposed to appoint under Clause 74. If these wardens are of the right type they can be of great help to farmer and rambler alike, but they will take time to recruit and train in the first place.
This brings me to one general point of policy with regard to access whether in national parks or elsewhere. I am anxious to see the more intimate relations between townsmen and countrymen start with no soreness, but with a friendly desire to understand each other's wishes and problems. This is largely a matter of timing access, because the access agreements and the access orders will all take some time to frame, to conclude, and to establish, and we must start somewhere. I suggest that we make a start by opening up uncultivated land, where the risk of damage is small, before we proceed to include areas of higher cultivation where the risk of damage is much greater. These can come when education has proceeded and by-laws have been made and published, and when wardens have been recruited and trained. If this movement progresses, as I hope it will, I do not think that we shall lose any time in gaining complete access to healthy parts of the country, and, at the same time, do what is so important, ensure that the whole amalgam of townsmen and countrymen is a success instead of starting off on the wrong foot.
Take, for instance, the proposed park in the Yorkshire Dales. I think it would be well to make a start with the higher land of the Pennines and include the beautiful dales, like Wensley Dale, when the neces- 1496 sary preparation to safeguard this world famous dale and its equally famous dairy and livestock industry are well advanced. I think similar considerations apply to the Peak of Derbyshire, and I hope that we shall hear in this Debate from my hon. Friend for the The High Peak (Mr. Molson) who has consistently taken a keen interest in national parks, and whose local knowledge is naturally more extensive and more intimate than mine can hope to be. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in this Debate, and I shall no longer abuse my position on this Front Bench. I look forward to our further consideration of this Measure, and I think I can promise on behalf of my hon. Friends that our criticism will be as helpful as we can make it, and that we shall support the Motion which is before the House.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Forest of Dean)
I am very glad that the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) referred in his closing remarks to the great importance of understanding between town and country men, and I think that this Bill will be one of the means by which that is to be brought about. It is, indeed, an epoch-making Measure, and, in a sense, a charter for the British people after their very long struggle to obtain rights of access to the natural beauty of this country.
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there are many provisions in this Bill which are difficult to understand and which will require to be carefully threshed out in Committee. My own feeling is that much will depend on the type of person sitting on advisory and local planning committees and on the National Parks Commission, as to whether the correct thing is done and whether they understand each other. At the same time, it is the business of this House to try to set up machinery of such a kind as will avoid as much misunderstanding as possible and which will resolve the difficulties as they arise.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend in moving the Second Reading pointed out that this is a small country and that we cannot sterilise large areas of it; it must also be considered for agricultural and forestry purposes and for the development of our national wealth. At a time like this we cannot afford to sterilise large areas of the country. Moreover, the 1497 interests of the native population of the areas of the national parks must be considered, studied, and protected. In fact, a balance must be sought between public recreation, scientific research, the economic interest of the native population and the national interest in developing agriculture and forestry. Hence the Bill by its very nature must, to some extent, be a compromise between many interests.
The devotees of natural beauty preservation are too apt to think that preservation must mean leaving great areas of the country untouched and uninterfered with by man. One appreciates, of course, the long struggle they have put up, but they must understand that if these national parks are to be set up, we cannot interfere too much either with the native interests involved there, or with the interest of agriculture and forestry that may be there. In fact, within the area of these national parks, some forestry and some agriculture must continue, for it is not possible to leave nature alone. Nature is never static; if it is left alone, chaos may result. What is open mountainside one day, open to ramblers and where sheep are grazing, may become bracken-infested slopes if left indefinitely, and there is no alternative form of grazing or management. It is just that which has happened to large areas in the Highlands of Scotland, in the North of England, and in Wales where the land has been over-sheeped and has become sheep sick.
National parks must be managed just like any well managed agricultural or forest estate—managed either by alternative grazing, not just with one type of livestock, or in some cases with alternative cropping arrangements. In fact, agriculture and livestock grazing must go on even inside national parks and, moreover, the access of the public must be controlled so as to make it possible for this to continue. The public must observe rules and keep their dogs under control at certain prescribed times of the year. Furthermore, fires are a great danger to young plantations, especially in the Spring. That is very important. There are also certain sporting interests which I think should be protected. Sport in these days is not something engaged in only by a few rich people. Quite a lot of people of all classes of life like a day's shooting.
1498 I am not quite sure what is to happen in this connection because in paragraph (f) of the Second Schedule it looks as though shooting of wild life will be interfered with. That may be necessary, particularly in a nature conservancy, but I see no reason why sport should not be allowed to continue. There is another aspect of this problem: local authorities are interested in the assistance they receive from the assessment of sporting rights which in some cases are quite considerable, and if these rights are abolished it may be necessary to pay compensation. I am quite certain that the public will respond to all this, but it may mean that they will have to be educated to it, for instance, in not allowing dogs to roam about in the time of the nesting season for birds. That affects not only sport but the conservation of wild life generally. There is always a dangerous period for a few weeks when birds are breeding and in that period dogs must be kept very strictly under control. On days when shooting is allowed the public must be asked to keep to certain paths and not to use others.
I think the Forestry Commission should be called in to assist in advising upon, and possibly actually undertaking, work inside the national parks, because the Commission has great experience in this matter of forestry management together with public access. For instance, the Commission has for years most successfully run national forest parks. At Ardgartan in Argyle and in my constituency, the Forest of Dean, there are most successful national forest parks which have been running for years. In the Forest of Dean it was actually started before the war. Hikers and campers can get accommodation, camping ground, food, water and shelter for the night and, from my own experience and from that of those in my constituency who are interested in this matter, I can say that the National Forest Park at Christchurch in the Forest of Dean is increasingly frequented and extremely popular. It should be a model for the camping sites which are proposed in the national parks when, in due course, they are created.
In fact, here is a case where public access and recreation can go hand in hand with the growing of timber—a vital national need. The Forestry Commission 1499 has a very big programme in hand in trying to implement the report which it published just before the end of the war, called "Post-war forest policy." It aims at growing one-third of our national timber requirements, and that is vital to our balance of payments problem and to the economic position of this country. I see no reason why this should in any way conflict with the creation of national parks. Even the original Dower report recognised in Section 8 and also in map 2, that there were large areas outside the proposed national parks—areas like the Scottish borders, Wales, the Down-lands of the South-East of England and the South of England, the Cotswolds, and the heathlands of East Anglia—which would be better looked after by bodies other than a National Park Commission, bodies such as the Forestry Commission, the local authorities and in same cases, no doubt, where there are special things of antiquity which should be preserved, the National Trust.
We return to the idea that national parks, such as those proposed in this Bill, must be only one of the ways by which the public obtain access to the countryside. Of course, the national parks will cover the more primaeval areas of nature where probably there is less agriculture and less forestry than in other areas and where the public will already have access, such as those areas to which I have referred, but even so there must remain in these national parks a certain amount of agriculture and, in particular, a certain amount of forestry. Thus, under this plan I think Great Britain will become covered by a chessboard of areas with varying degrees of public access and varying intensity of agriculture and forestry.
I am glad that in an important part of this Bill provision is made for there to be full opportunities for Nature Conservancy to function. The Hobhouse Committee recommended conservation areas outside the areas of the national parks. It seems to me that that is not included in this Bill, but that the special function of the conservation areas recommended in the Hobhouse Committee will be fulfilled by the Nature Conservancy Board which will have a Royal Charter, and I think by that means its general status and prestige will be increased. I must say I am a little concerned about 1500 one matter in connection with nature conservancy.
What is to be the position of Scotland and its relation to England and Wales? Officially, Scotland is taken together with England and Wales in the nature conservancy, yet I know the Scots have very strong feelings about this and would like to run their own show, like all Scotsmen. We must try to work out some means by which Scotland can have local autonomy in nature conservancy. Yet we must consider the question of finance, which apparently will be centralised. I do hope these two differences can be resolved. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, to say a word or two about what he thinks to be the best way of resolving this demand of the Scots for local autonomy in this matter with the need to keep some sort of central control.
There is also the question of the controversy which has arisen in the Press over the appointments—one-fourth by the Minister and the remainder from local authorities. On the whole, I think the Minister is right to give a very considerable share of responsibility to the local authorities. Local interests must not be overriden. I think the county councils are very capable of administering a matter of this kind, especially as they are the authorities for town and country planning. At the same time I am not sure that one-fourth representation of the centre is not a little too small. I am inclined to think it could be raised to a third. We can consider that in Committee. On the other hand, I think the Minister has sufficient powers through the purse and the 75 per cent. Government grant and his powers over default to be able to prod those local authorities that are not up to the mark.
I am glad that an important Clause of the Bill deals with footpaths. For some years past I have seen a tendency for public rights of way to be whittled away and lost. It is extremely important that that matter should be looked into. Parish councils, which have the job of safeguarding the public interest here, often have not sufficient authority to do it, or have not the right people on them to stand up to local owners—farmers and owners—who close the public footpaths. I should like to know if it is possible by the provisions of this Bill to reopen footpaths which have become disused. 1501 That is very important. I know of some that have been allowed through laxity to become disused. I am glad the public will have access after a certain number of years of use. However, I want to know about the reverse situation—whether, if a footpath has fallen out of use, it can be reopened by the provisions of this Bill. I hope this Bill will get on the Statute Book after due examination in Committee. No doubt it will have to have a good thrashing out in Committee, because there are many things we should like to make clear, and we want the Bill to be a success.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
With the professed purposes of this Bill I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House will be in cordial agreement. Nevertheless, in regard to the first and, I think, the most important purpose, specified in Part II of the Bill, the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty, I fear that those best acquainted with the problem are seriously disappointed with the Bill as it is presented. And I fear that it may later be a. source of considerable disillusionment to the general public, who understand the purpose but who have not studied the particular methods prescribed on which the attainment of that purpose will depend. I say that only as regards this one purpose. With regard to all the other purposes of the Bill, the second purpose in Part II—that of providing facilities—the purpose of Part III, nature conservation, of Part IV and Part V, rights of way and access, I think the powers are sufficient. I have no criticisms to make now about them, and I think that they will probably achieve what they aim at. Some of them, of course, will make the attainment of the first purpose more difficult. For example, it may be that some of the provisions—for catering establishments, for instance—may make it more difficult to preserve, let alone to enhance, natural beauty. But if this first and most important purpose—I say "most important" because if there were defects in the provisions as to access and public rights, and the provision of catering establishments, those defects could easily be remedied later—if the first purpose is not achieved, if beauty is destroyed, the destruction may be irremediable. I gravely fear that when our successors 1502 look back after, say, 10 years, and ask what has happened, it is more likely that they will say that, on balance, beauty has been destroyed or diminished, rather than that it has been preserved and enhanced.
I should like to give certain reasons why I think that is so. In the first place, I think that both the Town and Country Planning Act and this Bill are based on the assumption that the principal threats to the beauty of the country come from ill-regulated or insufficiently controlled private activities of individuals or companies, and that, therefore, the answer is to secure that there are adequate powers for public authorities to control them. That was true in the 19th century. I believe it is an obsolete assumption now. I believe that it is now the opposite of the truth. I believe that the main threats to the preservation of the natural beauty of this country now come from public authorities, local or central.
If we are thinking of the kind of activity that is likely to destroy a national park, I have only to cite the opposition to the removal of the factory on Lake Windermere by the county council; or the question of the Ennerdale Reservoir; or the cement works in the Hope Valley; or the invasion of Dartmoor. And coming from the local authorities to the national Government, the kind of thing that is likely to destroy beauty and to destroy these national parks will be, for example, the desire of the Board of Trade to develop parts of Cumberland, that is the Lake District, as Development Areas; the desire of the Ministry of Transport to drive a great special road, endangering the Backs of Cambridge, or possibly running through one of the national parks contemplated here; or the nationalised electricity authority's planning of large new electrical establishments, let us say, in North Wales; or the Gas Board of the recently nationalised gas industry proposing new horrors blocking the view on the main approaches to a city like Oxford. Again the threat may come, and on a bigger scale, from the War Office, desiring to add to the Plain of Salisbury other parts of Wiltshire for training purposes. Or it may, of course, come from the Air Ministry.
It is, in my view, threats of that kind from local or national authorities that are the threats of the present time, the 1503 main obstacles in the way of the preservation of the natural beauty of this country. I am not saying that any of these purposes are improper. I am not saying that any of them is unnecessary. Quite obviously, however, in regard to any one of them the question will arise whether a particular location is the right one; whether in a particular instance the balance is rightly struck between the immediate economy and convenience of a particular site to a Department and the destruction of beauty; and whether a slight loss of economy or convenience should not be sustained to avoid an intolerable damage to natural beauty.
I shall say something in a moment of the way in which the machinery of Government in this country works. We have what are, in fact, great Departments of the Government, not only the Departments in the strict sense, like the War Office, but nationalised concerns, as the interested parties in such questions. We must, I think, have this as a background when we try to assess the prospect that the objects of this Bill will be achieved. Against that background I should like to look a little more closely at some of the specific provisions, and first of all at the national parks dealt with in Parts I and II of the Bill.
I think this Bill's name is a very seriously misleading misnomer. I do not think that these are either national or parks. The Minister has explained to us that in using the word "park" he is not using it in a sense that is included in any dictionary and not using it to mean what is meant by "national parks" in other countries—the United States, South Africa or New Zealand. I do not object to his coining a new use for that phrase, but it may mislead a considerable number of people who think that a park is either what their dictionary tells them it is, or what they have seen it to be in other countries.
I recognise, however, the reasons given by the Minister for the difference between parks in this country and parks in other countries to which he referred. What I think is more serious is when we come to the other part of that phrase "national." These parks are essentially local parks and not national parks. The criterion is surely this: Where is the centre of gravity in the powers provided 1504 for the management of these parks? The Parks Commission have certain powers. But they are purely advisory and may be neglected for this purpose. There remains the national Government. If one asks: "Will the authorities who are running these parks really secure that they are national parks in the sense in which the Bill intends; and what is the authority that will effectively determine that?" I think that there is no doubt that it is the local ratepayers' authority and not the national Government who will do that.
It is true that the Government have certain powers. The Government have the power of the purse and can probably control the action of the local planning authorities when what is wanted is money to develop something, such as catering establishments; but when the Government are confronted with a reluctance to do with a particular national park area what this Bill comtemplates, the balance of power is surely with the local ratepayers' authority, and it is their attitude of mind that will determine the result. The whole idea of a national park is, of course, that in certain exceptionally beautiful areas there is a national heritage in which the national interest is important and indeed should predominate by comparison with the local interest. If, therefore, we set out to have a national park and then we arrange our powers so that the centre of gravity of the powers is with the local authority, we have, I think, converted the national park into a local park, and that is what has been done in these provisions.
I therefore think that the phrase "national park" is a misnomer in regard to both its terms. A very celebrated ecclesiastic once said that Christian Science was so-called because he was informed that it was not scientific and he knew that it was not Christian. A somewhat similar observation is I think appropriate to the Minister's term "national park" in the Bill which he has presented to us. It is true, of course, that while I think the centre of gravity of the powers is with the local planning authority, the national Government have sufficient powers to do a great deal. But on the whole what the Government as a whole will mainly do is, I believe, to destroy the beauty of the country and not preserve it. This is not out of but because so many of the schemes that threaten 1505 national beauty come from specialised Government Departments which have a particular interest which naturally predominates against the more general interest of preserving national beauty. Against the specialised and eager interest of a strong Department, I think that the Minister will usually be incapable of securing the same kind of impartial judgment, the balancing of advantages and disadvantages, as he would be able to secure if the interest in question was a private interest and not a Department of the Government.
I think that there is an illusion in the public mind that when a great department of the national life is taken over by the State, which is supposed to be the guardian of the public interest, the general interest of the public will be safer than when that part of the national life was still in the hands of private interests. I believe that that is not only not true but that it is the precise opposite of the truth. Let me take, as an example, the instance to which I have just referred—the proposal that there should be further developments by the gas authorities near the approaches to Oxford. There we have the City opposition, the University opposition and the Oxford Preservation Trust opposition. I am sure that we have too the inner sympathy of the Minister with those who are objecting to this proposal. I am quite sure that if gas had not been nationalised and there was no national gas authority, supported as it naturally is by the Minister of Fuel and Power, the opponents to that proposal would prevail; at least I am quite sure that they would have a much greater chance of prevailing than they will now that gas has become nationalised.
That is how the thing works under a Government machine. Many of us in this House have had experience of how Government Departments work with each other, and how the Cabinet works. A particular Department and a Minister with all his expert advisers will have worked up their case; they say quite truly that there is a convenience in a particular horror being sited in a place of beauty rather than elsewhere; they can save money and it is more convenient; the experts have worked out all their figures to the last decimal. Against such specialised official evidence, I suggest that the Minister will usually not find 1506 that he is strong enough to resist successfully. The dice are loaded against him all the time. They are much more strongly loaded against him than if he were controlling a private interest. So I suggest it will be when he comes to the Cabinet. The Minister concerned with a particular scheme will push his scheme so far as he can; and the Minister responsible only for the more general duty of preserving beauty will almost always lose.
That is now the new, and the greatest, danger. There is at least a possible partial remedy. I do not now suggest that the Government should go back on the whole of their nationalisation programme. What I do urge is that the Government should consider the proposal made by the Hobhouse Committee in, I think, paragraph 116, that there should be a permanent Cabinet Committee watching problems of this kind. When a particular Departmental Minister comes with his scheme for gas or electricity or a special road or whatever it may be, he would then find himself confronted not with one Minister, and a less specialised and powerful Minister, but with a permanent Committee of Ministers who may develop the proper traditions with regard to these problems. I venture to press that suggestion on Ministers and upon the Government generally.
I come lastly to the question of the National Parks Commission. It is here, of course, that the voluntary activities of the voluntary associations of the country, so far as they obtain representation in this Bill, are to be found. I have no doubt that the Minister will appoint among the members of the Parks Commission some of the people who have been associated with the great voluntary associations of this country—voluntary associations which have, of course, in the era between the industrial uncontrol of the 19th century and the present time done so much to restrain the previous regrettable developments of ugliness. They have done a great deal to preserve, so far as it has been preserved, the natural beauty of this country. They have been able to do that because they have been strongly organised bodies of ardent and public spirited people who have given their time to the task, and who have been able to influence Parliament and to move Governments. They were able to move 1507 Governments more easily at a time when Governments themselves were not, to the extent to which they now are, interested parties; when Governments were more nearly in a position to take the place of a judge upon the bench instead of being, as they are in a great proportion of cases now, both the judge upon the bench and the defendant. These voluntary societies, so far as they are represented at all, are represented in the National Parks Commission.
Now I agree with the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), that the National Parks Commission has really been reduced to an almost impotent role. It has a great number of duties of a kind; the list of rights is pretty considerable; but the powers of the Commission are not only mainly advisory, they are wholly advisory—and advisory on matters upon which it is highly unlikely, except in one or two cases, that their advice will prevail against contrary interests. It is true that they have one advisory duty of some importance, that of recommending, subject to the confirmation of the Minister, as to the delimitation or choice of, the areas. That seems to me however the least important of duties, because, after all, the areas are more or less known; the work has been very largely done by the Hobhouse Committee. There may be rectifications of frontiers here and there, but that does not very much matter. What does matter is what is done inside the areas when chosen.
As regards the other power to which the Minister referred, that of advising him on the allocation of finance, I think that may be of some importance in regard to the positive duty of providing facilities, but of very little use when it comes to a question of securing that a reluctant local planning authority shall take steps to prevent what would defeat the purposes of this Bill. In general I think it fair to say that the Commission, in its terms of appointment and dismissal and in regard to its powers, is fundamentally different from the proposals of the Hob-house Committee, and this is an absolutely vital feature in the whole Bill.
The Minister said that Sir Arthur Hob-house might be pleased because he had got 90 per cent. of his proposals adopted. Well, I do not know how the Minister 1508 makes his percentage calculation. I confess that I greatly distrust these statistical percentage calculations on matters where statistical calculation is really not possible. When the Lord President of the Council says that 20 per cent. of the country's economy is to be nationalised and 80 per cent. is to be free, that is very misleading to any member of the public who does not at the same moment consider that the whole of the 80 per cent. depend upon the economic efficiency of the remaining 20 per cent. I can, however, at least understand the statistical basis of the Lord President's 20 per cent. and 80 per cent. But I cannot imagine what statistical criteria were taken by the Minister when he says that Sir Arthur Hobhouse had had 90 per cent. of his proposals adopted. He may have counted the lines, I do not know. I suggest that we want qualitative rather than quantitative criteria. On qualitative criteria it seems to me quite clear that a much less proportion of what that Committee recommended has been adopted, when we consider the powers, or the absence of powers, of the Commission in the Bill as presented in contrast with the powers proposed in the Hobhouse Report.
In effect, this National Parks Commission is confined and restricted; it is appointed, every member of it, by the Minister and dismissible by the Minister, without permanence of any kind, without anything that secures, in any real sense, independence. It has indeed certain possibilities of, I think the Minister said, propaganda. But the propaganda of a body so appointed by and so controlled by a Government Department will certainly only be propaganda that is in exact accordance with the policy of the Government; it will not be the sort of appeal to the public that will be effective against the will of the Government. The Commission is, I suggest, muzzled; that part of the voluntary effort of the country which is at all represented in this Bill is muzzled so that its bark shall be muffled and its teeth cannot be used. I think that a not unfair description of this Commission as it is. I also think it not unfair to say that the most important parts of the Hobhouse Committee Report, so far as they are concerned with this purpose—I am not referring to the other purposes of the Bill, but to the purpose 1509 of preserving and enhancing natural beauty—have not been embodied in the Bill.
I do not say all that as a mere lament. I do not say it to indicate that I am opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, because I am not. I do so as a preface to my last suggestions to the Government, which are that they should add some compulsive powers, such as those contemplated in the Hobhouse Committee Report, to the National Parks Commission, subject to a central Minister; and secondly, that within the machinery of Government there should be a permanent Cabinet Committee as proposed by the Hobhouse Committee. The Minister responsible for this Bill would then not be left to struggle alone against the specialised Minister wishing to push through a scheme threatening natural beauty. He would, as a member of a permanent Cabinet Committee interested in the same purpose as himself, be reinforced by his colleagues.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn)
Before the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) introduced his attack on statistics, I had intended to congratulate my right hon. Friend on 90 per cent. of his Bill.
§ Sir A. Salter
If the hon. Lady would care to speculate on how the 90 per cent. was calculated, I should be very interested.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am afraid that if I dealt with that I should get sidetracked from the main burden of my speech tonight. However, I do say to my right hon. Friend that I think this Bill is a great step forward towards the purposes we want to achieve. About the only quarrel I have with the speech of the senior Burgess is that I think he belittled too sweepingly what the Bill does achieve, the immense importance of a large proportion of the Bill, and the effect it will have both in preserving natural beauty and making that natural beauty accessible to large masses of the people of our country who have not had access to it before. I can well understand the pride with which my right hon. Friend has come to the House this afternoon, and I agree with him that he has every right to point to his record as a Minister in these last few years, and to the series of milestones which has 1510 marked his path at the Front Bench in town planning and the preservation of all that is best in the English countryside.
The 1947 Act and this Bill are important factors in the social revolution that is now taking place. They mark the end of the disinheritance of the people of this country from enjoyment of the countryside. We are apt to take this new approach to the rights of the individual too much for granted. It is worth while turning back to the past. The atmosphere in 1931, for example, when Dr. Addison, the present Lord Addison, was preparing his report on this problem was quite different. If we read the report, we can see how diffident was the approach and how revolutionary was the idea. We can see what an enormous amount of propaganda was required to get acceptance of the view that property rights should not stand in the way of preservation of the national heritage and the bringing of the national treasure within reach of ordinary people. I can well understand my right hon. Friend coming to the House and saying, "After all, look at the 1947 Act which is only just coming into operation. It is a revolutionary Measure which gives local authorities wide new powers and you cannot ask me to undo all these powers today." I suggest that because he is so conscious of virtue, and rightly so, he is rather blind to the dangers which lie ahead in his path.
I agree that the provisions of the Bill in regard to the granting of new rights of way and rights of access are, if not flawless, at least perfectible in Committee. I think that some of the proposals go much further than we had a right to expect. I particularly welcome the very important powers of initiative given to the National Parks Commission on the question of long-distance routes. We have in these powers the perfect machinery for the achievement of long-distance paths we have been hoping to see. I should like to think that some of the foot-slogging the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and some of my hon. Friends and I did last May has blazed the trail in that regard. It is because the Minister is so conscious of the progress that has been made and the potentialities under the recent legislation, that he has failed, with serious results, to face up to the need for a strong central 1511 body to strengthen his hand in the face of the perils that lie ahead.
For I agree almost 100 per cent., if I may use that phrase, with the senior Burgess for Oxford University in regard to the depredations of Government Departments and Service Departments in particular. If the National Parks Commission has not the authority that the Hobhouse Committee thought it should have, then I am afraid Government Departments will get away unchecked with very dangerous encroachments on our limited and diminishing resources of beauty. I do not trust Government Departments to be the guardians of the aesthetic interests of the country. In fact, they are not only greedy but litter-minded. I have been constantly irritated in the past three years, when walking along the coastline of Hampshire or over the South Downs, to see the mess that has been left by the Service Departments in their retreat from the battle front. It is a mess which it seems to be no one's responsibility to clear up. There are tangles of rusty barbed wire and abandoned gunsites, and a total lack of responsibility is being shown by the Service Departments in clearing up after themselves at a time when we are trying to educate the public in this respect.
This Bill is seriously inadequate in not giving to the National Parks Commission the right, as the Hobhouse Report suggested, to be consulted by Government Departments on proposals for developments in national parks. Like the senior Burgess for Oxford University, I regret that the proposal for setting up a permanent committee of the Cabinet for the hearing of appeals in disputes between Government Departments and the Minister has not been adopted. That is one of the prices we have to pay for the fear my right hon. Friend has shown throughout this Bill of encroaching on the rights of local authorities by setting up a strong and authoritative central body.
What my right hon. Friend overlooks is that in this question of national parks, we are dealing with a very specialised problem indeed. In fact there would be no need for this legislation at all if we did not recognise that in these areas we have considerations that transcend local 1512 planning needs. I wondered, when I read this Bill, whether my right hon. Friend had really been converted in his heart of hearts, to the need for national parks. He admits that the machinery of the Bill makes it possible for local authorities to sabotage, if they are so minded, the purposes of this Bill. He takes the view that it is incumbent on him to trust the local authorities to co-operate, and he is confident that they will co-operate
§ Mr. Silkin
What I admitted was that if the local authorities, the National Parks Commission, the Minister and the Government desired that the thing should not work, it would not work. I never suggested that the local authorities alone could sabotage the purposes of the Bill.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am at a loss to interpret the exact meaning of that phrase, just as it is difficult to interpret from the Clauses of the Bill how the Bill will work out in practice. If my right hon. Friend is suggesting that the purposes of the Bill cannot be sabotaged by the local authorities because he has default powers, I think he is putting the matter on a rather precarious basis. It will not be a satisfactory situation if the local authorities are going to be pulling against the purposes of the Bill so that the Minister has to step in to carry out the ideas behind the Bill. What we need is local machinery keen to get ahead, but it is only reasonable to expect that the county council representatives on the local planning committees will have the interests of their ratepayers predominantly at heart. They would be defaulting in their responsibility as local representatives if the local interest were not, in the last resort, their final consideration.
I should be prepared to agree that there will be very little field for dispute about a great deal of the purpose of the national parks, and that we should expect to see, even with the committees which the Minister visualises, a great deal of spontaneous co-operation on general planning. But I wonder if my right hon. Friend saw the leader in the "Manchester Guardian" the other day in which it was pointed out that there is at the moment in the county council elections, a candidate running for Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale, who is fighting the election on an election address which guarantees 1513 that the ratepayers will be protected from the possible effects of the National Parks Bill. In fact, part of the address, according to the "Manchester Guardian" runs as follows:Those candidates who do not state in black and white that they are opposed to the activities of the Preservation Societies may be the wrong men. If they get on the council they may use the National Parks Bill against you.It goes on:If you send me to the county council I will fight hard to attract light industries to Lakeland to employ our young people.It may be that the Minister, by setting up this machinery, which makes a specific point of local authority responsibility, may be creating the possibility of cleavage, strife and argument locally, and, indeed an electoral struggle on a matter which we should have thought would have been lifted above that level.
I suggest that the problem is bigger than merely a question of the size of the national representation on these local committees. It is rather a question whether we are going to do as the Minister proposes and say to the local planning authority, "You get on with this job. You can add to your numbers from among those whom I will nominate, and you had better consult the National Parks Commission before you do anything. If you do not agree with the Commission, the appeal will come to me." That is the Minister's approach, and I suggest that that is a complete reversal of the idea of joint committees, which are linked to a central body through their chairmen and through officers acting jointly for the national and local bodies and which work under a national planning code. The main thing we need to do is to strengthen the relations of the central authority with those local committees, and if we do that it does not matter so very much what is the numerical representation on them.
I am particularly anxious about this from a point of view which has not been mentioned so far, or if it has, it has been put rather from the opposite point of view by the senior Burgess for Oxford University. That is the question of the management of the parks. This is where I see the biggest danger of conflict between the local and national interests. Probably on the main questions affecting the preservation of beauty, the local commit tees will go ahead, but surely if the national parks 1514 means anything, they mean we have decided to extend the inheritance of the people to include enjoyment of these areas by all classes whether they live in towns, in the sprawling suburbs of our big cities or in the country, so that everybody can enjoy the most beautiful spots of our countryside.
This is a very much bigger problem than the mere preservation of these areas. It is a question of popularising them. I do not use that in the Butlin sense but in the sense of accessibility. What I am concerned to see under this Bill is not merely that Lakeland and such places shall be maintained in all their intrinsic beauty, but that the disinherited of our towns shall be able to go there to an extent that has never been possible before, provided they go on terms which retain the national beauty of those areas. I am not suggesting that the Minister should organise char-a-banc trips and open roadhouses, but I am suggesting that at the moment in those areas there is an inadequacy of accommodation at a price and of a kind which will enable ordinary working people from our factories and mills, who want to go into the countryside because they love it, to have access to it.
There is very much greater emphasis on this problem in the Hobhouse Report than I see reflected in the powers of the Bill. On page 44 of the Report it states that:Expert advice on the present costs of building and furnishing leads us to believe that a considerable amount of new accommodation will have to be constructed and maintained on a non-profit-making basis or even at a loss.I cannot see a local committee, with a predominance of county council representatives representing ratepayers who have an interest in hotel accommodation and, as it were, in the exclusiveness of the area, becoming a body which is going to initiate satisfactorily the provision of accommodation of that sort. It is not necessarily directly of value to their ratepayers, and some cases it may be in competition with them. But we are not going to make our national parks national, unless there is going to be provisions within them of a kind and at a cost within the reach of people who have very seldom enjoyed holidays in those areas before.
I appreciate that this is a Committee point, but I am concerned that, on my reading of the Bill, it does not appear that the local committees have power to 1515 make grants to voluntary bodies, such as the Youth Hostels Association or the W.T.A. and other similar bodies which ought to be encouraged under the Bill, in the sense that the Minister says they have. But certainly the Bill puts a very different emphasis on this side of the work from that put by the Hobhouse Committee, which viewed the National Parks Commission as a body taking the initiative throughout the national parks as a whole, in an attempt to open them up, in the best sense of that term, to people wanting to go to them for the open-air life.
Again, the Hobhouse Report goes very much further than the Bill does on the question of the enjoyment of the parks. We have tended in the past to consider that the working-class enjoyment of the open air must necessarily and permanently be limited to hiking and cycling. That is not the vision we get from the Hobhouse Report. It proposes to provide sporting rights for working people through the work of the National Parks Commission in purchasing and leasing sports rights, in encouraging riding clubs, anglers' associations, boating clubs, sailing clubs and all those adventurous amenities, which have been beyond the purse of the ordinary working people in the past. The Hobhouse Report believes that they ought to be provided in our national parks for our people as a whole.
That involves a degree of drive and vision which I cannot see coming from a series of local committees, all of whom are a little bit worried lest they may be spoiling what has been the nice preserve of one or two fortunate people in the past. That is my most serious anxiety about the Minister's emphasis on the Bill, and I hope that he will seriously reconsider his attitude to this matter in the Committee stage. I hope he will ponder whether it is not his duty to the great masses of the people in our towns, who are longing to go out into the sun and air and enjoy the heritage of the countryside and live more fully than they have ever done in the past, to reconsider the powers that he has given to the central body and to decide that he must enlarge those powers and strengthen the Commission.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. 1516 Castle) said that the weakness of the Bill is that it does not enable the central Government to spend enough money. It is to be criticised because we cannot run things in great numbers and in many places at a loss. We are not, for example, to allow light industries in the Lake District. We are to open the countryside to the people—I can imagine the hon. Lady making these speeches in other places and with less restraint—and we are to ignore utterly the practical facts about the countryside upon which we live. If she and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, want to stride across Lakeland ignoring its interests and preventing the people there from making their living, where is the money to come from to pay for all those things?
I support the Measure because it is modest and because it approaches this subject sensibly and wisely. I must say that the right hon. Gentleman made such a lugubrious speech in introducing the Bill that it seemed that he was not himself pleased with it, but I am, for the very reason that it is so modest and that it does not place burdens upon us in these times, considering the way we are going, that I fear we could not possibly afford. It is a pleasure to have a Measure in this House which proposes to open up the countryside, when the Armed Forces have been spending so much time closing it to all concerned.
I note that the outdoor societies, national and local, are disappointed with the Measure. I do not think they should be. It takes a very long time to persuade a great mass of public opinion, and to convince the Government, county councillors and all who contribute towards these matters, that a course of this character ought to be enshrined in a law and become part of national policy. I think that they have done well, and that they are to be thanked by the community for their persistent efforts over a long period of time. If, zealous and keen as they are, they are somewhat disappointed not to get the whole of their desires at once, they must rejoice that in these difficult times, when there is so much that must be done to save the life of this country, they have got as far as they have in this matter.
In passing from the stage in which concern with and responsibility for preservation of the countryside was very 1517 largely in private hands, to the stage in which it has, to a larger extent, become a matter for elected representatives in county councils and for nominees of Ministers, let us not fail to say a word of thanks to private owners. Contrary to the propaganda of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, many of those private owners have set a good example in this matter by giving property to the National Trust and making access to their land available, so that people in the villages and nearby towns might enjoy it. They have encouraged country sports also, which have contributed very much to the enjoyment of those who actually live in rural communities, and of those who live in towns around them.
The National Parks Commission is criticised because there is a majority upon it representing the county councils and only a minority representing the national outlook in this matter. I do not myself think that there is all this difference between the national outlook and the outlook of enlightened dwellers in an area like the Lake District. County councillors in the Lake District are not wholly bound up with the immediate interests around them and without any regard whatever for things which are beautiful. They cherish the beauty around them. The very fact that they are made responsible for what some other people call a national heritage, brings out the best in them. It will, in my view, secure a broad, wise and sensible outlook. They have to live there. It is all very well for people to speak, as the hon. Lady has been speaking, about throwing open these areas. Who is going to pay for it? If the employment of men who earn their living on farms or in light industries is going to be interfered with, if we forbid such activities to go on, who will pay their wages?
§ Mrs. Castle
I think the hon. Member is misinterpreting what I said. I was not suggesting that anybody should forbid any of the farming or other activities that at present go on in, for example, the Lake District. I merely said that the Hob-house Report suggested that there ought to be an extension of accommodation and of sporting facilities, and so on, and I expressed the view that local committees as proposed by the Minister were not the right bodies to manage those things.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I think the hon. Lady rather jeeringly read out an election 1518 manifesto of some local candidate in which he said: "If you vote for me, I will bring you local light industries." Did not she do that?
§ Sir I. Fraser
Any councillor who does what he can to bring light industries to his people is doing good. Wages must be paid, and there must be a fund out of which to do so, as well as to pay for all the things proposed in the Bill. We should leave the control of these matters in the hands of practical men, such as county councillors. That is very much wiser than to leave it to people who do not see the wood for the trees.
I think it is good that the majority on the various organisations that are to be set up by the Bill should be county councillors with their feet on the ground. I deny absolutely that they are unaware of beautiful things or are unwilling to cherish or to encourage them. It is good to encourage local responsibility for all local interests. We have too much centralisation and too much tendency to bring everything under the control of Whitehall, where Ministers are worked too hard and cannot be expected to deal with these matters without getting tied up in red tape. For all those reasons I rather like the modest framework and I am sure that we all congratulate the Minister upon it. Certainly up in my part of the country more and more farmers are being elected to the county council. That is a good thing. Some of them may find their way on to these committees.
When we are talking about a national park, whatever the words may mean, we should not let it be imagined that we can, without great hardship to the individuals who live there and to the nation, allow people to sprawl all over the place without any order or design. If by our speeches or by propaganda about this Bill we encourage the people from the towns to suppose that they can do this, we shall do great harm to farming. It is important that in Committee we should look closely at the Clauses which provide some sort of check against the country districts being overrun.
1519 Earlier today I heard an hon. Member ask who would pay for putting the electric wires underground, and the Minister said that no provision was made in the Bill. He is wise. We cannot afford to pay for all these things. It is great exaggeration to say that these overhead electric wires spoil the countryside. I am told that in many beautiful areas as a result of proper siting, the pylons and telegraph poles are not a great eyesore; and the countryside must have electricity. I have done what I could to have electricity brought for the first time to villages in the Lake District. With the help of the local representatives of the friends of the Lake District and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, we have had the pylons placed where nobody could object to them; and everybody is glad to have the electricity. We need a sense of proportion in this matter. It is very important that people should not go around the towns talking a lot of nonsense which cannot be implemented without great damage to the countryside.
In regard to access, there is the matter of damage. This is very important. An hon. Member opposite mentioned shooting. Why should not people enjoy shooting? Shooting is more and more becoming a matter of syndicates in which a large number of people are interested; there are very few rich men who can afford these luxuries without spending capital. More and more men from the towns are forming syndicates for shooting. It is important that shooting facilities should be preserved. If we allow townsfolk who do not understand these matters casually to walk through at the wrong time, they may get shot, and at any time they may spoil the shooting, which is of value.
Is it a crime for a person to use some part of the resources which he may have saved in order to enjoy himself in such a way? Have we reached the stage when that is a crime? A sense of proportion is desirable in all these matters. Fishing is being enjoyed more and more by large numbers of people, and in my part of the country there are arrangements whereby large numbers from the towns can come out for the fishing. If we are not careful we may spoil the shooting and fishing not merely of a few lucky individuals here and there but of 1520 very great numbers of people. In Committee we must examine this carefully and see that proper safeguards are provided.
The law of trespass is always a difficult law, but it will be made much more difficult by this Bill. Henceforth one will not normally be a trespasser, but only if one does certain things. One may be a trespasser if one leaves a gate open. It is obvious that if one is seen by a farmer to leave a gate open, one will not do any damage and will not therefore be a trespasser; but if one is not seen by the farmer to leave the gate open, one cannot be prosecuted anyway. Therefore, that is not much of a safeguard for the poor farmer whose gate is left open and whose valuable cattle may stray. The law of trespass was not much good before but it will be worse now. Also, one must not leave pamphlets about or have bonfires. I should have thought that leaving pamphlets about was an incitement to have bonfires. We are making it even more difficult for anyone to whom real damage is done to bring the matter home by an occasional successful court case.
I represent a mainly rural area, but I am very interested in the towns around and I hope at the next General Election to represent both the town of Morecambe and the rural area of Lonsdale behind it. In Morecambe the coaching business is very important. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the town each year and want to see the countryside. It is a good thing that they should be able to see the countryside, and they should have the utmost possible access to beautiful places to which they can walk at the end of their coach ride or which they can ride to see; but there must be proper safeguards, in the interests not only of the farmers and the landowners, but in the interests of the people themselves.
While I welcome the principle of the Bill, I consider that we ought to look very carefully at the safeguards that are provided. I am sure that farmers generally will regard the Bill with suspicion until they see how it works. Subject to our being able to improve the Bill in Committee, I would say to them that nothing will do the farming community more good in the end than that an increasing number of townsfolk should come out and learn how they live and sympathise with their way of life.
1521 The farming community has a hard life. It is unthinkable that a farmer should bring his horse into one's back garden in the suburbs, but it is not unthinkable that one should take one's clumsy ignorance into his farmyard and let his beasts stray. Indeed, the people in the towns demand the right to go and harm the countryside because they do not understand it. Great tolerance will be required from the country community in accepting this invasion. I shall try to advise them that if they are patient and if the best is done to safeguard their interests, they may find in the end that it teaches the people of the towns a little more about the countryside which they ought to know—in particular that they rely upon the food grown in the countryside, more so in these days when we have not the resources to buy it abroad.
Let us hope that with proper tolerance and education, some good may come from this and greater sympathy may be developed between town and country. I am sure that we in the country will do our best to persuade our folk tolerantly to accept the invasion of their privacy. I hope that public representatives in the town will, equally, invite their folk who are visiting the countryside in such increasing numbers to try to understand the countryman's problem and to respect his interests.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
With a great deal of what the hon. Member for Lonsclale (Sir I. Fraser) has said I must sympathise, and I was particularly glad that towards the end of his speech the hon. Member stressed the fact that this Bill will do a good deal to link together the interests and understanding of townsfolk and country folk. Earlier in his speech the hon. Member had suggested that the present situation is one which needs correcting in that regard. I think he used a phrase suggesting that there were things that the townsfolk did not understand in connection with country practices. It is perfectly true, and it is one of the strongest reasons why we should welcome a Bill such as this.
I want to associate myself with one criticism of the Bill that has been made by a number of speakers, and that is in regard to the powers of the Commission. The ideal situation we cannot have. I 1522 take it the ideal situation is that which one gets in countries where there are a few national parks of great extent, and where the problem of management by such small bodies as county councils simply does not arise. In our case that ideal is impossible to reach. We cannot just take a number of areas and say that we shall look upon them as unconnected with the ordinary local pursuits, because these local pursuits and activities and economic interest are, themselves, so important to the life of this country.
As a result, we have to compromise a good deal, but it seems to me that in the compromise, the Minister has given away too many of the powers that might have belonged to a National Parks Commission. Other speakers have described the power of the Commission as advisory. When I read the Bill I did not try to add up to a total the various powers mentioned here and there throughout the Bill, but the impression I got—and it was strengthened while listening to the speech of the Minister—was that the powers of the Commission were largely those of liaison. The Commission is to a large extent the link between—I almost said the buffer between—the public in general and the authorities managing the national parks. I feel, therefore, that when the Bill is criticised on the score that the Commission has not great enough powers, the criticism is just.
In a short time there will be a Bill presented to deal with the Scottish aspect of the national parks question. For that reason I do not intend to deal any further just now with those aspects of the Bill which refer only to England and Wales. What I want to do is to turn to the one part of the Bill that refers to the whole of the United Kingdom, Part III, dealing with nature reserves. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) suggested that some difficulty might arise in the relationship between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other hand in connection with the nature reserves. I think he is quite right. There is a problem here. A little earlier in the afternoon the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was in his place on the Front Bench and I rather hoped—I hope still—that we may have a statement from him in the course of the Debate.
1523 In the absence of such a statement I do not want to go into detail about the problem, but I suggest that although the problem is there, it will not be a difficult one to solve. The Scottish people are proud, not merely of their scenery, the scenic resources of their countryside, but also of the flora and fauna of their country, and the last thing that they would be at all likely to want would be any kind of exclusive possession of these resources. In fact I think they would feel that they have resources of that sort which ought to be thrown open to as wide a field of popular interest as possible.
I was glad to note from the speech of the Minister that he contemplates that the extent of the nature reserves in Scotland should be 70,000 square miles, which is roughly the same as the area allotted to England and Wales, with ten times the total area within their boundaries. That, in itself, is an illustration of the wealth of Scotland in this matter. The flora and fauna range from the golden eagle and the Highland wild cat—which is the badge of my own clan—to something in which I am particularly interested, and to which my mind turns whenever nature reserves are mentioned, namely the bird homes and sanctuaries along our coastline. I hope these will be preserved as nature reserves in considerable numbers and in considerable area. A number of the best of these—the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, some of the islands in the Orkneys and Shetlands and the Hebrides—would be completely free from the difficulty, which an hon. Member on the other side foresaw, of their becoming sanctuaries for pests which might trouble the neighbouring farmers because these islands are in some cases completely isolated. It is not necessary to erect a fence round them; the sea is around them and the island itself can be made the reserve.
In this connection I want to make a suggestion, a very tentative suggestion because I have not any technical knowledge, namely, that in the waters around the Scottish coasts there must be subjects of interest to the student of biology as there are on the coasts. It seems possible from the point of view of a complete layman like myself, that within territorial waters there are a certain 1524 number of areas around the coast which it might be worth while to schedule as nature reserves, apart altogether from areas which are on the land. I have not the technical knowledge to judge whether that is a feasible proposition or even a sensible one, but it is worth while asking the Government about it.
In connection with the management of the nature reserves, one hopes the policy to be followed will be one of wide publicity. I hope that the nature reserves will not be reserved simply for students in the professional sense, though obviously the Conservancy should have close liaison with the universities and other scientific institutions. However, there are many individuals, an increasing number I should think, who by their own interests qualify in the same way to share fully the value of the nature reserves. I am thinking, for instance, of a number of writers and journalists, whose interest is largely the writing up of wild life and nature. I are thinking of a great many people who follow such hobbies as the photographing of wild birds and so on. I hope that every effort will be made by the Nature Conservancy to make these nature reserves as valuable to these people, who are what one might call amateur students, as they obviously can be to the professional students.
I can hardly refrain from expressing a reflection to which the introduction of the Bill gives rise in my mind. The latter passages of the opening speech of the Minister suggested that in the Bill he was seeing something with a very wide range of possibilities and of great long-term value. In this age of very considerable contemplation, active consideration and continual worrying about immediate problems, we are doing here something which, although it will have certain immediate effects, will in the main produce long-term results: the association of our people with beauty, with the earth in an unspoiled way, and with nature at its best. The result of that sort of thing will be a long-term positive value.
A Bill of this sort represents to a certain extent an expression of sanity and balance when we think of all the extraordinary, immediate worries which this civilisation of ours is at present undergoing. It is our hope that this readiness to build up towards a long-term value 1525 will not be forgotten by the Government in other spheres—education, for instance—of broad human policy. We need philosophers as much as we need physicists. We need the spirit of this kind of Bill in a great number of activities of the Government, and I congratulate the Minister on introducing it today.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
In common with hon. Members in all parts of the House, I support wholeheartedly the objects of the Bill. I should like to say one or two things in support of the machinery of the Bill. I think I am the first, apart from the Minister himself, to commend its actual machinery. I am not one of those who want to see established a strong central National Parks Commission in London with powers of direction to local bodies. If we look at the way the Bill may work in practice when it becomes an Act, there are very strong arguments for believing that the Minister has taken the right course in this respect.
I am particularly interested in this matter from the viewpoint of my constituency. If in course of time the National Parks Commission accept the view of the Hobhouse Committee that North Wales should be regarded as a national park, no less than four-fifths of my constituency—the county of Merioneth—will be a national park, in addition to forming about two-thirds of the whole of the national park in North Wales. If we deal with that great proportion—almost the whole—of a county in any way except by a joint board as indicated in the Bill, we shall virtually nullify the planning powers of the local authority, the county council. If the joint body comprising the four counties in North Wales, were subject to direction from a central commission and also the central commission had equal representation with the local authorities on the joint board, we should make quite impossible the work of the local planning committee.
It is far better for the initiative to come in the first place from the locality itself. We must set a vision before them. Let there be one-fourth representation of the central body on the joint board, and then leave the initiative to the locality. I would deprecate it very strongly if local bodies in charge of the national park in North Wales were subject to overriding 1526 positive direction from a Commission established in London. After all, the area in North Wales, and particularly Merioneth, which it is proposed should be a national park, is the area where the Welsh culture and way of life flourish at their very best. Any possibility of constant, positive direction from a strong Commission in London would be fraught with danger for that way of life. It is far better for the national park in the area to be developed by people who know the locality and its needs, who approach the matter with a vision set before them and with advice, not direction, from the Commission.
Having said that and commended the Bill in that respect, I now come to the criticism. This point of criticism goes right to the root of the Bill. The criticism concerns finance. The local joint board or committee will have to do positive work of a very wide character and range. To mention a few of its activities. it has to provide a great number of facilities, including, for instance, facilities for car parks, bathing, sailing, fishing and camping; it has to remove disfigurements, to restore derelict land and to take all measures to preserve and enhance the beauty of the land. It has a positive duty in the preservation of woodlands. It has to attend to the maintenance of footpaths—not a very easy matter in a sparsely-populated area, but a vital task—and be responsible for the condition of certain roads. In Merioneth, for example, access to the national park will be by some scores, if not hundreds, of miles of third-class and unclassified roads, many of which are in a shocking condition.
A penny rate in the County of Merioneth produces £560. If that is not the lowest, it must be very near to the lowest figure for any county in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the County of Merioneth will have to carry out all the work I have mentioned, in its area. It is true that according to the Bill a grant not exceeding 75 per cent. will become available. There is, however, no security that the grant will be as much as 75 per cent. And even if it is 75 per cent., that is not enough; the remaining 25 per cent. may be a substantial addition to local finances, having regard to the large scale of the work which is involved. In this particular instance, I see no reason why there should not be a 1527 100 per cent. grant. The normal arguments against a 100 per cent. grant to a local authority are not applicable here, because the money is to be spent for national purposes, for the development, it is true, of the region itself, yet for the benefit of the nation as a whole; and it can only be spent on projects and in a manner approved by the National Parks Commission and the Minister.
I do not think there will be the real impetus or incentive to carrying out all the work which a national park involves unless the grant is made 100 per cent. There is a parallel for that in the trunk roads the work on which is carried out by a local authority, yet the Ministry of Transport pay the full cost of the local highways staff responsible for trunk roads.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. King)
The long-distance footpaths mentioned in the Bill are comparable and 100 per cent. grant is to be paid in respect of those. The hon. Member's observation that 25 per cent. would have to be borne by the local authority is not correct; they would get more.
§ Mr. Roberts
So far as I can see, the long-distance footpaths are not very common. The Minister mentioned two, one of which is the Pilgrims' Way. I do not know that there will be any in North Wales. The figure of 75 per cent. is the figure mentioned in the Bill. The Minister said that somehow or other, having regard to the equalisation grant, the total grant would be equal to 90 per cent. He also said that the total cost of any work carried out would have to amount to £150,000 before the lowest rated county—I take it he meant Merionethshire—would have to expend the product of 1d. rate. I do not understand those figures. If one worksthat one out, one gets the result that the Minister would make a 99.7 per cent. grant. There is something wrong with the arithmetic. I would like far more assurance that the grant will amount to 90 per cent. before I believe it. At the moment, I have to take the figure in the Bill and I am very doubtful if the local authority or the local joint board will be able to exploit the possibilities in the Bill to the fullest extent.
1528 We shall not get all the enthusiasm that this subject deserves if those who have to work the project in the national parks, feel that interests which are inimical and hostile to national parks are taking precedence over them. I thought the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) was right when he said that the greatest and gravest threats to the national parks may now come from the activities of other Government Departments. In particular, the worst trespasser is the War Office. The North Wales national park is to cover 870 square miles, always assuming that the plans follow the lines recommended by the Hobhouse Report, and of those 870 square miles, 510 square miles are in Merionethshire. The War Office hold 8,400 acres and are proposing to acquire another 8,800 acres, making a total of about 17,500 acres, right in the heart and centre of that national park.
This will be an area from which the public are to be excluded, according to the Minister of Defence, in reply to a Question in this House last year. At the regional consultation held to discuss this War Office proposal, a gentleman representing the Standing Committee on the National Park said that, if carried out, the proposal would tear an irreparable hole in the national park area. In this area, we were told, there would be three infantry brigades from May until August, weekend camps, artillery training regiments practising twice a week throughout most of the year, and tank exercises. I cannot believe that that is the best way to promote peace and quiet and to give the people of the crowded towns the recreation they deserve when they go to a national park.
It is interesting to note that the Merionethshire part of the North Wales proposed national park comprises the first experiment adopted by the Government in taking over agricultural land in lieu of Death Duties. Part of the proposed national park is the Glanllyn Estate which measures about 39,000 acres and contains some of the most beautiful part of the area, namely, the upper reaches of the River Mawddach. I was glad that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was on the Front Bench during most of the Debate, because, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was responsible for the acquisition of this estate for the nation. He wrote a very cheering letter to the 1529 local people and I think it is worth while quoting from it, because I know he is interested in the project of national parks. He said:We are taking this estate over primarily in order to preserve its great beauties for the people and to prevent it being spoilt. You can be sure, therefore, that we shall not come to any decision about the way in which it should be managed without first giving the tenants full opportunity to put forward their views and to discuss with us how its unique character will best be safeguarded.I am confident that I can rely on you … to co-operate with my officers in doing all we can to preserve this singularly beautiful part of your native land.The right hon. Gentleman wrote that on 9th July, 1946, and the next thing that happened was that the War Office came along and said they wanted to take this singularly beautiful part for a training area. Unless that proposal is resisted—and no decision has yet been come to—it will make a mockery, not only of the right hon. Gentleman's letter, but of the determination to have a national park in North Wales, or anywhere else for that matter. The Hobhouse Report was very emphatic on this point. Paragraph 151 said:It would be no exaggeration to say that the appropriation of a number of the particular areas now listed for acquisition by the Service Departments would take the heart out of the proposed National Park areas in which they are sited, and in certain cases render our proposals for the designation of individual national parks entirely nugatory. Service Departments occupation and use will also involve other subsidiary objections, such as the disturbance by gunfire of the peace and harmony of far wider areas than those actually appropriated, the disfigurement of the landscape by camps and military buildings, serious detriment to agriculture, interference with wild life, the inevitable defacement of the surface of the land and destruction of its vegetation by tracked vehicles, and the danger and annoyance occasioned on narrow roads by military traffic.We know something in Merioneth already of the disturbance by gunfire and explosions. The Report went on to say:For the future we consider that the appropriation of land in national parks for military training should be permitted only on grounds of proved national necessity and after careful consideration of all possible alternative areas.In view of this, it is extraordinary that at the regional consultation, when we discussed the project of the War Office, the representative of the War Office said that, although this proposed training ground was in a national park area, no 1530 alternative site had been considered at all by the War Office.
Therefore I implore the Minister, if he wishes to make these national parks a reality, not only in North Wales, but all over the country, to stand up in all cases against the demands of the Service Departments. There will also need to be, as is indicated in the Hobhouse Report, continuous liaison between the Forestry Commission and the National Park Commission, and locally. The Forestry Commission are naturally addicted to the planting of conifers and may sometimes be in conflict with what is necessary for a national park.
Finally, it is essential that national parks shall not be sterilised into national museums. The rural life, agriculture, light industries and all other activities of the people must go on in these national parks, and even be increased, because there will have to be greater provision for the tourist industry. There is some fear in some of the districts which may become national parks that all further development will be sterilised. On the contrary, if they are properly administered, a new life may well come into these areas, and for the people of this country there will be opening up real opportunities to enjoy the beauties of what is, in very truth, the land of the delectable mountains.
§ 7.52 p.m.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I welcome this Bill, and thank the Minister for the splendid way in which he introduced it. If he will accept Amendments in Committee, his status as a Minister will be greatly improved by the time the Bill comes back to this House. I suggest that the Minister might look at a number of proposals which may be made in Committee. There are too many Government Departments who are bypassing this particular Bill at the present time. I wish to declare my interest, because in regard to freedom of access no fewer than 150 parishes in my constituency will be preparing maps, and it will be realised what a great task confronts them.
Referring to the need for legislation in connection with water gathering grounds, I suggest that regard should be paid to the Clauses applying to the Birmingham Corporation Act in my constituency, the first place where it was 1531 provided by statute that people might go on to that land. The people have not let the Birmingham Corporation down. The corporation are given every encouragement. Also in my constituency I have the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains, a proposed national park, and three conservation areas, and hon. Members may wonder what there is left of my constituency.
I suggest that whatever kind of body is to administer the national parks, the Minister must see that real national interests are represented locally. As the Minister of Agriculture is present, I ask him to see that practical farmers act as representatives both from a national and a local point of view, and not the gentlemen whom we usually find on national bodies. Apart from what is proposed, there should be a definite organisation, as opposed to planning, to advise on guides, footpaths and advertising. They may act side by side with the planners, but it is essential to have people with local knowledge to advise on those matters. There should also be at least, a few guiding experts, who would be more valuable to the local authorities than a host of wardens.
It will be very difficult to legislate with regard to joint planning boards, and I wonder whether it would be a good idea to take that matter out of the Bill altogether and leave it to the Minister and the local planning authority to decide the most suitable organisation and machinery for the district. In my own constituency there is a particular problem in that five county councils are concerned with one proposed national park. That means five planning committees, and the adjoining counties have most mountainous land. Of what use will it be to get adjoining authorities to come to the central place to discuss areas about which nothing can be done except to look at them? Even the county of Glamorgan has only 1,344 acres out of its 327,168 acres which may be suitable for development.
I am pleased that the Minister acknowledges the problem which arises in that regard, but when he looks at this problem I hope he will bear in mind that 50 per cent. of the land in a county which I represent is within a national park. If a joint board is to 1532 operate, I should like to know whether they could operate over the other 50 per cent. and thus avoid two lots of planning officers. If that cannot be done, I wonder whether Clause 84 could apply, and the county council administer the national park. I say that because it is laid down that proposals must be made within a year, and hon. Members will realise the difficulty of having proposals ready within a year. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, it has not been possible to get development schemes in hand because of the difficulty of obtaining staff.
I join with the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) in what he said in regard to the financial aspect of the Bill. I should like to know how we can get a figure of 90 per cent. as a grant. In my own county it would mean a farthing rate in order to obtain a set of 25-inch maps. What prospect have we of getting the sort of great schemes which are envisaged in national park development? We have had recently great national schemes such as the Fire Service, the National Health Service and education, which the county councils have been asked to administer. I am grateful to the Government for these things, but they all increase the amount of the rates. Some local people regard planning with suspicion and consider it a rather cranky luxury. In the Bill we find that a 100 per cent. grant is given for something of a negative character, whereas for something constructive we may get only a 75 per cent. grant. I hope that such matters as these will be looked into again and that a better explanation will be forthcoming.
I agree with the hon. Member for Merioneth in what he said about the War Office and other Government Departments. I know that the agricultural interests are in agreement with the principle of national parks, but they quite rightly wish to know what powers Government Departments will have in regard to these national parks. Land may be preserved from development, but bought out for Service requirements. The two ideas conflict. I suggest that the Service Departments ought to be subject to the same limitation as any other development within a national park, however serious the situation may be. I know that in my own County of Brecon, 80,000 acres were required at one time by the 1533 War Office. Their requirements have now been reduced to 5,000 acres. I am also glad to notice from a speech which was recently made in this House by the Secretary of State for War that only five per cent. of national park land would be required for Service requirements. That is no consolation to me as I look out from my window, and also when I read page 112 of the Hobhouse Committee's report which describes the three beautiful peaks of the Beacons; and when I find that if I want to take a short cut to the top of one of the Beacons, there is no access to those peaks because Government Departments have taken the best part of the national park. Those are matters about which I am concerned.
Apart from that aspect, I am certain that the Welsh nation will welcome this Bill. The Welsh Tourist Board, which was recently set up, certainly welcomes this Bill because it will be a great asset not only to that body but to the nation in general. When the North-South Wales road has materialised, that will be another great asset. When there are good civil aviation services with helicopters dropping not on the national park itself but a good distance outside, they will bring a good many visitors to Wales.
In my own locality in the proposed national park there is a famous, spot called the "Gap." Not long before my entry to Parliament, I paused whilst walking there. On one side was the gloomy and depressed industrial South and on the other God's own country—the countryside. If I am privileged to be there this summer, it is true that a different vision will appear—hope in the South, and greater security in the countryside. This Bill brings all together; the gap closes, man himself tries to overcome the leisure problem, and will have, we hope, an opportunity to commune with Nature. This is so for each area in the country. What an asset to our complex civilisation to see God in His natural glory, for is it not said:I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.I commend the Bill to the House, and hope that it will have a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) 1534 has said, but before I refer to his speech I should like to deal with the speech of the Minister in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I was glad that the Minister of Town and Country Planning paid a tribute to the voluntary organisations which have devoted so much enthusiasm and persuasive energy to the objects of this Bill. The Minister mentioned some of those societies. I thought there was a rather remarkable omission from his list—the National Trust, which for 53 years has been carrying out the purposes of this Bill. I shall have something to say about that in a few minutes' time. The Minister mentioned the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. He might also have mentioned the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales, the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which have all worked very hard in this cause. For 13 years there has been a Standing Committee on National Parks, representing all those societies, which in the words of the Hobhouse Report has sustained and vitalised this movement.
I say frankly that those societies are, as my right hon. Friend said, very much disappointed with this Bill. When Sir Arthur Hobhouse reported in the middle of 1947 their hopes rose high. Since then the Government mountain has been in labour for a period of 18 months, quite a long period of gestation; but it has produced only a very small mouse. I am astonished at the Minister's claim that in this Bill he has accepted 90 per cent. of the recommendations of the Hob-house Report. I deny that most emphatically, and I shall explan why. I doubt whether it was worth while having a Bill for such shadowy objects as those contained in Parts I and II. There is very little contained in them which could not have been achieved administratively under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, without a Bill.
A few months ago the Minister himself had doubts about the necessity for a Bill to give effect to his views. It is on record that six months after the publication of the Hobhouse Report he could not say whether a Bill for the planning of national parks was required. As recently as last August he used the expression "if and when legislation came." The statements aroused fears that he did not really mean business; that he had no 1535 great faith in a National Parks Commission or any desire to give it any power. When we look at the Bill we find our worst fears realised.
The Hobhouse Committee recommended that the prime charge of national parks should be given to a specific central authority, a National Parks Commission. The provisions of the Bill are a mere shadow of this recommendation. It is quite true that the purposes stated in Clause 1 are all that can be desired, but the powers actually conferred on the National Parks Commission are exceedingly limited. The Bill states the end but it does not will the means. What are these powers conferred by the Bill? The Minister gave his version and I will give mine, which I think very much agrees with that given by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. M. MacPherson). The National Parks Commission is to have a general surveillance of the treatment of national parks. It has to keep under consideration facilities for public enjoyment. It has to give information to the public. The Minister seemed to think that that was one of the most important functions it had. It has to advise on this, to be consulted on that and to be notified of the other thing. All these words seem to me to be vague to the verge of nullity.
Was it worth while to set up a National Parks Commission to exercise such flimsy authority? It looks almost as though the draftsman, of course under instructions, had sat down with his Thesaurus, to put into the Bill all the woolly and inconclusive phrases he could find. The Bill gives the Commission little prestige and less power. It is apparently expected to derive happiness from being allowed to exist. That is all wrong, and very much more is necessary. The powers given to the National Parks Commission ought to be, and I hope will be, largely expanded in Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) said—I think he was quoting from the Hobhouse Report—the National Parks Commission ought to have the right to frame policy planning and management. It ought to have the right to appoint, and not merely to be consulted about the appointment of, the national members of the park committees. It ought to have the right to distribute any money that is available, subject of course 1536 to the approval of the Treasury. It ought to have the right to make general by-laws for the parks, and it ought to have the right of direct access to Government Departments such as Service Departments, or to socialised boards such as the British Electricity Authority. If it is to stand up to those Departments and commissions it ought to have the right to enter by the front door and not by the side door which alone is provided by the Bill. It is entirely wrong of the Minister to say that these are mere academic points.
The Commission ought to be a responsible body with a will and judgment of its own—not merely an advisory body nor a mere phantom or figurehead. It is obvious that to increase the powers of the Commission will reduce the powers of the Minister. There is no harm in that, and I make that statement without reference to what Government may be in power. There is nothing personal in that remark to the present Minister. Nobody wants it otherwise. I agree with the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) in that, but the influence of the Commission ought to be enhanced and there are two ways in which this could be done. The first is by giving the Commission instead of the Minister the right to appoint the national representatives, as I have already suggested, and the second is to increase the national representation on the local planning authorities, though the national representatives almost without exception ought to be local residents.
It seems to me quite certain that if the influence of the National Parks Commission is not increased, national interests will suffer. As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) pointed out, the 75 per cent. who will be county councillors owe a duty to the local voter, and it is hardly open to them, even if they wish, to prefer national to local interests. The Minister thought that a councillor or a county council could be trusted to have regard to the national interest. I have nothing at all to say against county councils or county councillors, but I should like to apply the test of experience to see how conflicts in national park areas are likely to be decided if 75 per cent. of the members are locally appointed. This is my reply to the optimism of the hon. Member for Merioneth.
1537 Let us take a few recent cases. In the Hope Valley, where the extension of cement works is going to do great injury to one of the most beautiful of the national park areas, there was no opposition from any local authority. On Dartmoor, the county council came to an agreement which sacrificed completely part of the national park. In the Lake District, one of the principal park areas, a proposal to raise and ruin Ennerdale Water for factory purposes was approved by every local authority concerned. Again the Minister of Supply gave a most solemn promise that a factory erected on the shores of Windermere during the war would be removed at the end of the war, but the Westmorland County Council has pressed and is still pressing for the factory to be retained indefinitely. I suggest that in none of these cases would the park committee, constituted as to 75 per cent. of local representatives, have been an effective guardian of the national interest.
There is another case at issue which illustrates the paramount importance of strengthening national representation. In North Wales, in one of the most unspoilt national park areas, the British Electricity Authority is contemplating a number of hydro-electric works which will entail numerous power stations, great leats, as I believe they are called, or trenches, piles and heaps of spoil from trenches and tunnels, diversions of the rushing streams which at present are one of the chief attractions; and in the summer, when the national park has the largest number of visitors, the fall in the level of the reservoir will expose stretches of slimy evil-smelling mud and rotting vegetation. These lovely mountains and lakes are chiefly frequented by people from Lancashire, Cheshire, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Staffordshire, which places will have no representation at all on the park authority. Here, if anywhere, the national representation ought to be more than 25 per cent. This North Wales case also seems to prove conclusively that it is necessary for the National Park Commission to have direct access to the British Electricity Authority. That access is not provided for in the Bill.
I now come to one of the most serious defects of the Bill, which has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and that is that where the park is partly in one area and partly in another the Bill 1538 says that the park need not be planned as a whole. This provision seems to me to be almost incredible, but it is there. One would have thought that it was an absolutely elementary principle that each park ought to be planned and managed by a single committee with a single planning officer, but Clause 7 authorises the control to be split between different planning authorities. It is quite true that the Bill provides for a joint advisory committee, but such a committee has no executive powers and the result would be that the park would be a thing of shreds and patches. "The Times" said:It is difficult to see how a park divided between several authorities can be properly managed without a joint board.The Minister said this would be an exceptional case. I hope that in Committee he will accept an Amendment barring it altogether.
I want to say a few words on finance. As the Minister truly said, the cost of these parks will not be enormous, but in spite of his elaborate explanation that 75 per cent. does not really mean 75 per cent. but a great deal more, I agree very much with the hon. Members for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) that if the park is to be a national park for the benefit of the nation, the nation ought to pay the whole cost. It seems to me absurd that 100 per cent. should be made available in this Bill for long-distance footpaths or for improving the Broads but should not be made available for parks as a whole. On all these grounds I agree with the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) and the hon. Member for Blackburn, that the parks will not be national parks and so far as I can see, with two exceptions, no hon. Member has expressed a contrary view.
In conclusion, I want to say a few words about the effect of this Bill on the National Trust. The National Trust for 53 years has been doing voluntarily the same kind of thing that the local planning authorities are now to be asked to undertake. The National Trust now owns something like one in every 300 acres in England and Wales. The two purposes which are set out in Clause 1 of the Bill are precisely the aims of the Trust. But the National Trust has pursued and carried out these aims at 1539 no cost to the State, apart from the single subscription given by this House, on the motion of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to the National Trust Jubilee Fund, two years ago. In managing its 1,000 properties the National Trust has, I think, set a very good example. It seeks to balance the interests of amenity with agriculture, of recreation with food production, and I hope its example will be copied in the national parks.
I suggest that the National Trust is entitled to ask that the powers given to local planning authorities by the Bill shall not interfere with the beneficent activities of the Trust. I shall give one vivid, but not fantastic, example of what might happen. The Trust happens to own, inalienably, as it owns nearly all its property the summit of Sca Fell, the highest mountain in England. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the local planning authority from acquiring that summit and erecting on the top a "Tea Kiosk"—with one capital "K"—or a Kozy Kafe—with two capital "K's" and a "z." That has actually happened on the top of Snowdon, and I hope that reasonable protection will be given, by Amendments in Committee, against such a possibility elsewhere. I am very sorry that if any reply is given to these suggestions tomorrow I cannot be here owing to another engagement.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has greeted this Bill with such inspissated gloom. I seem to remember that he has greeted with equal gloom other Bills which have been brought in by the Labour Government to give additional freedom and rights to the people. When those Bills have become Acts of Parliament they have proved highly successful—as I am sure this Bill will do. I warmly welcome the Bill. As the Minister said, it is not perfect, and I agree. I think there are things that need altering later, and I want to make one or two constructive criticisms. What the Bill does, by and large, is to give to the people of Britain their heritage of access to what every Member of the House will agree is the most beautiful countryside in the world. While the Minister was speaking a 1540 famous line that expressed that thought kept coming into my head:Oh, to be in England, now that April's there!How many English people abroad have felt the sentiment expressed by those words? When they have come back to England and have wanted to get to the countryside, they have found that they were always being kept out because so much of the countryside was private. I believe that those words will become much more apt now than they have ever been before. I know that April is not here yet, but it will be tomorrow. [An HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, the 1st."] Yes, I thought of that, but, on the other hand, the Debate will not be wound up until long after midday, so that is all right.
I am one of the humble Londoners who enjoy our beautiful countryside, but I have found many times that when town dwellers have wanted to go to the countryside, not on an organised expedition or necessarily as a rambler, but just to see the beauties of the countryside, they are continually faced with such notices as "Trespassers will be prosecuted," or "Danger, keep out." When the Bill becomes an Act "Trespassers will be prosecuted" will not mean anything, just as it does not mean anything now. Actually, trespassers cannot be prosecuted unless they commit an offence. Nevertheless, these notices are erected to frighten people away from beauty spots which have hitherto been enclosed.
That brings me to one of the criticisms I wish to make. I know that my right hon. Friend trusts county councils. He thinks that the local planning authorities, composed three quarters of representatives of county councils, the local authorities, will be quite fair in their administration of national parks. I ask myself: what is the personnel of a great many of these county councils? Many of these councils are reactionary. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of reactionary councils today, largely composed of the descendants of men who originally enclosed beauty spots for their own convenience. They know perfectly well that it is not illegal to trespass and that trespassers cannot be prosecuted unless they do damage. Yet they put up notices to keep people out of their woods and off their moors. These are the people who, very often, are in the majority on the county councils which will provide 1541 three quarters of the personnel of the local planning authorities. Frankly, I do not trust them. I do not trust these local authorities on two counts—partly because of what I have just said, and partly because I cannot see how they can be expected to divide their loyalties between local and national interests.
There is a third consideration. I do not always trust their taste. Not very long ago I was in a particularly beautiful park in a town in the South of England, part of which was laid out as a wild garden where I was admiring the anemones, daffodils and other spring flowers growing in the grass. Standing near me were two people who, I happened to know, were councillors. One said to the other, "I do not like this." "No," said the other, "I do not like it at all. It is not municipal." It is true that municipal councillors will not necessarily have any power, but they and county councillors presumably are often made of the same material.
But the greatest difficulty is that of divided loyalties and interests. It has been laid down, and rightly so, that agricultural life shall go on in the national parks. One of the great problems about which we hear from the Minister of Agriculture is that the workers will not stay in country districts because they cannot get homes or because those which they can get are inadequately served. They are without electricity and water. And that at once brings us up against a divided loyalty in a national park. Is the local planning authority to decide to put up houses with electric plant, with grids and water power, none of which, as far as I know, can be laid on in any form that is beautiful'? Are they to do that in order to supply homes for agricultural workers who are so badly needed on the land to grow our food, or are they to look ahead at the natural beauty of the national parks and say that nothing shall be allowed which will be ugly? I suggest that we shall have divided loyalties even supposing that every one of the personnel of the county councils involved is only interested in the very best way from a public spirited point of view.
How are they to decide which is best for the country—the local pull of bringing more agricultural workers on to the land by providing more amenities for the 1542 people, or the beauty of the park that is to be designated by them? I appreciate that it is possible for there to be reference to the Commission and even to the Minister. I think that the local planning authorities will have much too difficult a time deciding what really is in the national interest if 50 per cent. or even 75 per cent. of the personnel on these authorities are to be local councillors.
Another great difficulty concerns the question of looking upon the whole country from the point of view of the planning of its beauty. The local planning authorities are to decide the designation of access areas. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of the ramblers and hikers, we do not want the local authorities to decide these things. It needs to be done on a much wider and bigger scale with the whole country in view. It seems to me that the right way to do it would be, as we have done under other Acts, to have national planning by a central planning authority, with regional organisations and regional administration radiating from it.
I should like to suggest to the Minister that, if this Bill is to carry out all the ideals which he has at heart, it will be essential to improve a good deal of the machinery. As he himself said, the Bill is chiefly machinery and I hope that in Committee this machinery will be very carefully scrutinised to make quite sure that we are not going to have people with divided loyalties doing the planning, and that we shall not have people with special interests, as we have seen happen in other cases, putting up reasons which are not the true reasons in order to get the wrong thing done, and getting the wrong thing done as a result. I trust the whole plan will be carried out on a much wider scale, so that we can have wise planning on a basis that will really enrich the people with access to the most beautiful part of the countryside everywhere possible.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
As I shall have occasion in the course of my speech to differ from some of the views expressed by the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould), may I begin with something on which I am in entire agreement with her, and that is in welcoming this Bill. In spite of all that has been said or that could be said against it—and quite a lot has been and 1543 could be said—it does constitute a very important advance. For that I am grateful to the Government in general and the Minister in particular.
It is a Bill for which many of us have waited for a very long time. The beauty spots of our country represent a national heritage, and we, as the heirs for our generation, have a responsibility towards them, a responsibility, in particular, to see that that heritage is preserved and enjoyed by as many people as possible. This Bill comes somewhat late, because already, as we all recognise, a great deal of harm has been done in many of our beauty spots, because the powers which this Bill provides and the machinery which it sets up did not exist. But if it has come late, it has not come too late. We have still a great deal of beauty to preserve, and the purpose of the Bill is to do that.
What we have to ask ourselves is to what extent this Bill will fulfil the purpose which the Minister had in mind in introducing it and which this House will have in supporting it. I believe that the Bill can fulfil its purpose, not necessarily in its present form, but when it has been amended, and, I hope the Minister will agree, improved. I should like to express the hope that during the Committee stage the Minister will keep an open mind to suggestions for improving the Bill. I think he will find it easier to do so, because, in spite of an occasional incursion today into party politics on one side or the other, for the most part there are no party issues which divide supporters and critics of the Bill. In fact, in consideration of the Bill, it seems to me that all hon. Members can enjoy the great privilege of being independent in their outlook, and really viewing this matter from the point of view of friends of our national parks who want to see as wise and as constructive and purposeful a Measure as possible.
Obviously, of course, the National Parks Commission must hold a key position under this Bill. I share the concern which has been expressed by a number of hon. Members as to whether the powers afforded the Commission under the Bill are sufficient for the purpose. The Commission must not only have prestige and influence; it must also be effective for its purpose. Although I 1544 agree that a great deal of importance must be attached to the personnel of the Commission, no matter how able and qualified its members may be, unless they have an instrument which is effective and which will enable them to see their will carried out, they will obviously not be able to do what they wish to do, and the Minister will not be able to get all the advantage out of their services which he would otherwise get.
What is worse, I feel that it might well prove to have a discouraging effect because there is no doubt that those appointed to the Commission will be enthusiasts of their cause. I hope they will be able to have powers which will enable them to achieve their purpose. But that cannot be so long as so many of the powers which they possess are purely advisory. The Minister referred to their relationship with Government Departments, and, as I understood him, he said that they would be consulted by Government Departments. I hope he will agree that a more satisfactory thing would be for them to have the right of access, for them to take the initiative themselves, so as to be able to put their points of view to the Ministers when there are matters at issue between them.
I also hope, among other things, that it will be left to the Commission to disperse among the various planning committees the money available for the purpose. I agree, of course, that the Minister must have the determining voice in making the recommendation as to how much money should be spent. But when a particular sum has been agreed upon, it would make a tremendous difference to the powers of the Commission—because, after all, the power of the purse is the most effective means of getting one's way—if the actual distribution of the money could be left to them. These and some of the other proposals which have been put forward would strengthen the Commission without the Minister in any way parting with anything which it is necessary for him to retain in his own hands.
A good deal of controversy has been aroused about the constitution of the local planning authorities, and here I want to join issue with the hon. Member for North Hendon. I was sorry that she referred to county councils as reactionary bodies. It must have made Members of 1545 the Government feel very uncomfortable, because the whole policy of this Government has been to give more and more powers to county councils. I was under the impression that this was a progressive Government, and I really cannot understand how a progressive Government could hand over to reactionary local authorities the administration of the Measures passed by this House.
But, in point of fact, in my view, county councils are not reactionary bodies. There are objections to giving them some of the powers possessed by the smaller local authorities, but not on the ground that they are reactionary bodies. I have been a member of a county council for 24 years and in spite of the elections I am still a member, and I should therefore be the last to say of my own county council or of others that they are reactionary bodies. I think it is a tribute to local government in this country and to the spirit in which our people administer local government that a local authority which is opposed to the Government in power and which hates the Measures it is asked to administer will almost invariably administer those Measures with absolute fairness and judgment. The fact that a local authority does not approve of Measures which have been passed by Parliament does not, I am sure, make any difference to the way in which they administer them.
I do not believe in all this talk about the difference between national and local interests, so far as this issue is concerned. I think it would be a great mistake if these local planning authorities were to start their career with the idea that one section of the members had been appointed to look after the others because they could not be trusted to do their job properly. Nor do I believe in all this talk about divided loyalties. When these planning authorities are set up there will be only one loyalty to which the overwhelming majority of the members—and we may ignore the small fraction where this does not apply—will be attached, and that is loyalty to the job for which they have been appointed.
I welcome the fact that the majority of the members wil be representatives of the local authorities and of the areas concerned because, after all, the parks are in their areas and they have a special interest in them. Although we hope that 1546 people will visit the parks from other parts of the country and perhaps from other countries, these people live there and will be there much more frequently and, unless the national representatives are local people, they will know the areas and the people who live in them very much better than the representatives from outside.
I want to add that in my opinion it will be very important to see that the right persons are chosen as chairmen of these local planning authorities. The job of the chairman will be to weld the members into a team and I think, given the right chairman, that will easily be accomplished. I also hope that these local planning authorities will be given some kind of guidance from the National Parks Commission. Like other hon. Members, I do not like the idea of administration which is too centralised, but there is a difference between that, on the one hand, and local authorities, on the other hand, being given proper guidance in the duties and functions which they have to perform.
Although I welcome the general principle that the local representatives should be in the majority, I hope the Minister will have another look at the proportion he has chosen. Only a quarter are to be national representatives and three-quarters are to be local representatives. I think a proportion of one-third national representatives would be better. I believe the Hobhouse Report recommended that 50 per cent. should be national representatives.
§ Mr. Silkin
The Hobhouse Report recommends a co-option to the extent of 100 per cent., plus an independent chairman.
§ Mr. Lipson
Yes, but I hope that the Minister does not attach too much importance to a quarter. I think a third of the membership appointed as national representatives would probably be better than a quarter.
As to the grant, the Bill says it will be 75 per cent., and the Minister in his speech said that it would be brought up to 90 per cent. under the most recent finance provisions affecting local government. Between the Minister's figure of 90 per cent. and 75 per cent. there is a difference of 15 per cent. I hope that the planning authorities will get it direct. It will not make any difference to the 1547 Treasury under what form it gives that extra assistance, whether directly under this Bill or through other arrangements. Personally, I hope that the grant will be a 100 per cent. grant. The Minister said that only 10 per cent. of the cost would fall upon the local rates. He will remember the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, that were asked to produce a much smaller percentage of good men, in relation to their population, than 10 per cent., but they could not do so, with the result that they were destroyed.
§ Mr. Lipson
Ten per cent. of the citizens. I feel that there will be a great deal of difficulty about finding that 10 per cent. from the rates. I think the Minister has under-estimated the amount of that 10 per cent. from the rates. I think he has under-estimated the expenditure which is likely to be incurred. The administration of every Act of Parliament in practice costs far more than it was originally anticipated to cost, and the expenditure tends to grow. I am sure the Minister will recognise this fact. He told us that the burden would not be felt so heavily because so much of the expenditure will be in the form of capital expenditure and be spread over a good many years. Nevertheless, it still has to be paid. There is a certain amount of expenditure he did not envisage. Reference has already been made, for instance, to the question whether we shall have overhead or underground wires for electricity supplies. I hope that in the national parks those wires will be carried under ground. I hope it will be possible for the difference between the cost of carrying the wires overhead and the cost of carrying them underground will be borne as part of the expenses of the Commission.
I think there is a danger that the work of the planning authorities will be retarded because of this 10 per cent. The argument will be, "You call these parks national parks, and you say you want them not to be local parks, but, on the other hand, you expect the local rates to contribute to the expenditure on them." I hope, therefore, that the Minister will go the whole hog in the matter and make the grant 100 per cent. of the 1548 cost, for I believe that the results will be well worth while. I welcome this Bill. I hope it will have a speedy passage, and that it will be able to achieve the purposes we all have in mind.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I hope the House will pardon my intervening for a few minutes to say a word or two about that part of the Bill dealing with nature conservation. One or two questions have been asked in the Debate which make it desirable, I think, that I should say a word or two on the subject tonight. I do not think I need say anything about Scotland's non-participation in the other parts of this Bill. Hon. Members appreciate, I think, that the problem of national parks in Scotland is very different from the problem in England and Wales. In those circumstances it would be inappropriate for us to deal with the problem in Scotland in the same Bill as that in which the Minister of Town and Country Planning deals with the problem in England and Wales. I do not think there is the same urgency about this matter in Scotland as there probably is in England and Wales.
Let me say a few words about that part of the Bill which deals with nature conservation. It is appreciated, I think, that the Lord President is the Minister who will be responsible for this part of the Bill when it becomes an Act. The Lord President will be answerable to Parliament. He is the Minister who will lay the reports before Parliament. I think it is probably important that I should endeavour to allay any misunderstandings—and I believe there are some—that in this part of the Bill we are giving powers to the Nature Conservancy to deal with purely academic matters and to enable them to conduct research which may have no practical application.
The position is quite different. Indeed, the Nature Conservancy will do work of fundamental value in nature conservation which will be of great value to our food supply, as well as other scientific research affecting agriculture, veterinary science, etc., and one need not stress at the present time the desirability of conducting any research that is within our power that will result in our food supply being increased. In this part of 1549 the Bill we provide that problems that are common to the whole of the country will be dealt with by the Nature Conservancy.
Hon. Members have asked in the course of the Debate what will be the relationship between the Scottish Committee provided for in the Bill and the Nature Conservancy. I can say very little more than that the relationship of the Scottish Committee to the Nature Conservancy will not be very dissimilar from the relationship between the Scottish Forestry Committee and the Forestry Commission. The Scottish Committee gives to Scotland the autonomy which I believe is desirable in this field. In Scotland we are fortunate indeed in having the Committee which was announced by the Lord President a few weeks ago. We are fortunate in having Dr. John Berry, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board biologist, as the director for Scotland.
In Scotland we have much research already proceeding on nature conservation which will be carried on in close co-operation with this committee. I am thinking at the moment of the famous Rowett Institute at Aberdeen, with which Lord Boyd Orr was connected for so many years, an institute which carries on most valuable research into animal nutrition, and another research institute in Aberdeen, the Macaulay Soil Research Institute. That organisation has conducted most valuable research into soil erosion and exhaustion—matters of considerable importance at this time; but perhaps I ought not to say anything about another Bill, which we shall be discussing in this House next week. It is obviously highly desirable to take whatever steps we can in using our food production potential to the utmost.
The Scottish Committee will feel, rightly, that it has a valuable job to do. It is a job in some respects peculiar to Scotland, which has geological and physiographical features of unusual interest; its wild life is particularly rich and varied, and the provisions this part of the Bill will facilitate proper scientific care and management of these reserves. The management of land as a nature reserve will not, in general, involve substantial interference with the use or the condition of the land, most of which will be undeveloped land in remote areas of small if any, agricultural value. I must 1550 again stress that, as a result of the work that will be done in those areas, their food production potential will be exploited to the full—a thing which cannot be over-stressed at this moment. I think I need say no more at the moment, except to conclude by saying that the Government look for much from this part of the Bill, and I am sure that neither they nor the country will be disappointed.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I do not think it would be right for me, as an English Member, to follow the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland further than to say that I understand the reserves in Scotland will perhaps be treated in a more serious way than is the intention in England, in the sense that they will be devoted more to research and scientific study.
This is a non-controversial Bill which, in principle, I heartily welcome, although, as in all good things, there is still room for improvement, and I hope that during its passage we shall make some Amendments to improve it considerably. The objective of the Hobhouse Report in recommending a Bill of this kind was, I think, increased contact for the townsmen with nature and the countryside; and earlier the Minister added a further objective, which was the preservation and enhancing of the beauty of that countryside. With those two objects I am deeply in sympathy, because I am by nature and inclination a countryman. I believe that, had I been able to do so, I should have spent my working hours under the open sky; but although, instead, I have had to spend much of my time in the towns, the result has been that I have an appreciation of the points of view of both town and country.
It is a tragedy that, though four-fifths of our English population live in towns, we have never learned to live in towns as have our continental neighbours. They have learnt the art of living in towns in a way we English have never learnt. It may be that nearly all our townspeople are only two or three generations removed from the country and have not yet got the tradition as have continental nations. But it is certain that a great many of our townspeople have definitely lost touch with their country cousins. The re-approach must be in the right way. The 1551 Bill ought not to be looked upon as one which is restoring rights or, as some hon. Members have said, as one returning an ancient heritage taken from the townspeople. In many cases they or their ancestors voluntarily surrendered that country heritage. They chose the way of the town because it gave a higher stanward of life or better wages. It would be better if when returning to the countryside they came as sons and daughters returning to a mother's home—Mother Nature in this case—rather than as an elder brother returning to take over a heritage which in his absence has been looked after by his younger brother, the country man.
The land in the national parks is, after all, not virgin territory. Except for the highest hill tops, there is hardly an acre or a rod of land in Great Britain which is not man-made and does not show the result of the toil and often the loving care of those who live there now and of generations of their ancestor[...] The people who live there now are the natural guardians, and those who come from the towns must respect their interests and feelings and sometimes even their prejudices. Probably the town dweller is much quicker and cleverer, but he must not try to recast and reform the traditional texture of country life. If he does that, the contact will be worsened instead of improved, and we should all much deplore that. The interests of forestry and agriculture must also be preserved. They are vital factors in our economic life. I should point out that what to the visitor from the town is perhaps beauty and amenity is often the bread and butter of the man who lives in the country.
To turn from the general to the particular, there has been much controversy as to the composition of the park committees. I support the view the Minister has put forward in the Bill that three-quarters of those on the park committees should be drawn from local authorities. I must admit that I am a county councillor. The hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) has left the Chamber and I say that with less shyness than I should have done if she had been present, after hearing how little she trusts us. If we want smooth working and less chance of friction between local inhabitants and visitors, the 1552 committees should be drawn as much as possible from local sources. I therefore support the Minister in his choice.
I do not believe that the Hobhouse scheme would have been any better able to solve controversies. After all, while the individual has the right of appeal to the Minister, it is the Minister who must settle all real controversy. I disagree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) that experience showed that members of county councils were not suitable people to look after the double loyalty to local inhabitants and to the nation. The record of my own county, East Sussex, shows that to be an absolutely wrong idea. Just after 1932, using the rather primitive tools of the 1932 Act, they preserved some 27,000 acres of the South Downs and they paid over £76,000 to do it. Since then, with the greater powers of the 1947 Act, they have increased that area. That is the proof of what can be done.
Then it has been suggested that the powers of the Commission are not strong enough and that it is too advisory in nature. That I will not go into, but knowing, as we do, that the real enemies of amenity and open spaces are Government Departments and statutory authorities, I feel that if it could be strengthened to meet and do battle with these two powerful enemies, it would be a good thing. Over the last two years, as a Conservator of Ashdown Forest, I and others have been waging a cold war with the War Office, which the Minister knows well, and I feel that amenity wants all the help it can get in such a war.
As regards the local authorities, I do not think the Commission require any extra powers. The balance should be well held by the provisions in this Bill, and it is vital that those park committees are masters of their own house. In Clause 5 (4), however, there is a thing I do not like very much. That subsection reads:In the exercise at any time of their functions as respects any National Park the Commission and local authorities shall have due regard to the need for securing that agriculture and forestry, as then established in the Park, shall be efficiently maintained.Does that mean that there is to be no expansion, that there is to be no improvement? It is almost impossible for any 1553 living thing to stand still. Unless agriculture and forestry go forward, they are bound to go back—one cannot keep them stationery. Actually on the South Downs at the moment, in spite of war damage, there is probably more intensive cultivation now than there has been for generations.
I suggest that in Clause 6, before making an order to designate an area as a park the Commission, as well as consulting joint planning boards, local authorities, and the other persons, shall also consult the county agricultural executive committees. I believe it would be only right in the national interest that they should also consult the Forestry Commission, and to their advantage if they also got into touch with the British Arboricultural Society, which might give them more help from the point of view of amenity planting than would the Forestry Commission.
On Part III one or two questions present themselves. I see that by-laws can be passed prohibiting and restricting the killing and molesting of living creatures of any description, and that shooting of birds in areas surrounding a reserve may also be stopped. I suggest that care must be exercised there because, while naturally we want to keep in the nature reserves some birds that can do damage, such as sparrow hawks, when they have exhausted the food supply in the reserve, they will go outside and do damage. It is not only to game that they do damage but also to poultry, so a safeguard is required there.
For Part IV I have nothing but the most hearty welcome, particularly as a horseman, for the provision of more bridle paths. Arguments have been put forward for better machinery for the closing and diversion, where necessary, of paths, and I am glad that the Minister himself has made this suggestion. If in future our paths are to be more for amenity than for the purpose of getting from one point to another as quickly as possible, it will not really matter whether one has to walk round the headland of a field because there will be the advantage in doing so that one will get more air and exercise that way than by walking across the middle. It may be necessary too, particularly where, as is done in modern farming, large areas of arable land are from time to time put down to 1554 grass, which requires fencing, to allow extra gates to be put across footpaths, which at present, I believe, is not legal. Part V, which deals with access to open country, is really a revised version of the Access to Mountains Act, 1939, which is repealed by Clause 67 and which was largely abortive. While I welcome the principle of Part V, one or two points require to be looked at.
In the Second Schedule, which is similar to provisions contained in the 1939 Act, paragraph (f) contains something which is rather puzzling. It prohibits the carrying on of field sports by persons having access to open country by virtue of Part V. What I want to be satisfied about is that this is not intended to interfere with local hunts or the exercise by local people of their sporting rights—provided, of course, that they have not surrendered them. I believe this really only concerns those enjoying access to the countryside under the provisions of the Bill. I hope that my fears are unfounded. Nevertheless, questions have been asked by various people about the exact meaning of this part of the Schedule.
I hope that in these national parks not only will there be, as the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has said, greater opportunity for many people to fish, but that people will be able to take part also in other field sports, such as, for instance, hunting and possibly shooting. Another matter in Part V to which I want to refer is compensation for possible damage. Very likely it will be necessary for lessors of grouse moors to claim compensation, because they will receive less rent for their moors if there is general access to them. This is a matter affecting not only private people, but many local authorities, who own wide areas of moor which they keep for catchment purposes.
A number of other points which arise can be dealt with in Committee. I will, however, mention one of these now. Suppose that a member of the public, who has full right to be in the area under the access provisions, receives an injury from, say, the ricochet of a pellet or pellets from a rock fired by a member of an authorised shooting party. In the old days if such a person was a trespasser, he had no right at all to claim damage. What will be his position under the Bill? Also, as far as agriculture is concerned, I am not satisfied that the provisions for 1555 compensation are adequate. It would be a good thing to have some sort of central fund from which farmers could be compensated. Suppose, for example, that a herd of valuable attested stock strays because gates are left open. It is highly probable that the man who left the gate open is never found, and therefore money cannot be obtained from him; but that should not prevent compensation being given to the farmer. Some central fund would enable that to be done. In addition, local planning authorities at their own expense might be allowed to carry out repairs and renewals to property damaged through access. That might be very helpful to farmers.
I wish to commend Clause 74. The provision of wardens will provide the solution to many problems which will arise. We instituted something of the sort on Ashdown Forest before the war and it was a great success.
May I end on a personal note? My favourite recreations are field sports, although I have a considerable interest in natural history also. I was educated as a biologist and at one time thought of becoming a professional naturalist. I was, therefore, more than delighted to see in the various Reports on which the Bill is founded many sympathetic references to field sports. There is no need to enumerate them, but I must say the references to hunting on pages 85, 90 and 104 of the Hobhouse Report particularly appealed to me. I do, however, want to make this final point. While it is true that field sports may in the past have been the cause of a reduction, or even extinction, of some species of animals and birds, I believe they have been the means of preserving many more than they have reduced in numbers. I believe the maintenance of our field sports is intimately bound up with the conservation of our fauna, and I therefore hope that those who administer the Bill when it becomes an Act will pay particular attention to paragraph 116 of the Huxley Report, which I think is a very wise paragraph and bears very closely on this subject.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) because in preparing for this Debate I 1556 looked up the Second Reading Debate in 1938 on the Access to Mountains Bill and discovered that on that occasion the hon. and gallant Member seconded the Amendment moved from the then Government side of the House, that the Bill be read "upon this day six months."
§ Colonel Clarke
It is always flattering to know that people have read one's speeches particularly of 10 years ago. Possibly the hon. Member was going to add what I am going to say now. If he had read the speech all through he would have found that I said:Take national parks, for instance. I think they are in many ways the best solution of the problem.and a little further on I said:I believe that if this Bill is passed the getting of these great national parks will be much prejudiced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1938; Vol. 342, c. 773.]
§ Mr. Hughes
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member on the accuracy of his quotation. However, I should like to quote two other extracts from the speech he made on that occasion in which he described the Access to Mountains Bill as "a direct attack on the rights of property" and went on to say that one of the most unfortunate effects would be that, whereas the law at that stage was that if a sportsman killed a hiker, the hiker would be liable, if the Bill was passed, the man who fired the rifle would be liable. That was one of his reasons for moving what was in effect the rejection of the 1939 Bill. However, the hon. and gallant Member said during his speech that nothing can stand still. I shall leave it to the judgment of hon. Members as to how far he exemplifies his own aphorism.
This Bill, as many hon. Members have said, is a very important step forward in the long struggle of the common people of this country to establish their right to the freedom of their own land. It is one of the Measures which this Government is taking to set the people free. This struggle has passed through many phases in its time, some of them bitter phases. There was the epoch of the Game laws and the Enclosure Acts. G. K. Chesterton once wrote thatThe village green that had got mislaidTurned up in the squire's back yard.Throughout English history the law, in this struggle for access, has been on the side of the landlord, whereas public 1557 opinion and practice has been increasingly on the side of the ordinary citizen. If I may make use of one more quotation from a popular ballad:They send to gaol the man or womanWho takes the goose from off the common.But let the larger felon looseWho steals the common from the goose.However, for generations patriotic Englishmen have struggled for access to their own country and, as recent events in Norfolk have shown, they are still doing that today.
Parliament has been concerned with the right of access since as far back as the year 1888, when Sir James Bryce, or Mr. Bryce as he then was, brought in the important Bill referred to by my right hon. Friend. I shall have something to say later about the contents of that Bill, because I think they still have some relevance today. On the present Bill there are four main points which arise. The first one, which has been much discussed in this Debate, is the actual status of the Commission and the balance of local and national interests on the local authorities. The right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) put the point exceedingly well, that it is quite clear that in this balance the Minister has left most power in the hands of local authorities.
It it not the case that those of us who express reservations on this point do so because we regard county councils as reactionary. There has been a considerable divergence of opinion within the County Councils Association itself on the right machinery to get this balance adjusted. The special sub-committee which the County Councils Association set up to consider this matter, in January of last yearreiterated and emphasised the Association's previous opinion that national parks should be centrally administered and centrally financed and responsible to Parliament.The Committee went on to say:We concur in the Hobhouse recommendation for local parks committees, provided there is full consultation with adjoining planning authorities and sufficient county council representation for interested county districts.That was the view of the official subcommittee of the County Councils Association as recently as January of last year. It is true that when the matter came to the full committee that decision was reversed. I am quoting it tonight 1558 only to show that there are very genuine reasons, which do not come from any prejudiced opposition to local authority control, for saying that the machinery as it has emerged in this Bill comes down far too heavily on the side of county council control.
The main point with which hon. Members have been concerned in discussing the Commission and the local committees is that there is a feeling on both sides of the House that amenity interests, if I may use that phrase, have not had a sufficiently powerful voice at court when national or local interests have been competing with them, and hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious if possible to strengthen their position. Therefore, we have had today various suggestions, with which I agree, that the Commission should be strengthened. I would add the qualification that even if the Commission had the full powers recommended by the Hobhouse Committee, it would not be strengthened sufficiently to enable it to fight for itself against, let us say, the Board of Trade, the Service Departments or whatever it may be.
No commission of this kind, whatever powers it had, would carry equivalent weight with other Government Departments. It is most important that the Commission with increased powers should also have the Minister responsible fighting for it in discussions with his opposite numbers. The difficulty is that the Minister of Town and Country Planning fulfils a kind of dual role. He is the only Minister who is there to safeguard amenity interests. At the same time, he is in the chair in inter-departmental discussions and he must try to maintain a fairly balanced position. That is an extremely difficult problem.
I am inclined to think that the solution lies along the lines mentioned by the senior Burgess for Oxford University when he stressed the importance of a permanent Cabinet Committee where it would he possible to have the Minister of Town and Country Planning fighting for the Commission and for the amenity interests on something like equal terms against the various other Government Departments. I part company from the senior Burgess when he seems to think that public enterprise or public industries are the worst niggers in the woodpile. I would remind him that, for example, 1559 in the Hope Valley case we have a cement factory which is a private concern. It carried the day because it had behind it the weight of the Government Department responsible for increasing the production of cement. The issue is one between amenity interest and economic interest, and the other Government Departments are naturally bound to support their particular economic interests whether a public corporation or a private factory is concerned.
§ Sir A. Salter
I was not in the least arguing that nationalised industries are more likely to have schemes endangering natural beauties than would the same industries if not nationalised. All I said was that when it came to the judicial consideration—the balancing of the amenity interest against the other—the Government were in a much better position to hold the balance fairly if the matter were judged without one of their own Government Departments being a defendant.
§ Mr. Hughes
We agree that the real solution of this problem will only come when we have Ministers and Government Departments concerned to see that, as far as possible, amenity interests, especially in the national parks and the conservancy areas, carry the maximum amount of weight which can be given to them in the light of the economic situation.
I agree with those who have said that in Committee we must try to strengthen the Commission in its position vis-à-vis the Minister in its relation with other Government Departments and with the local committees. I should like to see it perhaps given greater control over the nomination of the national members on the local committees. I should like to see the local committees having to report annually to the National Commission. Also I should like the members of the Commission to be given a slightly more independent status by provision in the Bill for regulations laying down their conditions of appointment, as is the case in the Electricity Act for the Electricity Authority.
I think it should be specifically stated in the Bill that the National Parks Commission has power to lay down common planning standards for all national parks. 1560 It may be that the power is there, but it is not specifically stated, and I think it would be helpful if it was. The Commission also is given no direct powers at present in regard to access outside national parks and conservation areas, and I should like to see it given a watching brief on the whole problem of access even in areas which are not to be designated under the Bill.
May I now turn to the local committees which, in effect, are to be the executive bodies under the Bill? I agree that it is necessary to strike a balance between national and local interests, but I think we deceive ourselves if we ignore the fact that there is a genuine and honest conflict of interest between elected representatives of the local ratepayers and those who come from outside urban areas and who are anxious to develop the amenity side of national parks. As a representative of an urban constituency, I want to see representatives of the adjacent urban areas nominated to the local committees to represent the large numbers of people who will be going to the countryside from the towns.
What worries me particularly about the local planning machinery is the escape provision, which is found in Clause 7 (2), whereby there may not even be a joint planning board. I do not think that a joint planning board is a very good type of authority. The more indirect the system of local government, the more difficult it is to find people to sit upon these bodies, but a joint board is at least something. There are powers whereby one may fall back to a joint advisory committee, which is without any executive powers of its own or any planning officer. The Minister said that he intended to exercise this power in at least two of the parks suggested in the Hobhouse Report, namely, the Brecon Beacons and the South Downs, but if we look at the 12 parks listed in the Hob-house Report, we find that the case for only having an advisory committee in these two cases applies almost equally strongly to two other cases, namely, the Broads and Exmoor, where, again, one county authority dominates the total area.
I should like to see this proviso for a joint advisory committee removed from the Bill. We are to have two or more county councils setting up a joint advisory committee, and the dominant one will be more or less interested, while the one with 1561 the small stretch of land to be represented is not going to be very interested at all, but, under the Bill, will still have to carry out all the executive functions which spring from the joint advisory committee, for a small stretch of its territory far from county hall. I cannot see that being an effective Measure for joint planning at all, and I hope we shall get clown to planning representation of various county councils on joint boards in proportion to the size of the territories involved in the national park in each case.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? He has referred to the South Downs; there are three county councils and two county boroughs interested in the South Downs, which reinforces the hon. Gentleman's argument in that particular case.
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly. I should like to see a joint planning board in which, obviously, Sussex would have the great majority of members, but which would also contain one member each from Hampshire, Eastbourne and Brighton. Even worse than that is the position of the national parks which fall only within the area of one county authority. It is in that connection that the Bill refers, not to a planning committee, but to a subcommittee of a planning committee. What can be national about a sub-committee of a planning committee being given the responsibility of administration with a few extra members tacked on from outside? The absolute minimum should be a special planning committee of the county council to exercise these particular powers.
I should like to underline something that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) about the importance of the positive management functions under Clause 12. We want this to be an imaginative Measure which will bring real results in improving amenity conditions, accommodation and facilities for country holidays, properly conducted, for the people of our towns. We shall only get that if these positive management functions, instead of being purely permissive as they are in the Bill, become compulsory, and if Clause 14, which prevents the local planning committee from exercising these functions itself if there is any other body which might conceivably fulfil them, is dropped from the Bill.
1562 In spite of what the Minister said in introducing this Measure, I am not clear that it is possible for local authorities within the terms of the Bill to give financial aid to voluntary bodies like the Youth Hostels Association or the Workers' Travel Association, and so on, to carry on, to carry out these positive management functions for them. They have done magnificent work, and I want to see them helped by the local planning authority. I hope we shall be quite sure that the necessary powers are there. I am not clear that Clause 12 is adequate to cover the provision of park centres which were recommended in the Hob-house Report as centres of the whole life and being of the national parks. There is plenty of provision for aquatic sports in the Bill, but curiously enough there seems to be less provision for the mere land animal. Yachting and boating can be provided for, but there seems to be nothing in the Bill which makes it possible to provide for riding and the acquisition of sporting rights, for example, a subject which has been referred to by some hon. Members.
We want to see these facilities provided on a much wider scale than ever before, and at rates which the ordinary people can afford to pay. I hope those powers will be strengthened. We want to see, as has been done in New Zealand, in the United States of America, and elsewhere, types of accommodation like cabin camps and tourist cabins, as well as camp sites, so that the whole range of inclinations and purses of the visitors will be provided for. I should like to see properly planned holiday villages rather than holiday camps, such as Butlins, which were mentioned earlier in the discussion today, with tasteful chalets and maybe concert halls, communal dining-rooms, day nurseries, and other things which have all been recommended by people who have studied this matter in the Hobhouse Committee and elsewhere.
My main point is on the second half of the Bill which has not been so much discussed today—on the Clauses dealing with footpaths and access. I congratulate the Minister on the footpaths section, but, having said that, I must say that I regard the access provisions as the weakest part of the Bill. I want to see that part strengthened in order to put an end to the present uncertainties and anomalies. The law of trespass at the 1563 present time has been described as most confusing to the ordinary citizen. I might, perhaps, quote from the advice given in the "Week-end Book" to the innocent rambler on coming into the countryside. It says:Most landowners are amenable to friendliness, argument or money, and it must be left to the genius of the trespasser to choose the right remedy. But there remains one type of landlord for whose injured proprietary instincts no balm can be found—he should never be spoken to except from the other side of a five-barred gate. A slow but dignified retreat to the highway is the best course to pursue.When we come to this problem of access we find that the Bill falls very short indeed of the recommendations of the special Footpaths Committee. I would remind the Minister that on that special committee there were representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Farmers' Union who did not dissent from the recommendations, which were unanimous at that time. They laid down that a duty of designating access land should be placed on the planning authority. Within one year a survey was to be conducted, a draft map was to be drawn up. After the usual allowance for objections, there was to be a statutory map laying down all access land which then, automatically, was to come within the special provisions.
Contrast that simple, straightforward piece of machinery with what happens under the Bill. Under the Bill any owner may make an access agreement. Only if it appears to the planning authority that it is impracticable to secure an agreement—and there is no time limit set down, so negotiations could drag on indefinitely—may the planning authority make an access order, with a map, and then go through the procedure under the First Schedule. The Minister has a reserve power and may direct the authority to make the order or may do so himself, but a procedure like that, leaving it to one local authority at a time with a reserve power for the Minister in the background, is not much better than the procedure of the 1939 Act which has been a completely dead letter. That Act, which has been on the Statute Book for the last ten years, has enabled any local authority which wished to do so practically to go through the same procedure as in this Bill for designating 1564 access land, but not one single authority has ever tried to exercise that power.
The only difference between that and this Bill is that rather more financial assistance is given. Let me take my right hon. Friend back to Mr. Bryce's Bill in 1888 and compare the position. Clause 2 of that Bill of 1888 said this:No owner or occupier of uncultivated mountain or moorland shall be entitled to exclude any person from walking or being on such ground for the purpose of recreation or artistic study.There is the simple principle, that a human being should have the right to stand on his native heath so long as he does no damage and that is the simple principle which I should like to see embodied in this Bill.
In his opening speech the Minister indicated that he would be prepared to consider laying down some definite time within which all local authorities should make a survey of their areas and make access orders where necessary and where access land was not open at the present time. That is a vast improvement on the Bill as it stands, but even that will lead to some uncertainty. Why not have the simple principle in the Bill which we have for footpaths, that every local authority shall make a survey over a reasonable period—maybe three years, as laid down in the case of footpaths, or perhaps it could be extended to five years—of all access land in the county, and publish a map, with the usual procedure for objections and all the rest of it, and then make an access order which applies to all the access land concerned.
After all, this would not do any damage to the landlords who are already providing access. From the rambler's point of view it would greatly simplify matters because they will know they are on access land and we shall not have all the confusion which will arise through changes of ownership constantly making it necessary for new, little, fiddling access orders to be made. It will be a much simpler procedure for the local authorities to operate. It was, of course, the procedure very strongly recommended by John Dower in his report. We have paid great tribute to John Dower this evening and I hope we shall pay him a final tribute by putting in the 1565 Bill his proposals for access land. He said:… there is a strong case for … new legislation to start by conferring public rights of access over all uncultivated land … by direct and immediately operative provision.That is the principle which the Ramblers' Association would like to see embodied in this Bill. I cannot see why it should not be done.
One special point I wish to make is the position of one type of statutory undertaking, namely the water authorities. My right hon. Friend has said that the gathering grounds are to be dealt with so that they come within the Bill's provisions as to access. I think that the Bill will require amendment, therefore, because as it is drafted at present they come in as statutory undertakings whose land is excepted. I wish to draw attention to what has been happening on this question of gathering grounds. In 1948 a report by all the appropriate authorities was published which said:We can see no justification on the grounds of water purity for prohibiting access to the remainder of the gathering grounds.That referred to all gathering grounds other than the actual banks. Over half of the major water undertakings quoted at that time were restricting access to an unwarranted degree. After all, those water undertakings are local authorities. They are the same bodies who, under this Bill, are supposed to be providing access. They have not done so before, and there is nothing in the Bill, except the Minister's reserve power, to make them do it. The Minister has been in consultation with the Minister of Health. The Ministry of Health today do not know any more than they did in 1948 about how much access is being given to gathering grounds, and I suspect that the position is much the same today as it was a year ago, and that no progress has yet been made.
The point has come up in the Debate several times that there is no power in the Bill for local authorities to receive financial assistance for what I would describe as amenity grants. The example that has been given has been that of electricity cables underground. There are many other examples of how this type of financial assistance will be much required by local authorities that are trying to 1566 preserve the beauty of the national parks and the designated areas. I hope that the Minister will look at that matter. As the Chancellor of the Duchy is, I believe, to speak tomorrow, I should like him to deal with a question that I know is dear to his heart, the National Land Fund, which he set up something like three years ago. I quote the following words from his speech in setting up that National Land Fund. He referred to the fact that this Bill would be forthcoming, and he said:It appeared to me that it would be advantageous when this legislation comes along … that there should be what I might describe as a nest egg set aside, which could be used to finance some of the operations necessary in order to give to the public permanent access to the National Parks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 2841.]He set aside £50 million which, he thought, would last for four or five years. I asked a Question of the Treasury today about what had happened to the National Land Fund, and the answer was that only a little more than £250,000 has so far been disbursed, and that seven properties have been acquired and handed over to the appropriate bodies.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dalton)
It is more than £50 million with accrued interest.
§ Mr. Hughes
How is it now contemplated that this nest egg will be used to assist the financial obligations of the Commission or the local authorities under this Bill? There are certain other points which my hon. Friends and I hope to raise in Committee.
In conclusion, I would only say we want to see this Bill implemented and strengthened. There is no time to lose. Already a great deal of ground has been lost—beautiful countryside that ought to have been preserved—since the war. America, New Zealand and other countries are far ahead of us in the steps that they have taken to preserve the beauty of their countryside and to provide access to it for their citizens. Our need is much greater than theirs. We in this country since the Industrial Revolution have been suffering, to some extent, from over-urbanisation, and an over-mechanical civilisation, and we are in some danger of losing the health, vitality, imagination and love of beauty which come from contact with nature. May I 1567 quote from Professor Trevelyan, one of the most famous exponents of the idea of national parks:The race bred under such conditions"—of the industrial town divorced from nature—might retain many sturdy qualities of character, might improve in physique, might develop sharp wits and a brave humorous attitude to life, but its imaginative powers must necessarily decline, and the stage is set for the gradual standardisation of human life. … Without vision the people perish, and without sight of the beauty of nature the spiritual power of the British people will be atrophied.We feel that through the provisions of this Bill town and country can be brought closer together, that both will benefit, and that our people will live a fuller and happier life in consequence.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
I found myself much in agreement with the Minister of Town and Country Planning when he drew attention to the lack of understanding by the townsman of the countryman's point of view. I think that we have seen that in recent weeks in the attempt of a number of Members of Parliament to abolish fox hunting, coursing and other kindred sports. They were heavily defeated because the political acumen of the Front Bench was rather greater than their emotional feelings. It was quite obvious to me that 95 per cent. of those—and this bears out what the Minister said—who wished to abolish these snorts were townsmen who probably did not know the difference between a badger and a fox or, at any rate, not the difference between their smells.
I do not want to go into this too deeply, except to support what the Minister has said, but I hope that the terms of reference to the Committee will be kept very broad. It is obvious to me, and a reasonable assumption that, under this Bill which we are discussing today, an increased number of people will enjoy shooting, hunting and fishing, and I feel most profoundly that if the terms of reference to this particular Committee which is being set up are kept too narrow, it may seriously interfere with the people's enjoyment of these traditional British sports. The Minister described the objects of the Bill as being to enable the people to see the countryside, to get to the countryside and to 1568 enjoy the countryside. I am sure that all of us in this House quite apart from party politics, agree with those very worthy objectives.
I want to draw attention to two matters. It so happens that a very large slice of the South Downs, the area of which is 176,000 acres in so far as the national park is concerned, lies within the boundaries of my constituency. I want, therefore, to say a few words about the present condition of the South Downs and to ask whether that condition is likely to be improved under the Bill. I want also to say something about the Nature Conservancy and wild life conservation with regard to all the areas affected by the Bill. Part IV of the Bill deals with the question of loss of access and rights of way, and the Minister in his speech made some reference to the ploughing up of footpaths. That is something about which I know quite a lot at the moment because I get many letters from my constituents with reference to the South Downs. The South Downs, of course, have a very special importance under this Bill because they will become a national park within easy access of London. I want, therefore, to describe the present position of the South Downs as they are being looked after by Government Departments.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.