HC Deb 10 December 1974 vol 883 cc419-27
Miss Harvie Anderson

I beg to move Amendment No. 98, in page 9, line 3:5, leave out subsection (3).

The object of the amendment must be clear. It is simply and importantly to retain inalienable land as such. I am sorry that it is such a late hour—or should I say early hour?—because I should have liked to take this at some length. But I know that that will not be the wish of the Committee, and I shall therefore deal with it as briefly as possible.

I think it is true to say that this part of the Bill has caused as much widespread concern as any part of this measure, and it breaches an important matter that has hitherto been regarded as sacred. Much of the land with which we are concerned in the amendment has been given in the belief that inalienability would stand the test of time, and a very long time at that. We are assailing a matter that many judged would never be touched.

Much of the land held by the National Trust is held for the benefit of the nation and of a wide public. The feeling that inalienability would stand has greatly influenced those who have given the land, and it is a matter that influences those who are concerned with making such gifts.

We must have a definite explanation of how it comes about that this subsection has to be included in the Bill. I do not want to go into this argument in detail, but this provision has given rise to great concern, which I have sought briefly to express, and I hope very much that the Government will find it possible to accept the amendment.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is right that someone on these benches should support the argument of the right hon. Lady the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). This provision breaches undertakings that have been accepted in the past, and it is viewed not only by the National Trust in England and the National Trust for Scotland, but by many other bodies as well, with deep concern. It is difficult to understand why my right hon. and hon. Friends think it necessary to include this provision.

I will not go into the history, except simply to say that neither the National Trust for Scotland nor the National Trust in England has used the special parliamentary procedure which has been reserved to those bodies in any unconscionable way. Indeed, the National Trust for Scotland has never used it. That does not mean that the power is any the less valuable for that. There are many occasions on which it is valuable for it to be known that the power is in the trust's hands to invoke the special parliamentary procedure.

The National Trust for England has used the power once over a period of about 70 years and then only after very careful consideration. Therefore, it cannot be said that we are dealing with bodies that wish to cause trouble in their use of this power. They do not arrogate to themselves the right of omniscience.

Parliament has the right under the special parliamentary procedure under the National Trust Acts to challenge the position of the National Trust and to have its way, but only after the special procedure has been followed and a joint committee established. That does not necessarily involve a long period. It is entirely up to the Government of the day to determine how long they leave for this process.

I see no reason why this procedure should not be left to operate as it does today. I give notice to my hon. Friend that, although I supported him earlier in a proposal about which we felt deeply, I should find it very difficult to do so on this issue which, whatever he may say, could be regarded as a precedent in other fields and could weaken the position and authority of the National Trust and, above all, endanger the likelihood of further gifts of important land to the trust in England and in Scotland. That is the issue above all which concerns the trust.

Although I appreciate the Minister's good intentions, and I particularly welcome his action with regard to the Drambuie case, which was settled very happily from the point of view of many of us, nevertheless no Minister can bind his successor, and, therefore, even though I am sure that he would wish to give us assurances about the kind of action he wishes to take, that of itself will not be sufficient to satisfy some of us on this side and some hon. Members opposite.

Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)

I am a Member of the National Trust for Scotland and I, too, am very worried about this provision. Like the right hon. Lady the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkin- sop), I believe that the effect of this provision will be to dry up, or at least to decrease, the flow of gifts and bequests to the trust.

I understand that there are only 40 miles out of 6,400 miles of the Scottish coastline that belong to the trust. I also understand that at times the way to the heart of the Scottish Office is via the Secretary of State's favourite poet. I should like to quote from Robert Burns: A daimen-icker in a thrave S a sma' request ". The hon. Member will get a blessing wi the lave, And never miss't! I shall translate that for the benefit of any hon. Member who may not have the Scots dialect at his fingertips. It means that a single ear of corn in 24 sheaves would never be missed by the hon. Member. I suggest that he should give the National Trust this little ear of corn that we seek through the amendment.

Mr. Buchan

I have been entering the Chamber from time to time to make sure that I did not miss my chance to say something to the amendment. I take the point in the quotation from Burns, and the point about the 40 miles of coastline on the West Coast of Scotland, but I am reminded of the situation in Drumbuie, where, despite the small fraction of coastline belonging to the National Trust, two powerful companies decided to try to establish themselves, and in the process gave evidence which later events have shown to be highly suspect. They did not get what they wanted in this area, and then they decided to do the same thing in another.

If we are to use the speeded-up process, and if pressure is to be exerted, the same danger may occur again. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can accept the amendment. There may be problems. What is important is that some kind of apparatus of investigation and ministerial intervention should be provided before we proceed further.

Mr. Fairbairn

This is a very serious matter of principle. It is often said that politicians are not popular because they do not keep their word. The Bill starts with a clause that could mean anything, goes through a clause that means nothing, and then refers to something which Parliament has defined as inalienable but is now said to be alienable. This is contrary to the principle of the Bill and is wrong. It cannot be right to provide that something is inalienable and then to say that it is alienable by the Secretary of State, of all thieves.

The time has come to look carefully at the principle involved.

Mr. Millan

I do not think that there are any absolutes here. The National Trust itself can feu inalienable land for development, and it does that to a considerable extent. As I understand it, the trust has done that for other pieces of land in the Drambuie area. That is a fact, but that is not my argument.

The expedited acquisition procedure will not apply until the planning procedure has been gone through. It is inconceivable that there would be a proposition, if that happens—and there is nothing in prospect at the moment affecting the National Trust land—which would not be subject to the full rigours of the planning procedure, and, one would have thought—as in the case of the Drambuie inquiry—a very protracted public inquiry.

Therefore, the basic arguments about whether the land should be used for development at all are to be deployed at the public inquiry, or certainly through the planning procedure itself. In the case of the Drumbuie application—I do not wish to go into its merits, or into what companies or other parties may have said at the inquiry—it was true that the National Trust was deployed with great skill and at considerable length.

In coming to a decision on the report of the Drumbuie inquiry, it weighed heavily with my right hon. Friend that the land concerned was inalienable land of the National Trust. I think that the great care and sympathy with which my right hon. Friend approached the National Trust's interest in Drumbuie should be acknowledged.

To return to the general proposition, if any subsequent case should arise the full planning procedures will be gone through and the basic case on planning grounds will be argued before any planning decision has been reached. It is only after the planning decision has been reached that the question of an expedited acquisition order arises.

I was asked about ministerial intervention. The expedited order is an act of the Secretary of State and, therefore, to that extent there is ministerial involvement. Under the Bill a time limit will be extended for representation to be made on the expedited acquisition order. Therefore, that represents another step in the procedure in which the National Trust could be deployed.

There is then the parliamentary procedure involving an affirmative resolution. Therefore, there is full parliamentary protection. At present inalienability is subject to a qualification. There is a special parliamentary procedure which can be used to set inalienability aside. If we were simply making a change which eliminated parliamentary procedure and replaced it by other safeguards, however well-designed or comprehensive, I would take the view that that might bite into the long-understood protection which is given to inalienable land held by the National Trust. But we are satisfied that under the present parliamentary procedure, and indeed with the new parliamentary procedure provided for in the Bill by means of an affirmative resolution, if it wished to argue against expedited acquisition orders it would be fully protected by the provisions of the Bill.

An important principle is involved. It has been recognised that there can be no absolute inalienability for any piece of land held by any body, however distinguished and fine its record is. It is already recognised by the fact that a special parliamentary procedure can take place. We are seeking to apply another parliamentary procedure and in principle it is right that the procedure should apply to inalienable land.

12.45 a.m.

Subsection (3) need not have been in the Bill. Without it the Bill would apply to National Trust land in any case. The subsection was put in for the avoidance of doubt. I expressly wished to make clear what we were doing. I did not want it done surreptitiously by tucking away this proposal in an incomprehensible amendment somewhere in the schedule. I wanted it to be clear on the face of the Bill so that this discussion could take place.

I realise that there are very strong feelings about this matter. I admire what the National Trust does in both Scotland and England. I have met representatives of the National Trust for both Scotland and England. I know that they are not by any means satisfied with what I have been able to tell them, although they welcomed the proposal that I outlined for the affirmative procedure which has now been written into the Bill.

There is a danger that hon. Members who are most emphatic in their support of the National Trust in this matter might exaggerate the perils in which it may be placed by the Bill as drafted. I do not believe that there is any need for anyone who is thinking of giving his land to the National Trust to feel any degree of apprehension. People should not be put off by what is in the Bill or by hon. Members who are critical of it perhaps exaggerating the seriousness and significance of it. The general powers and the important role that the National Trust plays in our national life are recognised.

I should also like to place on record that the Government will not use this provision as a precedent for similar provisions in other legislation. In fact, I told the National Trust representatives who came to see me that I could undertake that we would not use it as a precedent for any other legislation.

I think that, in the context of what we are trying to do and the urgency with which expedited acquisition orders may be required, we have struck the right balance. Therefore, I cannot recommend the Committee to accept the amendment.

Miss Harvie Anderson

We have a simple proposition before us on which we have not had satisfactory assurances. We are simply seeking to preserve the present position of inalienability. As we have had no suitable assurances to preserve that position, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 105, Noes 151.

Division No 29.] AYES [12.50 a.m.
Adley, Robert Grieve, Percy Roberts, Michael (Cardiff N.W.)
Atkins, Rt Han H. (Spelthorne) Grist, Ian Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Hampson, Dr Keith Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Banks, Robert Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Shelton, William (Lambeth St.)
Benyon, W. R. Henderson, Douglas Shepherd, Colin
Biffen, John Holland, Philip Silvester, Fred
Biggs-Davison, John Hunt, John Sims, Roger
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hutchison, Michael Clark Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Boscawen, Hon Robert James, David Speed, Keith
Bowden, Andrew (Brighton) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Spence, John
Braine, Sir Bernard King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Spicer, James (W. Dorset)
Brotherton, Michael Kitson, Sir Timothy Spicer, Michael (S. Worcester)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Lawrence, Ivan Sproat, lain
Bulmer, Esmond Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stainton, Keith
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Luce, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Churchill, W. S. MacCormick, lain Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, S) Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacGregor, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Cockcroft, John Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Teddy (Glasgow C.)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Mates, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Cope, John Mather, Carol Temple-Morris, P.
Corrie, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thompson George
Costain, A. P. Mayhew, Patrick Townsend Cyril D
Crawford, Douglas Meyer, Sir Anthony Tugendhat, Christopher
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Monro, Hector Viggers P.J.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Morrison, Peter (Chester) Warren, kenneth
Durant, Tony Nelson, Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Neubert, Michael Welsh, Andrew
Emery, Peter Newton,Tony Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E.)
Eyre, Reginald Page, John (Harrow West) Young, Sir George(Ealing)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Parkinson, Cecil Younger, Hon George
Fairgrieve, Russell Pattie, Geoffrey
Farr, John Percivsl, Ian TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N.) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Gardner, Edward (S. Fyide) Reid, George Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Gerard Vaughan.
Gray, Hamish Rifkind, Malcolm
Archer, Peter Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Bidwell, Sydney
Armstrong, Ernest Bates, Alf Booth, Albert
Ashton, Joe Bean, Robert E. Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Atkinson, Norman Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow Pr.)
Buchanan, Richard Hayman, Mrs Helene Radice, Giles
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.) Hefler, Eric S. Richardson, Miss Jo
Campbell, Ian Hooley, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cartwright, John Horam, John Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Clemitson, I. M. Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S.) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N.) Rodgers, William (Teesside)
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rooker, J. W.
Concannon, J. D. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roper, John
Conlan, Bernard John, Brynmor Rose, Paul B.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Wands, Toot) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sedgemore, B.
Cralgen, J. M. (Glasgow M.) Kaufman, Gerald Short, Rt Hon Edward (Newcastle C)
Cryer, Bob Kelley, Richard Sillars, James
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh.) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Dalyell, Tarn Kinnock, Neil Small, William
Davidson, Arthur Lamond, James Smith, John (N. Lanarkshire)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Snape, Peter
Deakins, Eric Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spearing, Nigel
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Loyden, Eddie Stallard, A. W.
Dempsey, James Lyon, Alexander (York) Stewart, Rt Hn Michael (H'smith, F)
Doig, Peter Lyons, Edward (Bradtord W) Stoddart, David
Dormand, Jack Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Stott, Roger
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McCartney, Hugh Strang Gavin
Duffy, A. E. P. McElhone, Frank Taylor, (Bolton W)
Dunn, James A. Mackintosh, John P. Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Dunnett, Jack McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Madden, Max Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Edge, Geoffrey Magee, Bryan Tomlinson, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mahon, Simon Urwin T.W.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V.)
English, Michael Maynard, Miss Joan Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Meacher, Michael Ward, Michael
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Wellbeloved James
Flannery, Martin Mendelson, John White, Franck R. (Bury)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) White, James (Glasaow P)
Ford, Ben T. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Willson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Forrester, John (The Wrekin) Murray, Ronal king Wilson, William (Coventry S.E.)
George, Bruce Oakes, Gordon Woodall Alec
Gilbert, Dr John O'Halloran, Michael Woof Robert
Golding, John Orbach, Maurice Wrigglesworth, Ian
Gourlay, Harry Ovenden, John Young, David, (Bolton E.)
Grant, John (Islington C.) Park, George
Hamling, William Parry, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hardy, Peter Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Joseph Harper and
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pendry, Tom Mr. James Hamilton.
Hatton, Frank Prescott, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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