§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been in consultation with the Chairman of Ways and Means who is in charge of the Bill. He has advised me that he thinks that it would be for the convenience of the House if, after the Second Reading has been moved, the first Amendment on the Order Paper is moved. With that Amendment can also be discussed the second Motion. At the end of the debate, if the House so desires, we can have Divisions on each. The Amendment is to leave out from "now" and at the end of the Question to add:That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months,and the Motion is:That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Part III (Open Spaces) of the Bill.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
The Bill provides certain useful improvements in the powers of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. In certain respects it restores powers which were previously enjoyed by the Council and which were removed, inadvertently or otherwise, by recent legislation. Most of the improvements which it makes will, I hope, be relatively non-controversial. If controversy arises, I hope that the critics of the Bill will think it proper to reserve their detailed criticisms for a later stage and will not take the view that it is necessary to divide the House on Second Reading, or on the Instruction.
No doubt the most controversial part of the Bill is that which provides powers for the Greater London Council to secure the provision of a camping place in Hainault Park. There is a Motion in respect of that provision in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and there are petitions by certain interested bodies and I therefore propose to deal with that part of the Bill in some detail. However, I propose at this stage to avoid taking an undue share of the time of the House by discussing the 2046 remainder of the Bill in detail, and I will summarise those provisions.
Part II is concerned with various financial provisions. Its objective is to improve the borrowing powers of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs and also to widen their powers of investment of their superannuation funds. Clause 5 is inserted at the request of the Treasury. It alters the criteria for fixing the maximum borrowing powers by the issue of bills of the Greater London Council and the boroughs. The position is that in the 1966 Act, which corresponds to the Bill, the Greater London Council was restricted to a maximum of £25 million and the London boroughs among them to £30 million, and it was left to the boroughs to devise the division of that maximum sum by means of a scheme with the Treasury acting as a kind of umpire. This has not proved to be altogether satisfactory and the Clause therefore repeals Clause 25 and fixes the new maxima not by reference to prescribed figures, but by reference to the rate calls for the areas of the authorities concerned.
Clauses 6 and 7 give additional powers for raising money to the Greater London Council of a kind similar to those enjoyed by the former London County Council. Clause 6 enables it to raise money by issuing bearer bonds and Clause 7 enables it to borrow money abroad. Both of these powers will be subject to Treasury control. Similar powers, formerly enjoyed by the London County Council, were found to be extremely useful and that is why the Bill will provide these powers for the Greater London Council.
Clauses 8, 9 and 10 extend the powers of the London authorities to invest their superannuation funds. At the moment, these powers are restricted by the limits imposed by the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1937, and the Trustee Investment Act, 1961. As hon. Members will know, by virtue of the provisions of the Trustee Investment Act there are a certain wider range and a certain narrower range of investments which the authorities concerned are empowered to use to the extent of half in each category.
While the limits laid down by those Acts may be desirable and essential in the case of many trustees, it is reasonable that those powers should be extended for the London authorities, particularly the Greater London Council itself, which has 2047 enormous superannuation funds at its disposal and which also has the opportunity of obtaining considerable experienced advice. At present, the Greater London Council in particular and its treasurer have found themselves somewhat hamstrung by their inability under the present regulations to invest the very wide funds which they control. The Clauses in question would therefore enable the authorities concerned to invest appropriate parts of their funds for the acquisition and development of land in fixed interest securities, debentures and in loans issued overseas. This extra provision is not by any means something wholly novel because, as hon. Members will know, certain nationalised industries with large superannuation funds—the National Coal Board, for example—also have extended powers.
I come to Part III of the Bill, which is concerned with open spaces, and Clause 11 in particular, which is concerned with Hainault Forest. I hope that the House will forgive me for saying a little about the history of this open space and the way in which it has developed over the last century or so. Hainault Forest is a fragment of the ancient Forest of Essex, which was a mediaeval royal hunting ground of which Epping Forest is the most notable surviving part. Hainault Forest, by the early part of the nineteenth century was diminishing both in extent and quality and by the end of the nineteenth century its 4,000 acres had decreased to a bare 800 odd.
At that time, through the efforts of various local and national bodies led by Mr. E. North Buxton, steps were taken as a result of which what remained of the forest was acquired in 1903 by London County Council under the provisions of the Hainault (Lambourne, Fox Burrows and Grange Hill) Act. The result was to preserve the land as open space and also—I hope this will be greeted with approval by hon. Members—to provide a recreational area within easy reach of London.
London County Council, to its credit, carried out very great improvements by careful maintenance and tree planting and also by acquiring in 1934 a substantial additional area of land, but it did not regard this forest simply as a place in which people could walk in peace in 2048 the countryside. It has never been the intention that it should be that and that alone, attractive though it is from that point of view.
Well before the last war an 18-hole golf course was laid out with the assistance of J. H. Taylor, a well-known golfer, and later a second golf course was added. In addition, there are other forms of sport and recreation provided for, including team games, athletics and angling. The result of that provision was that the L.C.C. enabled more and more Londoners to enjoy the recreational facilities provided at Hainault, and as the years have gone by it has become one of London's great lungs.
In recent years, as hon. Members are aware, camping and caravanning have become more and more popular forms of recreation both at home and, perhaps owing to restrictions in this country, even more so abroad, particularly on the Continent of Europe. There is no doubt that the growth of paid holidays has created a growing pressure for the more mobile, more free and easy, and indeed more inexpensive type of holiday in tent, caravan or dormobile. This is something which I hope we shall never cease to encourage. I hope we shall not put such pressures and restrictions on our people who want to have these benefits that they are forced to go abroad in search of them. In this country alone the number of campers has risen from three-quarter million in 1955 to 2½ million in 1965.
Apart from our own campers and caravanners, many visitors from abroad want to enjoy the hospitality of London and its surroundings, people who perhaps cannot afford the prices of hotels or who in many cases might not be able to get bookings in hotels. Just as places abroad make provision for and welcome visitors of that kind, it is most desirable that we should do so and that we should provide adequate camping and caravan sites within easy reach of towns such as London as a base for exploration of our towns and countryside. London in particular has been under very considerable pressure to provide such sites, but unfortunately land for the purpose is very scarce.
There is a small site in my constituency at Crystal Palace. That has proved quite 2049 inadequate for the purpose. It is constantly under pressure and clearly provision will have to be made for additional sites. At those sites there must be proper toilets, sanitary and other accommodation and conveniences which in these days people expect. The purpose of Clause 11 is to enable such provision to be made in Hainault Forest as part of the varied and many recreational facilities which are there provided and for which it is suitable in many ways. It is suitable by virtue of its accessibility to London because a caravan or camping site could be discreetly hidden among the plentiful trees thus avoiding the spoliation of the scenic beauty of the forest.
The total space which would be used for this purpose would be a mere 10 acres, which is less than 1 per cent. of the whole of the forest. It would be used for only six months in the year and in the remaining six months it would be land available like any other land in the forest for the use of the general public. The present intention or proposal is to invite the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland to manage it. I do not think I need say anything to this House about the very high standards of that body. They are well known to all concerned with camping and caravanning. The site would be used for short-stay camping and caravanning only. There is no question of its being used for residential purposes.
If as is expected the selected site is in the County of Essex, because the area concerned is partly in Greater London and partly in Essex, that county would be empowered by the Clause to exercise all normal planning controls, with the single exception, of course, that it would not be empowered to refuse consent to the development for which this Bill provides.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
Is it right to say that the proposed 10-acre camping and caravanning site would be wholly outside the Greater London area? Would it in fact be situated in that part of the forest which lies in Essex?
§ Mr. Silkin
The Bill makes provision to enable a camping site to be wherever the authorities wish to have it, but the present proposal is that it would be within the County of Essex, that being 2050 the area which is thought to be most suitable. I should say straight away that the County of Essex—which, as hon. Members no doubt will know, was at one time objecting to this proposal—has now withdrawn its objection upon certain undertakings which are incorporated in the Bill and which have been given to the county by the Greater London Council.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Is it correct that the Greater London Council has a definite site in mind?
§ Mr. Silkin
Certainly. It is with regard to that site that the Essex County Council has become involved and that undertakings have been given. The Essex County Council has, subject to those undertakings and to its maintaining the planning control to which I referred, withdrawn its objections. There is a specific site in mind, but the Bill provides power to put this site, not in any specific place, but in Hainault Forest as a whole.
The interests of walkers and nature lovers are well recognised and are well provided for in the forest. Let us not forget that many campers and caravaners are themselves walkers and nature lovers. Many of them go under canvas or go out in their caravans simply because it makes it more easy and more pleasurable for them to enjoy those pursuits. It would be most unfortunate if those who are not campers or caravanners, however much they may love walking and love the quietude of nature, were able to veto a proposal which will give enjoyment and pleasure to thousands of Londoners and many visitors to the London area.
I therefore hope that Clause 11 will not prove to be a matter of such controversy that it will be thought necessary to divide the House upon it. Indeed, I urge hon. Members, who I know are much concerned with this area, to take the view that this Clause, like others, can most properly be discussed and argued about at a later stage.
Turning from that probably most controversial part of the Bill to the other open space provisions, Clauses 12 and 13 make certain minor improvements to the open space powers of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs.
As to Clause 12, when the corresponding Bill became law last year a general 2051 power was given which, on reflection, was thought possibly to enable building to take place on common land without ministerial control. The purpose of Clause 12, which was inserted at the request of the then Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, is to ensure that Ministerial control will exist over building of that kind in the future. No doubt it will be necessary in due course to amend the title of the Minister concerned.
Clause 13 enables the Outer London Boroughs to enjoy the benefits of open space powers which have been found most valuable in the case of the Inner London Boroughs. It has been the policy over the last few years, since the passing of the London Government Act, to try to rationalise the various open space powers within the London area, a purpose which no doubt will be regarded as desirable. This Clause takes a step further in that direction and, it may well be, completes the process.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman leaves Part III, although it is a very small point, would he cast his mind back to Clause 11(2,a)? Why is a great lump of the Act left blank there? Did it drop out of the type, or could not they think what to put in?
§ Mr. Silkin
The part which appears to be left blank, would, I imagine, be filled in by a name. I assume and hope that the name will be filled in at a later stage. At the moment I cannot enlighten the hon. Gentleman as to what the name should be.
§ Mr. Silkin
I doubt, however, whether the omission has any very considerable effect on the principle either of the Bill as a whole or of the Clause in particular.
Part IV deals with acquisition and use of lands. It restores powers which were previously enjoyed by the councils concerned prior to respectively the years 1966 and 1965 and which seem to have been removed, probably inadvertently. Clause 14 enables the authorities concerned, when exercising their powers to acquire land by agreement, to override restrictive covenants which affect the land in question, but on payment of compensation. This is a position which applies 2052 for the Acts covered by Clauses 14 and 15 all over the country other than in London, but, because of the peculiarities of the legislation and the interaction between the London Government Act and the Compulsory Purchase Act, 1965, or for some reason of inadvertence, those powers were removed as they affected London.
The effect of restoring those powers, as is proposed to be done by Clauses 14 and 15, Clause 15 in relation to Part V of the Housing Act, 1957, has the very great advantage that in future, where the authorities concerned require to override restrictive covenants in order to carry out the public functions for which they are acquiring the land, it will be unnecessary for them to use compulsory powers. At the moment, if they buy the land by agreement, they cannot override the restrictive covenants. It is clearly in the interests of all concerned that it should be possible to avoid resort to compulsory purchase, wherever that can be done.
It must be recognised that these Clauses have certain retrospective effect, for a very short time; but in practice this is not likely to be of any moment, because the Greater London Council knows of no case where it has acquired land within the period not covered by the previous legislation and where there has been any threat to take proceedings against the Council because of a restrictive covenant.
If such proceedings were taken, and particularly if building had commenced, it is inconceivable that the court would grant an injunction. It is highly likely that the remedy would lie in damages, which are simply equivalent to the compensation for which provision is made in the Bill.
Clauses 16 and 17, which concern Bloomsbury Square, will, I hope, be wholly non-controversial and be regarded as highly beneficial. They are inserted at the request of the Camden Council to enable that council to construct a much needed underground car park under the square. Agreement has been reached with the freeholders of the square, and it is certainly the hope and intention of those concerned to improve rather than to detract from the amenities and beauty of the square.
2053 Part V provides for certain extensions of time which are a commonplace in these Bills for certain works of improvement which have been delayed by financial and other restrictions. I hope that they will not detain the House long.
Part VI deals with certain public health matters, the main provision being that which concerns hairdressers and barbers in Clauses 21 and 22. Powers are provided for the London boroughs as a whole which were previously enjoyed by the Metropolitan borough councils but which were removed by the London Government Act. The purpose of the powers now to be provided is to enable each London borough, if it so desires, to require registration with the council of hairdressing establishments, the aim being to facilitate enforcement by the London boroughs of their duty to secure cleanliness under the Public Health Act, 1961.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say what effect, if any, these Clauses would have on the Royal Palace of Westminster, and whether a borough would have power to impose its regulation on the gentleman who attends to our needs in the lower corridor? If he failed to apply for registration, would Mr. Speaker be liable to a daily fine of £5, or would matters of privilege arise?
§ Mr. Iremonger
May I try to help? I think that the answer lies in the delicate reference in subsection (1) to making an appointment with inmates.
§ Mr. Silkin
I always welcome help from the hon. Gentleman, though sometimes, I confess, I suspect it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We seem to be dealing with Committee points now, though some of them interest me deeply.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am only too happy to accept your Ruling on that point, Mr. Speaker.
For the Inner London Boroughs, these powers are a restoration of what existed before, and they are now extended to all the London boroughs, with, one hopes, consequent improvement in the standard 2054 of cleanliness of the establishments concerned.
Clause 23 is inserted at the request of the London boroughs. It is similar in form to one found in many local Acts. It extends to all the London boroughs powers formerly available in Inner London and Middlesex to enable the local authorities concerned to carry out works necessary to enable water supply to be restored to premises at which the water authority has been compelled to cut off the supply owing to defective fittings. The Clause will enable the authorities to carry out the necessary works to restore the supply of water, needless to say, charging those concerned with the cost of so doing.
I do not think that I need stay to deal with the remaining Clauses, except, perhaps Clause 26—
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Clause 25 raises a very important question. Has the Greater London Council consulted the City of London and the two Temples on these provisions, which affect them greatly and directly?
§ Mr. Silkin
Again, I shall find out about that.
Clause 26, no doubt, will be welcomed by all. It provides for the abolition of tolls at Greenwich Pier. I am sure that this will be greeted with heartfelt relief by all Londoners.
In Part VII there are certain miscellaneous provisions to which I need not refer in detail.
This is a valuable Bill. It will add to the powers which the Greater London Council and the London boroughs enjoy, and I commend it to the House.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months".
The explanation of the Bill's provisions given by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has not entirely satisfied me, at least, and it has raised a number of problems over which the hon. and learned Gentleman skated rather quickly. For example, Clause 5 provides for the power to issue bills, but we have no explanation of why that method of borrowing is so much preferred to that of the Local Loan Commissioners.
2055 As far as I can see, the main difference in this Bill is that the Greater London Council can borrow up to 10 per cent. on the aggregate gross charge to rates—I have not added up what this is for all the boroughs, but it is a substantial sum—and then by subsection (3) the boroughs are given pofer to borrow another 10 per cent. If, therefore, one sticks to the existing method of accounting which is common to local government, this means that, quite apart from any power to fiddle, if I may respectfully call it that, by means of building up reserves, there is here a power of 20 per cent. carry-over from one year to the next.
This is to make nonsense of our present system of accountancy. If the hon. and learned Gentleman says that the present system of accountancy is nonsense, we are getting nearer common ground, but while he sticks to the present system but, virtually, gets round it by borrowing on a short-term basis, a substantial explanation is called for.
Clause 7 gives power to raise money by borrowing abroad. It seems extraordinary that at this time the Greater London Council should be taking power to mortgage our position abroad. A great deal of explanation is needed as to why it is necessary to go abroad to get the admittedly rather large sums the Greater London Council is in the habit of borrowing. The hon. and learned Gentleman has given no explanation of the reason, or what the effect will be. I do not think that one wants to borrow money from Europe, Africa or anywhere else when it should be available in this country.
Under Clause 8 the Council will be given power not merely to invest its superannuation funds but to indulge in management of real estate, which is clearly a risky business. Apart from anything else, if the Council indulges in management it comes straight up against the existing planning provisions. The slightest alteration in its management or the type of development of building which it has brings it into the position of possibly seeking amendment of the development plan. Planning authorities can think of 101 reasons why the development plan should be altered in the way they consider would be most helpful. I do not suggest dishonesty in that, but there may easily 2056 be a grave clash of interests, and with power to invest in land in that way the matter is by no means trivial.
I shall not deal with the question of the open spaces, because that is the subject of a separate Amendment. In Clauses 14 and 15 the hon. and learned Gentleman clearly had in mind the different dates and the retrospective effect of the legislation. I gather from his speech that no case has arisen between the passing of the London Government Act and now, and I fail to see why the provision should be made retrospective, except possibly as a form of tidyness.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Was it not rather a strange argument which the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) advanced in saying that there was no harm in it because the Greater London Council could not recall a single case to which it would apply? Does my hon. and learned Friend not agree that that is an argument for not making it retrospective? If the Council did know that there was a case to which it applied there would be some point, but to catch one unawares seems a very questionable doctrine.
§ Mr. Roots
That is what was very much in my mind. At best, there seems no purpose in the provision; at worst, it seems a provision for something which, so far as this House has been told, does not exist. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Subsequent speakers may elaborate the point, but at present I fail to see why we should give a retrospective effect to the provision.
In Clause 18 it is most remarkable thatThe period now limited by the Act of 1964 for the exercise by the Council of powers for the compulsory purchase of lands …"—and the two areas concerned are set out—is hereby extended, or further extended, until 1st October, 1970.That doubles the period during which the powers may be exercised. I can understand the Council wanting to be on the safe side, but if it has been forced to overrun its time it should give a very much better explanation than simply to say, "Oh, well, we feel that by 1970 we shall be quite safe, and therefore we shall double the length of time." I very much hope that we shall get a better explanation.
2057 I next come to the provision concerning hairdressers and barbers, which is most curious because all it seems to require is that the hairdresser and barber should be registered; nothing seems to happen to him when he has been registered. But he must be registered, which enables one to have a chief officer in charge of the barbers' register and suitable other officers to maintain it, alter it and correct it. But there is no provision for what is supposed to happen when the man has been registered.
There is, however, on page 16 in the proviso, a provision which I find highly objectionable in that it alters the substantive law of the country. It says:…nothing in this section shall require a borough council to issue a certificate of registration in respect of any premises in a case where planning permission for the use of the premises for the carrying on of the business of a hairdresser or barber is required in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of 1962 and has not been granted."The Act of 1962" is the Town and Country Planning Act. Under the provision, a man who is in position without having obtained permission, but has been there more than four years, could be required by the Greater London Council to obtain permission. The provision enables the Council to override the law. It is a highly objectionable Clause, which entirely alters the substanial provisions of the law of the Town and Country Planning Act in respect of that one category of persons in London, and it apparently does it without any object because all that is to happen is that the barbers and hairdressers are to go on a register. The position is absurd.
I have one small point on Clause 23, under which a borough council may provide water fittings. There is no proviso there about premises which the owner wants to pull down. He may be trying to empty premises. But the borough council, by stepping in and renewing the fittings, can entirely do away with this object. I have called attention to a few omissions and errors and I would welcome a good deal more explanation before giving the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I should like formally to move the Motion standing in my name and that of the 2058 hon. Gentleman the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison):That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Part III (Open Spaces) of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Gentleman cannot move the Instruction at this moment but only speak to it.
§ Mr. Parker
Last year, the Greater London Council introduced a Bill which included Clauses with regard to Hainault Forest. There were strong objections to its proposal to create a caravan and camping site in the forest. These objections were made both in this House and by local residents. The result was that the G.L.C. withdrew the relevant Clauses but without prejudice to its right to introduce them in a later Bill, which it has now done.
I want to add one or two points of history to what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). The area was a real forest until it was enclosed by an Act of Parliament in 1851. At that time, most of the trees were grubbed and it was ploughed up. Only a small part remained woodland. The greater part of what, in courtesy, we call "forest" is in my constituency. It consists of golf courses and playing fields. As my hon. and learned Friend said, very good use is made of this land but adjoining it is part of the original forest, most of which is in the constituency of Chigwell.
This is a rare thing to find to the east of London in the Essex area, apart from Epping Forest. It is a small area of natural woodland and it contains the wild animal and bird life common to natural woodlands. The natural woodlands cover about 280 acres. The area is used very widely by people from the industrial parts of my constituency, from the East End of London generally and from various boroughs in that area of Essex. It is a real lung for the benefit of the people there and unlike the other kinds of lung I have mentioned, which are organised and laid out for amusement, this is wild natural country.
The G.L.C. has put in one or two car parks so that people can leave their cars when going picnicking or walking in the woods. People go there at weekends or during the evening in the summer. 2059 Youngsters in school holidays cycle there and make good use of it. There are a refreshment kiosk and toilets in the developed part not too far away from the natural woodlands. They are quite adequate to provide for the needs of those who walk in the woods.
It is proposed that there should be a caravan site in the natural woodland. According to information given to me by the Caravan Club of Great Britain, 150 units will be accommodated there when the site is laid out, including trailers and such things. At least 75 of them would be caravans. The site would cover 10 acres in the middle of the woodland and would require road development. Far more car parks would be wanted and more toilets. The area would have to be fenced around, with a caretaker or warden. In fact, a great many things would have to be done if it were to be put to full use.
It is not true that the access to the proposed area of the camping site is easy. On the contrary it is dangerous. A very narrow road runs along the edge of the forest and this lane crosses the main road to Dartford Tunnel northwards and there is bound to be a lot of traffic at the junction which would be interfered with by caravans or trailers going to the site.
Why on earth should the G.L.C. select this space for a caravan site? The Council's arguments have changed. To begin with, it said that there was a need near London for tourists from the Continent or the North who needed a site at which to leave their caravans that would be convenient for getting into London easily and for getting back. That was the first argument.
In fact, access to London is very difficult from this site. It is two and a half miles to Grange Hill, the nearest underground station and three miles to Hainault Station. Whatever one may say about Hainault not being the natural station for the area, many of those camping in Hainault Forest would go there to get to London.
Now, the argument has altered. The G.L.C. says that it wants an area near London for the benefit largely of Londoners to camp. As far as my constituents are concerned, there is little Or no room for any one in Dagenham to possess a caravan. It is difficult enough 2060 to find room for cars. Most families now have cars and people from my area would not benefit from such a site for caravanning. Indeed, I doubt very much whether Londoners want to go there. It is too near. It is only on the outskirts of the built-up area. The only people who might go there would be from Hampstead or somewhere else to the north-west, en route for East Anglia or the continent.
There are quite a number of alternative sites for caravans nearby. Debden Green, three and a half miles away, has 48 acres for the use of caravans. It is not fully used at present. There is another caravan site at Grange Farm, two miles away, and in the Lea Valley scheme it is proposed to provide all. sorts of facilities for the enjoyment of the public. One would have thought that a caravan site could easily be provided in that scheme. Again, in that part of Essex, if one wants easy access to London, there are some suitable sites adjacent to railway stations.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
My hon. Friend should not proceed on the assumption that this site is regarded as alternative to the existing sites at Grange Farm or Debden Green or other sites which might be incorporated in the Lea Valley. Rather it is complementary.
§ Mr. Parker
If these other sites are not fully used at present, that does away with the argument that an extra site is required. If it was necessary to create further caravan sites in the area, there are various spaces adjacent to railway stations along the lines leading easily into London, where coal yards have been closed down and where there is quite a lot of open space, with water and other facilities already laid on. These would provide easy access to London.
Again, Fairlop Airfield is not at present used. Part of that could be used as a caravan site if required. I was very surprised when I received from the Caravan Club information to the effect that the proposed site was being created at its initiative, that it had put pressure on the G.L.C. to do such a thing and that the Club would run it. My hon. and learned Friend said that the Club would run it but there has been no mention of that from the G.L.C. up to date and one should have qualms about that.
2061 An article in The Times of 21st January referred to a similar site run by the Caravan Club on the edge of the New Forest. It began:Warfare has broken out around the Harrow Wood Caravan site at Bransgore, on the pastoral fringes of the New Forest.It went on to say that trouble had arisen between the local inhabitants and those running the site and that people had been placing cars across the entrance to the site with the idea of denying entry to caravans. There has been a great deal of friction between the people concerned.
We do not want that kind of thing in our part of Essex. The G.L.C. scheme states that no tent or caravan is to stay for more than 28 days and that the area is to revert to open space from October to March annually. That is quite absurd. If a great deal of money is to be provided out of the rates to build a caravan site, to install a warden in a house, and provide toilet and refreshment facilities, access roads and all the other things necessary, then I am convinced that it will not be left unused for half the year. Once it is there, there will be pressure to use it throughout the year.
There is a great shortage of camping sites throughout Essex and East Anglia for gipsies, and the police have already had to be called in to clear them from a certain site recently in Romford. This is a different point but there should be provisions made in other parts of eastern England for camping sites for gipsies. In the winter this area will almost certainly be occupied by gipsies and the police will have to be called in to remove them.
How does the site come to be in the possession of the G.L.C.? In the G.L.C. leaflet it is stated that the original cost was £21,830. The money was raised as a result of a public appeal, backed by the National Trust, the Metropolitan Gardens Association and the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. Local authorities collaborated, including Essex County Council, West Ham, Leyton, Wanstead and Ilford. Dagenham would have done too but at the time it was only a parish council of about 5,000 inhabitants.
To complete the purchase the L.C.C., as it was then, paid the £10,000 which was still outstanding. It was asked to 2062 take over the site management, and up to now it has made a good job of it. People in the area feel that when a piece of land like this is bought up by various authorities combining, it should remain for the use of the public as a whole and not be restricted to a certain section who by their use will exclude the public from enjoyment of the area. The proposed site for the caravan is in the middle of the 280 acres and the creation of a caravan site will destroy the amenities of the woodland.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I fully understand the principle, but what I do not follow is how the hon. Member applies this to the use, for example, of the golf course, swimming pool, fishing areas and football and cricket pitches. Surely they are as much or as little available to the public as a whole as this land?
§ Mr. Parker
These pieces of land are not wild woodland. They were ploughed fields and were laid out as cricket pitches, football grounds and golf courses, whereas this woodland was woodland when it was handed over, and it should remain so. So much feeling has been aroused that many organisations have joined together in resisting. They are: the Epping and Ongar Rural District, Chigwell Urban District, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society—which was one of the organisations which took the initiative to purchase the area in the first instance—The Friends of Hainault Forest, the Dagenham Constituency Labour Party, the North East Metropolitan Division of the British Legion, the London Natural History Society, the Ilford Section of the Ramblers' Association, and the Southern Area of that Association.
There is strong feeling against this proposal, and we feel that the G.L.C. is quite wrong to attempt to make this change at this time. We are not denying people the right to have caravan sites elsewhere. We realise that there is a need for such sites, but we do not think that they should be provided by destroying one of the few pieces of natural woodland remaining in the green belt near to London.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
To some extent I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dagenham 2063 (Mr. Parker) in his wish to preserve one of the few open spaces in the neighbourhood of London, because I represent a constituency which has a very beautiful section of green belt, similar I imagine to Hainault Forest, about which the hon. Gentleman was speaking. On the other hand, I do not think that one can for ever ignore the need for increased recreational facilities for Londoners which may be provided on land such as this.
In my constituency we are constructing a golf course on green belt land and most Londoners welcome the provision of amenities such as this, and of caravan sites such as the G.L.C. is proposing to build under the Bill. I should like to deal with the implications of what the hon. Gentleman was saying about the winter use of this site. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is well aware, we have a serious problem in my constituency, as a result of gipsies camping on the verges and on land belonging to local authorities. This matter has been raised several times in the House at Question Time and in two Adjournment debates by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).
The thought struck me when the hon. Gentleman was speaking that it was extremely wasteful to provide facilities like this and to use them for only half the year. As he said, the tendency would be that, as soon as the summer caravan residents moved off, the gipsies would move in. I do not know the area well enough to say whether this would be a suitable use of the land, but the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point in drawing attention to the shortage of places in the Greater London area where gipsies can go in the winter.
As the House will know, itinerants and gipsies normally work on farms for the whole of the summer, go hop-picking in the autumn and finally return to winter quarters until the following spring. The use of the caravan site that the Greater London Council is planning to construct in Hainault, as temporary quarters for the six months of the winter period, is a possibility. Has anyone considered the possibility of using these caravan sites for that purpose? There is no mention of it in the Greater London Council's Memor- 2064 andum. It merely says that there will be restrictions on the seasons of use, approximately from Easter or the beginning of April, to the end of September.
It so happens that if this period is required by the holidaymakers, the remainder of the year would fit in extremely well with the gipsies' needs. The site would accommodate about 150 to 175 caravans. This would go a long way towards solving a most intractable problem. In my own area there cannot be anything like 150 to 175 caravans during the winter, and if permanent facilities were available in some other part of Greater London, the gipsies might decide to use them.
It has been brought to my attention that many of the itinerants located in my borough originally came from the Essex area. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary was aware of that. Not only do we have caravan dwellers from Kent along the edges of the A21 and on the sites belonging to the council which it hopes to develop but is being prevented from developing by the presence of these caravans. I am told that a substantial minority of these caravans has come from the county of Essex.
There was a remarkable note in paragraph 14 of the Greater London Council's memorandum to the effect that the whole site would need to be enclosed by a fence during the camping season. Will the fence be removed at the end of the camping season? Would it not form part of the permanent installation? I deduced from the description given that the camp is segregated from the rest of the area and that it would not interfere too much with the amenities of the forest. Therefore, from this point of view also, it might be adapted for the purpose which I have mentioned.
Another point about the Bill on which I should like clarification arises from Clause 12(2), which provides:Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1) of section 51 … of the Act of 1935 … a local authority shall not … enclose … any part of a common, except with the consent of the Minister given in pursuance of a written application in that behalf made to him by the local authority under this subsection, which consent the Minister is hereby empowered to give in such cases as he thinks fit.We have had an extremely complex legal tangle in my constituency over the acquisition of common land for the purposes 2065 of a traffic improvement scheme. This land is at the Locks Bottom intersection of the A21 with Crofton Road. Originally application was made by the Orpington Urban District Council to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for consent to enclose part of this land under Sections 22 of the Commons Act, 1899,for the purpose of this traffic improvement scheme—the erection of traffic lights, widening roads, and so on. At that time, the Orpington Urban District Council was told that it would be better for it to wait until the G.L.C. had started work and that the whole matter could be reviewed then.
After 1964, when the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was created, I wrote to the then Minister and asked him for his assistance in sorting out the legal problems. It turned out that the statute prohibited him from entertaining any application for the enclosure of Metropolitan common land except in the former counties of London, Middlesex and Surrey, where powers existed for the Minister to entertain such applications purely for highway improvement purposes. The Minister told me that it was doubtful whether comparable provision had been made in the local Acts relating to Kent.
I hope that I have not wearied the House with this description of the history of the matter. It has been going on for a long time. When I wrote to the Minister in May, 1965, he said that his lawyers would be consulting the G.L.C. to see how the problems could be solved, but he thought it unlikely that the necessary processes could be completed within six months. A year has passed and still no progress has been made on this traffic improvement scheme. Things are becoming desperate.
The amount of traffic on the A21 and Crofton Road which leads off it from this intersection has increased markedly. I drive past the intersection frequently on my way to the House. There is a possibility of serious accidents being caused at this junction through the absence of proper traffic measures which appear to be stymied by the Minister's lack of power to entertain applications for the enclosure of common land.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether Clause 12 is designed to cope with the problems which I have been 2066 describing. What is the position in the case of Metropolitan commons, which are the subject of special legislation—the Metropolitan Commons Act, 1886, and, in this case, the Metropolitan Commons (Farnborough) Supplemental Act, 1904? Will the Minister have power to consider an application from the G.L.C. to enclose this land for highway improvement purposes notwithstanding the fact that these Acts appear to have prohibited him from doing so and that there is no provision in the local Acts relating to Kent which would have allowed it before the G.L.C. came into existence?
I can see nothing objectionable in the Bill as a whole. As I have said, I think that proper recreational facilities must be provided in Greater London for its 9 million inhabitants. This caravan site will be an additional facility which many Londoners will enjoy, even those who live in Dagenham. There must be some people in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dagenham who own caravans and who would like to take them to this new park. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I am sure that many of the matters raised in the debate can be resolved in Committee.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
I intervene to say a few words about what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) rightly referred to as the most controversial features of the Bill. I should begin by disclosing that I have a rather special interest as the Vice-Chairman of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, which is one of the petitioners against the Bill and which has a special right to petition because it was one of the bodies which assisted in the acquisition of the forest.
I must make it clear that no criticism is made of or any objection taken to the bulk of the Bill. I intend to restrict my remarks to Clause 11, which deals with the provision of a caravan site in Hainault Forest. I might summarise the objections which the petitioners against the Bill have by saying that they object to this Clause, because it produces a fundamental change in the policy of administration which hitherto has been followed in regard to the forest.
2067 It is significant that the petition is presented not only on behalf of two local authorities in the immediate area, but also on behalf of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Those two bodies, national in character and highly respected, whose views and opinions are sought by both central and local government, have an outstanding record in their contributions to the preservation of our national heritage. The mere fact that, with their high sense of responsibility, they should have felt it necessary to petition against this Measure must give us all food for thought.
I might add that, in addition to the society which I represent, I have the authority of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England to say on its behalf that in its view this is not merely a petty local issue but one which raises important questions on the protection of open spaces for general public enjoyment. The bodies to which I have referred keep a watchful eye on the activities of both central and local government as well as those of private persons to see that open spaces remain open spaces.
The opposition to Clause 11 of the Bill is designed to ensure that Hainault Forest is maintained and preserved for the purpose for which it was acquired originally over 60 years ago, namely, for preservation as an open space.
Before dealing with my specific criticisms, however, it is only right and proper that some tribute should be paid to the G.L.C. and its predecessor, the London County Council, for the efforts which have been made over the years to improve this area and in making the forest attractive not only to people who live by it and use the many facilities which it provides, but to the many visitors who go there. It is because I feel that the proposals in the Bill would detract considerably from the enjoyment which innumerable Londoners and others have gained from their association with the forest that I take part in this debate.
The proposed camping and caravan site would not be for the purpose of enabling people to enjoy Hainault Forest but would, in effect, provide a tourists' dormitory for visitors to London, and 2068 that is not a proper use for a public open space. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich pointed out, Hainault Forest is used for the playing of games, especially football and golf. Those are active sports, but we must not forget the large number of people of all ages who like to walk and wander away from roads, cars, traffic and noise. For such people, parts of Hainault Forest have afforded ideal conditions, and it is unfortunate that a proposed camping and caravan site is to be located in a wooded part of the forest which is natural in appearance and attractive to walkers, and has hitherto afforded peace and relaxation to those wishing to commune with nature.
In the extremely attractive brouchure which has been published in the past about Hainault Forest, one of the points stressed is a very material one:Should the Londoner visiting the forest for the first time pause for a moment, he will perhaps be aware of something missing—something which he can never escape in, say, Hyde Park or on Hampstead Heath. It is the sound of traffic.I suggest that that will be changed by the proposals embodied in the Bill.
It may be said that these proposals affect only a small part of the forest, and my hon. and learned Friend said that only 1 per cent. of the total area was involved. But, as emerged clearly from the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), the proposal must be related to the very limited area which is the woodland site, and in that context it becomes a substantial part. If one looks at the map and sees the present layout, it would immobilise a considerable section of the woodland area.
My hon. and learned Friend failed to appreciate the very real anxieties which are felt by many people about this proposal. Let us consider for a moment exactly what the proposed development involves. First of all, there are the caravans themselves, and obviously they will accommodate several hundred people. Secondly, the caravans will be brought by cars, so that the number of vehicles will be almost doubled, although Dormobiles have their own means of locomotion. In any event, there will be a very large number of vehicles on the site.
2069 If use is to be made of the site, some access road or roads will have to be provided, because none exists at the moment except for Manor Road, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham has pointed out one or two factors in connection with that.
We must remember that if the intention is to provide a caravan site for visitors to London, obviously what will happen is that caravans will be left and people will go off in their cars throughout the day to visit parts other than the forest.
We must also remember that permanent buildings which are to be erected—the toilets, the ablutions and the provisions stores. Can it be said that with such changes there is not also a fundamental change in the character of the Forest? I concede that there is a case for the provision of additional facilities in the London area for the increasing number of caravanners—both those who live here and those who come here from abroad—but places like Hainault Forest are so precious that they should be considered only as a last resort. Little evidence has been submitted this evening showing that the G.L.C. has seriously considered alternative sites.
I should have thought that the Lea Valley Regional Park was created to meet the very need which has been put forward as the reason for the Bill. Bold and imaginative schemes have been proposed for the development of that site, and I would have thought that it could include a caravan site. There are also other sites, at Debden Green—where there are 48 acres which are not fully used—and Grange Farm. I suggest that the case has not been made out for changing the character of the Forest, and I hope that as a result of this debate the authority will seriously consider deleting Clause 11.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
Bills of this kind always present some difficulties, and this one is no exception. Although it is a small Bill, for once the language and the drafting are well above average. The layman can understand it. Normally, laymen are suspicious of local government Bills because they are couched in terms that the layman does not understand and 2070 sometimes, by default, a Bill goes through and it is only later that we learn to our cost what has happened.
I do not suspect this Bill in that way, but there is a story in local government circles concerning an unscrupulous town clerk who was presenting a Bill and who also wanted a divorce but could not get one. After some particularly difficult phrasing in a Clause he added the words:and the Town Clerk of the Borough is hereby divorced from his wifeand he was! I do not know whether that story is apocryphal, or whether the divorce would have been binding. I suspect it would have been. At any rate, it behoves us to go carefully through these Bills.
I have great pleasure in seeing the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) here, because he is a London Member and is, no doubt, taking a great interest in the debate.
§ Mr. Molloy
I was interested in the hon. and gallant Member's apocryphal story concerning the technical language of Bills passing through this House. I have also felt that some of the language that we are forced to use in legal documents is very difficult for laymen to understand. I have thought that it is probably done by one set of lawyers to keep another set of lawyers occupied. Now we have been told of a third category—the town clerk, who must have been a lawyer who was trying to cash in on both sides.
§ Sir E. Bullus
The hon. Member has made a long intervention. I hope that it will count as a speech. These Bills are a lawyers' paradise. Both opening speakers were "silks".
I want to ask a few questions from a layman's point of view. We have heard a lot about Part III this evening, and I shall refer to it only briefly. It is a good idea to provide a10-acre site, but we want to know a lot about it. If the site is already decided, is it an open space or will it have to be cleared? There have been questions about whether there are to be 2071 permanent buildings. What about hygiene? Will there be any restrictions on the site?
The mind boggles at what might happen. An extreme example is that N.A.T.O., which moves from country to country, might establish a base in Hainault Forest. This is an extreme example, but we want answers to these questions—
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
As I said, if this site is, as I expect, in the area of the Essex County Council, that council will have full planning control. The operations of the site will be subject to the terms of an undertaking which would incorporate the kind of things to which the hon. and gallant Member is referring. However, so far as there may be anxieties on these matters, they are surely anxieties which can be best ventilated in Committee.
§ Sir E. Bullus
Quite, but this is a Second Reading and I shall probably not be on the Committee, so I am asking these questions now, as is my right.
The hon. and learned Gentleman boasted of what the Greater London Council has done in this forest in planting trees. Will any of them be cut down to provide for this site? I am anxious that the forest should be preserved. Will the trees be retained?
That leads me to the second page of the Bill, which refers to the underground car park to be provided in Bloomsbury Square. This may be useful, but I want to know how many trees will be removed from the Square to provide it. There are many valuable old plane trees in London and I hate to see them taken away and not replaced. If they are replaced by saplings, these take a number of years to grow and give the benefit which we ourselves enjoy at the moment.
This car park may be a good idea, and I hope we get it, but I hope also that we shall lose no trees—
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
May I answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman's specific question? On the camping site, no trees will be removed. On the Square, only a very small proportion of the site will be affected by building operations.
§ Sir E. Bullus
If the hon. and learned Gentleman had told us this in his speech, 2072 there would have been no need for these questions, by means of which we elicit the information which we require—
§ Mr. Carol Johnson
We should have a rather clearer idea of exactly what is involved. Many of us have been supplied with a brochure relating to Hainault Forest, and I think that the authorities at County Hall have outlined what will happen if these proposals go through. They indicate clearly that it is essential to clear some trees to make the site available. I think that my hon. and learned Friend would agree if he would look at the map.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I have had a record number of interventions for so small an audience. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson). I asked a question and the mover of the Bill assured me that no trees are affected, but his own hon. Friend points out that they are. Perhaps we should leave it at that.
Clause 8, relating to the investment of the superannuation fund, is a delicate point with hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Clause says that the borough council may invest in such property in such manner "as they think fit." That gives rise to some important questions, as it could mean a form of nationalisation or, at best, municipalisation, which is much the same. This Clause states that the value of the property isto be the value of the investment at the time at which it was made.Does it mean that the Socialist-majority G.L.C. is going into the market as a profiteering landlord? These questions must be asked because the answers to them will be wanted on 13th April, a date not far ahead.
Part V is headed:Extension of time for compulsory purchase of lands by Council.These have been described as "commonplace powers", by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), but they are anathema to me. I loathe compulsory purchase of any sort, although I recognise that it may sometimes be necessary, in the interests of the community, to have such powers; but they must always be used sparingly. Why they should enter into a Measure 2073 of this sort I do not know, particularly since here they are…extended, or further extended, until 1st October. 1970".The Ministers knows my feelings on this issue. In my constituency, in Brent, we have suffered considerably as a result of the use of compulsory purchase powers and I am the last person to want to see them, extended or otherwise, in any Bill, because I regard them as an iniquitous form of acquiring property.
What a peculiar Clause is the provision in Part VI headed:Hairdressers and barbers".It states that hairdressers and barbers must be registered if they are to…carry on…business…on any premises in a borough…What about barbers and hairdressers outside London? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may recall that my late hon. Friend who was the Member for Battersea, South, Mr. Partridge, introduced a Bill which was designed to ensure that hairdressers would be registered.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
Why does the hon. Gentleman describe him as "late"? He is still alive.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I used the word "late" in the sense that he is no longer an hon. Member. Why the G.L.C., with this vast area of London to administer, should go out of its way to see that hairdressers and barbers are registered I do not know. Is it more snooping? Is this to be peculiar to London? Does the Minister agree that voluntary registration is the best form of registration?
Clause 23 is concerned with theSupply of water to premises where supply cut off".If the state of the property is such that the water has been cut off, or such extensive operations must be done to get the water going through the pipes that it must be restored, it is obviously slum property. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite—who have a majority on this Council and who profess to have great interest in slum clearance—would, instead of asking for powers of this nature, have gone in for slum clearance on a big scale to ensure that proper houses are built.
2074 I have been asking a number of pertinent questions, the answers to which are required by the people of London, who are now taking a greater interest in the way in which they are governed. Certainly they will want the answers by 13th April.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I was interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) expressing his anathema of all forms of compulsory purchase. While he was speaking it occurred to me that Part III of this Measure is vital because too much of the land of this country was compulsorily acquired by a bunch of villains a couple of hundred years ago, and it is still in their possession. Perhaps one day a Government will have the courage to restore that land to its rightful owners—the British people. When that day comes we shall not be messing about with little provisions like this. In the meantime, we must do something for land which is already publicly-owned land. One day a lot of the land that is in the hands of so-called private owners will belong to the people of this country. I was pleasantly surprised to read a special supplement in no less a paper than the Daily Telegraph advocating the sort of step that I have mentioned.
Part III must present difficulties to hon. Members whose constituencies are on the borders of the area concerned. Whenever such a proposal is made by an authority greater than the usual local authority, or by Parliament itself, it is difficult to get people to see the regional or even the national reason for that step to be taken. In my constituency at present we are very anxious that a proposal to push through a large trunk road will be dropped, and that sanity will prevail.
That being so, I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friends the Members for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson), but I am opposed to their views in principle. An attempt is being made here to cater for yet another section of the general public. It is desperately unfair to speak of golfers as part of the general public and of anglers as part of the general public, but to refer to caravanners or tent dwellers as a section that is not part of the general public.
The area concerned is truly attractive and lovely, and I am with my hon. Friends 2075 when they ask for much more detail than is outlined here of what precisely is proposed. As I understand it, when the Measure becomes law and the Greater London Council has this authority a great deal of the actual planning control will be vested in the Essex County Council. I understand that at present Hainault Forest is maintained out of funds provided by the G.L.C., and many of those who enjoy the forest and all that is involved in living near it are being subsidised by the ratepayers of the Greater London Council. I have no particular complaint to make about that, because I think that we sometimes get too much involved in trying to find out who is to pay for a certain project when the fact is that anyone from any part of the country, can come and enjoy it. More than our own people enjoy the beauty of this forest, and I believe that the proposal in this Bill is an encouragement to British youth.
This is not merely a question of caravanners and tent dwellers. Those of us who have travelled over Europe have discovered that in France, Belgium, Western Germany and Italy much more is done for youth by way of camping and all the ideals behind camping. Much more is provided on the Continent—and certainly much more in North America—than is provided in this country. In this respect we have been negligent, and I hope that we shall soon be rid of the Victorian attitude of "This is our forest and no one shall enter it", or "This is our open space; it is meant only for us." It almost reaches the stage of some people saying "This is our air; it is only for us to breathe."
The figures that I have show that the numbers of campers has increased enormously. It was estimated in 1955 that there were 750,000 in Great Britain but by 1965 the number had grown to two and a half million. We should encourage this outdoor activity. Camping club membership has gone up from roughly 21,000 to over 91,000. I could quote many other relevant figures. We want to encourage the trend of young people getting out of our great cities and going away to spend their time at camping sites—and perhaps spending less time in the vicious drug taking which we hear is 2076 so widespread in our great cities. We cannot have it both ways. If we can get young folk interested in other things, in becoming campers, in taking their holidays and spending their weekends in the open air instead of lounging around the high streets of our towns, we will be making a contribution to their lives. The G.L.C. is seeking powers to do so.
When one has had experience of a local authority in poor areas, in social services, when one has come up against the problems and the terrible predicaments which young people can get into, it is no longer funny or amusing. People are always asking why we do not do something to help young people to get out into the country, to get into the fresh air, perhaps to emulate scouting, but when an idea to support the theory is proposed, there are all sorts of arguments against it.
The Greater London Council should be congratulated. In other capitals, in Rome, Berlin, Paris, there are provisions for people to camp near the great cities. There are not similar provisions in this country. Consequently, these sorts of things are remarked on in international gatherings of young folk, and our young folk are sometimes embarrassed because we have not provided such facilities. While that is not the gravamen of my argument, I hope that the Greater London Council will go ahead with this scheme and encourage young folk to get away from the architectural leprosy from which we suffer in many of our great cities.
In many respects Hainault is admirably suited. It is not very far from Greater London or from the fringes of one extreme to the other. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), said that present facilities and amenities would not be interfered with. That is one of the things on which I want an assurance. My hon. and learned Friend said that there would be no interference with cricket pitches, football pitches or the golf course, but I would like him to advance that a little further, because people in that area, particularly working people, might want a Rugby pitch.
§ Mr. Molloy
I am more concerned with not interfering with the cricket pitch 2077 rather than with the golf course. Golf courses take up an extraordinary amount of space. It is all very well to say that folk can walk across a golf course, but one always has the feeling that the little white pill will give one a harsh rap on the back of the neck, and this detracts from the comfort of walking across an open space if it happens to be a golf course.
I should like an assurance about the siting of the camp. I am glad of the assurances which we have had about existing facilities, but I would like to be assured that the site itself will not offend visual amenities. Visual amenity, too, is a valuable asset. I should also like an assurance that there will be no obstruction to the main access to the woodlands.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich said that cognisance would be taken of the need to provide toilets and ablutions and so on. I am glad of that. Hitherto, lack of facilities of this sort has created difficulties for campers and caravanners. I am not sure whether, if they were not provided, there would not arise the situation about which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham spoke, with altercations developing almost into fierce riots. According to his prognostication, Hainault may become more famous than Hastings. I do not believe that. I think that that danger will be removed, because this time the site and its environmental requirements will be properly planned.
There are 20 million campers in Europe and 30 million in North America. We live in a world which grows ever smaller. Many American campers spend a great deal of time in Europe and many European campers would like to come to this country.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Is the hon. Gentleman threatening that almost 30 million campers will come and live in Hainault Forest?
§ Mr. Molloy
If we are to have any invasion threat, I would much prefer it to come from campers.
Throughout the world camping is on the increase. It is on the increase in this country, but when young Britons go overseas they are not able to explain why this country does not provide for 2078 foreign campers the facilities which our campers can find abroad. This is something which the House should take seriously. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) spoke about a possible invasion by American campers. The grim truth of the matter is that in some other event we would not mind how many Americans came here, how much land was churned up for gun sites, or how much land was taken to house the soldiery.
I hope that the House will support proposals which will advance the decencies of civilised behaviour. I can well understand the apprehensions of those who live in the area. There would be such apprehensions wherever it was proposed to establish such a site, but we have to consider an issue of this character on its broad principles and from a national as well as from a regional point of view. If we explain to the people in the area what it is that we are trying to do, those who live in the vicinity will understand and will not merely not be hostile, but will applaud the efforts being made.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has a kind heart and I know that he will have listened with sympathy and care to the strong arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) against Clause 11, and I hope that he and the promoters of the Bill will accept the Motion which stands in the names of the hon. Member for Dagenham and myself. The hon. Member for Lewisham, South spoke with the authority of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, but he also spoke with sympathy for the very strong feelings of the thousands of my constituents and, not only of them, but of nature lovers well beyond Chigwell and beyond Essex.
I thought that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) was the victim of a misunderstanding. We who oppose Clause 11 do not do so in any dog-in-the-manger spirit.
We do not want to keep Hainault Forest just for the people of Chigwell. 2079 We consider the regional as well as the local interest—to use the words the hon. Member used—but Hainault Forest is, and has been, at the disposal of Londoners and people from further afield and from overseas. That is the reason why we want to keep this piece of lovely forest inviolate. That much of Hainault Forest has been enclosed and cleared for organised recreation does not seem to be a reason why more of the forest should be taken away when there are so many people who seek their recreation in natural surroundings.
The House will know that Charles Dickens described Chigwell as:the fairest place in the world".I am the hon. Member for Chigwell, and I hope to try to keep it so.
Arthur Mee, writing of Essex in the King's England series, described the majestic view from Chigwell Row down on the famous Hainault Forest:where kings and abbots hunted and the G.L.C. now reigns.He wrote:So close it is to London, yet all around is wild and natural, the nightingale sings in the thicket…I must admit that I have not heard it recently—and many big trees increase their girth undisturbed, though the giant of them all, the Monarch Fairlop Oak fell a century ago.Some reference has been made to the history of Hainault. I shall not go into it except to say that at the Reformation the rights of such great religious houses as the famous Abbey of Waltham were reannexed by the Crown and, I suppose on the advice of the Patronage Secretary of the day, granted to various persons for services rendered. There was one exception. That concerned the rights relating to the tract north-east of the River Boding which had belonged to the Abbey of Barking. These were retained by the Crown. This piece was the Forest of Hainault. Unfortunately, it fell into the hands of the Office of Works and Forests.
In 1851 and earlier House of Commons neglected for its Members constituents and for posterity the value of open spaces where Londoners might breathe and the House then endorsed a proposal to destroy the woodland and to convert Hainault Forest into arable land. 2080 I only hope that this House of Commons will not make a similar mistake.
Edward North Buxton of Knighton has been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich and others. He transferred his rights and interests to the L.C.C. Writing in his book, "Epping Forest" about Hainault Forest, he paid tribute and I wish to add my tribute to the G.L.C.'s predecessor for what it did in the past for Hainault Forest. Edward North Buxton wrote:Happily a measure of restitution has recently been brought about with the assistance of the London County Council who are now the owners in trust for the public, not only of the above-named wood and of the adjoining wood in Chigwell parish which has for many years been enclosed…—Hainault Forest—but also of the Crown land, known as Fox-burrows Farm, which has now been laid with grass and, in part, re-afforested. Together these form an open space of 800 acres, the whole of which was opened to the public in 1905.The L.C.C. had a fine record and I hope that record may not be spoiled by its successor, the G.L.C.
This is something for everybody, not something for a selfish lot of constituents of mine. They are not selfish. They want this place to be kept inviolate for Londoners who have come regularly to this beauty spot 250 ft. above the Thames for a day in the country and for respite from the noise and din of the city.
Reference has been made to the bodies which are petitioning against these provisions. I shall not mention them all. They were mentioned by the hon. Member for Dagenham. He and I are Vice-Presidents, however, of the Friends of Hainault Forest. At the new year they had collected 1,200 signatures to a petition of their own.
There are some other bodies whom the hon. Gentleman did not mention. One of them is the Girl Guides Association Camping Committee (London Area). Our point of view is not in any way hostile to campers. We are not against them. We merely question the use of this particular site in this particular way. The Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill Girl Guides Association and the Waltham Forest Playing Fields Association, apart from the Ramblers' Association Southern Area and Ilford and District C.H.A. Rambling Club, should be added to the bodies 2081 mentioned by the hon. Member for Dagenham.
What searches has the G.L.C. made for other sites which would serve the laudable purposes to which the hon. Member for Ealing, North referred? We already have four camping sites in this small area.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
We have Grange Farm, run by the Chigwell Urban District Council. We have the International Guides Camp. We have the London Mission Playing Fields at Lambourne End. We have a camping site opposite Fairburn House. And there is Debden Green, three and a half miles north from Hainault Forest. So it cannot be said that my constituency and this corner of my constituency has not provided sites for the sort of purpose which hon. Members who disagree with us have in mind.
Access to this site is dangerous. The Lambourne Road is very narrow. Traffic, particularly in summer, is heavy. I know this because I tried to get a school crossing patrol at Chigwell Road Primary School. It is a murderous piece of road in the summer. The nearest stations are at Grange Hill and Hainault.
What alternative sites did the Greater London Council consider? The hon. Member for Dagenham suggested Fairlop Airfield. There are other airfields in this part of the world. There is an airfield at North Weald, now largely disused. Then there is the Lea Valley Scheme, in which the Greater London Council is interested. It is hoped that Lea Valley will become a regional park for sport and recreation. This might well be the sort of site which hon. Members have in mind.
We are told that the objections of Essex County Council have been removed. I am not sure how this fits in with the Essex County Council's development plan.
Finally, I want to refer to the Statute governing Hainault Forest. It is subject to the provisions of the Hainault (Lam-bourne Fox Burrows and Grange Hill) Act, 1903, as applied by the Local Law (Greater London Council and Inner London Boroughs) Order, 1965. The preamble to the 1903 Act gives as its object 2082securing the preservation and maintenance of the said lands as an open space.For that purpose the previous estates and interests wereassigned and conveyedto the London County Council topreserve and manage them for that purpose"—for that purpose and no other purpose. Edward North Buxton transferred his commoner rights and interests because, as he said, he wasdesirous of assisting in the preservation of the said lands for the purpose of open spaces".I hope that the promoters of the Bill will think again and not be guilty, for the best of motives, of breaking faith with both the living and the dead.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)
I am in no way trying to wind up the debate—it is not my Motion; this is a question for the House—but I think that it would be convenient if I were to touch on some of the points raised and give certain advice to the House about how I think that it might look at the matters at issue.
It seems to me that the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) goes much too far for the detailed and Committee points which he raised. There are none which would justify throwing the Bill out altogether and preventing it being examined by a Select Committee. It seems to me that the Bill is, in general, a useful Measure which would provide some powers and tidy up certain points for the Greater London Council without making a very substantial difference. Many of the provisions do no more than restore powers which the London County Council had when it existed.
Clause 11 only is opposed by a petition, and the other points have not been touched on. If the Bill goes to a Select Committee, we are not committed to a decision. We do not accept the principle of the Clause, but we ask the Select Committee to collect some of the evidence on it. The Committee will have available to it the views of any Minister who wishes to submit a report on the Bill, including, of course, my right hon. Friend.
The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South asked about the power 2083 to raise money by bond under Clause 5. This is a power which existed under the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act, 1966. The arrangements under that Act for settling differences were not found satisfactory, and this is a proposal to limit the power in proportion to the rates. There is not, therefore, a difference in principle.
The power to raise money abroad, also, is not a new and devastating excursion into international finance. It is a power which the London County Council had. Exercise of power is subject to the approval of the Treasury. Although my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider carefully any criticisms which are raised about the power, it is not one which would justify throwing the Bill out.
Clause 11, if I may say so, has been the subject of a very good debate, with the arguments on both sides deployed with vigour and clarity. I should have thought that this was just the kind of issue which should be looked at in Committee. Where there are two conflicting interests—both of which have substantial justification—where local knowledge and local detail matter enormously, I can think of no better body to examine the question than a Select Committee of the House, with the evidence coming before it and with the public, petitioners and various interested parties able to present their evidence.
My own view, therefore, is that, if we are really to consider whether or not the nightingale can be discerned in Chigwell, there is no better body for the purpose than a Select Committee. However, that is only my view and it is up to every hon. Member to form his own judgment.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) raised a question on Clause 12 I hesitate to interpret someone else's Bill, particularly in the presence of so distinguished a lawyer as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silk in), but I think that Clause 12 is restrictive. It does not extend any power to enclose open spaces. It merely limits the power which already exists. If there is not already power to acquire land formerly in Kent I do not think that that gives them it. But I shall look at the point and write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
2084 The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South also asked why hairdressers should be registered. I may be able to help the House on that by drawing its attention to Section 77 of the Public Health Act, 1961, which empowers the local authority to make byelaws concerning hairdressers. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that it should have power to register the hairdressers in order to enforce the byelaws.
All those points, apart from Clause 11, are matters of detail which could be tidied up in Committee. It would be better, in my view, also to look at Clause 11 in Committee, and I advise the House not to vote for deferring the Second Reading for six months. My view would also be not to accept the Instruction, but that is a matter for the House.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I wish to revert to the first Amendment, which asks that the Second Reading of the Bill be postponed for six months. I do so with a certain amount of reluctance, because I would not wish to postpone the provision of another much-needed underground car park in the central London area. We have had assurances that it can be provided in Bloomsbury Square without injuring the Square's amenities, and we much welcome that.
Apart from that consideration, it appears that the Bill is ill-thought-out in detail. It was apparent from the inability of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) to reply to questions from my hon. Friends concerning the working out of some Clauses that those who prepared his long brief had been unable to advise him of the detailed operation of some of them. He was unable to deal with the extent of the provision in Clause 21 relating to hairdressers, and to say what effect Clause 25 had on the powers of the Inns of Court and the City of London. He said quite frankly that he did not know; those who briefed him had not worked it out, and had not told him.
On the question of retrospective legislation we were merely told that there was no event against which it was contemplated, but that it was rather nice to have. That is not a cogent reason for legislation. For those reasons one would strongly urge the withdrawal of the Bill for at least six 2085 months, so that those bringing it forward can think about its provisions in more detail and bring something far more satisfactory to the House.
A provision that causes considerable disquiet is contained in Clause 8. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us that it did not contain any novel provision. He said that the nationalised industries possessed the powers that he wished to give the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs to invest superannuation funds in the acquisition, development and management of land. But it is a very novel proposiiton for local authorities.
What would be the effect of the power if it were granted to the Greater London Council and the London boroughs? It would mean that these authorities could acquire any property through this fund anywhere in the United Kingdom. Secondly, it would mean that they could use the money not merely for the provision of out-borough or out-Greater London housing but for engaging in commercial activities through the building of factories and the provision of town centres in the areas of other authorities. That is a very novel extension of the powers of London local authorities.
If this power is to be given to these authorities in the Bill, would not other local authorities be entitled to ask for similar powers? Could we deny them in the circumstances? The effect would be—and I agree that I cannot expect to carry hon. Members opposite with me on this aspect—a further undesirable extension of public ownership. Inevitably, we are giving this power of acquiring properties for a variety of purposes to local authorities in addition to powers they already have and in addition to powers given to the Land Commission and the nationalised industries. Into the maw of public ownership more and more land will fall. I cannot expect hon. Members opposite to agree with me on that aspect, however.
But I can expect to invite their sympathy on another aspect. We are introducing into an already highly competitive market another purchaser with substantial funds. We all know that one of the reasons for the substantial rise in land prices over the past decade has been the intense competition between developers seeking an ever-decreasing supply of land. There has been increased competition between 2086 developers of factory sites, town centres and the rest.
Now we are to inject another competitor with additional sources to compete for this diminishing supply. This can only serve to contribute to the increasing cost of land. The simple law of supply and demand will bring this about and it must be considered totally undesirable that we should seek to endorse any measure that is bound to have this kind of effect. I put this thought to hon. Members opposite because it is clearly something that should be borne in mind when considering whether or not effect should be given to a Bill which has clearly come before us ill thought out and ill defined and has been presented in the same way.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Dunnett (Nottingham, Central)
Contrary to the opinions of most hon. Members opposite and, I regret to say, of some of my hon. Friends, I commend this Measure. It is a useful Bill which gives certain necessary powers to the G.L.C. and at the same time, to preserve economy, tidies up a number of outstanding points.
Most of the comments raised on both sides of the House have been adequately dealt with, mainly by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and I need not go over the ground again, especially since many of these points are, in my humble submission, really Committee points. However, perhaps I can attempt to make my own comments on some of them.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), in an intervention which I am sure he meant seriously, wondered whether we would still have the services of our hairdresser. I gather that, this being Crown property, it does not come within the ambit of the Bill so that we are safe. in assuming that we shall still have him. I also gather that we are inmates of this building and therefore are out of the ambit of the relevant Clause. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) asked whether there had been adequate consultation with all the other local authorities about Clause 25.
§ Mr. Doughty
I said that the people referred to under the Act were the City of London and the two Temples.
§ Mr. Dunnett
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I must have misheard. I understand that there has been consultation with the other local authorities in the Greater London area, and if, inadvertently, the authorities mentioned have been omitted, then they will be consulted before the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Doughty
I do not think that the hon. Member is aware that the authorities mentioned are the only authorities referred to in the Section.
§ Mr. Dunnett
In that event, if there has not been adequate consultation, there will be before Committee stage, on the assumption that this Bill receives a Second Reading, as I earnestly hope it will. The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) raised a number of points, one concerning borrowing from abroad. It is true that since the war it has regrettably been this country's policy to overborrow from abroad, and this is no change of course.
Unfortunately owing to an outflow of capital from our country it is necessary to compensate in many ways by borrowing from sources abroad which are willing to lend. This may or may not be a good thing, but the fact remains that this Bill merely gives a power to do so, subject only to Treasury permission. If at any particular time it is not expedient to borrow abroad, for economic or other reasons, I am sure that the Treasury would not give that permission.
§ Mr. Doughty
The authorities referred to are the Inner London boroughs, the City and the Temples. I particularly asked about the City and the Temples.
§ Mr. Dunnett
I am obliged. I understand that they will be adequately consulted before the Committee stage. The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, referred to the wider investment powers in Clause 8. He will probably appreciate that the Greater London Council has an enormous superannuation fund, £60 million or more, and even with the resources of the market, it is still always open to it to try to seek new sources of investment for the benefit of that fund.
To take the point of the hon. Member for Hornsey, who says, "Who knows where this will lead?" As he says. this is an innovation, but most legislation at some point or another is innovatory. 2088 Unless one tries it one does not know. I would have thought that a body such as the Greater London Council would have used its powers wisely, and if it does not use the powers given by this Bill I am sure that there will be representations made.
Clauses 14 and 15 deal with retrospection. It was argued that it had been said that we have no particular case in mind. Surely the object of legislation is to cover all possible contingencies. If there are specific cases, then they can be dealt with; if not it is wise to make such a provision, instead of having to bring in subsequent legislation.
§ Mr. Dunnett
Land has clearly been acquired, but the specific point covered by the Clauses has not arisen. Obviously land has been acquired, otherwise the Clauses would not be there. I understand that the question raised was were there any specific cases where this was needed? There are no specific cases which have been drawn to the attention of the G.L.C., but cases could arise, because these powers existed before and are potentially capable of coming into effect.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I repeat the question I put in an earlier connection to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). If there are no known cases to which the Clauses could apply, why are they made retrospective? If there are no known cases, why is it thought necessary to put forward retrospective legislation, which this House abhors, on the offchance that something unknown might be caught?
§ Mr. Dunnett
I am told that there are no known cases at the moment, but, as this is legislation of some years standing, there could be cases in future. However, if the Clause is objectionable, presumably suitable Amendments will be proposed in Committee.
The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South referred to Clauses 18 and 19. He commented adversely on the need to extend the time for dealing with certain works. I am sure that the original provisions estimated how long they would take. For these works beyond the control of the Council the time has been 2089 exceeded and clearly it needs an extension. If it did not get an extension, presumably it would not complete the works. It is no good complaining about the G.L.C. seeking powers to finish something. Clearly, if we do not give it the power it cannot finish the work.
It may be undesirable to anticipate a date and to ask for an extension, but these works have taken longer than it was thought they would.
§ Mr. Dunnett
It must have made an initial miscalculation which it is trying to make good. It freely admits that it has made a mistake.
The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South was mistaken about Clause 23. It applies only to occupied premises. A careful reading of the Clause will make that clear.
The hon. Member for Hornsey referred to the investment powers, which I have tried to cover. There is a constant inflow of monies and the G.L.C. must invest them for the benefit of its prospective pensioners.
The main opposition to the Measure concerns Hainault Forest. Anyone interested in the countryside and open space, particularly near large cities, would clearly want to do his utmost to preserve the amenities for people not only in the adjoining area but in all the conurbations at hand. Anyone living in the vicinity of an area which has been completely protected possibly has a subconscious objection to other people coming in. But the utmost precautions are to be taken. The G.L.C. has taken the greatest pains to consult the local planning authority, the Essex County Council, and has entered into undertakings with that authority. In consideration of the Council withdrawing its objections the G.L.C. has given certain undertakings which would meet all the planning conditions on which the Essex County Council would otherwise insist. These conditions are laid down in considerable detail, just as if there were a planning application and permission was given with conditions.
2090 The camping place is to be occupied by tents and caravans on a short stay basis only. This is only for the summer season. The duration of stay is not to be more than 28 days. The number of caravans is to be limited. No caravan kept on the site is to be hired out. The layout is to be organised and not crowded. Toilets, ablutions and provision stores are to be provided. Weighing the benefits to the people of the conurbation at large and to visitors to this country, particularly to the London area, against the minor inconvenience to local residents, I should have thought that the matter was adequately taken care of. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend is entitled to dissent. If this were to be an unregulated site on which anyone would be free to do as he pleased, I should be against it as strongly as the next person. In view of the undertakings given and the conditions imposed, this is a very reasonable proposal.
Unfortunately, I was not present during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson), but I gathered that he was particularly concerned that a large part of available woodlands near London was to be used for this purpose. What is involved?—10 acres out of 280, 3½ per cent. It is a loss, but it must be weighed against the greater gain for people who like to camp in an area where at present there are no camping facilities.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) asked whether this site could be used for gipsies in winter. This is not the intention. It is a purely short-term temporary camping site for the summer, and is not intended to be used for gipsies.
Many of the points which have been made are clearly valid ones, otherwise they would not have been made, but most of them can be thrashed out in Committee. This is a Measure designed to improve the administration of London government, with this extra amenity for visitors and the people of London. It is my opinion that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, leaving points of detail to be dealt with in Committee.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The Bill covers a variety of totally different subjects, and, if I seem to pass from subject to subject in the course of my 2091 few remarks, it is because I am endeavouring to comment on some of the matters raised in the Bill.
Clause 8, which has been referred to before, is an extraordinary one. The Greater London Council has vast superannuation funds, but frequently they will be wanted and will have to be drawn upon at very short notice. Those funds are to be used for what is described as the purchase of land. The first question which I would ask is, what land? Is it proposed to buy short-term leases, freehold land, or what? There is no definition or restriction at all.
In the outlying parts of Greater London which I half represent, because I am half a Greater London Member and half a country Member, the G.L.C. is trying to buy up land subject to the Green Belt regulations. The Greater London Council is a planning authority, and on application to the Minister, it can get the Green Belt varied. I do not say that it will do that tomorrow, next week or even next year, but it raises the greatest suspicions that, because there is a shortage of land in the centre of London, the G.L.C. may look at what it has bought in the outlying parts. I can promise that if it tries to do anything like that, there will be serious opposition from local people, including myself.
However, if the Council uses superannuation funds to buy such land, it will be difficult to realise it again quickly, and the Council might have difficulty in meeting its liabilities by way of superannuation payments which it has to make. I do not like a Clause which says that it may use money subscribed for one purpose for the purposes of land investment. Land Investment is essentially long-term, because realisation may take a considerable time, but the money is intended to meet a liability which it may be called upon to fulfil at short notice.
If I had time, I would pass some scathing remarks about the investment Clauses. I see mention of "fixed interest Government securities". The name "Dalton" may have unpleasant memories for some. Anyone who has used superannuation funds to buy "Daltons" in the past will know that it was an unwise investment. Anyone 2092 who proposes a similar Clause today would be wise to take the advice which I am now giving.
The borrowing of money on bearer bonds is referred to in earlier Clauses, and the borrowing of foreign money is referred to in Clause 7, but it would be unwise for the Greater London Council to go round Europe trying to borrow Swiss francs and dollars.
I do not like powers to override restrictive covenants, such as one finds in Clause 14. Restrictive covenants are put upon land for the protection of those who live near that land. That a body should take power to override such covenants without the necessity of a public inquiry or a ministerial order is simply treading on the rights of those living nearby who paid large sums for houses and properties in the knowledge that they were covered by restrictive covenants. The Greater London Council will say, "We are sweeping all those aside. We do not mind if it reduces the value of your property. It will go by the board, because we have power under the Greater London Council (General Powers) (No. 2) Act "—as it will then be—" to make these restrictive covenants."
Clause 16 deals with Bloomsbury Square. It is right that there should be a car park there. London is short of car parks. But Londoners will want to know what steps are being taken for the protection of the amenities—the trees and flowers, and so on—which are so attractive to those who pass the Square every day. We have not had sufficient assurances on that very important point.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that nowadays trees can be preserved and transplanted even if they are fully grown? Therefore, there is no need for any desecration of trees in Bloomsbury Square or anywhere else.
§ Mr. Doughty
There is no need for the desecration of trees in Bloomsbury Square, but I defy anybody to remove and replace the enormous plane tree that has been growing there for 100 years. Perhaps the existing trees will be taken away and others put in their place. That is what we want to know.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) 2093 said that even a layman could understand the language of the Bill. I have the greatest respect for everything that my hon. and gallant Friend says, but Clause 25 is nothing of the sort. It has been slipped in, couched in ultra-legal language, in order to try to hide its effect. I have referred to the two Acts mentioned in it. Under the Bill the Council will have powers, probably rightly, to serve upon the owners of defective properties notices to repair, and also power to carry out the works itself if the notices are not complied with.
Many London boroughs, particularly the City of London and the two Temples—and I am a Master of the Inner Temple and a member of the Estates Committee—are capable of carrying out their own repairs, in the sense of looking after their own properties. This is particularly true of the City of London. It ensures that owners and tenants carry out their obligations. Now, apparently, the Greater London Council is to be allowed to interfere with the duties at present carried out by the City of London. Part I of Schedule 11 to the Act of 1963 is referred to in Clause 25, and one has to dig away before one can discover what the effect is. Clause 25 provides thatin paragraph 36 of Part I of Schedule 11 to the Act of 1963 for the words 'Sections 24 to 31' there shall be substituted the words 'Sections 24, 25, 27 to 31.'Is that plain language?
I would not mind betting that the City of London has never heard of this change, and will be very annoyed when it does. I know that the Temples have not. This legal jargon hides the fact that sweeping powers, which have never been possessed by the Greater London Council before, are being taken in respect of certain parts of London.
The letter from the promoters relating to Clause 13 says:The Outer London boroughs particularly desire for the benefit of Inner London open space powers and a ministerial Order for that purpose is in draft and is intended to run concurrently with the present Bill.All the Outer London boroughs are interested and concerned about what happens to their parks and open spaces. We have not heard a word about what these draft Ministerial Regulations are, and before the Bill goes further they 2094 should be published. We should be told what benefit there will be—if there is to be any benefit—or what restrictions are to be placed upon Outer London boroughs, if restrictions are going to be placed upon them.
I have covered a variety of subjects, because there is a variety in the Bill. Whether it is given a Second Reading depends on my hon. Friends in all parts of the House. Many matters have been raised and I hope that the Committee will consider them carefully, if and when it does consider these questions.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
I am concerned with Part III, Clause 11, which has been discussed by a number of speakers. I welcomed the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and his saying that this matter can be dealt with in Committee. I hope that, when this is considered in Committee, many of the fears of those of us who represent constituencies in this part of Essex will be removed. We should be clear on one point. There is no suggestion by the opponents of this site being used as a caravan site that Hainault Forest should be denied to people from without that area.
Far from it. We welcome outside people to see the beauties of Essex. There has been an interesting historical survey of the forest and of the traffic and transport difficulties which would arise if the site were developed as a caravan site. Hon. Members not conversant with this part of the world should know that a caravan site here would create many new problems and add to some of the existing ones.
The forest abuts an area which has in the past been hardly done by, particularly by the old London County Council. I am glad that amends have been made since then. I refer particularly to the development of housing estates, and particularly the Becontree Estate, which was started in the 1920s with no planning or idea of providing for the people who were put out there. I have a vivid recollection of the miseries those people suffered after being pitch-forked out of places like the East End of London into a foreign place.
I appeal to the Greater London Council for justice. These people, whom they 2095 put out into Essex, are now suffering from many of the disabilities of the build-up and they look upon this little bit of countryside and natural forest as a compensation for what they suffer in that wilderness of bricks and mortar. I hope that these people's needs and interests will be carefully watched in Committee as they are housed close together in tower blocks and in houses which have few amenities like gardens. In that respect also I welcome my hon. Friend's assurance that this matter will be carefully considered.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
At this late hour I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes. Several hon. Members have referred to the importance of the trees in Bloomsbury Square, Hainault Forest and elsewhere. Despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) said, I received some time ago—and I have no doubt that other hon. Members also received this document—a pamphlet from the Civic Trust, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) is the Chairman, showing how quite large trees can be moved.
With the machinery that is available, large and beautiful trees—I am not saying that trees 100 years of age would always qualify for this treatment—can be transplanted. I suggest that the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), who is a member of the G.L.C., should investigate what can be done to save some of the large trees in our London squares when an area must be cleared for car parking purposes or when trees must be removed from an area such as Hainault Forest.
Hon. Members who have seen the pamphlet to which I am referring will agree that, using the proper machinery, it is not optimistic to say that trees can be transplanted and even removed and transplated again. We should do all we can to preserve as many of these age-old trees as possible and, where practicable, replace them from where they were uprooted when the necessary building work has been completed.
2096 Perhaps the Minister will write to me—if he does not propose to intervene again in the debate—to answer a number of questions about the car park. How many parking places will be provided, what charge will be made for parking and when will the car park be completed? I agree that it is a greatly needed car park, but I hope that the amenities of the Square will be preserved and that the trees will not be killed.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
Even at this late hour I am glad to have an opportunity to make some observations about the Bill. When this Measure's predecessor came before Parliament last year I pointed out, as a result of consultations I had had with officers of the Redbridge Borough Council, that it was desirable that the Greater London Council should not imitate its predecessor and confront Parliament with a general powers Bill every year.
Very few—indeed, I suggest none—of the other local authorities in the country find it necessary to take up Parliamentary time every year by the promoting of a Private Bill. Local authorities occasionally bring forward a Private Bill—perhaps once every five or 10 years—but for the rest of the time they use the normal powers that exist for the benefit of all local authorities and do not trouble Parliament in this way.
I was somewhat shaken a few weeks ago, following the debate in which this and other points were raised, to find, when discussing the whole matter with councillors of the G.L.C., that not one word of the debate that had taken place in Parliament had been brought to the attention of the members of the G.L.C. They seem to regard debates here as something of absolutely no concern to them. The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), who is a member of the G.L.C., obviously takes a close interest in what goes on in Parliament, and I have no doubt that the senior officers—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ Question, That "now" stand part of the Question, put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.