HC Deb 18 December 1963 vol 686 cc1390-8

[Queen's Recommendation signified]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 (Money Committees).


Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of this Session relating to the countryside and tourist amenities in Scotland, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by parliament of—

  1. (a) grants towards expenditure incurred or to be incurred by any person in carrying out work which in the opinion of the Secretary of State is calculated to preserve or enhance the natural beauty of a country locality, to restore or improve the appearance of land in a country locality, or to improve the facilities available in such a locality to members of the public for enjoying the countryside;
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  3. (b) allowances to members of a Scottish Tourist Amenities Council established under that Act;
  4. (c) any administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State under that Act; and
  5. (d) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums so payable by way of Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local government in Scotland.—[Mr. Noble.]

10.56 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I think that I am the only Scottish Member who has not made a speech on this Bill.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I have not made one.

Mr. Willis

I stand corrected. My hon. Friend and I are probably the only Scottish Members who have not made speeches on this Bill, and it would be out of order to do so now. I have no intention of detaining the Committee for very long, but I am sure that it would be a great disappointment to the array of Scottish Ministers on the Front Bench opposite if they were now allowed to show their paces on this Money Resolution, and we must therefore ask them one or two simple questions.

We have come down from the higher realms of local government finance, with all its intricate calculations, to the more mundane matters of tourism. Sub-paragraph (a) of the Money Resolution, which almost repeats Clause 2(1) of the Bill, authorises the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of grants towards expenditure incurred or to be incurred by any person in carrying out work which in the opinion of the Secretary of State is calculated to preserve or enhance the natural beauty of a country locality, to restore or improve the appearance of land in a country locality, or to improve the facilities available in such a locality to members of the public for enjoying the countryside. We grumbled about the Money Resolution in respect of the Rating (Interim Relief) Bill being drawn too tightly. We now have a Money Resolution drawn in extremely wide terms, and I should like to know what it embraces. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) decides to paint the gates of his country estate, will that be eligible for a grant? It appears that it will be. Or if my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), in very much humbler circumstances, decides to paint the gate of his front garden, will that be eligible for a grant?

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend knows that I do not live in a historic mansion maintained out of public funds. I live in an ordinary semi-detached cottage, and no funds are provided for its upkeep.

Mr. Willis

I was aware of the distinction, but the giving of a grant seems to depend on whether it is in a country locality in a rural area whether in the landward part of a county or otherwise. That seems to me to beg the question of what is a rural area. The provision lends itself to exploitation by the landowning interests of Scotland on a large scale. I am against allowing the landed gentry of Scotland to get their hands further into the public purse. They are in deep enough already, without allowing them to be in much deeper.

11.0 p.m.

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to indicate the kind of things that can be done under the provision. I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee, but I could think of numerous kinds of activity which could be engaged in by various people and paid for under this provision. The Financial Memorandum says that it is expected to spend only £25,000, but I wonder on what that calculation was based. Who decided that it would be only £25,000? Was there a sample survey of the type of work required in Lanarkshire, or the Border area—perhaps in Roxburgh—which was taken as being indicative of what was required for the whole country? The right hon. Gentleman should tell us something about it.

He should also tell us something about the allowances to members of the Scottish Tourist Amenities Council, to be established under the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate what it might cost. I understand that these people will have fairly considerable powers of taxing. I feel rather dubious about passing on such powers to other people. What sort of allowances has the right hon. Gentleman in mind? How many are to be on this Council? I could ask what amounts are to be spent under paragraphs (c) and (d). Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could say something about them, and give us an estimate of the total expenditure per annum that he expects to be involved.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East Mr. Willis) is so good at dealing with these problems that I feel it is almost a compliment that on this occasion the Treasury has not been accused of drawing the Money Resolution too tightly. That is generally the argument he makes. I agree that paragraph (a) is very wide. It is right, in the circumstances that we know about in Scotland, that it should be wide, because there are so many different ways in which the amenities—to use the modern word—of our countryside can be improved. I do not think that many Secretaries of State would want to paint the hon. Member's gates, in any colour, but there might well be conditions in which individuals could contribute cheaply and sensibly to providing extra facilities, for our tourists.

The hon. Member said that he was one of the few people who had not spoken on the Bill. I am sure that he read about all those parts of the debate that he missed, and he will therefore be aware of the suggestions made as to the types of work which could be done under this provision. One hon. Member suggested that derelict buildings might be removed, or perhaps trees planted to screen them, in order that they should not affect the beauty of the countryside. It was also suggested that seats might be provided, and footpaths improved, and that indicator signs should be put up showing the direction of high peaks from certain vantage points. Other suggestions were made, going as far as the clearing of litter and the provision of car parks. All these things are possible under the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman asked why a figure of £25,000 had been suggested. It is not, of course, either in the Money Resolution or in the Bill, and all that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is what I said to Hon. Members in the Committee, that this figure was thought to be reasonable; and particularly it was thought to be so in relation to the fact that the English equivalent legislation contemplates an annual expenditure of £48,000. This figure, therefore, was thought to be a reasonable indication of what might be needed in Scotland.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's question about allowances paid to members of the Scottish Tourist Amenities Council, these will be the normal allowances for travel and subsistence given to people who have to travel a certain amount round the country in order to see how the work or the suggestions made should best be dealt with. I do not expect these allowances to be substantial because I do not believe that this will need to be a very large body. Therefore, I do not think the hon. Gentleman need be worried about any large sums being spent in this way.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I wonder if the Secretary of State for Scotland would partially take back some of the things he has just said. The right hon. Gentleman justified paragraph (a) by saying that in the course of the discussion on the principle of the Bill Hon. Members made a lot of suggestions as to ways in which public money might be spent in improving the amenities of the countryside. He then went on to say, for example, that we might clear some of the derelict pit heaps. We are not going to clear many pit heaps if the right hon. Gentleman is going to spend only £25,000. In any case, the right hon. Gentleman must know full well that we should not deal with that kind of problem in Scotland, which is a very large problem, under the provisions of the Bill.

Power was given under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, in the areas scheduled under that Act. The powers were repeated in the 1960 Local Employment Act in the areas listed under that Act as development districts. The Government have the power to provide the whole of the money for the clearing of these derelict sites, whether pit heaps or other industrial sites which have become derelict, under the provisions of the 1960 Act. As far as I am aware, they have so far not cleared any.

It is a little unfortunate if the right hon. Gentleman is just going to throw out loosely a hope to unwary people in local authorities and to unwary people who might be thinking of visiting Scotland that they might get a job done for which provision is already specifically made by an Act, though not done under that Statute but done, as it were, vicariously under the Countryside and Tourist Amenities (Scotland) Bill. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it will not be done and he really must not hold out any possibility of it being done in what he says tonight.

Mr. Noble

It was not I who threw out this suggestion but one of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, who asked whether this sort of work could be done or whether screening by trees could be employed as well. I said that it could and quoted that example to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Fraser

That was exactly my complaint. The right hon. Gentleman is Secretary of State. He is the person defending before the British House of Commons a Money Resolution which is being considered now by a Committee of the whole House. When asked by my hon. Friend what he expects to do with the powers he is seeking under paragraph (a), he replied by saying that some hon. Member had suggested things which could be done, and left it at that. He did not say, "We would not dream of spending money under this power in clearing a derelict slag heap at a colliery." He did not say that it would not be done, but that it was one of the things which could be done. I want him to take that back, because we all know that it will not be done and we ought not to hold out the prospect of its being done.

We very much hope that many derelict sites will be cleared under legislation which specifically refers to them as blots on the landscape that ought to be removed. I am all too well aware of those blots on the landscape because there are so many in my constituency. They were left behind by people who made a lot of money out of mining royalties in Lanarkshire from the coal which was there, and then left those ugly slag heaps. Power was taken in 1945 to have these things cleared at public expense. Some were cleared between 1945 and 1951, but none has been cleared since 1951. I wish that the Government would start to clear them under the powers they have under the 1961 Act. Let not the Government or the Secretary of State pretend that they will clear them under this Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman has no intention of doing so.

Mr. Willis

This is a most intriguing subsection. Would it be in order for the right hon. Gentleman with his 30,000 acres to put in for a grant to trim all the hedges or cut the trees in certain shapes to add to the beauty of the landscape? Would it be in order for him to make a model lake, or an artificial waterfall? I can see the right hon. Gentleman having a busy time under this subsection.

Mr. Noble

I can assure the hon. Member that if I spent a busy time thinking up schemes for my own land, I should have an equally busy time turning them down as Secretary of State.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman because I did not hear the first part of his reply to the debate. Nor did I hear the first part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis).

Mr. Willis

My hon. Friend missed a brilliant speech.

Mr. Ross

I was correcting a brilliant speech that I had made earlier. I think my hon. Friend was right about paragraph (a). This part of the Bill—about improving and enhancing the beauty of certain areas—has everyone's approval. I wonder if it is desirable to limit it to country localities.

Mr. Willis

I could do with a bit of paint on my house.

Mr. Ross

We have this definition in the Bill: 'country locality' means any locality in a rural area whether in the landward part of a country or otherwise. I can think of certain parts of small burghs which could not be considered as rural areas, but to which it would be desirable to effect some changes. If the Secretary of State left it as it is, he would not be able to give any expenditure to any person, as apart from a local authority, in respect of changes which were made in such an area as I have mentioned.

The Money Resolution refers to allowances to members of a Scottish Tourist Amenities Council. I am sorry that it mentions this body because not everybody is agreed that this should be the name. It could have been denned in much vaguer words. I do not like Parliamentary draftsmen to tie us down and to frustrate our efforts to improve things. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) suggested that this name was not very suitable and that we could find a better one. I am sorry that the Secretary of State thought fit to include this in the Money Resolution and to deny us the chance of amending it.

Paragraph (d) reads: any increase attributable to that Act in the sums so payable by way of Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local government in Scotland. It is clear that he limits any contribution under the Act to local authorities to the extent to which they might receive equalisation grant, although in Clause 4 he places considerable new duties on local authorities—duties which many do not now possess. Rural authorities are not the wealthiest in the country, but they are to deal with the provision of area seats, shelters, viewpoint stances and indicators, together with any necessary footpaths leading thereto. These are not things which can always be provided without a considerable amount of expenditure, and I think that he should leave it open for us to suggest that the Government should make a direct contribution from general grant, quite apart from limiting the provision to help being obtained under the equalisation grant.

He gives power to local authorities to advertise their areas. Is this expenditure to be met only out of the Exchequer equalisation grant? In Shetland and Orkney, 85 per cent. of the total local expenditure is covered by equalisation grant. In the Secretary of State's area, Argyll, about 64 per cent. of local expenditure is covered by equalisation grant. It varies between 60 per cent. and about 80 per cent. This provision would be all right for those areas, but for others it might be very desirable to give a specific grant in relation to what they do under this provision.

The Secretary of State has not answered the question about allowances to members of the council. How much are they to be? I should be grateful for some indication. He has fixed the title and I do not doubt that he has already fixed the number of people concerned. I cannot see him denying us the possibility of changing something as unimportant as that and then giving us the opportunity of expressing an opinion on something which is much more important.

I should be grateful if he would answer the one or two questions which I have additionally put, and he may well have second thoughts on some questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and so far unanswered.

Mr. Noble

The definition of "country locality" has been specially drawn, as I explained—the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was not present when I wound up the debate—so that Cromarty and Kingussie could be brought within the provisions, although they were small burghs.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the equalisation, grant. Clause 4 provides only a power. Grants apart from the equalisation grant will be available under Clause 2. The hon. Member asked how much the expenses would be. All I can say about them is that they will be the normal travelling and subsistence allowances which are paid to people in many walks of life. I have not made up my mind how many people there will be on the Council. I have no doubt that I shall get some suggestions from Hon. Members in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received tomorrow.