Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £20, be granted to Her Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with National Parks and Access to the Countryside for the year ending on 31st March, 1953, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1952–53|
|Class I, Vote 26, Scottish Home Department||10|
|Class V, Vote 1, Ministry of Housing and Local Government||10|
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
After the speech of the Financial Secretary I confess that we have little confidence in securing any concessions in respect of the National Parks from the united front of vandals and Philistines who are temporarily in possession of the Treasury Bench. Nevertheless, we thought it was desirable to give the Committee an opportunity of further discussing this subject for this reason.
A week ago last Tuesday my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) called attention to the administration of the National Parks on the Adjournment Motion. When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government replied, he complained that no time had been left to him to do justice to the Government's case. One would have thought that the shorter the time he had to speak the more careful he would be to concentrate upon the essentials of the case and to cut out the frills and other unnecessary matter. Instead of that, the Parliamentary Secretary made little attempt to answer the points which had been put to him and dealt only partially with one of the points that had been made.
In that debate my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir E. Keeling) asked the Parliamentary Secretary for four specific assurances, but in reply the Parliamentary Secretary gave not one of those assurances, nor so far as I recollect from reading the debate, even referred to them. Instead, he replied to points which had not been made in the debate; he gave us a 1892 bowdlerised version of what the Hobhouse Committee had recommended, complained of the behaviour of my hon. Friend as being violent, and referred somewhat disparagingly to his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham as being what he called an "amenity fan."
§ Mr. Greenwood
It certainly read as being somewhat disparaging in the context in which it appeared. If he is taking perhaps a more placatory line tonight I shall be the first to welcome that change of heart. Basically, his reply on that occasion was most unsatisfactory. What the reason for it was—whether it was disregard of the House, or whether it was a lack of grasp of importance of the administrative machine with which he was dealing—it is impossible for us to tell. Certainly we hope for better treatment if he replies tonight, or if his right hon. Friend the Minister himself replies to the debate.
The first point on which I think the Committee and the country need clarification is the extent to which the Minister believes the National Parks shall be national parks, and the extent to which he believes they shall be local. At this stage all of us would want to emphasise that from the time the Hobhouse Report was considered in the House nobody wished to attempt in any way to ride roughshod over the various local interests. Those of us however who served on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill hoped that the limit had been reached in the concessions made to local interests when that Measure was before the House. The National Parks Commission emerged from our discussions with its powers a good deal attenuated, and the national representatives on the parks committees had been reduced from a half to one-third.
I recall those facts because neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary was a member of that Standing Committee. Indeed, so far as my researches go, neither of them favoured the House with their views on the National Parks from the time that Bill was first introduced to the time that they took over their present responsibilities. It may be that they bring fresh minds to bear upon the problem, but they must forgive us if we 1893 sometimes seek to ensure that they do not overlook the background to it.
By October, 1951, substantial progress had been made in respect of three of the National Parks—the Peak District, the Lake District and Snowdonia. In the case of the Peak District, all the local authorities, with the exception of Sheffield, were originally strongly opposed to the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) that the park should be under the control of a joint planning board. My right hon. Friend insisted that such a joint planning board should be established, and made the further condition that it should have its own planning officer and adequate financial resources.
In view of the opposition of the local authorities only a year ago, it is interesting to see what happened when the Peak Park Planning Board held its first annual meeting at Bakewell on Tuesday of last week, because on that occasion it was quite clear that the county councils concerned had completely changed their approach to the problem. Sir Bertram Wilson, who was representing the West Riding County Council, said, according to the "Manchester Guardian," that it was time they got down to a proper appreciation of the compelling idea of a national park, and of the difference between it and ordinary county planning. When Mr. Monkhouse, who is one of the national representatives on that board, proposed the re-election of Alderman Charles White—whom many of us remember with pleasure as a Member of the House—as chairman of the board, Alderman White spoke in these terms:Nobody fought the formation of this Board more than I did, because I honestly believed that an advisory committee would have functioned better.He went on to say that he had now changed his mind, and expressed his appreciation of the impartial outlook of the board's members in comparing industry and amenities. It is quite clear, therefore, that some local authorities, powerful county councils, which began with serious misgivings about this joint planning board, have been completely won over by the efficacy of this method of administration.
In the case of the Lake District National Park, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland insisted on a joint planning board, but, unfortunately, 1894 he did not make any proviso about the necessary staff or the budget which was to be spent. The result is they had no single planning officer, and they have a budget of only £7,500 a year, which seriously restricts the amount of work they can undertake.
In the case of Snowdonia, once again, in spite of considerable objection from the three county councils involved, my right hon. Friend insisted upon the formation of a joint planning board. That is where the matter rested when the General Election came along in October last year. In the course of the Election, I think that the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people, and of the amenities societies, must have been raised by the "Campaign Guide" which was published by the Conservative and Unionist Central Office. On page 283, in talking of the National Parks Act, it said:The Conservatives sought to secure greater protection for agriculture and to strengthen the powers of the National Parks Commission. The organisation set out in the Bill was criticised because it sets up a relatively weak National Parks Commission and leaves all real power in the hands of the local planning authorities.On the following page, it went on to say:The attempt of Mr. Dalton … to undo the ill effects of the shortcomings of the Act against which Conservatives had warned the country are of interest. In October, 1950, Mr. Dalton insisted on the establishment of a joint board instead of a joint committee for the Peak National Park… He was in fact following the line urged on his predecessor by the Conservative Opposition in Parliament—that of getting effective administration of the National Parks by effective national Park Authorities.Reading that, one can only come to the conclusion that all the criticisms and constructive suggestions about the National Parks Bill had come from Conservative Members of the Standing Committee and of the House at that time. One would not suppose—and I am sure that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) would be the first to admit this —from the "Campaign Guide" that the Committee had also consisted of Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) and Mr. H. D. Hughes, as well as hon. Members like the hon. Members for The High Peak and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir E. Keeling).
Whatever had happened in the past, it was clear from the "Campaign Guide" that there were great hopes for the future 1895 from the Conservative Party so far as the National Parks were concerned. One could only suppose that by amending legislation or by strong central administrative action the Minister was going to clear up such mistakes as the Labour Government may have perpetrated. I pictured the right hon. Gentleman elbowing out of the way his importunate colleagues who wanted to de-centralise steel and transport in order to get first to the Dispatch Box to remedy the weakness of the National Parks Act. The hopes that we formed at the time that guide was issued have unfortunately been dashed. Not merely have we had no legislation from the right hon. Gentleman, but he appears to have gone out of his way so far as administrative action is concerned to go slow, to weaken the administrative machinery the Act provided and, even in one case, to flout the provisions of the Act.
I do not know what is the reason for the change of attitude on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. It may be that he has not been quite aware of everything that has been happening. We know from the Parliamentary Secretary, whose tact and discretion are equalled only by those of the Minister of State for Economic Affairs, that the Minister is a very busy man and has to rely on such bodies as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England for information as to what is happening. That seemed to me a disparaging remark to make about one's Minister, but that remark was widely attributed to the Parliamentary Secretary in the Press after he made his speech at Hathersage about three weeks ago.
If that is how the Minister of Housing and Local Government proceeds, no wonder the word "planning" is left out of his title. Whatever the reason for the Minister's attitude, I believe that the "Manchester Guardian" was right in stating:The Ministerial assurances, the principles, and, finally, the excepted provisions of the Act itself have one by one been cast aside.In illustration of that point of view, I want to take, as examples, two of the National Parks. The first that I want to touch upon is Snowdonia, which the Parliamentary Secretary was visiting, I think, only yesterday. In June, 1951, after he had received a deputation from the county 1896 councils the then Minister wrote to the Merioneth County Council saying that it appeared to him there could be no doubt that a joint board would be necessary. After the General Election, the county councils had another shot, and sent a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman opposite pleading for a joint advisory committee instead of a joint board. I understand from the Press that they based their argument on the low rateable value of the area, on the administrative efficiency of the councils concerned, on the large areas of two of the county councils which will be absorbed into the Park, and, finally, upon what they called "the wholly Welsh character of the area."
It seems to me that only the last argument could possibly constitute one of the special circumstances envisaged in the Section 8 (2) of the Act, in so far as it is a situation not found in various counties in other parks. It is not easy to see, Mr. Hopkin Morris—and I hope that you will listen benificently to what I have to say on this point—how the Welsh character, operating through a joint committee, makes more obviously for efficient administration than it does when working through a joint board. But that would be the only argument which would justify the Minister in the action he has taken.
On 25th April, the right hon. Gentleman replying to the county councils affected—the Counties of Caernarvon, Denbigh and Merioneth—used wording which must be unique in a letter sent out by a Minister of the Crown.The Minister cannot doubt that the National Parks Commission are right in believing that a National Park ought to be administered by one authority; and that, therefore, a joint board would be likely to give better results than a system which would leave responsibility for administration of the Acts of 1947 and 1949 in the hands of the three county councils aided by a joint advisory committee.From this point he went on to say that although that was his judgment, nevertheless, he proposed to set up for an experimental period a joint advisory committee, which he did not think could possibly work as well as a joint board.
In Section 8 of the Act, before the Minister can direct a joint board shall be set up, he must satisfy himself that such a course is necessary for securing efficient administration. He must be satisfied, not 1897 that the county councils will do equally as well, but that it is they who must be appointed if efficient administration is to be secured. In other words, he must be satisfied that the joint board will not secure efficiency and that the county councils will.
It is difficult to see how he can prove any of these contentions after what he said in his letter to the county councils on 25th April. It is not surprising in the circumstances that "Country Life" should have suggested that the Minister's mind may not have been very clear on this issue; nor is it surprising that the "Manchester Guardian" in a leading article should have made this comment:No court would sustain the legality of his offer to leave the planning of Snowdonia to the three county councils concerned, assisted by an advisory committee, in the face of his own explicit admission that a joint board would be likely to give better results.'I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal seriously with this point which is causing great perturbation among the various amenity societies, and certainly, as we are at present advised, the actions he has taken are not consistent with the provisions of the Act.
The second National Park with which I wish to deal is the Dartmoor National Park. In an Adjournment debate in this House on 6th December last the Parliamentary Secretary suggested to us that, in the case of these parks, the national interest is safeguarded by the fact that one-third of the membership of the board is appointed by the Minister himself. One certainly hoped that that would be the case, but I think we are now entitled to have legitimate doubts upon that score.
The Dartmoor National Park comes entirely in the one County of Devon, and therefore the Devonshire County Council is in a particularly strong position in it. In the first place, it has two-thirds of the members of the park committee and, secondly, because it is the planning authority of the area, it can veto any of the decisions which the Dartmoor National Parks Committee takes, so that the power of the one-third of national representatives is already severely limited.
Then, if the Press is to be believed, it is further limited by the fact that the Minister consulted the county council on the question of who should be appointed, 1898 and the Devon County Council asked for a list of names in excess of the number of vacancies so that it could select those who were the most acceptable. The Minister fell for that suggestion in spite of the very specific assurance that Lord Silkin, when he was Minister, gave to the hon. Member for The High Peak on the Standing Committee, where he said that it never occurred to him that it would be possible to submit more names than there were vacancies and that it was certainly not his intention to do so. On this occasion in the case of the Dartmoor National Park eight names were submitted and the county council apparently chose the six which it found most acceptable. It is perhaps not surprising that one of them was that of the Lord Warden of the Stannaries of the Duchy of Cornwall who on 18th October, 1949, in another place urged the Government to postpone the part of the Bill dealing with National Parks and access land.
There is no wonder that the public are beginning to be a little afraid that there may be worse to follow. The Parliamentary Secretary ignored the request which my hon. Friend made to him the other night that he should give the House an assurance that the Government are determined to push ahead with the National Parks policy which was started with the passing of the National Parks Act. He made no reply whatever to that request; there was no reference to it in the speech which he made.
There has been a surprisingly long silence in the case of the North Yorkshire Moors, although I believe the inquiry is starting tomorrow. We have not heard about the Yorkshire Dales National Park for a very long time now. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is happening to these National Parks of which we have heard so little for so long a time. When he comes to setting up these National Parks committees, are the unfortunate examples of Snowdonia and Dartmoor to be followed in their case as well? It will be extremely difficult for the right hon. Gentleman in future to resist demands from other county councils that they should be treated in the same way as the county councils in the Snowdonia area.
I do not think we have any reason either to be very happy about the pro- 1899 gress which is being made about the long distance footpaths. In his speech at Hathersage—the Parliamentary Secretary must be getting tired of being reminded of it—the hon. Gentleman referred to the Pennine Way and said that he could not give a date for the opening. Then he went on to give a few figures about the progress that was being made. He told his hearers that two of the 22 local authorities concerned had made the necessary public path agreements, that 12 of the 22, covering 25 miles of the Way, were getting on with the job, and that seven of them, covering 30 miles of the route, had not given the information which was asked for. That makes details for 21 out of 22 local authorities. What has happened to the remaining local authority? One does not know, but perhaps it has gone the way of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Has the Minister, seriously, no timetable for when these footpaths are to be created. Has he not urged upon the local authorities concerned the importance of pushing ahead with the work? What has happened to the survey of the coastal path from Somerset to Dorset? What progress has there been with that? There is also the Thames riverside footpath. On 1st July my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked the Minister what progress was being made with the Thames riverside footpath, and the Parliamentary Secretary gave a somewhat disappointing reply. He said:To repair and complete the Thames riverside walk would, my right hon. Friend is afraid, cost a lot of money. An estimate has been got out and the National Parks Commission are, he understands, considering this; but it may be that they will conclude that action must he deferred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 25.]I hope the Minister will tell us tonight whether that was a hint to the National Parks Commission that they would not be allowed in existing circumstances to go ahead with the work, or whether it is his desire that they should do that work even at the expense of other projects. It is important that we should realise that the delaying of projects of this kind is the worst type of improvidence and that longer delay will mean greater expense in the long run.
There are three points that I wish to make on the question of ordinary public 1900 footpaths before I conclude. I am informed by the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society that difficulties are arising in respect of the provision of the Act dealing with public footpaths. I am told, for example, that some parish councils are omitting from their surveys paths which are little used. But the survey should be a factual survey and not merely one of the footpaths which the parish councils think it is necessary to preserve.
I understand, too, that farmers are not complying with Section 56 of the Act which gives them the opportunity of ploughing up footpaths on condition that they replace them when it is possible to do so. I am told that farmers are not giving the necessary notification to the highway authorities and that they are not restoring the footpaths afterwards. Further, I understand that the Minister is issuing a circular through the county agricultural executive committees and the National Farmers' Union, but I should like the Minister to tell us what action he contemplates taking if there is no improvement as a result of this circular.
My last point on footpaths deals with the views which the Parliamentary Secretary expressed in the Adjournment debate on 6th December last year when hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Twickenham, had complained that highway authorities were refusing to go ahead with the repairing of footpaths until the survey was completed. It was argued at the time that that was a wrong interpretation of the responsibilities of the highway authority and the Parliamentary Secretary said that he thought that we should have to wait until December, 1952, until the survey had been completed. In my view, that was a somewhat casual misinterpretation of the law.
We have never had any correction from the right hon. Gentleman and have never had any apology from him for having mislead the House on that occasion, although a publication of his own Ministry had said earlier in the same year, in Command Paper 8204, that it was for the highway authority to assume responsibility for the maintenance of paths without waiting for the completion of the survey. When the hon. Member for Twickenham put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary the other night it would have been a little more gracious if 1901 the Parliamentary Secretary had admitted that his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham had been right on that occasion.
Since the Government took office nothing has happened to convince us that they are determined to push on as quickly as they can with this great work. Here really was a great scheme designed to preserve the amenities of the countryside and to make it possible for millions of our citizens to enjoy them. The Act was passed with the support of all parties, and I always regarded it as being in some measure an earnest of our confidence in our own future.
It would be a tragedy if the public today got the impression that the Government was going slow and soft pedalling on the development of these National Park schemes, but I am afraid that the Government are giving that impression at the present time, partly through the speeches which the Parliamentary Secretary has made, and partly by reason of the fact that the Minister himself has weakened the scheme by his capitulation to the county councils in the case of North Wales, because he has gone slow on the whole project, and has taken action in the case of the Snowdonia Park of doubtful legality. The right hon. Gentleman will need something more than epigrams and blandishments to convince us that he is going ahead with this programme with the zeal and energy which the House anticipated when the Measure was passed.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
I am one of those who was on the Standing Committee dealing with the Bill before it became an Act, and I took a considerable interest in it. I am also a member of a county council and a planning authority, and I am interested in the subject. The county council of which I am a member should be looked on with favour by those interested in National Parks because a long time ago under the 1932 Act they reserved from development, by buying at a cost £28,000, a very large area of the South Downs when there was no other way of doing it.
I feel that some of the criticisims advanced by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) are a little hard on county councils. There is no doubt that he will get answers to many 1902 of his questions from my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench, but I should like to make a few comments upon them.
Let me assure the Committee that I have no intention of repeating what was said in Standing Committee, because, unfortunately, I went away for the weekend and left all my papers behind. However, I remember some of the debates that we had in Standing Committee, including one on the control of National Parks and the amount of delegation to National Parks boards or, alternatively, control under a local planning authority with the help of an advisory committee.
I think it will always be remembered that I took the line that the latter course would be necessary in quite a number of cases, and for this reason. It is not easy to get the right people for these bodies, the people who really are interested in National Parks and the principle of National Parks and at the same time of the right background so that they can understand the point of view both of the townspeople who want to enjoy them and of the countryman who is bound up to a point to have to sacrifice something for them.
Secondly, when such a body is found, the members have to be got together. In certain areas that is not very easy. Supposing, for example, a South Down National Parks Board were set up, it would cover an area 80 miles long by about five or six miles broad. If it were agreed even to meet in the middle, it would mean that some member whould have to go some 40 miles to attend a meeting, and that is not very easy for many people. So there are two difficulties. First, the members have to be found and then they have to be brought to the place of meeting.
I imagine that in some of the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Rossendale, like the Lake District and Snowdonia, it was felt that to try to get representatives from all over the district would involve a certain amount of difficulty, for to get them from one side of the mountains to the other would entail a tremendous amount of travelling. That may be one of the reasons for the present decision. Be that as it may. I feel that, in spite of the principle of National Parks boards, there will always be an argument in favour of the planning authority taking a leading part, because it knows the area 1903 and has officials and members who are familiar with the locality. I would add that apparently some county councils accept the principle of joint planning boards. It is probably largely a matter of the nature of the locality. In some areas it is possible; in some it is not.
I come now to the question of footpaths. Certain difficulties arise here, and, whether I am right or wrong, I believe that today footpaths are not being used as much as they were in the past. In my own district I remember many footpaths that used to be hard trodden, clear tracks, but today they are completely grown over. People do not use them as much, which is probably the result of petrol. It is much less trouble to go three miles round on a motorcycle or go in someone's car than to walk across the country.
Footpaths are not being used and that adds to the difficulties of parish councils, particularly when they have to argue with farmers who are inconvenienced by restoring paths across arable fields. The farmer knows quite well that the path will only be used one or twice in the summer and then as an amenity. However, that obviously must be watched. It is a legal obligation on the farmer to restore the path and it should be obeyed.
In my county the highway authority is taking responsibility for maintenance. In my own parish, for example, a footpath is being made up by the county council, but here again, I think the difficulties of the road authorities should be borne in mind. Grants to all road authorities have been very much cut down, with the result that they are having great difficulty in keeping their roads in repair, while improvements for which there is great pressure, particularly from those trying to improve the safety of our roads, cannot be met.
Concentration has to be almost entirely on maintaining the surface, which, of course, is something which makes for safety, and to divert funds for taking over a completely new branch of their work—to maintain and repair footpaths—would at the moment be a very onerous burden. I am sure they will undertake it as soon as they are able to do so, but at the moment there are considerable difficulties about taking on new work.
1904 There is one other thing I should like to mention and I hope it will receive attention. When the map is being made, not only footpaths but bridle paths should be carefully marked and distinguished. It is so long now since bridle paths were used for transport purposes in a good many districts that it has been forgotten that some rights of way are bridle paths, but the increased interest in recent years in horse riding and the dangerous state of traffic on the roads increases the demand for the preservation of these bridle paths.
I know that in some areas there has been criticism of the delay in getting out these maps, but it is not really a very easy task to fulfil satisfactorily. There is an obligation under the Act that it should be fulfilled and that not only should existing paths be marked, but where there is a suspicion that there is a footpath the case should be gone into. To meet the complaints made by the hon. Member for Rossendale that all cases have not been considered, adequate time must be taken. People in the country have their time very much occupied. When they have nothing else to do they have their own gardens to look after. They have many calls on their time, but those who know the facts alone can give the right information.
The usual starting place should be on the parish council basis. Even on that basis it is no use marking maps without coming to some agreement with the next parish about what is to happen at the boundaries. All round the boundaries there is a good deal of work to do. At the rural district council stage there would be a similar piecing together before the matter went to the next stage. Many people must be consulted and given an opportunity of saying whether or not what has been put on the map is really right, or whether some useful path has not been included. All the evidence must be carefully put forward, or sooner or later the whole process will be hung up by inquiries, and in the long run it will take much more time. It is worth while going slowly and steadily, keeping going all the time.
The other matter which the hon. Member for Rossendale mentioned was the Thames riverside path. This is not a district which I know as well as I did, but I agree that it is a most desirable thing that, at first blush, does not seem 1905 difficult an accomplishment. The towpath which now exists along the greater part of the Thames goes up into the higher reaches, and its conversion into a footpath is surely a possibility. The rights of way in the towpath come under numerous navigation authorities, but I should imagine that the conversion would not be very difficult.
I apologise for the somewhat inconsequent nature of these few remarks. Until I came into the Chamber and understood the tenor of the debate, I had no intention of intervening for more than a few moments, because of not having my papers over the weekend.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I am sorry to have to disagree, I think for the first time in my political life, with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). I am grateful to him for having couched what he did say in a moderate tone, although he argued incisively as usual. It was a welcome change from the fanaticism with which the amenity fans usually advance their case and which does far more harm than the action of any Ministry or county council. I hope, that by the end of my few remarks my hon. Friend may come a little nearer to me as to what is the best way of achieving a National Park in Snowdonia.
I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary in his place. He was in my constituency over the weekend, and with a party of young Conservatives he climbed to the top of Snowdon. A constituent of mine who lives practically on the top of Snowdon said that the effort was most praiseworthy but that he regrets that that is the nearest that the Parliamentary Secretary or his party will ever get to Heaven. Still, I am glad he came, because we welcome him as a keen and intrepid climber, and we are always glad to see him.
I have intervened in the debate because, as I have suggested, the constituency which I have the honour to represent here will make a very considerable territorial contribution to the Snowdonia National Park, and I want it to make a willing and enthusiastic contribution. For the past 18 months or so I have held the view that the best way to mobilise the good will and participation of the people of that area is to try out faithfully the 1906 method of the joint advisory committee. Unlike hon. Members who have already spoken, I regard Snowdon as my native heath. We do not want it to become another Hampstead Heath. It might very well become that unless from the start we have the immediate and wholehearted support and participation of the people who live there and of those who represent it. I believe that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary showed that they appreciated that point when we met them recently at the Ministry. I might tell them that there is on our side a good deal of appreciation of the view which they took.
I would remind the Committee of the terms of the 1949 Act. They are perfectly clear. Section 8 (2) says—I will not quote it—that where a National Park lies partly in different counties a joint board shall be set up. There is, however, a proviso enabling the Minister to consult the local authorities concerned and to establish a joint advisory committee if there are special circumstances. That was the procedure followed in this case, and I fail to see in what instance the action of the Minister runs counter to that procedure in any particular. I have no doubt that he will be able to defend himself.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale that there were no special circumstances to justify our substituting for the method of the joint board the method of the joint advisory committee. Well, there are. Three special circumstances in Snowdonia fully justify our trying out, at least, the method of the joint advisory committee. What the Minister has agreed to in response to very strong representations from those most immediately concerned is the joint advisory committee method for three years. I do not see why there should be objection to trying out that method. If it is found at the end of three years to be insufficient for our purpose, then a joint board may well be the method to be permanently established. I would like briefly to mention the three special circumstances which makes Snowdonia appropriate for the joint advisory committee method.
There is first the financial point. A joint board would cost much more than a joint advisory committee. The geographical situation of the park is such that, if a joint board were set up, the 1907 county planning executives would still have to be maintained at their present strength. It would cost just as much in men and money for the participating counties to carry on with their planning work. The county planning officers would have to travel through the National Park areas to the perimeter, which would still remain under their control. So it would not save a penny. Indeed, it is estimated that the joint board would cost an extra £13,000 per annum.
The total sum spent by the three counties concerned—Caernarvon, Denbigh and Merioneth—is £43,000 per annum. On top of that there would be the £13,000 extra, but a joint committee would cost only £3,000 extra. These are small sums unless they are viewed against the background of the kind of authority who will have to find part at least of those extra sums.
Let us compare the Snowdonian counties with the counties contributing to the Peak National Park. The Peak counties have a penny rate producing £93,000. The three Snowdonian counties produce only £6,000 for a penny rate, so these comparatively small sums would fall heavily in this case, and that is a special financial circumstance.
The second point is that in this National Park area administration would be seriously divided by using the instrument of a joint board. Section 93 of the Act says that the county council will still make orders restricting traffic in National Park roads. Part IV of the Act says that county councils will still be responsible for survey and maintenance and footpaths in National Park areas, and under Section 21 they have the power to establish nature reservations.
Now a joint board would have no power over these functions, but the joint advisory committee would see that they fitted perfectly into a National Park policy. The reason why that is a special circumstance in Snowdonia is the following. Here we have three local authorities which are well used to working together on all these matters. The reason why they work so well together is that basically, and particularly in the economic sense, they have the same interest. They depend for their livelihood on tourism and agriculture and from this fact two things flow: it is inevitable and organic that they should co-operate so well with each 1908 other and, secondly, they have a positive vested interest in promoting the formation of a proper National Park. A National Park, in fact, is their livelihood to a very large extent.
A National Park in Snowdonia is not something which will be established by an outside body which knows more about it than the people living there. A National Park is only possible in Snowdonia through and by the people living there, because the park will be substantially their own livelihood. I am quite sure that no one here would wish there to be a fight between the amenity organisations on the one hand and the local people on the other. It has been suggested to me that the point I raise is a purely local one. It is not. It is a point of practical administration.
What is the best way to set up a National Park in Snowdonia? The best way is not by imposing upon the people who live there a largely nominated body in which they have not the ultimate confidence. The only way to get a park in Snowdonia is by mobilising the goodwill and economic interest of the people who live there, who not only visit during weekends but live, work and worship there all the year round.
I hope the Minister will stand firm. Wales will do so because we feel profoundly about this matter. In the last few years it seems that whenever any board or Government agency wants to take a piece of land, they come to Wales. The Forestry Commission, the War Department, whenever they want to accommodate their experiments, they come to Wales. When the British Electricity Authority wants to try out some of its Heath Robinson contraptions, it reaches out for a part of Wales. And now come my hon. Friends of the amenity societies—our welcome guests whom we very much like to see coming into Wales, on whom of course very largely we depend economically—who are conducting on their own account and through some of the newspapers of this country a propaganda which is steadily pushing further away from them the mind and psychology of the people who live in the areas in the National Park.
I say that if we are to get a National Park in Snowdonia, we must get it through and with the people who live 1909 there. We cannot get it without them. I hope we shall not try, because the result would be resistance and resentment which nobody on either side of the Committee would like to see ensue.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
The outstanding fact about the recent debates on the National Parks has been that nearly all the criticism which has come from the benches opposite has been directed against the machinery or organisation which is to be used for implementing the National Parks Act. Practically no criticism, except of the most general and vague kind, has been levelled against the actual, physical work undertaken. That is most significant.
I have taken the opportunity of studying carefully the Adjournment debate on 8th July which covered much the same ground as that which we are covering this evening. I have tried by the most minute examination to find what were the real criticisms which were being levelled by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) against what is being done in connection with the development and the administration of the National Parks.
I have selected what seemed to me to be two of the paragraphs in his speech in which the criticisms that he was offering may be regarded as having been summed up, and I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the extremely vague, general and indefinite character of those criticisms. In one paragraph he said:I hope we can impress on the Minister this morning the serious concern that is being shown about this matter among many groups of people all over the country.There is nothing there of a very definite character on which a Minister can fasten and to which he can make any definite answer. Then, in his second critical paragraph, to which I would draw attention, he says, in regard to the appointment of a planning officer:Because of that lack there have been difficulties in the case of the Lake District Park, which we should all have hoped would be one of the most vital and most successful of the schemes. Some useful work has been done, but many of the most vital jobs remain to be tackled. Friends of mine who know the area very well are disappointed at the lack of progress because there is no planning officer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1952; Vol. 503, cc. 1271 and 1273.]1910 Again, I say that all that was so general and so vague that it really does not even constitute a case calling for a reply.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
If the hon. Gentleman wilt allow me, may I ask him to remember that I was studiously attempting to be as short as I could, because the Parliamentary Secretary or his right hon. Friend had already received deputations on this very subject, with a very great deal of precise evidence, and I thought it unnecessary to bore him with fuller details?
§ Mr. Black
It may be that deputations have put before the Minister a more definite cause of criticism, but, certainly, in my submission, no case at all has been levelled against the Minister in the House which would amount to any criticism of the development of the National Parks, and all that has been said by way of criticism has been in respect of the machinery and the administrative bodies that are to deal: with the matter. That seems to me to be the outstanding fact in regard to these two debates.
I think it should be stated, in support of the county councils, who are very gravely concerned in this matter—and I speak as a member of a county council and of its town planning committee—that the county councils have been planning authorities for a little more than four years. I would most strongly submit for the consideration of the Committee that, during the period of a little more than four years, immense advances have been made by the county councils in the field of town planning. It would be the greatest possible mistake to underestimate the contributions that have already been made by the county councils or the contributions which the county councils are capable of making in the future, in a matter which, admittedly, is only in its infancy as far as their administration is concerned.
I do not feel that any kind of case has even been submitted to the Committee, let alone made out, as to what it is that the county councils are supposed to have left undone or what it is that the county councils are supposed to have done wrongly, so far as their part is concerned in the administration of the National Parks. I would very much 1911 hope that, if there is any real criticism that can be brought forward, it will be stated in much more clear and definite, and much less general and vague, terms than those which have so far been used in these two debates.
Without being unduly doctrinaire, it is a fact that the kind of mattter which we are discussing tonight is, generally speaking, approached from rather different standpoints by the two sides of the Committee. Speaking generally, hon. Members opposite have more confidence in joint boards and regional bodies, whereas we, on our side, have more confidence in the local authorities which are democratically elected in the areas which they administer, and that is an important matter of principle that we ought to recognise. It is really part of the difference that may well divide us in this debate this evening.
It is quite clear that the approach to this matter of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East is a rather different approach from that which would be made by many hon. Members on this side of the Committee. Let me read another paragraph from the speech he made on 8th July. He said:That Measure"—that is, the National Parks Act—made many concessions to the position of local authorities. For example, in that Act we provided that the Commission, instead of having wide powers, was little more than an advisory body. Again, it provided that the joint boards or committees to be set up for certain parks were to have only one-third national representatives, two-thirds being from the local authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1272.]It is all very well to speak of great concessions having been made to the local authorities, but, after all, are not the local authorities, historically and practically, the bodies most concerned in matters of this kind? Is it really a case of treating them so generously and making concessions to them by allowing them to participate in joint boards of this kind?
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
The Conservative "Campaign Guide" held out during the last General Election that the Conservatives pressed for a stronger National Parks Commission and that they deprecated the weakening of the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report 1912 which took place in the House. I do not see how the hon. Gentleman reconciles that with what he is now saying.
§ Mr. Black
I am in the fortunate position that I was not a Member of Parliament when the National Parks Bill passed through the House, and therefore I am quite entitled to disclaim any kind of personal responsibility for anything anybody said at that particular time. I am perfectly entitled to give my own views on the matter, which are views from which I have never deviated on the point of principle involved in this matter.
I do not think it is a right approach to the whole position of the standing and authority of the local authorities to talk about great concessions having been made to them. Furthermore, when the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East speaks about one-third being national representatives and two-thirds being from the local authorities, he implies that the representatives are all of the same character, which, of course, they are not. The two-thirds from the local authorities are people who have gone through the mill by standing for election before they became members of the local authorities, whereas the one-third representatives as they are so called, who are national representatives, are persons appointed by the Minister for the time being and who owe no kind of allegiance whatever to the people in the area in which they are to carry out administrative functions. Indeed, they may be entirely removed from local sentiment and feeling.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Is it only local sentiment that has to be taken into consideration in a National Park? Is not the whole object of developing National Parks to attract for the benefit of the local population as many as possible from outside areas?
§ Mr. Black
I am not saying anything that is inconsistent with that view at all. What I am saying is that in my judgment the people in the locality who represent local feeling and who would ordinarily have a lifetime of knowledge and experience of local problems are, generally speaking, better qualified to carry out functions of this kind than are individuals appointed by a Minister who may be entirely divorced from local sentiment and who may know very little indeed 1913 about local conditions. In my view, that approach to the problem indicates the difference on this point between most hon. Members opposite and most hon. Members on this side of the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "Generalising."] Of course I am generalising. I am giving my opinion on the matter. It is an opinion based on some experience of speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee and of what I believe to be their general approach to the problem.
It is a fact that a great many of my hon. Friends look upon joint boards with a very great feeling of suspicion. They regard them as being one more step removed from the electorate than are local authorities and as being much more difficult to control or to influence than are local authorities. The local authorities, of course, are directly accountable to the people in the district and, when the time comes for them to stand again for reelection they are subject to dismissal if they incur the displeasure of people in the district.
I hope very much that the Minister will not yield to the case that was put to him in the debate on 8th July, and has been put to him again this evening from the Opposition Front Bench, in the direction of overriding the three local authorities who are very seriously and very intimately concerned with the problems of Snowdonia. It is all very well to argue that the joint board is administratively a more tidy method of dealing with a problem of this kind.
That may or may not be so, but even if a case could be made out that it is a more tidy and neat administrative way of dealing with the problem, surely we are still driven back to the point that we shall not make the success which we all want to see made of the National Parks unless we carry with us the goodwill and sympathy of the people in the district, and particularly of the local authorities concerned. And the way to secure the goodwill of the local authorities concerned is to pay some regard to the views they have as to the type of organisation which is most appropriate in their area, and not to override any deep-seated objections which they may have to the setting up of a joint board.
Whilst we can recognise that there are a great many people who are enthusiasts and idealists about National Parks and 1914 other amenities of that kind—and let us give all due credit to them—in this Committee and in the House we must be prepared to keep our feet on the ground. We must realise that the local authorities have occupied a proud place in the contribution which they have made to amenities, good planning and the development of the beauty of this country. I am satisfied that the Minister will be wise to continue the course upon which he has already embarked of paying very great regard indeed to the views of all the local authorities concerned.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I want to take the debate rather far away from the ground covered by other hon. Members—so far away that I may be altogether out of order, but if so I shall no doubt be told. I want to speak about Scotland. If the Minister feels that he has no responsibility for that country, I hope that he will take an intellectual holiday, so to speak, and merely contemplate in happiness the land of his forefathers.
I feel that probably no part of Britain could benefit more from the ideas behind National Parks, if they are properly developed, than Scotland and, in particular, the Highlands. It seems to me sometimes that the expression "National Park" is rather apt to be misunderstood. A park in some people's minds conjures up a rather useless piece of ground upon which a few fallow deer are raised for the pleasure of the bloated aristocracy; and if it were nationalised other people believe that its uselessness would be increased without any corresponding benefit. That is a false impression of any National Park in this country.
This is not a new idea. There have been many private landowners, for instance, who have developed their land in a way which is perfectly consonant with the idea of National Parks. They have encouraged people to go there. They have tried to preserve its essential beauty, the old buildings upon it and wild life. There are bodies like the Forestry Commission, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, and the National Trust for Scotland which are already running large areas of the country as National Parks in the true sense. I myself had something to do with the National Trust for Scotland. We have been presented 1915 with large areas like Glencoe and Kintail which we run as National Parks. Access is allowed to them; we try to encourage the natural life and to preserve them more or less in their natural state.
§ Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)
I should like to make the point that it has never been necessary to make Glencoe free. It has always been free.
§ Mr. Grimond
If one took a risk one could go to Glencoe, but there was a risk of life on occasions when people from time to time stalked and shot, and one was liable to get killed. That is no longer the case. In administering such areas, the National Parks Commission if it comes into being should have three things in view; first of all, the preservation of the natural life and beauty of the areas; secondly, the opening of these areas to people who wish to go there for their holidays; and thirdly, the development of those areas. That is most important.
It is important to make it clear that there is no intention of sterilising these areas, to forbid them to agriculture or to forbid any natural development, nor to try to keep the native population from increasing or, indeed, to drive them out of these areas. The very opposite applies. The whole idea rests upon the assumption that recreation, tourism, the natural development of the area, the preservation of its wild life and its beauty can go along hand in hand. Difficult as that may be in practice, it is extremely important that the effort should be made. That is one reason why I welcome the fact that bodies like the Forestry Commission have set up forest parks and have appreciated that they have an obligation not only to grow trees but to encourage people to spend their holidays In the areas, and, in so far as they can, to improve and beautify their forests.
We have in Scotland under the 1949 Act a Nature Conservancy Committee. It is concerned with one of these objects—the preservation of wild life—and most people would agree that Dr. John Berry and his associates have done a great deal with the limited resources at their disposal. I think that of recent years there have been signs that some of the birds and animals which were in danger of dying out in Scotland are beginning to 1916 increase again. The golden eagle is, without doubt, increasing, as are the peregrine falcon and the pine marten. Some people think that the wild cat has been increasing too much. We are indebted to the Nature Conservancy Committee in part for this through the publicity they have undertaken and for the other work which they have done.
It is not always easy to reconcile that with the encouragement of tourism and the development of agriculture and other industries which may be brought into the area. I very much hope that we shall see in years to come far more people from the industrial belts, from the Clyde and southern Scotland, coming to the Highlands to spend their holidays, learning the ways of the countryside, learning the problems that we have to face in the north and being an accepted part of the landscape, so to speak. I hope that the division between the town dweller and the country dweller, between the Lowlands and the Highlands, the factory and the open field, will gradually disappear. The National Park has a very useful part to play in that process. I must say, however, that so long as transport remains expensive and accommodation limited, that process can only be gradual.
But there are many other factors to consider. I hope that as these parks are developed we shall get scientists, agriculturists and all the people who can help us to look at our natural resources with a new eye and assist us to make the best we can of them. I do not feel that these aims are impossible in the long run, although they may difficult to achieve.
With regard to the administration of the parks, I agree that there is a very strong case for allowing the existing local councils to do the job. They are local people who have been democratically elected. But there is no doubt that they will need the assistance of naturalists, scientists and town planning experts. I do not feel that there should be conflict between the local people and national organisations. There has to be confidence and co-operation between the two. The existing conditions will no doubt need to be reviewed from time to time and from park to park. It may be that in one case the local council can do the 1917 job itself with its advisers and in another a joint body may be more suitable.
I feel that this is a changing and developing process and no firm rules can be laid down. Bearing that in mind, I ask the Government what are their longterm proposals for Scotland. Most of the 1949 Act does not apply to Scotland. In the Ramsay Report, five areas have been suggested as suitable for parks, and the forestry parks are beginning to attract people to the countryside and to the Highlands; but it would be very useful if we could have some indication of the Minister's general views and how they can be applied to Scotland.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I do not wish to follow the last speaker into the more northern realms. I would go rather to the far west and say that while we should obviously welcome the idea that people who wish to spend their holidays in Cornwall should be able to do so with the greatest possible access to the beauties of that county, some of us have a certain amount of apprehension with regard to the future land use by Service Departments, in relation to any land taken over for National Parks.
From the point of view of future demands I would ask the Minister if he will give an assurance that if any area in West Cornwall is taken over as a National Park it will still be subject to the present safeguards with regard to the Service demands of Departments. We have heard with considerable misgivings of some of the occurrences in other National Parks. In Snowdonia I believe there was an effort by a Service Department to try to take over some 12,000 acres. We do not want to see their job made any easier.
I would particularly refer to the Lizard area of Cornwall. As will be seen from the recent Helford River Inquiry, it has been said that the National Parks Commission and the Hobhouse Committee consider that a large part of the Lizard area is one of outstanding beauty and, as the Minister will no doubt know, Service establishments are already there. We want to be quite sure that there will be no encroaching on the part of those establishments without the fullest possible consultation.
With regard to the existing establishments, my right hon. Friend will know 1918 that considerable anxiety was caused last year by the proposed establishment of a torpedo range in the Helford River. After a good deal of trouble we were able to get from the Admiralty certain concessions with regard to a place called Polgwidden Cove, which is, I believe, within the intended coast route. That being the case, I want to stress most strongly that we hope to be reassured that if there is any change in the existing use of Polgwidden Cove or the surrounding area the fullest possible consultation will take place and there will not be a repetition of some of the most regrettable happenings before the public inquiry last year.
I want to ask the Minister if he will give us these assurances. First of all, if any of these areas are to become National Parks, will he ensure that there is the fullest possible co-operation with any local authorities before the Service Departments are able to take over any more land. Many of us in Cornwall believe that they already have quite enough. Secondly, will he give an assurance that the facility of the fullest possible public inquiry will be granted so that objectors can state their case, in order that we who live there can do our best to safeguard the district not only for the people of Cornwall but for the many thousands of visitors from home and overseas who visit this most beautiful part of the country.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I rise to ask the Minister a question, and I hope I shall not be too long in putting it. In order to safeguard myself I will ask him, at the beginning of the few remarks which I propose to make, when does he propose to designate the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads as a National Park? In the Hobhouse Report the Broads are last on the list, but that is by no means a true appraisement of their proper claim to be designated a National Park. I submit that there is no district in the country which is more naturally self-contained, with amenities for recreation in the British tradition, than the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. Hon. Members will note that I do not speak only of the Norfolk Broads but of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads—and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) agrees with me.
1919 Some years ago, when the National Parks Bill was going through the House, it was my privilege to put the case for the Broads, as I had done previously on an Adjournment debate a little earlier, on which occasion I was able to put into the Library about 50 photographs showing the terrible deterioration which was taking place in the Broads owing to the fact that there was not sufficient interest or money or drive to save this glorious playground not only for the British people but for the many thousands of visitors who patronise the Broads every year.
As I have said, there is no area in the country with a greater claim to be called a National Park. The area has all the recreations in the British tradition; it has sailing—Nelson learnt his sailing there—it has fishing, it has swimming, it has bird watching and it has a flora unsurpassed in its variety by that of any other part of the country. It is tragic that this playground has been allowed to deteriorate year by year so as to reach its present state. I put it to the Minister that the best economy he could make would be for him to take the matter in hand at once and put the Broads on the list of National Parks in order that this terrible wastage of natural and national amenities should be stopped.
The area of navigable waters in the Broads is about half what it was in Nelson's time. Visitors see aquatic vegetation growing, overhanging trees and quay heads going to rot, and it is essential that this glorious playground should be put in order as soon as possible. The longer it is delayed the more it is going to cost. A tremendous amount of money is spent in the region of the Broads every year for 500,000 people visit there; and there is a tremendous number of local authorities responsible for the Broads, but, I am sorry to say, although they take a great deal out of the Broads they put very little back into them.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member ought to be a little more careful about his geography. He is talking about the Wash. He is washed out, because the Wash is miles from the Broads, I can assure him. The Wash, moreover, is a tidal water. 1920 Although King John put a great deal of treasure in, we have not been able to get it out.
I am sorry to take up the time of the Committee, but I do urge the Minister to examine this problem very carefully indeed. The Broads are shrinking year by year, and those hon. Members who have spent holidays on the Broads know very well that if this deterioration is allowed to continue it will not be very long before this region, instead of being a great national asset—and a great dollar earning asset—will become a liability, because the costs of restoring it will be such as to be beyond the capacity of the Government.
I am sorry I have to curtail my remarks, for I should have liked to develop the case a great deal with instances of this deterioration. If the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary have a keen interest in sailing—I hope they have—they should go to the Broads, where I have friends who could take them round so that they could see what a tragic scene it is. I do urge them to examine this problem, and as soon as possible to place the Broads on the list so that they may have a chance to be what they can be—the finest National Park in the country.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The National Parks are certainly a very valuable development in our national policy for the countryside—including what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) described as the aquatic park in his part of the country. Incidentally, the Wash is at least as broad as any of the Broads, and, therefore, may be included amongst them, I think.
However, my object in addressing the Committee for a few minutes tonight is to ask my right hon. Friend to spare a few shillings out of this £10 we are voting to him tonight for access to the countryside; and the particular point I am interested in and wish to urge upon him is the marking of footpaths which, I think, might well be greatly improved, and, particularly—and this point may appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary especially—the marking of mountain paths.
As to mountains in the United Kingdom, I have always found, when I have 1921 tried to climb them, that there are only two classes of people recognised by the mountaineering clubs, and they are the gentlemen who hang on by their eyebrows to escarpments, and the uninformed rabble who go along well-beaten paths, who are looked down upon. Perhaps that is absolutely rather a harsh judgment on my part, but I think it is true, relatively speaking. Abroad, in the Alps, and, to some slight extent, in the Pyrenees, there are very many well-marked paths along which the walker and climber can enjoy himself.
A man may be a serious climber on other days, but there are times when we all want to climb mountains for exercise rather than for excitement, and the lack of paths adequately marked is a real defect of our countryside, and especially of the National Park part of our countryside. Whenever I have tried to climb mountains here, I have spent half the time trying to find the way, or, indeed trying to find the mountain.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
When the hon. Gentleman says he tries to find the way, or tries to find a mountain, does he not or can he not read an ordnance map? And has he not ever tried to find his way with an ordinary compass, prismatic or non-prismatic? I do not want marked paths. Personally, I regard them as retrograde steps.
§ Mr. Bell
I am glad of that interruption because it exactly illustrates my point. The difficulty is not to find the way across an ordnance map, with or without a prismatic compass, but to find the way across the countryside when one has got there, which is a very different matter. I always know exactly where I am when I look at the map beforehand, but when in the middle of, for example, the Cairngorms, trying to find the peak one is seeking is quite a different matter —and also finding the way home when one has finished.
There are other and more athletic forms of amusement on mountains, but this attitude of regarding marked paths as an abomination is far too widely held in this country at present. There is far too great a disposition to look down upon those who want marked paths through the National Parks and mountain areas of England and Scotland. Those who do not like marked paths need not go along 1922 them, because there will always be an immense area that is not marked—only too immense—and those who do want marked paths can use them.
I instance the Alps as an illustration where almost every peak has a path up it for people who want to climb it for exercise and amusement. There are also many other ways, possibly not marked at all, for those who like to explore their avenues of approach for themselves. I think that a great advance would be made if my right hon. Friend would do what lies in his power—and I think he has some patronage of rambling and mountaineering societies—to try to encourage those concerned to cater for a wider public than at present; to cater for the public who want to go into the National Parks and the countryside and up the mountains for exercise and pleasure, and not merely as an exercise in virtuosity.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I think that both the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary will agree that this debate has given to those who feel that the position of the county councils and local authorities generally is endangered an opportunity to express that point of view. It has been made clear, if it was needed, that this is not a party political issue. As was shown when the Measure was in Committee, and in its earlier stages, there were differences of opinion expressed from both sides about the most desirable machinery for carrying into operation this, to my mind, imaginative step of National Parks and access to the countryside.
It is perhaps a little unfortunate that this evening we should have had almost entirely speeches referring, very properly, to the position of local authorities. I thought that question had been largely met in our discussions on the Act as it passed through the House, when these points were fully raised and debated; and when I do not think anyone doubted for a moment that local authorities, county councils and other authorities must inevitably have a preponderant voice in the National Parks as they were being established. But it was also made clear—and it is on this that I am anxious to have some expression of opinion from the Minister—that, in addition to that undoubted preponderant voice of the local 1923 authorities, there should be adequate expression of what we can only call the national point of view.
These National Parks are not merely for the residents within the National Park area, right as it is to protect their interests. These National Parks are for the benefit of all our people, and for very many who may come to them from abroad. Therefore, it has been felt for a long time by all who have campaigned over this issue, and not just a few rather wild and starry-eyed idealists, that this is something more than merely trying to make provision for the local population to enjoy local beauty spots.
Here was a conception that we were trying to provide machinery both to enable the preservation of these areas because of their exceptional importance, not just for the local community but for the public at large, and to encourage the wider access to and use of these areas by the general public under some proper system of encouragement, of education and of proper use of the areas, which is obviously so very important.
I want to make it clear both to my hon. Friends who have quite rightly raised the position of the county councils and their views in Wales, and those who have spoken from the benches opposite with regard to their local authorities' opinion, that it has never been our view that any national body could or would wish at any time to ride rough-shod over local opinions.
As I said in the short Adjournment debate which we had a few days ago, very great care was taken by Lord Silkin, when he was taking the Bill through the House, to make full provision, as we felt then, for the rightful place of local authorities in this concept, and there were many Members of the Conservative Party at that time who put very clearly their fears that we had gone too far in making too much provision for local authority representation.
I will quote from the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman who was and still is the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), whom we honour today as the Speaker of the House. He very properly said when the Bill was having its Second Reading: 1924It surely seems necessary to secure that each of these areas shall be planned as a whole, with some coherent national purpose in view. 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1492.]In fact we did not make it obligatory to have a joint board to cover the whole area of the park, and I was rather astonished to find the Parliamentary Secretary, a few days ago, praying that in aid when he replied to criticisms which I and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir E. Keeling) had put forward.
He said that we had our chance to make these provisions obligatory and we did not do it; therefore the time had passed. But surely, if the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary consider that joint boards are desirable, they should use the machinery that is available to them so far as that is possible. I would remind the Minister of the fact that The Peak Planning Board—we have all congratulated the board upon their very valuable work—seem to have been able to go rather further than the Lake District Board. They have been able, not only to deal with the detailed planning questions which naturally would have to be dealt with—questions of the colour of roofs of different buildings, and so on—but they have attempted to start a much wider approach to the problem of the National Park.
They have at least started to discuss the question of how best they can encourage people in the country as a whole to regard this area as an entity of its own and to explain what are the special features and qualities of this area as distinct from others. That is just the sort of problem with which, I understand, the Lake District Board are confronted, and they find that they are not able to make the same progress. Although they have the board itself, they find that, lacking a planning officer of their own, they are unable to do much more than the rather negative planning that a planning authority would have to carry out in any case. They have not been able to tackle—I hope they will—the wider problem of how to encourage the best possible use of the area, its qualities and its amenities.
The Holiday Fellowship, mountaineering clubs and other organisations have 1925 started mountaincraft schools in the Lake District, in Wales and, I believe, abroad. We should do our utmost to encourage this. More and more people are coming into the mountain areas, like the hon Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) who apparently has grave doubts about his own ability to read a map or use a compass.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That is a matter of taste, but if the hon. Gentleman ventures into the mountain areas he would be advised to carry both and be able to use them. No doubt he and many others will take advantage of the courses which are being started by the Holiday Fellowship and the mountaineering clubs. At the moment this is merely scratching the surface of the problem. I had hoped that the Lake District Board would have been able to give some monetary and other encouragement to schools of this kind in order to avoid some of the tragedies of the past. I do not want to prevent people from going into areas which may be adventurous in character; we want to encourage more people to take the opportunity of this adventure, but it would be of enormous benefit if the Lake District Board could do something to help to develop these schools.
I want to make it clear that when some of us advocate the setting up of these National Parks, we have not in our minds that they should be in conflict with the existing planning powers which are used by the county councils. We desire that their co-operation with the county councils and the county boroughs should bring appreciation of the fact that wider interests are involved in these areas and recognition that in this small and crowded island it is of special importance to preserve certain areas, even though there may be some limited economic advantages in doing otherwise, because in these limited areas the amenity interest is of supreme importance to the country as a whole.
Thirty or more years ago those who were chiefly vocal on the subject of amenity interest in general were, perhaps, the cranks. We have benefited from their efforts. They included such people as our greatest living historian, Professor Trevelyan, and such notable people as Lord Samuel. Probably they 1926 made possible some of the developments which have taken place since. They were the people who led the campaign for National Parks in the earlier days.
In recent times the position has changed in that it has now become a public demand. We have today a mass demand from organisations such as the Youth Hostels Association, the Holiday Fellowship, the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Ramblers' Association, amongst others. If we total up their numbers, we get many hundreds of thousands of young people in spirit, even if they are not young in age. These people represent every class of our community, and we welcome the fact that this demand for the open air and for the fuller use of the open air and the great beauties of our countryside is no longer restricted to any small group or section that can be called "amenity fans," as I think the Parliamentary Secretary rather slightingly referred to them. One of my hon. Friends referred to them in the same terms, so I cannot complain.
We are glad that the Parliamentary Secretary got up Snowdon, even though he was in a mist, and we are glad he got down again. I want to impress upon his right hon. Friend that today we are talking about areas which are the common concern of large numbers of people and all sections of society who take a common interest in their preservation and in their development and fuller use, and that we feel that we have had some reason to fear future developments in this regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) pointed to the particular case of Wales. I know the strong representations that are made from the benches behind me on this matter. I know how important it is that there should be proper and full representation of the Welsh point of view. Indeed, that was what was felt by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) when he declared that, while he proposed pressing on with the establishment of a joint board, he had every intention of seeing there was full representation even among the nationally appointed members who had close contact with Wales and who fully appreciated and sympathised with Welsh aspirations.
That obviously is as essential in Wales as it is elsewhere. It is obvious that the 1927 call which is made and the needs which are to be met are not purely local, and they are the ones which we appreciate in England, as I am sure they are appreciated in Wales and in Scotland, and indeed all over the world. We are merely anxious to ensure that we should not regard these parks in too narrow a sense. After all, what would be the value of our National Park legislation if they were to be governed purely as local areas serving purely local needs?
§ Mr. G. Roberts
I hope my hon. Friend will not think that we are concerned only with having local parks for local people. What we want to do is to add a National Park for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole to be run and developed primarily by those who live there, and who have the most immediate interest in creating such a National Park.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I would have said to my hon. Friend that he was assured of that in any case, as the joint board has, rightly, a majority representation of those very local interests, with the added guarantee that my right hon. Friend has given that, even among those who would be appointed to look after the specially wider interests that may be involved, there should be people who are particularly amenable to Welsh interests and Welsh sympathies.
I finish merely by asking the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies—I do not want to take up any time that he would wish to take—to do something to set aside the anxieties that are sincerely felt by very many people amongst these various organisations to which I have referred, and in addition by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the representatives of the Standing Committee of which he met a little while ago when they put their point of view to him, and all those other user bodies who have made representations. They represent almost every family in the country, and have a vested interest, in the proper sense of that term, in the development of these park areas. Many of them, in particular the Ramblers' Association, have played a great part in helping to establish these areas by doing footpath surveys and other work, in order to make possible a great ideal.
I hope that we shall not think of the boards' duties merely as the preservation 1928 of the beauties that lie within their areas, important as that aspect of the matter is, but shall think of the wider duties that rest upon the National Parks Commission of ensuring that more and more people come to enjoy the facilities of the parks and the more balanced life they make possible. I hope that people will begin to understand far better than was done in the past the beauties of the countryside and the kind of life that is lived there, to which some of us need urgently to resort, in order to compensate for living in the jangled conditions of modern city life.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I think we have all welcomed the debate and are grateful to the Opposition for devoting part of one of their Supply Days to affording the opportunity for a general discussion upon the question of National Parks.
This is not a party or a political question, although I am bound to say that from the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who opened the debate I was not altogether sure that he was not trying to make it so. I was not unduly put out by his jeers and jibes, delivered to the cheering benches opposite where the attendance at one moment rose to four and at another sank to one. He called us "vandals and Philistines," which I understand is a term of endearment in the Labour Party. His speech had a rather melancholy and nostalgic effect upon me, recalling the Balliol manner of some 40 years ago.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. A. Blenkinsop) has rather changed the note. As the debate proceeded, the attack upon me began to fade away. Perhaps it was because of the artillery behind, which is always disconcerting for officers in the line. The speech we have just heard was in very different terms from the speeches which the hon. Gentleman has made outside. Although just as vague, it was very much more respectful. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there are many problems in this matter and that there are bound to be difficulties in the initial stages. I accept the definition of National Park which was given by Mr. John Dower:A National Park may be defined, in application to Great Britain, as an extensive area of 1929 beautiful and relatively wild country in which, for the nation's benefit and by appropriate national decision and action, (a) the characteristic landscape beauty is strictly preserved, (b) access and facilities for public open-air enjoyment are amply provided, (c) wild life and buildings and places of architectural and historic interest are suitably protected, while (d) established farming use is effectively maintained.I accept that definition except that I think the phrase "Great Britain" is not quite correct. So far as I know, nobody has ever ventured to designate or to administer a Scottish National Park from London. However, I took note of the observations of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and I will see that they are passed to the Secretary of State for Scotland, although I shall not intervene in a field which is not mine.
Of course, there is a great deal of difference and confusion about the word "park." Certainly there are great differences between a National Park in the United Kingdom and one in Canada or in the United States. Those are large countries with small and scattered populations. Here we have only a small country with a very large population in relation to its area, and if one is dealing, as I am, only with England and Wales, that is even more true. So there are special problems and difficulties.
It has been suggested that I personally have not shown any interest in the National Parks. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word about that. Of course I cannot claim, owing to age and those infirmities which come with age, to be more than what one might call a moderate hiker. Nevertheless, walking is about the sole recreation I have, and I still take long walks. I confess that I prefer to take them alone and unaccompanied by Press photographers—
§ Mr. Macmillan
—but that is no doubt just a Victorian and reactionary attitude. I have a particular affection for National Parks because it was in the National Park at Jasper that I was so fortunate as to become engaged to my wife.
If I cannot perform tremendous athletic feats myself, I can do them vicariously, for I have in the Parliamentary Secretary one of the most distinguished climbers and ramblers and 1930 bicyclists of the day. I think there is a certain jealousy in this tremendous attack upon the Parliamentary Secretary, and anyway I have no need to defend him. I need only say that in all the undertakings I have ever had in my life I have never had a better or more loyal or more efficient colleague. Whether in view of this debate or whether by chance, I understand that my hon. Friend climbed yesterday to the top of Snowdon in order to address near the summit or at the summit a party of young Conservatives. Of course to one who has climbed the Matterhorn that is a small affair, but still it is something.
There are other matters which I must frankly confess have caused me, both as a Cabinet and as a Departmental Minister, anxieties as great as those of the National Parks—the great problems of foreign affairs, the ever present pressure of our economic situation and the many problems which I have inherited in my Department about which quite a lot needs to be done: housing, rents, rating and valuation, local government reform, the Town and Country Planning Act. So there are plenty of other things as well as the National Parks. Still, in the interval of thinking about those, I have tried and I intend to do my duty both from inclination and from a sense of duty in this matter.
It is quite true that the National Parks had their origin in the work of enthusiasts. The hon. Gentleman used the word "cranks." I do not know that he ought to have described Professor Trevelyan as a crank but, if he ever showed any sign of crankiness, he showed that he had become sane by voting Tory at the last election.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The right hon. Gentleman might add that I merely said they had been called cranks and went on to say that it was an unfair definition of such eminent people.
§ Mr. Macmillan
At any rate that is what happened to him. Of course, we all welcome the work of the pioneers, but they have not exclusive rights of property in these matters. It is only fair to recall that while the National Parks represent one of the methods, this movement which the hon. Gentleman has quite properly admired and praised has taken other forms also.
1931 There was the Town and Country Planning Act and different Acts leading up to the Act of 1947. It has been a parallel movement with that of the National Parks, and, therefore, the National Parks do not arrive suddenly in a field not at all interested in planning or in the preservation of amenities. They come and take their place in a country where all these powers and responsibilities are placed upon the county authorities in every part of the island.
I think it is clear that the Minister should recognise, as my predecessor did, and as I, certainly, do from my experience in my short period of office, that the county authorities are trying to carry out their work, quite apart from the National Parks, in trying to preserve amenity and beauty with a great deal of effort and energy, and that they are doing it very well indeed.
Indeed, sometimes, I find myself in the situation of having to make very difficult decisions in present economic conditions in balancing advantages in deciding between economic and industrial development, on the one hand, without which the country would fade away altogether, and the claims of amenity upon the other. While, therefore, this is going on, it might be asked how does the duty of preserving amenity in general, which the county councils have under the ordinary town and country planning legislation, differ from their duties under the National Parks Act. Perhaps I might sum it up in this way.
While the county councils have a general duty to do what they can to keep the balance between industrial needs and the development of material resources, on the one hand, and amenity interests, on the other, in those areas which are designated as National Parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position. That is really the difference. It is just that which distinguishes the National Parks from the general functions of the county councils over the rest of the country.
In all parts of the United Kingdom, we ought to try to preserve what is one of our greatest assets—the beauty of the countryside—and we should try to make the countryside accessible to the dwellers in the towns, but, whereas in the country as a whole, we must frankly face the facts 1932 that, if it is to exist and continue as a country able to keep its population at a high standard of living, proper regard must be had to industrial and material needs, and the creation of wealth is a paramount need, in the National Parks, the position is the other way round and the amenity considerations have the prior authority.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Would the right hon. Gentleman find some way of conveying that rather generous definition, which I accept, in equally forceful terms to the British Electricity Authority, who seem to have almost unlimited power to disfigure the Lake District and other parts of the country with overhead cables?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I shall come to that point, and I am glad the hon. Gentleman raised it. It is, of course, sometimes necessary, even in National Parks, to make some concession. Reservoirs, hydro-electric schemes, the quarrying of minerals—are we to shut out the whole of Derbyshire, for instance? It is impossible, and there is also the defence of our native land, which is no unimportant matter. Regard must be had to all these considerations, and I will do everything I can to help.
I have, as it were, to fight that battle, but it is only fair to say that there is another side. On the question of defence, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) asked me some questions, and I will certainly look further into them. So far as I am informed, it is necessary that there should always be an inquiry if there is a valid objection, and I shall certainly see that there is an inquiry if there is an objection. I shall seek to do my best with the Minister of Defence, and, since I was able to give him political advice for many years, perhaps he will be willing to accept the same again.
Of course, people take different views about amenities. Some people regard all reservoirs as horrible, while others find them rather attractive. Some dislike all forms of trees; others reserve their displeasure for softwoods. There is no arguing about taste, but on the whole I think that the National Parks Commission, by the authority which they are gradually developing, can be trusted to bring about a sort of body of doctrine on these matters which will be very valuable to all administrators.
1933 I feel very grateful to them for the work they are doing. They are the essential watchdogs of amenities. I am particularly grateful to the chairman, Sir Patrick Duff, who is a very distinguished civil servant of long experience and who has shown great patience and great determination. He and his colleague are not restricted merely to the supervision of the National Parks. It is their duty to keep the Minister conscious, as it were, over the whole field and wherever they may see vandalism threatened even outside the area of a National Park it is their duty to draw the Minister's attention to those dangers.
In the National Parks we are giving and must give the higher priority to amenities, and it is for that reason we are selecting them. The question of designation is an important one, but it would not be right for me to say anything concerning the North Yorkshire moors, because I think that an inquiry starts either today or tomorrow. That is the one immediately before me for decision.
Now it comes to the question of the administration of the National Parks. Nothing has gone wrong except the administration, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black). Everything is all right, but the administration is all wrong. The administration is governed by the Act of 1949. As I was reminded, I did not take any part in those debates, and therefore I have an impartial view about them. I have not committed myself on either side. But there are all kinds of duties entrusted to the Commission, and to carry them out properly and effectively requires, especially in the initial stages as was well said by many hon. Members, rather careful handling.
There is not a great deal of money to be spent at the moment. I would like to see a little more, but, quite frankly, I would rather build houses for the people than hostels at the moment, and I think they would like them better.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
On the question of finance, has the right hon. Gentleman thought of the possibility of bringing in an amending Bill to allow us to use the Land Fund as was originally intended?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I do not think I could advocate bringing in an amending Bill 1934 in order to use somebody else's funds for these purposes. However, I will look at it.
I do not propose to build large hostels unless I can find some method which would not injure other things. But there is a certain amount to be done, and we will do everything we can within reason. Very often quite small sums can produce good results.
The chief attack is about machinery. What is the complaint all about? When it comes to appointing the Minister's appointees to the Dartmoor Board I have the duty to appoint six members. The National Parks Commission put forward eight names, presumably because in their opinion they were good people.
And the attack upon me is that I was so malignant and so anxious to undermine the authority of National Parks that I committed the disgraceful act of consulting a body of men whom hon. Members opposite automatically seem to think of as criminal—the county council. I said, "Here are eight men recommended to me, can you say which six are agreeable to you?" I cannot see anything wrong in that. I see no crime in it, and I do not intend to stand in a white sheet.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I did not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman committed a crime, but he departed from the assurances that his predecessor gave to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I propose to depart from quite a lot of things that my predecessor did. Now we come to the question of The Peak. Here my predecessor was much attacked and it was said that he should have appointed different people to the board. I have found in my life that quite a lot of people think that they should be put on boards, but it does not necessarily follow that they are the most suitable people. It is now agreed that this board is doing very well. It is a joint board and in fact it agreed to do what I wish the others would do—appoint one of the existing county council planning officers to be the planning officer of the board. I understand that considerable progress has been made, and I hope that the board will be given a good chance.
Then there is the Lake District. We have had nine modest quarrels about the Lake District, but, on the whole, things seem 1935 to be going fairly well, except that the arrangements did not conform quite so closely to the precise theology as to whether there should be three clerks or one. As for Snowdonia, the Parliamentary Secretary, at any rate, has shown practical interest in Snowdonia because he is the only hon. Member who has recently climbed to the top of Snowdon. I am bound to say that when I go it will be by railway.
What was the trouble about Snowdonia? I should have thought that what mattered was that there should be a good National Park in Snowdonia, that the people of North Wales, and indeed of all Wales, should be happy about it and that it should do what we want it to do —provide a National Park for the people of Great Britain. How are we going to do that? I must be very frank. I saw a deputation of which I think the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) was a member. It was an immense deputation and a large assembly room of the Ministry was filled entirely with Welshmen. I have, of course, a natural sympathy with Welshmen, for I come from an allied, though superior tribe.
I listened to their arguments against a joint board, which they put forward with a passion hardly credible and argued with rhetorical and forensic skill beyond belief; and then it was said that I had weakly submitted to their pressure. There was very little else that I could do. Do the Committee know what it was that they wanted? What is it that so excites the "Manchester Guardian"? They wanted, instead of a joint board—I hardly like to mention it—a joint committee. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Hon. Members may think that it is a matter for general laughter, but there is a point of substance in it. It is that a joint committee has no powers other than advisory, whilst a joint board has the powers of a planning authority.
§ Mr. Macmillan
They wanted a joint committee very badly. I was impressed by their genuine feeling and also by their anxiety that Wales and its county councils should play their part in this undertaking. So what is the best thing to do? Is it best to try to force these people to accept what they do not want three years after the Act was passed, lo ram 1936 it down their throats? Or is it best to make some kind of compromise offer and to say, "You may call yours a committee, but will you apply six conditions which, if applied, might be interpreted by the most vigorous nationalist as giving it almost the appearance but not the substance of a board?" I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caernarvon did not mention those conditions. The trouble is that they have not answered yet, and after the speech of the hon. Member for Caernarvon I feel a little hurt about it. It was some time ago, and I have pressed them very hard to accept. I beg the hon. Gentleman to use his influence to see that this compromise goes through as quickly as possible, because it would be a fine thing if we could get it agreed.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The hon. Gentleman read the rest of the letter, so I thought he had seen the back of it as well. I will send it to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
In reply to the Minister, may I say that the three county councils are considering those conditions and within a very few days, I am informed, the Minister will receive a reply.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am very glad indeed to have that assurance. I am sure it will do a lot of good.
There are some other points which I must go through rapidly in order to get the matter straight. There are five Parks —The Peak, the Lakes, Snowdonia, Dartmoor and the Pembrokeshire coast. There designation orders have been made. There are the North Yorkshire Moors in respect of which an inquiry has just started. Then there is the Cornish Coast where the Commission are discussing the draft designation order with the local authorities. Then there are Exmoor and the Yorkshire Dales where the Commission are making a preliminary survey.
Then there are the Broads. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has now left the Chamber. I will do my best to study what he said. I congratulate him on his plea that the Broads should be considered as our best dollar earner. That was a good one, but I am not sure that he can get away with it.
1937 I must say something about public paths. The Department has been much assisted in this matter by the admirable work of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and by the Central Rights of Way Committee which was set up by the Society, the Ramblers' Association and others. A survey is going on, and by the end of the year I think we shall have a good idea of the result. With regard to orders for making, diverting or closing public paths, I have tried to impress once more upon local authorities their full powers, duties and responsibilities.
With regard to the long distance routes, it is hoped to get the Pennine Way completed by the end of the autumn, and there will be two-way traffic. It will be possible to go by the hard route over the top of Kinder Scout or by the softer route along the bottom. It would have been ready before, but there had to be an inquiry and I could not prevent the inquiry under the Act. If it had not been for that inquiry I think it would have been ready by Easter, but owing to the inquiry it will not be ready until the end of the autumn.
Then, as regards other access requirements, I think the procedure contemplated under the Act is going forward pretty well. Reference was made to some statement about which there was some misunderstanding. There is no doubt that the local highway authority is responsible for the repair and maintenance of paths, but until it has been settled for certain whether a path is a public path the local highway authority is very often unwilling to spend money on repairing it. Therefore, until the survey is completed it is impossible for me to say more on this subject and it is not very wise for a local highway authority to spend money on what may afterwards be declared not to be a public path. That survey is going on, and in the meantime we are doing our best. This is a very important matter for walkers and ramblers, and we shall do all we can.
We have had a very good and useful debate. I would say to all those who want to make this thing work—and many hon. Members have mentioned this, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) and, from the other side of the Committee, the hon. 1938 Member for Caernarvon—that if the machinery is to work we must get people into the habit and spirit of working it together.
I do not think it would be wise for me to get into public rows and to bring actions of mandamus and to enforce the authority of the Minister—especially upon the Welsh—until all the machinery of debate, discussion and conciliation has been exhausted. Even if we have to wait a little, I am sure that in the long run we shall get far better results for everybody concerned. Therefore, I hope that those who are keenest about this movement and are most concerned about it will give all possible support to the National Parks Commission, as I shall. I pay my tribute to them once again. In addition, all support must be given to local authorities. I would ask hon. Members to use their personal influence and to see that these matters are worked harmoniously instead of being additional irritations between the members of the county councils.
I have made my small contribution. The footpaths which run through my home were carefully marked before the war with little notices saying: "From such-and-such a place to such-and-such another place." They were distributed all over my property. It is not very large, but there were a considerable number of notices. Unfortunately, immediately on the declaration of war the active Home Guard, led by a number of Admirals, painted out the names of all the places to which the paths led, or took them away and put them in inappropriate places, hoping thus to mislead the invading forces. I must admit that we have not got them quite sorted out yet; but we are working away at the job.
I was pleased to hear what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead, that there is not as much time in the country as in the town. There is always so much to do in the country and it is a job to get those little extra things done which take somebody an afternoon or perhaps two or three days. We are anxious to get on with the National Parks; we are anxious to see the parts of the Act dealing with access properly administered and going forward; but I am most anxious that people should not just angle about in the hope of making an attack upon a Minister or getting a little support here and there to carry out 1939 what they say they really mean. If they think that we have not carried out our duty let them divide the Committee.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Mr. Kaberry.]—put, and agreed to
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.