HC Deb 17 January 1975 vol 884 cc893-984

11.4 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Report by Lord Nugent on Defence Lands and of the Report by Lord Sandford on National Park Policies Review. The Defence Lands Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Nugent of Guildford was appointed on 14th January 1971 by the then Secretary of State for Defence. In addition to the chairman, there were 14 committee members, eight of whom were drawn from the fields of national Government and the Armed Services. The remaining six were independent members.

The committee's terms of reference were to carry out a review of land in the United Kingdom held by the Armed Forces for training areas, airfields and ranges wherever situation, and land used for any purpose in national parks and areas of outstanding beauty and along the coastline, except for dockyards and port installations. In the report which was published on 5th July 1973, the committee reviewed 465 sites and made 26 general recommendations and, in 239 reports, made particular recommendations about 329 sites.

The report is a most comprehensive and valuable document which seems likely to provide a definitive statement of the Armed Forces' needs for, and use of, land in this country for many years to come. The whole House will joint me in expressing appreciation of the work of Lord Nugent and his colleagues.

When the report was published, the previous administration said that there would be an opportunity for public comment and discussion so that all views could be taken into account by the Government in considering the recommendations in the report.

I turn to the public reaction to the report. The initial Press reaction was moderately favourable. The general recommendations which dealt with such subjects as improved Ministry of Defence liaison with the planning authorities, improved access to Ministry of Defence sites, and environmental and conservation improvements with particular reference to noise, excited little public comment.

There was, however, a strong reaction to the recommendations about individual sites, particularly the controversial proposal that the RAC Gunnery School should move from Lulworth to Castlemartin. Local opinion in Dorset was rather divided. Amenity organisations favoured the move, but the majority of local residents and the local authorities who made their views known opposed it.

The response from the Welsh people overwhelmingly opposed any extended use of the ranges at Castlemartin. Other controversial recommendations were those relating to the proposed move of some of the proof and experimental facilities from Shoeburyness to Tain—which could now possibly be necessary only if the Maplin seaport project proceeds—and those relating to the ranges in the Pentland Hills, but on these public reaction was much less strong.

No decision on the report had been announced by the last administration before the Government changed last February and this was one of the outstanding problems which we inherited on taking office.

After studying the initial reactions and subsequent comments in Parliament and by the public, we announced our decisions in a White Paper—Cmnd. 5714—published on 29th August 1974. We had hoped to have a debate before announcing our decisions but, because of pressure on the parliamentary timetable, it proved impossible to arrange this before the Summer Recess and we decided that it would not be right to delay an announcement any longer.

All the general recommendations were accepted except that which proposed the reduction from three to two in the number of major airfields used for research and development. These had already been reduced from four to three. Action to implement the remaining 25 proposals is now in hand, in consultation, where appropriate, with the Department of the Environment, and other interested bodies.

Indeed, some of the non-controversial recommendations, such as the appointment of a Conservation Officer and Ministry of Defence representation on the Noise Advisory Council had been implemented before the White Paper appeared. Others which were straightforward and required the minimum of consultation were implemented very quickly afterwards. An example is the recommendation which suggested notification to interested bodies of the current procedures governing the use of Service facilities for sporting and recreational activities.

The remaining recommendations can be grouped broadly as follows—first, planning. Four of the recommendations involve measures designed to achieve better consultation between the Ministry of Defence and planning authorities, and I am grateful to my colleagues in the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Development Department who took the initiative in reminding planning authorities to consult MOD as necessary.

Much of what was proposed in these recommendations represents existing MOD policy but we took steps within the Department to reiterate the importance of these procedures. Furthermore, in the case of the recommendation which relates to the possible extension of defence activity in special areas, we are ready to go further by extending the consultation arrangements to cover proposals for intensification of the use of defence sites in such areas where this would significantly affect amenity or public access. This step will, I am sure, commend itself to the national park authorities, as it is very much in line with the views of the Sandford Committee.

Next, six of the general recommendations concern access to MOD sites, awareness of conservation matters generally, and liaison with outside bodies. These matters form an important part of the work of the Conservation Officer and he has taken the necessary steps to build up his contacts with the organisations which are particularly interested in conservation matters within the defence estate. In addition, all the appropriate branches within my Ministry have been asked to review and improve their existing arrangements for allowing access to MOD sites and for encouraging liaison with local communities.

A further seven recommendations deal with environmental improvements, the appearance of defence sites, landscaping, the removal of eyesores, clearance of unexploded missiles, and so on.

The Property Services Agency, which is responsible for works services for the MOD, for estate management, and for all aspects of disposal once the MOD has declared a site surplus, is closely concerned. My Department is now drawing up schedules of the improvements which might be made within existing budgets and action should be under way by early summer.

In our programme for the clearance of unexploded missiles we shall give as much priority as possible to areas of high amenity value.

This is perhaps an appropriate point for me to deal with the question of finance. The Nugent Committee on several occasions in its report suggested that money should be made available from outside the defence budget in order to bring about very desirable environmental improvements, particularly of the sort which I am now talking about. Regretfully, for reasons which will be obvious to hon. Members in the present climate of financial stringency, the Government were unable to realise these hopes, and this work will have to be considered along with all the other many and varied calls on the finances available to my Department.

A further six recommendations are concerned with noise, which is an inescapable problem for my Department since many of our activities are by their very nature noisy. I have arranged for the actions which are already taking place within my Department to reduce noise to be properly co-ordinated, and we are also taking steps to identify the sites which would benefit from the installation of "hush houses" and "buffer zones" which the committee recommends. However, it would be wrong to suggest that an early solution to this difficult problem is to be expected in defence or other areas.

Finally, I should perhaps mention that a liaison committee at high level has been established, as Lord Nugent's committee recommended, to provide a forum for discussion of major environmental issues, and I am sure that the views of the House today will be carefully considered.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Where there is a question of expenditure it is obvious that there will be delay. However, where there is no question of expenditure, where land is to be handed over either to the local authority or back to the original landowner, as at White Waltham, have the Government in mind any deadline for giving some indication when it will be complete?

Mr. Brown

I do not think that that is capable of an easy answer "Yes" or "No", because obviously every case must be considered on its individual merits. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, where no question of finance is involved and where we intend to hand back the land, this is being done as urgently as possible.

In Part II of the Report the Nugent Committee made positive recommendations about 329 out of the 465 sites which it reviewed and the Government accepted the great majority of these. Action has been initiated to implement the proposals that were accepted. Whilst hon. Members will not expect me to deal at length with all these sites, they may be interested to receive a progress report on some of the sites in which, as I am well aware, particular interest has been expressed. Probably the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead will be interested in this.

The first of these is the Pentlands training area near Edinburgh. The committee recommended, and the Government have accepted that a new electric target range and gallery range should be constructed on Castlelaw Hill, on the southern side of the Pentlands, and that as soon as these ranges are constructed live firing at Dreghorn, closer to the city on the northern side of the hills, should cease. Planning for the new ranges is now going ahead but progress will depend on the availability of finance.

Some dissatisfaction with the Government's decision has been expressed locally by those who claim that continued military presence at Dreghorn even after live firing has ceased, will interfere with the development of the recreational and amenity facilities of the northern slopes of the Pentlands. There is no reason to suppose, however, that dry training on Dreghorn will cause any interference with the public's activities or with the management of the north Pentland area as country park.

Next, a few words about Shoeburyness. The Nugent Committee worked on the assumption that a third London Airport would be built at Foulness and that it would therefore be necessary to move proof and experimental facilities from Shoeburyness to a number of other sites. The Maplin project has now been abandoned—I think the whole House is grateful and it now seems unlikely that it will be necessary for all the existing defence establishments in the Shoeburyness area to be relocated, even if it decided to go ahead with the Port of London Authority's proposals for a new seaport at Maplin.

Hon. Members will recall that we made clear in Cmnd. 5714 that if in the event relocation is necessary particular account will be taken of the special problems which would arise from moving some of the P & EE facilities to Tain, an area which is already under considerable pressure as a result of oil related industrial development. Next I turn to the subject of Dartmoor—

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

Before my hon. Friend does so, in view of the situation that he has described at Shoeburyness, could he indicate whether it would be possible to have a further look at the position at Lulworth?

Mr. Brown

If my hon. Friend can contain himself for a few more minutes, I will come to the question of Lulworth.

I wish to say a few words about Dartmoor, which was the subject of more written evidence to the Nugent Committee than any other site in the country. As hon. Members will recall from paragraph 12 of the White Paper Cmnd. 5714, which we published last August, we accepted the recommendations of the majority of the Nugent Committee. But we also decided, because of the great concern about what is one of our finest national parks, that there should be a public inquiry in 1975, into how essential defence needs in the South-West can be met.

I can now tell the House that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Defence, have decided to set up a non-statutory public inquiry under an independent chairman assisted probably by two members. The terms of reference and membership of the panel will be announced as soon as possible. The present aim is that the inquiry should start in the late summer of this year. We shall, of course, in the meantime, do nothing that might be construed as pre-judging the findings of the inquiry.

Now I turn to Lulworth, which I think the House will agree is probably the most controversial of all the Nugent Committee's recommendations, which was that the RAC Gunnery School should move to Castlemartin. The Government had to reject this on the grounds that the cost involved would be very heavy, that it was not possible to make acceptable arrangements for sharing facilities at Castlemartin between the RAC Gunnery School and the Germany Army, and that the only alternative site was at Castlemartin where there was total and unanimous opposition from all the Welsh people. At Lulworth a substantial body of local opinion favoured the Army's remaining in the area.

As my right hon. Friend said on television when Cmnd. 5714 was published, this was a most difficult decision to take, and we are very conscious of the deep disappointment amongst those who were anxious for the release of some or all of this area, particularly the Tyneham valley. But, on balance, I think it was the right decision and I hope that it will be some consolation that, despite the present financial situation, we have undertaken and are committed to spend £100,000 in capital expenditure and a similar sum annually in running costs thereafter on improving the arrangements for public access to the area.

Last summer's opening period was extended by two weeks; and the first weekend opening outside the normal holiday periods took place before Christmas. We hope to make significant progress on the Nugent recommendations by next summer, depending on progress in the clearance of unexploded ordnance and the recruiting and equipping of the new range wardens who will be needed to ensure that all areas open to the public are safe before the public are admitted.

The local authorities, the Department of the Environment, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council attended a meeting arranged by the Ministry of Defence at Bovington as recently as 22nd November last year when the principles for public access and future management of the area were decided and a working party was set up to oversee progress. The route of the proposed new footpath was also outlined, and on 16th December last members of the working party walked the route. Discussions will be held on the possibility of further improvements.

Just before Christmas we issued a Press release describing the action we are taking, and this was very well received locally. I give the House a firm assurance that it is the intention of the Department and of myself to give every possible facility to the public, within defence needs, in this very beautiful area of the country.

On about a dozen other sites we were unable to give unqualified acceptance to the Committee's recommendations but, on the other hand, we were able to go further than Nugent recommended in releasing land at four sites, Eastney and Tipner in Portsmouth, at Orfordness and at Canterbury.

May I conclude this part of my remarks by repeating the Government's thanks to the Nugent Committee for its excellent and painstaking work. I think it will be clear to hon. Members on all sides of the House that we are doing all we can to implement the recommendations which were accepted in the White Paper, both in the spirit and the letter.

Inevitably, however, we have to take account of unforeseen events such as the Cyprus situation and, of course, of the Defence Review and the general economic position. The situation is never static, and it may be that when the dust has settled on the changes which will flow from the Defence Review proposals, some of the Nugent recommendations may have to be altered. In some cases it may turn out that we cannot release land exactly as the Committee suggested. On the other hand, further releases of land elsewhere may well be possible. We shall at all times strive to use our land to the best advantage and to retain only that which is absolutely and vitally essential.

I must now turn to the second report which we are debating today, that of Lord Sandford's Committee on National Parks. This committee was set up in 1971 by the then Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales to consider how far the national parks had fulfilled the purposes for which they were established and to recommend what changes in policies were required to take account of changes in social and economic conditions over the past 25 years since the establishment of the national parks.

When the Committee's Report was published last April, 10 months after publication of the Nugent Report, the Secretaries of State made clear their intention in a foreword to allow full opportunity for public comment and discussion before taking decisions on matters calling for Government action.

The report contained over 100 recommendations, most of which have generated considerable public comment. These comments are being very carefully considered but as yet no final conclusions have been reached. Indeed, we should not wish to do so until we have had the opportunity which this debate provides for hearing the views of Members on both sides of the House on these recommendations and the issues they raise.

I will not trespass my hon. Friend's ground by discussing the Sandford Report in any detail at this stage. Since, however, we are to debate the two Reports simultaneously, it would be desirable to look briefly at the points where they overlap.

There is, of course, no direct or causal connection between them. The two committees were appointed by different Ministers to carry out separate and distinct tasks. It is, however, an unfortunate but inescapable fact that the training needs of our Armed Forces must largely be satisfied in areas of low population density. This means, inevitably, that the areas of beautiful but wild countryside which constitute most of our national parks offer the most suitable training areas, and my Department has substantial holdings in Dartmoor, in my neck of the woods in Northumberland, and the Pembrokeshire coast as I have said, the most controversial proposals of the Nugent Report related either directly or indirectly to the use of land in national parks for defence training purposes.

The Sandford Committee noted the findings of the Nugent Report without specific comment about the individual sites. Several of its members, however, entered a recommendation that there should be a periodic review of all defence sites in national parks, and that no new site should be established, or the use of an existing site intensified, without a public inquiry.

It will be for the Government to take a final decision on these and all other recommendations in the report, but I remind the House that the Nugent inquiry was comprehensive, and the whole of the defence estate is kept under continuous review. There will, as I have said, be a public inquiry into the Dartmoor holdings later this year, and I assure the House that we shall not hold on to any land in a national park, be it Dartmoor or anywhere else, for longer than is necessary.

At the same time, I suggest that it is not the holding of land by my Department which causes the controversy. Indeed, the presence of units of the Armed Services will often be of considerable benefit to the economy of an area and to nature conservation, as became fairly evident when, for example, the Lulworth Cove proposals were discussed. What people object to, in the main, is that the use of part of a national park for training purposes will usually reduce the amount of public access that can be allowed. I sympathise with this view, and, as I said earlier, all the appropriate branches within my Department have been asked to review and improve the existing arrangements for access to defence sites.

I believe that to be as far as we can reasonably go, but I look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members during the debate.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

I join the Minister in congratulating Lord Nugent and his Committee on the work which they did in producing their report, their painstaking work—as the Minister rightly described it—and very detailed work in examining so many areas of our country which are at present held as defence lands and in which there is great public interest. The report will, I have no doubt, serve for a long time as a book of reference for many people concerned about the future of those lands and a source of the facts relating to them.

Although the Minister did not do so, I extend congratulations also to Lord Sandford and his Committee for the work which they did in producing their report, and for the great vision and real concern for the conservation of the natural beauty of our islands which are shown in it.

However, to give a general welcome to the two reports and to the recommendations contained in them is not to say that on some matters of detail there are not certain points which one cannot wholly accept.

Both reports are the result of the integrated approach to problems of the environment which was actively fostered by the Department of the Environment when it was first set up by the last Conservative administration in 1970. Although the Nugent Report was not made to the Secretary of State for the Environment, as was the Sandford Report, it was none the less spurred on by the deep concern for the environment felt by the Government, who set up the two committees, the announcement being made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), then Prime Minister, at the conference "Countryside in 1970" held in October 1970.

Both reports deal largely with rural and countryside problems, and both review developments over almost exactly the same period—that is, the more than quarter-century since 1947 when the Hob-house Committee reported with the definite proposals for national parks which led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and when the last review of defence lands took place. It is, therefore, valuable to have the two reports considered together, since we have an opportunity to examine the success of policies in relation to both subjects, the extension of our national parks and the enlargement of their purposes, and the decrease in defence lands and the alleviation of the problems which remain in relation to those defence lands which are still held.

The national parks today comprise about 9 per cent, of England and Wales. In 1972, Ministry holdings of defence lands totalled about 660,000 acres, a figure already much smaller than the 1 million acres recommened in 1947 for defence purposes.

The problems forming the subject matter of the two reports are different, for although Sandford can say the parks are now almost universally accepted it can fairly be said that the question of defence lands raises very mixed feelings. There are those who regard the acreage they occupy, the noise and environmental conditions in them and the lack of public access to some of the most beautiful parts of our islands as wholly undesirable.

On the other hand, there are others who regard defence lands, curiously enough, as protecting the ecology, as preventing the massive intrusion of the public, of the motor car, of the caravan and other modern examples of the progress of our civilisation. Moreover, as the Minister said with regard to Lulworth, there is often a great deal of public support for the retention of defence lands because of the effect on the economy of the locality.

There are dilemmas in one's approach to both defence lands and the national parks. As regards defence lands, the security of the State and the needs of our defence must remain paramount, but at the same time there are conflicting and competing demands for access, for agricultural use, for the reduction of pollution—especially noise—and for conservation. A balance has to be held by the Government as best they can among those competing interests.

As regards the national parks, there are the purposes of conservation and the protection or enhancement of natural beauty in the designated areas, but at the same time those objectives may conflict with enjoyment by the public, with farming, and with external pressures for the use of the water or minerals which may be found there.

In recognising that, however, one cannot but agree with Sandford that amenity values have perhaps been set aside too readily in the past, and that this is a matter to which we must give fresh and urgent consideration.

These conflicts or dilemmas have to be set in a much wider context if we are to regard them objectively. There are about 56 million acres of land in Great Britain, that is, roughly one acre per citizen. That one acre has to provide, for each citizen, the food, and the land for housing, industry, means of communication, education and recreation, that he needs.

The recreational need is, of course, constantly growing against a background of wider car ownership, longer holidays, and shorter working weeks, for which everyone is striving. The easier communications and the building of motorways make the journey from cities to places of beauty relatively easy. Land is being consumed tremendously quickly. Between 1900 and 1971, urban land increased by about 2.75 million acres. Indeed, since 1950 nearly 1 million acres have been taken up. That indicates the quickening of the pace of the times, and one has the opportunity to project, when considering these reports and problems, the future demands that will be made upon our land. All this need for land for purposes of our growth of population and for the needs of our society, has to be seen against, at the same time, an ever-increasing public recognition of the need to conserve and protect.

I shall not go into great detail on the Nugent Report on the various localities. I shall leave that to those hon. Members who may have constituency points to raise. I shall confine myself, in the main, to some of the general recommendations in the two reports which require particular note and which one feels one could support or comment upon.

First, Nugent suggests that there should be no major expansion of an existing defence site, nor the development of a new one, without consultation with the local planning authorities and, when appropriate, the National Parks Commission and the Countryside Commission. We support that recommendation wholeheartedly. There must always be the fullest consultation, given the existing public concern.

The recommendation about the release of existing defence land creates a greater difficulty, as the Lulworth experience shows. When I was Under-Secretary of State for the Environment at this time last year, one of the things before me was the question of Lulworth Cove. The conclusions which my successor has reached are those to which I was coming and was on the point of formulating, so there is no disagreement between us on the decision taken to retain Lulworth as defence land. One was particularly impressed by the views of the residents of the area, their dependence for their livelihood upon it, their fear of invasion from trippers if the area was no longer defence land and of unsightly caravans, and their desire for the preservation of the ecology. But one hopes that as much access as possible will be given to the public and to bona fide associations which wish to enjoy that part of the coastline.

I turn now to the Dartmoor land decision, which the hon. Gentleman has just announced. We also welcome a public inquiry into a matter of this kind. Again, the matter was before me at this time last year and our minds were moving in the same direction as the conclusions reached by our successors. We should like to see this principle established for consideration of matters of this kind.

I was disappointed, however, that the hon. Gentleman made no mention of that part of the Nugent Report referring to the release of 16 miles of coastline from defence land. Is there not a marvellous opportunity there to begin the creation of blue belts—something akin to the green belt concept that we have already? The concept is of conservation of lengths of coastline, with access by the public to these areas of great natural beauty. A start could be made now, following the Nugent recommendation, and I hope that the Government will take it up with the enthusiasm that we would have if we were given the opportunity.

The Nugent Report posits that much more attention must be given to the improved appearance and removal of derelict buildings and eyesores from defence land. That I would urge upon the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As my hon. Friends indicate, this subject concerns us very much, and I press the Government to give urgent attention to this aspect of the report. Of course, the recommendations requiring continuing vigilance on the control of environmental pollution, especially noise, concern us very much, too, and we would like an assurance from the Government that they will look carefully into this aspect possibly in consultation with the Noise Advisory Council.

We welcome the Sandford Report and its emphasis of the need for the enhancement of environmental quality. Among the recommendations that I would underline is the one for stringent control on the design, appearence and siting of farm buildings, which, it is suggested, should be extended to all present and future national parks. At the moment, this control can be exercised only in parts of three of the national parks under the Town and Country Planning (Landscape Areas Special Development) Order 1950.

Here I must depart a little from the approach of the Sandford Committee, because that kind of stringent control could result in too much of a financial burden falling upon the farmers and other people affected. Therefore, side by side with such control as is recommended by Sandford, the Government must give financial help to farmers who are forced to build in traditional materials and ways, especially when, in the national parks they already suffer a certain amount of minor damage and difficulties of stock control because of tourists.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

It is a question not only of tourism, which causes tremendous problems to the farmers in the national parks such as Dartmoor, but of the effects on the whole business of farming itself—restrictions on fencing, ploughing, and so on. These factors equally deserve some form of compensation.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is the next point I am coming to. I am, however, glad that he has raised this aspect now because he has great knowledge of the subject and his views on it are most valuable.

This is something that we had to consider during the passage of the Control of Pollution Act, when we were talking of good agricultural practice causing pollution, notices being served on farmers, and whether farmers should be compensated when they were required to abandon good agricultural policies in order to conform with the provisions of that Act. The Opposition urged that there should be proper compensation measures. Our pleas fell upon deaf ears.

That argument is the argument that one should adduce in connection with Sandford. If Sandford is to be fully implemented there will be interference with what is normally considered good agricultural practice. If a farmer is bound, by whatever laws we may make, to give up good agricultural practice in order to conserve natural beauty for the benefit of the community at large, the community at large should be prepared to compensate him for the loss he suffers. This principle is uncontradictable, except, perhaps, by the parsimony of the Treasury. It is up to us to ensure that justice is done in all these matters. I hope that these comments will not fall upon deaf ears.

Another aspect of Sandford that I do not like—again, it affects farmers—is found in the recommendation on page 113 that park authorities should have the power of compulsory purchase. I dislike compulsory purchase powers. They should always be used with the greatest possible restraint. If agreement cannot be reached between a park authority and an owner or occupier, as suggested in the first instance in Sandford—one welcomes that part of his recommendation, particularly with regard to access agreements—why cannot we compensate the individual adequately for such things as he is required to forgo in his ordinary living and farming, rather than bring down a sledgehammer on him? It is a different approach to the problem to say "If it will cost you so much to do this, that or the other, you will be compensated properly as part of an agreement to do it", rather than to say "If you do not do it, we are going to take you over and out you go from your livelihood". I hope that the Government will take that approach rather than the one implied in the report.

Another matter emphasised in Sandford, and one which I welcome, is the question of environmental education. There is little use in having these parks without people understanding how to use them rather than abuse them.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

In quoting from the Sandford Report with regard to compulsory purchase the hon. Gentleman did not make it clear that the report suggests that it is a power of last resort where agreement cannot be reached. That is the point.

Mr. Rossi

I was not trying to mislead the House. That matter was in my mind as I was speaking, and I am sorry that I did not make it clear. Compulsory purchase is a last resort if an attempt to reach agreement has failed. I repeat that it should not be used, but that compensation should be offered to the owner or occupier for what he is required to do or refrain from doing. Compulsory purchase should hardly ever be used. One looks askance at this kind of recommendation, and one wants to qualify it when one sees it in print. That is what I was seeking to do.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

The hon. Member has touched on a very important point. The rural development boards proposed for part of Mid-Wales and the Pennines were found to be completely unacceptable, because of the compulsory purchase provision. It poisons the whole atmosphere, because people feel that if they are to be subjected to negotiations for agreement the balance is on the other side before they start.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for supporting me. I hope that the Government note that this reserve power—this shotgun, as it were, always in the back of the party to the negotiation—is not conducive to a properly balanced agreement ever being reached. We should like to see it excluded.

I was commenting upon the need to promote environmental education. I know that my noble Friend Lord Sandford is extremely keen on it. The report makes recommendations on the matter, which I hope will be heeded. Environmental education can be promoted within environmental studies and in outdoor centres in the parks themselves. Experience in schools has shown that involvement of the children and parents, with visits to the national parks, where the history is explained to them, has produced a regard for and a treatment of the national parks that otherwise would be absent.

The traffic problem is another vital matter that is touched upon in the report. The recommendation that in future there should be no major through roads through the national parks needs careful consideration. Where it is absolutely unavoidable for a major road to be built, it should be in conjunction with a traffic management scheme, to ensure that other roads in the national park are not used for heavy traffic. The aim should be to keep heavy through traffic out of the national parks at all times, although one must make provision for access by those who have to work and live there. This could be done on a limited licensing basis.

There is the problem of the tourist—the visitor and the tripper. Consideration should be given to perimeter car parking for the national parks, linked by minibus services. A great deal of damage is caused by the motor car, and the abuse of the motor car. On page 111 there is an indication that roadside walls and verges are suffering from the use of the roads by vehicles which are too big and heavy for them.

My final comment on the recommendations in this very valuable report concerns that which indicates the urgent need to provide recreational facilities—not necessarily in national parks but near large cities. I am glad to see that a Minister of Recreation has been created. It is a pity that we have not had a comment from him on this aspect of the Sandford Report, which is dealt with in Chapter Fourteen.

Chapter Twelve deals with water recreation. The use that can be made of our canals, reservoirs and rivers for water recreation is a matter in which the public is showing an increasing interest and in which the Government could give a great deal of assistance if they were so minded.

The reports contain many useful recommendations, which we hope will be implemented. We recognise that there are problems attached to some of the recommendations. On a rough count over half of the recommendations in the Sandford Report could now be implemented without much further ado within the extra staff increase resources and the unified administrative system that the last Conservative administration set up.

It is quite common, these days, for Labour Members to criticise the reform of local government that took place as a result of the 1972 Act, but one of the effects of that Act has been to introduce a new administrative pattern which has put an end to the fragmented responsibilities between two or more committees which previously operated in several parks. It has put an end to the administration of the national parks by part-time officers. It has replaced them with full-time officers, who have their own staffs in each park. The Act has also put an end to the unco-ordinated management of land and water space in the parks. It has rationalised the situation and enabled land and water to be dealt with comprehensively. It has put an end to the topsyturvy finance whereby parks were maintained mainly through the rates, some of which money was grant-aided and some of which was not.

Those four results of our local government reorganisation have provided a foundation. The reports provide the blueprint. We can only hope that the Government will now build with enthusiasm and determination for the betterment of the people.

12.3 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate today, even though I could well have wished that it had been held a good deal earlier, and on any other day. Unhappily, as I have explained to my hon. Friends, I must leave for vital engagements elsewhere before my hon. Friend replies. I hope that I do not have to leave before his reply, but that may be inevitable.

I do not pretend to be unbiased. I have been deeply involved and vigorously prejudiced in favour of national parks. I was involved in the campaign for their establishment, long before the war. I declare several interests. None of them is financial. I am a member of the National Trust Executive. I was a president of the Ramblers' Association. I am on the Council of the Youth Hostels Association. I was involved in helping to establish that association, way back before the war. I was a member of the party that became rather historic, that used to walk every year over our potential national park areas and along the projected Pennine Way route. Amongst those who took part were Hugh Dalton, as he was in those days, and our present Secretary of State for Social Security. What better recommendation for a ministerial office than that?

There is plenty of prejudice in me about the whole issue. I am deeply concerned about it. One of the better anti-inflationary activities that the Government might pursue is to give much greater encouragement to this area of our activities. I hold a strong belief that our wretched money-making society would be a darned sight healthier and better if it took greater knowledge and understanding of our national park areas.

Mr. Hooson

I live in an area which is not a national park but which was subjected to the suggestion that it should be. One of the fears expressed by people in the area is that the money-making society to which the hon. Gentleman has referred will be exported to such areas as theirs.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. and learned Gentleman has little faith in his ability to convert people into a better attitude of mind. On that matter I am astonished at his weakness.

I welcome the work that has gone into the two reports, but my views about them differ. I have only a modest welcome for the Nugent Report. It was published a year and a half ago, and it is now pretty stale. It proposed only a very modest release of land from defence holdings—about 50 square miles from a total of 1,183 square miles. That release was reduced by the White Paper as a result of the decision to exclude the Lulworth area from the release proposals. The Nugent Report represents a modest set of proposals, after all the talk and concern about it.

I recognise that many valuable proposals are included in the Nugent Report, such as further access and tidying up. I go along very much with what was said about the great importance of trying at long last to get rid of some of the mess that still lies about, all these years after the war, in parts of Pembrokeshire and elsewhere. It is a shocking disgrace and is by no means only the fault of the defence authorities. Some of those who own the areas in question or who have tenant rights must bear part of the responsibility.

The report represents a small achievement. Part of the petty and unsatisfactory result stems from the way in which the inquiry was undertaken. It proved to be impossible to challenge the ipse dixit of the defence authorities as to what their needs were. Having started on that basis, it is not surprising that not much land is to be released.

I am not altogether happy about my hon. Friend's suggestion that the report offers the answer for all time, or for many years ahead. I very much hope that that is not the case. I hope that it will be regarded as an initial step, which will be regularly reviewed. Indeed, some view of that sort has been expressed in the report. Situations change, and I hope that we are not to be landed with this rather disappointing result for all time.

I am not altogether happy about my hon. Friend's answer to my interjection in his speech. I do not think that he would expect me to be entirely satisfied with it. I had hoped that he might have said that one result of the changed view about Maplin, which I welcome, would be that some spin-off—the current term—might benefit the approach to public access and use and, indeed, surrender of other areas. I had hoped he would say that in view of the changed position of Maplin he would be able to reconsider the question of Lulworth. I am not committing him. I realise the great difficulties of that situation. I am being as unbiased as possible, but I think that covers my unbiased comments. The situation should be regarded not as fixed but as subject to review, as well as the provisions for further access and expenditure to which my hon. Friend rightly referred.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern in wanting to open up areas of the countryside to ramblers and the other bodies in which he has such deep interests, but he must realise that people in the Lulworth area have rights, too. Tremendously strong feelings have been expressed in the Lulworth area in favour of its retention.

Mr. Blenkinsop

My hon. Friend may have noticed the cautionary word that I included. I said that I accepted that there were difficulties. I realise that there are strong feelings, but, in view of the special attractions of the area, I suggest that people's anxieties can be met in other ways. Similar problems face many areas. Excessive over-use, and so on, are issues for which we have to cater in other parts of the country, particularly in national park areas. I believe that some of the fears that have been expressed are unjustified. Naturally, I fully understand anxieties about employment.

The National Trust has a particular interest and welcomes the Minister's reinvestigation not only in the South-West assertion that we are to have a special—Dartmoor—but in other areas. This is a proper step to take and I am sure that it will be welcomed by the National Trust.

I hope that every effort will be made to keep National Trust land in national parks clear of defence operations. Naturally, the use to which the Defence Department may wish to put these areas is a matter for consideration. It is one thing if it contemplates using them for map-reading exercises but quite another it it wishes to use them for live ammunition exercises. I have memories of the party to which I referred earlier coming under attack on my home ground in the Northumberland National Park range area. However, that was many years ago, and we survived.

I hope that national park areas will be regarded as requiring special protection against defence use and that within those areas National Trust land will be given special consideration. Indeed, the National Trust has given notice that some of the agreements expire this year and that it will have to consider whether it can possibly extend them. Certainly we should try to ensure that there is a reduction of pressure in those instances.

The matters that have been considered in this report will continue to be under consideration, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to be under pressure. There has not been any particular campaign about the position in Northumberland, which he knows as well as I do, but some particularly attractive parts of the national park area of Northumberland, 22 per cent. of which is occupied by the Defence Department are particularly sensitive, and I still hope it will be possible to reduce the size of the military operations there. I refer particularly to part of the area near the border, by the side of the Upper Coquet, which provides some of the most glorious walking country in Britain. I hope that an eye will be kept on that with a view to bringing it back into fuller and safer public use.

As my hon. Friend will doubtless understand, it is the Sandford Report to which I particularly want to refer, even though the two reports overlap. The Sandford Report is a valuable document. Some of us had anxieties when the Committee was set up, but those anxieties have proved groundless. It is heartening that we have had such a vigorous declaration of faith in the project of national parks as that contained in the report. I welcome the early declaration of what I prefer to call conservation rather than preservation as the greater priority, even as against public access and use. Inevitably, there is a conflict in the 1949 Act, but the emphasis to which I have just referred is right.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) about the benefit that has come from the reorganisation of local government. I think that any reorganisation would have provided benefits. However, it is true that we now have rather better administrative provisions. The reforms are valuable and give a new opportunity and independence—not as much as I should have liked—to the Countryside Commission and to the individual parks with their independent officers.

I wish to refer particularly to three matters raised in the Sandford Report, but I shall not attempt to deal with the mass of interesting and valuable detail contained in the report about which representation can be made.

The first matter relates to land acquisition. I welcome the main proposal, to which the hon. Member for Hornsey surprisingly did not refer, that a fund should be set up—if there is no existing fund—for the purchase of land by voluntary acquisition in national park areas, particularly in the more sensitive parts where, inevitably, there is a conflict between agriculture interests and the wider interests of conservation, and so on. I support that proposal. The commission ought to be encouraged to undertake an active, positive programme of land acquisition. Indeed, I believe that the land fund established by Hugh Dalton when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer should be brought back and put to the use for which it was meant. It was robbed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power. They took over a good deal of the fund for other purposes—some good, but some not so good—and I should like to see it restored.

National park authorities should be given power to take action where necessary, in the way that local authorities have reserve powers to act when they need to do so. In the event of an impasse, the power ought to be available to decide priorities.

One of the most urgent and important issues that must be dealt with is that of roads and traffic control. The Sandford Report makes a host of important recommendations. I agree with the committee's urging that heavy traffic routes should be excluded from national parks. These are inimical to the whole concept of such areas, yet all too often we are landed with them.

All Governments have contributed to the present disastrous situation. To my way of thinking, the A66 is a disaster. An enormous amount of damage has been done to the Lake District since that road was built. Surely something can be done to improve the position at Bassenthwaite, if nowhere else.

Many major roads are under construction, and I think that the Government should think again whether to go ahead with them. What I find disastrous is that it is often said these roads are built to avoid other road widening schemes. That is seldom the result, because the other schemes are still carried out. This is happening in the Lake District. We ought to take much tougher action than we do at present.

Such action will never be taken until we bring the road engineers under some kind of control when they are working in national parks, if nowhere else.

The fact that all these matters are under one Department does not seem to help. We want to ensure that national park authorities are not just consulted but that their agreement is obtained to any major roadworks in national park areas. Where minor road improvements are planned, these, too, should be brought under planning control.

At the other end of the scale, footpaths in national parks ought to be under the control of the national park authorities. That seems to me to be a reasonable proposal. One matter on which I disagree with the Sandford Report is that it talks about patterns of footpaths. I dislike the idea of formalised patterns of footpaths almost anywhere. Part of the joy of footpaths is their lack of pattern. I can understand some of the objectives, but I do not like the phrase, and I hope that the use of the word "pattern" does not mean what I normally take it to mean.

Mr. Michael Joplin (Westmorland)

A moment or two ago the hon. Gentleman spoke about road improvement schemes. He seemed to be saying that he was opposed to road widening schemes in national parks, and he referred to the Lake District in particular. Those who live in national park areas are subjected to intolerable traffic delays and nuisance during the summer months. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that nothing should be done to help by improving the roads in those areas?

Mr. Blenkinsop

No, I am not saying that. I accept that there is a need for improvements to be made, but we should not allow heavy traffic to go through these areas. That is happening even now in the Lake District. The improvements that are made should be related to local needs rather than to extraneous demands and pressures.

I strongly support the recommendation in the report that, for forestry purposes, national park land should be brought under planning control. It is all very well to say that one should reach agreement and have an understanding, but I do not believe there is any hope of getting the solutions that we want until the necessary power is in the hands of the planning authority to do what is needed. I go further, and say that there should be power over planting not only on their land, but elsewhere. In Northumberland, serious damage has been done to that wonderful area on the border by a great deal of injudicious planting, and great new roadways are scarring the border hills. Although the county council is concerned about and interested in the matter, its powers to take action are inadequate.

At the same time, we must encourage the planting of a greater variety of trees. We should encourage the planting of broad-leaved varieties. Part of our trouble is that the biggest forest in Britain, which stretches over huge chunks of Northumberland, consists of only one type of tree.

I have spoken at some length, but I think hon. Members will understand that this is an issue in which I have had a considerable interest for a long time.

I am not happy about the suggestion of defining further special areas within national parks. I think that in each national park there should be an examination of the areas which can be regarded as heritage or wilderness and require special treatment. The national park authorities ought to be encouraged to bring these areas under public ownership.

I do not think that the recommendations in the Sandford Report should be regarded as providing the final solution to all the problems, but it is a valuable contribution to dealing with our difficulties, and I hope very much that even in the economic circumstances of today the Government will make available such finances as are necessary to enable the greater part of the recommendations in the report to be carried out as speedily as possible.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty)

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) will, I know, forgive me if I do not follow his ramblings on the Sandford Report. We were interested in his speech, and I am sure that other hon. Members will comment on it later.

I wish to refer to the Nugent Report, and to do so particularly on a constituency basis. I should have liked to be among those who have offered their congratulations to the Nugent Committee, but it is in a rather more critical light that I see the committee's activities. I should not for a moment pretend that the vast amount of work done by the committee has not produced an interesting and useful document, but I could not go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) who said that the report would prove a useful reference book, because for a reference book I hope to consult things which are accurate and with which I hope to, and probably would, agree.

On page 170 of the report there is the suggestion that the proof and experimental establishment at Shoeburyness should be transferred to Tain. This is a major transference, and it would affect Tain in a way which no one who lives in the area or represents it would like to see.

I was interested to note that when the Minister referred to this he said that with the abandonment of the Maplin project the danger was not nearly so great, but it is possible, as he also said, that if the Maplin sea port goes ahead certain of the functions at Shoeburyness will have to be transferred. I want to place on record the strong objections to that recommendation in my area. We do not know what the future may hold, and if it is decided to proceed with the sea port I want my constituents' objections on record.

In paragraph 2.6, the committee said: We … made a number of visits to Service establishments .. to familiarise ourselves with the sort of holdings we were reviewing. It goes on to say that in the case of certain representations, where deeper study was required, correspondents were invited to supplement their written representations with oral evidence. In paragraph 2.11, we read: Our findings, therefore, are the product of an extensive examination of evidence, written and oral, both in relation to particular sites and on matters of a more general nature affecting the Service use of land. So far as Tain is concerned, these statements are not supported by the evidence.

The Committee did not visit Tain, and it was remiss in not doing so. To suggest a transfer of this sort of function from Shoeburyness to Tain without visiting the area to see exactly what the conditions were like and to get the views of local people was ridiculous. The committee consulted no local authority, and the views of local people were not sought. I am told that advertisements were inserted in local papers, but the clerks of my local authorities, who would be the people most likely to watch out for these things, were unable to trace them.

Not only is the proposal not wanted in the Tain area; it is also totally incompatible with the present situation there. Industrial development as a result of North Sea oil is taking place all the time in Easter Ross. The former Labour Government gave approval in 1968 for a £37 million smelter at Invergordon, in Easter Ross. That was the start of development there and it was followed by the project of Highland Fabricators, a firm constructing massive oil platforms. The platform Highland One, which was floated out last year, was responsible for the employment of between 2,000 and 3,000 men in the area.

The people who have moved into Easter Ross have had to be housed. There is a tremendous housing crisis there. This is gradually being overcome and ancillary activities have also been started. The local services have been stretched to their limit; schools and hospitals have all been under great pressure. House building itself has been difficult. The greatest scarcity in Easter Ross at present is the scarcity of labour. When one realises this situation and then considers that this recommendation of the Nugent Committee was made without even consulting local people, one can appreciate how much annoyance has been caused in my constituency.

When the Ministry of Defence proposals were received, the local authority, the Ross and Cromarty County Council, naturally advertised for comment. The response it got gave ample evidence of the strong feelings held in the area. The Tain Town Council, the Tain District Council, the Fearn District Council and, of course, the Inver District and Community Association, all made the strongest representations to the main local authority. Had these authorities been properly consulted by the Nugent Committee in the first place, this recommendation would never have been made. It shows a great lack of understanding by the Committee.

It is important that the feelings of the local people should be recorded, because of what may happen at any future time. I am most appreciative of the help that I was given by the Ministry of Defence and the courtesy shown to me when I visited Shoeburyness and had the activities explained to me. It does not change my view about their unsuitability for Tain, but it was good of the Ministry to be so co-operative.

I am also grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for being here today. Throughout my campaign, I have kept the Scottish Office very much in the picture about what I was doing. From both my own Government and the present Government I have received great co-operation, for which I am grateful.

Finally, I wish to emphasise again the total objection of the whole of my area to any thought of such a recommendation.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

Like other hon. Members, I give a wholehearted welcome to the Sandford Report and the work of the Committee. It is not that I entirely welcome its proposals and recommendations, but it has carried out a badly needed investigation and looked thoroughly at all aspects of life and needs in the national parks.

I speak as a representative of a large portion of the Brecon Beacons National Park, which covers part of the land of four county councils and four district councils. The majority of the territory is within the old county of Breconshire, now known as Brecknock, or the county of Powys. I have always believed that it was necessary to work towards and legislate for the greater protection of our countryside. I hope that nothing I say will be construed as opposition in principle to the concept of national parks, because I have one or two criticisms to make.

I want to deal with some of the difficulties of those people who have to live in the national parks. I say "have to" live there, although some people might consider them lucky. But it is not always a bed of roses. Some people still believe that our national parks, like those in other countries, are owned by the State and that visitors have as many rights in every part of the parks as those who live there on their own land.

I have come across people who demand rights on a farmer's land where there may not even be a public footpath. They believe that it is all part of the national park. With education, that attitude is changing, but it has led to a certain amount of resentment and has resulted in the situation mentioned in paragraph 8.12 of the Report of the National Park Policies Review Committee, which is central to much of the discussion about this area. It says: The purposes for which the parks were instituted can conflict not only with each other, but also with the interests of some of those who live and work in the parks. We received many representations that it was a disadvantage to live in a national park because of the inconvenience and wear and tear caused by visitors. Some residents plainly resented both the presence of incomers and the provision of facilities for them, though it is fair to add that most of the inhabitants of the parks were remarkably tolerant, indeed welcoming. The influx of such large numbers of people into the quieter areas of the national parks cannot fail to have a considerable impact; it must be an objective of management policies to minimize any adverse consequences for local people. I agree wholeheartedly with that paragraph because I hear that view often expressed. People resent the fact that they suffer endlessly for the convenience of visitors. It must be our objective to work towards a better atmosphere. That can be done only if we consider local interests to be paramount when we try to ensure conservation for visitors.

With that in mind, the administration and control of a park must be in the hands of a committee, the majority of whose members are local residents. The Brecon Beacons Park is administered by a committee chaired by my predecessor in this House. It has 27 members, 14 in this House. It has 27 members, 14 of whom are county councillors, eight members from the one county council which has a major interest, and two each from three other county councils. Four other members are district councillors, one from each district council, and nine members are appointed by the Secretary of State.

I beg those who live elsewhere and who wish to visit a national park to have due regard for residents' difficulties. Life is often made more difficult for them. If we treat a national park as a visitors' paradise it will not always be a paradise for those who live there. If we sterilise activities in a park, ultimately it will become a place that people will not wish to visit, because a park must be a live entity. I believe that the administration should be in the hands of a committee which has local interests at heart and that the councillors and various other members of it should represent as broad a spectrum of activities, as they do in the park authority now, since they come from all walks of life and have various interests.

The balance seems to me to be just right at the moment. I do not pretend that that need necessarily be so for all time, which is why I agree with the report that the present administrative structure should be reviewed in five years to see how it is getting along. Then, if we find it is not working, we might review it. However, it is my belief that the administration is going well. If anyone doubts whether the balance of membership on the authority does not cater sufficiently for the interests of conservation, he should carry out an investigation, because I believe he will find that a most enlightened view prevails, certainly in our authority.

Due to the national economic position, we have not developed as we should have done during the past year. I am glad to see that full-time officers have been appointed and that a staff is being built up, but we are badly lacking in wardens. We need to increase the number of wardens and developments of all kinds.

Although I support the development of national parks, I oppose, not necessarily for all time, the proposal to create the Cumbrian National Park in mid-Wales. I was against the proposal because I did not think that we were spending sufficient money on developing our existing national parks, nor were we prepared to spend sufficient money to compensate residents for their difficulties.

The subject of compensation has been raised. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) mentioned the difficulties experienced by farmers in providing buildings of a certain nature which turn out to be more expensive than necessary. I believe it is encumbent that the difference should be made up from national funds. Funds should be provided. I agree that buildings should be designed in such a way as to ensure that we protect the beauty of the scenery. However, I do not think that those people who are subject to these stringent rules should have to provide the funds. For that reason I felt that the Cumbrian National Park proposal was premature and that we had not devoted sufficient funds and facilities for the creation of the other park in the area.

Sometimes I fear that national parks seem to have invisible fences around them. By that I mean that we plan for and introduce stringent controls within parks, but those responsible for the planning have insufficient regard for what might be happening immediately outside a national park. A development in an area may be essential. If the national parks authority concerned prevents its establishment, that development may be sited just over the boundary, in a much worse situation than it could have enjoyed within the park. I believe that on more than one occasion a development which might have been sited within the park has been established outside the boundary in a much worse situation disturbing the countryside much more, because planning controls are not so stringent outside the national park area. I wish to overcome the feeling that, once a line has been drawn on the map, even one yard inside the boundary is sacred ground but that anything can happen outside the boundary. We must be careful that we do not encourage that situation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that we should be very careful with our national park road programmes. Roads must still be the subject of a compromise. The report specifically mentions the A40 and the A470, two roads going through the Brecon Beacons National Park, one of which is the east-west link and the other being the north-south link through mid-Wales. No one will persuade me that those must not be developed as proper trunk roads, nor that they must not be improved in many areas.

I recall a past proposal which will eventually be carried out to realign part of the A470. It is a very bad stretch of road. Protests came in from people living in the Midlands of England, not from mid-Wales, who pay occasional visits to that area. I travel that road every weekend and often during the week when I can. Local people travel along it daily. If we were to ask them, they would be very happy to see the improvement. I would not hold up improvements to national park roads because of the feeling that such roads should not be developed.

Last year I attended a road improvement inquiry. I was astonished to find people with conservation interests at heart objecting to the proposal to make this road a dual carriageway, saying that it would mar the beauty of the national park in some way. I cannot see how a dual carriageway will be much different from a new road. It was said that people would speed through the national park only if there were a dual carriageway. I would rather see such people speeding along the dual carriageway in safety than wandering along a single track road, looking everywhere and trying to enjoy the beauty as they moved. It would be better if they stood and looked around. I cannot understand the argument that a dual carriageway is necessarily bad in a national park. We need dual carriageways so that people may travel through scenic areas in safety. I do not believe that we should overlook the safety aspect.

When we come to forestry, we find a conflict of interests. Although I am anxious to support farming interests at all times, because farming is an essential part of the way of life in our area, I believe that forestry should be subject to greater planning control. The haphazard planting of trees is just as bad as the haphazard building of sheds and various other structures. Trees last a very long time and can be a blot on the landscape. What is more, felling should also be the subject to planning control. It must be done in a planned fashion if we are not to spoil the countryside for many years. I agree entirely with that part of the report. Planning controls should be introduced for forestry.

I also agree with that part of the report which advocates the encouragement of many more country parks. We need access to areas of this kind much nearer to centres of population. They could provide recreation facilities for people without their having to go endless distances to national parks.

I do not accept that we need to designate national heritage areas. We can have the concept of areas which are protected small pockets of land, but we do not need a new set up. The national parks can look after this. They should be encouraged, where possible, to purchase areas in order to protect them. Here I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. I believe that funds should be put at the disposal of the parks authorities so that they might purchase, but I do not think that the time is right to introduce compulsory purchase.

I suggest that over the next few years we should keep a library. We agree that we should review the national parks again in 1979. Between now and 1979, we ought to list all projects of this kind where agreement was not reached and where compulsory purchase would have been used, in order to see how frequently it would have been needed. I want to see a list of occasions on which there has been a breakdown in negotiations so that we can assess the situation. Then we could decide whether we needed to go ahead with such a proposal.

The rural development board proposal was criticised on these very grounds. I could understand the fears that people had at the time, but I could not let the occasion pass without commenting on what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said about the atmosphere being poisoned. I suggest that many people deliberately poisoned the atmosphere and that there was a campaign to create this situation. But the RDBs could have been—

Mr. Blenkinsop

Would not it have been better to have had a public inquiry?

Mr. Roderick

Certainly. We were promised one, and it would have been the proper place for a discussion of these matters. But the RDBs could have been a useful instrument to the national parks. For instance, this compensation might have been channelled through the RDBs. They would have brought funds into areas, and they would have helped.

I was amused to read the section of the report about stopping the proliferation of car parks in sensitive areas and having them on the fringe with public transport to take people round. We would welcome any form of public transport in our area, because we are denied any public transport in most of the area. If it is felt necessary to bring in people in this way, it is also necessary to provide funds so that we may have public transport for our own purposes and not simply to cater for visitors. I accept that part of the report, but only with the proviso that it is extended to those who live there.

I hope that my criticisms will not be taken to mean that I do not accept wholeheartedly the concept of national parks. I am glad that we proceeded with this policy. I hope that they will grow and flourish and that we will enable the necessary funds to be made available so that they may flourish.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Murton)

In view of the importance of the debate and the many constituency interests involved, the Chair will be grateful if hon. Members will keep their speeches as reasonably brief as possible.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

In contrast to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I am pleased to pay a warm tribute to Lord Nugent and his Committee. It was a very wise decision to choose a former Member who is respected for his services both on the back benches and as a Minister. He and his Committee have produced a report which is very much in accordance with what this House would expect.

No place in the United Kingdom is more affected by defence considerations than Salisbury. Salisbury Plain itself is the most important and the largest of the Army's training areas. Just to the west of it, at Wilton, is sited the headquarters of United Kingdom Land Forces. To the north are the Larkhill ranges and Boscombe Down. Boscombe Down can fairly claim to be the leading establishment for the flight testing and assessment of militry aircraft. It has clearer skies and less urban development, and therefore its work is less hampered than at Farnborough. Then, to the east of Salisbury, we have the great Chemical Defence Establishment of Porton. In its report, the Nugent Committee has laid this defence complex on the table for examination. I am glad to say that the complex has come through its scrutiny with flying colours.

We in Wiltshire are very proud to be able to supply the Services with their needs. Yet we are not too proud to acknowledge that our employment opportunities and our business wellbeing equally are dependent on them. Each side is dependent on the other, and this fact is recognised. I cannot stress too highly the good relations existing between the civilian and the military interests.

Salisbury Plain is some 16 miles deep and some 20 miles long. Here, the Ministry of Defence owns more than 90,000 acres. We hear a great deal nowadays about bad landlords—I think too much. But in this case I am pleased to pay tribute to the Ministry of Defence. It is a good landlord. I am always surprised at how few complaints I get from tenant farmers and how few complaints I get about noise. I am glad to pay that tribute to the Department.

It is thanks to the Services that this great stretch of downland has been preserved. It is thanks to the Services that we have been spared the damage caused by development and by afforestation. It is thanks to the Services that we can still claim rather more than our share of rare birds and plants.

I do not suppose that the Minister knows that the Wiltshire County Council has in its coat of arms a picture of the great bustard. The bird has been extinct in this country for a century. But it used to frequent the downlands of Southern England. But now, with the co-operation of the military, there is at one of those defence establishments a five-acre wired-in pen, and bustards have been brought in from abroad, thanks to the aid of some leading local naturalists. They are welcome immigrants and we hope that they will stay, become acclimatized, breed and be re-establshed. It is a brave experiment which is something of a gamble. The birds are large and therefore vulnerable. I cite that as a refreshing venture and a good example of co-operation between military and civilian interests in Wiltshire.

Salisbury Plain is also of great archaeological importance. Wiltshire today is a sparsely populated county but it used to be one of the most populous parts of the United Kingdom. Stonehenge is the most visited ancient monument in Britain. Equally, on Salisbury Plain are many of the humbler earthworks, prehistoric remains, barrows and so on. I have tabled a Question for reply next Tuesday on the future of the Pitt-Rivers collection. If this collection, which is the last great archaeological collection in private hands, should come to rest in Salisbury it would demonstrate yet again the pre-eminence of Salisbury as an archaeological centre.

The Nugent Report is conscious of these matters. Occasionally a site is damaged by tracked vehicles, and occasionally insufficient thought is given to what is irreplaceable. As an example of that, someone had the idea of setting up the biggest radar mast that could be conceived in the middle of Figsbury Ring, which is a monument that dates from prehistory. But here again the Defence Department has been co-operative, and once the Department heard of it second thoughts prevailed.

I should like to mention another example of good co-operation between Services and civilians. The Nugent Report contains a recommendation that a few acres of land in a village called Gomeldon should be released for playing fields. No sooner was the report in print than the Services unhesitatingly came forward and offered the land at a price of £454 an acres, which nowadays is not extortionate.

There is a suggestion in the report that certain defence establishments could be moved from the Foulness area to Porton, in Wiltshire, to make room for London's third airport. The third London airport has now been abandoned, but I understand that the Government are keeping their options open because of the possibility of the creation of a sea port. When the Minister is in a position to tell me more about this, I shall welcome it.

The report also suggests that the chemical defence establishment at Nancekuke in Cornwall could be moved up to Wiltshire alongside the Porton chemical establishment. There are many practical difficulties here. There is the difficulty of getting rid of the effluent on an inland site, and of the limited space at Porton. But I stress that, if it should be decided that further defence establishments, whatever their nature, should come to Wiltshire, the civilian element will be only too glad to co-operate and to welcome them there.

The Nugent Report recommends that the defence establishments at Salisbury Plain, Boscombe Down and Porton be retained. Their contribution to the nation's security is recognised. In these brief minutes I have sought to stress how welcome are these establishments and how close are the relations between civilians and military. If, and when defence cuts are considered, I ask only that the Nugent Report and its recommendations be borne in mind.

1.5 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

My home is in a national park and I suppose that I should declare an interest, as its location within the Snowdonia National Park has vastly inflated its potential value on the second home market. Living in a national park, I take what would be considered by some contributors to the debate as the rather outrageous view that the Snowdonia National Park exists primarily for those of us who live and work in it. That is the view of my constituents as inhabitants and natives of that park, that I wish to put forward. For the slate workers, forest workers, farmers and factory workers of Merioneth and Gwynedd, the national park is not a designated environment, it is their natural habitat.

That does not make us any the less keen to conserve the outstanding landscape value of the area, to prevent the massive erosion of Cader Idris and Snowdon by the feet of visiting tourists or to oppose despoliation of the environment by property speculation. But we do not need the constant advice of external pressure groups, whether they be the Ramblers' Association or statutory bodies such as the Countryside Commission, who purport to tell us how we should conserve our landscape.

To take the "home" analogy a little further, we who live in national parks know better how to look after our homes than do the people who come to stay for the weekend. We shall ensure that we keep our parlour clean, tidy and unspoilt for our own Sunday afternoon enjoyment as much as for our visitor's enjoyment, but we shall also carry on cooking and working in the kitchen. We insist on remaining owner-occupiers of our own landscape and heritage. Yet the inhabitants do not receive a mention in national park legislation. I am told that the Indians do a little better. They get at least a passing reference in the American reservation legislation.

The Dower Report's original definition of a national park included a reference to established farming use within the park, but in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 the only reference to local use is deleted. If there is to be a change at some stage within the possible five-year period of review mentioned in the Sandford Report in the legislative framework of national parks, I press for it to contain at least a passing reference to the needs and rights of the inhabitants of national parks.

The conflict between environmental conservation for enjoyment by visitors and the social and economic objectives for the permanent population are accentuated when the environmental objectives are overstated. I argue that they are overstated in the national parks legislation. That must not happen at the expense of local community needs.

In that context I stress that the Sandford Committee should have taken a far more positive view of the need for balanced medium-scale development within national parks. That was the tone of the evidence which I presented to the Committee in Dolgelly. It was certainly the tone of that meeting and of most meetings that the Committee had in the Snowdonia National Park. I am disappointed that there is only one brief reference in paragraph 12.15 of the report to the attitude of the Committee towards manufacturing industry. It is a negative, slightly permissive attitude and not a positive attitude towards the need for the expansion of employment opportunities by medium-scale development. The Committee says that national park policy should not exclude the provision of more employment in manufacturing industry. That is not the kind of attitude that one who represents an area which has pockets of 10 per cent. and 13 per cent. unemployment expects from a responsible Committee considering national park policies.

I therefore stress that the conservation groups must understand that from a local employment point of view we in Merion eth do not want to work in nuclear power stations or in opencast copper mines. These are not our number one choices for employment. However, if there are no alternatives being offered to halt depopulation and to provide a choice of job opportunities at realistic wage levels, we who live and work permanently in the national park will support any kind of development provided that we can have suitable restrictions on the rate of extraction, for example, from copper mines.

We must be given alternatives if this kind of development is to be restricted. It has not escaped our notice that the pressure groups which campaigned so loudly and successfully against copper mining have not joined us recently in demanding that the Government take over empty advance factories such as the one in Blaenau Ffestiniog. If the copper mining issue is revived at some time, I have no doubt that the conservation lobby and the environmental writers will be down in Dolgellau again. They must understand that they will not get a hearing in the Cross Keys or anywhere else unless they are prepared to bring their full weight in favour of medium-scale manufacturing industry being brought to Dolgellau, Blaenau Ffestiniog and such places within the Snowdonia National Park.

We who live in the national park are a threatened species. We are a species which on present trends is facing extinction. Table 10 on page 51 of the Sandford Report shows the percentage change in population in national park areas over a 20-year period. The most threatened species are in Northumberland and in Snowdonia which have seen a 17 per cent. decline in population over the last 20 years.

Every local authority except two—one is an exception because it contains the atomic power station to which I have referred—has suffered a decline in population. I am surprised that we do not have more inquiries from zoos all over the world for a pair of young Welsh-speaking Welsh people from Merioneth who can breed in captivity and thus ensure the survival of the species.

No Government can purport to put forward a policy of landscape conservation for a given area when the same area suffers from severe community erosion and decline.

It is within this context that I want, before I get on to some detailed recommendations, briefly to question the whole concept of the national parks as it affects us in Snowdonia. This is something which the report has failed to do. It has failed to make a radical reappraisal of the present designations of land use.

With an area of over 500,000 acres in the national park, it is the fact that the designation is over so wide an area that it creates so many of the conflicts about which we have heard today. The designation of small heritage areas within Snowdonia such as the Snowdon massif or Cader Idris which could be left wholly undeveloped might be worthy of consideration, if this could be combined with an extension of broad national park policies to countryside areas generally as well as having a more flexible attitude within the present broad area of the park itself.

I would go so far as to suggest that the time has come to consider redrawing the boundaries of the Snowdonia National Park if it is not possible to change the categories of designation in areas such as this, because it does not make sense to have such a huge area of land which is designated as a national park. Conflicts will inevitably result from planning policies within that area. There could be a more selective use of even the heritage areas concept to ensure that there is designation of areas of high landscape value.

I should like the Government, when they are considering any legislation, to consider carefully the possibility of redrawing the present boundaries to ensure that we conserve the areas of high landscape value which we all want to conserve—the local residents as much as people such as the hon. Member for South Shields, whom I would welcome to walk up Cader Idris with me at any time. We who live and work in the area are as keen on conserving the areas of high landscape value as are the Government or any hon. Member. We want to ensure that the national park designation does not create conflicts and we want to have reasonably medium-scale development in the area generally.

I want to make one point which has not been discussed in the report. I appreciate that the Committee had to confine its deliberations to the national parks and could not deal with the work of the Countryside Commission, although it recommends a review of the commission's work in 1979. Evidence was submitted to the Committee on the need for a countryside commission for Wales to administer the 25 per cent. of Wales which is in national park. This was proposed as an amendment to the Countryside Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) when he was in the House in a previous Parliament but his amendment was not selected for discussion.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

My hon. Friend's courtesy in giving way to me enables me to stress the great need for a countryside commission for Wales and to remind the House that the reason given by the Minister when this suggestion was rejected in 1967 was a very insufficient reason. The reason given was that if we had our own countryside commission, as Scotland and Northern Ireland have, we should be denied the expert knowledge that the English commission has. The House must agree that that is no sufficient reason for denying us the great advantage that we would have enjoyed if we had had our own commission.

Mr. Thomas

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his very helpful interruption. I wish all interruptions to my remarks were as helpful. I stress the importance of having a countryside commission for Wales to administer as a separate unit the 25 per cent. of Wales which is in a national park.

I want to refer briefly to a number of detailed points in the report. I shall write to the Minister on some points that I will not refer to now.

I welcome the recommendation in paragraph 7.15 that education authorities using the park should consult the park authority far more effectively. I am a little disappointed that in the sections of its report that discussed the influx of visitors to the park the Committee did not take a more radical view of this, because over the next five years we shall face a severe crisis in terms of the numbers of people going to areas of outstanding beauty.

One of my neighbours is a part-time warden of the national park. He had to go up to Cader Idris at seven o'clock one morning to try to get people down from it, because even at that early hour there were over 200 people trying to occupy the peak of Cader Idris. We have the same problem on Snowdon, where a special study has been made.

We must consider ways by which we can divert people away from these areas, particularly at peak times. This will mean providing alternative areas, either small-scale country parks near to cities or the development of recreational facilities within the national park area which would help with the visitor influx and would be there for the permanent population during the winter.

We also generally welcome the proposals to deal with the housing difficulties experienced by local people and the recommendation that district councils be responsible for acquiring property which would otherwise become second homes particularly when these are within existing settlements and towns. We are concerned about the report's attitude to the compensation issues. I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) who supported the compensation principle. People who are improving their own homes within national parks feel strongly that when they have to incur extra cost through using traditional materials they should be compensated.

Finally, in connection with Snowdonia, I should like to mention the incredible recommendation about road traffic. The A470, to which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) referred, is the major North-South Wales trunk route and runs through my portion of the Snowdonia National Park. Road improvements are currently in progress, but there must be far more road improvements if we are to have effective communications. Clearly, either the designation of the park must be changed, the boundaries must be amended, or there must be no policy decision to restrict road developments which affect major trunk road improvements of this kind which are needed desperately to get the kind of development I want.

Broadly, I have taken a rather sceptical review of the report. This is not because I do not believe in landscape conservation, and not because I do not enjoy walking up Cader Idris when I can do that during a weekend. It is because the report has not dealt with the local dimension, the dimension of the inhabitants of the park, the needs of local inhabitants and the need for balanced development. We who live and work in these parks will not accept easily a conservation strategy which considers only land use and not the community.

1.22 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

My history teacher always impressed on me that one of the great reforming influences of the 20th century was the Royal Commission and the committee of inquiry. It seems to me that in recent years, because there are more departmental inquiries rather than Royal Commissions, they have become an excuse for lack of progress.

Both these committees of inquiry which we are discussing were set up as a result of a considerable amount of pressure which had built up for action to take place. This pressure developed during the late 1960s with the demand that the concept of the national park should be expanded and that much more defence land should be given back to the people for recreational purposes.

The summary of the Sandford Report sets out the reasons why this demand grew—the increased population, the greater amount of leisure, more money, a demand for access into the countryside and a steady increase of interest. Perhaps in keeping with the tradition of earlier committees of inquiry, it did not produce a great deal of information. It lists the ways in which the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostels Association and such organisations concerned with the use of leisure have expanded, but it does not give any information about the vast majority of those people who go into these areas and who are not members of any organised group. It is a pity that the report did not provide much more factual information about the numbers of people who go into these areas and their requirements. The demand for these facilities has steadily grown.

It would perhaps have been much more useful had these reports not been issued at all and that, instead, action had taken place on the main demands which have been made by these people to whom I have referred over the years. The reports only codify and, to a certain extent, assess the problem. Yet in the case of the Sandford Report, from July 1971 until now all we have had is discussion of what could be done rather than any action. In the case of the Nugent Report it seems to have been an excuse for doing nothing.

While some people may welcome the proposals for Dartmoor, those who were pressing in the 1960s for the release of land in Dartmoor must be disappointed at the lack of any concrete action. What is needed is not inquiry but action in the national parks on the problems of management within the parks and particularly on ways of resolving the conflicts of interest in the competition for resources, to resolve these problems fairly and to make much more land available for leisure and recreation. Now that these matters are being debated, I hope we shall get some action quickly rather than more inquiry and more discussion.

I wish to concentrate on a few points in particular. A matter which concerns me most is the over-use, perhaps I should say the super-saturation, of one or two small parts of the national parks which almost destroy what most people go into the parks to achieve. The Snowdonia area, and particularly the mountain peaks of Snowdon themselves, are a good example of the way in which what used to be areas where one could enjoy peace and solitude have been destroyed.

One of the finest activities was to go along the ridge from Crib-goch to the Snowdon Summit with one or two companions on a clear day and experience the solitude. Any hope of doing that now has disappeared unless one picks a Tuesday or a Wednesday towards the end of January. On any other occasion, in order to enjoy that experience, there has to be pretty dismal weather before there is a chance of finding solitude on that ridge. The normal experience in the summer is to queue up and await one's turn to scramble along the ridge. Much of the pleasure and grandeur of the scenery disappears in those circumstances.

One can pick out many other areas where the same process has occurred. Probably the motor car is responsible for much of this. Many people who years ago would have taken a walk a mile or two from their homes, perhaps not in quite such grand scenery, are now drawn like magnets to the key places in the national parks. Much of Cheshire at one time was an extremely popular area with ramblers. They could ramble along country lanes with the chance of a motor car passing only once or twice in a day. The car makes most of these country lanes unattractive to the walker, who tends to move into the parks looking for peace and quiet, often not to find it.

The decline of rural transport, which has been stressed by many speakers, means that only a few places in the national parks are easily accessible and, therefore, people who have their own transport tend to go to these areas and to increase the congestion. Even if one has one's own transport, one has to start and finish at the same point. Thus the area to which I referred earlier, the Snowdon Horseshoe, is extremely popular while other places, such as the Carnedds, are hardly touched. The same applies to the Cader Idris area which is very overcrowded. The Harlech Dome is penetrated by only a few people because of the problems of transport.

I believe the schools have a lot to do with this problem of over-concentration. As a former geography teacher, I admit that there is a tendency to look at the geography textbook which sets out the classical example which encourages one to take one's pupils to a particular area. The best example of an area that has been almost destroyed by the educational visit is the area of Upper Airedale, round Malham Cove and Gordale Scar where, 10 or 15 years ago, one could take people and look at the physical features and make a reasonable study of the area. The only piece of human geography that one can ask the school party to do in the area today is to consider the way in which school parties are changing the environment of that valley.

There must be strong pressure—it has already developed in the Yorkshire National Park—to ration the number of school visits to certain places during the main summer months. The Government have a responsibility for this over-concentration of people in small areas because of their policy concerning ordnance survey maps. The old 2½ inch map is very out of date, and certainly in areas where there has been extensive forestry there is a positive danger.

The new 1:25,000 maps to replace the 2½-in maps are being introduced extremely slowly, which creates problems, and the short cut is the new outdoor leisure map. But, again, this tends to concentrate numbers by encouraging people to go to those points covered by the outdoor leisure maps so far available, and discouraging them from going into other areas, thus producing what I call super-concentration in certain parts.

I turn now to what is said in the Sandford Report about the national heritage areas. It seems to me that there is a danger of the report itself encouraging people to go to those few key places which are given this extra designation. We ought to pursue a policy of dispersal throughout the whole of the national park. Having been in Snowdonia on many occasions in recent years and having picked up a good many hitchhikers from foreign countries, I have many times been disturbed by the extent to which they see little more than the cafes, car parks and road junctions of North Wales, without enjoying the quiet and splendour of the mountain scene which is to be found there.

The answer to the problem of over-concentration in a few areas lies, first, in the encouragement of dispersal, and this must be taken up by the Government. Second, there should be far better transport facilities, and a positive approach from the educational users of the area. Next, there must be a vast improvement in the rate at which the Ordnance Survey produces outdoor leisure maps so that people may find their way to the less well known parts of our national parks. Moreover, there must be access agreements not just for the key parts of the national parks but covering much wider areas. Finally, to take up the subject of the Nugent Report, far more land ought to be made available so that, instead of concentration, we can have dispersal into new areas.

I turn now to the section of the Sandford Report dealing with footpaths. It seems to me that the earlier inquiry, the Gosling inquiry on footpaths, was far more realistic. I see no great demand for the rationalisation of footpaths. If the real intention is to say "Keep out", this must be resisted. If a footpath is regularly used, it should be retained. If it is not regularly used or only rarely used, no great problems are caused for the farmer anyway, so there is no good excuse for doing away with it.

There is a great deal of pleasure to be found in walking along rarely used footpaths and feeling that one is exploring an area of our countryside. Such paths can be very useful also for people with small children who want to take them into the countryside, and for elderly people who want shorter walks.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, I was always very keen to go on a walk which led somewhere or to climb something. But now I should say that there is a great purpose in following a footpath which does not really lead anywhere but along which one can enjoy the surrounding countryside.

Sandford makes some valid points about the maintenance of footpaths. Only rarely is a footpath there nowadays for the benefit of the majority of local people. It is there, more often than not, for people who come into the area. In my view, the suggestion in the report that in national parks the maintenance of such paths ought to be paid for out of central funds rather than out of local funds or by the individual farmer is excellent. I do not see why it should be said that in a national park one may have help in maintaining footpaths but outside the national parks one should not. It seems to me that the nation ought to be prepared to pay for the maintenance of all footpaths.

As regards definitive maps, the report published in November 1973 refers to the very slow progress then being made. I think that that process has now been improved considerably, but, as I said earlier, unless the Ordnance Survey maps are available—in this case only the 2½-in map clearly shows a footpath and its relationship to field boundaries—the definitive maps are of limited value.

The report refers also to way markings. These are of value in places where it is important that people follow the line of the footpath in order to help the farmer, and in such circumstances more way markings are needed so that people do not unwittingly harm his interests. On the other hand, much of the attraction in following a footpath lies in finding one's way with a map, and in this respect too much way marking can be a disadvantage. However, where it is in the interest of the local population, there should be way markings so that walkers do not unwittingly do damage.

I come next to the position of the local farmer in this connection. The report clearly states that he should have some assistance in respect of paths, gates and stiles, and in my view this ought to go much further. The attraction of many of the national parks lies in the careful and tidy way in which they are farmed. Some farmers benefit from the tourist trade by providing camping sites and so forth, but many do not wish to do so, and I feel that they should have, as it were, far more remuneration from the nation, if necessary from a system of taxation on tourists going into such areas, so that they may be encouraged to preserve them.

Over 15 or 20 years of walking, I have been disturbed to find that in recent times the welcome from farmers has declined. In the past, of course, if one went into an area visited by very few people, the farmer was pleased to pass the time of day because one might be the only person he saw. If, on the other hand, there are lots of others going into the same area, one becomes part of a nuisance simply because of the pressure of numbers. In my view, there should have been more in the Sandford Report about helping and compensating those farmers who benefit in no way from the tourist trade.

I turn now to the Nugent Report, which I am inclined to regard as something of a "con" trick and an excuse for doing little for about four years. In my view, Mr. Cousins' criticisms in paragraph 5.36 of the Sandford Report are very fair.

I put two questions arising from the Nugent Report. What amount of land recommended to release by Nugent has so far been released, and how many access arrangements have been made? Would the Department be prepared to give quarterly reports on its progress in this respect? Many people, I believe, will think that it has moved extremely slowly.

I stress three major points. The Department of Defence should get on with implementing the Nugent recommendations. Far more land should be made available, and it should be made available soon. There should be a continuing review by people not directly involved in the Department.

Let us get on with action arising out of the Sandford Report. Above all else, the Government should put the emphasis on encouraging people to use all the national parks and to use much larger areas of the whole of our countryside, instead of concentrating in and overcrowding a few areas of outstanding beauty with the result that these areas cease to have much of their attraction and value.

Finally—much of the report involves money—the Government should realise that in the doing of a great deal of what Sandford recommends voluntary effort can play a great part. I have referred already to the maintenance of footpaths. There are thousands of young people who would be happy to do work on improving and conserving footpaths The Government ought to use them, especially at a time of shortage of resources.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Stockport North (Mr. Bennett) will forgive me if I do not take up the points which he raised, since it is my wish to deal only with the matters concerning my constituency which are dealt with in those parts of the Nugent Report which relate to the city of Portsmouth.

I stress at the outset that our relations with the Navy and the other Armed Services—especially with the commander-in-chief—have always been good and extremely friendly, and we want to do everything we can to keep things that way. We most certainly want the Navy to stay in Portsmouth, and we do not want it to be reduced. We have lost the Army, or practically all the Army, just as we have lost practically all the Royal Marines.

We want to keep the Navy, and we want it to use the land which it holds. We want it to keep that land and use it to the full.

A lot of land has already been released by the Ministry of Defence, and it has been of great value to the city for building and for industry. But we are a very overcrowded island, and, outside London, Portsmouth is the most densely populated area in the country apart from Salford and Bootle. We have 3,000 people on our housing waiting list, and many of those who work in the dockyard have to travel anything up to 30 miles a day to get to and from work. Therefore, in spite of the land which the Services have released, there is still great need for more in the city.

The Nugent Report refers to two areas specifically. The first is Tipner, where 6½ acres are to be released. I would not suggest that any land should be released at Tipner if that were to have an adverse effect on the gunnery school at Whale Island. The land at Tipner is used for rifle ranges for the gunnery school, and it has been suggested that if these ranges were discontinued the gunnery school itself would have to move, and that is the last thing that we in Portsmouth want.

I do not want it to be thought that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth, but the amount of land being released at Tipner will have little beneficial effect on the city. It is proposed, among other things, that a strategic lorry park should be placed there. But there is local opposition. Local people do not want masses of heavy vehicles travelling through a residential area. The land could be put to better use for housing, which would help to cut down the amount of travelling to and from work in Portsmouth.

But there is a snag. The cost of re-providing the services at Tipner would be about £250,000, and we understand that the Ministry of Defence will require that money to be paid in addition to the cost of the land. If that amount is to be added to the cost of the land, which totals only 6½ acres, it will not be an economic proposition for housing.

Therefore, I ask, first, that the Department of Environment reconsider the proposals for the lorry park, which, in my view, would be better sited outside the city, where there is more space, and, secondly, whether some help can be given to the city towards the £250,000 for providing facilities so that the land could be used for housing.

The other local area mentioned in the Nugent Report is Eastney, where about 100 acres are to be released on condition that the land is used as an amenity open space. But Portsmouth would gain very little from that because almost all the land is already open space. It comprises the beaches and parts of the land immediately behind the beaches, already used to a considerable extent by the public as open space. So Portsmouth would gain very little.

On the other hand, there is still more land at Eastney which I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider releasing. This consists of the parade ground, the tennis courts and the recreation spaces. Is it necessary to retain these recreational spaces? The Royal Marines have gone, and the defence review tells us that the Royal Navy is to be reduced. Surely the existing facilities that the Navy enjoys outside Eastney would be sufficient for all the purposes within the city.

Secondly, there is the question of the married quarters. About 250 married quarters are to be provided at Eastney. I appreciate that the provision of married quarters is vital. Lack of married quarters for the Navy affects recruiting. But are these quarters to be used entirely for Portsmouth people—that is to say, naval personnel working and serving in the city? Or are they to be used in a more general way so that naval personnel serving outside the city boundaries would live there and go out of town to their place of duty? If that is so, the Ministry should consider using for this purpose land outside the city. It has quite a lot of land outside the city boundaries—for example, at Southwick—which it could use for married quarters so that the Eastney land could be used for housing for Portsmouth people.

In this release of land, I urge that a small site be made available for the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association. This charity exists for the wellbeing of ex-Service men who lost legs or arms in the first or second world wars. The existing home in Portsmouth is proving less and less satisfactory as these men get older and have more difficulty in moving about. They need a new purpose-built home, requiring a site of perhaps an acre or less.

I have been in communication with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and with his predecessor about this matter. They have both told me that legally they cannot allow Service land to be given to any charity. I accept that that is the legal position, but the Ministry of Defence has a moral obligation to these ex-Service people. BLESMA is a charity entirely concerned with ex-Service people and a small site could well be found at Eastney and let to the charity on suitable terms, at a peppercorn rent.

As a result of the defence review, we are told that 5,000 dockyard jobs will disappear over the next few years. A lot of land outside the dockyard walls is being used by the dockyard in Portsmouth. It is earmarked for a new apprentices' training centre, but is at present used for storage, car parking and so on. I appreciate that it might be difficult, but surely it must be possible, with the reduction in the number of jobs in the dockyard and in the amount of work undertaken there, to find space within the dockyard walls for these projected uses for which the land outside is earmarked now.

I ask the Ministry of Defence to consider the use of these pieces of land which are not mentioned in the report. I also ask it, in the light of the defence review, to consider releasing still more land locally, particularly the Eastney recreational space.

1.49 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

The debate amplifies the dilemma which the Nugent Report emphasises between the needs of the Armed Services for training areas and so on and environmental factors. The report deals with that dilemma very fairly in all the circumstances.

There is a difficulty which is illustrated by the Shoeburyness site, a range used for a certain amount of research and development and as a firing range. There are other areas where the Armed Services, particularly the Army, find it difficult to carry out exercises. The exercises cannot all be carried out on Luneburg Heath. The German farmers tend not to like them, and they are asking for increasingly large sums of compensation.

All of us who raise constituency interests in the debate understand the dilemma. I think that it was the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) who got as near as anyone in the debate so far to actually canvass for defence work. Most of us will raise difficulties, and ask the Minister to release land. I fall into that category.

Here I refer to the question of the Rainham Marshes. They are not overtly mentioned in the report, although I believe that they are mentioned without being named, under the heading "Purfleet". The local authority and the Greater London Council believe that the area should be allowed to be used for housing development. I have supported the argument that it should be released for the diversion of the A13 on a southerly route across the Marshes. In a document produced by the Department of the Environment on improvements of the A13 trunk road the Department says categorically that it has been informed that the Defence Department cannot release the land. I cannot believe that the position is as hard and fast as that.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give me some idea of his thinking on the subject. I realise that the rifle range there is of importance, but I think that it is adequately catered for at the other end of the Purfleet range. I hope that my hon. Friend will seriously consider releasing this part of the land so that it can be developed in the way that I have suggested. If he can give me those assurances, my constituents and I will be grateful.

1.53 p.m.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

I hope that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) will forgive me if I do not comment on his specific points arising from the Nugent Report. I want to address myself briefly to a more general point.

I join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on his report. Perhaps there have been more results from the appointment of his committee than are already apparent. I suspect that its appointment produced a certain amount of action where perhaps there had not been as much as there should have been on the matter of defence lands. There should have been a fair amount of action since the appointment of the Committee. It is a pity that we could not hold this debate tomorrow, because it would have fallen precisely on the day four years and four days after the Committee's appointment, which allows some time for action, even in this difficult area.

The emphasis of the report is rightly on amenity. I believe that it was clearly the intention when the Committee was asked to report that that should be its prime task. But the terms of reference and the recommendations refer to other uses. The terms of reference talk about having regard to recreation, amenities or other uses which might be made of the land. The most important of the other uses outside recreation and amenity is housing. I should perhaps declare a non-pecuniary interest, in that for a time I was a member of the business team in the Civil Service Department with a brief to report on the exercise of the property management function in government. To that extent my report had some interface with the Nugent Report.

A prime aspect of property management must be to ensure that all concerned are aware of possible alternative uses of any piece of land. That automatically involves the value of the land, both in the purely monetary sense and in the sense of the ability to fulfil a need for the community which perhaps cannot be met other than on that bit of land.

It is necessary to have permanent standing arrangements to ensure that all users of land have this awareness. It is generally recognised that the largest estate is the defence lands, and that they raise the greatest difficulties. That was perhaps a reason for the appointment of the Committe.

We need to go further than recommendations 2 and 3 in the report to ensure that we have this permanent continuing review of the use of land. We must ensure that the users, right down to the local level, are aware of the potential of the land they occupy. From my experience, I do not think that it is sufficient to have a knowledge in Whitehall that some training area has potential for housing use. That knowledge needs to be taken right down to the level of the local commander using the land. If he knows that it has a value for housing, perhaps a considerable value, he is much more likely to consider carefully whether a perhaps limited use for a special purpose is justified, or whether other arrangements might be made.

There are two obvious ways to ensure that awareness. One possibility which I believe has been considered is the use of notional rent charges to the users for the use of land which has other potential uses. That has a number of difficulties. Therefore, perhaps the alternative procdure of a regular independent review should be considered. But one or other of those alternatives should be adopted at least for those areas where there is likely to be, or where there is already known to be, potential use for housing or other purposes.

It is fairly clear from the report, which goes into these areas in some detail, that the prime areas for housing opportunity are, first, the Aldershot, Farnborough and Camberley area and, secondly, South Hampshire. One of the factors in them is that there is already a considerable clash of amenity between the surrounding housing areas and the training areas, ranges and barracks so frequently to be found. Because there is already this clash of amenity, and because of the considerable opportunity to release land for much-needed housing development in those areas, there is a strong argument for a progressive and continuing, even if slow, reduction of the occupancy of land there for Service purposes.

The Minister said—and I am sure that we were all glad to hear it—that the whole of the defence estate is kept under continous review. I am sure that he will agree that the Property Services Agency has a primary rôle in the review. We have an integrated agency with expertise in land which could be seen to act more independently in any review.

I conclude by saying that we must have a review. It must consider the possibility of allocating to housing as well as to amenity purposes. Even if the allocation of land for housing required the reallocation of some defence units, the cost could well be justified by the release of land which would have a great scarcity value.

I welcome the report, but I should like to see us go further in ensuring a continuous review of defence land both for amenity and for housing purposes.

2.1 p.m.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I think that we all welcome the attention that the Sandford Committee has brought to one of our most valuable assets—namely, the beauty of our countryside. We are right to consider the Committee's proposals before the Government give consideration to its recommendations and possibly introduce legislation to enact some of them. I hope that no delay will occur in bringing forward proposals to implement some of the report's recommendations.

So much attention has been focused on this matter that I feel that the Government must take it to heart and consider it carefully from all points of view before taking action to improve and enhance the national parks. It is recognised that the national park committees have a difficult task in maintaining and improving the areas under their control. At the same time they have to present a balance which gives to the visitor a sense of freedom and a means of being able to get away from it all. They must present certain restraints so as to preserve the beauty of the countryside, which is the reason for people making visits to the national parks.

There must be a mixture of restraint which has the good will of everyone connected with the countryside, and not least the farmer. I am disturbed to see in the report that the farmer is not given any justification for claiming compensation for extra costs incurred in complying with planning conditions. That is a matter which needs to be considered again. The farmer has his livelihood to consider and a job to perform. He is part of the scene that is being preserved. To restrict him in what he has to do is bad enough. He may have to contend with a growing number of visitors crossing his land. In many cases they will block some of the lanes and roads that he has to use to move his equipment and stock.

That is the situation that the farmer has to tolerate. In many cases he accepts the problems, but when it comes to the planning of his farm and the farm buildings that he may wish to erect to make his farm efficient and viable in the difficult circumstances in which he now finds himself, he is justified in calling for proper compensation to preserve what the park committees wish to see.

Consultation with the farmers is hugely important in generating the feeling of good will which visitors are quick to recognise when they go to the parks. If the Government nationalise farms to bring about the scenery that the commission wishes to see, the farmers will be extremely angry. That will taint consultation, as they will know that whatever they suggest the Government negotiators will ultimately be able to say, "All right, if you do not agree the Government will take over your farm."

I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter and seek to give proper compensation to farmers. It is of great importance that that issue should be resolved, bearing in mind the growing desire of people to get away from it all. In the present difficulties in which we find ourselves every facility should be given to the public in the national parks. The public should be able to reach some of the remote and beautiful spots which are not easily arrived at, certainly by car. Many people enjoy an afternoon going round an area in their car and admiring the countryside. They may take a picnic with them, but because they have somebody elderly with them who cannot do a lot of walking they prefer to remain by their car. Many of us know what that is like, and it is a matter that must be recognised.

With the higher cost of petrol it will be difficult for people to continue to use their cars in the way that I have described. However, there is a compromise which I hope will be considered—namely, to provide mini-buses in some areas of the national parks to take people from parking places to some of the remoter spots. That would give them the experience of seeing something that they would not normally be able to see.

It is of great importance—the report has stressed this, but in my opinion not sufficiently—that the greatest amount of publicity is made available so that people know where to go and what they should or should not do. It is important that advertising and literature should be made available—for example, maps of the areas in question—so that people will be able to get out and enjoy their visits to the national parks. I must stress how important it is to have clear and concise maps showing people where to go and what they may do when they get there.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) rightly referred to the rôle that volunteers can play in providing help with the staffing of the national parks. That is immensely important and should be encouraged to the fullest extent. Of course, in some areas there is land that needs to be tidied, and other kindred matters. Such work could well be done by volunteers and young people.

Publicity should be given to the sporting activities that may take place in the national parks. This is a national enterprise, and we want to see as many people as possible enjoy the parks. In some areas activities such as canoeing, riding and rock climbing are available. The use of such assets should be encouraged. I want to see more schoolchildren going to the parks. It would be possible to combine an element of instruction in nature and in what the country has to provide, alongside other activities. Such visits could be arranged by the schools.

I realise that the suggestions that I have put forward would cost money. It is necessary to maintain and improve the national parks. For instance, in the Yorkshire Dales, which are close to my constituency, about £124,000 was spent in 1973 in maintaining and improving. Approximately £75,000 was borne by the authorities—namely, the old West Riding County Council and the North Yorkshire County Council. At a time of rising costs—particularly increasing rates—the Government must recognise that a higher proportion of the cost will have to be borne by the Exchequer. The councils have always accepted their responsibilities towards the national parks but it will not be possible to continue to pay out of the ratepayers' money a growing and higher proportion to maintain and improve the parks. A larger amount will have to be expended by the Exchequer.

I should like to draw attention to the recommendation in the Sandford Report which states that There should not be a special Exchequer fund to meet the extra cost of putting electricity service lines underground, and those Area Boards which impose additional charges in respect of amenity costs upon the customer should take a more generous view of this aspect of their duty to take amenity considerations into account. That means that the costs of putting electricity wires underground should fall on the customer. I do not agree with that recommendation, and it should not be accepted.

If ever there were a case for the Government's taking particular action and financial responsibility for something which destroys the natural beauty of our countryside, it is the case of electricity wires. Many beauty spots, including villages, can benefit hugely from putting electricity wires underground. One problem is the cost of undertaking such an exercise.

National park areas attract people from all over the country as well as from abroad—holidaymakers and tourists. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that schemes are got under way quickly to remove eyesores such as electricity pylons and to find the money to do the job. The cost must not fall on the customer. He cannot cope with the cost that would be involved in this day and age. I hope that particular attention will be paid to this matter and that we shall have a Government directive that everything possible will be done to get many of these electricity lines put underground. Areas of outstanding beauty are spoilt by pylons crossing the skyline. A huge amount of land which could be used for forestry is lost because of these avenues of pylons across the countryside. They also present problems to farmers who have to plough and cultivate round them, let alone the disfigurement that they bring to an area.

Those are some of the main points to which I particularly wished to refer. I do not intend to refer other matters raised in the report—though there are many—because of the time factor.

I hope that this report will enable us to begin giving greater emphasis to the use of our national parks by as many people as possible who decide to visit them.

2.14 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

Needless to say, I am deeply concerned about the Nugent and Sandford Reports. My constituency contains a very large national park area within it. Most people in the South-West believe that Dartmoor, a place of great beauty, should be preserved. There is a large military presence in Okehampton, Bickleigh and Tavistock; and there is also Dartmoor Prison, although I cannot claim that that is an area of outstanding beauty. However, all these places play a real part in the life of my constituency. One further general point is that during the summer months the population of the whole of the South-West is nearly doubled, and that creates real problems.

I congratulate those who compiled the Nugent and the Sandford Reports. I do not agree with them, but they are most useful documents.

I welcome the reappraisal of the essential rôle of national parks in these modern times. I suggest that the Government should consider national parks more frequently than they do because of the tremendous pressures on those areas. With the best will in the world, with population increasing and more leisure time, the pressures on our national parks will grow. Therefore, it is important to consider them more frequently than we do and for the Government to act a little quicker.

It is difficult in these days to reconcile the two aims of preservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the promotion of public enjoyment. But I suggest that there is a third aim—namely, to help those who have to earn their living from our moors and national parks whether in farming or in other industries such as tourism or forestry. I suggest that these three aims should be considered and studied.

The first aim is the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty. Certainly I am all for preservation in these areas, where possible. Very few areas of outstanding natural beauty have been preserved. It is a tragedy—I think that my figures are correct—that today 53,000 acres of land are being lost to roads, shops, houses and factories. We do not make land in this country. Therefore, we should be extremely careful how we use the remaining areas.

A stretch of water that has been provided by the building of a reservoir does not spoil the natural beauty of an area. Indeed, I believe that it enhances it and allows recreation for many people.

Still considering the first aim, I believe that a great deal more could be done to tidy up unsightly areas. I should be wholeheartedly in favour of a big effort to clear unsightly areas whether from military use or from the past when people were not so careful about litter, and so on. Many eyesores need to be removed. If we on Dartmoor are to have the military for many years to come—I believe that it is of great economic benefit as well as for defence—the military authorities or the Ministry of Defence must help with tidying up or removing eyesores and having buildings of the standards that are imposed on other people.

The second important aim is the promotion of public enjoyment, but I believe that that puts a great responsibility on those who come to these areas for enjoyment. They must accept the disciplines of the areas. This is a matter that annoys many farmers and others who live in areas of natural beauty. Visitors are welcome, but they should accept the disciplines of the areas.

A great deal of harm is caused to stock from litter, broken bottles, and other rubbish and the fact that people use these open areas as toilets. People from the countryside would not think of camping in an urban area in the front garden of someone's house, using that garden as a toilet, and leaving rubbish and filth there. But many urban people tend to use our national parks and rural areas for many different purposes which cause annoyance to many of my constituents.

It is important to realise that moors and national parks are used for three to four months of the year by holidaymakers, but for 12 months of the year by agriculture and those who live in the moorland areas. In many instances national parks are the workplaces of farmers and the nation's source of food. It is therefore right that agriculture and its problems and difficulties should be considered very carefully.

It is difficult to be a modern and viable farmer in a national park. Farmers want to use modern methods, and it is important that they should be allowed to do so. They want to use fertilisers, to use sprays, to improve inbye land, to erect fences and to put up buildings, and any restrictions on doing those things do not help a farmer if he is trying to farm in a modern way and become viable and make a living.

It is no good a farmer in such an area going to his bank manager and saying, "I cannot reduce my overdraft because I am restricted in the use of modern farming techniques", and the whole question of compensation for the restrictions that are placed on British agriculture in these areas must be considered very carefully.

It is interesting to remind ourselves that without the stock on the moors and upland areas these districts would soon revert to scrub and could not be enjoyed by the many people who go there. British agriculture and those who farm these areas play a rôle in keeping them tidy and under control.

Mr. Jopling

They are unpaid park-keepers.

Mr. Mills

How right my hon. Friend is, because that is what they are.

I suggest that the Department of the Environment should get in touch with the Ministry of Agriculture over the whole problem of brucellosis in these areas. One of the main sources of brucellosis infection must be the stock that is running unfenced on our moors. When we move forward, as I hope we shall, to complete the eradication of brucellosis in this country, we must not allow large reservoirs of disease to be left behind on these upland and moorland areas.

What does that mean? It is all very well for the Minister to shake his head—or perhaps he is nodding in agreement—but it means that large areas of moors will have to be fenced off as a control measure. It is not possible to operate an eradication programme without fencing off certain parts of the moor so that there are clean stock on one side when one is trying to eradicate the disease on the other. This is not mentioned by the Sandford Report, but I believe that we all want to go forward with the eradication of brucellosis. This will create real problems in our national parks, and I hope that the Minister will take note of that and discuss it with the Minister of Agriculture.

These are useful reports. I do not agree with everything in them, but I hope that the Minister will take note of the things that have been mentioned in the House today.

2.24 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

I support the emphasis given by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) to the fact that our national parks are places where people live, work and earn their living. We must never forget that.

My qualifications for speaking on the subject are that within the boundaries of my constituency there is a complete national park—the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park—and I have spent a considerable part of my life in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Pembrokeshire is a classic example of the kind of conflicts and pressures with which we are concerned, because not only do I have a national park in my constituency but I have within it the country's largest oil port, with four major oil refineries. I have the main base for Celtic Sea oil exploration, the Castlemartin gunnery range and a huge congestion of summer visitors.

I start by congratulating the Government on their decision not to accept the recommendation of the Nugent Committee to transfer the RAC gunnery range from Lulworth to Castlemartin. I need not explain my reasons in more detail, because I did so in the course of an Adjournment debate on 3rd December 1973, though I say here and now that I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray).

It seems to me that one of the more lamentable features of the Nugent Committee was the failure adequately to consult. My hon. Friend told us about Tain. I must tell the House that at Castlemartin no one in the locality—not the county council, not the district council, not the national parks committee, nor the Milford Haven Conservancy Board—was given any intimation that the Committee was likely to make the recommendation that it made. The news came as a bolt from the blue, and it seems to me that if a committee of this kind is to put forward highly contentious and controversial recommendations, it should make every effort adequately to consult before it does so. All I say further on this is that the decision was warmly welcomed throughout Wales, and I congratulate the Government on it.

I have one or two other specific points to make about Nugent. Having listened to the Minister, I am still not clear exactly what will happen to Shoeburyness following changes in our plans for Maplin. There are 39,000 acres there, and I should be interested to hear whether the Government see any prospect that some of the land there, or other land, will be released as a consequence of the Maplin decision.

Turning to my constituency, Nugent reached the extraordinary conclusion that the airfield at St. David's should be retained to prevent the unrestricted use for civilian flying and so safeguard the flying activity at RAF Brawdy. Mr. John Cripps rightly dissented. I am conscious that one aeroplane uses the field regularly, subject to RAF control, but it cannot be necessary to own an airfield in order adequately to control civilian flying within the airspace around Brawdy. I do not insist that the site should be fully restored and the runway torn up, but I join Mr. Cripps in insisting that the land should be released to farmers who originally owned it or to others who may come forward under the procedures laid down.

What is being done about the Nugent recommendations that old buildings on this and other sites should be cleared? This matter has been referred to several times today. We have a particularly important case at Manorbier. I hope that no debris will be left there. The derelict buildings and litter that one finds at any disused base, including some in national parks and heritage areas, are a disgrace. In the course of the present rundown the Ministry of Defence must not leave its debris behind.

I hope that the Minister will say what is to happen to the 12 airfields that may be closed under the proposed defence cuts. Are they to be mothballed so that they can be reactivated? Are they to fall derelict, or are they to be demolished and made available for other use, agricultural or otherwise?

I want to refer to the apparent determination of the Ministry of Defence to cling to married quarters for which it seems to have no need. I do not blame this Minister or this Government more than any other. This saga has continued for many years. Whoever is responsible in Whitehall, the Defence Land Agent clings obstinately to what he still has.

For as long as I can remember, I have been pressing for the release of vacant Ministry of Defence houses in my constituency, where there is a literally desperate housing shortage. For a long time we were told that we had to wait for Nugent. Now that Nugent is behind us, we are told that we have to wait for the outcome of the defence review. Of course some slack is needed for emergencies, but about 50 of the houses in my constituency have been empty for virtually the whole of the last decade and the 90 at Manorbier for the last three years. Those vacant houses are an offence to the homeless and make impossible forward planning in housing programmes and the necessary finance by local authorities which might suddenly be asked to acquire them.

In Chapter 8, Nugent refers to the problem of noise. I welcome what I have taken to be an assurance that the reduction in defence expenditure will not mean a cut-back in essential sound insulation and the installation of hush houses at airfields, and compensation where this is called for. At RAF Brawdy we now have one of the most active training bases in the country.

As I said, Pembrokeshire is an illustration of almost all the pressures that we face in our national parks. I greatly welcomed the clear statement in paragraph 2.15 of Sandford: We have no doubt that where the conflict between the two purposes, which has always been inherent, becomes acute, the first one must prevail in order that the beauty and ecological qualities of the national parks may be maintained. In the Pembrokeshire context, that means that the industrial areas must be strictly and tightly confined into the area around the Haven and that if oil exploration develops further in the Celtic Sea the bases must also be confined within that area. There can be and is no excuse for spreading out further into the national park.

The Committee comments on the problems of caravans, particularly the congestion, the eyesores and the thoroughly undesirable consequences of overcrowding, particularly in South Pembrokeshire. I support the principle of rigid control and welcome the active and intelligent policies of the National Parks Committee to resite these places back from the sea or, where we are not dealing with seaside sites, on the edge of the parks. I get many representations from local people, from farmers, that more sites should be allowed, but I believe that we are at or near saturation point and that it is right to follow restrictive policies.

I also welcome what the Committee says about roads. We have to be careful to achieve sympathetic handling of road developments in the parks. The recommendation that road realignment should cease to be a permitted development is thoroughly desirable, as is the recommendation that there should be consultation between the National Parks Committee and the highway authority. Very often small minor roads in national parks are straightened and realigned for no good reason. Apart from the environmental consideration, in this time of financial stringency, we should bear in mind the cost.

There is an important section in the report on footpaths and bridle paths. This issue raises strong feelings. Many farmers and local landowners feel that old paths are often arbitrarily opened to their detriment, that there is inadequate consultation and consideration of the issues. There is disturbance and damage and often illogicality about rearrangements. I welcomed the recommendations in Chapter 16 that the National Parks Committee should be involved in this issue and should have new powers to plan and consider these problems.

I also welcome the recommendation that funds should be provided for maintenance of paths, both privately owned and public paths, including stiles and gates. I am a frequent walker along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and I have noticed how the path has broadened. Instead of going over the stile, people walk through the hedge, breaking it down, and there is a major maintenance problem.

If we are to service the paths properly and to maintain order in the parks, we must strengthen and improve the warden services. Although I spend so much of my time in the national parks. I hardly ever see a warden. There are certainly not enough of them adequately to supervise the behaviour of visitors, to explain to visitors what is going on and to report damage.

I welcome the forestry proposals. I am sure that an afforestation should come within planning control. I am much more doubtful about some of the comments on agriculture. If ever there were a living industry which had to develop, this is it. It should not be too restricted. I entirely endorse what has been said on that matter today. We are dealing with areas in which people live and work.

Finally, finance. We have had all these arrangements on the cheap for a long time. One of the most staggering revelations of the Sandford Report is the tiny sums which have been devoted to the support of our national parks. They propose that expenditure should be increased from about £1 million to £4 million a year. That is very modest compared with expenditure on the arts, theatre and recreation generally. This is an important area for public recreation, even if we ignore the aspect of protection of the environment. I recognise the economic climate, but I hope that the Minister will today make a clear declaration that, whatever the short-term difficulties in the immediate future, the Government intend to make adequate funds available for the maintenance of the parks, as recommended by the Sandford Committee.

2.38 p.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I shall differ slightly from my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and confine my remarks entirely to the Sandford Report. We have just heard an excellent speech from my hon. Friend. Perhaps it did not quite reach the dizzy heights of the masterly speech that he made last night at the end of the debate on the O'Brien Report, which was a remarkable performance. How he can do that twice in 24 hours I am not sure.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Sandford Report. I think that, last summer, I was the first hon. Member to ask the Leader of the House for time to debate this important report.

I am interested in the number of people who have attended the debate and who have spoken in it. Although occasional Liberal Members have listened to our proceedings, I am very surprised that no representative of the Liberal Party has thought fit to make a speech on this issue. There is not one Liberal Member present. I am very surprised at that since, as only one of my hon. Friends is waiting to speak, there is plenty of time.

Mr. Peter Mills

They are clearly not interested.

Mr. Jopling

As my hon. Friend says, the Liberals are not interested. That must be the case.

I welcome the remarks of the Minister, in opening the debate, when he said that the Government hoped to put some views to the House before the Government made up their mind. I very much welcome that. That is a most healthy sign. So often we find with successive Governments that the Government make up their mind and then tell the House what they have done.

The recommendations of the Sandford Committee are generally helpful although I object to and disagree with certain parts of the report. I think that the Committee is right to say that, generally speaking, the national parks are accepted by people who visit them and, most important, by those who live within them. I speak as a Member representing a large part of the Lake District National Park. There are few people in my constituency who oppose the concept. The Lake District Planning Board does a necessary and difficult job. As time goes on, it does that job rather better. It becomes more experienced and is able to deal with the natural tensions between the local inhabitants who live in the park all the year round and those people who visit the park at various times in the year. I think it handles those tensions better—and increasingly so—each year. I believe that the tension existing between the local inhabitants and the visitors, which is discussed in the report, is no worse than it was 10 years ago.

The name "national park" is open to misunderstanding. People who have visited the national park in my constituency for the first time think that a national park is the same as the park situated in the middle of a town in which they live in an industrial area. Some years ago in Committee I told the true story of an occurrence in Great Langdale when on more than one occasion a constituent of mine woke up in the morning to the pleasant, odorous smell of frying bacon coming through his bedroom window. When he looked out of his window he found a family encamped in his garden, cooking breakfast. He went outside and asked them whether they could find somewhere else to cook their breakfast and to pitch their tent. He was told in no uncertain terms that this was a national park and that they were perfectly entitled to camp there, whether or not it was his garden. That is the sort of misunderstanding which can arise.

I do not think there is any hon. Member present who was a member of the Standing Committee which dealt with the Countryside Bill? At a very early stage in the Committee proceedings on that Bill we managed to throw out for a short time the wretched name "national park" I remember the Government of the day saying that they would be perfectly prepared to consider another name if we could think of a better one. The wretched name was thrown out only temporarily for a few weeks because none of us was able to find a better name. I suppose that I am being negative about this matter. I think it is a horrid name, but I cannot find a better one.

Road traffic is, I suppose, the greatest single hazard to the natural amenities of the national parks. I agree with some of the sentiments expressed in the report. I should particularly like to emphasise that part of paragraph 7.1 which reads, The increase in car ownership during the last twenty years has been such that recreational trips by car are now the rule rather than the exception for the average family. The report goes on to say, quite rightly, in paragraph 7.2, For some motorists driving in attractive countryside is pleasure enough and any stops they may make are short. Others like to relax in one place but have no desire to go far from their cars. That is the truth of the matter. In the Lake District, in particular, it is the motor car which provides the greatest threat to the amenities and presents the greatest problem. We must control traffic to a much greater extent in the national parks.

I agree with the sentiments in paragraph 15.5 of the report, which have received a good deal of publicity. That paragraph reads, We recommend that investment in trunk roads should aim at developing routes for long distance traffic which avoid national parks. We further recommend that where such routes are available, heavy through traffic should be prohibited from using roads in the national park. I agree with that.

Last summer I addressed the House on this matter on another occasion. May I remind hon. Members particularly of the dispute affecting the Lake District national park to which the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) referred, concerning the development of the A66 road. That battle is now part of history. We must all accept it.

I must repeat what I have already said to the Government. Having obtained in this instance a decision which will undoubtedly be to the detriment of the Lake District, they should not forget that here is the opportunity to take steps regarding other roads and throughways which will be of benefit, in spite of the A66 decision. I must press the point with regard to the roads in the Lake District.

The A591 goes through the Lake District, from Keswick, south to Grasmere, to Ambleside, to Windermere, to Kendal and to the south. Having improved the A66, this is the moment above all to ban heavy through traffic on the A591. Although the A66 decision has proved on balance to be bad for the Lake District, we could draw some comfort by banning that type of through traffic which now trundles and roars through the heart of this beautiful land.

The view exists that no decision regarding the ban should be taken until the A66 improvement is finished. That may be so. But although some people take that view, I do not agree with it. I believe that the ban should be imposed now. As yet I have received no answer to that point. Are the Government prepared to say that as soon as the A66 improvement is completed, heavy through traffic will be banned? Here I am not concerned with the internal traffic. Will the Government tell us soon what is their intention? I hope that when the Under-Secretary winds up the debate he will address himself to that matter.

Where traffic and road improvement schemes are involved in national parks, I hope that decisions will be made more quickly. I am thinking about the public inquiry which was held in 1974 with regard to the Ambleside bypass. We are still awaiting a decision. That report must have been on the desk of the Minister for many months, yet the Government have dithered. We are all very bored with it. When I raised this matter on the Adjournment in the middle of the summer, I was told that the decision would not be very long in being announced. I received a letter from the Under-Secretary in November saying that it would be announced very soon. We are still waiting. It is bad for the national parks, and I am very cross about it.

I want to say a few words about forestry. Those of us who know about national parks are aware of the impact that forestry has on them and that there is a great danger that the amenity of our national parks can be damaged by uncontrolled forestry. If any hon. Member disputes that, I invite him to look at photographs Nos. 7 and 8 in the Sandford Report which show some of the horrors which can exist as the result of uncontrolled forestry. I hope that it will not be necessary to control forestry compulsorily. I hope that it can be done in a voluntary way. In the Lake District we have a good deal of voluntary agreement. In the national park itself there has been practically no deterioration in the amenity as a result of uncontrolled planting. That has been achieved for the most part voluntarily, and it has been very helpful.

Despite what Lord Sandford says, and despite what we all feel about forestry, I am very much afraid that the Government's proposals in the Finance Bill will spell the death knell of forestry. I must draw attention to the impact of the Government's provisions in the Finance Bill on forestry as it affects the national parks. If the proposals go through and the private forestry industry is totally dessicated, as it will be, it will have the most disastrous effects on our national parks. It is trees and the growth of trees when they are planted and controlled in a sympathetic way which do so much to enhance the beauty of these magnificent areas.

Having made my point, I shall not dwell upon it. We shall be debating these proposals next week and in the weeks ahead. But I plead with the Under-Secretary to consider this point seriously. I know that he has a close interest in the beauties of the countryside. The proposals present a major threat to those beauties not in the next five years but over the next 50 years.

I turn to farming in our national parks. Few people seem to realise that what is the visitors' playground is also the farmer's factory floor. The position has been laid down in the Dower Report which is quoted in paragraph 2.2 of the Sandford Report. It says: It was, Dower said, above all else to farming, both the extensive grazing of the higher open land and the more or less intensive grazing, mowing and cropping of the lower, fully enclosed land, that the landscapes of the national parks owed the man made element in their character. He called for efficient farming, with generous scope for changes in method and intensity of cultivation, cropping and stocking. That is right, and my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West picked up a remark which I happened to let slip when I referred to farmers being unpaid park keepers. That is what they are. It is farmers who have had a greater influence on the beauties of our national parks than any other group of people.

Again, people find it hard to understand that it is in upland country—the dales, hills and mountains—where it is most hard to make a living from farming. In the past few years there has been a sad decline in the farming population of the national parks. I quote some figures relating to the Cumberland area of the Lake District National Park. Between 1961 and 1971, there was a decline of 27 per cent. in the number of farmers and farm workers working in the area of the Lake District National Park.

It is clear that something is going wrong, and I fear that the Sandford Report has not paid sufficient attention to this aspect. There must be more care to encourage people to live in national parks and earn their living there. More sympathetic attention must be given by the Government and by planning boards to encourage those who live in the parks to work in them. Above all, farmers must have proper modern buildings and equipment in order to carry out their business. Just because a farmer lives in a national park, he should not have to make do with inferior buildings and equipment. He must have every opportunity to take advantage of modern farming techniques.

Visitors bring management problems to farmers. Some of my hon. Friends have referred to them. I commend to the attention of the House the workings of the upland management experiments which have been going on for some years in my constituency to try to relieve farmers of the tensions and problems which visitors bring with them and the difficulties which farmers have in earning a living in the upland areas of national parks.

In this context, I am dubious about the recommendations in the Sandford Report suggesting that controlled grazing and fencing should not be encouraged—indeed, should be banned. We have to realise that it is farmers and farming techniques which have created national parks. We have to be careful about being quite so dogmatic in stopping modern techniques from being used. I have always said that, although farmers need modern buildings, we understand that in a beautiful area they have to be made to use materials which fit in with the landscape. That is right, and the Sandford Report says so. But I am opposed to what the Committee proposes in paragraph 13.6 where it talks about how the additional cost of such materials should be dealt with. Paragraph 13.6 states: We accordingly consider that assistance towards extra costs should be available in selected cases. I think that that is wrong. Assistance is not enough. What is needed is full compensation for the extra costs which farmers have to bear in putting up in the national interest buildings which conform to the amenity requirements.

I agree with the recommendation in paragraph 13.8 which refers to the difficulties suffered by farmers in national parks in getting compensation for extra costs they have to incur in putting up buildings which are sympathetic to local amenity considerations. Paragraph 13.8 reads as follows: This procedure takes time and trouble and we recommend that the Government should review it to see whether it could be simplified. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will try to minimise the procedures through which a farmer has to go to enable a decision to be reached on compensation for extra costs.

If the Minister wants evidence, I will lend him the file I have in my hand which concerns Mr. Sinclair who lives in my constituency in Hartsop near Ullswater. He had to put up a new cow house and had to go through the most miserable bureaucratic procedures to get the extra money he needed.

There is great room for improvement in some of the planning decisions which are taken by planning boards. In my constituency, overnight a caravan park sprouted in one of the most beautiful valleys in the Lake District. Perhaps I am being vindictive, but I hope that any member of the planning board who goes through that valley loses sleep after he has seen the havoc that that decision caused.

It is essential to improve the standard of planning in national parks. In the Lake District in recent times it has improved. I am utterly opposed to the Sandford recommendation that, to improve amenity, land should be taken from farmers by compulsory purchase order. I know that the report says that that should be done only as a last resort, but that recommendation is wrong. That is no way to reconcile the differences and the tensions which exist between local people and visitors to national parks. We must get agreement by voluntary means rather than by using compulsory methods.

My constituents and other people who live in national parks welcome the visitors and are glad that they come to share the beauties of those parts of the country. But there remains a delicate balance between the interests of local people and those of the visitors.

I end as I began by talking about those frictions. They must be reduced as much as possible. They will be made worse if the Government resort to compulsory powers. The Government should pay constant attention to the frictions which occur and give sympathetic attention to the composition of the planning boards. The Government should make sure that working farmers serve on all planning boards. If a working farmer is not able to attend meetings as often as a person who does not do any work he should not be thrown off the board.

I hope that the Sandford recommendation for a stronger warden service will be implemented. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said. Our warden service in the Lake District is very good, and we are particularly proud of our voluntary system which is most effective, but there is room for some strengthening of the system. When the Countryside Bill went through the House some years ago I played my part in giving powers to strengthen the warden service. Well trained wardens can do immense good in improving the way national parks are run. I have taken much interest in this subject in North America. When I was in America 18 months ago I took the trouble of visiting the National Park Warden Training Service at Grand Canyon. There are lessons to be learned from what is done in the United States as regards training and employing of wardens.

To try to reduce frictions between the local people and visitors, the boards must continue to improve their public relations. In the Lake District the public relations with the planning boards are much better now that they were 10 years ago. National parks can thrive only if the local people support and approve the concept of national parks and what goes on in them. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) said in one of the short periods when he was in the House that there was a danger of poisoning the atmosphere with regard to the attitude of the local people. The hon. Gentleman was right. I again draw attention to the need to keep local people sweet and enthusiastic about the concept.

I end with the plea that no compulsion be introduced, because this could poison the atmosphere and put a stop to the magnificent progress which has been made over the years in the construction and development of our national parks, which are such a source of pride to all of us.

3.6 p.m.

Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)

Much of my constituency is in the North York Moors National Park. I pay tribute to the Sandford Committee for the work it did and for its report. When members of the Committee came to my constituency they were meticulous in making themselves ready to receive representations from individuals and organisations. If every Government inquiry went into as much detail and took as much trouble to ascertain the views of those most likely to be affected by its deliberations we should be much better off.

The Sandford Report, although not one with which everyone will agree in all respects, is an extremely useful basis for further development of the national parks.

In the North York Moors National Park we have one of the parks that, up to now, has been less subject to the pressure of those seeking recreation in parks than have some other national parks. This situation is changing fast. With the expansion of Teesside, on our doorstep, we, too, are subject to pressures of people coming, largely by car, to benefit from the national park.

We are also very fortunate in having one means of access to the national parks which has not been touched on in the debate but which should be mentioned. I refer to the railways. In the Esk Valley railway running from Middlesbrough to Whitby we have a way of getting to the national park which enables the park to be used without subjecting its small and narrow roads to the pressure of the motor car.

Any measures that can be taken to ensure that the railways that remain in the national parks are kept open will be more than welcome to those living in the parks. The Esk Valley railway provides not only a useful way of getting to the park without putting pressure on the road system but also a means of getting to the North York Moors railway, which, in turn, is a means of seeing much of the park without going by car. That is a privately-run railway, but it is also dependent upon public assistance.

I had hoped that the Sandford Report would mention the question of access by rail to the national parks and the need for publicity for such access. Publicity campaigns can be very successful. The one in relation to the Esk Valley has resulted in a huge increase in the use of the railway there. I ask that by means of publicity, encouragement should be given to people to park at the railway station outside the national park. I appreciate that this is a recommendation which can affect only the minority of the national parks, but it is a useful proposal in relevant areas.

I turn to the question of compensation, and endorse most warmly the remarks made so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). The proposal made by the Sandford Committee for a review of Section 169 of the 1971 Act is not sufficient to deal with the problem of farmers who have to spend substantially higher sums than would otherwise be necessary in order to bring their buildings up to the amenity requirements imposed upon them by the fact that they happen to be in a national park.

It would appear from the report that what is regarded as objectionable is that a claim for compensation can be made only by way of an appeal to the Secretary of State. What is objectionable, in my opinion, is not only the form of application for compensation but the fact that the criteria laid down by Section 169 of the 1971 Act are not wide enough to cover the full cost of the requirements of the national parks committees.

I disagree with the part of the Sandford Committee Report dealing with this matter which says that compensation is needed only for farm buildings and not for dwellings. The passage in the report which rejects the argument put forward by the farming community that they have no choice over the siting of their dwellings seems to me to be somewhat cavalier. I cannot understand why that argument was rejected. I should have thought that there ought to be compensation for the task of making the dwellings, and not only the farm buildings, conform to the requirements of the national parks.

Another aspect of the report which does not really go far enough to deal with the problems relates to housing. This again may not apply to all national parks, but certainly in the North Yorkshire National Park, and particularly in the coastal villages in that national park, there is a real housing problem caused by the fact that people buying second homes have driven up the cost of housing to such an extent that the houses cannot be afforded by the local community. The effect of that can be disastrous in a coastal village. In a place like Runswick Bay or Robin Hood's Bay, in the old parts of the village, for much of the year only a handful of people live there. The effect on the maintenance of services, whether shops, pubs or schools, is extremely harmful.

All that the Sanford Committee says about that is that it does not think that the pressure there is different from pressure in the green belt, and it does not think that that is justification for allowing special housing to be built. The committee suggests that local authorities and district councils should use their powers to the full. I do not think that is enough. At least, I should like special assistance to be given to some of the housing associations that have sprung up in such areas in order to provide accommodation on a reasonable basis for local people who cannot afford the prices demanded and who may not be eligibe for council housing, however generously that is interpreted.

Housing associations are able to take a rather more liberal view and are less strictly required to follow rigid criteria than are the local authorities. In this respect, therefore, it should be possible for there to be special support so that people who have always lived in the area may continue to do so, in spite of the threat or pressure of the purchasers of second homes who may live 50, 60 or more miles away and who come there only in the summer.

I come now to the recommendations in respect of national heritage areas. I disagree strongly with the recommendations of the majority of the Sandford Committee on this matter, and I note that there is a strong dissenting group within the Committee itself. It seems to me that if one singled out parts of a national park and called them national heritage areas, one is, in effect, making the rest of the national park a second-class citizen, implying that if development is allowed there it will not matter all that much because what is of real value is looked after by the special provisions governing the national heritage area.

Either something is worthy of being in a national park or it is not. Quite apart from the disadvantage in devaluing or debasing the remainder of a national park, the further bureaucratic administration which would be required to decide what should be a national heritage area, and then to administer it, would, in my view, wholly outweigh any advantage given by the special protection afforded by such a designation.

For the most part, the planning authorities in the national parks are well alive to their responsibility to ensure adequate control, and I do not believe that any further benefit would accrue from the creation of special national heritage areas.

I have concentrated on the parts of the report with which I disagree or which I regard as not going far enough, and I should not like that to obscure the fact that I consider, and, I am sure, all who read it will consider, that the Sandford Report makes a number of wholly admirable recommendations which should be implemented as soon as possible. Many of them do not require legislation. Therefore, the excuse of lack of parliamentary time is not open to those concerned with the administration of these matters. On the agreed recommendations—agreed in the sense that they have not encountered a great measure of dissent either in our debate here or among those engaged in debate elsewhere—I look forward to early action. That is the best way of showing our gratitude to those who worked on and prepared this report.

3.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

First, echoing the remarks of the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), I pay tribute to the members of both the Sandford Committee and the Nugent Committee for the work which they have done in preparing their reports and recommendations on this matter of vital concern to the House and to the nation as a whole.

At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) set the scene somewhat graphically by pointing out that there is about one acre of land per person available in this country for all the multifarious uses to which the land can be put. Although they were separate and independent reports, the Nugent Report on defence lands and the Sandford Report on the national parks have combined well as the subject for one debate because they deal very much with the same thing. They relate, first, to some of the loveliest parts of the British Isles, and second, each in its own way, they reveal the problem created by competing claims on limited resources, whether they be the claims of the Department of Defence for defence training purposes, the claims of the public for right of access over national parks to enjoy their beauties, or the important claims, emphasised throughout our debate today, of those who live and work in these areas.

I stress to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), and others, that the Government are as concerned for those who live and work in national park areas as for the public who visit those areas. It must be so, otherwise the parks would be atrophied rural museums. Part of the beauty of a national park and its landscape arises from the changes that take place through the activities of the farmers, their stock and so on, the fact that people live there and that there are rural industries there. The people who live in these national parks have the right to be there, and the fact that people do live and work there makes the charm and beauty of national parks far greater than if they were isolated museum areas—a mistake which some foreign countries have made with their national parks.

The Sandford Report was published in April last year, and it was said at the time that we would want a longish period of consultation with all concerned—with the amenity interests, the Ramblers' Association, people living in the areas concerned, and the House—in order to obtain the views of this wide band of opinion on the report.

I am not today in a position to say that the Government approve the whole report or any particular sections of it. The debate is a continuation of the discussion and consultation on a subject which should not be hurried but should be very carefully considered in the interests of the public as a whole and, most particularly, of those who live in the national parks. We have had wide-ranging contributions in the debate, in which hon. Members from England, Scotland and Wales have spoken, putting the problems of their constituents vividly, and it is part of the continuing discussion which the Government will take fully into account in considering the Sandford recommendations.

Mr. Rossi

How long will this be a continuing operation? There must be a limit to the amount of time given. As the hon. Gentleman has said, we have had the report since April. There has been plenty of time for consultation. As I said earlier, at least half of the proposals are capable of immediate implementation. We would like to see some progress made.

Mr. Oakes

I agree that some are capable of immediate implementation, and the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to say that both sides of the House are in agreement with many of them. We are awaiting, and will receive next week, the report of Mr. George Dobry on development control, which is of vital significance for national park areas as well as for the rest of the country. We are still awaiting replies to some of the letters we have sent out in consultation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could expect legislation this Session, but if legislation does arise from the Sandford Report it may well be introduced in the next Session. But I do not want to rush the matter. I want the maximum consultation on any legislation which might be introduced.

We have also been discussing the much more controversial Nugent Report on defence land and the actions of the Government in accepting a proportion of that report. Again, the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that the decisions that I had taken were in many respects decisions that he would have taken himself, controversial though they were to many interests, particularly with regard to Lulworth Cove. I think that we have taken the right decision for that area, for the Castlemartin area of Wales, for the defence purposes of the country and for the public.

A great deal of the difficulty over defence land is not between the Ministry of Defence or the Army and the tenant farmers, as the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) so clearly pointed out when he paid tribute to the Ministry. The disagreement with land being held for defence purposes is very much over access. If maximum access can justiably be given to the public the feeling of irritation that the land is defence land is reduced to a minimum.

There are parts of defence land where, for the security of the individual, access cannot be allowed to the public because of unexploded missiles, and so on. But I accept, and the Ministry of Defence accepts—the case of Lulworth, in particular, proves this—that on many areas of defence lands there has perhaps been undue restriction of rights of entry for the public where, provided no harm were done, people could use that land on the limited occasions when they wanted to do so. At those times the Ministry tries to arrange that the land is open to the public. Many areas of land will be made available, as with Lulworth. Even at a time of economic stringency, the Ministry is spending a great deal of money to improve the position at Lulworth, including the rights of access.

I agree with the many hon. Members who have spoken about derelict Ministry of Defence land—army camps, airstrips and so on, many of which have existed since the war and which are now tatty and in a disgraceful state. It is a question not necessarily of disposal of the land but of demolition of the buildings or of using them for a purpose, instead of leaving them as they are now. The difficulty is often financial. I shall take the matter into account. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army will tell the Ministry of the concern expressed by the House, and often by members of the public to hon. Members, about derelict sites which have been left in a tatty condition, some of them from the last war and some from the 1914–18 war.

Talking of derelict sites and the military debris, I am reminded that it came to my attention only a few weeks ago that a conservation order had been put on a pillbox in one area as an historic structure from the 1939–45 war. There may be exceptional pillboxes which should be preserved, but conservation orders are not normally applicable to most of the buildings which have met past Ministry of Defence requirements but which have not been in use for many years.

The Ministry of Defence should not always be blamed. The land has often passed out of its ownership, and the new owner does not bother to do anything about the area.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The problem has arisen because of past Government failures. What we are urging, in particular, is that when defence installations come out of the Government's hands the buildings should be pulled down before the areas are handed over to the public, so that the Government do not pass on the responsibility to someone else.

Mr. Oakes

The hon. Gentleman is right. I am sure that due note is being taken of that point, particularly with regard to disposals under Nugent now taking place, and that when the land is disposed of care will be taken to see that the debris is not left on the land, where a future owner might well leave it for generations.

Many points have been raised by Members from both sides of the House on a wide range of topics. That is inevitable in a debate of this nature. I shall endeavour to deal with as many points as possible. If I were to deal with them all I would exceed my time. If I omit a specific matter that has been raised I can assure hon. Members that if they write to me, or to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army if the matter concerns the Ministry of Defence, they will receive a reply to the specific point.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and many other hon. Members have spoken of the need for farmers to be adequately compensated for the restrictions which are placed upon them if they live in a national park. That matter is mentioned in the Nugent Report and it is one which the Government must bear in mind. Representations have been made and it must be borne in mind that special burdens are borne because of the existence of a farmhouse or building in a national park. For example, I know that there is the requirement in some areas to build in stone as to do otherwise would be out of keeping with the landscape. It is, of course, very expensive to build in stone. The Government will consider matters of that sort that arise from the Sandford Report and from the debate and will consider what can be done.

Another matter that has exercised many hon. Members is that of roads going through the national parks. This is a difficult subject. We must bear in mind, first, the needs of the people in the national parks. Welsh Members have said that when we talk about dual carriageways we must remember that the people who live and work in the areas concerned use the roads as well as other people and that they need dual carriageways. There is the contrary view that the existence of such roads ruins the national parks. There is the third view that sometimes extra cost must be borne by taking a major road round a national park. In some instances that would be prohibitively expensive. We must balance the different pressures when deciding what should or should not be done in national park areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) asked me, in relation to Maplin, whether it would be justifiable to have another look at the Lulworth decision. As has already been said, we came to the conclusion that to move to Castlemartin was unacceptable. The Nugent Committee found Castlemartin to be the only suitable viable alternative to Lulworth. There is no question of moving to Shoeburyness. It was either Castlemartin or Lulworth. The people in Dorset took the view that the Army was part of their economy and that it should remain. The people in Pembrokeshire did not want any further military installations. We believe that we have satisfied both parties by leaving things as they were in the Lulworth area. Much of the sting of resentment at land being held by the Ministry of Defence centres around access. Much greater access is likely to be given.

The hon. Member for Hornsey raised an interesting proposition regarding the introduction of what he called blue belts of coastal areas where the Ministry has held the land. He asked whether this could form the nucleus of a blue belt, similar to a green belt for more inland areas. The difficulty is the release of the 16 miles of coastline. The recommendations are listed in page 66 of the Nugent Report. The only reason that they were not mentioned is that except in one case all the sites have now been released by the Ministry of Defence and are with the Property Services Agency for disposal. In those circumstances it is too early to say whether anything further can be done. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's interesting suggestion about blue belts in important coastal areas.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) has explained to me that he has a constituency engagement some distance away from the House. He has had to leave the debate early. He referred at some length to the Nugent Committee's reference to Tain. It is not for me to comment on the workings of the Nugent Committee. The hon. Gentleman's criticisms were echoed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). It was an independent committee, not a Government committee. However, we are conscious of the need for any committee of this nature to keep in close contact with the local authorities and interests in areas not only from which the Army may be going, but to which it may go.

On the hon. Gentleman's specific point on the removal of the Shoeburyness facilities to Tain, I cannot help him a great deal today. So much depends on the seaport at Maplin. The Government have rightly abandoned the airport project. That may mean that Shoeburyness can continue. However, there is the question of the seaport and the extra cost of the removal of Ministry of Defence facilities from Shoeburyness to Scotland. There is, in addition, the problem now, which becomes increasingly clear day by day, of the great pressures on land in that area because of the development of North Sea oil, and so on. All those pressures exist. I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but my hon. Friend, when opening the debate, drew special attention to the question of removal from Shoeburyness to Tain and the difficulties facing the Government before they can make any firm decision on the matter.

The hon. Member for Salisbury rightly expressed his appreciation of the way that the Ministry of Defence has been of great help in both large and small matters in his constituency, which is probably best known as the military area in the United Kingdom, if not in the world. I think that everyone knows of Salisbury Plain and its military associations.

I should tell the House that the Ministry of Defence has a conservation officer who is a not undistinguished ornithologist. The hon. Member for Salisbury referred to bringing back the bustards and increasing bird life in that area. The Ministry's conservation officer advises not only on wildlife in the area, but on ancient monuments, and so on. Therefore, the closest possible liaison is maintained between the Ministry of Defence and local interests in preserving amenities. It is obvious from what the hon. Gentleman said that this liaison is going very well indeed.

The hon. Member for Merioneth made a number of interesting points relating to Wales and whether there should be a separate commission for the Principality. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has had to leave. However, I should point out that this matter was raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) during the proceedings on the Countryside Bill 1968. A separate committee of the commission, for which the 1968 Act provided, was set up last year with an office in Newtown in Wales. Therefore, Wales is not as neglected as the hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of other interesting matters regarding local needs and the interests of employment locally. Snowdonia, as well as being a national park, is a development area. That may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but I suggest that it is not. Tourism can be an important industry within a particular area. I endorse the hon. Gentleman's view that, providing it is carefully handled, there is no reason why other foams of industry than the traditional industry should not provide employment in such an area without in any way hindering or damaging the amenities.

There must be careful and judicious balancing. We do not want to create the position where, as the hon. Member for Westmorland said, the members of a planning authority should have sleepless nights as a result of their endeavours, for example, relating to a caravan park. We must be careful to ensure that that kind of development does not take place. We do not want a rule of thumb blanket situation where any form of industry other than the one that is there at that time is not allowed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) raised, I thought a little critically, a matter on both the Nugent and Sandford Reports. I assure him that we wanted time for consultation on the Sandford Report, and this is part of that consultation. We never intended to take immediate action on the report as soon as it was published last April.

The Nugent Report suggested that 22,500 acres of land available for release should be disposed of. I can tell the House that about 12,000 acres—more than 50 per cent.—have already passed to the Property Services Agency for disposal. Of that, about 2,500 acres have been sold, and the balance will be released as soon as possible. Action is being taken on the Nugent Report, and disposals are taking place rather more rapidly than my hon. Friend suggested.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) asked me to comment on the statement that the Defence Department is not able to give up the land at Rainham to which he referred. I confirm that that is the case. If my hon. Friend refers to the White Paper that we published last August he will see that paragraph 14 made it clear that we were not able to decide on our future requirements at Purfleet. That is still the position, but I hope that the Defence Department can reassure my hon. Friend at the earliest possible moment because this is a matter on which he has expressed concern for some time.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) raised the somewhat vexed and contentious matter of Ministry of Defence houses which appeared to be empty year after year, even in areas of a housing shortage. The hon. Member for Pembroke also raised this matter. It seems unjust and wrong to suggest that there are difficulties, but the fact is that these were experienced as much by our predecessors as they are by us today.

The difficulty is that many of these houses are needed for emergency purposes should forces be brought home from abroad at a rapid rate for some reason, and this can happen from time to time. These houses are offered by the Ministry of Defence to meet local authority requirements, but the authorities are reluctant to take them because a condition of doing so is that should the Army require the houses to meet an emergency they have to be returned immediately. No council wants to put a family into a house and then find itself in the position of having to evict that family and find a council house for it, only to learn that it does not have one available.

Mr. Peter Mills

This matter does not arise in my constituency, but it concerns my area. In North Devon, the closure of Chivenor air station means that several hundred houses will become vacant. Is the Minister really saying that those houses will become sterilised for many years to come? People in North Devon were looking forward to them becoming available to meet an urgent housing need in the area.

Mr. Oakes

These houses may not be needed for the Royal Air Force, but they could be used for other purposes, for example, to house forces suddenly brought home from abroad. The hon. Gentleman knows that this matter is not within my Department, and I cannot speak about this specific example. It would be wrong of me to do so, but I know that my hon. Friend has taken note of the point.

Mr. Edwards

About 50 Service houses in my constituency have been empty for a decade. The local authority would not object very much if the Ministry of Defence said that the houses were not being released, because it could then plan its housing programme accordingly. What it objects to is that no decision has been made about these houses for a long time. If it were known that the houses would be required for Ministry of Defence purposes, the local authority would be very much happier. What we are asking for is a firm decision.

Mr. Oakes

That is a fair point. I have just spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, and that will be taken on board. At least a decision can be given to the council so that it knows where it is.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South suggested that some of these houses and lands be made available to BLESMA. There are difficulties. Similar ex-Service men's organisations are equally deserving and other charitable bodies might be able to use those houses.

The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) asked some important questions about finance. In 1975–76 the Government will be paying £2.3 million to the county councils with national parks responsibilities. This will allow some growth in expediture in real terms without requiring the local inhabitants to pay more than in the past. At a time of economic stringency, that is a real achievement.

Nevertheless, I must make it clear to the county councils, as I do constantly to local authorities, that expenditure over the next year or two must, in the interests of the national economy, be kept to inescapable commitments. That applies to national parks as much as to other aspects of local authority expenditure. The sum involved is not the £4 million that Lord Sandford suggested, but it is an improvement on the £1 million originally available under this head.

The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) mentioned the difficulties created for farmers in national parks by ill-informed and ignorant members of the public who, often unwittingly, do serious damage. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey that there is a great need for an education programme on what can and cannot be done in a national park. A typical example is a family leaving litter after a picnic which, if eaten by sheep or cattle, can have serious results. Apparently this is particularly true of orange and banana skins.

If a family takes a dog, it could harm sheep, without killing or injuring them, by terrorising them and, at lambing time, causing them to abort. Members of the public from the towns often do not realise that seemingly harmless little things can cost a considerable amount of money.

What probably causes more damage than anything else is the little ring-pull at the top of a beer can. This can be swallowed by animals. I emphasise to the House, in the hope that it gets across to the public, that anything like that left in the country may be eaten by an animal. People who would never knowingly cause pain can kill an animal by leaving such litter behind them.

Those who use the national parks should remember that people live there and make their livelihoods there, and that they will be welcome as visitors providing that they respect the area as any guest respects his host's home. That is all that the people in those areas ask.

The hon. Member for Pembroke mentioned the 12 airfields which the Secretary of State in his statement on the defence review said would have to be given up. It is not for me to deal with that matter, although I understand that it is too soon to say what action will be taken, since there will have to be a thorough weighing up of the consequences of the defence review, bearing in mind the consequences on employment in any given area and on the Government's regional policies, where some of the airfields may well be suitable for defence and other purposes. That is the position. I am afraid that I cannot give any authoritative reply about those airfields.

The hon. Member for Westmorland, in a very forceful and interesting speech, raised the question of the effect of the transfer and wealth taxes on forestry. I understand that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman about the effect of those taxes on forestry has already been made forcefully to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have no doubt they are receiving his consideration.

The hon. Gentleman said that the matter would be raised in the Finance Bill debate next week. I have no doubt he will use that opportunity to express to the Chancellor his doubts about this tax. In so far as those taxes may have an effect on the national parks and the scenery there, I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's remarks in mind, and my Department will look at the problem as it bears on the national parks.

The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) raised an interesting point—a matter of controversy within the national parks areas—of second homes and the effect on the inhabitants who are forced out of the market, particularly where the national park is near a motorway, which means that people can go to their beautiful country cottages, thus preventing local people from buying those cottages.

This Government have done their best. At least we have said that there shall be no mortgage tax concessions on second homes. In many country areas where there were such pressures the "For Sale" notices are going up very rapidly and the properties are available at much reduced prices. It is reasonable and fair that people's first homes should be subsidised. The concession should not be available for second homes, because local people in rural areas of Wales and elsewhere are deprived of the opportunity of buying their own homes. We took steps very quickly with regard to second homes.

Many detailed constituency points were raised in the debate. I have taken note of them, although it is not possible for me to answer them all now. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has taken note of those points concerned with defence policy.

This has been a most valuable debate, giving a broad consensus from so many different interests and parts of the country.

Although they often get into hot water, the national park authorities and the Countryside Commission do a tremendous job of work in preserving areas of beauty for present and future generations. The work of those bodies is often unsung. It is rare to hold a full debate in the House on their activities. As Minister I should not like this debate to conclude without paying a tribute on behalf of my Department and the House to the national park authorities for the great work that they do for the present and future generations of our citizens in ensuring that all that is best in the British countryside is preserved in a living way.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Report by Lord Nugent on Defence Lands and of the Report by Lord Sandford on National Park Policies Review.

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