HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1255-68
Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'National Parks and'.

The Amendment reverses the Committee's first decision, in which, although I had the support of the hon. Members for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) and Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), I still failed by one vote to carry the Committee. I did not have the vote of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), as he said that he had a National Park in his constituency.

The issue is whether the Commission should be called the National Parks and Countryside Commission or simply the Countryside Commission. I would not seek, on a matter like this, to reverse a decision of the Committee freely arrived at—I almost said, "too freely arrived at"—unless I thought that there were good reasons for doing so. One important factor is that, through ignorance, I could not then tell the Committee accurately what were the Commission's own views. I do not say that they would necessarily be decisive, but they are important, and the House will want to give them due weight.

I came fresh to the Bill and started with no prejudices one way or the other. I think that it is an advantage to name a body of this kind with a title which is at once clear and an accurate description of its work. By those tests, there is no doubt that the advantages lie with the shorter title, the Countryside Commission. I realise that those who fought for years to get the original 1949 Act on the Statute Book and then made great efforts to make it a reality have an understandable attachment to the original title of the National Parks Commission. The emphasis at that time was on the National Parks themselves. They were the first great achievement in that sphere, and the Commission looked after questions of access to the countryside and so on.

The fact that we have entitled this the Countryside Bill and are proposing to establish the Countryside Commission is indicative of what we believe to be a real widening in the scope of the Commission. In future the Commission will be closely concerned with the activities of almost every local authority in the country, and that applies to urban as well as rural authorities, since urban authorities will, in a sense, provide the customers.

I must, therefore, advise the House that it would be misleading and confusing to people if the words "National Parks" appeared at the beginning of the title of the Commission, because a great many authorities will not be concerned with the National Parks activities of the Commission. They will be concerned with its many other functions: the advice and guidance the Commission can give them, the advice which the Commission will be giving to the Minister about questions of grant for these authorities and with countryside problems involved in the provision of picnic sites, camping sites and so on under the Bill.

For the purpose of publicising its activities, the Commission would not easily get the message across to the countryside if it had to do everything under the longer title. The words which would stick would be "National Parks", and I predict that if we retained the longer title, it would continue to be called "The National Parks Commission", particularly since it is a mouthful to say "The National Parks and Countryside Commission". For practical and commonsense reasons, the advantage lies with the shorter title.

I appreciate that some of those who are rightly passionately concerned for the interests of the National Parks feel that this change of title will mean a down grading of status of the National Parks. While I hope that I can understand their fears, I suggest that they are wholly unfounded aid that the change of title will not in any way reduce the parks' significance or importance. The National Parks will continue to be known as the National Parks. The planning committees and boards which are responsible for them will continue to bear the full title of their National Parks. These arguments point to the desirability of the shorter title.

As to the views of the Commission, some time ago the National Parks Commission hoped to retain that title. I was given to understand that there had been some shift of opinion and that, as a result of the representations made on behalf of the Minister, the Commission had come to accept—I did not know how enthusiastically or reluctantly—the shorter title; and that was the way I informed the Committee in this matter. But other views were expressed. For example, the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said: My information—admittedly not directly from the Commission, the Chairman or any member of it—is that the Commission have become convinced that there is nothing they can do that will move the Government any further, and that is why they have accepted this situation ".—OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 28th November, 1967; c. 36.] That was said shortly before the Committee reached its decision. I was not then in a position to lay the true views of the Commission before the Committee. That decision was taken on 28th November.

I received a letter from the Chairman of the Commission, Lady Wootton, dated 29th November, 1967, which I will read: I understand that yesterday the Standing Committee carried an Amendment to change the title of the Countryside Bill to National Parks and the Countryside. The Commission ask me to let you know that since they endorsed their predecessors' views on this last year they have reconsidered the matter on more than one occasion when various views have been expressed. There is, however, now strong support in the Commission for the shorter title as being both better for publicity purposes and a more accurate description for the Commission's new responsibilities. They hope, therefore, that at a later stage it may be possible to reverse the Standing Committee's decision of yesterday. That is a very clear expression of views. The reasons given are the reason I urge on the House and which leads me to ask the House to reverse the decision taken by the Standing Committee.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Channon

The Minister of State has persuasively suggested that we should reverse the decision taken at the first sitting of the Committee when, by 10 votes to nine, it was decided to call the Commission the National Parks and Countryside Commission. At that time I too was on the losing side. It is therefore not surprising that I welcome the Government decision, although I am never happy when Governments reverse Standing Committee decisions in this way.

It has always seemed to me that the Commission is to have much wider powers than the National Parks Commission. The whole countryside will be its remit. If it were to have a longer title, I would prefer the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), to call it the Coast and Countryside Commission, but I expect that it is too late to put that forward now with any chance of its being accepted. The title, "Countryside Commission" is more accurate and I understand that it now has overwhelming support in the Commission itself. The House should have very strong reasons before deciding to overrule the Commission. Of course, what the Commission decides on is not final, but we would have to have very strong reasons for disagreeing with the Commission.

I have some reluctance in asking my hon. Friends not to support the decision of the Standing Committee, but I hope they will agree that it would be wiser to have the name, "Countryside Commission". This will meet with approval from those who have to work the Commission and to carry out the tremendous transformation of the Commission which will have to take place when the Bill becomes law. Therefore, speaking personally, I do not wish to oppose the Government Amendment. This is not very surprising since it is the view I took in Committee. I hope that my hon. Friends who took a different view may now feel that it is not a matter worth pursuing in view of the so clear expression of the views of the Commission and now that we know a great deal more about the Bill than we did in November and have had an opportunity to study the effects.

I hope that some of my hon. Friends will not wish to pursue the old idea of the National Parks and Countryside Commission. I do not pretend that there is a great deal in the argument or that it would be disastrous if the other decision were taken. I think the difference would be marginal and the Commission would function perfectly adequately if it were called the National Parks and Countryside Commission or the Coast and Countryside Commission, but I think the title now suggested is the appropriate one. I hope that it will not be felt at this stage when we have had so much agreement about the general principles of the Bill, that it is necessary to divide the House on this matter.

Mr. Carol Johnson

I hope my right hon. Friend will not think it churlish of me if, after the very reasonable way in which he moved this Amendment, I suggest that the attempt to reverse the decision of the Standing Committee will be met with substantial and profound regret in many quarters outside the House. The matter was fully ventilated in the Standing Committee. It is a matter of judgment, but it seems to me that it is not sufficient to reverse the decision of the Standing Committee merely because of a letter from the Chairman of the National Parks Commission.

I am not sure that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) is quite right when he says that that betokens overwhelming support for using the title "Countryside Commission". What the lady said in her letter was: There is now strong support… There is a substantial difference between strong support and overwhelming support.

Mr. Channon

I was not basing my remarks particularly on that letter. It is my impression that there is now overwhelming support for the title "Countryside Commission".

Mr. Johnson

My information is that there was a difference of view within the Commission. The expression of view may well represent the majority decision, but it is certainly not a unanimous decision. In those circumstances, one is entitled to ask what are the views of a large number of other bodies and associations which are intimately connected with the work of the Commission, whether it is the Countryside Commission or the National Parks Commission. I was very surprised to find the enthusiasm that was accorded to the decision of the Standing Committee to continue the use of "National Parks" in the title of the new Commission.

As my right hon. Friend has referred to a letter from the Chairman of the Commission, perhaps I may refer to a number of organisations to whose opinions I am sure we would all wish to pay some respect. First, there is the Sheffield and Peak District Branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England which states in a letter: At a meeting of the Executive Committee of this Branch of the C.P.R.E. last night I was instructed to thank you for supporting the successful amendment to the Countryside Bill introducing the words 'National Parks' into the title of the new Commission. There is very wide support throughout the National Parks and among the informed public fir this amendment … The letter goes on to say: We would like to stress the importance of encouraging this loyalty and dedication, especially among those who are locally responsible for administration of National Parks and to whom the removal of the words 'National Parks' from the title of the Commission will be an indication that National Parks have less significance than previously. Then we have the Friends of the Lake District who write: We were pleased to hear that 'National Parks' had been added to the title of the Commission and we sincerely hope that this will not be altered at the report stage. I have a letter from the British Mountaineering Council and one from the Cyclists' Touring Club. The letter from the Cyclists' Touring Club says: There is really no need for me to tell you how much sentiment is attached to the term ' National Parks ', especially by those who fought so hard for the establishment of National Parks prior to the 1949 Act, and we think it would be a tragedy if the title were submerged, with the possibility that—in the course of time—the distinction between these areas and other parts of the countryside would lose its significance. Lastly I have a letter from a nominated member of the National Parks Snowdonia Committees, to which some respect ought to be paid and which, after making reference to the decision of the Standing Committee, says: I do trust that the House will endorse this title which stands as the last defence for the natural beauty and the wilder areas of England and Wales, and of the Government pledge that these should be maintained. Therefore, it is important to many people that we should retain in the title of the Commission some reference to the National Parks. My right hon. Friend in moving the Amendment admitted that it is a matter of judgment. He advanced arguments why we should reverse the decision of the Standing Committee. I am not persuaded, and I think there are equally strong arguments on the other side for standing by the decision of the Standing Committee.

Dame Joan Vickers

I am one of those who voted for the inclusion of "National Parks". In asking leave to withdraw my Amendment in Committee, I said: We know that often on Report the Government put the Whips on and change the decisions of the Committee. I do not know whether the Whips are on tonight, but the Government are changing that decision of the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are."] So I was right on that occasion. I withdrew my Amendment and left it open to table another. Unfortunately, I was overseas at a W.E.U. meeting and did not return in time to do so and the Government had not tabled their Amendments before I left.

In Committee the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said this: Indeed, if the Committee had the opportunity of reflection, they might have felt it better to add 'coasts' than to add 'National Parks', which are already amply provided for."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A; 28th November, 1967, c. 46–52.] I think that "coasts" would stick in the public's mind. Would the Minister of State consider recommending, as the title of the Commission is being changed, changing its title again to "Countryside and Coast Commission" or to "Coast and Countryside Commission"? That would emphasise the two aspects—countryside and coasts—which we are very anxious should be borne in mind, particularly as this is an island.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing one Amendment and not another one.

Dame Joan Vickers

I should be grateful if that point could be borne in mind.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Even at this late hour of the morning I do not apologise for speaking briefly on this subject, because I think that it has real importance. It is not just a question of a rather romantic yearning after an old title. It is not merely the fact that many of us were concerned in the battle for National Parks and are sorry to see those words deleted from the title of the new Commission. The importance arises for practical reasons—the sorts of reasons on which my hon. and learned Friend argued the case for the Amendment.

The Commission will do two jobs. It will have responsibility for implementing the Bill, which we all welcome. It is properly called "Countryside Bill", because it is concerned with a whole range of countryside problems and provides facilities for recreation. It is also concerned with the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. A title which makes clear the functions and responsibilities of the new Commission should include both "Countryside" and "National Parks".

This Commission is distinctive from the Commission operating in Scotland, for the very good reason that in Scotland there are no National Parks. That is why we give it a different title in England and Wales from that in Scotland. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, we want to retain "National Parks" in the title because it has an international significance. I have on many occasions had the opportunity of meeting those concerned with National Parks and their development in many parts of the world. "National Parks" is a title which is clearly understood internationally, whereas "Countryside" is not. It would be a great pity, for all these reasons, if we lose "National Parks" from the title of the Commission. There is a justified suspicion that this means that the Commission as at present constituted will not have the same interest inin the wilder areas of the countryside which are comprised within our National Parks as was the original intention.

I deeply regret the proposed Amendment, and I regret it for highly practical reasons, not for the reasons of romanticism and yearning for the past which my hon. and learned Friend suggested.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Jopling

I have held strong views on this matter ever since Second Reading. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that, to be comprehensive, the name must be National Parks and Countryside Commission. With respect, if it is to be comprehensive, it should be the National Parks, Country Parks and Countryside Commission. That would cover the whole range.

Mr. Speaker

Order. One Amendment is enough to discuss at this moment.

Mr. Jopling

I take the point, Mr. Speaker. I dislike the name National Park very much. Although I love the places themselves, I hate the name. The people who live in National Park areas find that a good many of the visitors who come are not able to distinguish between the rights of private property in an urban park and in a National Park. I shall not weary the House with examples of what I mean. There is great confusion about it.

I welcome the Amendment and shall support it, as I did in Committee. I hope that it is the first step in getting rid of the name National Park altogether. We are removing it from the title of the Commission at this stage. I hope that the next stage will be to think of a better name for the National Parks themselves.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

I deplore the decision to reverse the decision which was taken in the Standing Committee. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State made a great deal of the letter which he received from the new chairman of the National Parks Commission. I remind him that the previous chairman wrote a letter to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. It was dated 4th May, 1966: The National Parks Commission think that the title proposed for the new Commission calls for reconsideration. The idea of National Parks is given statutory expression in the Act of 1949 and in the title of the present Commission. The expression 'National Park' has become part of the national consciousness, and around it there has grown a strong and widespread feeling of loyalty and dedication; this correctly reflects its international significance. The National Park Authorities have now achieved a sense of planning purpose which can stand comparison with that for any part of the country. This is giving a new momentum to the creative ideals of the 1949 Act. That the British National Park system has much to offer other long settled and densely populated countries in techniques of administration and management is shown by the recent award by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to the Peak Park Planning Board of the first European Diploma for protected landscapes. It is important therefore that the name National Parks' should not be withdrawn from public notice, or that any impression should be given that the cause of National Parks will be allowed to go by default. The National Parks Commission have therefore strongly advised that the name to be given to the new Commission should be the 'National Parks and Countryside Commission'. This proposal was made by the National Parks Commission to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources when he recently visited one of their meetings. That letter was written by Lord Strang. Now, my hon. and learned Friend tells us that the new Chairman has written in other terms. Why should we give greater cognisance to the views of the new Chairman, which we know are not the majority views of the existing Commission? As there are undoubtedly mixed views on this as between the old and the new Commission, the Committee should be entitled to make up its mind on the matter. It voted for the inclusion of the words "The National Park", and they should be allowed to stand.

It has been suggested that the title should be accurately descriptive of the functions of the body. If we include the words "National Parks" that would be the case, for the Commission still has responsibility for National Parks, which cover about 10 per cent. of England and Wales. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the words should be included. It is also said that we should introduce a degree of precision into the title, but the new title accepted by the Committee is precise. I do not see that "National Parks and Countryside Commission" is in any way too long.

I suggest a compromise. My hon. and learned Friend suggests that we should not put the words "National Parks" to the forefront. Will he therefore accept n Amendment which could be moved in another place—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That Amendment may be taken in another place—not now.

Mr. Jackson

My suggested compromise is that perhaps my hon. and Learned Friend might consider introducing a revision—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman apparently did not understand what I said. We are discussing Amendment No. 1. He cannot make a further Amendment to it.

Mr. Jackson

May I ask, in conclusion, if my hon. and learned Friend would be any more sympathetic to a different formulation, namely, "The Countryside and National Parks Commission"?

Mr. MacDermot

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may speak again out of respect to my hon. Friends who have voiced their strong feelings on the matter. There is little I can add to what I said in opening, for I think that I anticipated most of the arguments.

I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) that all the persons and bodies from whose letters he quoted are closely associated and connected with the National Parks. I fully understand their feelings in the matter, and do not seek to minimise them. But I do not think that that detracts from my arguments.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) argues on practical grounds that the preference should be for the longer title. I cannot see why. The shorter title is comprehensive and includes the whole range of the Commission's activities. One does not want to produce a dichotomy between its responsibilities for National Parks and for other parts of the countryside. The National Parks form a vital part of the countryside and the work of what I suggest should be called the Countryside Commission.

My hon. Friend said that the term "National Parks" had an international significance. But like many other terms with an international significance it is the source of much international confusion, I suspect. All may clearly understand the term, but I am sure that they all clearly understand it in a different sense. I do not believe that any other country uses it in the same sense as we do, a point which I think that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) has in mind when he argues that he would like to see the term disappear. I do not agree. I do not want it to disappear, and I want it retained for our National Parks and our National Parks authorities. But I do not feel that the international argument is very strong, because there is no doubt a very different meaning here from that in America, for example.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Over the whole continent of Europe "National Parks" means precisely the same as in this country, and even in America one should not exaggerate the differences. I know them very well.

Mr. MacDermot

Perhaps we can agree to differ on that. In any event, I do not feel that in a matter of this kind the international usefulness of the term should be a determining factor.

In answer to the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) I must correct his impression. He suggested that the letter I read expressed the personal view of Lady Wootton, the present Chairman. That is not correct. She was writing—and she made this clear in the letter—on behalf of the Commission. She wrote: The Commission asked me to let you know and was expressing the considered and reconsidered view of the Commission. It is significant that the Commission have altered their view. I can assure the House that this is a fact, because I recently visited the Commission. They took this up and expressed the hope that the House would reverse this decision.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Channon

I beg to move Amendment No. 105, in page 1, line 14 leave out 'open air'.

I do not intend, at this late hour, to speak at length on this Amendment. During the Committee stage we discussed, on 30th November, as is shown in columns 83 and 84 of the Official Report of Standing Committee A, the definition of "open-air recreation". I thought it was then the general impression in the Standing Committee that the present definition in the 1949 Act was "now unduly restrictive" and I quote the Minister of State in column 85. It was therefore my understanding that some Amendment was likely from the Government at this stage. If such an Amendment has come forward in a different way, I apologise for having missed it. I was not able to find such an Amendment and therefore put this down in the hope of drawing from the Government a statement of their intention. We have all discussed on previous stages of the Bill what should be in the country parks. There are many different kinds of country park, and as was said in Standing Committee, it would be wrong to stop all organised games in all country parks. My understanding was that the present definition of "recreation" might have that effect.

The Minister agreed to look at this and see whether the definition could be altered to meet the point. It would be helpful to have information about the Government's attitude. Some amendment is required.

Mr. MacDermot

I think the hon. Gentleman has overlooked the effect of Clause 16(3) which we added to the Bill in Standing Committee. We have already done what he wants us to do and what I undertook to do to meet the point about the definition of "open-air recreation" in the 1949 Act, excluding organised games. We recognise that it would be unduly restrictive when we wanted country parks to include some provision for organised games. Clause 16(3) confines the definition to Part V of the 1949 Act dealing with access orders to the countryside. In that case it is right to retain the definition. For all other purposes the exclusion of organised games is removed.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. Channon

I take it, therefore, that the ordinary definition of "open-air recreation" would include organised games. With that explanation I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move, Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 17, at end to insert— (6) In Part III of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 (which specifies offices the holders of which are disqualified under that Act) as it applies to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, there shall be inserted at the appropriate point in alphabetical order the entry "Any member of the Countryside Commission in receipt of remuneration".

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment we can take Amendment No. 79, in page 38, line 7, Clause 40, at end insert— (4) The provisions of this Act amending or repealing any provision of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Amendment No. 81, in page 38, line 10, Clause 40, after "and", insert: subject to subsection (4) above". and Amendment No. 90, in page 46, line 49, Schedule 4, at end insert—

5 & 6 Eliz. 2. c. 20. The House of Commons Disqualification Act1957. In Part III of Schedule 1 the words' Chairman or Deputy Chairman of the National Parks Commission'.
Mr. MacDermot

These Amendments are to give effect to an undertaking I gave in Standing Committee. We had some discussion about whether hon. Members should be excluded from service on the Commission in any event or merely excluded if they were to receive any remuneration for their services. The Committee came to the conclusion, which I accept, that hon. Members should be able to serve on the Commission provided they did not receive remuneration. That is the effect of the Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

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