HL Deb 18 October 1949 vol 164 cc878-936

2.37 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill I am greatly encouraged in the knowledge that this measure does not lead to Party divisions. I have always felt that legislation which did not divide on purely Party political lines was easier to pilot through the House. I have also felt that perhaps the best legislation placed on the Statute Book has been legislation of that kind, where Party feelings were not aroused over much, where Party differences were not over-emphasised and where there was a great amount of common agreement. Only the other day I was discussing Party and non-Party legislation with one of those Liberal Conservatives with strong Socialist leanings—which definition, according to the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, could be applied to most Bishops, and which I sometimes think could be applied to others who are not Bishops—and we agreed that if it be the case that non-Party legislation has an easier passage, then I can look forward with confidence to your Lordships' granting a Second Reading to this Bill.

It is amazing at times how many years separate the original advocating of a change and the implementing of that change by legislation. That means that few pioneers have the good fortune to see the fruits of their labours: they oftentimes sow where others reap. But in this case there are a number still with us who were responsible many years ago for advocating the changes embodied in the Bill. There are a surprising number of Reports on the question of national parks and access to the countryside. It would take much time for each of your Lordships to read all of them, but, if I may say so, it would be time well spent, as they are very informative. Perhaps the most surprising feature is the degree to which they agree. They are separated by a number of years, and the personnel of the Committees were different, but it is amazing how little their Reports differ in substance. There are differences in the suggestions and recommendations made, but not many, and very few of them are of any substance.

It appears that the earlier Reports have been the basis for the later Reports, and those responsible for the later Reports were good enough to acknowledge their debt to those responsible for the earlier. I have been reading the Dower Report, in which the late John Dower (I need not tell your Lordships that few men had a greater knowledge or interest in this question than the late John Dower) makes reference to the Report of an earlier Committee, set up almost exactly twenty years ago. It will interest your Lordships to know that the Chairman of that Committee was my noble friend Lord Addison, the Leader of the House. The Dower Report uses this sentence in reference to the Addison Report: The Report remains a valuable assembly of facts and opinions, on which I have drawn freely and to which I acknowledge my debt. The Hobhouse Committee pay a similar compliment to the Dower Report. I copied out their words referring to it. They said: Its comprehensive exposition of the problems involved and its wise proposals for their solution have been the basis of our whole inquiry and have formed a sound foundation upon which we have built. As regards the Hobhouse Report itself, few Reports have been more appreciated in the country and by both Houses of Parliament. In fact, the test of this legislation seems to be to what extent it agrees or disagrees with the Hobhouse recommendations. Those who criticise the legislation suggested do so largely on the grounds that it does not carry out some of the many recommendations made by the Hobhouse Committee. Another interesting feature which will appeal to your Lordships is that we have with us to-day two members of your Lordships' House who took part in the preparatory work. They are my noble friend Lord Chorley—who the House will be pleased to know is likely to intervene in the debate later and deal with the points raised—and the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, who himself took a great part in the work of that Committee.

When we try to make percentage calculations to decide how much of a Report has been embodied in a Bill, I think we are in danger of being misled. It would be futile to tell your Lordships that 90 per cent. of the recommendations made by the Hobhouse Committee had been implemented in this Bill. Your Lordships would at once say: "Yes, but are you aware that the other 10 per cent. consists of major recommendations and, therefore, your percentage calculation is utterly useless?" I will not make any percentage calculation, except to say this: that much as many are disappointed, I think there is sufficient of the Hobhouse Report in the Bill to make it acceptable to your Lordships' House. I hope that during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House we shall be able to allay many of the anxieties which I know exist. I said that the Bill did not divide us on Party lines; that there would be no Party passions aroused and no Party feeling fostered; but I suspect that we may find a little personal feeling being shown here and there during the discussions, merely because, as I have already suggested, the Bill is on some points at variance with the Hobhouse Report.

Before I deal with the provisions of the Bill—not in great detail, but in general—I would refer to three questions which it seems to me would suggest themselves to any of us in reading the Bill. The first is: Why national parks? Then we ask ourselves: How national parks? And finally we ask that very important question: Exactly what do we mean by national parks? Now the word "park" has a clear and definite connotation to most of us. The park which I thought of at once was the park with which I was best acquainted—the park in Wigan. It may surprise some of your Lordships to learn that there is a park in Wigan, but there is, and it is a very attractive park. Let me also mention that there are other very attractive spots in and about Wigan. It was the park where I spent much of my boyhood. It is an area of ground covering several acres and is surrounded by railings. It is very neat; there are pleasant walks; a number of ornamental gardens, a pond and a bandstand. I need not tell your Lordships that such a park is not closely related to the national parks envisaged in this Bill. Nor are those other parks I saw overseas—those vast stretches of attractive country in the United States, Canada, or elsewhere. We have to rid ourselves of that conception of a park when dealing with this Bill.

I think the Hobhouse Committee were very wise when they decided that they would accept the definition of "national parks" given by the late John Dower. Perhaps your Lordships would like me to read that definition. It is: … an extensive area of beautiful and relatively wild country in which, for the nation's benefit and by appropriate national decision am 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 historic interest are suitably protected, while (d) established farming use is effectively maintained. That was the definition accepted by the Hobhouse Committee, and that is the definition which the Minister and Government had in mind when designing this Bill.

There is another question which will be raised in general discussion, but which I think it advisable to mention here and now: If this Bill is intended to make the countryside and certain areas known as designated areas more attractive, what power does it give to deal with the British Electricity Authority and other undertakings which may despoil that beauty and rob the park of one or more of its attractive features? I thought it desirable that that question should be brought out at once. Indeed, in dealing with it, I would like to emphasise that the Bill does not give much power to the Minister or to anyone else to deal with this problem. Let me put it bluntly: there is no guarantee in this Bill that such activities will not be carried on in the areas designated as national parks. Your Lordships know that from the point of view of area this is a very small country. It is a country very thickly populated, and it is deeply engaged in the struggle to survive. The parks may cover as much as 10 per cent. of our land—a much higher proportion of our still undeveloped land. No responsible Government of any Party, could possibly undertake that developments of the kind referred to would be completely prevented in whatever areas may come to be designated as parks.

What I can say on behalf of the Government is this: that the Government do undertake that every development of that kind will be considered by the appropriate planning authority from the point of view of the interests of the park; and that any development that is likely to injure the interests of the park will be pre- vented if—and it is a mighty "if"—it is feasible to do so without serious injury to economic or other equally vital interests. Let me emphasise here that the National Parks Commission set up under this Bill will be consulted on any important development of the kind before any decision is taken which would allow the development to proceed. As we all realise, the view of the Commission cannot be final—the final decision must be left to the Government—but the view of the Commission will carry very great weight, and the Bill provides that they are to submit a report on recommendations they have made, whether accepted or rejected by the Government. More I cannot say, but I would urge your Lordships to keep very much in mind that the economic and industrial development of the country is sometimes so essential that we cannot always guarantee that areas designated as national parks will not be interfered with by these activities.

Now I will try briefly (I realise that many of your Lordships are anxious to intervene in this debate) to give some idea of what is involved in the Bill. It may help if I take each Part separately. I have looked at Part I very carefully, so much so that I could almost recite it, but I do not think it is likely to give rise to any question, except that some of your Lordships may fear that Clause 3 gives power of direction to the Minister. During the Committee stage in another place, the Minister suggested that he had no special subjects in mind, and expressed the hope that it would be possible to proceed for a very long time without giving directions. Apart from that particular reference in Clause 3, however, I feel sure that the relationship between the Minister himself and the Commission, as set out in this Bill, will be acceptable to your Lordships. All the Bill says is that he will instruct or advise the Commission from time to time.

It also provides for an annual report by the Commission to be submitted to the Minister, and for the Minister to place a copy of it before both Houses of Parliament. This obligation to publish an annual report is not simply a formality. I know there are members of your Lordships' House who will seize upon this report and will consider every suggestion made by the Commission—especially those not accepted by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I think the very fact that the Commission are in a position to advise and, having advised, to report as to what happened to the advice, does in fact strengthen their position. I hope that noble Lords will not feel too concerned because the whole of the Hobhouse Committees' Report on this question was not accepted.

In Part II the general duties of the National Parks Commission are laid down. The Commission, subject to confirmation by the Minister, will carry the main responsibility for the designation of areas as parks. They will carry the main responsibility for the care and development of the parks. The Hobhouse Committee's recommendation that the National Parks Commission should be empowered to compensate farmers in special cases for damage by national parks visitors has not been accepted, for to do so would place farmers in national parks in a privileged position as compared with farmers in, say, the Home Counties. There is also the difficulty of proving who caused the damage. It should be remembered that one function of the Commission is to see that the public do not do damage.

I know that Part II of the Bill will appeal to many of your Lordships. Here I propose to read a summary of Clause 6 because in that clause your Lordships will find the general duties of the Commission outlined. A brief summary of Clause 6 would read as follows: The Commission will be responsible for designating the parks, for producing programmes for them and seeing those programmes through, and for seeing that both general and particular park authorities are doing their job properly. It will be necessary for them to keep under surveillance any development in the parks, whether by Government Departments or private individuals or bodies, and they will have to advise the Minister in the carrying out of any of his functions in relation to the parks. There we get the responsibilities of the National Parks Commission very clearly set out.

The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, must be kept very much in mind when considering this Bill. That Act came into operation only in July last and it was bound to be closely related to this Bill. Let us look briefly at what that Act does in relation to the work envisaged in this Bill. As your Lordships are well aware, under that Act, the local planning authorities are the county councils and the county borough councils. They have extensive powers to control development, to prevent building or other development in the wrong place and to insist upon its being carried out in the right place. The Minister also has extensive powers under the 1947 Act. There is appeal to him for permission if any development is refused. He can direct that any proposals for development or proposals of a certain class must be referred to him for decision. He must approve plans. He can contribute towards various types of expenditure on planning purposes by the local planning authorities. Thus already under the Act of 1947, a planning authority—or the Minister—can refuse to allow disfiguring development in one of the national park areas; or they can insist on any development that is allowed being of a very high quality. And they can do these things without, broadly speaking, incurring a liability to compensation.

So far as national parks are concerned, the Bill only adds to the powers in the Act of 1947. It increases the rate of exchequer grant available for certain purposes, provides new grants for other purposes, and insists that in the exercise of powers within the national parks the Minister must consult and be advised by the National Parks Commission. I have already mentioned compensation. All I would say now is that the Bill enables the Minister—this is a concession made in another place—to nominate one-third of the members to serve on every joint board, advisory committee or local authority with responsibility for the care and management of a park or part of a park.

As your Lordships are aware, the decision to use the local planning authorities and to limit the National Parks Commission to an advisory rôle has created almost endless controversy. This controversy nevertheless served a very useful purpose in another place. The Bill that was introduced in another place differed drastically from this one, because the Minister showed great willingness to accept Amendments; and in this regard he has strengthened the position of the Commission immensely. The summary of Clause 6 which I read out gives great powers to the Commission, though not the powers suggested by the Hobhouse Committee.

In my journeys I found that a number of people were complaining about the appointment of the so-called "national" element. They said that it ought to have been left to the Commission to appoint the national element—the one-third to which I have already referred. I can see no substance in the complaint, as the Minister is required to consult the Commission. That means that the Minister in practice will nominate people in agreement with the Commission. I cannot understand why that should not be acceptable. I should like to refer to a feature in Clause 8 which I know has caused a little concern—namely, the establishment of joint planning boards to administer a national park which lies in the area of more than one planning authority. This has given general satisfaction but I know there is some uneasiness in certain quarters. That uneasiness exists because Clause 8 enables the Minister to dispense with joint boards. But—and here again let me say advisedly that this is another very important "but"—he can do so only in exceptional circumstances. Those words were not put in to enable the Minister to do something unacceptable to the Commission.


"Special circumstances."


I am corrected: the word is "special" and not "exceptional." The word "special" as used in the Bill is not intended to enable the Minister to do something disapproved of by the National Commission. It is there for the purpose of being "special," and the Minister would exercise such powers only on the representation of any of the authorities involved, and after consultation with the Commission. I think that is sufficient for Part II of the Bill.

I do not think I need dwell at any great length on Part III of the Bill. I can think of no assembly in the whole world which is more likely to be interested in or to support more readily the establishing and maintaining and managing of nature reserves in Great Britain than your Lordships' House. As your Lordships will remember, a body known as the Nature Conservancy was set up some months ago by Royal Charter. This body works under the authority of the Privy Council, with the Lord President largely responsible. The objects of the Nature Conservancy are to provide scientific advice on the conservation and control of the natural flora and fauna of Great Britain; to establish, maintain and manage nature reserves in Great Britain, including maintenance of physical features of scientific interest; and to organise and develop the research and scientific services related thereto. I know that those three purposes will be wholeheartedly approved by your Lordships. All that the Bill does, and all that it needs to do, is to enable the Conservancy to provide nature reserves, and this they can do in one of two ways: either by making agreements with owners that they will manage the land as a reserve, or by acquiring lands themselves, compulsorily if need be, and managing it as a reserve themselves. The Bill also empowers local authorities to set up local nature reserves.

Part IV of the Bill is the part which I think your Lordships will examine with the utmost scrutiny. This Part deals with public rights of way, and requires every county council in England and Wales to survey all rights within their areas, and within three years to show these rights of way on a map, though the map referred to here may not be the final map. Provision is also made for new rights of way, and for compensation to be payable where the value of an interest in land is depreciated by an order creating a right of way. This Part also provides a simple but very necessary procedure for diverting an existing public path or for closing one which is no longer needed. Both diversions and closures must be confirmed by the Minister. The need for such a provision was long overdue. How often I have felt the need for a provision of this kind when walking along a path (for I am very fond of walking in the country, ten or twelve miles a day) which often cut a field in half, sometimes going diagonally, thereby creating unnecessary difficulty for the farmer in his effort to secure the maximum production from the land and at the same time to preserve the path. A path is not intended as a short cut to somewhere a path is intended as a means for a man from the town or country enjoying the country, and not as a short cut.



Placing the liability for the maintenance of footpaths on the highway authorities and thus removing any doubt is, I feel sure, a proposal which will meet with the full approval of your Lordships.

Here I must mention a feature of the Bill which will appeal to some of your Lordships. Probably your Lordships are fond of long walks in the country, as I am. Sometimes those walks have been interrupted because we have not had a scheme for long-distance paths. This Bill provides, for example, for the linking up of the Pennine Way, which will be a godsend to some people; for long-distance paths round the coast, and for the completion of sections of the Pilgrims' Way. If the Minister approves the Commission's proposals, the local authorities responsible for the creation of new paths are required to carry out the schemes, although the whole cost will not be on the local authorities but will be reimbursed to them by the Exchequer.

Part V of the Bill, I think for the first time, makes it possible for the public to walk on private land without being trespassers. The Access to Mountains Act of 1939 did give this right on mountains, but that Act was never put into effect. Local authorities are empowered under this Bill to make orders that land should be open to the public, and can also make orders confining that right to certain times of the year. In this case, compensation is payable for any depreciation in the value of the land due to an access order. This compensation is not to be assessed until five years after the order is made, so that some experience can be gained of the actual effect, though interim payments can be made if there seems to be a case on the grounds of hardship. As I suggested earlier, I can quite understand how the thought of the crowds from the towns descending on the countryside may well cause great concern and uneasiness to many of your Lordships. Past experience is not too reassuring. The visit of the town dweller has not always been clear of unpleasant incidents. Uncontrolled dogs, broken glass and thoughtless conduct have resulted in heavy losses.

The attitude of the farmer or farm bailiff to an occasional trespasser, however, is much better and much wiser than it was in my boyhood days. Many a time in those days I would wander into a field to pick blackberries or indulge in some such innocent pastime, but before long I had to take to my heels at top speed, pursued by an irate farmer or farm bailiff, and were it not for the fact that the pace of the pursued was faster than the pace of the farmer or farm bailiff, I would have been caught many times. On the other hand, on one occasion I was in North Wales, in the area known as Snowdonia. I was talking with a farmer and he and I were surveying his land from a hillock. We saw a number of men stop a car, get out and go and pick some mushrooms. I was amazed at the farmer's broadmindedness. I said, "Those fellows are trespassing on your land," but he replied, "Yes, but mushrooms are a rarity. You can hardly object to them picking a few." That was not the attitude of the farmer in my boyhood days. Things have improved since then, even among the farmers.

Conduct prejudicial to the countryside is dealt with in a manner that should safeguard the amenities and, what is equally important and no less necessary, should help to educate the town dweller—a most necessary thing, I admit—in a manner that will add to his knowledge without lessening his enjoyment of the countryside. This aspect of securing greater access to the open country without increasing the dangers to amenities is well looked after in Clause 61. I need not go into that clause now. Authority is also given for the making of bylaws to secure good behaviour, and also to appoint wardens to assist in securing a decent standard of conduct. I was surprised to see some references made throwing doubt upon the value of these wardens. I should have thought that they would be most necessary and would help in achieving something that has always been wanting in the safeguarding of the amenities of the countryside. There has been a continuous clamour from certain quarters that access to all uncultivated land should be given as a matter of right, with only a few exceptions. The Bill does not go so far but, in an attempt to meet this demand in another place, it now provides that planning authorities must survey all their uncultivated land before deciding how much action they ought to take. In the Bill the public are given the opportunity of criticising their action if it is considered inadequate.

As to the financial arrangements contained in the Bill, it will be remembered by your Lordships that the Hobhouse Committee recommended that the whole of the cost of administration by the National Parks Commission should be borne by the Exchequer. This the Minister was unable to accept—and I shall be surprised if your Lordships press for more than is provided in the Bill. He went as far as he could to meet the point. It has been suggested, that although the grants reach up to 75 per cent., and in some cases 100 per cent., they are not big enough to induce authorities to do everything that should be done in the parks. It may be that I ought to remind your Lordships that the poorer county councils—and there are some to which I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, will refer—already receive assistance from the Exchequer under the Exchequer equalisation grants which are given to all needy authorities by the Minister of Health. The result is that in some cases an authority will receive over 90 per cent. towards its expenditure on national parks. So the financial provisions can hardly be termed ungenerous, especially to-day. It may be that at the end of March, when this Bill was in another place, it would have been possible to improve on those provisions. Having regard to the present position, however, I do not think any of your Lordships will ask for more than the Bill provides.

On the whole, this Bill has been well received throughout the country, though like most, if not all, Bills it has failed to give complete satisfaction. But even its most outspoken critics—and there are a good number—agree that it is a substantial step in the right direction. If, as I think it will, it enables thousands of our fellow countrymen to discover for the first time what peace and quiet and the beauty of the countryside can do for the human race; if, as I think it will, it helps to create a healthy mental outlook, to develop that steadiness and stability so greatly needed in the world to-day, then it will be fully justified. I sometimes think that whilst mechanisation in industry has made possible greater leisure for the masses, mechanisation has also created for the worker, if he is to develop fully, and for his family, a greater need of days and weeks far removed from mechanised industry. This Bill is designed to help in that direction, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor.)

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord for the charming manner in which he has presented this Bill to us. I do not know that he has told us a great deal about the Bill, but what he has done has been done extremely pleasantly. From my side of the House I should like to say straight away that there is virtually universal acceptance of the objectives of the Bill before us to-day. How could there be anything else! The objectives are the preservation of the countryside, the prevention of spoliation, the opening up of greater access to the enjoyment of the countryside. When one thinks of that great body of 150,000 or 200,000 young ramblers organised throughout the country who to-day are finding immense enjoyment, and who in future may get more, I think we must all be pleased. Looking at it from the point of agriculture, one must feel that anything which builds up a greater feeling of understanding and friendliness between town and country is all to the good.

As the noble Lord rightly said, this is certainly not a political Bill. It owes its immediate inception to Mr. "Shakespeare" Morrison in appointing the Dower and Hobhouse Committees. Sir Arthur Hobhouse was a great Liberal, I think, and therefore we owe that debt to the Liberals. And now the Labour Government are introducing the Bill. I am very glad the noble Lord reminded us of what we owe to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and I may claim a little responsibility for that appointment. I was Under-Secretary in that Department at the time, and on the dual grounds that it would keep the noble Viscount from criticising and that he would do the job extremely well, we decided to make the appointment. If, therefore, some of us are a little critical of some parts of the Bill I hope that noble Lords, especially those opposite, will realise that it is from an anxiety to see its success and to make it as effective as possible.

Before dealing with the Bill itself perhaps I may be allowed to deal with what seem to me to be two major misconceptions in the minds of many people. The first is that there is any sense of bad feeling that has to be dealt with as between the land owner and the farmer, on the one hand, and the organised rambler on the other. Speaking from personal experience—and I have taken some trouble in making inquiries from others about this matter—I have never heard any complaint from any farmer of damage being caused by these young organised ramblers. We have heard a great deal of legitimate complaint about the irresponsible action of those who wander on to land leaving gates open, breaking down fences and having with them uncontrolled dogs, and so on—a problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald has referred. But with regard to the organised ramblers there are not the same criticisms. In certain areas we have heard even of what I am afraid I must describe as active hooliganism; but there again, it is clear that the rambler, if he got hold of the hooligans, would want to deal with them just as severely as would the farmer. The second misconception, which I think is not quite so common as it used to be, is that the problem is one of dealing with the private land owner. He is not the problem.

As to 90 per cent. or more the problem is rather that of controlling the activities of Government Departments. Without having the figures before me, I would be prepared to contend that 95 per cent. of the obstruction of the countryside that has taken place during the last ten, or even twenty, years has been at the hands of Government Departments. It is not the private land owner who takes hundreds of thousands of acres for the services; it is not the private land owner who is responsible for what is going on in Wales at the moment, or what is intended to happen in Snowdonia. It is the Government Departments that are responsible for tearing up great areas of soil in the search for opencast coal; it is public bodies that are responsible for threatening to take roads through "the Backs" at Cambridge, and for extending the gasworks in one of the viewpoints at Oxford. I do not want to be taken as saying that all these practical developments which have to be made in the countryside are necessarily wrong. Indeed, we have to be very careful to keep our eyes on the interests of the countryman, who lives in the country for twelve months of the year, as well as on the interests of the townsman who visits it for perhaps only two or three weeks in the course of the year.

To refer to one development which has aroused frequent complaint in the past, there is the erection of electric pylons. A great many protests have been made about this subject, and I remember myself making one such protest in my younger days. But when we realise that to put the electric cables under ground costs two and a half times as much as carrying them on pylons, that someone has to pay for them, and that at the present moment the extra expense must fall on the farmer or other consumer to whom the electricity is carried, then it is plain that we have to be prepared to take a balanced view of problems of this kind. At the moment, however, I am simply making the assertion that these troubles which have afflicted the countryside are due, not to the private land owner but mainly to Government Departments or statutory boards, set up by Government Departments. It is important to be clear as to what is the problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has dealt with Part I and Part II of the Bill, which are concerned mainly with the powers, duties and constitution of the National Parks Commission. There has been a great deal of discussion on these matters, and there are many points concerning the constitution of this body which may well have to be dealt with later, when the Committee stage is reached. The question will have to be considered as to whether the Minister has arrived at the right balance as between national and local interests. It seems to me that this is an extremely important question, but not, perhaps, the question with which we need concern ourselves particularly on the Second Reading of this Bill. First and foremost, I want to know—and I am afraid that the answer is only too clear—whether this National Parks Commission is to be a Commission in the full sense of the term, or is it to be simply an advisory committee to the Minister?

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, spoke for several minutes on that subject, but what he said failed to convince me, and I imagine that it failed to convince a great many other members of the House, that this body really is a Commission at all. One would like to know why we cannot have a body that have the status and the statutory powers necessary to enable them to stand up to Government Departments and deal with them on an equal basis. What is the status of this Commission vis-à-vis the local planning committee? As I see it, they have the power to make suggestions but no real power to initiate action, no power to lay down standards for bylaws, no power—and this is something I wish to labour a little later—to lay down a code of country behaviour. Further, as I see it, the Commission have no power over finance. How are a body of this character, with no real powers, to attract to themselves men of the status and weight that are required to deal with problems of this character? The whole machinery envisaged in Part I and Part II of the Bill, is light-weight. The National Parks Commission are an advisory committee, and the local planning committees are virtually sub-committees of another body. That, I think, is a matter with which we should certainly try to deal when we reach the Committee stage.

Lord Macdonald was right in saying that in another place the Minister went to considerable lengths in attempting to meet some of the criticisms which have been made. But he has not gone nearly far enough if he wishes this Bill to be effective. There is a condition which is essential for the success of this measure, and it has already been referred to indirectly. It is absolutely essential that the Bill should be so framed as to reconcile urban and country interests and to make quite sure that the new visitors to the countryside will be welcome. We were glad to hear the noble Lord speak of the changed attitude of the farmers. Incidentally, I think that the farmers have changed more than Government Departments for, only a few days ago a member of this Front Bench was turned off Government land for picking mushrooms.

The task of reconciling interests, it seems to me, is not going to be a very difficult one. I took part last night in a meeting which was quite remarkable and very interesting. It was attended by representatives of the National Farmers' Union, the Central Landowners' Association and the Standing Committee for National Parks, who were in a position to speak on behalf of ramblers. We found ourselves in almost complete agreement on the measures needed for the protection of food production and for control of national parks. The representatives of the ramblers showed me one of the posters which have been put up in the Peak District. I can hand it to the noble Lord, and I recommend it to the attention of the Minister. I suggest that the headings on that poster, drawn up by the ramblers, contain points which would be welcomed by every farmer of the country, and they might well be used as headings for the code of country behaviour which we should so much like to see laid down.

Farmers are in a very friendly mood today, but noble Lords in all quarters of the House will know that they are also extremely nervous, particularly in the hill areas. In the hill areas they live in remote districts, where life is hard and it is extremely difficult to gain even a semblance of a livelihood. Now, we are urging them to improve their farms and to embark on various kinds of developments; we are asking them to spend money on improving their pastures, and on buying more stock. This is a matter which is very relevant to this particular question, for as we know they are now to become liable to have large numbers of people going over their farms, and we are pressing them to engage in the breeding of attested stock for the lowlands, where the increase of such stock, as I am sure the noble Lord realises, is extremely important. I cannot help feeling that although the relevant clause, Clause 5 (4), has been altered and is slightly improved, when all is said and done it remains only an aspiration; it gives no real protection either to farmers or to foresters.

A general idea has grown up, to some extent from the propaganda about the Bill and from some things which Ministers have said about the national parks and access areas, that anybody will in future be able to go anywhere in open country. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, has said, that is not so. It is not meant to be so. I hope that spokesmen on behalf of the Government will help to make that clear. On the Committee stage, we shall have an Amendment to take out the words "open country" and insert "uncultivated land," or some such words, which would make the position clearer. What we really want is a code of country behaviour, such as that laid down in the highway code for our roads. And I do not see why the Minister cannot give it. If the noble Lord would see that that was put forward, that it was widely distributed, and that behind that code of country behaviour there was an effective body of wardens to enforce it, we should be much nearer to a position of confidence in the countryside.

In his speech in another place, the Minister made a good deal of the fact that the wardens have no powers. Yet in the Hobhouse Report it is particularly stressed that these wardens should have effective powers, and in some cases even the powers of a special constable. There is ample precedent for this. In the New Forest the foresters of the Forestry Commission have these powers, and there are the Gardes Champêtres in France. Under the Bill the wardens have no power to give any instructions, or to take names and addresses, and they can deal only with the actual access areas, whereas, as we know well, a great deal of damage will take place through people straying outside the access areas. Therefore the powers of the wardens must go outside the actual access areas. I hope that the noble Lord will see to it that these points are carefully considered.

At the present moment there is no provision for ensuring that the members of the National Parks Commission and local planning committees should include those who have knowledge of agriculture and forestry. I hope the noble Lord in charge of the Bill here will make a note of that point for consideration. The noble Lord also spoke at some length on the subject of compensation. At the present moment the farmers can be subjected to very considerable losses from comparatively trivial happenings, such as the leaving open of a gate or the breaking down of a fence. That may mean, for instance, that outside cattle may get in to an attested herd. In such a case it is almost impossible to value the loss that a farmer is going to suffer. The Hobhouse Report recommended that there should be compensation for specific damage. I confess that I see all the difficulties, but the Minister's suggestion that this problem should be dealt with by insurance suggests that he has not given much thought to that solution as a serious proposition.

The noble Lord spoke of insisting on a higher standard of building in these areas than outside them. I took a note of his words, and I think he will agree that what he said, in effect, was this. If he or I were farming in these areas and wanted to put up a cowshed, and we were compelled to spend an extra £200 or £300 on it in order to suit the special conditions of a national park, should we not have a deep sense of injustice because we had to pay for the good looks of a national park which was for the enjoyment of the general public? I shall have a proposal to make on that on Committee stage; I am merely warning the noble Lord of the points likely to arise at a later stage in the Bill.

In conclusion, I should like to deal with one further point. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill this afternoon will realise that there is a considerable feeling of disquiet and discouragement in the hotel and catering industry about the proposals envisaged in it and at the dropping by the Minister of his own suggested clause for protection. In the early copy of the Bill Clause 14 laid down that planning committees could not embark on catering, hotel-keeping or other activities unless they were satisfied that the existing provision was inadequate. This is a matter of some importance, particularly at the present moment. Apart from the question of justice, which is so clear that I need not argue it, at a time when we are appealing to the hotel and catering trades to spend money on developing and improving the facilities which we can offer to foreign visitors how can we expect them to embark on development when they have this Sword of Damocles hanging over them—namely, that local planning committees are able at any time to come in and take the bread out of their mouths? I hope that on the Committee stage we shall be able to persuade the noble Lord to meet these apprehensions, which I think he will agree are fully justified.

On these, and naturally on many other points, there will be Amendments moved on Committee stage. I can only repeat my assurance to the noble Lord that all of them will be designed to improve the Bill, to make the National Parks Commission more effective, to increase confidence between town and country, to ensure protection for food and timber production and to give confidence to those living in these areas to develop hotel and catering facilities. I hope the noble Lord will rise to the occasion to the extent of reconsidering decisions he has already taken. I trust, and the whole House trusts, that the Bill, improved as it will be, will reach the Statute Book at an early date.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships' House discussed this subject in April of last year in a debate on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. On that occasion we on these Benches joined in the expressions of opinion in all quanters of the House that it was most desirable that a National Parks Bill should be introduced and passed in this Parliament. We are all grateful to the Government for having taken that course, and we shall join in giving a most cordial welcome to a Bill which we ourselves have desired. I am sure the introduction of this Bill must give great pleasure and satisfaction to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, who devoted his youthful efforts to this proposal at the age of sixty, and who now, reaching middle-age at eighty, sees their fruition.

This Bill has a double title, and deals with two subjects: one national parks, and the other access to the countryside. The latter occupies no fewer than fifty pages of the Bill, and comprises fifty-six of its clauses. These provisions are comprehensive and useful as a code (my noble friend behind me suggests that perhaps, as a consequence of this measure, in addition to the present Highway Code we should have a Byway Code), and it will be generally accepted on all hands as a most valuable piece of legislation. I do not propose today to enter into any of its details. There is also another admirable portion of the Bill dealing with nature conservation. In our crowded industrialised island nature has been so harried and harassed that she needs a helping hand if she is to be pre- served at all. These clauses will be universally welcomed; and with enthusiasm. The remainder of the Bill deals with the national parks.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has emphasised the importance of the rights and interests of agriculture being fully safeguarded in this new enterprise. With that we shall all heartily agree. The promoters of the national parks are not animated by the slightest hostility to the agriculturist. On the contrary. We all recognise that it is impossible that these very large areas should be lost to food production. We need the food itself, and we need its value to save our imports. But, apart from that, what appeals especially to those animated by the spirit that underlies this whole movement is that the agricultural landscape is generally beautiful in itself. Our poets and painters have taken as themes for their arts the pastures, the flocks, the herds, the tillage, the farms, the villages and the churches—all that makes the beauty of the British scene. Although, of course, there is value in solitude, and there is a pleasure in walking, as I have done, from early morning to late at night across the highlands without meeting a single human being, if that solitude is caused by depopulation, if it is the result of soil erosion or other avoidable calamities and is detrimental and destructive to agriculture, then that solitude is in itself morally offensive and cannot be truly regarded as beautiful. A sullen landscape is not as beautiful as a smiling one. There is surely nothing more satisfying, whether æsthetically or philosophically, than a ripe harvest field in the sunshine under an English sky.

Therefore, from every point of view we want to see the agricultural landscape preserved. All this poetry is translated into the crude, cold statutory language of Clause 5 (4) of this Bill, which says: In the exercise at any time of their functions as respects any National Park the Commission and local authorities shall have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry. All those who have been concerned for many years past in this movement will cordially agree with the intention and purpose of that clause. In other words, it says that the normal life of agriculture should go on inside the national parks. One might add—though this is a different point—that it should also go on, so far as possible, in the green belts that will surround our cities. But the same does not apply to the development of industries. We have to be grateful to industry; the whole population lives by it, and its interests must also be considered. But there is one great difference between agriculture and manufacturing industry. Agriculture must be sited where the land is. That is so, too, with the mines, but not necessarily with manufacture. Manufacture need not be anywhere and everywhere; it can be directed towards particular areas, and, where necessary, it can be excluded altogether from areas which have a much higher value to the nation for the æsthetic, health and spiritual purposes—which, one might say, are the objects of the national parks.

In the last 150 years this land has ceased to a large extent to be "green and pleasant." Great areas of it have been covered with slums and slag heaps, and until recent modern changes our industrial towns in general have not been creditable to a nation that wishes to be truly civilised; they are not worthy of a great Imperial State. Therefore the Town and Country Planning Act has at last been introduced, though based upon many other Statutes on the same lines. I am glad to think that the Government of which I was a member more than forty years ago introduced the first planning Act, but the main and far more extensive Act was that passed in the present Parliament only two years ago, which we hope will prevent the recurrence of these evil conditions for our descendants in the future. As has been indicated, this Bill is supplementary to the Statute of two years ago. There are in this country certain surviving areas which as yet have not been industrialised or urbanised at all; and we want to keep them so. Public opinion is alive to this necessity, and I believe there is a general recognition throughout the nation of the value of this Bill.

The only question is whether it will be fully effective in its purpose. That is where there is some degree of doubt. May its functions not be evaded, as Acts of Parliament often are evaded, and its objects defeated? It all depends upon the constitution and the powers of the various authorities that are set up to carry out these tasks. That subject has been much debated in the other place, and has given rise to considerable controversy, both in Parliament and outside. Your Lordships' House will no doubt give close attention to this aspect of the Bill. When they do so they will recognise that it is a subject involving a real difficulty, because there are legitimately conflicting interests—both amenity and industry are national interests—and from the necessities of the case some balance has to be found between the claims of each; and occasionally one has to yield to the other. When such controversies arise, who is to say on which side the verdict is to be given? Until our own generation, what is called development—the extension of industry and building—went its own way, uncontrolled and unrestricted, and the results are what we see. When we have our national parks, the motives which led to that extension will still exist.

There are great pecuniary interests behind these extensions, and we shall find that they will still endanger the national parks. Pecuniary interests, as we are continually being told to-day, and as we all know to be the case, provide the strongest incentive to effort. Therefore, we shall find attempts at all kinds of undesirable developments in these areas. And the question is whether the forces resisting them will be strong enough. We have had many instances of late of cement works companies saying that the only place where works can be established is in some beautiful and famous valley; of factories insisting that they must be established on the banks of one of the most lovely of our lakes; of hotels seeking permission to erect their buildings at the very centre of the beauty spot, because it is a beauty spot.

The worst example of all occurred only a few weeks ago when, just before the Parliamentary Recess, there came before your Lordships' House a draft order approved by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning for the expenditure of nearly £1,000,000 on extending the notorious Oxford gasworks—leaving them there to spoil what would have been one of the most beautiful views of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe or in the world. In that particular case the procedure required that the order should be sanctioned by your Lordships' House. It came before your Lordships' House, and at the very last moment we succeeded in getting the order referred to a Select Committee. The Select Committee, without hearing even the objections of the university, and hearing merely the evidence of the corporation, at once threw out the order with ignominy. But the important thing is that it was the Minister of Town and Country Planning, whose business it is to save us from these things, who, under the influence perhaps of his more forceful colleague, the Minister of Fuel and Power, was pushing this scheme through. Now the whole matter is transferred to the new Gas Board. I venture to prophesy—something I very seldom do, in spite of my name—that it will be found that the Gas Board will be able to find some entirely different solution which will involve no noticeable extension of those works but will contemplate their transfer to some other place at no distant late.

If Government and Government Departments are under pressure, local authorities are also under pressure. They have to consider their own constituents, who look at things largely, and not unnaturally, from the ratepayers' point of view. What they say is: Are we to lose the rates which might come from an extension of buildings or industries in this locality? Are we to stop people getting employment here in our neighbourhood by not putting up these new works, or whatever it may he? They are under constant pressure, and without any evil intent they often find it desirable or unavoidable to yield to that pressure. That is why there must be someone to state the case for amenities, to defend it and to share in deciding the issue. That is the point of importance. It must be a body who will also have a specialised and expert knowledge of how to manage and conduct these national parks. That is not something which can be understood as a matter of course by any county council in any part of the country. There is almost a science of the management of national parks that has been developed in the newer countries of the world, where such parks have been in existence for a generation or more.

Here in this matter there are three parties concerned. There is to be the Commission, a body with precisely those functions that I have sketched. Then there is the local planning authority who, under the Town and Country Planning Act, are responsible for the actual ad- ministration and control within their own area. They must necessarily take an important place, because under the British democratic system of local government they represent the population, whose interests must take a prominent part in the matter. Then there is the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The question that is before us in this Bill is: How are the powers and functions to be allocated as between those three parties? When we debated this matter in the House in April last year, this point was discussed to some extent. On that occasion I pointed out that there is a danger of a conflict between the national interest and the local interest, between the national interest, which may in the long run he superior, and what may be immediately and on the spot a more powerful interest. We want these national and local interests to co-operate, and we do not want to create bodies which from the origin will consist of two sides, face to face with one another and always antagonistic. To my mind there is a great danger of creating a kind of dyarchy in the administration of these national parks, which might lead to constant deadlock.

Many local planning authorities, of course, are enlightened, firm and reliable. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, will be taking part in this debate, and he speaks on behalf of the East Sussex County Council which is concerned with the management of an area which is to be a national park—namely, the South Downs. That county council have done their work admirably. I have walked time and again across the South Downs with a walking club called "The Sunday Tramps," which was established in the 1880's by Leslie Stephen and some of his friends and which is still ambulating. I am extremely grateful for the action taken by the East Sussex County Council and other bodies in preserving those Downs for the enjoyment of all of us. But it is not so with all the local authorities, and there may be some which will have charge of certain of the national parks who cannot be relied upon to withstand local economic pressure and to do their full duty in the sense that is desired. The Minister is to be the arbitrator, and I cannot refrain from saying that, since the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act, certain decisions, such as that which I have mentioned, by the Minister of Town and Country Planning have greatly shaken confidence in the Ministry as an adequate guardian of these great interests.

Moreover, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in introducing the Bill to-day seemed to me a little ominous. He laid great emphasis on the fact that we must clearly understand that the Government are not prepared to take any strong action with regard to electricity and other undertakings of various kinds which may seek to make their way into the national parks. Of course it is true that this great area of the country—including the conservation areas, amounting to a very large fraction indeed—cannot be rigidly closed to all means of communication and so forth. I should, however, have been glad to hear from the noble Lord some such expression as "But of course every application will be scrutinised with the utmost care, and where it is clear that some alternative is possible the Minister would not hesitate, in a proper case, to refuse sanction." At all events, I hope that the matter will be dealt with administratively in that spirit.

All these are questions for the Committee stage. Most of them arise on Clause 8. My only point at this stage is this: that the share of the Commission in local cases being so much less than was contemplated by the Hobhouse Committee, we ought to see whether that share cannot be strengthened. In any event, that is all the more reason for securing a strong central Commission; the fewer powers the Commission has locally, the more weight it must carry at the centre. That, I think, was fully recognised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. Its membership should be such as to entitle it to respect and influence, and its functions and powers should be fully adequate for its purposes. These, I repeat, are matters for the Committee stage, and they must be considered in scrupulous detail. As to the Second Reading, which is before us to-day, I feel certain that all in your Lordships' House will be agreed.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene for only a few moments. In the first place, it would seem fitting that some voice from these Benches should join in the chorus of welcome which has been given to this Bill and the chorus of gratitude which has, quite rightly, been expressed to the Government and to the Minister for bringing it forward. Those for whom we on these Benches may be specially regarded as speaking ought at least to be the quickest to respect and reverence spiritual values, and certainly ought to take a keen interest in the rightful use of leisure. The purposes behind this Bill include the intention to do everything possible to preserve what is left of the natural beauty of this country, consistent with a proper regard for inescapable economic necessities; and, in the second place, to enable as many people of all kinds as possible to find recreation of every reasonable kind in those beautiful surroundings. On these grounds I am sure that all who sit on these Benches—"Liberal Conservatives with strong Socialist leanings"—will be grateful for the Bill in its general outline. I cannot help saying in passing, however, what a regrettable and melancholy fact it is that the Bill should have seen the light just when we are all waiting, with mingled hope and fear, to learn what further economies we in this country must practise. It would seem almost fantastic to hope that in the near future it will be possible, however desirable, to spend much money to implement the provisions of the Bill. But we must take long and hopeful views.

The other point I wish to mention at this stage is one which was dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and I desire to lay even more stress on it than perhaps he did himself. I want to emphasise not so much the lack of power given under the Bill to the National Parks Commission as the magnitude of its duties if it is to function effectively. Those two questions are bound together more closely than at first appears. After all, great powers can be given to a body, and yet that body may not be very effective in using them or may not use them to much good purpose. If there is a body which is manifestly inspired by vision, insight, and understanding, it will itself command respect throughout the country and will have that kind of moral power which in the last resort is more effective for bringing about such results as we desire than would be a mere addition of statutory power.

When reading carefully through the debates in another place, it occurred to me to ask myself whether even the Minister himself has envisaged the magnitude of the task which is being given to the National Parks Commission under this Bill. If it is to achieve its purpose, I ask myself, what are some of the qualities which members of the Commission will have to show if they are to be really effective? They must be people with an intimate knowledge of the areas which are to be declared national parks, and such intimate knowledge takes a long time to acquire; and there must be sufficient people on that body to brag to a focus the requisite amount of detailed local knowledge of all the areas affected by the Bill. In the second place, these persons must know what is the worth of their local authorities—what are their planning capacities, what they have done and what they are likely to do. They must themselves, as the noble Viscount said, carry out their duties with the help of such precedents as they can get. They will certainly need an immense amount of tact and understanding. They will have to deal with immensely different areas. They must have sympathy as well as vision in order to persuade local authorities wisely.

The real danger is that this central body will become merely a reviewing body of plans already formulated but in themselves inadequate. We need a body which can help local authorities from the start by advising them in sufficiently wise and big ways. If they are to do that, it is not only the chairman (who must be whole-time) and not only a deputy chairman or a secretary but the whole of the members of the Commission who must be prepared to bring to its service practically the whole of their time and effort. There are many other qualifications, but I think it is important from the start to get a big enough view of what this National Commission can do. It will have its own representatives, so to speak, on every planning authority; but it is going to be very important that these people at the centre should be able to gather all the representatives of the different local areas from time to time so that they may be all working, on their local planning committees, not only with the special requirements of their own area in mind but observing as well the common standards that ought to apply to all such areas throughout the country.

I know that there are a great many Amendments to be moved in Committee. Behind many lies the fear that this central body will not have sufficient power and knowledge and that the proportion of members representing national interests on the local planning authorities is not, even now, sufficiently large. I am not yet prepared to say what attitude I shall adopt to any of these Amendments: but I believe that if we get the right body at the centre a great number of the dangers which many fear will in fact be removed.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, previous speakers have given this Bill a cordial welcome. If I am not quite so welcoming, it is simply and solely because I am apprehensive of the effect of creating national parks upon the area and the life of the people who live in those parts, and also upon the economic future of the nation. Various speakers have gone into the history of national parks, going back as far as the Addison Committee of twenty years or so ago. I want to go a good deal further back into the history of national parks, because the idea of these national parks is an importation from the other side of the Atlantic. According to the Hobhouse Report, the first national park ever created was the Yellowstone Park in the United States of America. The Yellowstone Park is an area of something over 2,100,000 acres—nearly half the size of Wales, for instance. There are many other parks in America. I believe that the total area of those parks in the whole of the United States is of the order of 20,000,000 acres. Canada, her next-door neighbour, has, so I am informed, an area of 29,000 square miles of national parks. Those two countries are not nearly so thickly populated as is this country. America has, I believe, forty people to the square mile; Canada has the almost ridiculous figure of three people to the square mile. Indeed, it is a statistical fact that if the whole of the population of Canada were crammed into their various national park areas, they would not be nearly so thick on the ground as the people now living in England and Wales.

Against that, in England the area of national parks proposed in the Hobhouse Report, which is the only intimation we have of where the national parks will be, is 3,626,000 acres, divided into twelve different national parks. The largest park is the Lake District, which is, I think, 570,000 or 590,000 acres. The population in England and Wales is 750 people to the square mile. So that we have in our imported idea of national parks areas which are much smaller than the national parks in the country where the idea originated, and which are much smaller than the generality of national parks throughout the world; and we have a much greater population who will want to make use of those parks. Therefore, the user within the areas of the national parks will be much heavier, with a consequent much greater upset (if I may so put it) to those who live and work within those areas. Remember—there are over 3,000,000 people who are inhabitants within the areas which are marked in the Hobhouse Report as national parks. It is against that background of a much greater user that we must consider the whole problem of national parks in this country. I hope your Lordships will keep that in mind when you consider the arguments that I shall try to put before you.

So far as the first two Parts in the Bill are concerned, I have not a great deal to say. I do not propose to discuss the organisation proposed in the Bill; there are others who have already done so and who will again make their criticisms of what is proposed. But I do want to emphasise one thing which I think was said by my noble friend, Lord De La Warr, and that is that the designation of a national park by the National Parks Commission does not give the right to the public to roam at large over the area. It is a common belief amongst a great many people, even amongst those who ought to know better, that the designation of a national park will give the public the right to roam at large over the area so designated. It is not so. As a matter of fact, so far as I can see, the National Parks Commission are merely a planning authority very much under the thumb of the Minister, and one additional planning authority superimposed on other planning authorities to bedevil the life out of those who live and work within the areas concerned.

There is one other point with regard to the National Parks Commission. Reference has been made to their safeguarding of the business of agriculture and forestry. But your Lordships who have read the Bill will have noted that Clause 5 (1) says that: The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas specified in the next following subsection, and for the purpose of promoting their enjoyment by the public. It is only subsequently that a sort of "saver" is inserted in favour of agriculture and forestry. From the way in which this is put it is quite clear that, so far as the National Parks Commission are concerned, their primary duty is to the public who are going to use the parks for pleasure, rather than to the individuals who are using those parks for the purpose of obtaining their living and helping the economic life of the country. However, as I said, the National Parks Commission are only a planning authority. They will not have much chance of doing either good or harm in that direction.

The two Parts of the Bill which really give the public access are those dealing with public rights of way (Part IV) and with access to open country (Part V). With regard to Part IV I, like other noble Lords who have already spoken, think it is a most admirable provision. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, himself said, it is long overdue. I cannot subscribe to his view that rights of way are not short cuts. Practically all the rights of way that I know originated as short cuts and, in the course of time, have become rights of way which people use for enjoyment as well as in order to take the shortest way to their work. But there is a clear case for a complete revision of rights of way, and in my view, if necessary, a considerable extension of rights of way—not only long-distance routes along the Pennines or in places like that, but also even quite short ones in and around towns, whether they be country towns or the big centres of population. If those rights of way are properly marked it will be a great help to those who wish to take country walks and, generally speaking, will do no harm to those who own the adjoining land.

The provision for the access to open country comes under a rather different category, because it may give to the public the right to roam over large areas. There is one point which I should like to make—namely, that when any question of an access order comes along the work should not be dole piecemeal. There is likely to be a certain amount of controversy over any access order as between town and country. If these access orders come forward one by one it will focus attention on each one individually, and one side or the other, according to the result of the inquiry, will claim a victory or feel defeated. It would be undesirable that there should be that individual focus on one place at a time; and I hope, therefore, that whatever is done may be done as nearly as possible to avoid piecemeal access.

In the provisions for access there are also provisions for excepted land; they are detailed in Clause 61 (5). If one looks at the marls at the end of the Hohhouse Report showing the areas which are there proposed for national parks, one realises that there will be within each national park area, to a greater or lesser extent, considerable areas of excepted land. As has already been mentioned, round each national park there are also areas which are not within the national park and which are probably under fairly high production, agricultural or otherwise. My fear is that those who use this access land will probably have only a map to go by (a great many people are not very good at map reading), and there will be considerable incursions on excepted land and possibly considerable incursions on land outside the national park area, with, in consequence, considerable damage. Remember, my Lords, that the people who will go to these access areas will go mostly in the spring and summer, at the time when the greatest amount of damage can be done. I know it is possible to prosecute them if they do damage.

Mention has been made of wardens, and the occupier or owner of the land will have a case if he can catch the offender. But anybody who has owned land or had any experience of this trouble knows how difficult it is even to see the person who does the damage. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has said, even if you do see them, you cannot catch them if they run faster than you do yourself. Fear gives them wings. If damage is done—and damage undoubtedly will be done—I cannot see the wardens being very much more successful than the farmer himself. I agree with my noble friend, Lord De La Warr, that, generally speaking, the organised ramblers are well-behaved. But they are only a minority of the people. I have had actual experience this year of people, not roaming at large over the land, but merely leaving gates open. This has caused me great disturbance in regard to my own attested cattle, because the people who left open these gates let out somebody else's cattle which might have got in amongst my own. That has happened three times this year, and on no single occasion have I been able to find the culprit.

There is another point which I would like to mention with regard to excepted land. The proviso to Clause 67 (1), says provided that nothing in this subsection shall affect the doing of anything whereby any kind becomes excepted land. If I interpret that aright, it means that any developments in agriculture or forestry can be carried out by the owner or occupier of the land without getting permission from anybody; and by so doing he can, if necessary, convert land which was access land Into excepted land. But it is not going to be so easy as all that. Once people have got into the habit of roaming over a piece of land, if some advance in agriculture enables the owner there to make use of it by putting up a fence or by ploughing up and reseeding, or something of that sort, are they going to be denied access without any complaint on their part?

I was particularly struck by one remark about Dartmoor in the Hobhouse Report. It was described in these words: The essential core of this famous area is the old Forest of Dartmoor' and then the Report goes on later: Round this lies a heather zone, and to the east and west of the principal moors a country of heather, gorse and bracken. Which has invaded wide stretches of once cultivated land. That land was once cultivated. Under the pressure of economic events, it may well be needed again to be cultivated. It will not be easy to make it cultivated land if it is access land and the public have got into the habit of going across it—I do not say it will be impossible, but it will make it the more difficult. And in some controversial cases, feelings may be aroused which will cause a great deal of trouble. I do not say that that is not provided for in the Bill, but I have some fear that these things may happen.

As a Forestry Commissioner, I am more interested in the impact of the Bill upon forestry than upon agriculture, partly because the areas most concerned are areas which I know of only from the forestry point of view, and also because they are areas where the Forestry Commission will necessarily have to look for land if they are to carry out their obligations under the Government's policy to increase the afforested area in this country. So far as I can see, except for damage caused by trespassers, existing Forestry Commission plantations are properly safeguarded, though inevitably there will always be the danger of people who, not knowing that they are not supposed to be there, go in and do damage. I am not so certain about the new areas, and this is the same point that I made about bringing back land into cultivation for agricultural purposes.

People seem to get wrong ideas about a particular area. I have in mind the Quantocks, in the area of Exmoor. Your Lordships may remember that quite recently—in fact it is not resolved yet—there has been a controversy about the 1,400 acres which the Forestry Commission were proposing to lease and afforest. There has been a lively controversy about the proposal, and if that is to become an access area in a national park the controversy will be materially fortified on the wrong side. I might say, too, that even the Hobhouse Committee were not immune from—I should not like to say exaggeration but from over-idealism. They say of the Quantocks: Their tops are heather-covered, mixed woodlands clothe their lower slopes, and unspoilt villages and fine manor houses adorn their hidden valleys. I do not know about their hidden valleys, but I did walk over almost the whole of the 1,400 acres which is in controversy with the Forestry Commission at the moment, and my description of that area would be somewhat different. The mixed woodlands, in that particular case, are now practically entirely oak scrub, much of which is dying and none of which is beautiful. The heather-covered tops are thigh-deep in heather, gorse and a few other things of that sort. If any of your Lordships should imagine a stroll over these "heather-covered tops" to be something like walking over a moor in Scotland, I can assure you that it is nothing of the kind. To walk over them at all is extremely difficult, and if you tried you would find also that it would be very painful.

Not only is this the case, but that area is ripe for a fire whenever the weather is suitable. We in the Forestry Commission have already had considerable trouble in that area with fires which might well have spread to our adjacent plantations. There are other areas in the Quantocks of the same sort. I could take Lord Macdonald to an area which has a three-mile front of gorse and bracken fronting a flourishing plantation of the Forestry Commission. That is practically all I have to say so far as the Forestry Commission are concerned. It would be fair to assert that the Forestry Commission are capable of looking after themselves and their own affairs, but a private woodland owner is in a rather different position. The private woodland owner's protection within an access area where he has or may have plantations is set out in Clause 61 (5) (c). It is there laid down that the only land which is under trees which can be excepted is land which is subject to a forestry dedication covenant, entered into under the Forestry Acts.

It is often assumed that the only woods that are liable to fire or damage are young plantations. That, of course, is not so. If a fire gets going strongly enough, even mature plantations will go up in smoke. The definition in the Bill is very limited, especially in view of the fact that the dedication scheme has not yet got going. There are a large number of plantations which have been planted by land owners who have not received any grant from the Forestry Commission, and the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has made it clear that if a woodland owner, managing his woods properly, refuses to dedicate, he does not stand in jeopardy of having his land compulsorily acquired. So there may well be a continuing number of private woodlands within these access areas which will have no protection under this measure.

The Access to Mountains Act, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has said, never really got working—it was passed in 1939 and certain events have occurred since then which have prevented even a trial of its value—in Section 2(2)(c) defines lend under trees to be excepted as: land used for a plantation or a wood or for the growth of saleable underwood. I think that probably that is going too far. I should like to see something in this Bill which widened the scope of the exception of privately owned woodlands. I would suggest as a possibility that if there were my controversy as to whether a wood was worth maintaining from the commercial point of view, or whether it should he thrown open to the public, the Commission, as the Government's forestry advisers, might be asked to express an opinion, or that there might at any rate be some arrangement of that nature. From the point of view of the private woodland owner, that additional safeguard would be most welcome and I think that he ought to have it.

This matter, I submit, is important, because the encouragement of private woodland owners is a very important part of the forestry policy of this country. I would go so far as to say that if the private woodland owners are discouraged, the whole forestry policy which has been agreed to by His Majesty's Government may well be put in danger of failure. Having in mind the fear which I expressed at the beginning of my speech, that there will be a far greater user of national parks in this country than has even been experienced in national parks in other countries, and having in mind also that this is going to be a fairly expensive amusement—it is, indeed, a luxury—I wonder whether we are justified in going ahead at this juncture with national parks and access to land.

I say this partly because of the expense to the public purse and, if I may so put it, the expense to the local purse, and also because there will be a diversion of effort with n the areas concerned. We must remember that they are areas to which a great many people are looking for increased production, other and more valuable parts of the country already being considered to be producing almost the maximum which they can produce. There must also be borne in mind the fact that there will be a diversion of effort on the part of those who own or occupy land within these areas They will have one more body which will, as I said just now, bedevil them. They will have the feeling that life is becoming too difficult and it may well be that they will be disinclined to make that effort which at the present time we need from every man, woman and child in this country. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will seriously consider whether they can postpone the active operation of those parts of the Bill which deal with national parks and with access land.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a matter of some difficulty to take part in a debate of this sort, after speeches of the kind to which we have been listening have beef made. Previous speakers in this debate have been so accurate and so informative, and they have gone into such detail relating to matters with which this Bill is concerned, that there is little left to say. Indeed, it is only left to me to clear up, as it were, a few pieces—except with regard to one particular matter, on which I think nothing has so far been said. That is the matter of transport. We must face the fact that there is good reason why these parts of the country which we are now making into parks have been so little visited and, to some extent, so little lived in in the past. The fact is that they have been difficult of approach except for those people who have a certain amount of money and a certain amount of leisure. I would therefore like to make a plea for much better transport.

The first difficulty, of course, is the matter of approaching these areas at all. In general, they are not close to the main areas where population is thick. Apart from the Peak District, which has considerable towns fairly close to it, and, of course, the South Downs, which are not far from a number of large cities, most of these areas are far from where the workers whom we would like to see visiting them live. I would make the plea that some investigation should be made, possibly by the Minister, possibly by the National Parks Commission, when it is formed, into the question of special trains, special buses and other methods of taking people quickly, and above all cheaply. from the large areas of population to these areas. My own home, the Pembrokeshire coast, is a case in point. It is isolated, being many hours' run by any conceivable method from Cardiff and Swansea, which are the nearest large towns; and is even farther away from any of the big English towns.

A further transport point is the question of moving about in these park areas when people have got there. In the natural course of events, most of these areas, having a low density of population, have poor transport facilities. Buses may run at infrequent intervals, or may be totally lacking. Railway facilities are likely to be even worse. In many parts of the country, especially where these areas are served by small railway branch lines, there are often no trains on a Sunday, and of course it is on a Sunday that most of the visiting to these parks is likely to be done. The same applies to buses; over large parts of our parks there are likely to be no buses at all on the Sunday. Although a number of visitors will be hikers, we must remember that many of them will want to get about in public transport. We must also have adequate accommodation for these people when they get to these areas. We have already heard that consideration should be given to the position of local hotel keepers and others, and that to some extent they must be protected against unwise setting up of canteens and hostels by local committees where such facilities are unnecessary. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, to make certain that the question of prices reigning in existing accommodation, and in existing eating houses and refreshment places, is taken into consideration when the necessity of setting up extra hostels is considered.

There is, too, the question of the spacing and regularity of these hostels. My own home happens to be situated in a little village which in mediaeval times was the last pilgrim station on the pilgrim road to St. Davids. From the positioning of these pilgrim stations, it seems obvious that a good able-bodied pilgrim was expected in mediaeval times to cover about ten miles a day—I do not know how much he was slowed down by split peas in his shoes, or a hair shirt. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, I understand, made his ten miles a day quite easily, and I expect modern hikers to do as well, or even better. If we are building continuous footpaths across these areas, let us make sure that at regular intervals along these paths accommodation is available at prices which hikers are likely to be able to afford. It is all very well to consider the preservation of these areas and the setting up of facilities in them, but if people cannot afford to get to them, to maintain themselves in these areas when they have got there, and to move about in them as freely as they like, the whole purpose of this Bill will be frustrated.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, if I may take up the last words that have fallen from the noble Viscount opposite, I think that one of the problems that undoubtedly will arise, not only in regard to the areas he has indicated but preponderantly in regard to the national parks, is the question of accommodation. I find it difficult to foresee, under the present conditions of stringency obtaining in this country, who is going to provide the hotels and other means of accommodation, and at whose cost. I leave that matter there for what it is worth.

The agricultural point of view has been so ably put forward by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that, contrary to my usual practice, I do not propose to refer to agriculture at all. I have a sort of semi-parental interest in this Bill, because about twenty-five years ago, after visiting various national parks in both the United States and Canada, I came to the conclusion that this was a deeply needed want in this country and that we ought to take early, if not immediate, steps to satisfy it. I put forward the suggestion in another place that a Royal Commission should be set up to inquire into the whole problem. It was, in fact, set up, and was presided over by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I was the first witness to give evidence before it. I cannot help wondering why the Report of that Commission has remained lying on the shelf for over seventeen years.

However, all one can say is, better late than never. For my part, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the scheme for establishing on a sound basis national parks in this country. Therefore I shall feel impelled to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, though I am bound to confess that the scheme as formulated is not to my mind a good working scheme, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has indicated in better language than I car command, and I cannot help thinking that as time goes on it will require drastic alteration by way of amending Bills.

A national park, properly so called, is established in the interests and for the benefit of the general public, whether of this country or of other countries, with a special eye on those tourists from our overseas Dominions who seem nowadays prepared to spend considerable sums in this country and help largely to ease the dollar shortage.. I would like to indicate for a moment the sort of institution the national park is in New Zealand, where I had the great felicity of spending the five happiest years of my life as representing the late King. New Zealand is roughly the size of the United Kingdom, but it contains only one-twentyfifth of the population of Great Britain, which, I admit, is a material factor in establishing anything like a comparison between the two countries. There are ten national parks in New Zealand, with an aggregate area of over 3,000,000 acres, apart from scenic reserves under what is called the Scenery Preservation Act which comprise another 840,000 acres. Those national parks are administered by national park boards which have wide powers, subject to ministerial approval, especially in regard to formulating bylaws and fixing fees for camping and picnicking in the parks. They are supported by large grants from the Government. The public are given right of free access, with a limited power on the part of the Government controlling authority to charge a small amount for admission.

As I have indicated, the conception of national parks is taken from other and mainly newer countries overseas, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and more recently in south central Africa, Kenya and other adjoining territories. They have proved a great success and have very considerably increased the health and happiness of the people. What I most earnestly want to ask is: To what extent, if at all, have the Government framed their scheme on the basis of those successful parks operating in other parts of the world? It may be blindness on my part, but I cannot see included in this Bill those factors which have operated overseas to make those parks such an outstanding success and worthy of our imitation in this country.

Many noble Lords have mentioned their own environment in this connection, and I may say that I live on the borders of the Forest of Dean. When I appeared as the first witness before the Commission presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, I ventured to suggest that the Forest of Dean, will its adjacent area of the lower waters of the Wye, although a relatively small area compared to those which have been made national parks in other countries, might well be chosen by way of experiment as the first national park in England. I did so speaking as the senior verderer of the Forest of Dean—an office which I have held for the last forty-three years—and with the full approval of my fellow verderers. What has happened in connection with the Forest of Dean is really rather farcical. In recent years the Government have established what they are pleased to call a national forest park, a little area of I believe fourteen to sixteen acres only, which is a sort of picnicking ground for those who have discovered that there is an extremely attractive area in England known as the Forest of Dean, and who are prepared in holiday time to come and spend a day there. In connection with that area, I would say, from many years experience, that although there is probably no district in the whole of England to excel that in scenic beauty or historical interest, the bulk of die inhabitants of this country, particularly in our cities, do no know where it is, and least of all have they ever gone far enough afield to discover what a pleasant holiday can be spent there.

I no longer press that the Forest of Dean, with the adjoining attractions of the lower waters of the Wye, should be amongst the areas at present selected for a national park, but I do venture to hope that it will not be overlooked, because there is an immense amount of local sympathy for such a project, and., incidentally, it would interfere very little, if at all, with the agricultural activities of that part of England and Wales. What I do want to emphasise is that these parks, if they are to justify themselves, must be for the benefit, not of the local people who know these areas reasonably well, but of the crowded thousands in our great cities to whom these districts, set apart for their health and enjoyment, would prove to be a valuable asset in the way of improved health and happiness.

I fail to understand how, under this Bill as drafted, you are going to get these national parks to operate. Even if they are established on the initiative of local planning authorities, I fail to see how you are going to maintain a sufficient amount of zeal with regard to their maintenance, development and proper equipment without some controlling or co-ordinating central authority. In this connection, the complaint of my noble friend Lord Samuel and others—and I entirely endorse it—has been with regard to what powers are to be given to the National Parks Commission. I think it must have been a slip on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, when he said that it is the duty of the Commission to see their policy through. It seems to me that it is extremely difficult under this Bill for them to build up a policy. He went on to say—and I took down his words: The Minister has given great powers to the Commission.… I cannot see a single word in the Bill which gives the Commission any powers at all. It is true that these local authorities are given powers, but all the Commission are given is a duty. That is rather remarkable.

In Clause 6, which sets out what are to be the rather hazy functions of the Commission, we read that it is to be the duty of the Commission to consider, to make recommendations, to keep under review the progress made, to give advice to the appropriate planning authorities (with no indication of whether the advice is to be acted upon), to assist such authorities in formulating proposals and to give advice where any Minister chooses to consult the Commission as to proposals for the development of land. The word "powers" is used only in relation to the local planning authorities. The only word which governs the Commission's functions is the word "duty" The planning Commission are given certain duties but apparently no actual powers.

What puzzles me a little is this. If a national park is to be of sufficient area to justify its existence, I take it that in most cases more than one county will be brought within its ambit. Now I happen to be an alderman of the Gloucestershire County Council, and I also happen to sit upon the local planning committee. I believe that it will be difficult, especially if any part of the charge is to fall upon the local rates, to get the local planning authority to develop any burning interest in this national parks scheme, but there will be even greater difficulty when several county authorities are associated in the development and administration of the scheme. Reverting to the area to which I have referred—an area included in the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire—I find it extremely difficult to visualise concord between the local planning authorities of those three counties when far more immediate local concerns are at the present time obsessing their minds.

We are told that a 75 per cent. grant is coming from the Exchequer. I venture to say that, under existing conditions, the other 25 per cent. will be extremely difficult to "screw" out of the pockets of the local ratepayers. And, for the life of me, I do not see why, bearing in mind, as I said before, that these parks are to be national parks and not local parks, and it is the nation at large and particularly the people within our crowded towns who will get the main benefit of them, local ratepayers should pay. I warmly support the principles of this Bill. I only wish that I could honestly tell your Lordships, particularly after my experience in one of the Dominions of the Crown where national parks are such a success, that in its actual operation it is likely to prove the success which the Government anticipate.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it is fully realised by the general public, and for that matter by some of the professional bodies interested in land, what very great changes this Bill is going to make over large areas of our countryside. Some of these changes will certainly be for the good, but some Amendments will have to be made if we are to make the Bill acceptable to those people who live in the national park areas. I myself own property in the Peak district of Derbyshire, and therefore I feel that I can claim to know that area fairly well. For many years there has existed in that area a large number of footpaths and rights of way. In the actual district of Bakewell, in West Derbyshire, it is true to say that the whole of that area is more or less riddled with these footpaths and rights of way. I know of no farmer, or land owner for that matter, who is not prepared to permit ramblers over his land in those areas where it is unlikely that they can do any harm, and provided that they behave themselves. They are two provisos which are most important, though they are largely incorporated in this Bill. What I am doubtful about is whether this Bill will justify the large expenditure which will be entailed in putting it into practice. Are the public, in fact, going to he so much better off than they are already? In the difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves in this country, I doubt whether this is a suitable moment to implement this measure.

I would like to ask the noble Lord who will be replying what sort of people he envisages will he asked to serve on the National Parks Commission. It is important that the National Parks Commission should be impartial and should be representative of all interests concerned. I sincerely hope that it will not consist only of members of the T.U.C. and of the Workers' Rambling Association.


What about your Primrose Leaguers?


Very well. After all, one of the greatest industries in this country, agriculture, will undoubtedly to some extent be adversely affected by the setting up of the national parks, and I am sure we all agree that at this moment more than ever it is vitally important to increase agricultural production all over the country. That means that the increase will probably fall largely on open country and marginal land. It is undoubtedly on the marginal land that the greater increase can be brought about. Here we immediately find conflicting interests, and I was surprised to see that the only mention in the whole Bill of agriculture and forestry is in Clause 6. I feel that we should have representatives of the National Farmers' Union and of the Central Landowners' Association on the National Parks Commission. I also feel that in all cases the agricultural executive committees should be consulted both before and after the setting up of a national park—and, indeed, at all stages.

Now I wish to turn for a moment to the question of compensation. It is common knowledge that a certain amount of damage is done by the public every year to agricultural land. It is difficult to estimate the full amount of the damage. Perhaps in my area, the Peak District, we have been rather unfortunate in the past in oar damage experience. It is a great pity that these fairly isolated acts of vandalism should cause resentment in the countryside; but I am afraid that they do definitely cause resentment among the country people. Under the provisions for compensation contained in the Bill, most cases are provided for. Compensation is provided where there is likely to be destruction of an interest in land owing to action taken by the authorities under the Bill. I think that is the least that could be done. But I feel that the real need, one which may involve hardship, is for compensation to be given for damage done by the general public in the exercise of their rights under this measure in the national park areas—in their use of rights of way and of access. Surely it is unjust that the unfortunate farmer and landowner should be asked to meet the cost of this damage merely because an Act of Parliament gives the public the right to wander over his land or ramble near it.

The Hobhouse Report actually suggested that farmers should be compensated for acts of damage, in order to avoid antagonising the farming community. Surely it would be possible, in regulations under this Bill, to set up some form of repair service, particularly in the national park areas. In this respect I am sure that the agricultural executive committees could be used to great advantage if help were needed. As we have heard this afternoon, it has been suggested that farmers should insure against this damage. This matter has been looked into, but the scheme proved to he quite impracticable. But why should the farmer be asked to pay a premium at all?

I welcome this Bill. It has been welcomed by all political Parties. I feel that, as a whole, if it is fairly administered, it should prove successful. But I hope that before it leaves this House we shall make certain improvements, and so ensure that the great agricultural industry is suitably protected.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, in company with many of you I find this Bill of great interest and even of great importance; but I am bound to say that I should have found it of more interest and more importance had it been introduced two years or even twelve months ago. To-day we are faced with rather sterner things. We are told on all sides that a crisis exists; and it is acknowledged by all Parties that we are in danger of such things as unemployment, national bankruptcy and even starvation.

It is a great many years ago since Swift expressed the oft-quoted opinion that the man who grew two ears of corn or two blades of grass where only one had grown before had done more to earn the gratitude of humanity, and was of more direct service to his country, than the whole race of politicians. I have always thought that that was a little hard on politicians; but I am bound to say that a sneaking doubt creeps into my mind when I think of all the man-hours that were occupied in another place during the Second Reading of this Bill, and upstairs in Committee. Forty members—some, I have no doubt, quite "ordinary chaps" but others the best brains of all Parties—spent some two months over it. Inside and outside this House, we are going to spend a great many more man-hours; and I confess that a little doubt creeps into my mind whether we might not be better occupied in some more directly productive occupation—may I suggest lifting sugar beet or even that lowly form of work known as muck-spreading? But the Bill is before your Lordships, and it is your duty to examine it and if possible improve it.

The Bill itself states that it has two main objects. One is to preserve and enhance the beauty of the countryside. Of that we are all in favour. It is a duty that in the past fell mainly on the owners, and I do not think anyone will deny that they made a very fair job of it. The owners in the past did not do a great deal of disfiguring of the countryside. The second object is to enable people to see the countryside, get to it, and enjoy it. With that also we shall all find ourselves in agreement. But I could wish that there was in the Bill, in the same place, a third object: to teach the people to preserve this beauty and not destroy it. I know that the noble Lord who introduced the Bill has said that words to that effect can be found elsewhere in the Bill, but I would like to see it as one of the main objects. After all, there are a great many people in this country who have not the fine spirit of the Ramblers' Club, and who give way at times to an orgy of destruction.

I think one of the saddest sights, and one that I have seen several times, is the destruction of a bluebell wood in the course of a single day. In the morning you see the bluebell wood, a mass of beautiful blue, under the dapple green of the beech trees. Perhaps near some towns the bluebells are out and there arrives on the scene by car, by bus, and by bicycle a concourse of people. In a couple of hours there is not a bluebell left in that wood. The shoots are trampled down and some are torn up; boughs are torn off, not cut off, the trees, and in two hours the people are streaming away from the scene and back to the town, strewing the road behind them as they go with bundles of bluebells which have withered within twenty minutes of being picked. This Bill will do some good if, in some form or other, it teaches those people that a bluebell wood growing is one of the finest gifts of nature, but that bluebells picked are of no value whatever as a table decoration.

Turning to the Bill itself and taking Part I, dealing with the National Parks Commission, I share with some of your Lordships a doubt as to what a national park is intended to be. Clearly, it is not going to be anything conceivably like one of the great national parks that my noble friend has mentioned, because, for one thing, it is much too full of people. Those great national parks are mainly designed to preserve the fauna and flora within them, and for people to go and see what those vast stretches have been from time immemorial. In most cases the visitors are kept strictly within certain bounds; in some cases they are not even allowed to get out of their cars, because it is not considered safe for them to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, quoted an interesting statement as to what a national park was to be, but unfortunately the Minister who introduced the Bill in another place did not say the same. He said—and I agree with him—that the Bill itself shows clearly what a national park is to be. This is what the Bill says: an extensive area of outstanding beauty suitable for open-air recreation by the general public, but where the normal life of the existing public goes on. That is a fairly simple fact. The objection I have is that it might just as well have been made in the same stretch of country before this Bill came to the stocks at all. This Bill does not make it any different from what it was before.

I do not wish to say much about the National r arks Commission, save that with other speakers I feel a certain sorrow that the Commission have, in fact, so few powers that they are almost entirely an advisory body. I feel that the more because, in company with others of your Lordships no doubt, I have often sought advice and very often been given it—most excellent advice—but I regret to say I have often done exactly the opposite! I fear that that may be the case here. I, too, hope flat it may be agreed on both sides of the House that we should have on the Commission one or two people with a knowledge of agriculture. That is of great importance.

With regard to Part II, it should be noted and no doubt has been noted, that under this most important Part no additional privileges of any sort or kind are conferred upon the general public. What it does do is to give to local authorities powers and indeed, duties to provide certain facilities and amenities. Again, I must share with my noble friend who spoke earlier some worry about that matter, because those duties will involve considerable expense, a great deal of hard work and possibly a heavy addition to the rates. Those of your Lordships—and there must be many—who are members of counts councils will know the immense amount of new work and expense that has been thrown upon the councils in the last year or two. The Town and Country Planning Act alone is only one-quarter digested by many county councils. As regards expense, my own poor little half-county is faced with water schemes to cost over £5,000,000, and with education and building expenses of the same amount. There must come a time when the back of the camel will he broken by the additional expenses that fall day by day on those bodies. Indeed, there is some difficulty at the present time in getting people to do the work.

I feel that we are nearly all in favour of nature reserves. They are much more like the national parks a broad, and in that respect I take it that one of the objects of the Bill is not to let people in but really to keep people out. I imagine—it has not been said—that people will go into these nature reserves more or less by ticket, having shown that they take an interest in the natural wild life therein. It seems to me rather unfortunate, but I presume it is inevitable that there will have to be wardens there, because, sad though it is, the fact that one of these districts is labelled "nature reserve" brings to the notice of many of the evil-disposed that included in that area is something worth looting—something like a rare egg, a rare butterfly or a rare plant. Once these districts are scheduled, it is inevitable that there must be wardens therein. I think that everyone in your Lordships' House will agree with Part IV, but I would again draw your attention to the fact that this is yet another additional expense which is going to be thrown upon the local authorities.

Part V, dealing with access to open country, is to me the most important and controversial section of the Bill—controversial because it imposes a new status and alters the law of the land; important because of its relation to agriculture. Your Lordships will, no doubt, have noted that, whereas at the present moment anyone who enters on land which he does not own or which he is not on for the purpose of his lawful occasion—employment and such-like—is a trespasser, when this Bill becomes law he will no longer be a trespasser. I do not know exactly what his status is. I should describe him as a "licensed entrant," or something like that. No doubt a name for him will in due course be found. But I would point out to the noble Lord opposite, as no doubt he knows, how very transient is this status of licensed entrant; it may go in the twinkling of an eye. Suppose his dog slips its lead at the sight of a rabbit and, as many expensive and well-broken dogs do, pursues the rabbit into a wood, what then? Suppose, also, that one of these licensed entrants with a concourse of his friends marching over the links, as it is said "like a buck in spring," is led to shout to the concourse, "Three cheers for Sir Stafford Cripps." Some of your Lordships may say that is unlikely, but it is not impossible. What happens then? In either of these two cases, hey presto! in the twinkling of an eye, the man is no longer a licensed entrant but once again a trespasser; and in the second case it is not very clear from the Bill how the offence is purged. It is reasonable, perhaps, to suppose that if be in turn should say "Up Winston" or "Down with the Minister of Food," he would thereby cancel out his offence and purge it, and once again, instead of being a trespasser he would be a licensed entrant.


Perhaps he could be, called a "chartered libertine."


Perhaps we may be told that. But there are two points, one of which has been touched on, which are of more importance to me because they deal with food production, which to my mind is paramount in this matter. We are called upon now to make a great increase in the agricultural production of this country. A great target has been set, and farmers are aiming at it. As has been said, a great portion of it must come out of the marginal lands and those lands which are sometimes euphemistically called rough grazing—16,000,000 acres of them. Many thousands, and possibly even millions, of these acres are fit to grow crops—though sometimes at great expense. It is imperative that the people who farm those lands should be encouraged to make use of them.

Clause 67 (1) states that these access lands can be made excepted lands. My noble friend Lord Radnor assumed (I thought all too rashly) that anyone ploughing-up such land, or doing other things such as reseeding or putting on artificials, thereby caused the land to be excepted. The Bill does not say so, and if it is so I think it should say so. The alternative is that the farmer asks leave from the local authority, the local authority will ask leave of the Commission, the Commission will put the matter before the Minister, the Minister will consult with the Ministry of Agriculture, and that Ministry will consult other Ministries and will then report back to the Minister. And so it will go on down the scale, a process with which we are all too painfully familiar at the present time and which will delay production in a way in which it should not be delayed. I sincerely hope I may be assured later on that it is the first and not the second alternative that is meant to be adopted under this subsection.

The other question I wanted to ask is this. At the present moment anyone going on to marginal land is committing a trespass. Nothing happens to him, of course. He does no damage and nothing happens. Nevertheless, he is a trespasser, and when he enters on land, as I understand it, he does it at his own risk. To what extent will that status change? On these marginal lands there are now herds of heifers grazing. There should be many more, and I hope there will be. With them is a hull to help their increase. The bull has a great sense of responsibility to his herd, and he does not like the influx of a band of strangers in bright colours. Indeed, being a highly intelligent animal he has a particular dislike to red. When, therefore, a concourse of people approach, it may well be that he will resent their advance and in turn advance towards them. They will retire; he will come faster; they will run away. Then he will run, and finally one or more will fall into a ditch, or possibly be pushed in, and may suffer a grievous injury. Is it or is it not clear that the farmer is not responsible for an injury incurred in that way? I feel that is a matter which must be made quite definite, otherwise no farmer will be so foolish as to graze a herd of heifers and a bull on that land, any more than I would dream of putting a bull on to a meadow in which there was a right of way. It should be made abundantly clear in this Bill what the position is, both for the benefit of the licensed entrant and for the benefit of agriculture.

My Lords, there is just one thing more with which I want to deal which has not yet been mentioned—namely, sport. We must be a little careful that we do not do damage to one of our national assets. Shooting and fishing bring into this country a good deal of money. They relieve a good many rates and give pleasure to a vast number of people. I believe there are over a million people who shoot, and more than that number who fish; and both are delicately managed sports. Very little of these sports lies in the hands only of the rich man. They are far more democratic in essence than sport in any other country in the world. I recall being in Canada, in Victoria, when the shooting season started there. The shooting season lasted three days. In that, time everything was killed, and there was no more shooting. I was in Canada for the partridge shooting season, which lasted ten days. But in this country, where vastly more people shoot, the season goes on all the time, and we should be very careful before we do damage to an asset of great national and natural value.

I have occupied too much of your Lordships' time. In conclusion I would say merely that to my mind this Bill will be of value only in keeping with the spirit in which it is administered. If it is administered with the two objects stated in the Bill, with the one which I feel ought to be added, well and good. But if it is to be used as just another stick to flog the oppressed and depressed classes—and your Lordships will realise who they are—then it will do ill. It is with the hope that it will be the former and not the latter that I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have been reading with some care the documents and pamphlets which have been circulated—as is often the case before important debates of this character—in order to provide your Lordships with information and, if necessary, with ideas. I find in) self extremely disappointed, and feel that the Minister of Town and Country Planning must also be disappointed and slightly astonished at the critical reception which this Bill has had from interested bodies. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Friends of the Lake District are naturally supporters of this Bill; they have always wanted what the Bill wants, and this should be for them a great day of achievement and success. There should h: surrounding everyone who believes in national parks an atmosphere charged with the feeling: "He's a jolly good fellow."

But as a matter of fact the contrary is the case. The Minister of Town and Country Planning is faced with a very grudging welcome to this Bill. The general impression I get from these documents is that a first-class Committee was appointed under a very intelligent Chairman, Sir Arthur Hobhouse. A cloud of excellent witnesses gave evidence, and with such expert assistance in procreation it was assumed that the Ministry would produce one of those glossy thoroughbreds which Sir Alfred Munnings paints for the Royal Academy. On the contrary, these societies have looked this gift horse in the mouth, and have found it to be a very sorry nag indeed. What has anragonised these ardent supporters? If it were the agricultural interests or the Forestry Commission, who have aims that are praiseworthy but divergent from national parks, who were concerned, I could understand the coolness of the reception accorded to this Bir. But why should people whose aims are identical stand aloof? I think the answer can be found in the treatment that the National Trust have received under this Bill.

The National Trust have always believed in national parks. They have tried to create them on exactly the lines of which the Ministry approve. The Trust own some 150,000 acres in England and Wales, of which some 40,000 acres are in the Lake District. And they are still acquiring large areas. Except where the interests of agriculture or other compelling reasons demand the contrary, the Trust encourage, and have always encouraged, the greatest possible degree of public access to their land. The Trust were established for the purpose of preserving suitable places for the public, and throughout then fifty-four years of existence they have done their best to ensure that the public shall enjoy those places. The Government have recognised the special position of the National Trust by providing in this Bill that their inalienable land shall not be acquired except by special procedure. This gives a certain degree of protection for which, on behalf of the Trust, I express my gratitude. I am still more grateful to the Government for having on second thoughts exempted such land altogether from compulsory acquisition under Part V and Part VI of the Bill. But, under Clauses 12 and 13 of the Bill it is still possible for National Trust land to be compulsorily acquired.

I hope that I shall not be accused of ingratitude if I express my regret that the Government could not see their way to grant absolute exemption to National Trust land. The object of the Trust is to give the public the greatest possible degree of access to their land, consistent with any special obligations of the Trust—for example, in respect of nature reserves. That, surely, is also the object of the Government. Yet the Government have looked upon us with a suspicious eye. I think they have trusted the National Trust to a certain extent, but not completely. They are afraid, I believe, of setting up a precedent on behalf of a body who do in point of fact deserve special treatment. The Minister of Town and Country Planning is accessible and sympathetic, but, to my mind, he is too cautious. Suspicion creates suspicion. This Bill reduces the powers of the National Parks Commission and therefore means an increase in the powers of the Ministry. There is a suspicion that it would be better if it were the other way round. There should be no objection to the Ministry being more powerful than the Commission, yet the amenity societies all show that they prefer the Commission they do not know to the Ministry they do.

It is said in defence of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning that they are a young Ministry and that it is very difficult for them to stand up to other Government Departments especially the Service Departments. Nevertheless, in spite of that, I feel that they could have earned the loyalty and the enthusiasm of supporters of the national parks if they had shown more enthusiasm themselves, and less suspicion of the people who support them. It would probably be unseemly of me to lament the temperament of a Minister of the Crown, but I am sorry that the Minister did not throw his bonnet over the mill and go baldheaded for national parks. I should have liked him to say to himself: "Well, Lulworth Cove may be closed by tank traps; Barker's may commercialise Kensington Square; the Green Belt may be built on, but all these things will be forgotten if I support my child—national parks. This is my place in history." I should have liked him to think that "Silkin's National Parks" would become as famous as "Lansbury's Lido." I am very much afraid, however, that they are more likely to be classed with "Belisha's Beacons."

I do not think it is too late to remove the mutual distrust that has arisen between the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the natural supporters of the Bill. No Amendment will be moved during the Committee stage on behalf of the National Trust asking the Government to exclude their land from the compulsory clauses of the Bill. But they hope that the Government themselves will move such an Amendment, and they are looking to them to make a gesture of conciliation. I well remember a few years ago, when John Dower was at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the atmosphere of faith, enthusiasm and co-operation that existed at that time. A great deal of that has gone, and it is a great misfortune, because I cannot emphasise too strongly that we are the people who are really interested in national parks, and our good will is vital to their future.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, after this somewhat lengthly debate, I should like to make one or two remarks from the point of view of the local planning authorities, bodies which have hardly been mentioned in this debate, except in terms of execration. As has been said by many others speakers, there has been a lack of agreement as to what a national park should be. Had there been agreement, I believe that a great many purposes of this Bill could have been met under the Act of 1947. Now we have this Bill. It is extremely difficult from a reading of it to tell or guess what physical changes in planning will result from it—or, indeed, are intended. It may be that all the ideas of the Hobhouse Committee will be put into effect. On the other hand, it may be that everything will go on much as at present, because evidently a great deal depends on what the Minister decides on appeal cases. The only concrete fact one can gather from the Bill is that the Parks Commission is to be set up. As has already been said, that is not such a very concrete fact, because the Parks Commission is somewhat of a new departure, a body not exactly advisory and not exactly executive, but a combination of the two.

I am grateful to the Minister for resisting the pressure to take the national parks out of the control of the local authorities, without regard to the consequences that may happen in any given locality. I confess that I am not entirely happy about this new compromise solution, because it seems to me to be a perfect example of the modern local government doctrine of synthetic decision, under which no one committee or authority is allowed to decide anything finally, but policy has to be evolved, as it were, by a process of general consultation all round. I agree that in many cases consultation has its advantages, but in practice it too often means that some perfectly trivial problem, which any sensible person could solve in ten minutes, has to go circulating round Whitehall, creating a great deal of delay and frustration to anybody who is trying to get something done. I do not want to exaggerate difficulties. So far as this consultation may be applied to making a scheme, I think that not only will there be no great difficulty about it but that it will be a valuable thing. Anyway, there will be plenty of time for it.

In my own county of Sussex, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has kindly referred, we have a scheme on which we have spent a great deal of money and about which we have taken a great deal of trouble. As a result, we have had no sort of complaint from anybody—hikers or ramblers or anybody else. We have been rather mystified about why people should want to undergo such a large measure of reorganisation as has been demanded, at least in another place. I do not in the least mean to be intractable or to suggest that our plan cannot be improved. If the National Parks Commission have any good ideas, I can say in all sincerity that we shall be most anxious to co-operate with them in every way. But I hope that once the scheme has been agreed and confirmed by the Minister, the Government will not encourage any form of dual control in its administration.

As your Lordships know, under the ordinary town planning procedure a constant stream of applications comes from all over a Liven area to the local planning authority. Not only do the local planning authority decide these cases having regard to whatever scheme they are work- ing on, but the Minister also has a default power to call in individual applications for his decision. In my experience, he does so carefully in eases of particular difficulty, and I have never heard of anybody taking exception to that. What I am afraid of is that, in the face of the exaggeration of difficulties and the setting up of the Commission, strong pressure will be put on the Minister to call in a much larger proportion of these applications, if they come from national park areas, on the plea that the local planning authority cannot be trusted. This is in contradiction to the arguments advanced when discussing the Parliament Act; for popular election seems to have been more of a term of reproach in tide discussions on this Bill. If the Minister should accede to this pressure, I feel that eventually there will develop a situation in which, to put it colloquially, the local planning authority will say. "Either we run this show or you do; but we cannot both go on running it."

It will be unfortunate if mistakes are made, as probably they will be made; it is doubly unfortunate that mistakes may give rise to Parliamentary Questions; but I do not know how we are going to develop a sense of responsibility among local planning authorities unless we give them the power to make mistakes. It is not simply a question of an academic argument between the local planning authority and the Parks Commission. The people who will suffer will be the individuals who put in their applications for consent to develop. They will be in a constant state of doubt about what they can do and what they cannot do. My plea, therefore, is for the clearest possible instructions from the Minister as to the policy which the local planning authorities are to pursue in these national parks, and for the minimum of possible interference in the carrying out of that policy. I think it would be a very good thing if the intentions regarding the physical planning in these parks could be clearly explained. It would be good for the public, good for the owners, and—not least—good for the planners themselves. If I may put tills colloquially again, there has been a good deal of discussion as to who should do what and, I think, far too much concentration on the "who" and far too little on the "what."

As for Part V, dealing with access to land, I cannot speak for any part of the country except my own, and even of that I have no specific authority to speak. But I should be surprised if anybody in Sussex would wish to go to a great deal of trouble and expense merely to put on a more legal footing the practices which have gone on for a long time without anybody taking exception to them. I am glad to see that in Clause 63 the Minister has allowed for that point of view. I think we should feel that the purpose of this Bill will be served if we safeguard a sufficient tract of country, if we provide footpaths for people to walk on and car parks for them to put their cars in. In passing, I may say that I am much more afraid about the motorists than I am about the hikers. If people do stray from the footpaths, they must do so, in my view, on their own responsibility, as is the case if they stray from footpaths anywhere else in the country.

I have no doubt there is a school of thought which thinks the right to ramble, as indeed the right to do a great many other things, ought to be conferred by Parliament, and that the conduct of the ramblers should be regulated by bylaws. It seems to me, however, that by the time you have defined your access areas, worked out the boundaries, put notice boards to indicate to the public what those boundaries are and what their rights and responsibilities are, arranged for the enforcement of the bylaws, dealt with the complicated questions of compensation which will certainly arise and dotted every "i" and crossed every "t," you will have built up an immense entanglement of red tape and I very much doubt whether the result will be pleasing to anybody.

I was reading the other day a poem by Shelley called Lines Written in Dejecttion near Naples, and I pictured a poet of the future, I suppose no longer able to go to Naples and therefore repairing to some access land, possibly overlooking one of our new towns. Even there I fear that his meditations might be rudely interrupted by a uniformed warden approaching him and presenting him with a copy of the Second Schedule of this Bill. Apart from the question of romance and glamour, however, I do not believe that bylaws are going to be altogether effective. On the South Downs one of the most common complaints—in fact, the only chronic complaint—comes from the farmers, and is directly not against human beings but against dogs that worry sheep, usually by night. It is a very serious matter, and it has certainly contributed to the diminution of the number of flocks on the Downs. But I do not see how you can deal with dogs under any form of town planning. For those reasons I do not think we should wish to operate this part of the Bill except in special cases. I feel that if there is any demand for it, it is more likely to come from the farmers and the owners than from the general pubic.

Finally, although I am afraid I have not been able to give an absolutely unqualified welcome to this Bill, I should like to express gratitude to the Minister for defending against a good deal of pressure the principle of uniformity in town planning. While I think a great deal of this Bill is unnecessary, it certainly fits in with the 1947 Act, and I hope it will continue to do so. On a previous occasion I ventured to suggest to your Lordships that we should not get very far with town planning if the charter of planning was going to be altered every few years. When I read that the Conservative Conference wants to repeal entirely the 1947 Act, and when I hear that the Minister of Health and the Government are going to reform the entire function of local government, I think we must be thankful for small mercies, and the local planners must pursue their very uncertain objective in a spirit of resolute resignation.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Chorley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.