HC Deb 07 February 1967 vol 740 cc1459-516

8.18 p.m.

The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order 1967 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 17th January. I think that I am at last taking action which will commend itself to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I say at once that this Order has been before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which the hon. Gentleman is the distinguished Chairman, and the Committee has determined that the special attention of the House need not be drawn to it, so I shall not deal with the details of the Order.

I move this Order with some nostalgia. The staff at the Department has been small in number, but it has worked very hard, and I believe very effectively.

The Order comes as no surprise. The Government in their election manifesto made it clear that they intended to reorganise Whitehall, and one of the items of reorganisation was bringing the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

The Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was created for two main reasons. The first was the need to coordinate national policies relating to land and natural resources. The second was to group together within one Department all the various functions relating to land use which now constitute the Ministry. It was felt that a single Department should have full responsibility for the availability of our natural resources to meet the needs of the community, and in particular the Ministry was given the specific objective of securing the establishment of a Land Commission as soon as possible. The objective was to secure a general oversight of land use.

A number of functions were assembled together in the Department, all relating in one form or another to land use—forestry, tree preservation, commons and allotments, a miscellaneous group, the most important of which was the apportionment of rents, National Parks and the Countryside Commission, water, where we devised a delicate demarcation with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and later the Ordnance Survey.

Also important was the question of information, advice and intelligence, and we therefore set up the Natural Resources Advisory Committee which later became known as the Stamp Committee. I am sure that the whole House felt the loss of Sir Douglas Stamp when he died in Mexico.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Surely one of the original objectives was that the Department should be responsible for planning, policy and procedures. Does the Minister agree that one reason why we have this Order before us is that these functions were snatched away by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government at an early stage?

Mr. Willey

That was not so. I will take up that point later. Our belief was that we could broadly separate strategic and tactical planning of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind.

When we debated a previous Transfer of Functions Order I said that one of the major purposes in setting up a Department is to provide a separate and articulate voice in Government. This has decisively affected the various functions that we took over.

I have mentioned the Forestry Commission. We had the Forestry Ministers acknowledging the valuable assistance given by the Estimates Committee's Report. We carried out a comprehensive reorganisation of the Commission. We changed its form and established four full-time commissioners. We changed the structure of management and provided for the functional reorganisation of the staff. By so doing we provided a much more efficient commercial undertaking and, having carried out this task, we decided that the proper thing to do, as the Order does, was to transfer those functions back to the Ministry of Agriculture.

We carried out a job which would have been difficult for the Ministry of Agriculture to carry out at the time but, as a result of the reorganisation, we have given emphasis to the production side of the Forestry Commission and we feel that it is now right that this function should go back to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Equally important, we have encouraged the Commission to play its proper part in promoting countryside policy. This is a matter which we provide for in the countryside legislation. The emphasis in the Forestry Commission should be on production, and for this reason—now that we have carried out the reorganisation—it is right that this function should go back to its former Ministry.

In the case of commons, we brought in the Commons Registration Act. The machinery of registration is now fully in operation. To examine the question of allotments we set up Professor Thorpe's Committee, which may lead to further legislation. On the apportionment of land, we have done a considerable amount to meet social injustices, especially in the north-west of England.

On the Ordnance Survey, I feel that their products are the tools of planning. Again, we reorganised the programme of the Survey. I felt that there was a serious lack of up-to-date, large-scale plans, and we provided for an increase in the staff of the Survey by 20 per cent. over 10 years, bringing forward its programmes so that large-scale maps for the major built-up areas should be completed by 1967ߝ68 and in order that the re-survey of the whole country could be completed by 1980. Although those functions also came from the Ministry of Agriculture we feel that there is no case for transferring them back.

We reorganised the National Parks Commission prospective to the countryside legislation which will provide for a Countryside Commission. We introduced the White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside. As far as we can implement this by administrative means, we are already doing so. We have improved the machinery for tree preservation orders, and so on, but the implementation of the White Paper will largely depend on legislation.

We have had a demarcation between ourselves and the Ministry of Housing in water matters. My main responsibility concerned the Water Resources Board, then newly instituted, but which I can claim is now fully established. We have also introduced a new scale into our thinking about water. We have the Board's report on the South-East and it is proceeding with a study on the North. The other day I announced that we were going ahead with the feasibility study for Morecambe.

Having got so far let me say that I was struck by two major features affecting the responsibilities of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. The first is that this has been a very small Ministry. It has been a core Ministry. The second feature is that, depending on the Ministry, we have had satellite organisaions with various degrees of autonomous power—the Forestry Commission, the National Parks Commission, the Water Resources Board, the Ordnance Survey, the Natural Resources Advisory Committee and now the Land Commission. We had a form of organisation in which the day-to-day administration was hived off to these dependent satellite bodies.

There is much to be said for this form of administration. We have a lot to learn from this experience. There is much to be said for divorcing day-to-day responsibility from policy making and for avoiding duplication when both responsibilities are housed together. In the Ministry we had a remarkably small headquarters staff.

In the past we have done one or two tasks in respect of all these functions of the Ministry; we have either been establishing them, as in the case of the Water Resources Board, or had a major job of reorganisation, as in the case of the Forestry Commission. We are proceeding in this direction in respect of the National Parks Commission, which will become the Countryside Commission.

As a result these bodies are more autonomous and independent than they would have been otherwise, and we are therefore more amenable to dissolution than we would otherwise have been because, in each case, these bodies have a markedly greater degree of independence than they had before, and in this sense they are much more footloose.

Mr. Rippon

Does this mean that fewer Ministers will be necessary in consequence?

Mr. Willey

I will answer that question when I come to the dissolution aspect. There has previously been some criticism of the attachment of these bodies to this or that Ministry, and here we have at any rate streamlined what I call these satellite bodies and, by doing that, we have, in a sense, made them footloose.

The second feature is that the major tasks which were given to this Department were legislative. To the original tasks there was added the job of preparing and introducing legislation on leasehold reform, which we took over from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on occasion, one of the purposes of the creation of this Department was the concentration of Ministerial attention on legislation which was needed speedily; and that has been the result of the setting up of this Department.

As I pointed out, we have the commons registration legislation, which had been lying in the pigeon-holes for six years or more, and the Land Commission legislation is complete. On leasehold reform, we have introduced a White Paper and shall be introducing legislation in the next few weeks. We also have a White Paper on the countryside and are actively preparing legislation on that topic. Thus, the major responsibility was legislative and finite.

We had another responsibility of the same category, which was concerned with bringing water supply into public ownership. Here, as I have mentioned, we have brought the Water Resources Board forward to a fully established and effective body. We have properly waited to see what part the Board could play and we are also now faced with the question of the reorganisation of local government as a whole.

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham would argue that we should create legislation to keep a Department alive. It just so happens that in the past couple of years or so we have had these major legislative tasks which, as I have explained, are well on the way to completion. These tasks were made clear at the General Election, when the Labour Party put forward proposals for reorganising Whitehall, to improve efficiency, to provide for better co-ordination and to provide for common services, particularly statistical information.

I referred to the Natural Resources Advisory Committee. I have in the past claimed the virtue of being anxious to avoid duplication. The moment one thinks in terms of common services, the purposes they serve and their division—the division to which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham called attention—one realises that there is a case for streamlining and for avoiding duplication. In this context, I should have thought that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources would attract attention.

Mr. Rippon

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say why it is apparently necessary for the Government to have four times as many Ministers to deal with these matters as the then Conservative Government had if he is saying that, to achieve the desired objectives, this Department should cease and should be dissolved? Dissolution aside, why is it necessary to have this number of Ministers?

Mr. Willey

This is a question of Ministerial responsibility. I am concerned at the moment with the far more important question of avoiding duplication and overlapping between Departments. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I will answer his question because I, too, realise that it is a crucial one. It is affected by the Order, but at the moment I am dealing with the dissolution of the Ministry.

I said that if one is considering Whitehall in this context, one must obviously look at these three Ministries; and I have emphasised that if one takes the various parts of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources one sees that one part would appear to fall automatically to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in the light of the reorganisation, the new status of the National Parks Commission, the activities of the proposed Countryside Commission and so on, and the Land Commission. I assure the House that it is my intention that the Land Commission shall be an independent body, substantially exercising its own discretion and judgment—

Mr. Rippon

We understand that, but will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? Will it need a Minister?

Mr. Willey

I will answer the question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must contain himself. He has been away from the House for a very long time. Had he been here attending to his duties he might know better what we have been discussing. [Interruption.] That happens to be true.

One must consider common services from the point of view of intelligence and what has evolved in relation to the Natural Resources Advisory Committee. This Committee had evolved to the point where it was working through three major sub-committees, the minerals sub-committee, the land data sub-committee and the land use sub-committee. Looking at it in the light of re-organisation we felt that the minerals sub-committee could more properly become effective as a consultative committee to the Natural Environment Research Council. The other two can serve the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

We have to look at executive functions if we are considering a Department. There has to be a sufficient basis of executive functions to justify the division of Departmental responsibilities. We have the division between broad strategic planning and tactical planning. I should have doubt about this providing a sufficiently broad base for a Departmental responsibility, but if one extends this we come against the problem which the right hon. and learned Gentleman touched on, and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) too—the relationship with tactical planning.

This is a difficult point. We have to try to formulate a distinction between strategic and tactical planning. It will take time to evolve, but we shall evolve it. This is the problem we have eventually to solve. It is a problem which will concern and affect the Government for a considerable time as other forms of overall responsibility are developed.

Turning back to the problems which have faced us and looking at the question in the context of the re-organisation of Whitehall, I think everyone looks for economy of staff and avoidance of duplication. The more natural thing to do is for the smaller department to join the larger department. In order to meet the point about strategic and tactical planning being brought together, we also have to face the problem that if we hive off planning responsibilities from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government there will be a major redeployment of staff which would disrupt the Department for some time, which is something one would hesitate to do, especially in present circumstances. This argument will continue.

There is also the question, which has been repeatedly drawn to our attention by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends, of the local authorities. With the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) and several other hon. Members, we discussed this point in relation to countryside policy. I have always taken the view that, though this may be a difficulty, we cannot detach the problem from local authorities. The problem is integral to the local authorities. The difficulty here is that it is all very well to suggest doing so but one has to face the consequences of doing it.

An hon. Member raised the parallel case of the Department of Education and Science. One does not need a Ministry of local government to be responsible for all the channels of communication with local authorities. At the same time, particularly in the light of what I have said about avoidance of duplication and overlapping, one does not want to have them if it can be avoided. This Department would be another line of communication down to local authorities, a parallel line of communication. I put it no more strongly than that one would hesitate to do it unless one felt that an overriding case could be made.

I think, in the light of these factors, that this is the right decision to take. I have set about fully integrating my staff, and that has been carried out. The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises the question of the Ministerial responsibility. I shall be translated into a Minister of State within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I think it is right, in view of what I have said, that within that Department there should be created a special relationship, that I should have specific responsibilities broadly for land use and planning. This means that I remain responsible for the Land Commission, leasehold reform, countryside, and policy and legislation on planning. This, I believe, is right. This must be within the general concept of a single department.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government will be in charge of the Department. Particularly in the light of our experience, particularly in the light of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman would probably say, I think that we ought to create this specific field of responsibility. This is why—I have at last come to the point the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised—we want this specific ministerial responsibility.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember saying very often that the Land Commission would be subject to the planning authority of the Minister of Housing and Local Government? Is not he now going to merge both those functions in his own person?

Mr. Willey

The hon. Gentleman is making a fair enough point. This is something I have argued. I am accepting his support that, if we take these steps for integration, we should provide that within the Department there is this Minister of State responsibility.

Mr. Rippon

Is not the right hon. Gentleman putting it a little misleadingly by saying that there will be a Minister with specific responsibility for land use matters? Will not the specific responsibility rest entirely with the Minister of Housing and Local Government? The point I am putting to the Minister is: why is it necessary to have in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government four times as many Ministers in the House of Commons as were necessary under the Conservative Government, all of them much more highly paid?

Mr. Willey

They are much more productive.

Mr. Rippon

Not in housing.

Mr. Willey

In housing, amongst other things. Over the years they will be much more productive still.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman. He argues that there must be a Minister with special responsibility for strategic planning as opposed to tactical planning. He has just said that the main reason why his Department was set up was to evolve a distinction between the two, which it has utterly failed to do, and this is why it is going back to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I find it difficult to follow this. What is the point of having a Minister in charge of something distinct from tactical planning if he does not know the difference?

Mr. Willey

I do not complain for a moment at the hon. Gentleman making this point. We have tried to divorce strategic from tactical planning. The hon. Gentleman maintains that this is a divorce which cannot be attained. I have said that this is something which we will evolve. It is difficult. It is affected by the reorganisation of local government. It is affected by the development of the regional organisation and other factors. For effective machinery at the moment these two stages of planning must be brought together. That is what we are doing. That having been done, there must be a specific responsibility. This is a solution which I am convinced is right in present circumstances. It is not a final solution. There is never a final solution.

Mr. Rippon


Mr. Willey

No, the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot speak. I have given way a lot. I do not want to detain the House further. I am anxious to give hon. Members the opportunity of participating in the debate. No decision on Government machinery is final. This is the best decision in current circumstances. It is the right pragmatic decision. For that reason, I commend it to the House.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I cannot say that my emotion or, I believe, that of my right hon. and hon. Friends can be described by the word which the right hon. Gentleman used for his own emotion—nostalgia. Rather is it anger and exasperation at the futility of the whole exercise—financing a Ministry, running it for 18 months, and then sending it bankrupt. This may be the Socialist Government's dynamism. It is certainly the Socialist Government's inefficiency.

Our original objection to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was not necessarily to its existence or to the idea of such a Ministry. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) put it very clearly in the debate on 9th March, 1965, when he said that there might be a case for a Ministry to deal with land use and economic planning. It was to the inefficient allocation of functions to the Ministry that we objected. Instead of all regional economic planning of the use of land being vested in the Ministry, all the right hon. Gentleman seemed to get in the end was—I was thinking of saying—a little bit of mineral water, a little bit of minerals and a little bit of water, and not the complete administrative functions in respect of either of those or the land. He had part of water planning and administration, part of mineral planning, plus the National Parks, and a Parliamentary Secretary's job of running a rather troublesome Bill through the House. The right hon. Gentleman said just now that a major part of his function was legislative, that is, getting legislation through the House.

Perhaps it would be right to say that he was given a little bit of mineral water, because it was all fizzy to start with, it had no substance at the beginning and it has had no substance since. It certainly produced a lot of wind at the time from his right hon. Friend the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, now Leader of the House.

I shall quote from what the then Minister of Housing said in order to see what the intention was in setting up this Ministry, how far it has served its purpose, and in what state it is being handed over to a department of another Ministry. In a town and country planning debate on 25th March, 1965, we were told by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government that the Ministry was created in order that it should itself create the Land Commission. He said: The Ministry of Land and Natural Resources arose to start with out of one simple and practical fact", and he went on to say that that was the Land Commission. Not even the greatest friends of the Land Commission or the Land Commission Bill would ever call it either simple or practical, or even a fact. It was just horror fiction when we came to read it. The right hon. Gentleman went on to refer to this tremendous measure of reform which, when it is completed, will alter the balance of power in the Government". What on earth did he mean by that? If that was so, if the balance has been changed, is it right that we should unbalance the whole thing by dissolving the Ministry? Anyway, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman knew what he meant himself, because he went on to say: I am not going to predict what the exact balance of power will be in Whitehall when the Land Commission is in full operation, but it will be different from today, because it is not possible to create a Land Commission without making big changes in the structure of Whitehall. It will not be possible to have it all under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as it was before. That is the basic reason why there are two Ministries. It is because we have foresight. I grant that the right hon. Gentleman had foresight for a matter of 18 months ahead, but, if it was not possible at that time to have the Land Commission under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, how is is possible now? Or is this just a change for change's sake?

The right hon. Gentleman also boasted: We have made more changes in Whitehall in our short time in office than they made in 13 years, or anybody did in the previous 25 years,…". Has the Order come before us tonight just for the sake of another change to prove the boast of the right hon. Gentleman, now the Leader of the House, in that debate in March, 1965? What he said, and what touches upon some of the interventions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) during the Minister's speech, was: Why did we want the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources on one side of the Ministry, and the Department of Economic Affairs on the other?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 941.] He gave two reasons: first, the Land Commission and the new form of land control and planning; and, secondly, public ownership of water. They were the only two reasons he then gave for the creation of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Those two reasons, nationalisation of land and nationalisation of water, were pretty big reasons. I suppose that the immense difficulty he found in getting one Bill, the nationalisation of land, through the House has made him, as it were, call in the next one and decide that he would carry out the nationalisation of water by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

I wish to revert to that significant remark: Why did we want the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources on one side and the Department of Economic Affairs on the other? Some of us wonder whether the intended basic function, land use and the availability of land, should not go to the Department of Economic Affairs—perhaps in a new edition—and not back to the Ministry of Housing and Local Govern- ment. Land and natural resources were surely a wider concept than housing and local government originally. Land use is surely an essential part of industrial, commercial, conurbation and regional development, and not merely of town development and the kind of planning one associates with a planning application to build a garage in one's garden or a bungalow on a plot next door?

In its 18 months' life, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources never got off the ground and on to the higher and wider plain of planning for national development. The Minister mentioned the Advisory Council, and he told us that three sub-committees to that council have been set up. But it does not need a Ministry or Minister to set up three subcommittees. If that is all he can show for the grand words with which his Ministry was introduced, perhaps the House should say, "We shall not let him disband at this stage. Let him get on with the job he set out to do." I doubt whether my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree with that sentiment. I do not agree with it myself.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not pursue such a fearful line of argument. I am in a hurry to say goodbye to the Ministry.

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will realise that what I said was more sarcasm than seriousness.

Mr. Peyton

I am relieved.

Mr. Page

Some two years ago, in an article in the Sunday Times on the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources Mr. Anthony Howard called it "The waif of Whitehall". The name has stuck. That article properly debunked the Prime Minister's grandiose description at that time of the Ministry when the Prime Minister said that it was responsible: for future policies relating to the availability of land as the community needs it"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 215.] Just about the same time, the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that the Ministry would be responsible for general oversight and assessment of the use of land throughout the country.

The Ministry never became a land use Ministry. It could not while the Minister of Housing and Local Government hogged the planning powers and the Department of Economic Affairs dealt separately and exclusively with economic planning. So, 18 months after those flowery phrases and descriptions of what the Ministry was to be, the Prime Minister's description for the purpose of dissolving the Ministry was very different. In one rather peremptory sentence he said: I intend in due course to discontinue the office of Minister of Land and Natural Resources as head of a separate Department. This will involve legislation. Integration of the staff of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources with that of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is far advanced…". No reason for the dissolution was given until he was pressed, and then he said, in explaining why the Ministry was to be dissolved or why it ever came into existence if it was now to be dissolved: …if we had not had the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources during the last 18 months we would not have been able to secure Ministerial concentration by my right hon. Friend on those two most valuable Measures, the Land Commission Bill and the proposals now coming forward for leasehold enfranchisement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1128–31] I am sure that the country would have been a great deal happier if the right hon. Gentleman had not had time to concentrate on that terrible Measure, the Land Commission Act. However, according to the Prime Minister, that was the reason for the Ministry. Having given birth, as it were to one monster, the Land Commission Bill, and being pregnant with another, leasehold reform, this waif of Whitehall has to go. No longer is it to be this great survey of available land, this great Domesday Book, but it is doomsday for the Minister.

Incidentally, during its existence it has been quite an expensive waif, and again I wonder whether we should allow it to go out of existence without having some account of what has happened to the money spent on it. In 1965–66 it cost £840,000. The Civil Estimates for 1966–67 estimated that for that year it would cost £2,000,617. I tried to find out from the Estimates whether there was any saving in any other Department or Ministry. I looked at the Estimates for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government hoping to find a saving of between £2 million and £3 million, but instead I found that its figures had risen from £24 million to £43 million. There was certainly no saving in setting up a new Ministry.

We were told at one stage that half of the Minister's staff had been those brought from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and that the other staff were new, recruited to the Ministry. Are those new members of the staff to go into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? Have they been integrated into that Ministry? If so, I assume that there will be a substantial increase in the staff of that Ministry.

If they do go into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government what functions do they take with them? The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned a few during his presentation of the Order, but there has always been very considerable confusion as to what functions his Ministry was undertaking, and what he was doing with those which he admitted to be handling. The Order mentions quite a number and he mentioned some today. If one looks at the 1965 Order, one gets an idea of the assembly of functions relating to land use.

At this stage we ought to look back. There is a convenient point to do this and it is at Question Time on 21st December, 1964. The Minister then set out on his jobs and we can compare that beginning with the state in which he is abandoning them and transferring them to the Department of another Ministry. On that day he was questioned about a great number of functions, and at column 829 he said that he was studying proposals for amending the National Parks legislation and that the matter had his "most active and sympathetic attention". Will he go on giving them that active and sympathetic attention in his new capacity, because very little has emerged so far? He was asked about the reorganisation of water undertakings and said: The Government are not yet ready to bring forward reorganisation proposals. At least he might have produced a little bit of print about it, a nice White Paper on the reorganisation. An awful lot of money was spent on printing in his Department.

I see that his bill for printing went up from £30,000 in 1965–66 to £223,000 in 1966–67. That must have been the cost of the Schedules to the Land Commission Bill. On the same day his Parliamentary Secretary stone-walled a number of penetrating questions on the Forestry Commission. He said that estuarial barrage schemes were under examination—"under very active consideration". Are they still under that examination and consideration? Very little has emerged from his Ministry about them. He was asked about minerals. The Minister said at column 837: I am considering how information about the location and accessibility of minerals should be collated and supplemented so that we may have a comprehensive picture of these resources. Apparently the Minister is handing over without ever having decided on how that information should be considered, beyond setting up a subcommittee of the Advisory Council. He was asked about land use and he said: …I have the responsibility for providing what has not been provided before, and that is a survey of land use, the determination of land use, and that sort of thing… He also said: My contribution to the formulation of regional plans will be in the field of the availability and use of natural resources, and I am at present considering how my Department can best equip itself to tackle the tasks involved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 832–843.] The Minister has had 18 months to consider this and as far as I can see from his speech today, all that he has done is to set up a sub-committee and then disappear into another Ministry Department.

Mention of regional plans brings me back to my previous point—the failure of the Ministry in the planning sphere in which it should have operated. Throughout our debates and Parliamentary Questions, the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary have made great play with the fact that previous Governments had made no land survey, that it was absolutely vital that there should be such a survey, and that it could be done only by this brand new separate Ministry—and not only one survey The Parliamentary Secretary had a tremendous appetite for surveys. He said that there would be a mineral survey and that it would come out as quickly as possible.

What has happened to them all and what will happen to them in future once the Minister disappears into a Department of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? In face of all that failure, is it expedient at this stage—this is what we are asked to decide tonight—to transfer these functions to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? I use the word "expedient" because it is used in the Order and in the parent Act to the Order.

I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for coming here tonight because, as he knows, I wish to raise a rather technical legal point on the Order but one of very great importance. Schedule I of the Ministerial Salaries Consolidation Act, 1965, is a list of Ministerial appointments with a salary against each. The Schedule, with Section 1 of the Act, is the authority for the payment of the salary, among other salaries, of £8,500 per annum to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. One cannot ascertain from the Schedule the total number of Ministers who can be paid. For example, it just says, "Minister of State, £8,500", although we know that already there are several Ministers of State.

Section 2 of the Act sets out the limits for several groups of Ministers. For example, there are to be not more than so many Secretaries of State and Ministers of State. Taking Section 2 and Schedule 1 together, the Act authorises the payment of 110 Ministers. I hope that the Minister will agree with my mathematics.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

It is 112.

Mr. Rippon

The largest Government in the world.

Mr. Page

It is amazing the way in which the Government increases. Even since the 1965 Act the number has gone up by two.

When Ministerial functions are transferred, Section 1(3) of the Ministers of the Crown (Transfer of Functions) Act, 1946, allows the 1965 Act to be altered. That is why Article 3(2) of the Order alters the number of Ministers and the names of Ministers in the Schedule to which I have referred. It provides: In Schedule 1 to the Ministerial Salaries Consolidation Act 1965 the references to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources shall be omitted. Section 2(2) of the 1965 Act, as amended by the Ministry of Aviation (Dissolution) Order, 1967, which we have just been discussing, provides that the number of persons to whom salaries may be paid as Ministers of State shall not exceed 20. It says: …for the word 'twenty' there shall be substituted the words 'twenty-one'. The word used in the 1946 Act, permitting this sort of alteration, is the word "modification". The enactments regulating the number of offices in respect to which salaries can be paid may be modified, but may be modified only on three conditions. Those three conditions are, first, that there is no increase in the aggregate number of paid Ministers; secondly, that there is no increases in the amount of salary paid to anyone in the list of Ministers; and, thirdly, that it is expendient to make the modification.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the Government cannot advise Her Majesty to make this Order in Council unless they satisfy Parliament that it is expedient to make this modification to the 1965 Act, that it is expedient to delete the words "Minister of Aviation" and to increase the number of Ministers of State. The Order starts off with the words: Whereas it is expedient that certain functions of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources be transferred to the Secretary of State,…". That is not the point of the Statute under which this Order is made. Having decided that the transfer shall be made, the question is whether it is expedient to modify the 1965 Act by deleting the Minister from the list and increasing the Ministers of State. It is not a question whether it is expedient that the functions should be transferred, but whether it is expedient that this alteration should be made to the 1965 Act. Having taken away a Minister's Ministry from him, is it expedient to call that sort of torso-less apparition by another name and pay him the same salary?

I do not know whether he is to be paid the same salary. In the list in Schedule 1 the Minister of Aviation is to be paid £8,500 and a Minister of State is to be paid £8,500. I must assume, unless he tells the House otherwise, that he is not to be responsible for a Ministry but he will be paid the same salary. A Ministerial salary, surely, must contain some element, some factor, for responsibility, and we ought to consider whether he should be paid the same when he is no longer responsible for a Ministry—indeed, whether it is necessary to have a Minister of State to do the job at all.

As a matter of fact, of course, we have no assurance in the Order that this extra Minister of State will be in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I appreciate that perhaps I may have set the cat among the pigeons between the Law Officers, but they possibly missed that last point of mine whilst they were discussing the matter.

I said that we have no assurance in the Order that the extra Minister of State will, in fact, be in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, or, if he starts there, that he will remain there, because the Order mentions no destination for this extra Minister of State. So how can we judge whether it is expedient that he be appointed or not? This change by Order could be used by any Ministry. Anyway, why a Minister of State? Why not a Parliamentary Secretary? Why do we retain both? There is to be a Minister of State and a Parliamentary Secretary to this Department.

Of course, the aggregate of Parliamentary Secretaries is not increased. It certainly ought to be reduced when we are removing a Ministry and substituting a Department. Is this really the sort of streamlining of government which the Socialist Party put before the electorate at the last two elections? It is an increase of staff of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is an increase of Ministerial appointments for which the taxpayer has to pay.

Therefore, we are asked tonight to approve the dissolution of a Ministry which, we were told 18 months ago, was absolutely essential to carry out a great survey of land. All that it has done in its life is to produce one good Act, the Commons Registration Act—drafted by a Conservative Government—and one very bad Act, in my view the worst piece of legislation ever presented to the House, the Land Commission Act. Having spent 3½ million on his Ministry in doing that, we are not asked to lose it in another Ministry. Eighteen months of wasted effort, and what a way to run a Government!

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

It was kind of the Government to introduce the Order at the time when right hon. and hon. Members opposite must be feeling particularly depressed with the public announcement of the way in which one of their previous Cabinet Ministers, and a well-known, efficient Cabinet Minister, has thrown away, apparently, what tenuous contact he has recently appeared to have with them. It is only natural that hon. Members opposite should desire to cover up their misery and disappointment by showing an interest in this evening's events.

Mr. Peyton

On a point of order. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you can invite the hon. Member to tell us what he is talking about so that you may judge whether it is in order. It is certainly very dull.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I should have thought that the former Minister of Transport, who, I understand, still has contact with right hon. and hon. Members opposite, was reasonably well known, as he is in the Press for some of his pronouncements. Naturally, this is not a matter which hon. Members opposite desire to raise in the House.

I welcome this opportunity to be in at the demise of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I am glad to see that as distinct from certain funeral orations, the Minister responsible is himself attending his own obsequies, which is a rather unusual event. I agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that once the decision was taken that planning responsibility should not be passed to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, the whole future function and running of that Ministry was unreal in that respect. Many would agree with the hon. Member in that criticism.

There was, I think, an argument for the establishment of a completely separate planning Ministry as had been established before, but when it was decided not to create that full separate and independent planning Ministry, what was left was inevitably a mixture which was highly confusing for all those concerned with it.

Nevertheless, when we come to the reabsorption of this Ministry back into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which appears to me to be a reasonable operation at this moment of time, there are two issues on which I have anxiety. I do not share the view of hon. Members opposite that no valuable work has been done by the Ministry during its existence. Quite the contrary. So far from regarding the Land Commission Act as a major tragedy as hon. Members opposite appear to do, I regard it as a most valuable contribution to the legislation and a vital one which can, and will, play a very great part.

Such a measure of the sort was widely demanded in the country, and the very inability of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to decide what was their view about these major questions of land ownership and land use was, of course, one of the reasons why they were rejected so outstandingly by the electorate in two major elections. Indeed, the inability of the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting opposite to make up his mind with his right hon. Friends what their attitude was towards land ownership at one time leaves him in no position whatever to criticise the actions which have been taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to me or to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)?

Mr. Blenkinsop

However, I have anxieties on two matters. One, indeed, my right hon. Friend referred to, and that is the question of forestry. It was maintained, I think with a great deal of justice, that it was a valuable change to separate the Forestry Commission from the Ministry of Agriculture, and although I fully recognise that important changes have been made in the working of the Forestry Commission, I am still doubtful whether the Commission should go back to the Ministry of Agriculture again, where it was very unhappily housed in the past.

I recognise that a new Minister and a whole new atmosphere will make it a much happier place for the Commission than it was when right hon. Gentlemen on the other side were in power, but I think many of us would like some further reassuring about the degree of independence the Commission is to have, and that attention will be given to the major problems which affect the country very much in this field, and as to whether or not the Commission may feel that it will be stifled within a Ministry which has many other matters with which to concern itself.

The other issue which is raised is that of the broad question of countryside policy, about which, unhappily, we have few occasions to raise matters here in this House. I think many of us were very glad indeed that my right hon. Friend was able to introduce his White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside, dealing with the important matter of recreation and facilities to be provided in the countryside and the wider issues of how we are to reconcile our desire to protect and to preserve what is most sensitive in the countryside with our equal desire to encourage its full use and enjoyment. These are matters which, I know, are very much to the heart of my right hon. Friend, and, as I say, we welcome the fact that he introduced the White Paper setting out the broad views of the Government on this questions.

We had hoped that his Ministry would have been able to produce the legislation which, as the hon. Member for Crosby mentioned, was envisaged, but although we have had certain general promises and undertakings about that—and we had them year after year, sickeningly from right hon. Gentlemen opposite—we have not, alas, had really adequate assurances that legislation is to be brought before the House. I think it is natural, when the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources is to be absorbed in this larger Ministry of Housing and Local Government, that we should have some added anxieties about the future of this particular piece of legislation, because nobody pretends that this question is one which arouses any kind of strong party political feeling; it is a matter of such general interest as not generally to stimulate Governments—of all complexions—into vigorous action.

I am pleased that it was a Labour Government which introduced the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act which we have on the Statute Book, and I am glad that it has fallen to another Labour Government to make changes and reforms to introduce the new provisions which now are so urgently necessary.

However, there are a large number of young people particularly who are concerned about these matters, and local authorities and others are hampered at present in not being able to get ahead with some of the work that they would like to do because of the lack of amending legislation. Therefore, it is natural that some of us should be unhappy about the dissolution of this Ministry without adequate assurances about the future of the legislation to which I have referred.

I should have been happier if my right hon. Friend had taken on more clearly the responsibilities of a Minister concerned with these wider countryside and recreation problems in a similar way to my right hon. Friend the Minister who has special responsibility for the Arts within the Ministry of Education. It would seem logical and right that there should be a Minister with special responsibility for this new, developing and very important activity within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Let us remember, too, that it is important not only to young people but to older people as well.

I know that my right hon. Friend has a deep and sincere interest in this matter, and I should be glad if he could give some of us who have spent a good deal of time on these questions the assurance for which I ask, that the passing of his Ministry will not affect the promises which have been made about the production of legislation to deal with recreation in the countryside.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) did not create a very clear impression whether he was for or against the Order. However, he said one very pertinent thing. He thought that it was a little brutal of those who arrange the Government's business to delegate to his right hon. Friend the Minister the duty of taking the Order through the House.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I did not suggest any brutality. I said that it was kindly of the Government to introduce this issue for the amusement of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In that case, I am particularly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for confirming what I said. To suggest that his right hon. Friend is put up for the sole purpose of giving amusement to my right hon. and hon. Friends is the kind of criticism which I myself would hesitate to make of the Minister.

I think that it is somewhat brutal that the right hon. Gentleman should now propose the Motion that his Ministry should be wound up, when one remembers how, two years ago, he was so full of high hopes of the great and splendid things that he would do, when all the problems of the land would be resolved under this wise and beneficient Ministry which was being set up. I suppose that the only explanation is that someone in the Government machine thought that, for once, the right hon. Gentleman should do a job that was worth doing.

I am bound to say that I welcome the Order. It is the best thing that the right hon. Gentleman has done during his Ministerial career. I thought that he made one curious and paradoxical statement when he said that hon. Gentlemen would not be surprised by this Order, because there had been an election pledge by the Government to bring it before the House. That is really the most astonishing observation. Prima facie, the fact that the Government are pledged to do it would seem to raise the strongest doubts about whether it would be done. One has only to look at all the other pledges by the Government, on taxation, rates, mortgages, houses, the abolition of the British nuclear deterrent, full employment, economic growth, and stability in prices. All those pledges were made, but, as the House knows, no attempt has been made to carry them out, and it has this extraordinary paradox.

This one little pledge obviously troubled the Prime Minister's conscience, and he said, "We will carry out this pledge. We will abolish the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources". I suppose it was like George IV's scruple about his coronation oath. It was his only scruple on the subject of Catholic emancipation, and he therefore valued it dearly. I suppose that that is the explanation.

It certainly was the most popular of almost all the proposals in the Government's election manifesto. It is true that it was merely to undo something that they had done, to destroy something which they had created, but let the right hon. Gentleman take encouragement from this. At the next election much the best thing to put in his manifesto is the pledge that he will undo some of the other things that he has done.

Mr. Graham Page

The Land Commission.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As my hon. Friend reminds me, the Land Commission for one.

There is a certain irony about this, that this one pledge, the only one of the lot which the Government are trying to carry out, is to undo one thing which they themselves have done. I remember the high hopes with which this Department was set up. As my hon. Friend said, the fatal mistake which doomed it from the beginning—and I say with due modesty, and the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out, that I took this point with the Prime Minister from the beginning—was that a Ministry supposed to be the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources could not deal with the problems of land use if it did not have planning power.

It is an abuse of language to say that this was a Department to deal with land use, when the actual decisions which determine land use were made by somebody else, and not only taken by somebody else, but taken by the present Lord President of the Council, then the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who said to me from that Dispatch Box that it was offensive to suggest that he would even consult the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Land and Natural Resources about planning decisions. That is an answer with which I rather sympathise. This has been the fatal weakness of this Ministry.

But the muddle continues. The right hon. Gentleman this evening treated us to an extraordinary disquisition on the distinction between strategical and technical planning. If I understood him aright, assuming that this distinction can be made—and no definition has been given to us as where the line of demarcation is to be drawn—we are apparently to have the fantastic situation that tactical planning decisions are to be made by the superior Minister, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and that his subordinate, the Minister of State for Land, is to make the strategic decisions. What a fantastic arrangement —an army in which the brigadier lays down strategy, and the general operates tactical control.

This really is the most fantastic army. I use this metaphor because the Prime Minister used a military metaphor once today, and it is obviously in the spirit of this present Administration. This is what the right hon. Gentleman told us. This is the concept—the superior officer, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, obediently trotting away to apply the tactical applications of the strategy which his own Minister of State is good enough to hand down to him. This shows that this question of any Minister being concerned with land but divorced from ordinary planning decisions has not yet been resolved.

The right hon. Gentleman gave us a disquisition on what his Department had done. I do not think that he understood the illogicality of his argument. It was really an argument for continuing the Ministry. Although his Ministry had done all these admirable things about water, and carried out innumerable surveys about forestry, and so on, he was moving an Order to dissolve it. It was another example of the muddle and confusion into which the Government have got themselves on this matter.

What is the right hon. Gentleman doing now, and what will he do? The other day I had a letter from him, written on the most extraordinary writing paper I have ever seen coming from a Government Department. It was headed "Ministry of Housing and Local Government: Ministry of Land and Natural Resources." Apparently it lives in Whitehall. The letter was from the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. What is the right hon. Gentleman now doing in another Ministry, still calling himself a Minister? My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) says "a cuckoo in the nest", but I would not go as far as that. I would think that it was more a case of an anomaly in pursuit of a paradox.

We should hear what the bright idea of the Prime Minister's in setting up this Department has cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) gave the estimated figure for one year, but I should like to know what this bright idea of the Prime Minis- ter's in setting up this Ministry nearly two and a half years ago has cost, in all, to the taxpayer.

What will be the effect on Government staffs? The right hon. Gentleman said not a word about staff reductions arising from the dissolution of this Department. Will there be any—or will it be the same story as we have always had under this Government, that all these changes mean more and not less staff? Are we, by eliminating the Department, going to achieve any reduction in staff? Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

What about Parliamentary Questions? The right hon. Gentleman was telling us about the functions that he thinks he will still perform in the Ministry of Housing. He answers a good many Questions, as does the Minister of Housing; indeed, the Minister of Housing was down to answer 70 Questions today but answered only half. Are Questions concerning land, leasehold and similar matters to be lumped in with Questions to the Ministry of Housing, with a consequent decreasing chance of being answered?

I come to the provisions of paragraph 3(2) of the Order, dealing with the creation of the 21st Minister of State. I am extremely doubtful about the wisdom of this, and of the proliferation of Ministers of State. They impede the work and diminish the status of the Parliamentary Secretary. Parliamentary Secretaries now have very little to do but to follow the words of Gilbert and Sullivan: The privilege and pleasure That they treasure beyond measure Is to run their little errands for the Minister of State. I am not sure that that is a good thing for the honourable office of Parliamentary Secretary.

I must probe further the question of salaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby asked the pertinent question whether or not the Minister of State—the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else—will be paid at the same rate as the right hon. Gentleman himself is paid as a head of a Department of State. If so, I protest. It is wholly wrong. It has been a long tradition that Ministers at the head of Departments have, in view of their responsibilities, the highest level of salaries—and to pay a Minister of State a full Minister's salary, merely because he has been a separate Minister, would be a considerable abuse. It would also have the effect of depriving us of even a marginal financial economy from this change. Are we to be told what is to happen about this before the debate ends?

I welcome the Order, but I have some regrets about it. There have been times when it seemed almost unchivalrous to hit the right hon. Gentleman; he was so helpless. He was the best target on the Treasury Bench and I had similar feelings to those expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) on another occasion, about another Minister, when he asked, "Have they shot our fox?".

I come to bury the right hon. Gentleman, not to praise him. The fiasco of the creation of this Department has now become clearer than ever. What those of us two years ago said was a mistake and a blunder has now been admitted by the Government to have been a mistake and a blunder. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister, with his fondness for military metaphor, has applied in this Order the sound military principle: never reinforce failure.

9.41 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Normally I would think it my duty to encourage and assist in the burial of such a monstrous affair as the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. However, the circumstances of these death rites are hardly normal. It is proposed to wind up this Ministry before the Land Commission is properly under way, and the sheer cowardice of this appals me. The Order states that it … shall come into operation on 16th February 1967". As I understand it, the first appointed day for the Land Commission is 6th April. What a happy coincidence for the Minister. It seems that here is the dishonest bookie absconding before his punters can find him. It is a moonlight flit; a Doctor Savundra. When the victims of the Land Commission wish to complain about any high-handed treatment that may have been meted out to them, to whom will they go for redress? The Order states: … certain functions of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources … be transferred to the Secretary of State … the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and … the Minister of Housing and Local Government. What a splendid game of Ministerial "pass the parcel" will be played when any hon. Member wishes to complain on behalf of his or her constituents about the treatment meted out by the Land Commission.

The sad tragedy is that the people of this country have some strange notion that when something or other is taken into the control of the State they can ask their M.P.s to seek redress if they have been treated badly. One constituent wrote to me only this morning having the incredibly naïve temerity to suggest that he was a shareholder in nationalised gas. It is totally absurd for my constituents to imagine that if people are treated badly by the Land Commission they will be able to obtain redress by going to their M.P.s. This is a serious point which should be fully explained before the dissolution of this Ministry takes place.

We have been told that the number of people who will be adversely affected by the operation of the Land Commission will be very small and that in only about 15 per cent. of cases will people have to pay the betterment levy. This is an optimistic figure, as my hon. Friends and I have pointed out. It seems highly likely that far more than 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of householders who have had their houses taken from them by the Land Commission will have cause for grievance and will wish to express their grievances to somebody.

What about the man whose house is taken over while he is abroad? Since the Land Commission has, with remarkable rapidity, become the golden calf of the Labour Party, I assume that the Minister who will be approached in such a case will be the Minister of Agriculture. What about the businessman whose business address is seized? He may feel that the address at which he earns his bread and butter has been taken from him. Must he apply to the Ministry of Food for redress? What about the builder who feels aggrieved because he did not get a concessionary crownhold through the Land Commission? Some fishy suggestions will be made about that, and I suppose that he must apply to the Ministry of Fisheries for redress. This is, of course, not a humorous matter. It is an extremely serious one because a great number of people will shortly wish to put forward objections about the treatment they are receiving.

Mr. Willey

I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate my difficulty. This Order does not deal with the Land Commission. We dealt with that in the Bill itself. I should be in difficulty if I endeavoured to reply to the points the hon. Lady is raising.

Mrs. Knight

This is precisely the point. It is almost impossible to nail any responsibility on to anyone. The Minister will recognise that we associate him, rather naturally, with the Land Commission. So he cannot blame us if in waving him goodbye with a certain unease we feel that now is the time to make our protestations. No other occasion will arise. We have to point out to the Labour Government that we are in this House to transmit the feelings of unease of our constituents to some head of responsibility. When the head of responsibility is rapidly vanishing out at the door and away from the Front Bench, we are given great cause for concern.

This is something concerning this dissolution Order about which many people feel grave concern. I can sympathise with the Minister. Nevertheless I feel sure he in turn will sympathise with us because we are trying to do the job for which we were sent here. For these reasons I am concerned about the dissolution, indeed for no other reason. The right hon. Gentleman will not take it harshly when I say that I shall not be unduly concerned at the actual dissolution of the Ministry, but for the reasons I have advanced I have cause for grave concern as I think others in this land will have.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I address myself to this Order as one representing a constituency which perhaps has watched with as great interest as any part of the United Kingdom the creation and activities of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. A large part of my constituency lies within the Lake District National Park, the Forestry Commission is one of the largest landowners in the constituency and the Morecambe and Lonsdale constituency is not unconcerned with water resources.

Therefore I listened with expectation, first for an explanation why this decision to suppress the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources is considered appropriate at this present time and, secondly, perhaps with even more interest, for information regarding the future discharge of the responsibilities which until now have been allocated to the right hon. Gentleman. These are indeed remarkable proceedings. I do not know whether it is possible to find a precedent for them.

It was only on 3rd November, 1964, in the debate on the Address, that the Prime Minister said: Disarmament, Technology, the new Ministry of Natural Resources—I would have thought that the House would consider that these were essential."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 65.] If the Prime Minister has changed his mind on one of that trio perhaps there is hope even now, which would give us greater pleasure, to see him go in relation to those other two Departments. After two years, a Ministry which was considered essential by the Prime Minister in November, 1964 is being wound up.

We are therefore entitled to ask, in considering the Ministry's present position and its future, whether the circumstances have changed since November, 1964. If they have not changed—nothing the Minister has said has convinced me that they have—it would appear that the creation of the Ministry was an error of judgment. Yet we all know that the Prime Minister is never guilty of an error of judgment.

On this occasion there was some support for the view the Prime Minister took, because there was general agreement that a new body was required to discharge at any rate some of the functions which the Minister has been discharging. In our election manifesto of October, 1964, we proposed the establishment of a countryside commission. I am delighted that in the White Paper "Leisure in the Countryside" it was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman that such a body should be set up. It was specifically stated in that White Paper, only 12 months ago, that the Countryside Commission should operate under the general guidance and control of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources.

What went wrong with the creation of the Ministry? I, too, suggest that the Ministry was yet another ill-fated project of that instant government to which we were treated in the first 100 days of the Prime Minister's period of office. Its duties and powers were insufficiently delineated and the fact that it was created in such a sketchy fashion was due, not to an error of judgment, but just to an incompetence in execution in setting up the Ministry by the Prime Minister. From that point of view I sympathise with the Minister in the conditions under which he has been forced to operate during the past two years. I am sure that on many occasions he has found them frustrating.

Now it is sought to correct the failure to create a workable division of responsibility between these Ministries by an Order abolishing the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources and returning its powers to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I only wish that it were as easy to set right the other consequences of the ill-considered decisions taken in the first 100 days as it is by passing the Order so that we could avoid the resulting 1,000 days of stagnation which have arisen on the general economic scene. What we are doing tonight is just an indication of the Government's quality of thinking at that period.

The reason why the Ministry is being wound up is that the powers given to it were insufficient. The nettle of planning control was not grasped. In my experience, even in the National Parks, planning control remained with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and, even when such a matter as the extraction of water from lakes in a National Park was under consideration and decision, the decision was taken, not by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, but by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

Reference is made in the White Paper "Leisure in the Countryside" to "Enterprise Neptune". But when it came to dealing, as I have had to deal on behalf of my constituents, with the question of planning permission and whether it should be granted in coastal areas of high amenity, the decision was not in the hands of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. It was in the hands of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. This Ministry was hobbled—or perhaps I should say nobbled—before it even started to operate.

Now it is suggested by the Order that all these specialised functions, some of which were detached from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government two years ago, should be returned to that Ministry. I can understand my hon. Friend's enthusiasm that this be taken, but I make the comment that the transfer could not come at a less opportune time and what advantages might be gained from it are largely offset by the fact that a Minister is being retained—I make no personal reference to the right hon. Gentleman here—there is to be no reduction in the number of Ministers or, so far as I understand, in the number of staff. We shall see the inflation of an already over-size and overburdened Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Before long, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will be considering and implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government. From the discussions I have had and the evidence already submitted to the Royal Commission, it is clear to me that this will put a heavy additional burden on the Ministry and it is bound to be its prime concern in the years immediately ahead. The Minister and his Department will have their hands full of it.

For the reasons which the Minister of Land and Natural Resources himself gave, I consider that certain duties would be better retained by a separate body. Responsibility for the National Parks is an obvious example. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject. I know that he has visited the Lake District National Park on a number of occasions. The question of water resources is another example. This is of special interest to me and my constituents, and I ask for the indulgence of the House if I use the developments in the North-West as an illustration of some of my apprehensions about the winding up of this Ministry and of the type of action which I hope it will still be possible to take through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government when this Minister and his staff are absorbed into what I fear is an all too monolithic and inflexible organisation.

One of the Minister's last actions was to authorise a full feasibility survey for a Morecambe Bay barrage. This does not mean—I say this only for the record —that,he has authorised the construction of the barrage. Some people have assumed that it is almost under way. He has authorised only a study of what is involved. Here is a list of some of the items which his Ministry would have been considering as a result of that survey had it remained a separate entity. First, it would consider whether this was the economic way to provide 500 million gallons a day of water, which would go almost half way to meet the additional needs of the whole of the north of England up to 1990. Second, there would be the question of 12,000 acres of reclaimed land brought into agricultural use. Third, the problem of 15,000 acres of agricultural land which would have to be drained by pumping but which at present is drained by normal natural processes. Fourth, the elimination of the fishing industry employing a considerable number of people. Fifth, the considerable problem of assessing the effect on amenity and the general effect on agriculture in the vicinity. Sixth, the creation of the largest stretch of inland water in the United Kingdom.

Parallel with these considerations—this is relevant to our discussion now—there are proposals by the Lancashire County Council for an additional 100,000 population to move into the Lancaster-Morecambe area, a process which would be going forward at the same time. Last, for good measure, the Central Electricity Generating Board has announced that it proposes to construct a nuclear power station on the fringes of the bay.

These matters have particular relevance to the functions which would have been discharged, or ought to be discharged, by a Minister of Land and Natural Resources. In his opening speech the Minister used one or two phrases which are particularly relevant. He said that when the Ministry was set up there was a case for a separate and articulate voice in Government, a "core" Ministry, and he referred to the divorcing of policy making from day-to-day responsibility. I believe that it is extremely important that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government should establish a departmental function capable of taking a broad view of developments in circumstances such as I have mentioned, because they are not unique and may well be repeated in other parts of the country.

Strange to say—and I hope that the Minister will at least find these words welcome—I have some apprehension lest the guiding hand of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources should be missed as a result of the Order, because I believe that in that type of development we could have an exercise in democratic planning. I am desperately anxious that that opportunity should not be lost and I raise the matter in some detail now, first, because I believe that its scale is such that it warrants being discussed in the House of Commons, and, secondly, because I believe that the opportunity may be lost through the merging of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources with local government.

To begin with, I believe that some machinery should be set up in the Ministry to guide the kind of investigation now taking place. Three planning authorities would be involved—the County Borough of Barrow-in-Furness, Westmorland County Council and Lancashire County Council. Four would be involved if one considers, as some people do, the Lake District Planning Board as a separate planning authority. I believe that this matter is relevant to the present discussion because in the debate in March, 1965, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, referring to the former situation, said: What we have done is to leave the local planning authorities to bear a heavy burden largely unco-ordinated. This is one of the reasons why we have got into chaos with overspill, communications and in many other ways."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 379.] If the Minister feels that his Department has improved co-ordination up to now, I hope that he will say that steps are being taken to see that no chaos develops in the North West region as a result of the transfer, I hope that, particularly when he consults the North West Economic Planning Council on the terms of reference for the feasibility survey, he will bear in mind the desirability of asking the planning authorities involved at an early stage what type of information it would be most useful for them to have as a result of the survey, so that he can ascertain what information they will particularly wish to have made available to them at the earliest possible date. I hope that he might later consider having a project consultative committee which could keep in touch with all the interests affected, so that people did not think that they were having a solution or decision imposed on them but were taking part in the formulation of decisions.

I believe that the Minister is correct in saying that there is a division of function between strategic and day-to-day planning. I wish that he could have told us that there was to be a reduction in the overall number of Ministers and a reduction in the total government departmental staff. In that case, I would have warmly approved the Order without reservation.

But we can hardly mourn a Ministry cut off in its prime, because I feel that it has been enfeebled from the start by possessing insufficient powers and that, taking it in the round, we must regard it as an initiative that has failed. As the Minister himself said, the underlying problems remain despite the fact that this attempt to solve them has evidently not met the situation.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) has made a powerful speech with special reference to his own constituency and I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him along the line which he was pursuing.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I was surprised that the Prime Minister should send the Minister here to cut his own throat and salary in public. It must have been rather like acting as Sweeney Todd at second hand. I am surprised, too, that one of the right hon. Gentleman's mourners today is not the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), who was convinced that the Minister's great achievement with the Land Commission was to put up the price of land. I thought that he might have joined in singing the swansong of this remarkable Ministry.

I should like to put forward a suggestion which, even at this stage, the Minister might consider. It is that his proper place is in the Department of Economic Affairs. A great many of the decisions to be taken by the Minister, even in his new guise as a Minister of State, are concerned with economic planning. When in my constituency we put forward plans, we are told that there must be a delay until the regional development plan has been brought out by the Regional Economic Development Council. If there is to be this tie-up between the Department of Economic Affairs and planning in the field, the proper place for the right hon. Gentleman is in the Department and not in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

During his tenure of office, we told the right hon. Gentleman that one thing which was putting up the price of land was planning procedures. I see nothing in these proposals which will improve that situation. I do not think that land will become more readily or more speedily available. In spite of the Land Commission, I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make any substantial difference to the price of land. Unless something is done to help towards that aim, there will have been even more waste of money and land prices will continue to rise.

Although I welcome the demise of the Ministry, I see no broad horizon of cheap land stretching ahead and I see no hope for owner-occupiers stretching ahead. Even though the Minister has cut his own throat, it will be a pity if some good does not come of it.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

I had not intended to intervene in this debate, because I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston - upon - Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) the feeling that it is slightly unfair to go on shooting at sitting ducks and partly because in listening to the right hon. Gentleman I have realised his embarrassment in trying to justify his existence in the first place.

Nevertheless, listening to him further and looking back on all the hight brave phrases, meaningless though they were, I thought that we ought to realise what an absolute farce the creation of this Ministry was. I do not know how many of my hon. and right hon. Friends remember that we were told not only of this great need to separate strategic from tactical planning—although the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that there is no difference, or that he has not yet evolved one—but of the need for the evolution of planning techniques, a wholly meaningless phrase which remains as meaningless today as when first pronounced as one of the main reasons for setting up this Ministry.

We were told that there was to be a survey of existing land use. Has anything happened about that? My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) has reminded us of the great promise that land was to become much more easily and readily available at lower prices. That, of course, is essentially a function of ordinary land use planning as practised in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and later by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government since the 1947 legislation.

The whole of this Ministry was an absolute farce from the moment that it was established without the planning powers essential to make any sense of its functions. From the very day when my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), after Question Time, moved that in view of the unsatisfactory Answers given to the last 26 Questions the matter should be raised on the Adjournment, the right hon. Gentleman has been giving unsatisfactory Answers, not through any fault of his own, but because his Ministry was such that it simply did not make sense, and no one could have made sense of it.

Now, at the end of the day, we are told that, because someone thinks that there ought to be some difference between the strategic planning and tactical planning, this justified a special Minister with special responsibilities, and the full salary of a Cabinet Minister, responsible for something which he hoped one day to evolve. When we look at the other matters for which we were told the right hon. Gentleman was to be responsible, water, the Land Commission, leasehold reform and so on, they were all matters which were always the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. If leasehold means anything, it means that it is the function of housing, just as the Land Commission deals with a function of planning.

Now the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has had returned to it all the functions that it previously had sloughed off to no less than three Ministers in the Welsh Office—two Ministers, drawing full Cabinet salaries and two Parliamentary Secretaries in the Commons and one in the House of Lords, for a job that used to be done by half that number, all drawing a good deal less. Indeed less than half—one Minister and one Parliamentary Secretary for the Commons.

It is not for me to say whether the jobs were done well, but I would challenge anyone to say that they arc being done any better by the inflated staff for which the taxpayer has to pay. Looking back on this, it is not something about which we should rejoice, because it is an absolute scandal in the proliferation of highly paid jobs for Members of the party opposite, although I would be the last to grudge the particular Minister his emolument, because we happen to like him, but this is not the point of the exercise.

What are the so-called achievements of this Ministry? The Land Commission Act? I do not suppose that at the very most, more than half a dozen hon. Members—certainly not including the right hon. Gentleman—can begin to understand it. It is a Bill which the Minister says glibly will affect only a small percentage of householders, who will not have to pay the levy.

In every case one of the most complicated series of valuations and assessments that has ever appeared on the Statute Book will have to be made to say whether the levy should be paid. People will always be saddled with high professional fees, because it is a very difficult job and the community will be saddled with more and more people, diverting into the wholly unconstructive exercise of arguing with the district valuer, or whoever represents the Land Commission.

The leasehold White Paper must be the biggest travesty of justice ever to pass through the House. It deals with the compulsory acquisition of legitimately acquired property, and its transfer, not to the Government in the public interest, but to other individuals, simply because there are more of them, and the Government believe that they are more likely to vote for them. We are engaged in the closing down of a Ministry which ought never to have been created. I only wish that we were engaged in the discussion of a Bill of Impeachment which would be very much more suitable.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I entirely agree with the closing words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield). Many times in the last two years I have regretted the ending of the procedures of impeachment. I agree profoundly with my hon. Friend that it is a greaty pity that we now lack this weapon.

I have stayed here for a long time with the deliberate intention of supporting the Government—a very galling thing to have to do, but I find myself doing it wholeheartedly. Having said that, it seems a little churlish to turn to this bit of paper which we have before us. I regret very much that over the years I have not had the foresight to collect from each of these horrid little bits of paper some of the glowing and gleaming phrases of muck which proliferate in such places.

I invite attention to paragraph 1(3) of the Order which provides: In this Order—"'instrument', without prejudice to the generality of that expression, includes in particular an Order in Council, judgment, scheme, decree, order, rule, regulation, byelaw, award, covenant, agreement, certificate and any other document". What terrible stuff this is! Cannot we be content with "instrument"? Cannot we refer in this horrid Order to instrument', without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing"? That should suffice even for the Minister. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a taste for bad language, for a revolting massacre of the English language. His appetite has been whetted by the exercise of the Land Commission Bill and its revolting Schedules about which you and I, Mr. Speaker, if I may say so with the greatest respect, were involved in a slight disagreement earlier.

I came to praise tonight, not the Minister, but the Government's decision to do away with him. I am bound to say that my enthusiasm is considerably weakened by constant reflection on the message of paragraph 3(2) of the Order which provides in its last words: … for the word 'twenty' there shall be substituted the word 'twenty-one'"— another Minister of State.

I do not go the whole way with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who I am sorry is not here. He suggested that the office of Parliamentary Secretary was honourable. My own experience led me to believe that what it involved was this. When it was highly inconvenient, embarrassing and onerous to be a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary was a Minister fully-fledged, unadulterated and, without any qualification. But when there was any advantage, glory, distinction or honour in being a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary was an office boy, unless, by great good fortune—and I do not mean this in a spiteful sense—his Minister happened to be ill. I do not agree that there was any honour or glory in being a Parliamentary Secretary. I very much doubt, though, whether much would be gained by converting all Parliamentary Secretaries to Ministers of State. I think that I have said enough about that.

I am glad that one of the main pallbearers has returned to the Chamber. One did not expect that the right hon. Gentleman, in his "dickey" political condition, would be here alone to celebrate his own obsequies. It would have been unseemly even by the low standards of this Administration had he been here in solitude and isolation. We have had the Solicitor-General with us. We are pleased to see him here because he always manages to convert an easy Parliamentary occasion into one of immense difficulty. For this he has a talent. I was encouraged earlier to see that he had the Attorney-General on the other side of him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman stepped into this little puddle just to ensure that neither of his colleagues got too far off the rails, although what mistakes they could make at this eleventh hour in the right hon. Gentleman's existence I was not able to guess. It would be very unfair to address to the Chair the question, "What was this Ministry expected to do; what was it created to do?" It would be indecent to ask the Chair what this Ministry did do.

The Land Commission Bill is the shabby and disgraceful memorial of the right hon. Gentleman's tenure of Office at the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. What a fearful and horrid monument. My hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, on a number of occasions, had promised to give his active and sympathetic attention to various matters. What fearful treatment. My hon. Friend was good enough to remind us that the printing bill under this organisation had soared. I do not doubt that you, Sir, like myself, spent hours of anguish wondering about those dreadful Schedules—not what they meant, because their meaning was inaccessible to either of us, but what they were meant to mean. No wonder the printing bill must have soared, in view of the number of rough copies, less rough copies, eventually reaching to drafts, which they must have gone through. It must have been legion. The result was as bad, one supposes, as anything that went before it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked what will happen in future to Parliamentary Questions on this subject. Will they just be merged with the answers given by the Minister of Housing and Local Government? There can be few of us, who take an interest in this subject, who do not remember with nostalgia and regret the first occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman was answering Questions in the House of Commons after the 1964 election. Really, one was left at the end of the day feeling that the questioners knew more when the operation started than the right hon. Gentleman did at any time during the process. It was a most inconceivable display and one felt sorry for the right hon. Gentleman who was exposed to this humiliation.

Tonight the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Land and Natural Resources, takes wing to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and he leaves us in his present capacity unwept, unhonoured, and unsung. This was a fearful Department. It was just another of the Prime Minister's gimmicks, designed to suggest that a Government, formed by the Socialist Party, really had plans and vivid intentions and designs, that it had a sense of purpose which would be so strong as to drive it forward in conquest of some of this country's more serious problems. Now we see the muck and mockery that is left behind it. The Land Commission Act—let that be its monument, amen; and let the Minister be remembered for some of the really dreadful Schedules which violated the English language, at the same time as they distorted common sense and frustrated liberty itself.

What I said at an early stage of the Land Commission Bill was justified, namely, how clever the Government were to choose the right hon. Gentleman, so innocent looking, and so inoffensive and so reasonable, as the vessel to draw that horrid Bill through Parliament. I could not have done otherwise tonight than to stay to take my humble part in the obsequies of the right hon. Gentleman's career as Minister of Land and Natural Resources.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will forgive me if I do not follow him exactly. I could not have bettered his remarks about the criticism of the ill-fated Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. My hon. Friend put it so concisely that it would be as well if I did not elaborate on what he said.

I would, however, like to mention the interesting remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lons-date (Mr. Hall-Davis), who spoke earlier about the size of the large and growing Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. My hon. Friend told us how the figures had been inflated. Perhaps he is not aware that only a month or two ago I received an Answer to a Written Question showing the terrific increase in the number of non-industrial civil servants since the Government came to office. Suffice it to say that the increase has been at an accelerating rate for the past couple of years. Between 1st January and 1st October last year, a period of nine months, no fewer than 17,000 new civil servants were on the books as established. I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil would not have been alone tonight and that the House would have given a really good send-off to the Minister and his Ministry, with packed benches on both sides, if he knew that with the right hon. Gentleman's departure his staff would be redeployed in productive work of a useful nature.

It is almost exactly two years ago to the day since the House had laid before it the Statutory Instrument bringing into effect the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. During those two years, as we have heard tonight, the activities of the Ministry have been multifarious. In some cases they have not been of any great importance. This ill-fated two years' career will always be marked—or should I say marred—by one Measure with which I and most of my hon. Friends associate the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, namely, the Land Commission Act, a copy of which has become available from the Vote Office today. In my estimation, that blot will always blacken the name of the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry.

As hon. Friends of mine have said, there is nothing wrong with the Minister himself as a man. I thought for a moment that he was getting up to intervene. He is a pleasant and courteous little man. What I condemn him for, however, is not so much for bringing to the Statute Book an Act which nobody can understand, and I could never condemn him for his pleasant manner and readiness with which he explained matters to back benchers during the prolonged Committee stage proceedings—

Mr. Willey

The hon. Member was on the Standing Committee. The Bill went through Standing Committee in a remarkably short time without a Closure or suggestion of a Closure. How can he say that he does not understand the Bill?

Mr. Farr

I was not aware that I had said that I did not understand it, although I would have said so in due course. In saying that, I was merely echoing the words of many of the Minister's hon. Friends during the debates on the Land Commission Bill on the Floor of the House. I was going to say that what I do condemn the Minister for is trying to pilot through a complicated Measure of this nature which he never properly understood himself. He never understood it. I heard one of my hon. Friends say a little while ago that there were probably fewer than half a dozen Members who understood the Land Commission Act. I would say that there is not a single Member in this House, on either side, who fully understands the Land Commission Act, and I am quite certain that the Minister never fully understood it himself.

I suppose that in the years to come his children—or perhaps I ought to say, his grandchildren—will ask him what he did in the House, and no doubt, as he sits back on the Front Bench now, with his feet up, he is thinking that he will be able to reply, "I piloted through the Land Commission Bill. I was the man who brought the Land Commission Act into being." I will make a forecast that in a very short time, in, perhaps, a matter of two or three years only, he will be ceasing to tell his children or grandchildren that: he will be ashamed of the results, of the disorganisation and the chaos, in the country, and will certainly not brag of his Act to his descendants in any way.

Why should I speak like that of any Act of Parliament? After all, we all in this House try to make the best of any job, however bad it may seem to be. I really think that the Land Commission Act, which has been such an ill omen, so to speak, for the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, is an exceptional piece of legislation—

Mr. Speaker

This is not the Third Reading of the Land Commission Bill.

Mr. Farr

No. I quite appreciate that. I was merely trying to put one or two reasons why I do not regret for one moment the passing of the Minister or the Ministry, and the chief reason for not regretting that is in one or two points I thought to make about the Act for which the Minister is responsible.

Mr. Speaker

A passing reference to it is all right. I was just calling the hon. Member's attention to the fact that this is not the Third Reading of the Land Commission Bill.

Mr. Farr

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was saying how much it has been agreed on both sides of the House and in the country that the Land Commission Act is not understood by those who should understand this type of Measure. It has not been the only Measure which the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry has produced, but the Land Commission Act is, I think, the only Measure which has unanimously been condemned as unintelligible and unworkable by those professional bodies which have got to understand it and have got to make it work.

I quite appreciate that I cannot go into too great detail of the Act, and so I shall not trouble the House with some of its major sins, but I should like to call attention to what is perhaps the most disgraceful part of the Act, one which we have not seen come into force, and which will not come into force till the second appointed day arrives, and that is the accelerated and un-British method of compulsory purchase without appeal, and also the acquisition by the Land Commission of powers which have been unexceeded in this country even in time of war.

I should be out of order if I were to refer to the privileged position of nationalised concerns not paying any development levy, or to the privileged position of local authorities, and I would also not like to deal in too much detail with the way in which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have ignored consistently the advice which has been given them in another place by their right hon. Friend Lord Silkin, that the first appointed day should be postponed. They have ignored that advice persistently, and they are not going to pay for ignoring this advice—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman, with respect, must come back to the Orded itself.

Mr. Farr

I quite appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.

I conclude by saying that it is the small plot owner who will suffer as a result of the obstinate and obdurate attitude of his Ministry.

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you will appreciate that my remarks are naturally coloured by the Land Commission Act, because I served on the Committee which considered the Bill. However, that is not the only reason why I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry disappear. I could not join with anyone in regretting the right hon. Gentleman's departure from this place, and his Ministry's departure from Whitehall at the earliest possible date.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

While attending the last rites of this Ministry, it is important that we should learn a lesson which is available to us, by thinking back to the earlier days of the Ministry, when it had considerable popular appeal.

It was said that one of the jobs that it would perform was to provide cheaper land for housing for owner-occupiers. There is no doubt that a tremendous amount of political propaganda was made out of that so-called function of the Ministry, and a prominent performer in spreading that propaganda was the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. Unfortunately, the Minister of Housing and Local Government joined in strongly in those early days, because he did not understand the limitations of the proposals, and that Minister was misled, just as were the small builders and, eventually, the young couples who hoped to benefit from the so-called proposals of this Ministry.

It is very important that we should see to it that a similar misunderstanding is avoided, that the new Minister of Housing, who will be taking over these responsibilities, is under no misapprehension as to the sort of bag of tricks he is taking over, and what benefits he can hope to achieve from the earlier work of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources.

That is necessary, because, as late as 14th July of last year, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources was asserting in great detail that builders would get land at less than the market price and that owner-occupiers would get houses more cheaply as a result of his policies. These transactions were to be carried out by way of sales of concessionary crownhold land, the Minister asserted. But members of the Opposition knew at that time and had known for a long time that these claims were false, because the Minister had refused consistently to introduce regulations which were necessary to show how the privileged builders would be chosen and how the privileged owners of these cheaper houses would be selected. We knew that there could not be any truth in these claims.

Eventually, the true position was made clear by a Government spokesman speaking in another place. As late as 17th January of this year, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet said: What is not intended is that the Commission should so dispose of concessionary crown-hold: it will dispose only of crownhold in general—"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. House of Lords, 17th January, 1967 ; Vol. 279, c. 82.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I cannot see what this has to do with the transfer of functions.

Mr. Eyre

It is great practical importance. What the Government spokesman in another place did was to make quite clear what kind of result the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources could bring about. Then, unfortunately, that was contradicted by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, because, on 25th January, he virtually denied in this House what had been said by the Gov- ernment spokesman in another place and repeated earlier White Paper promises.

Mr. Blenkinson

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, is this not merely an attempt to have another debate on the Land Commission Act?

Mr. Graham Page

Further to that point of order. We are asked in this Order to approve the appointment of a Minister of State. We have been told the sort of jobs he is to undertake, one of which is the running of the Land Commission. Surely this is very much in order? Under paragraph 3(2) we are to appoint a further Minister of State. It is for us to discuss what he is going to do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not in order to discuss the details of the Land Commission Act.

Mr. Eyre

What I am trying to do in quick outline is to record the fact that on 25th January, despite what had been said in another place, the Minister here repeated earlier promises set out in a White Paper which had been virtually discredited as a result of what the Government spokesman had said in another place. The practical importance of this, and the relevance of it to this Order, is that we want to be sure that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is to assume responsibility for these functions, is not misled, as an earlier Minister of Housing and Local Government was, into thinking that these benefits will be available to small builders, or to young couples who are saving up to become purchasers and hope to benefit. It is important that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government should not repeat the earlier false propaganda statement of his predecessor, and that he should understand the true factual position as set out by the spokesman in another place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not pursue that.

Mr. Eyre

I am very glad that this Order is being made tonight, and I hope that the Minister, as his last act, will set the record straight by acknowledging that the Government spokesman in another place is correct in what he says about this, and will therefore be able to move over to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and give a clear account of the functions which can be performed through the agency of the Land Commission so that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will not be misled in any way about the possibilities of the policy that he can carry out.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)

I think that the funeral rites of this Ministry have been very full and solemn. There have, of course, been occasions when some rather hard things have been said, not about the Minister himself, but about his Ministry. At one point my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred to it as a torso-less apparition, and I think that the Minister, having listened, as has he has done with his customary politeness, to the things which have been said, which have been hard, and possibly verging on the impolite, may perhaps in his own mind regret that this Ministry was ever set up, and he may, indeed, even be glad that it is now to be dissolved.

To my mind, the sole apparent positive contribution which his Ministry has made has been the rather doubtful one of the Land Commission Act. It might perhaps have been poetic justice had the Minister himself been appointed its first chairman, although I doubt very much whether he would have liked to have taken on that honour. As it is, many of his functions are to be dispersed to other Ministries, and he is about to be translated to a higher place in the form of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

I think one is entitled to ask what savings are going to come about through this translation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who I gather is to reply to the debate, will be able to tell us in positive terms what savings are to be achieved. It is apparent from the Order that there will be no saving in terms of Ministers. We know that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government already boasts a Minister of Cabinet rank and no fewer than three Parliamentary Secretaries.

Now that same Ministry is to receive a Minister of State. One might ask what happens to his Parliamentary Secretary. Is he on the transfer list? Oh, dear no! He has the same fee, and will join the new team with his captain. This glittering team of two Ministers and four Parliamentary Secretaries is to be responsible for the existing work of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, plus a few tattered remnants of what is left of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I hope that with this glittering team there will be, in order to help to pay their salaries, a considerable diminution of ancillary staff at all lower levels. If there is not it will be a very expensive exercise and, one might suggest, as one of my hon. Friends has, one of the worst examples of what we have come to learn to call "instant Government".

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred to the increase in the number of Ministers of State. We are now to have an increase of one, making 21. This select band of office bearers is a comparatively new feature of Government. I suggest that with the Ministers of State and the Parliamentary Secretaries this is indeed three-tier Government, with a vengeance. In this case it is a little top-heavy. It is pertinent to ask who, in terms of numbers, and in what grades—although I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to answer tonight—among the civil servants are to be transferred with him? It is apparent that in the initial stages of the formation of the Land Commission they will be necessary to interpret the provisions of the Land Commission Act, which I gather has just arrived, in its final and pristine state, in the Vote Office tonight. They will be required not only to advise the Land Commission; they will have to do something to help district valuers in their tasks.

We must remember with some anxiety the many thousands of householders who are just beginning to understand the effect of this Act upon them. Whereas there are thousands of householders, there will be hundreds of solicitors, land agents and estate agents who are shortly to become involved in the invidious task of interpreting the provisions of this new Act before any case law has been established to guide them.

I speak as one of the hon. Members who have been faced with this problem. I hope I shall not stray too much from the rules of order when I say that last Saturday a lady came to see me with a certain problem about the effect that this Act would have upon some property which she proposed to buy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That would be out of order; it has nothing to do with the transfer of functions.

Mr. Murton

I finish by saying that no one has been able to advise her.

Will the right hon. Gentleman and his staff be available to answer the type of query which I am not allowed to discuss tonight? This is a very important point. If we cannot write to him personally on these matters, how will we be placed to ask Parliamentary Questions? Will he answer for the rump of his Ministry, or will his superior officer take over this task? Are we to have any explanatory White Papers, if that is the right expression to use, as to how this Bill is going to work? If so, will the transfer of responsibilities which is now about to take place hold up their publication?

The right hon. Gentleman, in his opening remarks, referred to his Ministry as a "core" Ministry with dependent satellite bodies. I would say that that is a very good description if we are referring to the planets, because I would compare his Ministry to the moon, which is pretty well dead in the centre, with, shall we say, a certain amount of activity on the periphery.

That peripheral activity which he described to us tonight was interesting; there were functions which had considerable value. But to my mind the whole grand design which was created by the Labour Government has really in effect been a bit of a fiasco.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of strategic and tactical planning, and it was pointed out by one of my hon. Friends that there was some difficulty inasmuch as the brigadier was doing the strategic and the major-general was reduced to doing the tactical planning. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. G. Rippon) said in an aside—which I do not think hon. Members heard—that this had been tackled like a wartime operation. These are familiar words in this place because they have been uttered by a right hon. Gentleman in a superior position to that of the Minister himself.

There is one other thing which I should like to comment upon as regards other legislation which the right hon. Gentleman's Department was preparing. He said that the preparation of legislation on leasehold reform was needed speedily. Well, I am tempted to ask where is it, and indeed I do so, but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman who has just produced his pencil is about to tell us it is imminent. Indeed, it has been imminent for the last 12 months, and we shall watch with great interest to see what form that Bill for leasehold enfranchisement is to take.

There is one other deficiency which has been pointed out by my hon. Friends, which is vital to the future of this country, and that is the question of estuarial barrage schemes.

I know that this is something which we are tardy in planning, but a country such as ours needs all the water it can obtain from its natural resources and I should like to be assured that the Ministry which is now ceasing to be a Ministry is going to pass on to the component part of another Ministry some really serious forward planning. More than forward planning, some action is needed on this very vital subject, because I think that of all the things that we have to worry about in the future it is the shortage of water that is most important.

I think I have said enough in winding up this very interesting debate on the demise of this Ministry. I think it would be fair to say, and I do not wish to be unkind about this, that the whole exercise has really been one of utter futility. The formulation of this Ministry was announced with a sound of trumpets. It now departs not with the dignity of muffled drums, as one would hope and expect, but instead with a pathetic and rather reedy squeak.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Willey

I do not know why the Opposition are so gloomy, depressed, down at the mouth and unoriginal on this topic. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) quoted from a speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). I recall a famous occasion when that right hon. Gentleman said, "Never more a gladsome morning "—and he was speaking to the Conservative benches.

Mr. Peyton


Mr. Willey

No. I will not give way. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was remarkably rude. His gimmickry, through his paucity and poverty of language, is wearing thin. He called the Land Commission muck and he calls this Measure muck. Has he no other word in his vocabulary?

Mr. Peyton


Mr. Willey

No. The hon. Gentleman contributed nothing to the debate. If he intends to continue to repeat himself as he does on these matters he will soon entirely lose the ear of the House. He is much more able, and why he has got into this lazy, indolent habit of repeating what he has said on other matters I do not know, but I hope that he will take my cautionary advice and be more helpful in future.

Mr. Peyton


Mr. Willey


Mr. Peyton

On a point of order. It is usual, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say the least, for the Minister to give way after making a personal attack of that kind. I merely wished to impart the advice to the right hon. Gentleman that he misquoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) who, in fact, said, "Never glad confident morning again". For the Minister, of course, there never was a "glad confident morning".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Willey

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's definition of usual courtesy about other matters. He is like most people who talk in the manner which he adopts; he is thin-skinned. But I am obliged to him for making the correction.

During the debate hon. Gentlemen opposite have talked about strategic planning, tactical planning and overall planning. These are real difficulties. Apart from that, we have had little— although some—comment by way of constructive contribution. Something has been said about the Land Commission and when I interrupted the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) I did not intend to suggest that we should not discuss this matter. I agree that the Land Commission is an important subject and that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was right to say that it is concerned with this transfer, but I am unable, because of the rules of order, to go into the detailed points about the Land Commission.

I have been depressed by some of the points that have been made about the Commission. It has been stated repeatedly in the House that the desired information will be available at the beginning of March. Booklets will be issued to assist and guide builders, estate agents and the general public. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) asked about Parliamentary Questions. As he knows, I have purposely extended the scope for asking them by allowing wider powers of direction to the Commission.

Mr. Murton

The problem about Parliamentary Questions I had in mind was that if these Questions are asked on the same day as the Minister of Housing and Local Government—namely, Tuesday—is asked Questions, we will get precisely nowhere, due to the short period of time available for those Questions.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for defining the point he had in mind. It is a matter that should and, I assure him, will be discussed through the usual channels. We are in great difficulty over Question Time and I agree that this matter must be kept under review.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I also raised this matter. I asked whether in future Questions would be put down to the Minister of State for Land and Natural Resources or whether they would be put down to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, bearing in mind the large number of Questions which are always addressed to that right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Willey

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to reply to that question now, although I assure him that attention will be paid to what he said.

I was impressed by what the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) said in illustrating the difficulties involved in providing adequate machinery, and I congratulate him on mentioning the Morecambe barrage, particularly since the hon. Member for Crosby asked himself a number of rhetorical questions on a number of subjects, the Morecambe barrage being one of them. The Morecambe barrage project is one without parallel in the world. To set out to provide water on this scale is quite unprecedented. This is something that we have got to deal with. It again gives rise to planning problems. If one provides water on this scale, one has a good deal of in-train organisation and supply problems. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and also to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) that when I considered the countryside I was up against the problem of the planning machinery. I took what I think was the right decision, though I am not sure whether I satisfied the hon. Member at the time. Maybe I misunderstood him. But I think I took the right decision in saying that we should not disturb the present planning responsibilities. Planning is essentially a local function, and one has to be very careful about disturbing this.

On forestry, I agree that there is a conflict here. Trees are a very important part of any countryside policy, but I think it is right, as we are doing under this Order, to recognise that the primary functional concern of the Forestry Commission is the production and disposal of trees. For that reason, I think the responsibility should return to the Ministry of Agriculture. At the same time, we have got to rely on the Commission to some considerable extent in afforestation not only for commercial but for amenity purposes.

Mr. Corfield

It is a complete fallacy to suggest that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has some special connecting link with local authorities. The Ministry of Transport has exactly the same link regarding roads. The Department of Education and Science has a number of links with regard to education. The Ministry of Health has a number of links. There is no reason why, had the right hon. Gentleman taken planning powers, he should not have the same links with regard to planning as those other Departments have with regard to transport, education and health.

Mr. Willey

I am not ruling out what the hon. Member says. I am not quarrelling with him about that. I quarrel with him when he says that there is no reason for doing what I did. After all, we have got in the crucible the whole question of local government and the shape that it will take. I am only making the point. I am not saying that I can persuade the hon. Gentleman about this. One is providing a parallel line of communication. One is not at the same time resolving the problem of providing for overall strategic planning. Apart from the question of local authorities, there is also the question of the Department of Economic Affairs which has been mentioned and the progress which has been made with its regional machinery.

To sum up, I believe that this is the right pragmatic decision to take in the present circumstances. The machinery of government is always subject to review. This is why I would have welcomed more constructive contributions from the Opposition. The whole problem of planning is alive and moving, and this is something that we have got to keep under review. We must not believe that we have settled the problem merely by the steps that we are taking tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order 1967 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 17th January.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.