§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
At the start I should like to thank the Minister of Housing and Local Government for coming here this afternoon to take part in the debate. I do so all the more sincerely because in the past I have frequently bitterly criticised him, and it is only right that I should acknowledge the interest which the right hon. Gentleman has shown in the Bill which I am about to present to the House.
In moving the Second Reading, I should also mention the great loss which all of us who are interested in the open air and in National Parks have suffered by the death of the Reverend Symonds a short time ago. He did a very great deal to get the original National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, on the Statute Book. Indeed, it was almost his life's work and he took every opportunity to improve its administration and secure its full use. All of us feel a real sense of loss over his tragic death a short time ago.
It is just ten years since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed with the general approval of this House, and it is fitting that we should take this opportunity of briefly appraising what it has done and of seeing whether, by this Bill, some modest but useful improvements may be made in its working. I am sure that all of us would wish to congratulate the National Parks Commission on what it has done in the ten years. Many of us are not satisfied and would like to see much more done but, nevertheless, within the strict limitations of the resources made available to it, the Commission has done valuable work.
There are now in existence nine National Parks, so we can say that at least the framework has been established, even though many of us would like to see that framework given a good deal more flesh and blood and become more a part of, and more understood by, the country. There is a tenth park in pro- 1474 cess of provision in Wales in the Brecon Beacon area.
These are wonderful areas of countryside. In common with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I know them all well and have enjoyed walking over them many times. The National Parks Commission has established under the Act provisions by which greater security is given for the continuance of the natural beauty of these areas, and something also has been done to improve their enjoyment by the general public. It is the job of the Commission under the Act both to preserve and to enhance the natural beauty of the areas and also, if possible without damaging that natural beauty, to encourage their proper use and enjoyment.
These are not nature reserves. Those are dealt with by the Nature Conservancy. Therefore, there is a distinct difference between the working of the National Parks Commission and that of the National Parks administration in America, for example, or other bodies largely concerned with the question of preservation and even the withdrawal of any kind of human influence where possible.
A balance must be kept by the National Parks Commission between the needs of preservation and the very real needs of enjoyment. At this time above all in the development of our civilisation, just as we are in a sense entering into a new industrial revolution, it is important that we should emphasise our understanding of the permanent value of areas of this kind, and strengthen so far as we can the powers of the Commission and of the local park authorities. Otherwise there is a real danger, in view of the great interest in the development of nuclear power stations, and so on, that very much of our wonderful beauty may be destroyed not temporarily but for all time.
The Commission has not only gone ahead with the development of the National Parks themselves, it has also started special consideration of areas of outstanding natural beauty, what one might call the second stage of preservation, with rather less strict powers of control. As a Northumbrian I am not surprised that the greater part of Northumberland is now regarded either as a National Park or as an area of 1475 outstanding natural beauty. I do not expect my supporters necessrily to agree entirely, but it is one of the natural consequences of the passing of the Act that the beauties of an area of such outstanding character as Northumberland have now been fully and publicly recognised.
In addition to all this work, the Commission has established itself as one of the main bodies to which we can look for the protection of the main interests of amenity, whether in National Park areas or not, and which can voice some of the anxieties of those of us who are particularly concerned with the matter. I think all of us would say that in recent years it has done some valuable work in this respect, too. It has, of course, been concerned with the development of long-distance footpaths and work of that kind. This has all been part of its operation.
A matter of very great interest to the House has been the way in which it has been able to gain the support of a great deal of voluntary activity and effort. Very many members of societies have given a great deal of time and effort to trying to make the concept of National Parks a reality, both by themselves physically working to try to remove some of the disfigurements in National Parks and by taking on themselves voluntarily all kinds of duties, such as wardening. Part of the object of the Bill is to make that kind of voluntary effort even more effective and to make more facilities available for it.
Although I pay tribute—I am sure that all those interested would do the same—to the work that has been done by the National Parks Commission, by its present chairman and by previous chairmen and by its staff and others, we know that they have been labouring all the time, especially perhaps in recent years as difficulties have become more apparent, under very real limitations, limitations which are not terribly sensible. In its Ninth Report, published just before Christmas, the Commission emphasised that it had made representations to the Minister asking for an early opportunity for the introduction of legislation to amend the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act on the lines of recommendations which it made in its 1476 Seventh Report two years ago. It submitted a series of recommendations to the Minister at that time, actually at the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and suggestions for amendment of the Act, as did the County Councils Association on broadly similar lines two years ago. My Bill follows fairly closely the lines of the recommendations by the Commission, though it does not go quite as far as the Commission would have wished.
What are the main anxieties of the Commission and those of us who are concerned about the matter? First, we are concerned about the financial issue, about the question of providing adequate finance to enable the Commission and the park authorities to do the job, to enable them to improve, enhance and preserve the natural beauty of their areas and to enable more people to enjoy it in proper circumstances.
It is true that at the moment very small grants indeed are being spent for this purpose. I think that not much more than about £50,000 a year—certainly under £100,000 a year—is being spent from all sides on National Park work both in the areas and in the offices of the Commission. This is a great deal less than many local authorities spend on their own town parks, and while I am not saying for a moment that we are concerned merely to increase spending for its own sake, it is difficult, within such strict limits, to see how one can get a wider understanding of the purposes of the National Parks for visiting and so on and enforcement of good standards of planning established.
The first request by the Commission was, in effect, for the widening of the Minister's grant-providing powers so that he could, if he so decided, make grants for any work done by National Park authorities within the broad enabling powers of Section 11 of the principal Act. That is a Section which gives broad general powers. In practice, it would mean that the Minister would be able to make grants, were this request to be granted, for such purposes as providing information centres in National Parks, publicity action for the parks, for anti-litter campaigns and all the rest of it, which, at the moment, in so far as it is done at all, is clearly very limited to what is done at the expense of the constituent 1477 local authorities in the National Park areas. It is the Commission's view, as it is ours, that purposes of that kind ought to be encouraged by a grant at the discretion of the Minister. I would emphasise that, all through the Bill, we have provided that the Minister has control as to what shall be done. If it were felt that the provisions in Clause 1(7) for this precise purpose should be more clearly denned, that could be done and an Amendment for that purpose could be provided.
The second point which the Commission raised in the recommendations of its Seventh Report was that the restriction upon its powers which is found in Section 11(3) of the principal Act, should be withdrawn. The Commission has found in practice that, unfortunately, on several occasions it has not been able to carry out work or to undertake payment for it because the responsibility is laid upon some other authority in the area.
There have been several examples of this. It is pointed out that, in some cases, the provision of litter bins and things of that kind have been requested. Everybody agrees that they ought to be provided, but the National Park authorities find they cannot provide them, because it is always the responsibility of another body. This Clause would enable the authorities to do the work. It would, of course, be done by agreement with other responsible authorities. There is no desire to overlap responsibility. Where there is clearly a case for the job to be done, we feel that this should not stop the work. Indeed, the Commission feels very strongly that the withdrawal of this limiting subsection will be of immense value to it, and that it will be possible to carry out the work with the agreement of the local authorities.
The Commission requested that in any consideration of amendment to the principal Act, consideration should be given to the size of the grant. At present, the maximum grant which the Minister can make is, to all intents and purposes, both the maximum and the actual grant, 75 per cent. of the cost. The Commission has suggested that that maximum limit should be withdrawn, so that, if he felt it desirable, the Minister could increase the grant to 100 per cent.
1478 I have not included that provision in the Bill on the ground that when one studies examples of this sort of thing, one finds that other resources are available, from the Exchequer Equalisation Account, or its successor under the new legislation, which might very well raise the grant from 75 per cent. almost to 100 per cent. in some of the cases most needing help. The Bill is therefore an even more modest proposal than that suggested by the Commission.
The most important point and one strongly recommended by the Commission and in general terms supported by the County Councils Association— although I am in no way suggesting that the Bill is the Association's responsibility—is that the administrative expenses for the setting up of National Park administration should be assisted by a grant from the Minister. At present, that is excluded and even, if he wishes to do so, the Minister cannot make a grant towards administrative expenses.
In practice, that has undoubtedly been very unfortunate. There can be no doubt that in many National Park areas it is very important that extra staff should be engaged, to try to ensure that proper planning conditions are carried out. It is also desirable that some time should be spent in trying to get people's good will and avoiding forcing through issues instead of having willing co-operation. That cannot be done without a reasonable staff, and it has not been surprising that local authorities, which have the power, jib at it and try to keep administrative costs to a minimum.
There is wide agreement that if the Minister makes a grant for this purpose, it will be of great value for improving standards in National Parks and bringing them all up to the standard of the best. Some of the most active work is done in the Peak National Park where the authority has some of its own officers. We want to ensure that similar standards are reached elsewhere, and this is the way to do it. There are other examples of provisions of this kind, so that it cannot be said to be a totally new idea, and, I hope that the Minister will accept it.
Another if relatively small matter is that of long-distance footpaths. Work has been inching forward, but it has taken a very long time to get any of the longdistance footpaths fully cleared and 1479 established. Indeed, I do not think that one has yet been fully and properly established. Some of the trouble arises because of the very long time which it takes to negotiate with the owners of the various pieces of land over which a footpath may travel.
It has been represented that it would be a help if some of the expenses incurred by local authorities in negotiations, as distinct from compensation charges, could be met by grants from the Minister. That is a small but valuable point. It was suggested by the County Councils Association and others that there ought to be compensation for having to maintain higher standards in their building than otherwise would be required in an area which was not a National Park. That is a very difficult point and I have not included it because I feel that on balance it is proper that those who have the enjoyment of living or moving into such an area as a National Park should be expected to meet certain extra costs in order to maintain higher standards in their buildings.
I wish in particular to emphasise the next point which, although its money cost would be minute, nevertheless could be of great value. It is that we should try to overcome the anomaly existing under the present position about wardens' services. Many people have been interested in the fact that we have a great number of volunteer wardens serving in National Park areas and helping to protect the amenities. If those services are to be effective they need some kind of organisation, and the Peak District Board has found it necessary to appoint one paid warden.
It can be done in the Peak District area only over what is called access land, which is land to which the law applies under which people are granted legal right of access. In the vast majority of cases, such as the Lake District and elsewhere, where people have had the right of access without legal process for centuries, there is no need to operate this provision on access. By reason of that, they are denied the opportunity to pay for any kind of organised service. This is an anomaly and is absurd.
The Bill would assist by providing that wardens, where necessary paid wardens, could be provided in areas other than 1480 access areas under the Act but that when we went on to such land it would be by permission of the owner. This would help in developing better relations with owners of land. Like other hon. Members I have had the opportunity to meet some of the wardens and to observe with joy the extreme good will which exists between them and owners and other interests in the area. They have a common purpose, and they have done a wonderful job.
If the House will not mind my blowing the trumpet of an organisation with which I am connected, I will suggest that the members of the Ramblers' Association, amongst others, have done a great deal in services of this kind. The Bill would encourage them and enable them to do very much more of that valuable work.
The Bill would also make planning authorities responsible for the creation of new rights of way and their maintenance in National Parks. It is an inherent part of their work in developing access to the Park, and it seems to me right that they should have this matter under their control, as they wish.
There are one or two minor points of clarification on which I will not spend time, because time is short and I should like some other hon. Members to have an opportunity to take part in the debate. In dealing with the very obvious financial problem, I had two alternatives in presenting the Bill to the House. First. I could have drafted it in a way which would have required no financial support from the Treasury bench officially, by providing that the grants to the Park authorities would come direct from the Land Fund without the intervention of the Minister. That could have been done, but it would have been highly illogical. It is very much more sensible, natural and proper that the Minister should have the control, but as I have ensured that the Minister shall have full control over development, it means, inevitably, that it needs the Government's financial support. That support I hope we shall receive.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to say that he will make it possible for the Bill to go further, even though he may desire to amend some of it. As a second best, I hope that he may say that, although 1481 he agrees that we ought to have these provisions, it would be better for Government draftsmen to deal with the Measure rather than for the House to accept our more amateur effort. I should be the more willing to concede that if the right hon. Gentleman were able to say, roughly, how soon he could deal with it. As I have said, his predecessor invited suggestions of this kind, and the National Parks Commission, the County Councils Association and others have put forward the suggestions. I have taken the matter a stage further by giving it some kind of legal form in order to help the Minister on the way.
The further step required of the right hon. Gentleman is a small one, and for the sake of the very large numbers of young people—and, indeed, of older people, too—who have that enjoyment and love of the countryside that so many of us have, and who regard it as something that should be encouraged at this time because of the permanent values it can give, I hope that he will take it. The Minister will notice that the Bill has support from all sides of the House, and my hope is that he has had representations from a very wide circle of those interested. I trust that he can give us the support for which we ask.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I rise to support and, if need be, to second the Motion of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), because I think that his is a worthy proposition. The individual proposals in the Bill are not, in themselves, ambitious or far-reaching. On the contrary, they are eminently modest and practical.
In broad terms, the purpose of the Bill is to enlarge slightly the competence of the National Parks Commission, and also to enlarge slightly the competence of my right hon. Friend the Minister—an operation that he cannot but view with pleasure, I feel, the more so when that enlarged competence is founded on our old friend, the Land Fund, upon which, on another occasion, I tried to found some other amendments to the law, an attempt that had an outcome less happy than I hope will be the case today.
I think that I can say, not only for myself but for the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, that the fact 1482 that we seek to enlarge the competence of the National Parks Commission imports no sort of criticism of the county councils within whose areas lie the National Parks. The fact is that in the case of almost all of those counties the area of national park is a relatively small consideration among their many other preoccupations.
It was, perhaps, inevitable—though I think that some people regretted it at the time—that the main responsibility for the National Parks should have been laid upon existing local authorities. So many of them are involved that, in the very nature of things, they face a rather difficult problem. The coordinating body, the body which can, and is designed to see the whole thing from the national standpoint, is the National Parks Commission. In fact, the Commission has a very limited competence. This Bill will still leave that competence very limited, although it does enlarge it very slightly. I think the justification for the Bill is the slow rate of progress which has been made. There has been progress in this concept of National Parks, but it is rather striking that nearly ten years after the passing of the Act there is still not one of the major long-distance routes absolutely complete. That is really remarkable. The amendment which we propose to Section 98 of the 1949 Act will be of some slight help here. Also the amendment which we propose extends the Minister's competence for grant to paths which are not long-distance routes, but to other paths and bridleways in the National Parks. Since those also have lagged behind, this is a very desirable amendment of the law.
It has always struck me as a paradox that in our country, which geologically is an old one, with apparently easily accessible mountains, in practice the mountains should be much less accessible than are the Alps. It is a good deal easier to go for a walk in the Alps than in the Pennines. Whether from the point of view of paths, rights of way, general accessibility or somewhere to sleep at night, it is quite an undertaking to make use of some of the National Park areas in this country. It was, after all, primarily with that in mind that the National Parks Commission was set up. Progress has been too slow by any standard. It still is too difficult to walk about the National 1483 Parks, and I should like to see somebody beginning to get a move on.
For those very few reasons, I commend this Bill to the House. There are many provisions in it, and I could say a lot about them, but from considerable experience of Private Members' Fridays I know that the greatest friendship that anyone can show to a Bill at half-past three on a Friday afternoon is brevity, and that act of support of this Bill I intend to confer.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I have noticed from correspondence from my constituents that there is a feeling that we on this side of the House are not interested in these questions of National Parks, fell walking and so on. So far as I am concerned, with my sons I have walked over most of the dales of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. After the last Conservative Conference I spent a weekend in the Lake District and met a constituent of mine almost at the top of one of the hills. Also one of my sons has been on the Outward Bound course. I am certainly interested in this matter, and I am sure that other hon. Members on this side of the House are, too.
It seems to me that this Bill should be treated sympathetically, as a number of minor things that it suggests are of value. I have some doubt whether the proposal that the funds could be taken out of the National Land Fund can be carried out. No doubt, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will tell us a little more about that.
Many of my constituents are also interested in the subject of the Broads. The Broads are at present run by the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners, and by the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board. I personally would like to see, as the Bowes Report suggests, representatives of the National Parks Commission brought on to the governing bodies of the Broads. In fact, I think it would be very desirable if the Broads were brought under the National Parks Commission as a whole. There are many problems, such as those of sewage from the bungalows alongside the Broads, the cutting of the reeds, and so forth, which should all be dealt with on a comprehensive basis. I do not think it right that the Great Yarmouth Port and 1484 Haven Commissioners and the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board should deal with them until the matter is dealt with along the lines of the Bowes Report. With those few words, I commend the Bill to the attention of the House.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I am sorry to have to intervene at this stage, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister needs a certain amount of time to make his comments, and it may be possible for other hon. Members to say something later.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) on his good luck in winning this place in the Ballot and for the use he has made of it. He is, after all, President of the Ramblers' Association and a member of the Nature Conservancy. I can think of no one more suited to introduce this amending legislation. We have spent a considerable time in the past walking in some of the lovely parts of his own county, as he mentioned, and we all look forward to walking down perhaps the whole of the Pennine Way with him at a not too distant date. We appreciate that the Minister himself is here today to deal with the matter in person. He has many calls upon his time, but we know his interest in the matter and we hope that he will have something agreeable to say to us.
The main purpose of the original Act was to help to create a more beautiful Britain for the people to enjoy. We on this side at that time took the line that, if we cannot own the land, at least we ought to be able to enjoy it. Now, we have ten years of achievement by the National Parks Commission to study. It has not been a spectacular progress. The National Parks have not been flooded by people coming in from far and wide to make use of them. Nevertheless, steady progress has been made.
As my hon. Friend said, we now have ten National Parks. Twelve areas of outstanding natural beauty have been under consideration, and progress has been made with a number of them. Progress with the long distance routes, in particular the Pennine Way, is going forward. Even so, much needs to be done, and the object of this moderate 1485 and modest Bill is to try to help the National Parks Commission, in conjunction with the local planning authorities, to make easier progress and to enable them to awaken the people of our country to the National Park idea.
We still have a long way to go before we are, as it were, national park conscious. It needs enthusiasm and, above all, it needs more money. It is easy for us to be enthusiastic. Indeed, the National Parks have an appeal for the young and vigorous in our society, whose keynote is enthusiasm. It is not always easy to obtain the money. The amount which would be involved in these proposals is not very great when judged against the total of our expenditure, and the return would be well worth while.
My hon. Friend has pointed out a means whereby the Minister can avail himself of the National Land Fund, if he wishes, to provide the money. At this stage, there is no need to go into all the intricate details of the debate we had on the Finance Act, 1957, I think it was, when we discussed the use of the National Land Fund, but I hope that the Minister will feel that he can adopt the suggestion in Clause 2 and control, through his own hands, the expenditure involved.
If one studies the Reports of the National Parks Commission over the past ten years, one finds that, time and time again, the National Parks Commission is really hamstrung in many of its endeavours by lack of adequate finance. Its anti-litter campaign, its decision to provide car parks and lay-bys in the National Parks, the provision of a full-time warden and ranger service, the provision of information centres, museums and so forth, the provision of sites for caravans, hostels, and for camping sites—all these are held up or retarded by lack of adequate finance. A good deal has been done by voluntary efforts to deal with the removal of eyesores, but even much more could be done in this respect.
We feel that we can demonstrate our real interest in the National Parks scheme by favouring the Bill and giving more and more vigilance to the needs of the country in the National Parks and enabling the National Parks Commission to go ahead with much more long-term planning than it has been able to do so far.
1486 I understand from the correspondence with the Minister in the Report that it was a question of Parliamentary time. The Minister felt that pressure was so great that he could not initiate proposals to amend the Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East has found a way round that. He has found the time through the Ballot, and all that we need now is Ministerial support with the necessary Money Resolution and, perhaps, help in drafting. In view of the general agreement in the House on this Measure, I hope that the Minister will feel he can act sympathetically towards the Bill, and that it will have a Second Reading so that it may go to Committee where we can deal with the detailed points set out in Clause 1.
I feel that this is now an opportune time for the National Parks Commission to go ahead not only because of the end of the credit squeeze and because we can make progress with many of the material things needed, but because there is now a grave need in the country for the spiritual well-being which can come through the real enjoyment of our open spaces. There is a much greater appreciation of the place of the unspoiled countryside in our national life, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give his benevolent support to this Measure.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I am obliged for what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) kindly said about my presence here today. I am one of those who believe in the National Parks idea. I am not sure that I want the country to become "National Park conscious," but I think that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the pioneers who led the way in popularising this idea and have, after ten years, seen some limited advance in the direction in which they wished the nation to go.
I should like to join with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East in paying tribute in the House of Commons to Mr. Symonds, whose recent death we all greatly deplore. It is a matter of personal regret that a somewhat heavy legislative programme over the last two 1487 years has frustrated my idea of getting to know well enough all the National Parks for whose administration I am responsible to the House. I know many of them already through having spent holidays there, and, of course, my Welsh responsibilities enable me from time to time to be in the three National Parks which now exist in the Principality—the latest of them, the Brecon Beacons, having been made a National Park in my time.
I think that everybody who has any knowledge of the problem of the National Parks must desire that great tribute should be paid to the way in which the National Parks Commission set about its work. As several hon. Members have said its task has not been easy. It has not had unlimited funds, to put the matter at its lowest. Although in the abstract National Parks seem a great and wholly attractive conception, they nevertheless throw up sharp local problems and controversies—witness, for example, the proposal to build an atomic power station at Trawsfynydd. It is the National Parks Commission which has to fight these battles and to try to ensure that the National Parks are developed in a manner which will be acceptable and pleasing, not only to visitors to them, but also to residents in them.
I am sure that the country would not tolerate a system of National Parks if they were to be regarded as museums, if they were to be regarded from the point of view of those who make their lives within them as dead places where no development was to take place except for the pleasure of strangers.
Therefore, the Commission has had a great deal of careful thought to give and hard administrative work to do. Lord Strange has extended his already great public service by his chairmanship of the Commission. What I say in congratulation also extends to all the park planning authorities, who, by being nearer to those on the spot, are often made more quickly—and sometimes painfully—aware of the points of controversy that arise locally.
It is now a quarter to four, and in different circumstances I should have liked to examine the merits of the detailed provisions of the Bill from the National Parks standpoint. The hon. Member for 1488 Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East took the House through them. He explained how many of them had been based upon recommendations that had been made to my predecessor or to me by the Commission or by the County Councils Association. He described frankly how he had been selective, and had not sought to include in the Bill everything that had been recommended. He also described graphically the manner in which, in the Bill, he proposed to tackle the financial problem of providing the necessary funds.
We are faced here with a difficulty in a matter of principle. It is distasteful for me to have to point it out to the House, but I must. If hon. Members look at the Bill, they will see a good many words printed in italics. In fact, of the 80 lines of the Bill, no fewer than 41 are in italics, thereby indicating that there is a financial implication in them. I would take leave to doubt whether any Private Member's Bill has ever been presented to the House before with more than half its linage printed in italics. I need not, therefore, adduce any further evidence to convince the House that this is primarily a Bill to make money available for a certain purpose; whereas the ordinary Private Member's Bill is not a financial Bill, but is a Bill—such as the one we discussed earlier—that will alter the law on some matter, but does not involve digging into any purse.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I thought I had made it clear that I could have taken another line and drafted a rather more illogical Bill that would not dip into the public purse, but that I regarded this as a more rational way of approaching the matter.
§ Mr. Brooke
That is exactly why I paid tribute to the hon. Member for his candour. I think he has been wise to proceed in this way.
What the Bill provides is that the Minister shall defray the expenditure. The Minister is then to be reimbursed from the National Land Fund. If the Minister is to defray the expenditure, that means that the Bill would require a Financial Resolution if it were to reach the Statute Book. The fact that the Minister is to be reimbursed out of the National Land Fund under Clause 2 means that in the end the money will come from public funds, because the National Land Fund does not emerge from nowhere. It is a 1489 creation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is fed by public funds.
I know it was suggested in the early days of the National Parks idea that the National Land Fund might be used for National Parks. In fact, during these ten years, it never has been. That Fund has been used only for expenditure of a capital nature. The case which we are examining here would involve something quite different from that. Here what is proposed is that the National Land Fund should be drawn upon for annual expenditure and not capital expenditure.
There is a further complication which, I am sure, the hon. Member will have appreciated, and that is that these new grants under his Bill would be met in the last resort out of moneys of the National Land Fund and they would run parallel with the existing grants, some at any rate of which still continue to be borne on Votes. I must mention to the House that this is the kind of duality which does not find favour with the Select Committee on Public Accounts. Indeed, this very issue of supplementing expenditure borne on Votes by expenditure out of the National Land Fund is a matter which, I am advised, has been before the Select Committee on Public Accounts, and the Committee has not blurred its view on the matter. The Committee clearly takes the view, and, frankly, I think that the House takes the view, that it is not desirable in principle that expenditure which has to be voted by this House should be supplemented—on the side, as it were—from some other fund which does not fall directly on annual Votes, even though the procedure is legitimated by a Bill of this kind.
What I would say to the House—and I think the House will recognise that, because of my feelings for the National Parks and my desire for their development, it is distasteful to me to have to say it—is that the Government must oppose endeavours by private Members to bring any particular scheme for new expenditure to the top of the queue of such schemes. In saying that I am making no reference to the merits of the proposal, and I ask the hon. Member to accept that assurance from me.
At any one time there always are a number, and usually a considerable number, of claimants of this character, claimants for fresh expenditure in one 1490 direction or another for a cause which seems good to certain people. That means that there is competition for the funds which are available. If money is found for one, then money may not be available for some other purposes. Today we have in the House hon. Members who favour somewhat larger expenditure on the National Parks. Hon. Members who would prefer that that money should be used not for the National Parks but, if it is to be available at all, for some other cause dearer to their hearts, are not here today. They do not see the necessity to be present and to speak on a National Parks Bill. Yet they are affected by the Bill. Any Bill of this character which would make a call on public funds must affect the interests of all those who desire to see public funds made more liberally available for some purpose or another.
I think that this argument which I have been putting before the House is one reason why for centuries it has been accepted in the House of Commons that proposals to spend extra money must emanate from the Government. In our private lives, all of us know that if we spend more on one thing, which we are quite sure will be good and attractive, we shall not be able to spend so much on other things. In the last resort, we have to exercise choice. It is exactly the same with public funds. There is never enough to go round and, therefore, somebody has to exercise choice. It has been the tradition of the House that it should be the Government who exercise the choice and decide which proposals for additional expenditure they should bring before Parliament.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East was modest and persuasive about his Bill. He said that the Government might produce a better Bill and I understood from him that if the Government undertook to do that he would be content. I am sorry that I cannot undertake that the Government will themselves introduce a Bill on the subject, and I say that without reference to the merits of this Bill. I am not advising the House on the merits of it. I am advising solely on the financial implications of this device of introducing a Private Member's Bill which will have as its substantial effect the placing of a burden on public funds. If this were allowed by Governments it would be 1491 possible for private Members who are fortunate in the Ballot to jump the queue, as it were, and get their ideas financed by means of a Private Bill, even though Parliament had not had a full opportunity, and certainly the Government had not had that opportunity, to see whether it really should go to the top of the queue.
I submit that this is fundamental. We must handle these financial matters in this way. Therefore, without saying a word against the merits of the proposals in the Bill, I must advise the House that it would be a great mistake for it to be established that a private Member by introducing a financial Bill of this kind could jump the queue.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Would my right hon. Friend agree with me that the whole object of a ballot is to jump a queue?
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
I must express the very deep disappointment I feel, which I am sure is shared by many hon. Members, not so much at the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, which I think is inevitable, but at some of the expressions which he used, which seemed to suggest that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) had done something wrong in introducing the Bill. We all knew that the Bill could not go forward unless the Government supported it.
I must admit that I thought the Government would not feel inclined at this moment to support it. But I thought that it was very valuable that the hon. Member should introduce the Bill and that we should have this debate. I hope that the time will come before very long when the Government will introduce a Bill substantially similar to this Bill, because my only quarrel with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East is that he has not gone far enough in this Measure.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I agree with every word that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has said.
1492 Whilst I raise no fundamental objection to the bringing forward of a financial Bill for Second Reading in Private Members' Time—for anybody is entitled to bring forward what he likes—I must add that such Bills must end with the fate, which this Bill will receive, of being talked out. There is a whole list of matters requiring to be dealt with, such as the law relating to gaming and to Sunday observance. Hon. Members could mention scores of measures of reform which are badly needed and which many of us would like to see on the Statute Book.
If this had been raised as a Motion last Friday we could have had a thoroughly good debate on the question of the National Parks. Certainly I hope the Government will support a Measure of this kind in due course, but not in this way, by a Private Member's Bill. That, to my mind, is not the way to achieve the purpose which the promoters of this Bill have in mind. I am sure that their time has been wasted when it could have been far better employed on a Private Member's Motion on a Friday.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.