HL Deb 08 April 1948 vol 154 cc1251-302

4.16 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR rose to call attention to the desirability of implementing at an early date the recommendations contained in the Reports of the Special Committees on National Parks, on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside, and on Conservation of Nature in England and Wales; to ask His Majesty's Government when it is intended to introduce legislation with this object in view; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name and to ask the question which accompanies it. It is just sixty years this year since the movement began for a greater degree of freedom of access to open spaces and wild country in these islands. Many attempts were made in Parliament before the war to secure this, and all of them were unavailing till a year before the outbreak of hostilities. Your Lordships, no doubt, will remember that the late Lord Bryce was one of the originators of this movement, and I think that honour should be paid not only to him but to all who have followed him in this matter and who have worked in greater or less degree to achieve what now seems to be almost, if not quite, within our reach.

I am reminded (and I am very glad to know) that amongst the many others who have worked in this field is the present leader of your Lordships' House. I think it was in 1930 that he took an interest in this matter. In that year the Government, possibly through him, in effect said to the people whom I may call the reformers in this matter: "Go away now and mobilise public opinion, and then come back and see what can be done about it." Well, partly owing to the war and to the change in people's views and ideas which the war caused, public opinion in this country has now been mobilised and has reached such a condition that some measure of legislation in this matter is demanded, and the Government have indicated on more than one occasion that it is their intention to introduce it.

As your Lordships will also be well aware, at the end of the war the Government appointed the National Parks Committee, to investigate and report on the whole of this subject. That Committee appointed two sub-committees, and a trinity of Reports were laid before Parliament getting on for a year ago and are now under consideration by the Government. The fact that those Reports are commonly called the Hobhouse Reports is, I think, a fitting tribute to the very great amount of work performed by the Committees' Chairman. The Reports were published last July. Shortly after that, the Minister of Town and Country Planning held a Press conference, and it is partly as the result of what was said by the right honourable gentleman at that conference that I am here this afternoon to move this Motion and ask this question.

I think it will do no harm if I say quite frankly that the words used by the Minister on that occasion caused, I hope unnecessarily, some despondency and apprehension in the minds of those who have been seeking the establishment of national parks and other concurrent reforms. The implication which seemed to be justified from the remarks made by the Minister was that there would be no legislation introduced except to form a body to manage national parks. In other words, there will be no national authority in the shape of a National Park Commission as conceived and recommended by the Hob-house Committees. It is principally on that topic that I wish to speak this afternoon.

I would like to emphasise that when the Report was published, the Committee had full knowledge of the Town and Country Planning Bill, which became an Act of Parliament in the same month. It would not therefore be justifiable to say that the Report would in any sense have been different had the Committee known what was in that Bill. The suggestion, however, seems to be—and again I hope I am wrong—that there is sufficient in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, to ensure that the areas in this country which are thought of as national parks can be properly established and protected as such without the appointment of a national organisation. Those outside Parliament who have taken an interest in this matter are disturbed by that suggestion. It is their considered opinion—and I entirely share it—that if there is to be no national (and the emphasis is on that word) organisation to administer the national parks, then the parks will not be national parks. They may be parks, but they will be local parks. Therefore, the paramount point I wish to make to-day is that a national body is essential and indispensable.

In my opinion that organisation must not be advisory or a mere body which encourages others to act. It must be a body which has the necessary statutory powers to act itself. It must have effective powers and must not be an ornamental body to advise others. In my submission, it must be a body responsible directly to the Minister which has the necessary authority to set up, manage, regulate and plan national parks. The recommendation of the Committee is that there should be such a national body composed of a chairman and eight other members, not drawn from any particular part of the country but people—both men and women no doubt—who have the necessary personal qualifications to administer national parks. It is almost needless to say that in the United States, which, together with Canada, may be regarded as the pioneer country in this matter, there is a Federal organisation, and has been for a very long period. I do not suppose anybody would contemplate the administration of national parks in the United States without such a Federal body.

Secondly, the Report recommends that there shall be a committee for each of the twelve national parks which are suggested. It recommends that half of the members of those park committees shall be recommended by the National Parks Commission —that is, nationally appointed—and half shall be appointed by the local authorities, with a chairman appointed nationally and so just tipping the scales in favour of the national interest. That seems to me to be, if anything, only just on the sale side; that is, just weighted sufficiently in favour of the national as opposed to the local interest. I am well aware that there are many who will say that the local interest should dominate, but, having thought over the matter carefully, I submit-most confidently that those national parks will never be a success unless they are administered on a national basis. There is nothing to preclude sympathy and understanding of local interests and problems. On the contrary, I anticipate that a large proportion of those who are nationally appointed will be local people, and therefore, in fact though perhaps not on paper, the local interests will be in the majority.

There appears to be a suggestion that the day-to-day management of the parks could be done by some kind of joint committee of local authorities. I am aware that here I am on controversial ground, but in my experience, joint boards have, on the whole, not been a success. I do not think for a moment that the necessary efficiency will be forthcoming if that idea is adopted. If there are to be no park committees, as recommended in the Report, there will have to be some kind of joint committee of local authorities. I would like to draw your Lordship' attention to the fact that in the area of two of the national parks proposed no fewer than five county or county borough councils are concerned, and in two others four are concerned. In only two out of the twelve national parks is only one authority concerned. Therefore, in the absence of some park committee appointed nationally, the joint local authorities committee will be the rule. I personally think that will be an unhappy state of affairs.

If ever there were a new venture which required expert knowledge and guidance, it is surely this. We want to make as few mistakes as possible. We want to take full benefit of the experience of other countries, because unhappily we are not foremost in this matter, and we follow others. I submit that only by means of appointing a national expert authority which will specialise in these matters can that result be achieved. If the parks are to be administered purely by the local interest, there is, as I see it, a great danger of that interest being allowed to suppress the best interests of the public. The Minister himself, in commenting on the Town and Country Planning Act, stated that it would be an advantage to have as planning authorities the county councils rather than the district councils, because, as he expressed it, they would be more remote from local prejudices and local hopes. I use that argument in stating that if there is a national authority, it will, in turn, be more remote than the county councils and less amenable to local prejudices.

I now wish to deal for a moment with the question of what authority should be responsible for the actual planning of the parks. The question is whether the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 shall operate throughout the parks—in which case, of course, the areas concerned will fall under the county councils—or whether, on the other hand, as is recommended by the Hobhouse Committee, the planning shall be done by the park committees. While I admit at once that in some counties, if it is done by the park committees, the work of the resultant county council committee will be reduced to negligible proportions, I would emphasise that it would be in the interests of efficiency if the recommendation of the Report were carried out—that is to say, that the planning of these park areas under the Act is done by the park committees, properly appointed. I would like to mention that, so far as I am aware, since the Report has been published there has been no objection to it by the county councils. I cannot be sure that I am right in that statement, but I can assure your Lordships that I have not heard of any objections by the county councils to this particular recommendation in the Report. I, therefore, express the hope that this recommendation will be adopted.

I think it is impossible to deny that there not only may be, but in some cases will be, a conflict between the national and the local interest; and to my mind the Report recommends the best way of resolving this conflict. Again, I submit, there should be some national body who in any dispute or conflict with any other Government Department can represent the interests of those who will use national parks. Only a week ago to-day I was present at an inquiry held by the Minister of Town and Country Planning into an application by the War Office to retain a certain area which forms the very heart of one of the proposed national park areas. Although the room was full of representatives of all kinds of organisations, there was nobody there charged with the responsibility of defending the interests of national parks—at least, nobody charged directly with that task. I do not say that the subject was not mentioned; of course it was. But there was nobody there on behalf of any Government Department or any national organisation to state the case for national parks. I felt at the time, and I still feel, that there ought to have been.

I am glad to see that there are many speakers this afternoon, and therefore I do not propose to detain your Lordships much longer. However, I must say a word about the urgency of this matter. It is possible for a limited time, when plans are submitted for development, to say that the plans shall be held up until the question of national parks has been determined. But it is not possible to go on saying that for more than a limited time. I speak from experience as a member of a planning committee who have had to say that, and who are going on saying it, even though they are well aware that there are limitations to the number of times that it can be said. When the building restrictions are lifted—if they ever are—the matter will become of acute urgency, because there will then be applications coming in to build in areas which it is proposed to set aside for national parks. It will be difficult to refuse such applications if the parks have not already been established. I submit, therefore, that there is a very cogent reason for the immediate establishment of national parks; in fact, it is almost true to say that it is now or never. I have in mind one particular area in this country which would have been a national park had it not been spoiled by too much building in the wrong place, in the wrong way and with the wrong materials. In other words, it is now too late in that particular area. There may be others. If something is not done in the next few years I fear that it may be too late to have any national parks at all.

I must say a word about the other two Reports which I have included in my Motion. The deplorable fact is that in this country, to-day and every day, footpaths and public highways are disappearing—physically vanishing. Your Lordships will probably all agree that that is so. The war has accentuated the movement in that direction. Footpaths are being ploughed up, and it may be quite right morally that they should. I submit, however, that if footpaths are to fade away, it is far better that this should happen legally, rather than illegally, as is now the case. This Report states that there should be ways and means not only of establishing new public footpaths, but of legally closing old ones. We do not want to have it both ways; we frankly admit that there may be a case for the cessation of a highway. But the present state of affairs, based as it is on the Act of 1835, is admitted by almost everybody to be unsatisfactory.

Then, again, with regard to access, as I stated before, in 1939 the Access to Mountains Act was actually passed into law after a long chapter of agitation in Parliament. But that Act has never been used—not once. What is the reason for that? A lot of people—although I was not one of them—said at the time that it would never be used, and that it was unworkable. It is certainly true that it has never been worked. I think the main reason for that is that everybody is waiting for another Act. They say: "Well, we could work this extremely inconvenient Act of Parliament, but let us wait. We hope very much that some further legislation is coming." That, I feel, is another reason why the urgency of this matter should be stressed. Nobody wants to be unreasonable. Everybody admits that there must be safeguards to protect all interests—agricultural, sporting and others. When all that has been considered, I submit that there is an overwhelming case for something to be done, and to be done without undue delay, to increase the freedom of access to the countryside of millions of people in this country.

If I may say so respectfully, I do not want in any way to embarrass His Majesty's Government in this matter. I am well aware that in answer to a question in another place (in fact, I think to several questions) it has been stated that these matters are under active consideration. But there are several questions of policy involved, and, although they are entirely of a non-Party nature they are not free from controversy. I think your Lordships will agree that on the whole it is better, rather than to wait until a Bill is published and then come here and say-that we do not agree with it, that we want it drastically altered, to come here now and say, with the utmost respect and humility, that we are trying to mould the policy of His Majesty's Government in the direction in which a large number of people in this country who claim to represent a large body of public opinion urgently feel that it should go. I beg to move for Papers.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved this Motion has long and close personal experience with the administrative questions involved, and he has expressed with admirable lucidity a case which I submit is well worthy of the sympathetic consideration of your Lordships. He undoubtedly represents a widespread opinon in the body of the nation. A letter was published in The Times a few weeks ago covering precisely the points that lave been stated to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. That letter was signed by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, the Chairman of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, by Lord Crawford, the Chairman of the National Trust and by Sir Norman Birkett, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on National Parks.

It was in July, 1947, that the Hob-house Report was published, and I am sure that all your Lordships will join in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, as to our gratitude to Sir Arthur Hobhouse for the invaluable work which he has done in this connection, and for the support given to him by his colleagues. That Report, when it was published, was received with almost universal approval by the public as represented by the Press, but it now seems possible—I hope not probable—that one of the most essential provisions of the recommendations of that Report is not to be carried out. That provision was that the initiative in the establishment of national parks should be in the hands of a permanent Commission appointed for that purpose, with, as its specific duty, not only the establishment but the superintendence of the working of the whole scheme; and that in each locality where there is a national park there should be a permanent Committee consisting partly of representatives of the local authorities—but only partly and not solely. Those local Committees should also contain direct representatives of the national interest appointed by the National Parks Commission.

Now the question which is at issue is whether that recommendation should be carried out or not. The contention of those who support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and of all the bodies interested in this matter who for many years have been promoting national parks, is that the participation of a central body in the local administration of these parks should be statutory and adequate. It should be an integral part of the whole edifice from the beginning, and not merely a supplemental decoration added subsequently. Now this question of how national interest is to be represented, how local interest is to be represented, and how the two shall be interleaved, has frequently arisen in the course of the growth of our national systems of government and administration.

For example, our highway system was originally a purely local matter. Each town and district made its roads and paid for them. Then it was found that they were too small, and the work was transferred to the counties and larger boroughs, who had to supply part, at all events, of the necessary finance. Afterwards, that also was found insufficient, and with the advent of the motor it was considered essential that there should be national highways and that a Ministry of Transport, which represented the interest of the country as a whole, should be established with its own funds, providing for the execution of its own duties. Similarly, the housing of the people was regarded as a matter purely for local authorities. Later, the central Government, by means of subsidies, influenced the action of the local authorities, and the central Government were given statutory powers to enforce upon local authorities the execution of certain duties which they might otherwise neglect. The same applies also in regard to education and also the Health Service.

There is always a danger in these matters of too much centralisation—that is true—of government from Whitehall overriding legitimate local sentiment. We have to be on our guard against that danger. But, on the other hand, it is the case that while the great majority of local authorities may be fully qualified to perform the duties imposed upon them, individual authorities here and there may neglect those duties and may not have a sufficiently high standard of qualification among their members to realise the importance of the major and more permanent considerations, such as those which inspire a movement like that for the establishment of national parks. Local opinion may not always be sufficiently enlightened. Industrial and financial interests are very strong, and they naturally exercise pressure upon the local authorities. National parks appeal to more spiritual and idealistic considerations, but these may be overridden by more financial considerations, locally pressed.

I remember that a few years ago, I happened to be at Windermere and was waiting on one of the landing stages for a boat. I got into conversation with a group of women who were evidently part of an excursion from one of the big Yorkshire towns. In the course of that conversation I said that I had not been to Windermere for a good many years, and I was surprised to find that it remained as it had been previously. I said that I expected to find it surrounded by hotels, boarding houses and tea rooms, but it was left almost unchanged. One woman said, "Oh, there has been some improvement, but not much." That is the spirit that I am afraid might influence a certain number of local authorities. We even find that a progressive local authority like the London County Council, who have taken so keen an interest in the re-planning of London, recently and under the great pressure to provide the public with housing accommodation, have been eating into the Green Belt which they had themselves approved, in order to find housing sites. Even during the war they endorsed a proposal of some local authorities to use the land around the edges of Hyde Park and other Royal parks for sites for so-called temporary houses, which might have lasted—as temporary houses often do—for a great many years. We had to debate that matter in this House, and that proposal was fortunately dropped.

National parks are necessary because our towns are overcrowded and spreading. As we all know, there is an invasion of the countryside everywhere by other interests that are alien to it. It is necessary to establish these islands of quiet and beauty and refreshment for the spiritual and physical benefit of the whole population. But the very nature of these reservations makes them especially attractive sites for hotels and boarding houses. Being large open spaces, with hitherto only a small density, they are ideal places for the War Office to establish tank training corps and other similar undertakings which are entirely alien from the spirit and purpose of national parks. The very quality of the land which is suited for national parks makes it all the more attractive to other people. An advertisement that I once saw said: For sale, five-roomed bungalow on unspoilt hilltop. In a country such as ours it is difficult to find places of sufficient area for national parks. Many noble Lords will have seen, as I have, in the course of our travels, some, of the national parks in Canada and the United States, or in East Africa. There the movement has been comparatively easy of accomplishment, because those areas were almost unpopulated: there was unspoilt, open, natural country which could easily, by an Act of Parliament, be reserved for ever in that state. Here it is not so; and our need is even greater than theirs. But the greater the need, the greater the difficulty and the greater the danger, because the very fact of the need renders it so hard to save these areas from subsequent invasion.

Here we may find a conflict between the national interest and a local interest, between what is really in the long run the superior interest and what may be immediately and on the spot a more powerful interest. We want these national and local interests to co-operate, and not to create bodies which will be merely two sides sitting opposite each other and always antagonistic. We hope they will come to ready agreement. But as the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has said, there must be cases of conflict; it is almost inevitable; there certainly have been hitherto. We urge that in such cases the Ministry of Town and Country Planning cannot adequately represent the national interest. There must be a body whose attention is devoted specifically to these matters, who are constantly watching them, who have the specialised knowledge and who are able to enlist experts in many fields whose co-operation is desirable. That is the purpose of the recommendation of the Hob-house Committee Report, and it is not covered by the Town and Country Planning Act. And that is the danger of the present situation, because the only authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act are the Ministry, on the one hand, and the local county planning authorities or joint local authorities on the other. This point was discussed on the Bill; I remember raising it myself when the Town and Country Planning Bill was in Committee. On the Report stage this particular point was put forward, and we urged that it should be taken into consideration and should be dealt with in the Bill. We were given assurances by the Government that although they did not wish to deal with it in the Bill in advance of special legislation for National parks, it would be borne in mind. Presumably it is still borne in mind, but what the mind will decide, and what the will will do, we do not know. That is the purpose of this debate to-day.

The Minister of Town and Country Planning held out certain prospects when he was speaking at Birmingham last month, at a meeting organised by the Ramblers' Association. He was then referring to footpaths, access to mountains preservation and national parks, and he said: In the case of these particular matters…pressure is unnecessary…. We are absolutely with you in the objectives which you have before you…I believe…you are within sight of the Promised Land Within sight…But we know that Moses, at all events, never entered the promised land. The case may be like that of the well-meaning Irish landowner who said to one of his friends: "If ever you come within ten miles of my place I hope you will stay there." It is not enough to be within sight of the Promised Land; we wish to enter it. I trust, therefore, that your Lordships' House, which so often represents public opinion—and not the least enlightened part of public opinion—will declare its views to-day with unanimity on this point. I trust, too—though I am not sure that that trust will be fulfilled—that we may receive from the Government assurances that will relieve anxieties which are widespread and well-founded.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had of addressing your Lordships, and therefore I crave your indulgence. I have been asked by the Devon County Council to speak on the subject of Dartmoor, and also to express certain views that they have with regard to the proposals for the administration of national parks. It might interest your Lordships to know what has been done in the past and what the County Council are now doing to help to plan Dartmoor and to preserve the amenities of the neighbourhood, both for the local inhabitants and also for our large tourist traffic.

The County Council, although possessing no statutory planning powers, have for a considerable time taken an active interest in the development and planning of Dartmoor. Before the war an arrangement was made with the joint planning committees that the County Council should prepare a development plan for Dartmoor. In the early part of 1946, soon after the publication of the Dower Report, the County Council were instrumental in bringing about an independent committee, which is known as the Dartmoor Advisory Joint Committee, of which I am a member. This Committee consists of three members of the county planning committee, three members of the joint planning committees concerned, and a representative from the Duchy of Cornwall. Ever since the appointment of that Committee, all applications for development in the proposed Dartmoor area have been submitted to them for their approval. They immediately gave their close attention to matters concerning the establishment of national parks, and the question of the boundaries was their first consideration.

The boundaries proposed in the Dower Report, which in fact embraced only the actual moorland, were, we considered, insufficient. We thought that the beauty of the approaches to the Moor were of equal importance. We therefore considered and suggested that the boundaries should be greatly increased. The County Council also conducted long negotiations between the Service Departments and the Minister of Town and Country Planning on the subject of the Service Departments' land requirements on Dartmoor. Thus, quite lately this matter has been settled satisfactorily to all parties concerned. In addition, we have recently prepared a comprehensive survey of all the ancient monuments and historic buildings on Dartmoor, and have furnished copies of the survey to the Service Departments and also to the Minister of Works. At the present moment, we are concerned with the problems of forestry versus agriculture. I refer to the encroachments that are continually being made by the Forestry Commission on the grazing rights of the hill farmers.

We welcome the whole conception of national parks as conceived in the Hob-house Report. We have done everything that we can do to help towards its successful fulfilment. However, we are very concerned over this question of the administration of the national parks. Here, I am afraid we differ slightly from the noble Lords who have just spoken. We are strongly opposed to the idea that the local park committee should be a statutory planning authority. We consider that in order to plan well it is essential to plan comprehensively. If this fundamental principle is accepted, it appears obvious that there should be one planning authority and one planning officer, who would be responsible for all planning. As I have said before, the boundaries we proposed were greatly in excess of what had previously been envisaged, and these boundaries have been accepted in the Hobhouse Report. The County Council, as the local planning authority for the county, would be seriously handicapped if, when they were preparing their comprehensive development plan for Dartmoor, this vast area of 392 square miles were taken out of their hands. This area has many connections within it that are of vital importance to the surrounding neighbourhood. To mention only one instance, the water catchments in the area supply about 500,000 people. We consider it most undesirable that the roads should be planned by a separate authority. The technical staff of the County Council are constantly in touch with the county surveyor on all highway matters, and if there were a separate authority, I do not think the same contact would be maintained.

With these considerations in view, the Devon County Council feel strongly, first, that provision should be made for the councils of the counties concerned to be able to appoint a member on the National Parks Commission who would be able to put forward their views and protect their interests. Secondly, they suggest that the local park committee should be a standing committee of the county council, with provision for representatives appointed by the National Parks Commission, possibly a representative from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and, in our particular case at Dartmoor, a representative from the Duchy of Cornwall. We suggest that this committee should appoint two sub-committees, one to deal with all management matters delegated to them by the National Parks Commission and the other to act in an advisory capacity to the County Council on all planning matters. The Devon County Council possess an excellent planning stall They have highly qualified technical experts on all matters to do with agriculture, architecture and highways, and we have recently appointed a highly competent director of planning. We feel that no body are in a better position to act in the capacity of a local planning authority. We feel, also, that if an independent authority were set up it would be a pure waste of public money. We are fully alive to all the requirements that are needed, and we consider that we are in the best position to deal with all local troubles and opposition, and with the innumerable problems which call for local knowledge and the local approach.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, in the first place I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, who has just spoken, on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure that we are all grateful to him for having put forward a point of view which is different from those of the noble Lords who have spoken before. Whether we agree with the noble Lord or not, we are grateful to him for having stated a precise case in point. However, having listened with some care to what he has said, I fail to see that his suggestions are really inconsistent with the recommendations contained in the Hob-house Report. Surely if a national body is created, his local bodies would automatically come into line as park committees, advisory committees and so on. They are bound to do so I cannot see how it can be otherwise. I think that the noble Lord's fears are a little unjustified and, although I personally am in favour of all that he said, I think it is inconsistent to say that it could not be worked under the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee.

The three Reports to which reference has been made in the Motion surely are not at variance with the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. I agree with previous speakers that: the body to be established should be a responsible and not an advisory body. I should like to know what is the Minister's objection to going ahead with the scheme and bringing in a Bill on the lines of the Hobhouse Committee Report. Is it that the Service Departments have been tiresome? Cannot they make up their minds how much of the national parks they cannot do without? What is the real reason? I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply to this Motion if he can give us some idea whether the Services are in any way to blame for the delay. I would be glad to hear that that was not the case.

LORD HENDERSON indicated dissent.


If it is not the case, then there is no reason why a Bill should not be brought in, because I think noble Lords on all sides of the House agree with the terms of these three Reports, subject to the question of local administration being settled.

At any rate, could we not start by setting up in skeleton form the National Parks Commission, which could, in the first place, be occupied with preparing the boundaries of the various national parks, so that gradually, as time and facilities developed more in our favour, the whole structure could be established and we could go ahead with it? There is general agreement that something should be done, and should be done soon, so as to preserve this national heri-tage which, as has been pointed out, is being daily encroached upon. All three Reports, generally speaking, presuppose that the degree of education and appreciation, both of biology and of natural beauty, born in many and easily cultivated by those who live in the country, may be by-passed by townsmen; and ore Report, in particular, emphasises the need for educating the townsman and those who like their day in the country by means of a simple country code. May I say that the views of the Special Committee in their Report on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside, where they emphasise the opportunity there is for school teachers and others to bring home to youngsters how to treat the country, cannot be over-emphasised. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I read that short paragraph. It states: Much of the ill-feeling which has existed in the past has been due to ignorance or thoughtless behaviour on the part of some townsmen. This we believe could be considerably reduced by persistent educational efforts. We accordingly recommend that a simple Country Code should be prepared and issued. Its object should be to evoke a better all-round standard of responsible behaviour in the countryside and to instil a greater appreciation of the ways and needs of rural life, and the inter-dependence of town and country. To this end religious bodies, school teachers, youth leaders and the open air organisations should be invited to co-operate in an educational campaign for which the widest publicity should be sought by means of leaflets and posters, and by co-operation with the press, the radio and the cinema. If our proposals are accepted, and pass into law, they will confer upon the public a precious gift of greater rights and privileges. I hope the Minister of Town and Country Planning (if he is the Minister responsible) will see his way to introduce at an early date legislation on the lines proposed in these three Reports in regard not only to national parks but also to the smaller and usually artificial parks. Some of our now derelict canals might well be brought into a comprehensive scheme for the benefit of those who are to come after us. I have great pleasure in supporting the noble Lord's Motion.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add my tribute of appreciation to those who have done so much to bring forward the ideals and far-reaching proposals for making National Parks, beginning with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and coming, in later times, to the late Mr. John Dower and Sir Arthur Hobhouse in England and Wales, and Sir Douglas Ramsay in Scotland. More particularly do we miss at this time, when such questions are under examination, the imaginative powers of the late Mr. John Dower and the wise counsels of the late Sir Lawrence Chubb.

It seems to me that the National Parks Committee's Report and the associated Reports have three main purposes in view, and I propose to devote my time to discussing the possibilities and the methods of attaining those purposes, rather than to talking about the central organisation which has occupied so much of your Lordships' time in the present discussion. The first of those three main purposes is to enable people to get more freely into the countryside and, in particular, into those wilder parts of the country which are to be designated as national parks. The second objective is to preserve the existing landscape in much of its present form of utilisation, and generally to improve the amenities of the park areas. The third objective is to conserve certain selected fauna and flora in their suitable places. I propose to offer some criticisms of the Reports, because I think it is by criticism that some step may best be taken towards getting a balanced view of the whole situation. I know it is so easy for others to lift such criticism out of its context and its intention, and therefore I wish to emphasise that my whole view of the subject is sympathetic. I would accordingly ask your Lordships' indulgence, if I may, to justify my claim to speak sympathetically.

It has been my good fortune to spend the greater part of my working life in the open air, part of it in this country, and to visit forests and national parks in many parts of the world. In the course of that work I have noted many differences between the proposition to establish national parks in this country and those in countries which I have visited—namely, America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. That is only to be expected when one considers the differences which obtain in the newer countries and in this old country. I could give you many details, but I do not propose to take up your time. Rather would I like straight away to say that, notwithstanding those differences which are really important and which, in my opinion, have made it so difficult to get a satisfactory definition of what a national park means in this country, I think it would be a very fine thing indeed if we could make it possible for young people in particular to get into the countryside freely and cheaply. I believe, further, that with education, such as one noble Lord who spoke earlier suggested, very little damage indeed need be done, either to agricultural spaces, to woodlands, or to moorlands. And I think, also, that the proposal to create nature reserves is strongly to be commended, not only because of its sentimental value but also because of its scientific and practical value.

These beliefs which I have just stated have been supported by the Forestry Commissioners, who alone have backed them by practical action during the time that these controversies have been continuing. The Commissioners, in fact, have made some six or seven national parks. I say "six or seven," not because I do not know which number it is but because one of them, the New Forest, although it is the prototype of these national forests, has never itself been called a national forest park. In these national forest parks we have made available to the public some 330,000 acres of land, a very considerable area in this small country. Not only have we thrown those acres into parks, but we have actively encouraged people, and especially movements like the Youth Hostels Association, to go there. We have given them facilities to enter and camp in and wander about the woods and over the moors, to fish in and to boat on the waters which are available.

In addition to that, a good deal of quiet conservation work has been done. May I say that so far as the conservation of fauna and flora is concerned, the quieter the work the better; so our work, though pretty extensive, has been quiet. The Commissioners deserve no special credit for this work. What they have done arose quite naturally out of a simple but important observation. That observation is this: in very extensive areas it is quite possible to combine in the same area three different functions, good soil utilisation (as expressed by timber and agriculture), amenity and public access. The Commissioners drew that observation from the New Forest. It was a theory to begin with, but I am glad to say that in a sense it has been completely confirmed by the experience of the war, because the Commissioners were able to take vast quantities of timber—some 450,000 tons—out of that forest without spoiling its amenities. A further advantage, of course, is that the total cost of these parks has been trifling. Indeed, I should think £10,000, all told, would cover both capital and maintenance to date.

The criticisms which I wish to make are threefold. They are criticisms of the National Parks Report for England and Wales and the associated reports which go with it. First of all, in my view, the Reports show insufficient appreciation of the national need to make better use of the soil of this country. Secondly, I think the canons of landscape beauty laid down in the Reports are far too rigid and too artificial. Thirdly, I believe that the powers sought for the central controlling body, the Commission, are too autocratic. May I now try to substantiate these points? First of all, as to the area which it is proposed to bring under the parks and associated organisations, I would point out that the Hobhouse Reports cover for national parks a total area of 3,600,000 acres which are to be obtained in three instalments. There are a further 6,300,000 acres which are to be thrown into conservation areas. That is a total area of nearly 10,000,000 acres in England and Wales, or some 27 per cent. of the whole area, in which management is bound to be restrained in some fashion or other. I admit that restraint will be markedly greater in national park areas and less in conservation areas. Nevertheless, it is a serious matter to take between one-quarter and one-third of England and Wales and say: "We are going to use it for a purpose in which one or two specific objects are to override everything else." Those Reports come at a time when it is almost daily becoming clearer to us that we have to make the utmost use of our soil for food and timber production. I must admit that the Forestry Commissioners have an interest, in this. Indeed, they already have extensive plantations within those areas which are designated, or are to be designated, as national parks. They have still much more land to plant in those areas, and if the minimum plans required for the timber production of this country are to be put into effect they will need a great deal more.

What sort of land is it that it is proposed to use for these national parks? Here I think I can speak with some authority, because for the last thirty-five years I have spent a great deal of time examining types of this land. I must have walked literally thousands of miles in doing so, and it was not mere ambling; it was detailed examination of the soil, and of matters of geology, vegetation, utilisation and the capacity of the soil to produce cither timber or food. So far as I am able to ascertain, and I think my views are borne out by botanists, a great deal of this land was at one time covered with woodlands—at least the lower and middle slopes and, of course, all the lower ground. But, in the course of time—a very long time—in the face of man's activities and the grazing of his animals, shrinkage of woodlands has gone on, until to-day you would find it difficult indeed to find, shall we say on Dartmoor or in the Lake District, a small patch of woodland which bears a close resemblance to what indigenous woodland must have been. I say "must have been" because, naturally, there is no one here now who can say what a natural woodland was a couple of thousand years ago.

As that woodland has receded, the bulk of the land has been subjected to grazing, and selective grazing at that, mainly by sheep, with a few cattle. Since there has been no cultivation, no manuring except by the natural droppings of the beasts, there has been distinct and progressive loss of fertility of the soil, which I believe to be reflected in increasing ills which overtake animals grazing on that land. At the same time there has been, over the last couple of centuries at least, a progressive decline of the populations. In the Highlands, for example, you will see ample signs of this in abandoned buildings, or even hamlets, on the hillsides. But the urgent part about that decline is that it is still continuing to-day. The decline of the population in the upland parts of Wales is a very serious thing. I do not know that the loss of soil fertility is the main—certainly it is not the only—cause. Under modern conditions people will no longer live in houses which are condemned and ought to be replaced by decent sanitary houses. They will no longer live in remote places where there are no roads, and where they are far from the amenities which everybody now expects. The result is that this depopulation goes on. And it will go on. Unless something is done about it, these Welsh hamlets and farms will fall derelict like the houses in the Highlands of Scotland about which I have spoken. To put that right—and it is something which ought to be put right—is not the job of a National Parks Commission. It is a national undertaking, to which the nation ought to address its attention. I make this statement, though I know it will meet with a good deal of objection: the landscape in many parts of the national park areas is a degraded landscape. It is something which does the country no credit. Moreover, the degradation has not yet finished. It is going on all the time. I, for one, do not profess to know just where it will end. In some places, in part of the Lake District, for example, it has ended in erosion, so that nothing is now left except the bare skeletons of the hills and screes which are falling away.

I would like now, if I may, to say something about a plant which receives a good deal of admiration in these Reports, but which, quite frankly, does not deserve it. I refer to the bracken. A great deal of attention has been given in recent years by agriculturists and others to the spread of bracken—and spread it has, over formerly cultivated lands and over a great deal of former woodland. However it got there, whether by spreading or because it belonged there naturally, it is a useless plant. I see that Mr. Dower, in the footnote on Page 22 of his Report on national parks (Cmd. No. 6628) admits that there are immense areas of bracken within the proposed national park areas, and goes on to say that he does not think more than about 30 per cent. of it could be reclaimed for agriculture. Therefore (he says), we need not worry, since there will still by 70 per cent. bracken area left. I say, however, that we need worry, because that 70 per cent. has been woodland and in our necessitous conditions of to-day should be put back again to woodland. I can best liken the bracken plant to the trappings and paint which cover a courtesan. They cover a sterility where nature never intended that sterility should be.

To come to another point of criticism: the National Parks Committee are bent on preserving the landscape, and make that one of their main purposes. I should like to examine that proposition more closely. In the first instance, what are we preserving? A landscape which we have caught at a certain instant in time, a landscape which is like nothing that has gone before and certainly is like nothing that will come afterwards. The man who stands on Hadrian's Wall and looks northwards towards the Border is deluding himself to the top of his bent if he thinks he is viewing the scene which met the eyes of a Roman legionary. It looked nothing like that in Roman days, and it will look nothing like what it is to-day 1,500 or 2,000 years hence. We cannot preserve the scenery. We cannot stabilise nature. Whether we like it or not, nature goes on. The Report itself does recognise that, but what the Committee do not tell us, and what they do not know, is how to maintain nature as she is to-day in the national park areas.

Roughly, there are two ways of maintaining the scene. Both are by cultivation: one by suitable arable cultivation, which fixes the soil and enables its fertility to be maintained; the other is by sylviculture, the growing of trees on land which cannot be ploughed. Even so, the scene changes imperceptibly from day to day. I therefore find myself in difficulties in following the national park Reports in that respect. I ask myself whether there is an alternative to preserving the landscape as it is to-day. I think there is, but it is necessary to have a new conception of what constitutes beauty. The artificial beauty which makes the degraded landscape of to-day, and the school which says I hat we must keep it for ever, are doomed to defeat in the long run. Taste is the motivating factor in these things and, whether one likes it or not, the taste of today will not be the taste of to-morrow. I believe that functional beauty, if it can be obtained, is the most suitable for that type of land; the soil should be properly utilised for the needs of the community. In this respect I find the approach of the Scottish Committee much more satisfying than that of the English Committee. The Scottish Committee clearly state that though areas are to be set aside as national parks, nevertheless they must be used. Communities must be established and plantations must be made. The land must be lived in.

I also find the report of the ecologists who have dealt with this subject much more to the point, and much more in accordance with my own ideas of what must be done. With the House's permission, I would like to read what they said in a report published in the Journal of Ecology in May, 1944. The claims of forestry-in the proper management of existing woodland and the establishment of extensive new forest areas may perhaps be regarded as coming only second to those of agriculture in national importance. They can be met (with all reasonable regard to nature conservation, sport and public amenity) if only wide vision and careful broad-scale planning are adopted. This is all-important in the development or conservation of such land as still remains in a wild or semi-wild state. They ask for wide vision. I would like to be associated with them in that remark, and would ask them to help us to enlarge our vision.

I could say a good deal about the formation of plantations in these national park areas, but I am trenching unduly, I fear, on your Lordships' time. What I would say is that I find a great change coming over people in their appreciation of the beauties of coniferous plantations. I have many opportunities of questioning people as I go about, and I find that the views expressed by the National Parks Committee are not at all representative of the people I meet. These massive plantations of conifers are going to develop into something very beautiful. Age alone will make a great change. There are other changes which will come about, all in the direction of irregularity—more hardwood species will be introduced and the age classes will be broken up, with the result that the prospect will be an ever-changing one. It seems to me that in this matter of plantations people are in far too much of a hurry. It is perfectly true that young things are seldom beautiful—not even babies, except in the eyes of their doting parents. Certainly I would not claim that a young coniferous plantation, or a young hardwood plantation, is beautiful. But nor would anyone claim that a young cathedral is beautiful. It begins as a hole in the ground; it is surrounded for sixty or seventy years by regimented scaffold poles, but at the end of a hundred years it emerges as something beautiful and wonderful. Cannot we be a little patient, too, with regard to our plantations? That is the way the beautiful woodlands of Britain, and of England in particular, were built up—not overnight, but by endless patience.

I have just one or two things to say with regard to the proposed administration of the parks. I think the Reports are too autocratic in their proposals regarding the parks. They seem to want to dragoon people rather than to lead them along. My experience in the administration of parks and similar large land areas, which is fairly considerable, is that it is much better to get people to go along with you than to push them ahead. An autocratic line is bound to result in difficulties everywhere—with local authorities, with county councils (of which we have already seen signs to-day) and with individuals. The Committee even suggest that the Forestry Commission should be "required" to do things. That strikes home. Apart from that, however, I think it only right to say that it introduces an entirely new constitutional point. How can one Government Commission "require" another to do something? It would be interesting to see what would happen if the War Office were empowered to require the Admiralty to dress their admirals in a certain coloured uniform, or to paint their ships a certain colour, all in the interest of the seascape!I think that the autocratic line has been rather overdone.

I trust I have not conveyed the impression that I am opposed to the principles underlying the provision of national parks and all that they can mean to the people of this country. I am not. My criticisms of the proposals of the Reports are designed to show the urgent need to arrest and reverse the evident decay which has set in on some of the areas proposed to be designated; to suggest a less rigid line as to what may or may not be done in them, and so to achieve a better working balance than is proposed between soil production, amenity and public enjoyment. Above all do I think that there must be most carefully ruled out anything which risks placing the dead hand on legitimate development.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England have worked for more than twenty years to see a system of national parks set up in our island. Three years ago, in April, 1945, Mr. John Dower published his most valuable Report entitled National Parks in England and Wales, and last year that other most valuable Report, which has already been mentioned, was produced under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse. I am very glad to see that Mr. Dower is one of the signatories to that Report. Canada has twenty-six national parks. Sir Arthur Hobhouse's Committee, after careful inquiry and consideration, have chosen twelve areas for parks. Other attractive sites came under review, but the Committee exercised wise restraint and finally settled on these twelve. There are, indeed, many other areas possessing outstanding landscape beauty, or of great scientific interest; for example, Bodmin Moor and strips of the coast line in Cornwall. It is not practicable to have all these as parks, but as a great national asset they deserve special protection. The Report enumerates fifty-two of these areas as conservation areas.

The Report of the Hobhouse Committee has actually been in the hands of the Minister of Town and Country Planning since April 1, 1947, and there is a widespread desire to have some effective action taken in the lifetime of the present Parliament. If there is to be effective action there must be legislation in addition to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Each of these twelve proposed national parks is not only of great concern to the locality in which it is situated, but also to the nation as a whole; and the strong recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee, which has already been stressed in this House this afternoon, is that there should be a National Parks Commission, consisting of a small number of expert members, on the analogy of the Forestry Commission. Surely, it would be a great advantage to have some central body of that kind. That body might very well—and no doubt would—be in close consultation with other Government Commissions, such as the Forestry Commission. I see no reason to suppose that that Commission will not pay attention to ecology, or will not attend to the degradation of land, or, indeed, will not heed the warnings which the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, has given us in such vigorous fashion. I am sure such a National Parks Commission would not unduly favour bracken, or conifers, for that matter. There is no doubt that a central body of authority would be able to take into consideration all the important points which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robinson.

As to the localities, each of the national parks would be administered by a composite committee, and on that local committee local interests would be strongly represented. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, need have no apprehensions on that point. The Central Commission would be represented on the committee, but the exact proportion might well be reconsidered. It is, surely, of the utmost importance that both sides should be represented on the local committee. I think that is the principle that we should stand for in the legislation for which we ask.

A point that has not been mentioned this afternoon is that of finance. I understand from the Report that the finance of the scheme is to be provided from the centre, and no doubt that fact will be noted and welcomed by the local authorities. As to this matter of finance, I cannot help feeling that, with the present most urgent need for national economy, the expenditure contemplated by the Hobhouse Report must, temporarily at all events, be drastically reduced. Indeed, the items for the removal of disfigurement and the purchase of land might be cut out altogether. But such reductions do not in the least mean that a National Parks Commission could not, and should not, be set up immediately. The cost of that would be comparatively small. Until such a central National Parks Commission is set up, not merely as an advisory and ineffective body but as a national authority set up by Act of Parliament, the encroachment by Government Departments in the national park areas will, I am afraid, continue. These areas should have a higher standard of amenity planning than ordinary areas, but until there is an effective national authority all sorts of things will be allowed in those regions: opencast coal working, hydro-electric schemes with dams, pylons, reservoirs, military training and so on.

The Requisitioned Land and War Works Act has made it possible to defer until 1951 the settlement of disputes. Dartmoor has already been mentioned. It is one of the twelve national park areas, and a settlement has been reached. I was very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, that it is on the whole regarded as satisfactory, and yet I doubt if we can feel quite satisfied by the augury it gives us for the establishment of a real national park in that area. The public are to be excluded from 29,000 acres of Dartmoor, and in the national park areas as a whole Service claims at present amount to some 160,000 acres. It is urgent that these national park areas, and the conservation areas as well, should receive adequate national protection without further delay.

As to those conservation areas—fifty-two in number, and of untold value to the nation—I will not trespass on the time of this House further than to say this. The rather different scheme of management proposed by the Hobhouse Report is yet another evidence of the great care with which that Commission has thought out the details with which it deals. The whole management of the conservation areas is to be lighter, and there is surely no reason why those areas should not be used almost as fully in the productive-side of agriculture as they would be if they were not conservation areas at all. The question of production, even in the park area themselves, is one which will no doubt be carefully considered by the National Parks Commission, if it is set up. That Commission will include experts such as ecologies and so on, and will be able to consult agriculturists and ecologists as is required. I think we may be confident that those points will not be forgotten by the National Parks Commission.

The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, mentions two other recent Reports. He himself referred in some detail to the Report on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside. That Report states as a fact that a very large number of rights of way are being lost through disuse. We may, therefore, expect the Government to introduce a Bill concerning footpaths and access. What some of us are afraid of is that that Bill may have some subsidiary provision attached to it, setting up an inadequate and merely advisory National Parks Commission. That would not do at all. What we want is a Bill embodying the main principle to which the Report refers—namely, that an effective, and not an enfeebled and merely advisory, National Commission be set up, to be leader and guide in the national planning of national parks, and that this National Parks Commission be given direct and adequate representation on each individual park committee.

The third Report to which the Motion refers, the Report of the Wild Life Conservation Committee, is in some respects the most interesting of the three. The seventy-three proposed national nature reserves occupy a total of less that 70,000 acres of land, which is less than two-thousandths of the land of England and Wales. Surely the claim for the protection of so small and so fascinating a surface of land, and for the formation of a biological service in connection with that land, is irresistible. If the main recommendations of the three Reports are carried out without damage or delay, we should all feel much happier as regards the security of the beauty remaining in our native land.

There is one further safeguard which is urgently needed and which is touched upon more than once in these Reports. The Report on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside sums it up in a phrase already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen. What is needed is a better all-round standard of responsible behaviour in the countryside. The Report suggests the preparation and publication of a simple country code with an educational campaign for which the widest publicity should be sought. By all means. As a matter of fact, a great deal of educational effort in this direction has been undertaken in the schools during recent years, and the results have been somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, the continual drip of the water of instruction will wear away the stone of ignorance, and we must persevere. I desire very warmly to support the Motion.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of paying my tribute to the very great merits of the Reports that we are considering this afternoon; that is to say, the Report of the National Parks Committee (England and Wales) and its two allied Reports. I would remind your Lordships, however, that there are yet two further Reports on this same subject. There is the Report on National Parks and the Conservation of Nature in Scotland, published in 1947, and the Report of the New Forest Committee, which was quite recently before your Lordships' House. In some respects, as your Lordships who have studied these three series of Reports will see, the recommendations by the eminent Chairmen and members are not in all respects similar in certain aspects of their Reports. Therefore, I would ask your Lordships, if you intend to press the Ministry of Town and Country Planning for more speed in introducing legislation, to remember that the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report are not in all respects confirmed by the Report affecting national parks in Scotland or that respecting the New Forest.

If I may, I should like to refer to the exact differences later. I think it is a pity that no better name has been found for these areas than national parks. National parks, as such, undoubtedly exist in the Dominions and in many foreign countries, but it will be a misnomer if we continue to think of the areas in this country as national parks. The national park in many countries abroad is largely an uninhabited tract, or a tract inhabited only by nomad tribes. Such a park cannot, of course, exist in this country. And there cannot be the same national control over these parks, owing to the simple fact, as all of your Lordships will realise, that the existing population and the existing user of the land are of primary importance in these areas. It is the agricultural production of these areas which is of such vital importance—and not only the existing production but the increase of production that these areas can yield. I need not refer to Sir George Stapleton's experiments in increasing grassland production in hill country and so on; nor to the production of timber, to which the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, who made such a thoughtful speech on this matter, referred. These are productive areas and they must remain productive areas. At the same time, I think all of your Lordships desire that these areas of such great beauty shall be made available to a greater extent to the population of the large industrial centres in this country. That, I am sure, is the background against which your Lordships would desire to examine this question. These two aspects are, to some extent, mutually destructive, because the introduction of large numbers of holidaymakers and visitors is not easy to fit into the existing agricultural and forestry background. But I think it can be done, and I am sure the opinion of your Lordships' House is that a proper attempt should be made to do it.

I would like to mention one point to which the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, referred, and that was the preservation of scenery."Preservation" is, I feel, a misnomer: you can protect scenery, but I think all of us will agree that you cannot preserve it permanently. A good deal of talk on this subject is misguided; it is directed towards what is called the preservation of woodlands. But trees have a limited lifetime, and it is no good an urban authority striving to preserve timber beyond its natural life. One knows of cases where preservation notices, and so on, are issued to preserve trees that are long past their maturity and are, in fact, a danger to any misguided person who should take shelter under them. These facts are not always fully realised by councils and others.

I would like now to mention one point on which I think a real difference of opinion exists among noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I think there is a mixing up of two quite different functions. There should, of course, be a National Parks Commission at the centre. But the two functions that I think have become mixed are those of planning and management. By management I mean the day-to-day work in a national park for increasing the facilities and amenities required by a holiday population. There are two sorts of holidaymakers: those passing rapidly through, usually on pedal bicycles; and those who come with their families actually to stay in the surrounding villages, and who walk, ride, climb mountains, go for boating expeditions and so on. The population which I find in one national park, Exmoor, pass through on their way to other areas of great beauty. For either type, those who pass through or those who reside, there arises the question of accommodation, the provision of camping facilities and so on, which would necessarily include the expenditure of public funds; and this should be in the hands of the local representatives of the Parks Commission. I think that is most desirable, especially if the National Parks Commission are to be endowed with funds from national sources. They will require local assistance and the knowledge of local people to carry out their work; but that is the sort of work they should do. That is the management side.

Now we come to the planning side. Who is to be responsible for the statutory duty of carrying out the provisions of the 1947 Planning Act? In this connection I think I cannot have understood the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, correctly, because my impression was that he said that the Minister, and therefore the Ministry, of Town Planning should not be the ultimate arbiter on the question of planning in national parks. Surely that would be an impossible position. The Minister responsible to the Crown must have the ultimate responsibility for the statutory planning, under the 1947 Act, of these areas. If that be so, then the general instructions and directions on planning questions must come from the National Parks Commission, through the Minister of Town and Country Planning, to whatever planning instrument may be set up. It is, I think, a submission of many counties who may have a national park included within their administrative area that the counties themselves should set up a special planning committee for the specific area of the park, with representatives on it of the National Parks Commission. The Scottish Report recommends that one-third of the members (which would appear to be a very reasonable number) should be appointed by the National Parks Commission, and that these special park planning committees should be set up by the statutory planning authorities for the administrative counties.

There are many advantages in such a system. It will ensure that the fringes of the park and the surrounding country are not spoiled. I think that this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, in his very interesting speech on what had already been done in the County of Devon, years before the National Parks Committee reported. The Devon County Council are well ahead and have taken active steps, so far as they are able, to see that the area of Dartmoor which lies within the county shall not be spoiled. I speak for my own county when I say that we think that such a system, which falls easily and logically into the planning system under the Act of 1947, is preferable to substituting a National Parks Commission which will be the statutory planning authority. This is no small problem when your Lordships realise that one-tenth of the land surface of England and Wales is included in these proposed national parks. I have not the figures for Scotland, but from the Scottish Report it is clear that a large proportion of Scotland will also fall within the area of national parks. Paragraph 25 of the Report of the Scottish National Parks Committee says: We have already expressed the view, however, that the planning of National Parks should be fitted with the least possible disturbance into the pattern of town and country planning, and we also recognise that local as well as national interests should be taken into account so far as this may be consistent with the ' national ' status of the Park. Then they go on with their recommendation that additional members to the extent of one-third of the full Committee should be nominated by the National Parks Commission.

I think I have said sufficient to show that on this particular issue opinions are divided, although I realise that there are other noble Lords who are going to speak. The Hobhouse Report offers one solution, the Scottish Report offers another, and the New Forest Report offers a third, similar to the Scottish Report, because the Baker Report (that is to say, the New Forest Report, on which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke with such knowledge the other day) recommends that the planning authority shall be the enlarged Rural District Council of the New Forest. I think that that idea was conceived before the Act of 1947. Under the new Act, such an area would be the concern of a special committee of the county council. With the rural district council was included the borough council which adjoins it.

I have only a few other remarks to make. I should like to say that the National Parks Commision and their co-opted members would be the appropriate body for management purposes, and that the county councils, through a special committee, should be the planning authorities, because then there would be one authority planning not only the parks but the surrounds of the parks, the communications to the parks, and all the other provisions that are required by the planning Acts. That is an economic method. All counties to-day employ highly paid and highly competent planning staffs. By duplicating the work, there will perhaps be two sets of competing officials, and your Lordships know that such a system is rarely successful. The very limits of the parks make the method I have suggested the more desirable one. It may be said that where two or even three counties meet great difficulties will be encountered. I do not think that those difficulties will necessarily arise. The planning authorities which were set up under the new Act to start on April 1, 1948, have had their birth postponed to July 1 of this year. I do not think that the noble Lord who moved this Motion, or any noble Lord, would condemn those new planning authorities as inefficient or lacking in energy before they are born. I would ask the noble Lord to wait until July 1 and reserve his criticisms till they have had an opportunity of functioning.

Finally, the process we would like to see is this. We would like to see the National Parks Commission communicating with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, who would make out a code of planning specifically for national parks, issuing such a code under some form of regulation, at the making of which they are so adept. Then the statutory planning authorities would appoint their special parks planning committee, in conjunction with the members of the National Parks Commission. We feel that such a system will work, and work well. I must apologise to your Lordships for detaining you so long.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships at any length, because many of the arguments that I was proposing to use have already been used with far greater force and effect by previous speakers. However, there are one or two points of importance which have not yet been sufficiently emphasised in this debate. When the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, introduced his Motion, he drew attention to the fact that the original home of national parks was the United States of America. I think that that is so. In fact, it may be said that the idea is an "invisible import" from the United States of America which so far has not cost us any dollars!

However, I think we should consider the material differences that exist between that country and our own, and, in particular, the question of population and suitable areas. I believe there are something like 44 people to the square mile in the United Stales of America, while there are something over 700 people to the square mile in England and Wales. That fact needs to be borne in mind all the time that we are considering national parks. It has a considerable bearing from the point of view of the utilisation that will be made of those national parks and the density of population who will invade the areas concerned. After all, the greater the number of people who go on a particular piece of land, the more damage they will do, and the more interference there will be with the ordinary life of those who live in those areas—and there are quite a lot of people who reside and earn their living in the areas concerned.

Keeping that at the back of one's mind, I would point out to your Lordships that the purposes of national parks have been defined in the Hobhouse Report by quoting from the Dower Report. I think it is as well, if your Lordships will bear with me, that I should read that, because the emphasis in the points made in the Dower Report is very relevant. This is what the Dower Report says: A national park should be an extensive area of beautiful and relatively wild country in which, for the nation's benefit and by appropriate national decision and action, (a) the characteristic landscape beauty is strictly preserved, (b) access and facilities for public open-air enjoyment are amply provided, (c) wild life and buildings and places of architectural and historical interest are suitably protected, while (d) established farming use is effectively maintained. Your Lordships will note that the maintenance of established farming use is placed last. You will notice, of course, that there is no reference to progress. I think I ought to draw attention at the same time to the fact that on page 15 of the Dower Report there is a paragraph headed "The two dominant purposes," and these are the first two that I have read to your Lordships.

Therefore it is quite clear to me that in the minds of both Mr. John Dower and of the members of the Hobhouse Committee the purpose of a national park is primarily for the convenience of the very numerous urban population of this country; they relegate into the background the proper utilisation of the land concerned. It is quite true that in those rather charming maps at the end of the Hobhouse Report the areas which are to be national parks are delineated in a green line, with large "splodges" of yellow on them, which indicate that the land so coloured is uncultivated. But that does not mean that that land is either uncultivatable or, for that matter, even if it is uncultivatable, is unproductive. It means merely that at the time when the map was made (which was some years ago) it was not being cultivated. My noble friend Lord Hylton has already drawn attention to the fact that in the future we may well be able to make better use of that land for production purposes than is being made now. My noble friend Lord Robinson drew attention to the same fact in regard to timber, that we can improve the use of much of this land for timber production.

It is just this point that one wishes to bear in mind—that is, are we to carry through with the policy, which I understand has agreement on all sides of the House, that the very best productive use must be made of the limited land that is at our disposal in this country; or are we once more to give way to the urban-minded people who desire to tramp all over the country and—unwittingly, usually—do their best to make it difficult for those who live in the country to carry out their duty in production? If we are to have a national park organisation set up, I think it must be made absolutely clear that no interference will be tolerated (especially in these days, with the present difficulties in the areas concerned) to improve production in the future.

I know that the Hobhouse Report provides that land which can be brought into production, and which would be part of the national park, and to which the public would have access, could be withdrawn, and not made available. It is quite easy to write that kind of thing, but once the public have had the right to walk over a piece of moorland it is extremely difficult to keep them off it when you subsequently wish to cultivate or re-seed it, or to carry more stock on it. They will break down your fences, there will be objections, and you will not have the fullest use of that land. One has only to look at the experiences of nearly every county war agriculture committee in bringing back into cultivation thousands of acres of common land which had gone absolutely derelict. I saw a common in Gloucestershire and I was talking to the wife of the local master of hounds. At that time they were planting potatoes on that common, and she said, "Thank goodness that horrible place has gone. I have spent many half days sitting on my horse outside this, waiting for my husband to get his fox away." That common was debushed at enormous expense and is now valuable land, and it produced a very good crop of potatoes. Therefore if we are to have a national park organisation, there must be those safeguards to enable the land to be put to proper productive use, and to enable the farmer or landlord to fulfil the obligations which were imposed upon him by Parliament in the Agriculture Act only last summer.

Quite apart from that, is it expedient at this moment to set up a national parks organisation? When you set it up there is bound to be some considerable disturbance in the areas concerned. There will be the physical disturbance of uneducated people trampling down fences, destroying crops and the like. More than one noble Lord has deprecated the fact that the public are not adequately educated in how to behave in the country, and it is an expensive business to teach people by their own mistakes. There will be mistakes which will react unfavourably on the farmer. There will also be the ordinary teething troubles of a new organisation, which must take some time to get into gear, which will react unfavourably on the activities of farmers and landowners and the like in the area concerned. There is also the question of expense. It is quite a considerable expense—an estimated £9, 000,000 of capital expenditure and a further estimated £750,000 per annum. My guess is that £750,000 per annum is considerably less than the amount that would be spent, and that is yet a third point against taking any action just at the moment. It is a fairly considerable organisation that is envisaged. Amongst other things, it includes twelve additional planning authorities. They do not displace a single planning authority set up under the Town and Country Planning Act; they will be additional. They will require expert office and technical staff, and they will want just that kind of expert man-power which is in desperately short supply to-day. So that cither they will be competing with others for the available people, or they will be using people who are not really suitable for the job. For those three reasons I think that it is genuinely inexpedient to consider setting up a National Parks Commission and a signating any land as a national park at this moment, whatever may be done in the future.

I have no fear that the position will deteriorate to the extent that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, seems to think. He says—and this is something one has often heard—that we must take action now. It frequently happens that an enthusiast wants what he is advocating to be done immediately and without hesitation. Arguments are put forward—and a good many have been adduced this afternoon—as to why it should be done now, and a very usual one is that the matter is urgent because the position will deteriorate rapidly. But we have passed into law the Town and Country Planning Act, and unless that Act is to fail in its purpose altogether, the position should not deteriorate. I do not say that necessarily it will improve, but it certainly should not deteriorate if that particular Act of Parliament means anything at all.

Moreover, we have already on the Statute Book the Access to Mountains Act. I knew quite a, lot about that Act, because I steered it through your Lordships' House and was largely instrumental in expanding its provisions from one-and-a-half pages to the thirteen pages there are now on the Statute Book. It has not been effective, as Lord Merthyr has said, but not, I think, for the reason which he gave. It received the Royal Assent only in the middle of July, 1939, and, if the noble Lord remembers, we have had a war since then. That war started soon after the passing of the Act and it was somewhat of a deterrent to activity under such a measure. Even though the war is now over, life has not been exactly peaceful for public authorities, and they have not felt inclined to indulge in luxuries such as dealing with the provisions of the Access to Mountains Act. But it is there on the Statute Book, and there seems to me to be no reason why use should not be made of it. I know that the Hobhouse Report quarrels with it in some respects. The Report rather suggests, for example, that the procedure may be too cumbersome. That may or may not be so, but I did not notice in the Hobhouse Report suggestions for procedure less cumbersome. If that Act were made use of, a measure of access would be obtained for the public which would be of considerable benefit to them.

There is also available, as is suggested in the Report, extended access to foot- paths. A lead has been given in this matter by one or two county authorities who have been active in defining and signposting the footpaths in their areas, and I suggest that that lead might well be followed in other parts of the country. Generally speaking, I think it could be done comparatively cheaply. I believe I am right in saying that the authorities in Essex have carried it out through one surveyor and two clerks in a period of about five years. I think that the county which is, as it were, a neighbour of my own area, is also doing something in this way. When I cross the county boundary which is also my boundary, I see a whole series of signs marking footpaths. If your Lordships look at a six-inch sheet of Ordnance Survey, you will sec footpaths marked all over the place. When all those footpaths have been agreed, defined and signposted, not only will it give to the public the feeling that they have a right to be on those paths, but it will give to the landowner and the farmer, when they find a trespasser on their land, a place where they can tell him to go—I mean somewhere other than the place which some noble Lords may be thinking is in my mind. I mean a place to which the intruder can properly be directed, and where he will learn that he can do no harm.

In that way the public will be given access to the countryside, in many cases at their own front doors, and it will be access to areas far more extensive than twelve national parks, even if you add the conservation areas to them. Those two suggestions, making use of the Access to Mountains Act, and getting foothpaths marked, agreed, defined and signposted, will, I am sure, prove of value if acted upon. They will prove a valuable first step and if, subsequently, we find it necessary to have enactments in order to set up a national parks organisation, then we must have them. I am convinced in my own mind, however, that, at this time, it would be extremely inexpedient to do so.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have brought with me some statistics relating to what has been done in regard to the South Downs, but in view of the time I do not now wish to refer to them except to say that I think they might have convinced the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that not all local authorities are inspired by sordid financial considerations, particulary as we spent over £70,000 in compensation for preservation. They might also, perhaps, have convinced the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, that although it may be true in Wales, it does not always follow that local and national interests are in conflict.

There is one point in connection with the South Downs to which I should refer, and it is a point which is not mentioned in any of these Reports. One of our major troubles has been devastation caused by tank and artillery training during the war. That is now being put right, laboriously but very efficiently, by the county agricultural executive committee, and I feel that it is a task which should not be impeded in any way whatever. Apart from that one question of the restoration of agriculture, I would say that the planning of the Downs, with, a view to their preservation and providing facilities for hikers and ramblers, seems to me to be one of the simplest operations that now confront us. That is because most of the work has already been done. For the same reason, so far as Sussex is concerned at any rate, I see no point whatever in taking control, or even half taking control, out of the hands of those who are, after all, the elected representatives of the people and putting it into the hands of another committee representing I do not quite know who, but composed, nevertheless, so far as the local management committee is concerned, of people who, apparently, are to be drawn very much from the same locality. Of course, they would be equipped with a different set of officials, and that would be very inconvenient, as my noble friend Lord Hylton has said.

Let us consider what the normal town planning procedure is under the 1947 Act, even supposing the local planning authorities do not do their job properly. The county council has to make a development plan. This has to be approved by the Minister, after most rigorous examination and a public local inquiry. Then it has to be administered, partly by the county council and partly by the district council under a somewhat complicated system of delegated powers. At any time, before, during or after the preparation of that plan, the Minister can use extremely wide powers of guiding and instructing the local planning authority and, if necessary, can take the area out of their control altogether. That is the system under which all forms of development will be controlled from July I, including all building, all industry and all mineral workings. I simply cannot see the sense of passing a revolutionary Act of that sort and giving those vast powers to the Minister, and then, before it has been tried out, saying: "It will not work so far as one particular class of people are concerned "—that is, ramblers and hikers—and asking that fresh legislation shall be introduced and new controlling bodies set up.

My noble friend Lord Merthyr said that the Hobhouse Committee reported with knowledge of what was in the 1947 Act, but I submit that no serious attempt has been made in any of the Hobhouse Reports to examine how far the recommendations can be met by that Act. I suggest that, if examination were made, very little fresh legislation would be found to be necessary in order to provide the public with open-air enjoyment of a kind which I understand the Committee advocated. Of course, there is a school of thought which believes in popularising our open spaces in quite a different way—by chains of entertainment centres, such as motor track racing, tea-houses, hotels and so forth. If that were the aim, I would agree that local planning authorities were not suitable people to determine the question. Certainly in my area they entirely disapprove and so, I understand, do the Hobhouse Committee. I cannot see why local planning authorities should not plan for ramblers, hikers and riders, just as much, as for any other class of land user.

Of course, they will need advice on this matter, as they do on many other matters which come before them. Planning covers such a wide range of subjects that nobody concerned is likely to suffer from over confidence in their all-round knowledge. In the last few weeks I myself have had to deal with the artistic shape of chalk pits, the siting of an aerodrome for flying taxis and a proposition for the establishment of a mink breeding farm. We have had quite an extensive correspondence with the Ministry of Agriculture on the subject of mink kittens. I cite these only as a example of the range of matters with which we have to deal. We certainly need advice about the habits of hikers and ramblers. And we shall need support in clearing the Downs from the traces of military occupation. We can be perfectly certain that all sorts of claims will be made on this and other national parks by the military, by statutory undertakings, and by housing authorities, as the noble Prelate has mentioned. Is it not exactly to deal with claims of this sort, which will no doubt be made on the highest national arguments, and to appraise them and try to decide between them, with the assistance of the Cabinet, that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have been set up? Is it really claimed that a National Parks Commission should have greater authority than a Government Department?

I would like to preserve land for building, and give the rambler and hiker a fair deal within it. I would even advocate doing something that I do not think anybody has yet suggested; that is, asking the Minister to introduce some provision in the regulations to give third parties better protection before the first development is approved than they now have. It has always seemed to me that the safeguards given to third parties at the time planning is approved are by-passed by interim consents given beforehand. I do not wish to set up an entirely new form of planning authority, expressly designed to advance one class of land user. Such a course would not only lead to quite unnecessary complication and expense but would be wrong in principle, and would set an undesirable precedent for the future. For these reasons I can support the noble Lord's Motion to only a limited degree.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, the reason I venture to intervene in this debate is that I happen to live in the centre of the Lake District, which your Lordships are well aware is down, according to the suggestions of the Hobhouse Report, as one of the earliest districts to be made a national park. I welcome the conception of national parks, and I welcome this debate. But I think it is clear from speeches which have been made that there is a good deal of misconception about what the implications of national parks in this country are likely to be. Before one can reasonably discuss national parks, one must be clear in one's own mind what is the definition of national park. I was going to read the definition in this Report, but as the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, has done it so recently I will refrain from doing so. Like him, however, I would draw particular attention to the last paragraph— (d) established farming use is effectively maintained. While I would substantially agree with the rest of the definition, I do not feel that that last paragraph goes far enough. It all depends on how one interprets the word "maintain," but in order to make it quite clear, I would like to see something like this: that established farming use is effectively maintained and given every opportunity of logical and progressive development in step with the agricultural industry throughout the rest of the country. Unless one is prepared to accept such additional words in the definition, I am afraid we shall be approaching the whole concept from an entirely wrong standpoint. I would like to say a little more about that later. Dealing with the earlier part of the definition, what it comes down to, in simple language, is something to ensure reasonable access to the countryside and to prevent wanton disfigurement by would-be developers for their own purposes, whether they be a Government Department or private individuals.

Turning to the question of access, I can speak only of the Lake District. Visitors have little to be concerned over as regards access to the wilder mountainous parts of the country. I believe that the relation existing now between visitors, on the one hand, and agriculturists, on the other, is a happy one; it is capable of improvement only if the visitors gain a better knowledge (as I have no doubt they desire to do) of what one may call the law of the countryside and the problems of the farmer. This further education, which has been referred to by so many noble Lords, Is of vital importance. It is the only way in which one can minimise the dangers which must inevitably exist of antagonism between the local inhabitants and visitors. In this connection, I find on page 20 of the National Parks Report a reference to the possibility of a warden service. I must say that when I first saw this I was a bit sceptical as to the chances of it doing much good. I am now informed that it has been tried in one district on a voluntary basis and is of value. I am prepared to accept that, so far as it goes; but to have it as a definite part of the organisation will not do much good unless it is on such a scale as would be beyond any reasonable cost one ought to incur these days. Even then, I am not sure that in some cases it might not be detrimental to the farmers' interests. So much for access.

I want to say something about the question of planning. It seems to me that the claim for centralised planning, so noticeable in certain activities these days, has smitten the members of this Committee rather badly. I have no doubt that there is more than one reason for this, but I believe that one of the main reasons is a suspicion that the local authorities cannot be trusted to do the right thing in regard to the planning of these national parks. If that is the reason why it is thought necessary to impose a large centralised organisation, then I think we are starting off on the wrong foot altogether. This sort of approach is calculated to cause local ill-feeling, and is quite unfair. I would like to ask those who have advanced this method what they can point to in order to substantiate what they say. It may well be that in districts to become national parks, where more than one county authority are involved, those county authorities may not in the past have co-operated as much as some would have liked. It may even be that there are cases where the local authorities have permitted development which to-day must be regretted. But can one really blame the local authorities for that? After all, until now there has never been a clear lead given by any Government as to the intentions with regard to national parks, and certainly no tangible assistance to, allow expenditure on aesthetic considerations, which may be desirable, to supersede utilitarian needs. I think it is entirely unfair to approach the matter in this way and, one might say, to attack the local authorities by making legislation which is going to continue, presumably, for all time.

If our national parks are really to preserve for the nation the atmosphere and way of life and beauty of the countryside, then I maintain that they can be run only by those who belong to that countryside, who live in it and who understand its problems. I am quite sure that if the Government will lay down clearly their intention that there shall be national parks, the local authorities may be relied upon entirely to run them to the best advantage, with the aid of such others as they may co-opt to help them and with such assistance as they can obtain.

It is on this point that I particularly disagree with the Hobhouse Report. I regret to have to say that, because in so many other ways it has been such a thorough piece of work and is so good. Comparison has already been made this afternoon between national parks as they would be in this country and those in other countries where one can take large areas of uninhabited and really virgin land. But our national park districts, whilst containing much that is wild and beautiful, are also the homes of thousands of men and women who gain their livelihood from them, and have done so for centuries past. I would go further and say—as, in fact, is mentioned somewhere in the Report—that not a little of the rural character in which we delight so much to-day is man-made, and is the result of interaction of environment, on the one hand, and local character, on the other.

There is another point that I would mention. Many of these districts have their own particular type of farming. In the Lake District, the district with which I am concerned, where hill-farming is supreme (a type of farming which recent legislation has shown to be of vital importance to the country), it is essential that the interests of the visitors must be subservient to the agricultural interests. To my mind, if this is not to be the approach to the problem we are discussing to-day, then I believe these parks will become like so many old mansions now being turned into museums. To use the words in this Report, they will become "sterilised as museum specimens" and, I would add in my own words, "liable to decay." May I take one example of the sort of thing I have in mind—the question of electricity supply? A good deal is said in the Report (paragraph 143 and onwards) about electricity distribution. I have met many people who deprecate the erection of pylons in the Lake District. They go so far as to say that if the cable cannot be buried it is better not to have any electricity there at all. It is curious that most of the people who put forward that point of view are either those who do not live in the district or, at any rate, are not affected. The Report certainly does not say that. It admits the importance of electricity supply in all national parks, as in other rural areas. But it does mention earlier that there may be the need for the laying of wires underground.

What I fear is that if the planning and management of these national parks is to be put into the hands of large centralised, bureaucratic organisations, if questions like these arise, and after a considerable amount of discussion it is found impractical to bury a cable, however desirable it may be, then, rather than put up pylons and incur the outcry of thousands of people from outside the district that they are spoiling the beauty of the landscape, they will defer indefinitely any action, and the farmers and agricultural community as a whole will get no electricity. They will be the losers every time. I have just taken the one question of electricity supply, but there are others. To my mind if the local inhabitants are to be deprived of what to-day are the normal amenities of life, not only will it become harder and harder to find successors to the farmers of to-day as they grow older and have to give up their work, but it will be harder—as, indeed, is the case to-day—to find the young men and women to help them on their farms.

The noble Lord, Lord Robinson, referred to the drift from these districts. That drift will continue at an accelerated rate, and the life of the countryside as we know it, and as we want it, will die out. I hope I shall not be misunderstood. I would certainly advocate the most careful control of unsightly development in these areas, but, for the reasons which I have tried to give, I distrust putting it into the hands of large, centralised organisations. I believe that it can be effectively handled only by those who live on the spot and understand the problems. It may well be that in the past local authorities have not been guiltless in these matters, but I believe that with suitable support they will undertake them to the best advantage. Reference has been made to a statement by the Minister, which I understand to be that he would prefer to invoke the powers already in existence under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, rather than embark upon some massive new legislation. I hope he will stick to that point of view, because I foresee that any further scheme, legislation and so forth, is bound, however carefully framed, to duplicate with existing authorities; it is bound to cause clashes of one kind or another and, by the ill-feeling engendered, will largely defeat its own end.

My suggestion, therefore, would be to use the planning organisation as laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and that where, as in the case of the Lake District, there is more than one county authority, there should be a joint planning board as set out in Clause 4 of that Act. I believe that further quite simple legislation would provide what is required. The sort of simple legislation that I have in mind is that the Minister should have power to nominate, not 50 per cent., but one or two nominees on to these planning boards, in view of the fact that there will probably be some financial grants from central sources. I think it should be obligatory upon the joint planning boards, and not optional, for them to be able to co-opt (where such are not already there) men who have firsthand knowledge of agriculture and forestry in the particular area. I would like to make it a little more certain that other Government Departments and statutory authorities cannot by-pass the planning committees as they are. I believe that such legislation could be quite simple and would be adequate.

Turning, therefore, to the central planning authority, I cannot see why—if my previous suggestions were accepted—more than a very small central authority, which I should liken to the Fine Arts Commission or something of that nature, is required. If I were asked what they would do, I would suggest that their first job would be to produce a code for national parks. It might be based on the Hobhouse Report. I would perhaps go so far as to suggest that if that code were drawn up on sufficiently broad lines it might even be given a measure of statutory authority. I feel that we want to go very carefully into this whole matter; there are so many difficulties. I am as keen as anyone that those who live in the towns shall be able to gain fresh air. The whole object of a national park is to provide somewhere where those who live in the towns, when they get their holidays, can come and enjoy the fresh air, get exercise and gain something of the peace and contentment of the countryside. But one other thing is also vital. When they come to these districts they must be welcome there. That is, to my mind, an overriding necessity. If, in an attempt to achieve all these attractive things, we virtually deny to the agricultural community the means of incentive and the prospect of modern amenities of life and of amenities as they may be to-morrow, then we shall virtually restrict the progressive prosperity of the countryside. We shall then succeed only in increasing bitterness and antagonism between on the one hand the agricultural community, and on the other hand the visitors, and we shall fail miserably in what we set out to do.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very interesting and helpful discussion, and we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, for initiating it. The noble Lord takes a keen and active personal interest in the matters which have been under discussion, and I think the debate has shown that on the broad aims of the Report there is general sympathy and support from noble Lords in all parts of the House. It will indeed have the valuable result of directing further the public interest in the three Reports to which reference has been made. The discussion has also made clear once again how keen is the interest of your Lordships' House in the preservation of our countryside and in providing increased facilities of access to areas of natural beauty and historic interest. We know that that interest is real and active throughout the nation. Indeed, one of the pleasing characteristics of our times is the increasing urge amongst the masses of the people to seek enjoyment and open air recreation amid the varied scenic beauty of our coastal, rural and moorland areas. There is, I think it will be agreed, a growing sense of appreciation, not only of our historical treasures and ancient monuments, but also of the natural beauties of our countryside and the wild life that it contains.

The Government, Parliament and the people are, therefore, greatly indebted-to the Committees who prepared these three Reports. They are important documents and they merit careful and sympathetic consideration, not only because of the authority of their authors but also because of the wide range of constructive recommendations which they contain. As noble Lords are well aware, the Government and my right honourable friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning have given a cordial welcome to these Reports, and I can assure your Lordships that they are in full sympathy with their general aims of national parks, freer access to the countryside and the conservation of wild life. But I must say frankly that there is considerable difficulty about one important proposal, and that is the constitutional arrangements contemplated by the National Parks Report. The setting up of a National Parks Commission with statutory powers was the point most stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and other noble Lords who have spoken in support of his Motion. As has been made clear in the discussion, all the matters covered by the Report are part and parcel of planning, and they cannot be considered in isolation from their effect on the general planning system of the country. This planning system, as we are all aware, is in a state of evolution.

The Town and Country Planning Act, which we all remember being passed through your Lordships' House last summer, set up new planning authorities throughout the country, and gave extended planning powers to them. That new system is due to come into operation on July 1, and should have the effect of securing a much higher standard of planning—especially in rural areas—than was previously possible. The adoption of the Hobhouse proposals for a National Parks Commission and local parks committees on which the county councils would, in effect, have only a minority representation—I think the noble Lord called it "tipping the scale" in favour of national interest—would obviously involve a substantial departure from this new system of planning control. The special régime contemplated would have planning functions extending over 10 per cent. of the total area of England and Wales. This would involve, as has been pointed out in the debate, a severe curtailment of the scope and responsibilities of many planning authorities.

It would mean in some county areas that as much as 31 per cent., 46 per cent., 50 per cent., and even 77 per cent. of their territory would be taken out of their jurisdiction as planning authorities. I suggest that, whatever the Government's disposition towards the recommendations may be, it is obvious that decisions cannot be lightly or hastily taken and that the most careful study of all the problems involved is necessary before legislation can be decided upon. I submit that the varied and at times conflicting views which have been expressed in the course of the debate to-day confirm the need for careful study. It has not been overlooked that most of the planning functions which it is suggested should be given to the proposed National Parks Commission and its local parks committees are already being discharged—whether adequately or not—by existing authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Robinson, who speaks with recognised authority and knowledge on the problem of forestry planning, has pointed to some of the possible adverse effects that the proposed statutory National Parks Commission and the local machinery might have on the work of the Forestry Commission. We have listened also to doubts, disagreements or reservations which have been expressed by several noble Lords whose interest in planning is well known in your Lordships' House, and who were very concerned about the impact the National Parks Commission, its local committees and the proposed statutory planning functions contemplated by the Report would have on the work and responsibilities of the existing planning authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Roborough, in, if I may say so, an admirable and well-informed maiden speech, indicated the opposition of the county council for his area, who are responsible for the Dartmoor National Park, to the setting up of a local parks committee; and he outlined the views of the Devon County Council regarding the exercise of planning powers by the local planning authority.

All these are matters which cannot be ignored. They are factors which the Minister must take into account in making up his mind. He has to consider the disadvantages as well as the advantages of the proposed scheme. I mention these matters, not in order to prejudge the issue, because, as I have stated, the Minister has yet to reach a decision, but to show that the questions to be decided before a firm decision can be reached as to the precise measures which are desirable to give reality to the general concept of national parks are, in some respects, difficult in principle as well as complex in detail. In fact, detailed work has to be done before even the outlines of legislation begin to crystallise.

It is therefore not possible at present to forecast either the date or the extent of future legislation on these matters. I can only repeat that the Government are reviewing all aspects of the matter and, indeed, the Minister of Town and Country Planning has on two recent public occasions—the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to one of them—expressed the hope that it may be possible to introduce legislation during the lifetime of the present Parliament dealing with matters covered by the Hobhouse Reports. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Minister will be greatly interested in the views which have been expressed in the debate and that he will give them full weight. I will certainly make it my business to bring the official report of our discussion to his personal attention. That is as far as I can go this afternoon. I regret I cannot be more definite at this stage. I fully realise that my reply will be disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, but I hope that he will nevertheless be prepared to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, the noble Lord has correctly anticipated my disappointment with his reply. At the same time I should like to express my thanks to him personally for the trouble he has taken in this matter and to say that I hope that the debate has not been altogether unfruitful. There is no time for me to traverse the arguments which have been put forward, and I wish only to say that I think some of them were slightly exaggerated. I do not think there is any justification for the fear that the National Parks Commission would be so autocratic as the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, seemed to feel.

On the subject of forestry, I should like to end the debate by saying this. I myself—and if I may, I would speak also as President of the Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales—have no fear at all of any serious conflict between forestry interests and national parks. On the contrary, I am the first to admire the work of the Forestry Commission in setting up national forest parks. I think it is a good piece of work and I am not one of those who desire that any land, whether in or out of a national park, should remain in perpetuity in the state in which we find it. Nothing gives me more pleasure in going round the country than to see land being used, even if it is in a changing way, for a really productive purpose. And nothing annoys and irritates me more than, to see land being wasted, even if it happens to be by the presence of beautiful bracken. May I make one more confession? I think that a plantation of spruce is a beautiful thing—nearly as beautiful as a hardwood plantation of beech or oak. With repeated gratitude to the noble Lord who has just spoken, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn

House adjourned at eighteen minutes past seven o'clock.