HC Deb 06 February 1953 vol 510 cc2242-69

2.22 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

I beg to move, That this House notes the work already done by the National Parks Commission, urges that more active steps should be taken to implement the National Parks Act and regrets that lack of staff and finance is impeding the efforts of Park Boards and Committees to protect their areas and to ensure their fullest educational and recreational use. I am fortunate to be raising a subject which is related in some degree to the one we have been discussing previously. I hope we shall be able to obtain an encouraging report from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government about the work going on. Some of my hon. Friends and I feel that we should have an opportunity of asking for further information, and of discussing the information we have already received from the National Parks Commission. The Commission has now been set up for some little time, and we have received from them three annual reports.

I do not wish to use this opportunity to revive old arguments, but to put forward some practical and positive proposals. I was fortunate during this last summer to be able to spend some time seeing quite a bit of the work of the National Parks administration in America. While I would be the first to admit that the whole background in America is widely different from that in this country, I feel that their great experience in this field has a certain bearing on our own problems—indeed rather more than initially I should have expected. I hope the House will not complain if I raise some of the points which were put to me, and which I gained from my experience in America, and which could well be applied in some degree in this country.

Our great problem here is to ensure that there is a reasonable understanding of what the National Parks Act was designed to secure, and it falls very much upon the National Parks Commission to do its utmost to secure the greatest publicity possible, not only for what is being accomplished but for general future objectives. Many of us have been disappointed that up till now there has been so little publicity initiated by the Commission. We have had three of the annual reports which the Commission is required to make to the Minister and to the House. We have had the publication of the "Country Code," which I am glad to note from the last annual report has had a wide circulation and has been used in schools. I also understand that one film strip is either in preparation or has already been prepared, but that is about all.

The Parliamentary Secretary will realise that if we are to encourage public interest in the work of the National Parks Commission we need a great deal more publicity than that. It does not require to be very expensive. What is needed is material which may be used by the host of voluntary bodies which exist in the country. We need more than one film strip, and also a great deal of literature to illustrate and explain the problems arising in National Park areas, or areas likely to be designated as such. Information could also be given to the general public about the way they may be encouraged to make better use of these outstanding areas.

No doubt the National Parks Commission have done their best. I know of the very real limitations, but to my mind they have been far too self-effacing. That may sound rather a strange attack to make on such a body but I wish they would recognise that unless they can undertake more educational work of this sort they will encourage those organisations—of which there are some in the country—who, because of misunderstanding, may resent or oppose some of the proposals of the Commission. A lot of opposition to the Commissoon arises from lack of understanding rather than from objection to the main proposals themselves. Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether there is any prospect of the Commission doing more in preparing material for general distribution to schools and voluntary organisations of all kinds.

Another matter where the Commission could concern itself with a little more active work is that of sign-posting. One of the problems with National Parks is to create some sense of their entity. These areas have been used in one form or another for centuries. They are not like the American national parks where the areas are relative wilderness and where the routes into them are limited. The attraction of these areas in this country is partly caused by the contrast between man's work and natural beauty. It is difficult for people to appreciate when they are actually in a National Park and when they are not.

If, as I think we ought, we are to expect better conduct from the general public in these areas then there must be some way of informing them when they are in them. I suggest that, in addition to the most attractive signs which have been designed for the Pennine Way, the Commission should tackle the problem of securing some national form of sign which could be used to a limited extent—we do not want to see a whole rash of signs all over the countryside—to advise people that they are entering into National Park areas.

I should suggest that we should have signs similar to those used by the Forestry Commission. They use attractive simple signs, as do the National Trust. We need something easily recognisable as designating a National Park area. It might well be possible to use a common form of signpost of this sort in replacement for many of the rather ugly sign boards of one kind or another which exist today in some of these areas. I do not advocate an increase in the number of signs so much as a replacement of some of the existing signs.

I should also like to know what further work is being done with regard to designation of National Park areas. The Commission gave a lot of information in their last annual report about the areas which have already been designated or are about to be designated. I should like to know what are the prospects of carrying on with the proposal for the designation of the Yorkshire Dales as a National Park; what are the prospects in connection with the Brecon Beacons, another most important area, and the area of the Norfolk Broads which is a different type of area from the rest but in connection with which there are urgent reasons for action to he taken quickly.

It is most important that the silting up which is going on in the Broads, and which is destroying some of the beauty and value of the area, should be dealt with. It would seem desirable that that should come within the responsibility of the Commission or a special board for that area.

I hope that there is no feeling in the Ministry or the Commission that, because of the work already done, matters can now be left to rest. I hope that it will be accepted that there is great anxiety that they should carry on and complete the further stages of designation and then tackle some of the other important problems. We know the difficulties which the Commission has had to face. We know some of the objections which have been raised. As I have criticised the Ministry and the Minister often enough, I should like to pay the tribute to him that I am glad to see that he has approved and authorised the designation of the North York Moors as a National Park. There had been some fears that that might not happen, and I am glad that they have not proved correct.

I hope that we may have some assurance about the Yorkshire Dales which must be one of the most lovely areas of the country. There is a great deal which could be done there within the administration of the Commission to ensure fuller use and accommodation. These are problems which can best be tackled once the administration is set up.

A further point in relation to the Commission is that we have not heard much yet about the question of access areas within the parks. I appreciate that it is felt that this may not be necessary in the Lake District, for example. I understand that the board there have already said that they do not believe that this procedure is necessary as access is so widespread already. The problem does not arise there, but there are areas, of which I imagine that the Peak District is one, where a definition of access areas would be of real importance. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about that when he replies.

I should like to turn to the problem of the park boards and committees which have already been set up. I said that I did not want to go back over the old ground but I should like to repeat that I and my hon. Friends stand very much on the same ground as the Commission with regard to the form of local administration of these parks. We agree wholeheartedly with the comment of the Commission when it says: We ourselves hold most strongly the view —which has been held by all others before us who have studied this problem—that, short of an organisation such as was contemplated by the Hobhouse Committee, the Joint Planning Board, with its own whole-time planning staff, is the most appropriate and serviceable administrative instrument. As, with the designation of Parks, we have come nearer and nearer to the practical problems of administration, we have only been confirmed in this view. It is regrettable that that view has not been wholeheartedly supported by the Minister. No doubt there will be occasion later to discuss that feature again. I hope that the Minister will bear the point in mind.

There is no doubt that the area in which most preparatory work has been done is that of the Peak District. Undoubtedly there is there a most efficient and hardworking board which has got down to many of the problems which would appear to be the most urgent for consideration. Their early proposals are included in the Third Report of the National Parks Commission. They are most interesting. Indeed, it seems to me that their line of attack upon the problem of the future development of the area is one which could well be adopted in other areas where National Parks have been set up.

First of all, there is the question of surveying existing accommodation, and of what additional accommodation may be required. Here. I am most anxious that it should be possible either for the local boards, the National Parks Commission or the Ministry, to assist these various voluntary organisations which are only too eager to go ahead and provide additional simple accommodation. There is, however, the very great problem of the initial capital expenditure, but I hope that this problem will be looked at sympathetically and some assistance given. Certainly, it should be left to the organisations themselves to look after the running expenses, and they should keep the administration in their own hands, although I feel that there is a very strong case indeed for some assistance being given on the capital side. I hope that all these voluntary organisations, like the Youth Hostels Association, the Holiday Fellowship and the many others concerned in this field, will be encouraged to put forward their proposals in these areas.

Then, there is the question of the need to set aside certain prepared camping sites, and this is an arguable point, on which I have had some fresh ideas since seeing the use made of national parks in America. I am not myself particularly interested in camping with large masses of other people, and I have a great deal of sympathy indeed with those who prefer to camp on their own in fairly isolated places, and I think that nothing should be done to prevent them. Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear that there are many people who do prefer prepared sites, and who would welcome some simple provision.

In America, they have had a very wide experience and have done a great deal in providing water attachments and preparing sites which would not damage the natural beauty, along with simple conveniences of one kind and another. They have been able to attract and encourage the use of these areas by very large numbers of people.

One thing that struck me in America was that there seemed to be such general agreement throughout the whole population on the value and use of national parks as a conception of importance, largely because of provisions of this kind to enable people to see something of them and enjoy them, whereas, in this country, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that hardly anybody knows what a National Park is. I think, therefore, that one of the urgent problems is that of making some simple provision for camping.

I should also like to make the point that I understand that the former Director of the National Parks Administration in America, who retired a few months ago, is coming to this country on holiday in a few months' time, and I hope that the opportunity of his visit will be taken in order to have consultations and discussions with him on some of the matters for which he has been responsible, I think so successfully, in America.

Another problem will be that of cleaning up some of the ugliness which has been left behind in the National Park areas, and, here again, I would congratulate whoever is responsible in the Ministry for confirming the recommendations of the High Peak Board about certain areas of defilement that might have occurred, which defilement I am glad to see the Minister has succeeded in prohibiting. Next, there is the question of an educational campaign. The Americans have done a great deal in this field in every one of their national parks, and they have quite an elaborate educational establishment of naturalists and others. These people do a great deal of work during the summer time and at popular holiday seasons of the year in taking small guided parties round certain areas and giving lectures to help everyone to know something about their natural features.

I know perfectly well that we cannot attempt anything on such a scale in this country; indeed, it would not be required. We have already in this country all the voluntary organisations we need, and I am sure they would be delighted to combine and help in any educational drive of this kind. I hope the National Parks Commission will stimulate local committees and boards to take advantage of all the existing wealth of knowledge, and perhaps give some financial help where it is needed for small expenses. if that could be done, to enable more and more people to visit some of these quite wonderful areas of our country and know something about their natural and geological features, as well as the natural life of the area. I hope that can be done.

It seems to me that the danger we are in is that the value of the whole concept of National Parks may be lost because of a lack of sufficiently vigorous prodding, either by the Minister himself or by the National Parks Commission, and by insufficient attempts to get across to the country, by means of all the different forms of publicity, the sort of conception which we have of these areas and the use that can be made of them. I am very glad to see that, in many areas like the Lake District and the Snowdonia area, for example, many of the voluntary organisations are setting up training centres for mountain craft and hill walking

It is of the greatest importance that, as more and more people use these areas —and we hope there will be a steadily increasing number—they should understand what they can and cannot do. They should do their best to avoid leaving so many of the rescue parties with the unfortunate job of trying to pull people off odd bits of crags in one part of the country and another. It all sounds very romantic and exciting, but, unfortunately for those involved in the rescue party work, it is not the glamour that strikes them so clearly as the enormous amount of hard work involved and the difficult conditions which they have to face.

I do not want to meet this problem by telling people that they cannot go into the hills; that is the last thing we want to do. We should encourage more people to understand and value the mountains and hills in the wilder parts of our country. What we want, and I am glad to see that it is being done to a limited extent, is a greater development of this form of training. I congratulate the many voluntary organisations which have done so already, but I want to see an extension of this provision, and this is one direction in which the High Peak Board, the Lake District Board and the National Parks Commission ought to be able to help. It should be possible for them to offer some financial encouragement to enable this kind of work to be developed, not merely in connection with land areas but also in regard to the coast.

It should apply to some of the areas that are now being designated, including some of the lovely approaches from the coast, and I am thinking particularly of the lovely coastline of Pembrokeshire and other coastal areas. I hope it will be possible for more and more people to use not only the land but also the sea. I hope, therefore, that in every possible way the Ministry on their part will give encouragement to the National Parks Commission in this way.

I hope it will also be possible for them to do more in relation to the very difficult problem of finance and staff. We cannot achieve very much entirely on the cheap. The amount of money involved is small, in any case, but we cannot avoid altogether some questions of expenditure. I hope that, by encouraging more and more people to feel that this is something for everybody, and not perhaps for the small minority who like to go up into the hills or on the moors, it will be generally realised that this is a project that is of value to almost everyone in the country.

There is a great deal to be said for simply standing and staring from time to time, and I hope that a lot of our people will be encouraged to go into these new parks if only to stand and stare. In our present society it is very urgently necessary that we should encourage that. But the necessary publicity cannot be carried out nor the simple provisions I have suggested provided unless some actual help is available, and unless there are some small staffs available in each park to enable it to be done.

It is in that spirit that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to indicate what has already been attempted. I also hope that he is in sympathy and agreement with the proposals I have put to him, and that he will be able to assure us that the full backing of his Ministry and of the National Parks Commission will be given to a more vigorous prosecution of the objects contained in the National Parks Act.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

I beg to second the Motion.

In moving the Motion, My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tune, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) Spoke elequently and in a well-informed manner from the background of his knowledge of and interest in the National Parks movement. I am only sorry that there are not more Members present this afternoon, but probably the other 600-odd Members are somewhere in the National Parks of the country enjoying the beauties about which my hon. When we have been cooped up here for a week we can all derive a tremendous benefit from being windswept on the hills and moors of this country and by having some of the political cobwebs blown away.

My hon. Friend was temperate in his treatment of the Snowdonia question, and I do not propose to raise it in any controversial manner, although I think we are entitled to know the present position there. We all think it would have been better, from both our point of view and that of the National Parks Commission, bad there been one authority for this area or at least a joint planning board. But as that proposal was rejected and a joint advisory committee established, we have to be all the more careful and anxious to see that that committee does its job.

There has been very little activity in this matter, and nothing, in fact, has actually taken place. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us the present position with regard to the administration of the Snowdonia National Park and whether any active preparations are being made to implement the provisions of the Act. The Act has been in operation for over three years, and there are already six National Parks designated. But we all know that designation is just a name; it does not mean very much, or that the purpose of the Act has come to fruition. Many of us who had high hopes of the Act when it was put into operation have been perturbed during the past year and a half at the slow progress made.

Though there are obvious reasons for that slow progress, such as the national emergency, and so on, nevertheless, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) was in control of the Ministry we felt we had a powerful friend at court, and I think the same applies to the present Parliamentary Secretary. It is important that we should act as the watchdogs in the Ministry and this House of the administration of the National Parks Act.

I was interested to learn of some of the things that the Peak Board have been doing because that Board is setting an example for the rest of the National Parks administration where such a Board is necessary. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister the actual proposals submitted by the Board for carrying out the main purposes of the Act. These are twofold: first, to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the park, and. secondly, to promote its enjoyment by the different users and to increase its use by the people.

I am more concerned about the second part than the first because in some instances the first part could be carried out under the Town and Country Planning Acts. Under the National Parks Act special consideration has to be given to development, but I am more concerned to see that the public use the park in the proper way. The past three years have seen very little increase in the use of the park by the public. Indeed, my hon. Friend almost went as far as to say that the general public are unaware of the existence of the National Parks.

It would seem, therefore, that we must take more energetic action to see that the ordinary person who wants a holiday not quite so formal as the seaside holiday or who, perhaps, cannot go abroad can get the full enjoyment and refreshment he desires in the beautiful scenery of his own land. The latest development of designating the North York Moors National Park is a very good step indeed. and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman's Department on going ahead in that direction and on cutting off only 70 square miles which make very little difference to the natural beauty of the park.

Some of us were a little afraid that the opposition from the farming and other interests would severely curtail the North Yorkshire Moors Park. I am delighted that the project has gone ahead in this way and I hope to see it being fully used in the months that lie ahead. It seems to me that the park can be a model for the rest of the country. It has cliffs, moorland, scenery and all the rest that go to make that part of the world a great attraction to visitors, but in my view there is a lack of adequate accommodation within the park.

When people go for a holiday in a National Park they do not want to be dodging in and out of the park to get their overnight accommodation. Adequate holiday accommodation inside the North Yorkshire Moors Park is needed so that people do not have to go to Whitby, Scarborough, York or wherever they have to go to find accommodation. It would be much better if there were ample hostel accommodation in the park itself, and I hope that one of the first preoccupations of the committee which is to be set up will be the securing of such accommodation for the expected increase of visitors to that park.

I now wish to deal in a little detail with the question of the long-distance routes which is one of the supreme concerns of the National Park Commission. First, I want to deal with the Pennine Way. What is the present position with regard to the official opening of the Pennine Way? It has had a long history, and on 6th July, 1951, the then Minister approved the proposals. My right hon. Friend at that time expressed the hope that the local authorities concerned would take action by 1st April, 1952. to secure the creation of the necessary rights of way to conclude the route. I understand that at that time some 70 miles of new rights of way were needed to complete the 250 mile walk along the backbone of England.

That was Easter, 1952. I know that there have been delays and that there had to be an inquiry over the southern end of the route, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that he hopes that this route will be in operation, on both high and low levels, by Easter of this year. That would be a good time for it to come into operation, because at Easter many people long to go out into the countryside, to the hills and the moors to enjoy the rebirth of spring. I hope that we shall have satisfactory information about that long-distance route.

I regret very much, and indeed the Commission regretted in their report, that for economic reasons mainly it was not possible to go ahead with the Thames-side river walk. We hope that it will not be kept permanently in cold storage and that it will be put into operation as soon as possible. The third long-distance walk is the Cornwall North Coast Path, of 135 miles, from Morwenstow in the north to Mousehole, round the corner of Land's End in the south. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us if that is now nearing completion.

A good many problems concerned with National Parks have to be met and solved. A real problem is how to ensure that we have the right kind of people on local park boards. I hope that we shall see more and more of the enthusiastic kind of member appointed to these boards, a member whose concern will not be so much with saving the county rates but with promoting the purposes of this Act. I understand that something like a ¼d. rate would enable the whole projects contemplated on the North Yorkshire moors to be put under way. That is not too much to ask for something which can be of immense benefit not only to the residents in the area but to those who live in the crowded industrial areas on the fringe.

We need to promote National Park consciousness among the people of this country. This movement is a great and exciting experiment which should appeal to most people. It does not mean that people have to be mountaineers or rugged types to enjoy these amenities. It does not mean that hordes of "townees" will rush across agricultural land leaving gates open and setting fire to the crops. It means that the opportunity will be given to people to seek out-of-doors enjoyment and to gain immense benefit from the lovelier parts of our country. I hope that this very discreet silence about the work of the Commission will come to an end. I hope that all kinds of voluntary organisations will be seized with the desire to spread the gospel of the National Parks Commission.

We know that the opponents of National Parks have had more weight given to their views in the Press than have the exponents. Agricultural interests who have opposed the extension of National Parks have always had a big say at public inquiries. I am glad to say that their views have not prevailed, because their objections arise in the main through ignorance or misunderstanding. The National Parks Commission have gone out of their way to try to get rid of some of these major misunderstandings. There certainly has been very great exaggeration of the damage that can be done to agricultural interests by the designation of national parks.

The "Country Code" is doing a good job of education in that respect, but there is much more that can he done. We must have more publicity from the National Parks Commission themselves and more co-operation with the railways, both in the matter of cheaper fares for walkers and people using the parks and in advertising.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

And camping coaches.

Mr. Chetwynd

That is an excellent suggestion which is being developed. Advertising ought to be done in the places where the people who use the parks live. Large-scale maps of the park areas should be displayed, showing access and routes. That should be taken up by the Commission with the railways.

Mr. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that British Railways, so sorely in need of passenger revenue at this time, are losing countless opportunities by failure to develop the camping coach system, which is so greatly appreciated by industrial workers?

Mr. Chetwynd

That may be so, but I am more concerned at the moment with organising excursion trips to these areas and publicising these trips in the places where the people who would travel on them live.

It would also help in forming National Park consciousness if signs were displayed indicating at the appropriate spot that visitors were about to enter a National Park. It need not be an eyesore. It could be an artistic sign telling people that they were now entering such-and-such National Park. There could also be a reminder when people were leaving the park that they should leave it in as good a condition as they found it and leave no litter. If such signs were placed on the main access roads to National Parks I am sure they would have a tremendous benefit, and I hope that this suggestion will be pursued.

Our main purpose will be served if we can impress upon the public that the National Parks exist for the benefit and the well-being of the public, and that at the same time we intend to bear in mind the wishes and desires of the inhabitants of the parks themselves, that we are not a horde of vandals seeking to destroy their kind of life, but that we are anxious to study their way of life and to share it with them, at least for a short time.

When we consider that some four-fifths of our population lead the bulk of their lives in crowded urban industrial areas with all the smoke and grime and rush and bustle that that involves, we should evoke a very big response to that kind of appeal. I am. therefore, very pleased to second the Motion.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. George Deer (Newark)

In supporting this Motion I wish to begin by saying that last year I had the pleasure of serving on a committee dealing with the North Wales Hydro-Electric Power Bill, and we were favoured with the observations of the Royal Commission which were exceedingly helpful regarding amenities and steps which should be taken to ensure that the extension of that hydro-electric scheme did not disturb the natural beauties of the district in which this work was going on. A number of suggestions put forward by the Commission were accepted by the promoters, and as a result we had a much better Bill.

I wish to raise a question which affects my own Parliamentary division. In my constituency of Newark there is the great Sherwood Forest which for ages has been a pleasure ground and a beauty spot in our countryside. During the last year or two we have been troubled with difficulties arising out of the change-over to peace-time from war-time when that beautiful spot was used as a store house for munitions. The predecessor of the present Minister made personal visits to Sherwood Forest in order to hasten the removal of a good deal of this war material. Considerable progress was made, when, suddenly, something else loomed up.

I should like to get the support of the Parliamentary Secretary and of the National Parks Commission; I want them to consider this matter and to do what they can to assist. The beautiful Sherwood Forest is now threatened with a tank training ground which will have the effect of cutting off a great part of the area, putting it solely to military uses and thus preventing the public from enjoying the recreational and other advantages they have in respect of that forest.

The suggestion which has been put before the planning committees and is now being discussed at varying levels has already compelled the Chamber of Commerce and Trade in Mansfield, and many working-class organisations such as trade councils, to make their protest that, having received a promise that this beautiful spot would be freed from the sort of thing that happened in the last war—when it was used as a dump for munitions—it is now proposed that there should be a tank training ground adjacent to the Major Oak, Little John's Larder and the rest of the beauty spots to which countless people in the Midlands make their pilgrimages every year.

If it is possible I am most anxious that either the National Parks Commission, in the exercise of their duties—because some part of this forest is privately owned—or the Parliamentary Secretary, through his Ministry, should look at this question rather carefully to see if this great beauty spot of Sherwood Forest cannot be maintained for the recreational advantages of the surrounding population. There are great industrial areas all around this particular beauty spot and it would be lamentable if it suddenly became a tank training ground, with the beautiful trees and foliage torn up, and used purely from the material point of view of it being cheaper because it was adjacent to a camp which was already in existence.

It would be far better if the tank training ground could be located elsewhere. We appreciate the needs of such training grounds, but it is the interest of the Commission and the Minister to see that local people are supported when they ask that this matter should be given further consideration and that Sherwood Forest should be preserved for its recreational facilities.

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I do not intend to follow the ground which has been so adequately covered by my hon. Friends. There are two points which I want to emphasise to the Parliamentary Secretary who, I am sure, is not unsympathetic. He is a bicyclist and in that capacity, at any rate, he goes a long way towards understanding the wishes and desires of the people who want to enjoy our countryside. The two points, which have already been referred to, concern vandalism and the need for more publicity to inculcate a greater national consciousness of this great countryside of ours.

I have always been struck by the exaggeration of the amount of vandalism. Long before the National Parks were thought of I was a very frequent visitor to the Lake District, and I was always struck by the absence of vandalism there. I think it was due largely to the excellent work of the National Trust. If anyone thinks of the visits he has paid to the Lake District I am sure that he will come to the same conclusion. It is remarkable how responsibly the vast majority of people there behave.

It is also very largely due to the fact that everyone is conscious of the great natural beauty of the Lake District and the enjoyment which they can get from visiting it, and this point, therefore, goes together with that concerning publicity. I do not suggest that we should not repeatedly call attention to the stupid and unreasonable acts of a very small minority. At the same time, we should recognise that most people do respect the beauty of the countryside and consciously endeavour to avoid spoiling it.

Of all parts of the country, I think this is most evident in the Lake District, which is remarkably unspoiled. It is very rare that one comes across these acts of wanton carelessness. That, I think, is largely due to the fact that, for a considerable time, bodies like the National Trust have been calling attention to the invaluable heritage which we have in the Lake District. The Minister faces this problem in other spheres as well. Most of the troubles arise because people do not appreciate the damage they are doing. We get it, for instance, on housing estates. I think that we must be patient and must persevere, and I would prefer us to take a more constructive approach and not to keep harping on vandalism.

Turning to the question of the publicity which we give to the National Parks, I emphatically agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd). Whenever I go into other countries I am always struck by the fact that there is a far greater national consciousness and pride in National Parks than there is in this country. Usually, as my hon. Friend says, attention is called to the fact that you are entering a National Park. I do not know whether attention is called to the fact that you are leaving it, but I can certainly remember a number of occasions on which my attention has been drawn to the fact that I was entering a park.

That is a good thing. People should realise that these parks are things which we enjoy as a nation. I agree that this publicity should be done not only by the parks authority itself but by other authorities. British Railways are perhaps open to criticism in that they do not make more of the National Parks. If they did, it would help to create a national consciousness—and if we create a national consciousness we shall also create a far greater regard for these areas.

Those two points are very important and we can attend to them without any great expense. It demands co-operation from all sorts of people, not excluding those who have a commercial interest in promoting the publicity for the National Parks. If we attend to those points, then, over the years, we shall not only achieve a greater measure of enjoyment for the people as a whole but a greater respect for the heritage which we should enjoy.

3.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we are grateful to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) for having raised this important and interesting subject this afternoon. I, personally, am grateful to him for two additional reasons. First. he made a most reasonable and constructive contribution in opening the debate. which, I think, set the tone from the beginning; and, secondly, he was kind enough to give me advance and comprehensive notice of the points which he wished to raise. I will therefore do my best to give him adequate answers. If my voice cannot be heard clearly, I must apologise for a rather bad cold.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that people should know the objective of a National Park. I use the National Parks a great deal, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) said; in the past I have used them in rock climbing and walking, although they require time and youth, both of which are denied to me at present, so that in future I must take to cycling. But two things have worried me a great deal about the National Parks. The first is the amount of misconception in the minds of people using them and in the minds of farmers in the district.

The National Parks Commission draw attention to this in paragraph 44, on page 11, of their excellent Third Report: The most common misunderstanding is that designation gives visitors an unrestricted right of access. We would emphasise again, therefore, that inclusion of land in a National Park effects no change whatsoever in the ownership of such land and does not confer any public right of access whatsoever. The resistance of farmers and other people to National Parks is based largely on that misconception and I hope this debate will clear up that point. In the report it comes under the heading of "Continued Misconceptions."

The second point which worries me is that the average person who walks in a National Park thinks he can go anywhere he likes because it is a National Park. The provisions of the Act in the Sections applying to open country, after defining it, say that the provisions apply to all country throughout England and Wales irrespective of whether it lies in the National Park or not. That is an important point. Agricultural land other than rough grazing land is specifically excluded from the access provisions of the Act.

The Commission have directed their publicity, so far, to the two points I have mentioned. They want to improve the standards of behaviour in the countryside, as do all hon. Members, and at the same time they have to convince farmers, land owners and country folk generally that the designation of an area does not carry with it an unrestricted right of access with all the consequences which they fear would follow in its trail.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the "Country Code." It has been reprinted three times, 43,000 copies have been issued and the sale continues. Additional opportunities for publicity have been taken. Display sets, carrying the message of the "Country Code" have been exhibited at 2,700 sites in factories, shops, youth clubs and libraries all over the country, and sets have been sent to voluntary organisations for display at conferences and exhibitions. I went to Longshaw Lodge to address the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and a number of enthusiastic members of that excellent body insisted on my buying several copies for myself, which I did. Wall sheets, poster cards and the film strip to which the hon. Gentleman referred, carrying the same sort of message, are being produced for wide display this year. The Commission are co-operating with schools, the educational departments of the Armed Forces, youth and open air organisations, and with educational groups of all kinds, as well as with the Press and B.B.C., in trying to put across the message of the "Country Code."

Here I want to support the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East. I too, in a personal capacity as well as a junior Member of the Government. would like to see more publicity. I saw a deputation from all the amenity interests—I hope that term will not be thought offensive this time as it was last time because I am one of the "amenity fans" as I call them. I suggested that we should try to get a television half hour, perhaps starting off with something topical about Everest, the Alps, our own National Parks and footpaths.

I wrote a personal letter to the television authorities and I am hoping that, with the lubrication of a reasonable lunch next week, we might be able to arrange for some such programme. I mention that merely to show the hon. Gentleman that the spirit is willing if perhaps the flesh is a little weak and inefficient. We believe that publicity is a great thing, particularly for the National Parks, and I hope that the amenity and voluntary interests will do as much as they can to clear up the misconception which exists, because the greatest barrier to progress in our National Parks is misconception. Unless we take public opinion with us, we cannot make the progress for which we hope.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Could the Minister say whether he will keep in mind the point of publishing additional material to the "Country Code," which might be used by voluntary bodies, about the general features of our National Parks and what we are trying to achieve through them? Might it be possible to provide extra film material and also suitable illustrated material which lecturers could use in schools and out of schools?

Mr. Marples

What I will do is to write a personal letter to the Commission drawing their attention to that point. The Commission, of course, are to publicise certain specific items such as the Pennine Way; they will be publishing special maps which in themselves will add to the publicity. But it will not, of course, touch the general point which the hon. Member has in mind.

The second point raised by the hon. Member was the question of signposts. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) supported him in saying that in the United States of America there are rather agreeable and attractively designed signposts at park entrances. I agree. In the Rockies and at Jasper, in the Canadian National Parks, as well as in the United States, the signposts are more attractive. The problem there, however, is different. In America there are only few access roads to very large parks, whereas in this country we have many access roads to a small area.

In the Lake District for example, which I know extremely well—I support the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) in saying that in the Lake District vandalism is at its lowest and the standard of behaviour is the highest—I should be doubtful about where to put the signs. Should they be on the main roads, on all the small roads that come in from the west coast around Wast Water, or in the north? If this idea were to be carried out, there would be very many signposts. What I will do is to ask the National Parks Commission to consider the suggestion.

Personally, I should be against the idea. I do not think it is necessary when there are so many access roads to such a small area. That is my view on the spur of the moment, but I will consider the weighty arguments which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East put forward before reaching a considered conclusion. It is, however, a matter for the National Parks Commission and not for the Government, but if the Commission carry out the suggestion I hope they will make absolutely certain beyond peradventure that the signposts are reasonable, attractive and inconspicuous, and not like some of the hideous advertisements which have disfigured our roads for so many years.

The next point was that of designation. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that six National Parks had been designated since the Commission came into being. These cover an area of 3,500 square miles, which is about two-thirds of the total area which the Hobhouse Committee recommended for designation. In four of these parks, separate park planning boards or committees have been set up and have been functioning for up to 16 months.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees asked a specific question about the North Yorkshire Moors Park. A committee is likely to be appointed within the next month or so. I agree that it is an attractive, rather inaccessible area, with inadequate accommodation, and I hope that if he goes there the hon. Member will some day undertake the task of climbing the three peaks—Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside—and compares his time with the time I took to do it. It is an excellent, beautiful area, and action will be taken within a few months.

The arrangements and administration of Snowdonia National Park, about which I was also asked, have now been agreed and the necessary committees will be set up with the minimum of delay. The agreements which have been reached have taken a long time.

With regard to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, I should say that the advisory committee is for an experimental period. It will be open to the Commission—in fact, it is their duty—to expose any defects in the committee's performance, if defects it has; but it will be for the three counties to demonstrate that the Commission's misgivings have been ill-founded. To use an old and hackneyed saying, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Mr. Chetwynd

Is it still for three years?

Mr. Marples

Yes, three years. I came across an excellent quotation: For forms of Government let fools contest, What e'er is best administered is best. We ought to give them a trial during the three years and if they prove their efficiency we shall all be happy, but, if not, the National Parks Commission will expose their weaknesses.

The next point the hon. Member raised was that of access to areas. The Lake District Board and the three Snowdonia county councils have informed the Commission that they are satisfied that there is already adequate access to open country in these parks and that no action is necessary. The Commission have endorsed that view and the authorities have given public notice as required by the Act. In the other parks the question of what action is needed has not yet been decided and the authorities have been given extra time. In the meantime, park planning authorities are able to make agreements or orders if required and The Peak Park Board, where the problem is most significant, have already indicated that they have two areas under consideration.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is very important to try to speed up the work, which is taking a long time. I hope that he will encourage the Peak Park Board to press on with the matter as quickly as possible.

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member may rest assured that they will receive that encouragement, but on the Peak Park Board the members are so enthusiastic that I am not sure if they will need such encouragement because they carry out their work with wholeheartedness and interest.

The next point raised by the hon. Member was that of hostels. In regard to hostel accommodation the park authorities will be glad to hear the views of any voluntary organisations who have special experience in this field. We have to be careful about these hostels. Although we want to encourage them it would be quite easy to have hostels or accommodation which was not in keeping with the character or background of a particular park. One thing which we must not have in the National Parks is buildings, temporary or permanent, "plonked down" in the middle of a beautiful area where those buildings bear no relation to the background. The whole thing must be a composition.

I agree again that in America and Canada they have done extremely well in this respect, but they have a great advantage because they have a large background and in their building they are able to use the natural woods in the Rockies or on the West Coast of America. I have been to most of those National Parks and found that in building they use the wood which is to be found on the spot. That, naturally, makes for harmonious composition. When the American expert, to whom the hon. Member referred, comes over here members of the Commission will be delighted to see him and if I may I should like to impose myself on that party, if they will invite me to lunch. Perhaps we can take a tour of our parks and get his views about them.

On the question of the removal of disfigurements, The Peak Board have already made an order, under Section 26 of the Act of 1947, and my right hon. Friend has confirmed that Order. There is no doubt a case for taking urgent action to remove or mitigate notorious eyesores and where the trouble can be dealt with without too much expense. Otherwise, it is obviously sensible to make a survey and draw up a list of priorities taking into account the degree of cost of mitigating or removing such eyesores. This seems to be the line which the park authorities are taking. In the Pembrokeshire Coast Park ex-temporary defence work sites are among the most notorious disfigurements. We have to do what we can to remove them and the park authorities are drawing up a list of priorities, which, I think, is a wise course to take.

The next question was that of centres for training in mountain craft. I should like to endorse everything the hon. Member has said on this matter and about being called out at night to rescue foolish people lost on the mountains when badly equipped, either mentally or physically. There is nothing more annoying than to find that the supposed lost person has been in bed all night, after a hot drink, while people have been on the moors searching for him. That has often happened to me. I endorse what the hon. Member said about the training school at Eskdale. When I was young, I had to learn the best way, like my hon. Friend, on the rocks, but we learned the hard way, which I think is satisfactory to those who survive and not so satisfactory to those who fall by the wayside. The Ministry and the National Parks Commission will always give their backing to suitable institutions of that sort to extend mountain craft.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked about the Pennine Way, which has been a thorny problem for some time. The proposals were drawn up by the National Parks Commission and approved by my right hon. Friend's predecessor but the work of carrying them out falls to the local councils along the route, which as the hon. Member said, is 250 miles long. About 180 miles of path already existed. Twenty-two different local authorities have been asked to secure the creation of new rights of way which were needed and to complete the path in their areas. This is being done under the special powers of the National Parks Act—new powers which local authorities had not used before, and it has proved to be quite a long job. The local authorities have tried to get agreement with the landowners instead of making public path orders, and these negotiations tend to be slow, which is quite usual in land transactions.

There have been many minor difficulties to sort out to meet the interests of agriculture, water undertakings and other land uses. It is not only local authorities and landowners who are concerned; water undertakings have been concerned. Wherever minor variations of the route have been suggested the National Parks Commission has been consulted, meetings have often been held on the spot and solutions have been found which have pleased all parties. Negotiations have been going forward in all the districts affected. Seven of the councils have now completed the work—with a total of 18 miles of new path between them; the others are still at it, but the difficulties are gradually being overcome, and it is hoped that the remaining authorities will soon have their parts ready.

It is not possible to say how long it will take. One cannot estimate accurately. Earlier estimates of all parties were too optimistic in this respect, but the important thing is that the whole route has been accepted. Parties have already walked the whole route. I have done most of it, and though, in places, I suppose that, technically, I was trespassing nobody raised any serious objection. In fact, the Pennine Way is now in existence, not legally, meticulously and precisely, but it has been accepted in spirit by everyone concerned.

The highway authorities are getting on with the work of maintenance and providing signposts. I am a little nervous about signposts myself, but I am told that a special sign has been designed which was recommended by the National Parks Commission, and the highway authorities are in close consultation with the Ministry and the Parks Commission about the siting of the signs. The aim is to have signposts where they are really needed, but I think we ought to avoid mollycoddling walkers on the high level routes: it would destroy their value if walkers found the path too easy for them. On the open moorland, cairns are being made with stone which is on the ground, in preference to using signposts, these being spaced inconspicuously at intervals. It would be a mistake to wreck places like Kinder Scout or Bleak-low or any part of the Pennine way. We shall try to erect signposts designed in accordance with the district.

The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) raised the question of Sherwood Forest. I was sympathetic with his point of view, which he put forward reasonably and cogently. The real difficulty is that Sherwood Forest is not a National Park, and it is very difficult for me, on behalf of the Government to give any answer to him. A great deal depends on the magnitude of the task, but the Government will not be unsympathetic to any representations which the hon. Member may make about the preservation of natural amenities in that area.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees raised a point about the Cornish coastal path and asked what was the position. It was approved in April, 1952. It is 135 miles long and 45 miles of new right of way are to be created. The local authorities have the matter in hand. So far as is known no new rights of way have yet been created. The local authorities are administering entirely new provisions, and I hope the hon. Gentlemen will bear with them in their difficult task.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) referred to the National Trust and the good work they have done. I entirely associate myself with the sentiments he expressed. The way in which local bodies have worked in the past to preserve the countryside has been astonishing and, on the whole, not unsuccessful. My right hon. Friend is indeed grateful to them. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, in his reasonable and able speech, said he did not want publicity to be held up for lack of vigorous prodding. I think that so long as he is a Member of this House, there will be efficient and successful prodding, as there was this afternoon.

I do not think there is a great deal between us. It is really a question of timing. The hon. Gentleman wishes to do things reasonably quickly and we, and the National Parks Commission, also. think they ought to go a little more slowly. Anything which is beautiful, a work of art or the. furnishing of a house. or the countryside, evolves and grows over a period of years. It is exactly the same with the National Parks. I would refer to a quotation from the Dower Report, which says: In general, it will be best to err on the side of caution, especially in the early years when the authorities' personnel are learning their job by doing it, and when there is so much still to be done in satisfying indubitably sound and urgent requirements. A desirable facility rejected by over-caution can always be supplied later; a mis-development rashly approved may often be irremediable In other words, we must make haste slowly and not harm the feelings of people who might be set against the conception of national planning.

I know that the Chairman of the National Parks Commission is always accessible to any hon. Member who has a suggestion to make. He has worked extremely hard. I would take this opportunity of thanking the members of the National Parks Commission for the work they have done. It is not always easy to serve on these voluntary bodies. There is no payment. a lot of time is required and one receives a great deal of criticism which, though not in this case. is sometimes ill-informed.

I would also pay tribute to Sir Ifan Ab Owen Edwards, who served for three years. He was one of the original members of the Commission, but has felt compelled to resign owing to pressure of other work. I would welcome some new members: Mr. Wolfenden, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, and Mr. Yapp, lecturer in Zoology at Birmingham University. Eleven meetings of the full Commission have been held in the past year, and 53 meetings of committees studying specific subjects. Visits to various parts of the country, covering a total period of 150 days, were shared by 11 members. That is not a bad record for a voluntary body.

I wish to thank the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East for raising this matter, but I hope he will not press his Motion to a Division in view of the information which I have given.

Mr. Blenkinsop

In view of the information given by the Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. R. Thompson.]