HL Deb 20 March 1957 vol 202 cc646-66

2.43 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to draw attention to the Seventh Annual Report of the National Parks Commission; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I thought it right to put this Motion down in order that the Horse might have an opportunity of considering the Seventh Report of the National Parks Commission and I hope, to discuss the question of national parks in a broader way than is, necessarily, done in the Report. As I say, this is the Seventh Report of the Commission, and seven years is an important period in the lifetime of any body or individual.

I think it right at the outset to say something about the authors of this Report. First, there is the Chairman, Lord Strang, who is a Member of this House, but who, unfortunately for the purposes of this debate has his lips sealed. On the other hand, his eyes are open, and so are his ears, and I am sure that he will derive some benefit from what is said in the course of this discussion. A few weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Strang, took part in a discussion before the Town Planning Institute, and he talked about national parks. I read his speech; it was a fine speech, and I am only sorry that he cannot make it in this House. At the end of the discussion which followed, the seconder of the vote of thanks said that he had considerable apprehensions about Lord Strang's appointment to the chairmanship of this Commission, but that after his three years' work, and having heard him make this speech, he had no hesitation in saying that the Commission was really fortunate in having Lord Strang as the Chairman. I think we can all echo that, and hope that it will be very long before he is able to make a speech in this House on national parks.

We also have in this House my noble friend Lord Lawson, who until recently had been Deputy Chairman of the Commission ever since its inception. Lord Lawson has been a tower of strength to the Commission: his great wisdom and experience have been entirely at their disposal, and the fact that all his life he has been very keen on outdoor activity, and a great walker himself, in his time, has been of great value to the Commission. He is no longer a member of the Commission, unfortunately, but that fact will give him the opportunity, which I hereby invite him to take, of joining in our discussions this afternoon. The membership of the Commission is a distinguished one. I will not go through all the names, but I should like to make reference to the successor to my noble friend Lord Lawson, Mrs. John Dower. The late Mr. John Dower was really the author of the national parks idea as it is understood at the present time. He was asked by the Ministry, before my time, to make a report on national parks. It was a most distinguished report, and arising out of it we had the Hobhouse Committee, and thereafter the National Parks Act which we are discussing to-day. It was, therefore, the work of Mr. John Dower, ably supported by his wife, which put national parks on the map, so that it is a great satisfaction to friends of national parks that Mrs. John Dower should now be the Deputy Chairman.

Lastly, I should like to mention one other person—it may be a little unorthodox and I hope your Lordships will forgive me—and that is the Secretary of the Commission, who has held office ever since its inception. I myself appointed him. He was a distinguished athlete in his time, an Olympic runner, and he has done a fine piece of work. I sometimes think that having to prod the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and to get them to keep up anything like the pace to which he was accustomed in his young days, has been somewhat of a frustrating job. But he has done his best, and I think this Report indicates that he has met with some success.

The Report itself is long, detailed, and most informative, and sets out fully the activities of the National Parks Commission during the past year. It is a little unfortunate that this work is not sufficiently well known among people who are resident in towns. A friend of mine recently asked me when I next proposed making a speech, because she would like to come and listen. When I said that I should be talking about national parks, she thought I was going to talk about Hyde Park and Regent's Park. That is an indication of the extent of people's ignorance on the subject of national parks, and particularly among people who are living in large towns. I think that it is also partly due to the fact that the Act itself came in with the minimum amount of controversy. It was passed in 1949; it was a non-Party Act, and was passed with the active support of Members from all parts of both Houses. Therefore, it did not have anything like the publicity and the excitement of some other measures with which one has been concerned in the past.

The term "national parks" is used in this country in a way which is far different from that used in any other country in the world. We are not the only country which has national parks, but in other countries, such as the United States of America, Canada and South Africa, the term is used to indicate large expanses of territory where there is wild game and where there is hardly any population, areas to which people come to spend a long holiday amidst the most natural and primitive surroundings. Inevitably, our national parks are of a totally different kind. They are places of high, outstanding beauty, but they are also places in which people live and work and carry on their ordinary avocations. It is the function of the National Parks Commission, while retaining the general character of these national parks, to make them also places to which people can come and enjoy recreation and the exceptional beauty of the countryside. In fact, the purpose of the National Parks Commission is to prevent these places from becoming museum pieces or show places, to enable them to evolve and develop in the normal natural way and yet to preserve their exceptional character.

If one accepts that conception, one can perhaps appreciate the right attitude to certain developments which inevitably have to come even to places of that character. For instance, there are mineral workings. Obviously, the introduction of mineral workings in a national park in no way adds to the beauty of that park. On the other hand, one has to weigh that up against the necessities of the community, and the essential fact that we have to maintain our economic life. If one can obtain these minerals from other parts nearby which will not jeopardise the beauty of the national park so much the better, and the greatest care always has to be taken in connection with any development which is proposed in a national park. But in many cases some kind of development will be inevitable unless one is going to make tremendous sacrifices in our economy. The National Parks Commission, therefore, have a very difficult task at times in weighing up the importance of maintaining the general character and appearance of one of these national parks as against the need for development which becomes necessary as our population grows and our needs increase.

I say that one of the important features about our national parks is that they are intended to be places to which people will come for recreation and outdoor exercise, and all the different types of outdoor life which are so much a part of our existence. We have to remember that 80 per cent. of the population of this country lives in towns, and a large proportion of those spend a great part of their lives in enclosed quarters, either leading a sedentary life or spending a large number of hours in buildings, healthy or otherwise. It is the purpose of the national parks to enable such people to enjoy their leisure in healthy outdoor conditions. Apart from the preservation of the countryside and the beauty of the national parks, that is the main purpose. After all, there is no point in preserving the beauty of them unless a considerable number of people are available to enjoy them.

I said earlier that this Act was a non-controversial Act and that that accounted to some extent for the fact that there was little excitement about it. There is obviously very little excitement going to take place in this debate. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Munster, that I am not going to say anything frightfully exciting or even controversial. But there was some controversy over this Act, and that arose mostly on the machinery—there was none about the purpose of it—on the powers of the National Parks Commission, and on the kind of local committees for the administration of local parks—whether they should be joint boards or separate boards where the national parks extended over the area of several counties. In some quarters, this controversy is still alive, and there are some individuals and some bodies, having nothing else to argue about, who find it desirable to maintain the controversy and to keep it burning.

At the end of seven years, I think the various Governments were wise in allowing a variety of administration in the national parks. I think the Act itself was biased in favour of the joint board where the national park spread over a number of counties. But, after all, machinery will work satisfactorily only if the people who are going to work it believe in it and want to make it work. In our own lives and in the course of our own experience we know that the most defective machinery will work if people want to make it work, and the best kind of machinery will not work if the people do not feel that it is the best. Therefore I should like to congratulate the various Governments—not only this one, but all previous Governments—on having been somewhat elastic in permitting different types of machinery to exist side by side, even though I think that on balance the view of the various Governments was that the join board was the most satisfactory instrument of all.

In the course of the seven years, as stated in the Report, nine national parks have been created and one has been designated—I am not sure whether by now the Minister has approved it or not—that is, the Brecon Beacons. Those national parks are distributed pretty well all over England and Wales. It is a great pity that there are no national parks readily available for London, but that is not the fault of the Commission or the fault of any Minister; it is the fault of the particular kind of scenery that happens to exist within 100 miles of London; there is nothing that is really suitable for a national park. The Hobhouse Committee did recommend the Sussex Downs as a national park. That is an area which I know very well. They are very beautiful, and if it were at all possible the Sussex Downs could have been made a national park. But I doubt whether the type of scenery in the Sussex Downs and its general character is appropriate to the creation of a national park, and I think the Commission have been quite right to do the next best thing and make it an area of outstanding natural beauty.

3.0 p.m.


I do not think it has been designated as such.


NO. I believe that it has not been actually been designated. I am much obliged to the noble Marquess. They are contemplating it, and they certainly have it very much in mind to do something about it. The other area they have designated—I think I am right—is the Surrey Hills, near Dorking. They are very beautiful. But here again this area is not entirely suitable as a national park. It is inevitable, but a great pity, that there is nothing within reasonable reach of London. I myself should not press for any extension of the national parks. At the present time, I think we have ten, and together they constitute a fairly substantial area. Certainly for the time being I would recommend that the Commission consolidate the areas they have—with the exception, that is, of the Norfolk Broads.

I want to make a most urgent plea to the Government to do something about the Norfolk Broads. This is a unique area; there is nothing like it in the whole world. It is a natural waterway which has given great pleasure to hundreds of thousands of people—I was going to say "and will continue to do so"; but it will not. It is gradually silting up. I myself have seen the difference between the Broads as they were ten years ago and as they are to-day. These waters are gradually disappearing, and within a very few years, unless something is done, there will be nothing left of these wonderful Norfolk Broads. One Government after another has played with this. I think the last Minister said that the time was not opportune to do anything about it, or even to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am astonished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have been held in such awe that he could not even be approached on a matter of this kind.

The position to-day is just this. Either something is done immediately about the Norfolk Broads, or the Broads will disappear. I recognise that it may involve a considerable expenditure, and I should understand it if the Government were to make a decision and said, "We are not prepared to spend this amount of money to preserve the Norfolk Broads." I should not approve, but I should understand such a decision. What I do not understand, and what I strongly disapprove of, is that a decision should go by default; that a decision should virtually be taken which consists merely of saying that the time is not opportune for approaching the Chancellor of the Exchequer, thereby, in effect, saying that the Norfolk Broads must go. I hope that it may be possible for the noble Earl, Lord Munster, to give the House some comfort on this matter. I know that the Norfolk Broads are held very dearly by large numbers of people who have enjoyed the amenities of the Broads in the past.

I do not propose to say very much more in detail about the Report itself, but I should like to make one or two suggestions to the Commission as to what they might tell us in the future. They have told us a great deal about their activities and the machinery, and I think there is nothing about the national parks that one might want to know that is not contained in the Report. But I should like to know how the public are reacting to the national parks. Are they being visited to any greater extent than before? What has been the result of all this activity? What additional facilities, such as transport, have been made available? I know that something is said about hostels, facilities for refreshment and so on, but are people able to get them? There is something said about car parking, too. One just does not know what is the reaction of the public to the national parks. I understand that within fifty miles or so of one of the national parks, the Peak District, something like one-third or one-quarter of the whole population of Great Britain is resident. How many of that population visit that national park? I do not expect the noble Earl to know—I do not suppose for a moment that he has counted them; but it would be interesting if one could get some idea as to whether an increasing number are, in fact, visiting these parks since they have become officially designated as national parks.

I think the Commission have wisely turned their attention to designating a number of areas of outstanding natural beauty, and I have dealt with some of them, particularly those near London. I hope they will go on doing that, because Great Britain is, I think, the most beautiful country in the world, and we must not lose those areas of outstanding beauty because we do not recognise them. It is a great thing just to say on paper "This is an area of outstanding natural beauty", and "This is an area which we ought specially to try to preserve." As I said earlier about national parks, that does not in the least mean that no charges are taking place. They are bound to take place, but at least we must hesitate before we do anything which will spoil the natural beauty of those areas; and, if we do it, we must do it with our eyes open, realising that it is, in our view, inevitable. So I think the more areas of exceptional beauty we designate, the better. I hope that the National Parks Commission will go on and make that one of their most important jobs in the coming years.

One of the most outstanding things in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was the great act of faith, in which all parties participated, in making large tracts of land open to the general public. It was an act of faith because many of these areas are areas where farming operations take place, and there was a great danger of these operations being interfered with: of cattle being let loose; of gates being left open, and of all the other things which farmers so much abhor. It is to the credit of the farming population that very little objection was taken, at the time of the passing of the Act, to providing this access to the general public over certain defined areas of the countryside. I should have liked to be informed what has been the result of this act of faith. Has it, on the whole, been successful? Are there many Complaints from farmers about the way in which the public treat their land?

One has to realise, of course, that the public need to be educated. These axe townsfolk who come into the countryside, and many of them do not appreciate the harm in leaving a gate open, or of doing other things which may help to contaminate cattle, and so on. This provision of access has its educational aspect. My own view is that, if we start with the children, we shall, in due course, get a generation who will learn to respect, appreciate and love the countryside, even though they themselves are not living in it. But I should have liked to know what has been the effect on the adult population. A certain amount of money has been spent in providing a country code, and also a warden service. Here I should like to pay a special tribute to the wardens, many of whom have volunteered and are unpaid. They are taking part in this work of wardens because they like the countryside and they believe in providing access. They do it in their spare time, and they are making a fine job of it.

The Report refers to several tons of litter that were left in certain of the areas at certain times, especially during holidays. People do tend to leave their litter about, especially if there are no receptacles in which they can put it. I feel that sometimes we have not shown sufficient consideration to those who have the litter. What are they to do with it? It is asking a lot of some people to take their litter home again, and if we can provide more receptacles and other ways of disposing of the litter, I think that the tons of litter referred to in the Report might well be reduced to hundredweights. At any rate, I should like to know whether the amount of litter that is left in these areas is being reduced or not. Is it on the increase? One would like to know the reaction of the general public in this matter.

Now a word about footpaths. That, too, is one of the purposes of the Act—to revive footpaths which disappeared during the war, which were ploughed up and were lost. It has been a difficult business to make a map throughout the country of all the footpaths, and a great deal of devoted service has been given to the revival of these footpaths and to the re-establishment of existing ones. As your Lordships know, a great many of these footpaths depend for their existence upon the memory of the oldest inhabitant and so on. I realise that this task having been entrusted to the parish councils, they have quite a big job to do. Nevertheless, the progress has been rather slower than I should have liked, and I am sure slower than those responsible for preserving the footpaths would have liked. A great deal of help has been given by such bodies as the Ramblers' Association, who have provided voluntary workers to assist the councils in their activities. If the Government and the Parks Commission can do anything to speed up the determination of these footpaths, I think they would be doing a good job.

The same remark applies to the long-distance footpaths. A great deal of interest has been aroused in these long-distance footpaths, whereby one can walk for perhaps a hundred or more miles in complete isolation on difficult ground, and really enjoy the beauty of the countryside. But although a great number of these footpaths have been started, no single one has been completed. I do not know why there is this delay. There ought not to be. Everyone is agreed on the principle of long-distance footpaths, and if only a little "ginger" were put into the operation I have no doubt that it could be completed quickly. I should like to make this observation on long-distance footpaths: I hope that whoever is responsible will bear in mind that they are intended not merely for athletes, and people of great vigour and energy, but for ordinary people who like walking, who enjoy long walking, but who are not so young or agile as they used to be. I myself would gladly undertake a ten or fifteen miles walk, so long as the ground was not too rough, too steep and so on. I hope that that will be born in mind in creating these long-distance footpaths.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but in Cumberland, where I happen to live, there has been tremendous co-operation from the farmers and everybody in the county, so that not only are these footpaths kept open but there are stiles over every fence. Everybody is helping.


My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. I hope the Chairman of the National Parks Commission is listening and will regard that as an example to the rest of the country.

Now I want to refer to the proposals which the National Parks Commission make for the amendment of the Act. It is not surprising that at the end of seven years' experience there should be a number of suggestions for amendment, but I think it is a tribute to the Act itself that these suggestions are not more drastic. I should like to refer to just two of them—they are contained in Appendix H of the Report, at page 64. A number of the recommendations refer to finance. It is not surprising that, like most other bodies, the National Parks Commission find that the funds available are inadequate to enable them to carry out their functions as they would like to carry them out.

They have not been very extravagant. During the whole period of seven years, all they have spent is £185,000—not a costly business for the creation of nine national parks and a number of areas of outstanding natural beauty. That sum covers salaries, travelling expenses and publicity, and so on. I think it may be said that the money that they have had has been well spent, but they could do much more if more funds were placed at their disposal. They would like, for instance, to be able to appoint landscape consultants, should that become necessary. I think that often it is necessary. After all, this is a body of laymen. They do their best, and they have by now had considerable experience; but if certain operations are regarded as necessary in a national park, or in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the Commission are compelled to agree to such operations, at least it should be possible for the Commission to make suggestions which will minimise the damage that is being done to the beauty of the area. For that purpose it will often be desirable to appoint landscape consultants, and I think they ought to be in a position to do so. That is one of the recommendations that they make. They refer to the possibility of using the Land Fund for the purpose of obtaining further money. I do not think it matters whether the money comes from the Land Fund or from any other source, but it seems to me that this is one of the purposes for which the provisions of the Act might be extended.

Then I should like to refer to recommendations 6 and 7, at page 64 of the Report. It often happens that a developer in a particular area wants to carry out certain developments which might suit his purposes but would not entirely harmonise with the character of the area itself. Let me quote an example—I agree that it is not the best example that could be given, because it concerns an area which is not a national park. Suppose that a person wanted to build a house in one of the lovely Cots-wold villages, he might himself be prepared to live in a house of normal brick, with slate roof and so on. That would be highly undesirable, because it would completely spoil the character of these lovely villages. On the other hand, it seems a little unfair, and sometimes difficult, that such a person should have to provide the additional money required to prevent that happening. So the National Parks Commission recommend that they should be in a position to make a grant in cases of that kind, where it is insisted that the development should conform to the character of the neighbourhood but such a course is more expensive. That seems to me a most reasonable suggestion.

The other point is that it is desirable, at any rate for the time being, and certainly in view of the success of the warden service, that that service should be extended to areas for which at present a grant is not payable. It is a small matter, but I feel that they are justified in asking for an amendment of the Act to enable this relatively small extension of the warden service to be carried out.

I have made a general survey of the Report, and your Lordships will appreciate that I have no great criticism of the way in which the Act has been administered, and still less of the National Parks Commission; but I have made a number of suggestions as to how the work can be speeded up and improved. The national parks and the facilities for greater access to the countryside make a unique contribution to the health and well being of the community. When an increasing number of our people lead a sedentary life, or spend all or most of their working life indoors, the more we can encourage the use of leisure in the open air, the better for the future of our people. After all, this is an alternative to television, and of the two it is far healthier for the general public to use their leisure in visiting national park; and getting out into the country than to have their eyes; glued to television. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will feel that it has been worth while to spend a little of our time in considering intangible but none the less vitally important aspects of our life, and that every encouragement will be given to further the great work being done by the National Parks Commission, the various local parks committees and all who are actively concerned in the work. I beg to move for Papers.

3 24 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who moved this Motion is qualified in a way in which no-one else is qualified to talk about the national parks system. Indeed, nobody knows more than he about the legislation concerning it, and that fact seems to have been recognised in your Lordships' House, in view of the sparseness of the list of speakers this afternoon. But that does not mean that there is a lack of public interest in the subject in this country. Certainly whenever there is a threat to the natural beauty of any part of the country there is no lack of citizens to get up and defend it. The National Parks Commission, whose Report we are debating, is the instrument to which is entrusted a good deal of the task of defending these natural amenities.

One thing that may have been noticed in the Report is the strange silence on the subject of finance. The cost of operating the national parks is not mentioned, but I believe that, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, the administrative figure is very low. Even when all expenditure is taken into account—Central Government expenditure in grants, and local government expenditure, from the rates—it comes to a very low figure. I have heard it said that £100,000 a year would cover the total cost of all these parks. We should recognise that we are getting this amenity "on the cheap". As your Lordships have heard, we rely on a great amount of unpaid voluntary labour—the Warden Service and the services rendered by the Ramblers' Association and their members—and I would remind your Lordships that in other countries they think it justifiable to spend a sizeable figure to pay for the national amenities.

I have read that in the United States of America the national parks budget for the coming year is more than £16 million, having risen by some 50 per cent. since last year, and that they expect that 50 million American citizens will take advantage of those national parks. We do not know how many of our citizens visit our national parks, and I think that is one of the things the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had in mind in saying that future annual Reports might give more details of the use made of the parks. But surely we can afford some more expenditure than is at present allowed in order to pay for these amenities.

There is just one other point on the report to which I wish to refer, and I should like then to throw out a suggestion. As your Lordships know, the Report refers to the long-distance routes and the disappointing progress that has been made in completing them. Possibly the noble Earl who is to reply may have some news for us about further progress having been made, but I believe it is correct to say that at present a 15-mile stretch of the Pennine Way still remains undedicated, six years after it was approved. The Pembroke Coast route, which was approved four years ago, still lacks 34 miles of rights of way, which is nearly half the total. Of the North Cornwall Coast route, which was approved five years ago, 37 miles are still required; and of the South Cornwall Coast route, a project three years old, there are still 41 miles required. That is a considerable total still lacking, and I wonder if the Minister can tell us whether further progress has been made and can offer any immediate prospect of success.

I should like to go on from that to make a suggestion for the extension of this national parks system. The underlying principles and purposes of the Act seem to me to be capable of being extended and adapted in a way not only to increase the amenities of the parks which we have now but also to contribute, to some extent, towards a solution of another very intractable problem which is before us—that is, what to do with the obsolete canals. That is a subject which has often been in the public eye. There is a Committee sitting now. It has been sitting for nearly a year, and it is engaged in investigating inland waterways. Among other things, it is to make proposals as to how the administration and finances should be arranged in connection with canals which can no longer be used economically for transport purposes.

As your Lordships will remember, Section 5 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act makes it clear that the object of this legislation is: preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas specified…and for the purpose of promoting their enjoyment by the public. These waterways have functions to perform. Their main value, as is recognised whenever the subject comes up, is as amenities, and I should like to suggest that the principles of the National Parks Act could be applied to them. There are various kinds of waterways, and there are a few that actually pass through or within the boundaries of the national parks. There is only one considerable one, the Brecon Canal, which passes for some seventeen or eighteen miles of its course through the Brecon Beacons National Park—which we hope we shall hear this afternoon has been approved.

There are other waterways closely adjoining other national parks. There is the Lancaster Canal, which approaches very close to the Lake District National Park, near Kendal. There are the Peak Forest and Macclesfield and Cromford Canals, all of which approach close to the boundaries of the Peak District Park. The Yorkshire Dales Park can be reached by water both from the East and the West Coasts of England. In all those cases, the waterway could be thrown into the Park by a small adjustment of the boundaries, a small variation of the designated area; and when that had been done the Act itself could be applied to them. Section 13 of the Act was specially designed to promote recreation on the waterways in such national parks as had them.


May I ask the noble Earl whether the Romney Marsh Canal was included in that list?


That is one of the canals which is being considered by the Committee, I have no doubt. That is not within a national park area. There are other cases of areas recommended by the Hobhouse Committee as areas of outstanding natural beauty which have waterways passing through them. In those cases, although the Act as it stands does not apply, a small amendment to the Act would permit local authorities within the designated areas to carry out such work as is required not only for preserving the amenities but also for preserving the opportunities for public enjoyment.

In most cases, the presence of a canal adds to the beauty of a landscape, provided, of course, that the canal holds water and that it has not degenerated to the state of a weed-grown ditch. But wherever there is one of these former waterways that can be maintained in sufficiently good order for pleasure-boating, there, I submit, is a case where the machinery of the National Parks Commission would provide a solution. It would add to the amenities of the area, so that it would be justifiable to expect some expenditure from the rates. On the other hand, it would add to the sum of the amenities open to the whole population and, therefore, would qualify for Central Government grant. I do not want to go into any great detail, but it seems to me that we and the Bowes Committee are faced with this very intractable problem of what to do with this 700 to 1,000 miles of canals which are useless for transport but which cannot be just abandoned. They will go on costing money to someone, but the canals that have amenity value should, it seems to me, be treated as amenities and paid for under the machinery set up for national amenities. I should like to put that suggestion to the Commission and to Her Majesty's Government.

Finally, I should just like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said about the work of the National Parks Commission, and to emphasise our indebtedness to all the voluntary workers who assist in keeping the system of national parks going, and to add my congratulations to my noble friend on the flourishing health in which his "baby" finds itself on its seventh anniversary.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree with my noble friend who moved this Motion that the national parks deserve their one day a year in your Lordships' House. At any rate, the moving of this Motion today has given my noble friend an opportunity of paying a tribute, which is very well deserved indeed, to all those who work so hard in furtherance of the Act establishing national parks. I know that I shall carry your Lordships with me when I say that no one will rejoice more in these tributes than the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who has played such a very notable part in the implementation of the Act.

As regards the speech of my noble friend, there are only two remarks I should like to make. He spoke of this country as being the most beautiful country in the world. Perhaps it may seem rather ungracious to question that remark, but I think that natural beauty falls into certain categories, and on our particular category I would agree with my noble friend. But when I think at random of such countryside as that of the Austrian Province of Carinthia, of the South Island of New Zealand, and of the Isles of Greece, I should feel it a little difficult to agree with him that this is the most beautiful country in the world.

I should like to endorse my noble friend's remarks about litter. No one could realise more than I do the advantages of the development which has taken place in the Lake District of his country, whereby that wonderful countryside has been thrown open to the populations of such cities as Manchester, Wigan, Warrington and so on. I wholeheartedly rejoice that that wonderful playground is at their disposal and that they take advantage of it, but I really regret that they bring their litter with them. It is disgraceful to find on those beautiful fell tops in Westmorland and Cumberland the disfiguremert of cigarette cartons, empty bottles, orange peel and so on, and I hope that every opportunity will be taken by the Youth Hostels Association, the Friends of the Lake District and other similar organisations to bring home to the people that it is not treating properly the countryside they so enjoy to disfigure it with this horrible litter.

I see from the list of speakers that, with the exception of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, who is to reply on behalf of the Government, the speakers on this Motion are drawn entirely from this side of the House.


My Lords, may I point out that that does not mean that other noble Lords are not most intensely interested in the subject?


The noble Lord is a little quick; he has anticipated my next sentence. I was about to say that I know well that that fact does not indicate the slightest lack of interest amongst noble Lords on the opposite side of the House in the preservation of the beauties of the countryside. If I may be allowed to say so, I see opposite me noble Lords who, I know, have no interest nearer their own hearts and who could have done no more to preserve the amenities of the countryside in every way possible on the land which they are fortunate to possess and over which they have jurisdiction.

In what I have to say, I want to call attention to certain points where I feel that the Act constituting the national parks is capable of improvement and where I think it fails for lack of that improvement. I cannot say how far these points can be rectified administratively or how far some of them would call for amendment of the Act. I fully realise that amendment of the Act is probably not possible, but I would ask the noble Earl who is to reply whether certain of these points permit of administrative action without amendment of the Act. I feel strongly that the Commission are handicapped in their work because they have not their own budget in the shape of an annual block grant provided by the National Land Fund. I think that if they had such a grant, they would be free to allocate it for use by the national park planning authorities.

If we wish fully to carry out the purpose of the National Parks Act, there should be a grant from national funds for planning and administering the national parks, which would be proportionate to the increased expenditure falling on the area by virtue of its having been constituted a national park. And I think that it should be conditional on the employment of adequate staff for carrying out the purpose for which it was made. For instance, in some cases new footpaths have to be made to carry out the intention of the Act, and in these cases I feel that a 100 per cent. grant should be made. As regards existing paths there should be a grant for their maintenance. Again—and I think that my noble friend Lord Silkin touched on this point—onerous conditions are imposed, quite rightly, for the protection of amenities when a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty is developed. In my opinion, a local planning authority should have power to compensate private developers for the expenditure in this respect upon residential or agricultural buildings, with, of course, an upper limit of compensation proportionate to the total cost. If private developers are called upon to go to expense in preserving amenities in accordance with the Act, it seems to be only fair and right that there should be some compensation for them. I think that the Commission should have power to acquire land by agreement or, if agreement cannot be reached, compulsorily, in order to carry out the purposes of the Act.

To come to one or two other points, I think that the duty already imposed upon the Commission to advise the Minister and planning authorities ought to be extended to apply to areas of outstanding natural beauty as well as to national parks, in order that the full intention of the Act may be carried out. I think, too, that there should be a completely separate authority—and I use the word "authority" because I do not mean a committee—where there is what I will call a single county national park—that is to say, where the whole of a national park is contained in a county. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that this is a matter of importance. I should like to see the Commission empowered to employ expert consultants—water engineers, foresters and so on—and make their services available without charge to the planning authorities in connection with national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. I feel that that would have a marked effect.

Something has been said this afternoon about long-distance routes, and those along the coast in Pembroke and Cornwall have been referred to. I think that improvement in that matter would be hastened if responsibility for completing the gaps existing in these long-distance routes could be transferred to the county councils and if there were grants in respect of the cost involved in completing these gaps. Another point I have very much in mind, especially from what I have seen in the Lake District, is that what is known as permitted development in national parks should be severely restricted; and particularly I feel that new road works ought to be brought under planning control. In that connection, I would say, too, that I think the powers of traffic restriction ought to be extended. As things are at the present moment, motor cars can be, and are, driven with the consent of the owner of the land on bridle ways and footpaths. Again citing the Lake District, which is the district I know best, I would refer to the extension of motor traffic over some of the passes not designated as roads, and the trials carried out over these rough mountain passes. It is deplorable, and I should like to see the powers of traffic restriction extended to prevent it.

With reference to the Motion that my noble friend Lord Lawson moved in such felicitous terms last week (we shall have the opportunity of referring again to that when the Electricity Bill comes before your Lordships), I am bound to say that the National Parks Act will not, in my humble opinion, be worth the paper it is printed upon if these super-grid lines are to invade and disfigure the national parks and the areas of outstanding national beauty. An industrial project or development, even a small one such as these grid lines, which would go completely unnoticed in a country the size of the United States—it would be lost in that vast area—in the small area of this country can disfigure a whole tract of beautiful countryside.

I would ask the noble Earl to be good enough to give some thought to the point I am now about to make and to which I attach particular importance. During the war—I remember it well because I happened to play a tiny and insignificant part in it—I recollect that the Admiralty and the Air Ministry retained the services of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, who advised them upon problems connected with the new buildings and establishments which had to be set up in the countryside. Those two Departments—my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough will remember this well—were wise enough to retain the services of this great and internationally recognised authority to advise them, and with happy results. Such an appointment goes far to placate public opinion and to temper criticism. I would ask whether it would not be a good thing if the Commission were similarly to appoint such an authority to be at their elbow and to advise them in respect of the planning developments which come before them. I do not expect the noble Earl to be able to answer that point to-day, but I would ask him to be good enough to give it consideration.

Again reverting to the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Lawson last week, I feel that it would help a great deal if the National Parks Commission were consulted about the selection of sites for the nuclear power stations. Finally, I feel that development in respect of national parks, might receive more support than it does at the present moment from Government Departments other than those immediately concerned. I believe that much of the disfigurement caused by the Electricity Authority could be avoided if there were more support from other Government departments. I have called attention as briefly as I can to points which I feel support the working of the Act and might lead to what I am sure all your Lordships most earnestly hope: that the National Parks Act will become the means of preserving what is left of the natural beauty of our wonderful countryside.

Back to