HL Deb 19 April 1961 vol 230 cc625-80

4.7 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, my excuse for intervening in this debate must be that I have for a long while been deeply interested in the problem of national parks, both here, in our little island, and elsewhere. Indeed, it would be true to say that for a long while now there have been national parks of great natural beauty and great variety of beauty in a large number of countries of the world. I think that the United States and Canada were the pioneers, but since their first national parks were designated and built up many other countries have followed their example. I have myself visited and enjoyed national parks in countries so diverse as Sweden, Queensland, Italy and Brazil, which shows, I think, the wide stretch of countries now interested in this problem.

There was serious talk, first of all, in the 1930's in this country about creating national parks here. One of the first of many Reports upon this matter was published in about 1933, by a Committee presided over by the late Lord Addison, whom many noble Lords will remember as having been Leader of this House. He carried out his duties with great distinction and general acceptance, and enjoyed a wide friendship, irrespective of Party affiliations, during the first Parliament after the war. Of course, since then many documents have been issued, and we now get regularly each year a Report from the National Parks Commission, to which several references have been made to-day.

I remember one occasion in the 1930's, when I was in the United States and had been speaking of the hopes of some of us that national parks might be created here. I remember being asked by the president of a university in the Middle West, after he had listened with patience to what I had to say: "Yes, that is all right, but nave you the real estate to do it?" That was a penetrating question, given, on the one hand, the great areas of the national parks in North America, and the other countries I have mentioned, and this little island. In reply to his question I sought to bluff my way through and admitted that, of course, our area was tiny compared with those of the United States, Canada and other countries we had in mind.

But, my Lords, I felt then, as I feel now, that, small though our little island is, it is yet possible, if the general framework of the law and administration surrounding the national parks is right, that, as has already been said this afternoon, we can create something unique, something very splendid here for the general benefit of the inhabitants and for the liberation of the noble Earl who spoke last and mentioned the liberation of the human mind in the beauty and solitude of the countryside. I believe that we have done so, but it must be admitted that there has been some disappointment, particularly among those who were most ardent supporters of national parks before the Act of 1949 was passed. They had great hopes, and as the years have gone by they have had a certain feeling of disappointment. I shall touch upon some of the reasons for that disappointment and inquire what we should do to make improvement in the general conduct of this branch of our affairs.

The noble Lord, Lord Strang, has done splendid work—and I gladly add my tribute to those paid by others—as Chairman for so long of the National Parks Commission; and he has had a hard row to hoe. He has done that in those intervals allowed to him while composing his important work, recently published, which I confess I have not yet read, but fully intend to read, laying out the historical permanence of British foreign policy over a long period. In addition to all that scholarly usage of his leisure he has found time for the daily handling of the problems of our national parks, and I am sure that we are all grateful to him. As has been said by my noble friend beside me, the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has had some splendid colleagues. My noble friend Lord Lawson, whose political life was much intertwined with mine, asks me to say that he is very sorry he cannot be here to-day to listen to, and take part in, our debate. The reason is his wife's ill-health, and I am sure the sympathy of us all will go out to both of them.

My noble friend Lord Lawson acted as Deputy Chairman of the National Parks Commission in the early years, and I remember that some of us thought it a good tactical move to have an ex-Secretary of State for War in that important position; because we felt it might be possible for him to chase away generals from certain areas of which I am thinking, in County Durham and Teesdale where, it seemed to us—and this was apprehended elsewhere—that they had requisitioned rather more land for use as artillery ranges than was reasonably justifiable. Indeed, there were rumours at that time, in that area on the Pennine Way, that there might be a clash between the troops and the embattled contingents of ramblers from Durham and Yorkshire. But all that was avoided, and I believe that the diplomatic gifts as well as the military experience of my noble friend Lord Lawson contributed both to the maintenance of order and good will and to the opening of the Pennine Way throughout its length, which was something we were then very keen should be done.

May I say a word or two now on some of the points which arise out of the work of the National Parks Commission? To some extent I shall be touching on points already made by previous speakers; but the first and primary point is, of course, finance. The National Parks Commission have been left practically destitute by the Treasury under successive Governments, and I agree very much with what was said in some detail by the noble Earl who preceded me. We thought (and I am one of those who were thinking, talking and planning how all this should be organised) that the National Parks Commission were a sufficiently important body, endowed with sufficiently important powers, to deserve to receive a direct annual grant from the Treasury, to be administered by the Chairman of the Commission and his colleagues in accordance with the requirements of the Act; and it was very disappointing to find that the Hobhouse Committee, to which the noble Earl referred in detail, fully agreed about not naming any special figure. The figure need not be a large one but a direct annual grant from the Treasury would help a great deal.

I am quite sure that, so long as such a grant is lacking, the framework at the foundation will not be right. Therefore I hope that before long the present Minister of Housing and Local Government who, as we have heard, will he receiving many recommendations, will settle this point, in particular, so that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and his successors will have something to distribute, at their discretion and, as the noble Earl suggested, between different national park areas. I think this is a very important though essentially a simple matter. I once threw out a hint which has occasionally troubled the waters since. In my Budget speech of 1946, when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer (though we had no national parks at that time, for it was more than three years before the Act was passed), spoke well of national parks, as I have done on other occasions. I threw out a hint (my idea would have required further legislation, which in The result was not forthcoming) that some financial assistance might be given from the National Land Fund, which was set up in that year, to national parks. I had in mind a certain once-for-all contribution of a capital nature that might probably be made. But all that, I regret to say, came to nothing. Although enthusiasts of national parks in another place, and perhaps here too, have from from time to time returned to that charge, I regret to say that neither from that source nor from any other so far have national parks been reasonably financed. This is so simple a point that I hope very much that this defect may soon be remedied.

I wish now to say a word about the long-distance routes. When I was younger I used to he what is now called a keen "hiker". I like walking considerable distances in beautiful country and in agreeable company, and I was very keen on this concept of the long-distance routes. They began, as your Lordships know, with the Pennine Way, which happened to run right through the constituency I then had the honour to represent, and also through a very beautiful area full of wild fell country and many lovely waterfalls and other natural beauties. It is a matter of regret—and those are the actual words of the Commission themselves, and I think a very moderate form of words—that those routes are not yet completely open.

After the approval, if I remember the figure rightly, of some seven proposed long-distance routes (it was six or seven, or something of that order), which meant a great deal of hard work for the Commission and in surveying on the spot, even now, more than ten years after this work began, none of these long-distance routes is yet completely open to walkers or to horsemen in these beautiful areas. I understand that the reason for this very slow advance is simple: it is that there are no effective powers vested in the Commission for compulsory purchase, where necessary, of rights of way or rights of access at given points along these routes where access and rights of way do not now exist.

I understand that there is a lot of detail that could be talked about here— I am not going to talk about it—concerning the relative powers of different local authorities and whether the Commission should have such powers vested in them, or whether they should be distributed among various local authorities. On that matter I do not express an opinion. I merely say that the remedy should be very simple, and it can be covered, I think, by the general formula used just now: there should be effective powers of compulsory purchase operated under the authority of the Commission in all cases where we still have not cleared the road, whether along the Pennine Way or Offa's Dyke or any of these long-distance routes. I am sure that there are great numbers of the younger and healthier and fitter citizens of this country who would appreciate very much the opportunity of extending their journeys by foot or on horseback—because these routes are for riders on horseback, too—along the bridle paths and quiet ways and well away from roads heavily crowded with motor and other vehicles. I hone that here, too, early action can be taken to amend the law in this regard and give the Commission power to carry out what was always regarded as a central and essential part of their mandate.

It is sometimes said—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Strang, himself said it in a speech which was quite properly publicised in the Report of the Commission—that there is perhaps a certain conflict in the Act setting up the Commission: two conflicting aims. It is often said that the duty of the Commission is, on the one hand, to preserve and enhance natural beauty, and, on the other, to provide and improve facilities for public enjoyment of the parks. I do not myself believe that there is any serious or deep conflict there. I think we can achieve both aims by an application of reasonable give and take and, where necessary, consultation. I will touch upon that point again in a moment.

I will say, first, a word (this point has been mentioned before) about the first aim: the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty. I am glad to hear it said—and I have no reason to doubt the truth of what is said—that there is here no real conflict between the Forestry Commission, of which I have been for many years a strong supporter, and others. I think that the Forestry Commission have done a grand job which was never done until they were set up, but I will not develop that point now, although on another occasion I may be tempted to. But there has, I think, occasionally been a little potential between the Forestry Commission and those associated with the open air societies and the national parks. There has been a certain emotion in the background about cone-bearing trees: and I will return to that in a moment.

I am very glad to hear, however, that, in terms of practical politics now (my noble friend said so and I think that the noble Earl also repeated it), consultation proceeds agreeably between the various interests concerned: the park authorities, whether the central Parks Commission or the planning authorities for particular parks, with the Forestry Commission and also with timber growers and the Landowners' Association. There are three or four bodies concerned. I am delighted to hear that these bodies are getting on well together and can settle agreeably any disputes that arise with regard to the general problem of the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty, with particular reference to all this debatable afforestation.

I will say a word or two, but not more, about afforestation. I am a great devotee of afforestation, and I often recall the great saying of Robert Louis Stevenson, that trees are the most civil society. In many moods and in many places that great thought is borne in upon me. I personally have had great pleasure through my life in passing very happy hours and days among beautiful woodlands and trees, both in this country and overseas. But Robert Louis Stevenson did not discriminate. He said, "trees" and he made no qualification or classification. Trees, he said, are the most civil society. He did not say, "Trees other than whatever it may he you are suspicious of when you see it growing"; he did not say, "All trees other than conifers."

I am always recalling that when I was a little boy I learnt that to plant a tree and, still more, to care for it when you have planted it, was a good deed which would leave your heritage better than when you found it. I learnt that then and I have believed it ever since, and I think it is still true. We in this coun try have, as is well known, a smaller percentage of our national area under trees of any kind than has any other country in Europe—barely 6 per cent., if I remember the figure aright—and I am very anxious, as a matter of national policy and national interest, to see the afforestation of this country carried further, with appropriate regard being had to soils and other matters, to what will grow and what will not, and so on. I applaud very much the work of the Forestry Commission. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, is carrying on the splendid work begun by his predecessor, whom I knew well, the late Lord Robinson, previously Sir Roy Robinson; and both these men's names will live in history and, in particular, in the history of the countryside.

I confess that I find much enjoyment in planning short holidays, as I have often done, in some of the Forestry Commission's State forests, and enjoying peace there and learning from the foresters and others and from the local inhabitants. I get as much pleasure from a short holiday of that kind as from any other. I am sure that we ought to continue to give our support to the policy of steadily planting trees, of appropriate kinds, and that, given the appropriate conditions in this country, it should be a long-term programme.

The only other point I wish to make in this context has a bearing on the private-enterprise afforestation projects, in some of the national parks. If we read, as I regularly do, the Annual Reports of the Forestry Commission, we find that they have programmes set before them, hut that very often those programmes are eroded as the years go on. A great programme for post-war forestry was drawn up by another noble Lord who will be remembered by your Lordships—Lord Jowitt. We gradually slid away from the high targets he set up, however, and the targets for new planting are now much lower. Even so, they are not reached. I have been distressed to read year after year in the Reports of the Forestry Commission how, in the preceding year, due to the difficulty of acquiring sufficient land, the planting fell short of the target they had set themselves.

We have much debate about the possible planting by (as some would present it) a somewhat sinister form of private enterprise. No names are mentioned, and I put no questions to anyone who might know. But, on the one hand, there is this great deficiency, which the Forestry Commission's Report shows, because they have not been able to acquire enough land to plant up to their programme; and, on the other hand, there is this unnamed body of persons pursuing the aims of private enterprise anxious to plant trees in considerable quantity within certain national parks, and do doubt elsewhere, too.

I do not think that this matter should be resolved by putting the planting of any tree anywhere under the control of some gentleman in Whitehall, which is what some zealots propose: that, in order to plant a tree, you must have a permit from some gentleman in some department, if not right in Whitehall, at any rate in the bureaucracy of the National Parks Commission or their local committees. I frankly confess that I do not like that proposal; and, even though it may be contrary to the general trend of my thought and observations, through a fairly long political life now, I have thought that perhaps, in this matter, we ought not so much to shudder at the thought of more private enterprise but rather to ask them in. We should try to encourage the Forestry Commission and the somewhat sinister figures referred to as "private enterprise"—those who wish to plant in the parks—to consult together to produce a plan and carry it out, and if necessary, help them with some financial provision.

I am not one of those who have an ingrained dislike for conifer trees. I am not a botanist, either, in any professional sense, so I will not embark upon any botanical digression. I will say merely that I have a great love of trees in general, and I have a great love for a number of the coniferous species. The Scotch pine is surely one of the lovely trees which adorn some of our most beautiful landscape; and the cedar. These are coniferous trees, but how beautiful they are! It would indeed be wonderful if we had more cedar and a wider range of cedar where there was a suitable soil, so that they could grow in this country as they do in North Africa and elsewhere.

My Lords, I am, frankly, opposed to the "anti-conifer brigade", and in this particular respect I am not at all unwilling that private enterprise should have a go". After all, looking back over history, one reason why we have such a poor percentage of our area under trees or woodlands of any kind, or timber of any kind, is because in the past a lot of private enterprise must have been a bit slow. Though many landowners have treated their woodlands as a great treasure, yet there has been too little awareness of the need to grow a larger proportion of our timber in this country. That has shown itself from time to time in our heavy import bills, and it has been a contributor to the trouble about the balance of payments. When I read the Budget speech yesterday, and the journalists who are all talking about the balance of payments, it took me back to the early post-war years—and we have not yet pulled out of that difficulty. But one way of gradually pulling out of it, of course, is to plant more trees and take care of them; to grow a larger proportion of our timber here.

I will not pursue that thought further. I will say merely that I do not take at all kindly to suggestions that the planting of trees should be made, almost, a criminal offence—perhaps stopping a little short of that, but at any rate saying that it must not be done except with the permission of some second or third Treasury official in some Whitehall office or, as I have said, somebody associated with the bureaucracy building up under Lord Strang; an admirable organiser of bureaucracy though no doubt he is, and as he learned to be during many years at the Foreign Office. I should much prefer some means by which there could be frank consultation between the Forestry Commission and the leaders of private enterprise who wish to plant on Exmoor and Dartmoor. I love both areas. I love Dartmoor more, because I know it better. I cannot think that some agreeable conifers would seriously ruin even the area that I know and love best. But this is a case, surely, not for more regulations, but for friendly consultation between the various parties concerned; and I hope that that may continue. I say bluntly that I hope the Minister of Housing and Local Government will refuse any proposal made to him simply to put the planting of trees under planning control.

I am anxious not to speak too long, but I want to say a word, by way of conclusion, about the second of the aims. I have said that I do not think that there is any serious clash here between the two aims—the preservation and enhancement of national beauty, on the one hand, and increasing facilities for enjoyment, on the other. I have been speaking so far about the first aim, or about the problems connected with it, but now I wish to say a word or two about improving and increasing the facilities.

I have mentioned seeing national parks in operation in various countries abroad—in the Alps, for instance; or in Sweden, where they do this kind of thing very well. The Swedish Touring Club is a wonderful agency. We do not want a large number of big hotels built in and around our national parks, but the Swedes, who have a great gift for practical, detailed achievement, and a great ability to combine utility with duty, construct delightful little wooden chalet hostels and smaller wooden structures—more like those which the Italians call "refuges"—which we find in the Alps and other parts of Europe. But we in this country have almost nothing of this kind.

I should have hoped that the Commission (of course they have not been given the money to do it; and that point has been touched on already), when they were appointed, would have made a programme over the years for erecting, particularly at special beauty spots and striking outlooks throughout the national parks, small wooden structures of this kind, in which there would be bunks, perhaps a supply of fuel—as I remember in Sweden, in particular—and some simple provisions, so that one can pass the night or spend several days of peaceful rest amid beautiful surroundings. But nothing of this sort has been attempted at all, and I should like to urge upon the Commission that they should give the matter further thought (although no doubt they have thought about it from time to time), and see whether we cannot in this Island adopt something of the kind of a simple provision for our people, our relatively poor people, our young people, people who are physically active and do not want to spend large sums on a holiday, something relatively cheap yet attractive and clean, set amid beautiful scenery. Perhaps we could make some experiments there.

I believe that in the Cairngorms, which I also enjoy visiting, there has lately been a forward move. Of course, the Scots will not have national parks. My noble friend Lord Silkin touched on the point that there are none in Scotland. I remember debates in another place when this Act was going through, and one of my grandiloquent friends from Scotland rose and said: "We want none of your national parks in Scotland. All Scotland is one great national park". But that is rhetoric, not fact, I fear. I do not suggest that we should now force down Scottish throats an institution which they still do not want, but in the Cairngorms, though the National Parks Commission have no jurisdication over it, can be found an admirable development of ski-ing, holidaying, and so on. That I welcome. I think there are the beginnings of the provision of some simple accommodation of the kind to which I have been referring.

I venture to think that this increasing improvement in facilities for enjoyment of our countryside is the most important task remaining before the National Parks Commission in the coming year. It is not for anyone who has not gone deeply into the details to try to play the architect or the detailed planner, but we have not foreseen, during the period of the life of our national parks, the tremendous increase, both in the demand for camping facilities for young and active people and in caravanning. Both of these, of course, need some guidance and control, and that is one of the problems which the Parks Commission naturally cannot escape. But there has been, during these ten years of the lifetime of British national parks, a tremendous upspringing of the camping and the caravanning habit, and an increasing number of people (no doubt the statistics are somewhere available) in what is now usually called the "middle income groups"—people neither very rich nor very poor—enjoy having a holiday where camping facilities are provided, and often travel around in a caravan which they either own or have hired. That, I am sure, can all be fitted into our general national pattern of behaviour, and it is all to the good.

One final bouquet for my friends the Forestry Commission. They have given an admirable lead in their national forest parks, a number of which I have visited, and no doubt other noble Lords have clone the same. There they have not attempted anything ambitious but have provided camping facilities, simple facilities for cooking, and so on. I think in particular of Argyll. They have an admirable national forest park in Argyll, and another at Lewisburn, which is in the great Border forest in the North East—the forest that overspills the Border into Scotland, and which is the largest piece of continuous forest in these Islands, near Kielder and Hexham. There I saw great numbers of people enjoying the simple facilities provided—camping facilities, simple cooking facilities, some simple sanitary conveniences, and so on. For this I pay great tribute to the Forestry Commission, and I hope that their work will spread and continue; and I am sure that the National Parks Commission, from what has been said, will co-operate with them along this line of advancement.

This is my final word. The big thing which remains when smaller points have been considered, and which the Parks Commission must tackle in the days to come, is how to make it possible for much larger numbers of our people than ever before—for the whole nation, potentially—to enjoy out-of-doors holidays in beautiful surroundings, with simple and reasonably cheap facilities. This belongs to the second of the alternative aims. For my part, if I had to choose—I do not think we do have to choose t I think we can reach both—I think I should say that most important of all is to make available to the whole nation opportunities to enjoy the beauties of our country, and to enjoy them, in particular, within the designated national parks, the outstanding areas administered by the National Parks Commission.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, undoubtedly we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having introduced this debate and given your Lordships the opportunity of reviewing the work of the national parks system after an interval of some ten years. We have listened to three remarkable speeches on the subject, clearly reasoned and closely thought out. I hope, in consequence of that, that I can confine my remarks to a few practical suggestions, or, rather, practical questions which arise out of the administration and existence of national parks. However, I do not know that I can always provide the answers to the questions.

I and myself, if I may say so in passing, for once in my life closely drawn to the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, in the lyrical descriptions which he gave of our beautiful countryside, and I thank him for them. I could not help reflecting that perhaps as he walked through his beautiful forests and high ground he spared a kindly thought for the wicked landowners who planted the trees in the past and who made this beautiful England of ours possible. It is a surprising thought that, apart from the mountains and moorland of our country, England, Wales, and Scotland, if you like, in the Lowland areas, are artificial. The natural state of the country is forest. The whole of the Sussex Weald was forest. It is the hand of man that has produced the countryside which we see to-day—the grazing, the fencing, the planting of trees, and so on. Therefore it is of vital importance that we continue that good work and preserve its natural beauty—in the sense that it is natural—the trees, the flowers and the grass. But, as I say, the layout is entirely the hand of man, aided by the water-courses and rivers with which this Island, happily, is closely interspersed.

It seems to me that, throughout this valuable debate, we are faced with one inescapable fact, and that is that this Island is too small for the population that it is trying to carry. In order to carry a population which, very naturally, wishes to escape from bricks and mortar to the beauties of the countryside, it has obviously been the right policy to try to set aside and preserve certain areas by which this may be achieved. I think we should get this clearly in our minds: that there are two sorts of countryside in a national park. One is mountain and moorland and the other is the cultivated land which is included in the designated national park. The question of the planting of trees has already been clearly dealt with and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will touch on it. I understand that the noble Earl behind me is going to be able to announce details of some settlement of the programme for forestry. Therefore I do not want to say more than this: that to-day the Forestry Commissioners are extremely helpful and co-operative in their attitude. I do not want to rub any old sores, but I would say that there is a very different attitude from that which existed originally, before the war, when the Commissioners were apt to be a bit autocratic and use their powers of acquisition rather ruthlessly. I remember that in two cases public inquiries overrode their decisions. I instance this only to show what can be done by the Chairman of such a body adopting a different method and being ready to co-operate, so that the Forestry Commissioners are able to-day to enjoy all the pleasant things said about them

Some years ago, I had the honour of sitting on a Committee dealing with home-grown timber, which was known as the Watson Committee. I remember that it came up that the Forestry Commissioners were going to get stuck for lack of planting land. The noble Lord has mentioned that, and also the fact that programmes become eroded as time goes on. That is perfectly true. To look forward as regards the planting of trees and decide what sort should be planted is one of the hardest tasks in the world, because nobody can tell what sort of timber will be required a hundred years from now—provided nobody has let off the hydrogen bomb and there are still people in this country. It reminds me of the story of the admiral who went about sticking acorns into hedgerows, so that there should always be enough oak wood to build the kind of ships that were used in Nelson's day. Obviously, his objective has long ago disappeared, and nowadays other timbers are more useful to industry and trade, and to furniture making.

I want to focus my remarks on a problem that is hard to deal with: that is, the preservation of national parks, once they have been made, from the pressure of industry. The national parks have to meet the need for houses and hostel accommodation, which perhaps are natural corollaries of a national park, but there may come a time when there is a tremendous pressure to allow an erosion. The noble Earl, Lord Fever-sham, has talked a great deal about Yorkshire. Perhaps I may illustrate my point by talking about South Wales, where this very fact has had to be faced in a big way, at the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It was created "for all time for the enjoyment of the people", in the splendid words of the dedication, but it was not long before the serious unemployment situation in Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven led Her Majesty's Government to feel that they had to do something. The national average of unemployment today is about 3 per cent., but locally it is 11 per cent., which is a very considerable figure in a comparatively small location.

I do not know what other reasons induced Her Majesty's Government to decide to develop the port of Milford Haven. The way it was done was to induce two big oil companies, Esso and B.P., to come there. A short time after the national park was created, Esso have built a huge oil refinery and B.P. have opened a discharge terminal on the other shore to pump oil to their refinery at Swansea. They are both in existence. Indeed, tomorrow B.P. have arranged for the official opening of their ocean terminal. It might be said that this is a dreadful thing to do in a national park; but people cannot live on air and scenery. However regretfully one has to say it, there may be times when the national interest must have precedence over the national park.

But what can be done and has been done in this connection is for the industrial undertaking to landscape their plant and try to mould the buildings into the folds of the ground, so that when one goes a little way away, one does not see it too much, although one cannot help seeing the tall chimneys. The plan is to make industrial development as attractive as it possibly can be. If one flies over the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, as I have done on several occasions, one sees that the area taken by these industrial developments is remarkably small in relation to the great expanse of country in the neighbourhood.

Sometimes we have to face the fact that a national park may be subject to erosion. This leads me to say that it means interference with the long-distance footpaths which have always been a feature of the South Wales area. The compulsory purchase of footpaths is a difficult weapon to use. It is so easy to think that one can take this field and that field along the coast and acquire them compulsorily. I am not going to say that it can never be done and that it would be wrong to do so, to get the final link after a great deal of the rest has been acquired by negotiation, but I think that much can be done by persisting in negotiation. When the Guildford by-pass was made, about 1935, the Surrey County Council did a splendid job in negotiating, with all the landowners with frontage to the road, an agreement that the road should not be built on. They had the example of the Kingston by-pass in front of them. The decision that the road should remain a country road was achieved entirely by voluntary agreement. Of course, filling stations were allowed now and again. Motorists do not care how lovely a road is, if their car runs dry and they cannot get petrol. Filling stations are one of the exceptions that must be allowed.

I am naturally against too much planning control, but in this crowded island I think we have to accept a reasonable planning control, since we certainly should not want to see the whole coast, from Northumberland round the South and up the West, entirely fined with bungalows. I think that the most rigid individualist to-day must willingly accept some form of control, but I would rather that negotiations were done voluntarily and compulsory purchase were used only in the last resort.

The noble Lord opposite referred to the caravan problem, which is a burning one in Pembrokeshire. I read in the Report that the county council have an "enforcement officer". I am not quite certain what he enforces or what 'he has power to enforce. Perhaps I ought to know where he fits into the set-up of the national park, but I am afraid I do not. I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer, other than to bring more forcibly to your attention the main point of my speech: that, however much we may dislike it, we have in certain circumstances to allow the spoilation of the national parks where the national interest is more overriding.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like heartily to endorse the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, in which he has pointed out the extreme difficulty of dividing up what little land we have left in a small island that is becoming more and more overcrowded. In the days of Elizabeth I the population was something like 6 million. To-day, I understand, it is around 52 million; and we have a somewhat desperate situation, because the population is growing every day. The free space that we have to play with becoming less and less, and on every side there is more and more pressure from those trying to obtain the land which we have left.

It is curious how differently different people look at the same piece of land. Take an area that includes some fields and trees. The farmer has one way of looking at it: he thinks of the cattle that might graze on the green grass, or the oats that may come up if he ploughs it. The sportsman thinks of the land under roots, with partridges nestling there. There is the military commander, who envisages it as an addition to his tank ground or artillery range: and we have the educationist who thinks that the land is near enough to his school and could be made into football grounds or cricket pitches. All these people—and, if it is near a town, especially the builders, who wish to put up factories or develop a housing estate—have tremendous support and big financial interests behind them. They can plead their cause and economic necessity. But the man who has little support is the man who works all day in his office or in his business. All he wants, as the noble Lord has just said, is to go out and enjoy the countryside; to get away from bricks and mortar and enjoy the fields: he wants to see the bluebells pushing up, the oak trees unfolding their new leaves, to sit under a tree or go for a walk through the lovely countryside.


My Lords, would the noble Earl leave the bluebells where they are?


I heartily agree with the noble Lord; I thought I said that people want to look at the bluebells, not to pick them. That is the sort of person who has no trade union and no big support and the one whom I think we must try to satisfy.

In this context the need for the national park becomes clearer and clearer. If we are to keep some of the rural country of England as it is, the only way to do it is to designate areas and, so far as possible, maintain them in their natural organic life. We have green belts and we have national parks. But, unfortunately, as the noble Lord has said, they are apt to be encroached upon. That is a matter of high policy, and there are occasions when we must submit to large areas of land, which we should like to keep as they are, being taken for industrial development. But I think we must try to limit that to the bare necessity and keep out the spreading of industrial development in areas of great national beauty. It is so easy to take a little here and a little there. We see this even in places like Richmond Park and Hyde Park, where pieces are gradually being taken out which will certainly never be put back again.

What I really wish to speak about and to promote this afternoon is the idea which was developed originally by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his speech, of adding a national park nearer to London. It is true that most of the designated parks are a long way from London and we need an area nearer to this large centre of population. I suggest that the area that should have been, and should be, designated is that around the New Forest and the Solent. I should perhaps declare an interest here, as I have done once before: that I am the president of the Solent Protection Society. We are most anxious to get this particular area, which includes the New Forest and runs across the South Coast of England towards Portsmouth, designated as a national park. Of course there is already a certain protection; there is the green belt in part of this area, and the New Forest is protected, to a certain extent. However, we should like to see a much stronger and more formidable protection against encroachment in the area.

It has always struck me how lucky we have been to have the New Forest, which is an area (I daresay most of your Lordships know it well) that has changed very little since the day of William Rufus and his unhappy hunting party. There are large open areas of moorland and other beautiful areas of woodland. It has a great quantity of wild life—even the red deer still roam about there. At the same time, it is an area much frequented by holiday makers, campers and people who like nature and wild life. To my mind, it would be a thousand pities if it was festooned with pylons and electric cables or was taken bit by bit for industrial development.

When you get out of the New Forest and go into the country, there you come to the very beautiful landscape around the Solent. That is an area that we very much want to keep as it is. For one thing, it is the sailorman's or the yachtsman's paradise. That, I would stress, is no longer a rich man's sport, but the sport of thousands of people who have boats from the size of the Clerks' Table up to your Lordships' Chamber, and who go out every week-end, some having come clown even from the Midlands or from London: in fact, sailing is becoming one of the great new national sports, and a very healthy and pleasurable one it is. The Solent is probably the only really sheltered and adequate water in England, certainly in the South of England, where this sport can be indulged with all the amenities it needs.

This area has been threatened with various projects. We have been threatened on the North side of Southampton Water with a big oil refinery; we were threatened at Newtown, in the Isle of Wight, with a gigantic atomic power station, which I believe would have been about three times the size of Winchester Cathedral, with a chimney stack 600 feet high; and many other projects have been mooted. We feel that it would be disastrous to allow a development such as that, with all the subsequent development that goes with it: because if you have a big power station, you must have houses for the people who work there, schools for their children, and shopping facilities; more industry follows, and little by little you would get this beautiful stretch of water going up the Solent and round that part turning into a Merseyside or a Birkenhead.

As the noble Lord who has just spoken said, we must not try to keep back useful development. For instance, we do not for one moment want to hinder electricity being brought to the South, where it is badly needed. But what we want to do, as has been said, is to try to adapt the development so that it fits in with the countryside and does not fight against it. We do not want to choose a big, open, rather beautiful space upon which to erect gigantic chimneys if they can be put somewhere else where they are not visible. We want to try to preserve this area, which gives tremendous scope for holidaymakers who come to bathe, swim, hike and do all the things that holidaymakers do. Therefore, I want to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider making the area, including the North coast of the Isle of Wight and both sides of the Solent right through to the New Forest, into a national park.

I know there are technical difficulties about this. One difficulty is the fact that this area takes in a large section of water which is not provided for in the Act. But if amending legislation is needed, I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government would be sympathetic to this being initiated? I am sure that some way could be found to make this into a national park if we really wanted to. I would make a tentative suggestion—though I am sure there are many better ones—that instead of making one park, we should make two or three parks: one on the North side of the Isle of Wight, another on the North-East side of the Solent, arid another on the West including the Solent and New Forest. Surely, that would get over the difficulty if estuarial waters cannot be made into a park. I should be grateful if Her Majesty's Government would consider that matter, if they could let us know what their attitude would be, and what possibilities we have of safeguarding this magnificent area of natural beauty by making it into one of our national parks.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, in adding my words of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the way in which he moved his Motion, and for moving it, I was interested, as a landowner in the Chilterns, to learn from him that that area has been designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. I understood that it was under consideration, but I now understand (if I misunderstood the noble Lord I apologise) that it has been confirmed.

I am one of the few speakers who has nothing to do with a national park, but I rise to develop one point made by the noble Lord with regard to the question of afforestation in national parks. This is certainly a much wider question than that of Dartmoor and Exmoor: it will obviously cover other areas as well. Reference has already been made to the agreement which has been reached, but perhaps I might inform the House as to the way in which it came about. Questions were raised by Members in another place, and at the same time approaches were made by the Minister to the Country Landowners' Association and the Timber Growers' Organisation to consider proposals which have been made by the Forestry Commission and the National Parks Commission for the setting up of a voluntary scheme of consultation between landowners and the park planning authorities where large-scale afforestation was proposed. An agreement has been reached, and the park planning authorities have been informed by the National Parks Commission. The Deputy President of the Country Landowners' Association has written letters to Branch Chairmen of the Association urging branch representatives to discuss with park planning authorities the ways and means by which consultation between landowners and these authorities could best be achieved.

I will refer to the agreement again a little later on, but I should like now to inform the House that any further remarks I make must be coloured by one fact. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, I sit on the Executive Committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and I have the authority of the Chairman, Mr. Langley Taylor, to tell the House that he hopes to bring about meetings between the various bodies concerned to discuss this whole question of the planning of forestry in the national parks and the agreement which has been reached, because he feels that it must be made to work; and so do I. There has been a great deal of bickering about it, and he is as anxious as a large number of people are that this bickering should stop.

About the same time as the agreement was reached a few months ago, there was published a manifesto called The Case for Control of Afforestation of Open Land in National Parks, presented by the Standing Committee on National Parks of the Councils of the Preservation of Rural England and Wales and the Joint Action Group for the Protection of Dartmoor and Exmoor. It is fair to say that this document had been prepared without the knowledge of this agreement but was published just after the agreement had been made. When they knew of this agreement they included an additional note stating that, while sharing the hope expressed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government that the voluntary scheme would yield useful results, they had little confidence in its effectiveness and could not regard it as in any way an adequate substitute for the submission of such afforestation proposals in national parks to formal planning control. I may add that I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, that he is against enforced planning in the national parks, as I understood it, and I too was a little surprised that he did not make more mention than he did of the work of private forestry everywhere.

I wish to take up one or two points in this Manifesto in connection with a letter written by the Economic Forestry Group to this Joint Committee, in answer to points in this Manifesto. The first point I want to take up is on page 8 of the Manifesto, where they say: We are of the unanimous opinion that the law must be amended to give the authorities statutory powers to control the afforestation of open land in the National Parks. In large capital letters on page 9, the Manifesto says: On the grounds of … agriculture, recreation, and adventure training, natural history, amenity and archæology … the case is overwhelming. They forgot, perhaps, that one of the possible forms of adventure is the training in planting and felling of trees.

In connection with that, I should like, if I may, to quote from a speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on July 19, 1949, in another place, when he was conducting the Bill through the House. He said—and I quote from column 1285 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place: What we want to emphasise is that the authorities, in planning the area, should have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry. Those are the outstanding and dominating questions which really determine the character of the National Parks, and to incorporate a great many other forms of activity would simply make the whole thing meaningless. I hope that, while I wish to repeat what I said in the Committee that the intention is to maintain the general character of the National Park areas, it is to be a living community and the life of the area will go on. Nevertheless, agriculture and forestry will always be the dominating forms of activity, and I think it right that this, and this alone, should be emphasised. I gave notice to the noble Lord that I was going to quote this passage, and he was good enough to tell me that he still stands to-day by those words.

My Lords, why the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, was afraid to mention one of the bodies that has purchased quite a large amount of ground in the national parks in the South West I do not quite know; because I am quoting from some notes which the Economic Forestry Group, who are the purchasers, returned to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England in reply to points in the manifesto. I am going to refer to two of them. On page 7 the Manifesto states that: Assuming … forests were of such national importance as to outweigh the considerations of amenity, natural history archaeology, out-of-doors activity, tourism and agriculture—where would they be sited? The comment to that is: The forests really are of national importance, and, properly planned, they can contribute to and not detract from the other interests". The other point I wish to make is the final comment in that note, where they state: It must be emphasised; (1) That there is unemployment problem in the South-West. (2) That Forestry can play a major part in bringing back life and vitality to some of the depressed areas. (3) That the forests must be planned, in any one area, of adequate size to justify full-scale modern industry in support. (4) That forestry is intended as one of the dominant forms of activity in the National Parks. (5) That forestry can be integrated effectively with agriculture to the advantage of both industries: it can add to the amenity, facilities for recreation and adventure training and studies of natural history. All of this is completely ignored in the Manifesto, which can only be seen as an unworthy and shameful attempt to discredit commercial forestry in general, and the Economic Forestry Group in particular. My Lords, how do we landowners and woodland owners, feel about it? I would emphasise at once that we feel that this new agreement which has been arrived at must be made to work. I should like to refer to three paragraphs in that agreement, paragraphs 3, 4 and 6. Paragraph 3 reads: In order to try to avoid conflict between the needs of forestry and the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty, the parties co this agreement believe that the closest cooperation should be maintained between those concerned with afforestation and those responsible for accomplishing the purposes for which National Parks have been established. Accordingly, they agree that the Park Planning Authorities should be given the opportunity of commenting upon all proposals for the afforestation of any land which has hitherto not been planted. The fourth paragraph reads: In each National Park (except one or two where special arrangements have already been made) the National Parks Commission will advise the Park Planning Authority to carry out, in association with the Forestry Commission, a survey with a view to compiling maps which would divide the land in the park as far as possible into three categories: (a) areas where there is a strong presumption that afforestation would be acceptable; (b) areas where, although there is a presumption against afforestation, proposals might be acceptable; and (c) areas where there is a strong presumption against afforestation. I am given to understand that the Somerset Planning Authority are already starting to carry out this survey.

I wish particularly to ask the Government for an assurance that they on their side will do all they can to help us in making this agreement work. I can assure the House, from the point of view of the country landowners and the limber growers, that we will do everything we can to make it work; and I hope that, with this move made by the Chairman of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the amenities societies will do their best to stop this bickering at the moment and do all they can to help him in his efforts to make this agreement work.

5.26 p m.


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire has covered so fully this question of the afforestation of open land. It was, to say the least of it, unkind if not even mischievous, that the Manifesto to which he has referred should have appeared while negotiations were taking place for the setting up of this joint consultative action. While three or four parties are trying to negotiate a settlement, no useful purpose is served by publishing a manifesto of this sort, even under the distinguished auspices which published it. It is no good firing a broadside into the back of a negotiating party if you hope to get agreement.

There is one point that my noble friend did not mention when he was talking about forestry; that is, that there is a continuing difference of opinion about forestry in existing woodlands. The agreement to which my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire referred, covers, of course, only open land, the planting of new land. There is still outstanding the most difficult question as to the nature of timber or young trees that should be planted in existing woods. That is a matter which will have to be gone into, no doubt, by another series of conferences. There is a school that cannot bear fir trees, and there is a school in favour of a proportion. I do not myself believe that it serves any useful purpose to take up an extreme view on this matter. Very few hardwood trees would grow without conifer nurses, and if one is a practical forester one must abide by that fact. For 20 years your plantation will look as if it is entirely a conifer plantation. It is only after the fillings have been taken out and the hardwoods grow that you see you have really a hardwood plantation. But how few people understand this matter? Certainly not the people who write letters to the Press.

It is a lamentable fact that we have such a very little knowledge of forestry in this country. The number of practising foresters in any one county of England to-day is negligible, and the preservation societies and so on do not appear to take a very keen interest in acquiring the basic knowledge of forestry. That leads to a great deal of misunderstanding on all sides. But forestry is only a tiny portion of the main work of the National Parks Commission and all those other bodies and committees which have to administer the National Parks Act.

Before passing from this point, I should like to say that in the County of Somerset, which is responsible for an excellent national park, we have not started a survey of woodlands—we have completed it, and it is now an agreed document. The principles that we adopted were that there were, as Lord Buckinghamshire mentioned, areas where one can reasonably plant—valleys, and so on, where forestry adds to the beauty of the scene. I say "adds to the beauty of the scene", because many of your Lordships have travelled in the Black Forest, in the Swiss mountains, in Bavaria and the forests of Germany, and know that those forests are the main features of beauty. That applies to many hillsides and coombs in the West Country and in the North Country, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Feversham would agree.

It is therefore a perfectly reasonable proposition to plant a proportion of the land within a national park. The only argument is: what is the proportion? Here it is a question of agreeing what is reasonable in the circumstances. Many people say that an area without any trees is the most beautiful thing they know; and they say it with complete confidence that they are absolutely right. Other people say that a tree-less landscape is the most horrible they know. So there is, and always will be, a difference of opinion on esthetic questions; and these are mainly æthetic questions. But, forestry apart, the Commission and their administrative bodies have to administer functions which, in spite of what has been said this afternoon, are not in many cases parallel: they diverge in opposite directions. Remembering the basis of these national parks, it is clearly not possible to carry out the preservation of natural beauty, and at the same time enhance it, without changing it. The enhancement must be an addition to the natural beauty. Those two propositions are very nearly, though pot quite, parallel.

When we come to the third proposition, the encouragement of facilities for open-air recreation by the public, that is one that is most difficult to administer without doing damage to the preservation of natural beauty or its enhancement; because the more facilities for open-air recreation are encouraged the more man-made facilities have to be brought into these naturally bautiful areas. By "man-made facilities" I mean, of course, car parks, the widening of roads, and refreshment places; and both the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, wanted greatly increased accommodation. It is difficult to provide these things on a large scale, even if they are only Swedish chalets, without damaging the natural beauty; and certainly you will not preserve it.

In the national park which I know best, having been a member of the executive committee since it was formed, we think that accommodation is better provided, so far as possible, not in the centre of the most beautiful parts of the park, as advocated by Lord Dalton, but, if possible, just outside the park, in the neighbouring towns and villages. There may be a difference of opinion, but there certainly would be preservation of the natural beauty of the park by building accommodation facilities outside it, rather than inside it.

There is another view taken of mass recreation, because Lord Dalton said that he wished to see within the national parks facilities for recreation for the whole nation. With the population in the United Kingdom growing nearer 50 million persons, is it feasible to have recreational facilities for anything approaching 4 or 5 million within the existing national parks without destroying them? You could do it if you destroyed them, but you could not do it and, at the same time, preserve and enhance their natural beauty. There is a difficulty here, a difficulty which was well put by the Chairman of the National Parks Commission in a speech which he made on May 19, 1960. Referring to this question of mass playgrounds, which is really what Lord Dalton was advocating, he said that it was a very moot point whether it is possible to find an answer to this question. He went on to say that in some parts, at any rate, of each national park certain areas should be kept inviolate; and I believe that that would be the opinion of the majority in your Lordships' House to-day.

I should like now to refer to another point made by Lord Dalton when he highly commended the Forestry Commission's camping site in Kielder Forest. I, too, have been there. It fits most beautifully into the surrounding plantations and woods which the Forestry Commission have made. The curious thing is that, although this sort of caravan camp fits well into the forestry scenery at Kielder, in Northumberland, as your Lordships know it does not fit at all well into the scenery of the Pembrokeshire National Park in its coastal area. I happened to be in Pembrokeshire last August at the height of the holiday season. It never stopped raining, but in the midst of the rain I took the opportunity of trying to see how this problem of accommodation was being solved in Pembrokeshire. Of course Pembrokeshire is not well supplied with towns with holiday facilities, and so on; but there are some beautiful cliffs and bays along the Pembrokeshire coast which have been steadily—I will not say mutilated, but the beauty of which has been sadly decreased by large caravan camps, tented camps and refreshment stalls, which exist in nearly all the bays along those magnificent cliffs and along that coast.

This seems to be an example where holiday accommodation cannot well be provided near the coast itself. If this is to come—and the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, wishes the Parks to be used much more heavily and frequently—this is a national park where any additional accommodation would much better be put out of sight of the cliffs and coast, so that the natural beauty shall not be destroyed—which is really what is happening now. I thought I ought to mention those points, because that shows the complexity of the task of any national park committee or board. There are many facets that have to be integrated in any one park.

I have myself thought that the Commission themselves have been given an almost impossible task in trying to cover England and Wales, from Northumberland down nearly into Cornwall, in such a short time. It may be that it would have been wiser (and I thought so at the time) to limit the number of parks designated to a first flight, to see how they got on before extending them to their present number. The problems before the Commission—and on this one has only to read their Annual Reports—. are of such complexity that I do not see how any body of persons like the Commission can possibly cover in twelve months the extent and range that is necessarily involved from Northumberland to Cornwall. My noble friend Lord Dynevor has referred to industrial development. If one reads these Reports one sees that there are hundreds of problems. There is the terribly difficult one of electricity pylons, which I should have thought would have given the Commission a year's work with nothing else at all to do. But they shoulder that task, industrial development, mineral workings and a host of the most complicated questions in, I would venture to say, a most admirable way. How they do it I do not myself understand.

Finally, I would say that in the administration of the parks it will take many years to find the exact balance between the factors involved. There is the preservation factor, the enhancement factor and the public recreation factor; and there will always be the factors of an expanding agriculture and an expanding forestry. These have to be dealt with together, and in my opinion the Commission and the park committees have made a most admirable start. Whether simply giving them more money would help them, I rather doubt. I believe people do some of their best work when they have to do it economically; and the provision of more funds, except for very specific purposes, might do more harm than good. I should like to see the administration continuing very largely on the present lines for at least another five years, so that the administrators, who are gaining in knowledge every year, could finally have a great quantity of experience behind them before they recommend any really radical changes.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will forgive me if I do not pursue the topics which he has been discussing in his thoughtful speech, constructive in regard to many details of the problems which confront the National Parks Commission, and in his able elucidation of those problems to which I am sure the noble Lord the Chairman of the Commission has been listening with great interest. I would just join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on his suggestion that it would have been better to have just two or three national parks and wait perhaps for twelve or fifteen years while we were seeing how they worked. That might have been good for a few areas, but I would assure the noble Lord that after that interval there would have been nowhere else left in the country worth creating as a national park; and I must say I feel that the Ministers who have designated areas suggested by the National Parks Commission during the period of the last ten years, on the whole very quickly and generally accepting the advice of the Commission, have been very wise in doing so.

I should like, as other noble Lords have done, to thank my noble friend Lord Silkin for giving us another opportunity of looking at what has been done on the national parks front, which, as the noble Lord has pointed out, is particularly valuable at the present time when we have had ten years' experience, at any rate in regard to the earlier of the national parks—the Peak District and the Lake District. I am sure that his survey has been valuable not only to Members of this House but to the National Parks Commission themselves and all those local authorities up and down the country who are bearing so much of the burden and heat of carrying through the not altogether easy provisions of the National Parks Act. As my noble friend Lord Silkin has mentioned, that Act followed a careful and prolonged survey by a Committee under the most able chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse, a great public servant to whose work I have paid tribute in the past; and the more one sees of it, I think, the more one appreciates the wisdom which he brought to bear on the various problems with which he had to deal.

The National Parks Act departed basically in a number of ways from the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee. I have talked about this before now and do not propose to do so this afternoon. However, it is very interesting in that it was an entirely new venture in the history of this country and I believe any other country—because the problems here are so different from those which exist overseas, as has been pointed out to-day and on other occasions. Considering it was such an entirely new venture, and that we were sailing into such uncharted seas, I agree with noble Lords who have said that on the whole the Act has worked very well.

I believe it would be helpful, after ten years' experience of it, to have another inquiry, if one could find a Chairman as able as Sir Arthur Hobhouse, or even one not quite so able, and another similar sort of Committee on which there might be, perhaps, Mr. Michael Dower, a very capable successor of his eminent father, and other people of that kind. I think it would be useful to make an inquiry and investigation and an assessment at the present time of a more close and detailed kind than is possible in discussions such as we have from time to time in your Lordships' House, useful and valuable as those discussions always are.

For one thing, we have this matter, which has been mentioned more than once this afternoon, of the amending of the Act of 1949, which the National Parks Commission have been very anxious, for quite a number of years, should be done. It has been referred to in at least three of their Annual Reports, and it has always been fobbed off by the Minister on the ground that the legislative machine is too full to provide a Bill for, I suppose, such a comparatively unimportant matter as national parks. I am not sure that all politicians appreciate how many hundreds of thousands of people are very much concerned with problems of this sort, and I think it was very much in the minds of the Electorate, particularly of those coming back from the war in 1945, that there should be provision of amenity of this sort for the mass of the people.

It might be, of course, that if one made a really careful research into what had happened and equally careful proposals for the future, that would militate against the passing of some very reasonable and necessary amendments, such as those which the National Parks Commission have been putting up to the Ministry and on which, I understand, they are still working at the present time. I think that such new legislation should certainly be much more closely concerned with the implementation of the second of the two basic matters: the making of the national parks for the enjoyment of the people, which was stressed both by my noble friend Lord Silkin and, later on, by my noble friend, Lord Dalton. There are so very many ways in which that is not being done.

It is true that it is largely a matter of money; and it is true, as Lord Dalton said, that he gave a hint not only in his speech but also to some of us who were in the Hobhouse Committee; and to some extent the recommendations of the Hob-house Committee were based on the hint, and the later and more austere policy of his successor failed to implement them. I have often thought, as an enthusiastic national parker, that it was a pity that that happened at that stage. However, there it is.

Now there is just one small point which comes out clearly in the last Report of the National Parks Commission in regard to the cramping effect of the financial arrangements which are made. It is a small point, but I think it is a, good illustration of what is happening in much more important matters. There are a lot of people who go to national parks without very much idea about what they are going to find there, not knowing much about what a national park is, knowing practically nothing about the topography of the area they are visiting, and really requiring help and information. Now that help and information is being provided by the joint planning boards and other organisations of some of the national parks. In this Report there are some pleasant pictures of these information centres operating in Wales, I think, although they exist in other parts as well. But the point is stressed that in the Peak National Park, where a centre of this kind has been carried on by a very public-spirited man, an old mountaineering friend of mine who is now retiring, they had to shut it down because there wa.s no money available. These information centres in Wales, which are very modest affairs, are kept going out of the small funds of the National Parks Commission; and I suggest that this is quite ridiculous and it is high time that effective financial provision was made possible on the lines suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Feversham, in an interesting and valuable speech which I am sure we all enjoyed.

During the period since the National Parks Act Parliament has provided for historic houses a much larger sum, which is being used by the Commission with great ability and which has undoubtedly rescued from imminent decay some of the most splendid buildings which exist not only in this country but in the whole of Europe and the civilised world. That is all on the basis of a sum not much I larger than the sum suggested by the noble Earl; and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and his Committee could spend £150,000 with enormous advantage to the people of this country and the people from overseas, who are coming more and more to visit our shores in order that they may enjoy our wonderful scenery, which has been praised by so many speakers this afternoon.

I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Silkin so strong on the evasion of Section 37 of the 1957 Act. We had a debate in this House a year or two ago on this electricity problem, and my noble and learned friend Lord Birkett, who I am so sorry is not with us to-day, made a most destructive criticism of what had been going on, particularly in Pembrokeshire. He suggested that the attitude of the authority there was flatly contrary to the mandate put upon them by the Parliament of this country. In effect, that indictment has been repeatedly and, I think, amply proved by my noble friend this afternoon. It is really insolence to Parliament that public authorities should behave in this way. There was a time when they would have been brought to the Bar of the House and punished for it. I sometimes think it might be a useful lesson to some of them if we did that again, because it is still within our powers to do so; and I hope that if they go on in that way there may be a move to that end, because it might put some very necessary fear into them.

From that matter, which was so ably dealt with not only by my noble friend Lord Silkin but by other speakers, I turn to forestry; and I do not find myself quite so much in sympathy with some of the remarks which have been made this afternoon. I will go with the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, and say that at the present time the position between the amenities movement and the Forestry Commission is very much better than it was. I would not say that it was perfect even now; and I would refer my noble friend, Lord Dalton, who is rather "sold" to them, if I may say so—I myself am not "sold" to them—to a speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, on the last occasion. Lord Birkett told us of the sad experiences which we had in the Lake District when the Forestry Commission came into that lovely country, Wordsworth country, without any sort of sympathy for what had been done in the past by landowners; because the early landowners in the Lake District who were foresters were exceedingly sensitive to the beauties of the Lake District.

However, the Forestry Commission have learned; and I am glad to say that the Joint Committee of the Forestry Commission and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which has now been in existence for quite a number of years, is working very well. Incidentally, I could not understand Lord Dalton's point of view; he did not seem to think that the Forestry Commission were bureaucratic in any sort of way. They were perfectly reliable, he thought; whereas he seemed to think that Lord Strang's small office, which is really not large enough to be a bureaucracy, he could not trust because it was a developing bureaucracy. Having seen something of the workings of the two offices, I have not much doubt which of them is the more bureaucratic.

As I say, however, as regards the present chairman of the Forestry Commission, I quite agree with my noble friend about Lord Radnor. He is very sympathetic to the claims of the amenities movement; and not only be but others of the Forestry Commission are working most sympathetically with us. I hope that the new timber-growing organisation which has been referred to may eventually learn similar ways. I am not altogether sure that at present they are really sympathetic to the outlook of the amenities movement, and I do not myself feel that the voluntary scheme is altogether satisfactory. It will have to be worked somehow, because it is the best thing that we have at the moment; and on this point I thought that the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Fever-sham, were very wise. We must try to make it work. If, at the end of a few years, we find that it is not working, then obviously there will be an overwhelming case (this is what I understood him to say) for legislation, or for some other method of handling the problem. And with that I agree.

As I understand this voluntary agreement—I am sorry that I have not got it with me, but I have had it and have read it—it seems to me that there are in it a considerable number of loose ends that must be tied up before it will be good enough to form a basis for solving this problem. It seems to me that there is in it no specific guarantee given by the parties to it. The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, who represents the Country Landowners' Association on the C.P.R.E., is naturally treating it very much from their point of view—and it is perfectly right that he should, because all these different points of view must be put in your Lordships' House. That is why I am trying to indicate that there is another point of view: that which is expressed in the Manifesto, although I do not myself necessarily go as far as that.

This Standing Committee on National Parks, though technically it is, in a sense, a sub-committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, is and has been for many years a pretty individual organisation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, was chairman of it for many years, and it was under his constructive guidance, I think, that the National Parks movement succeeded in persuading the Government of the day to establish national parks. So that, if there is any difference of opinion between Lord Buckinghamshire and myself, your Lordships will appreciate how it comes about.

However, it does not seem to me that any sufficiently specific guarantees have been given on the part of either the Country Landowners' Association or the timber-growing organisation to put their cards on the table, so to speak, in respect of their afforestation schemes. So far as I can see, they have not entered into any real obligation to submit their schemes to the national parks authorities—and, even if they do so, we cannot be certain that other syndicates and other timber organisations will hold themselves bound by this particular agreement, which is an agreement of comparatively limited scope between a very small number of organisations. Therefore I feel that while, as I said, we must do our best to make this agreement work, we must not place too much reliance upon it, and we must watch the situation very carefully.

There is, of course, all the difference in the world between blanket afforestation of the commercial kind which is now coming into force in this country and the old type of timber growing by landowners which John Evelyn described in his letters and his diaries, and which provided the woods through which my noble friend Lord Dalton liked to walk, soliloquising, in the days when he was able to get about and enjoy these long walks about which he has told us—and I must say that I myself have enjoyed very similar experiences. However, modern commercial afforestation is quite different: it can change the whole scene of the country radically and completely. If my noble friend will go up to Ennerdale, which in Wordsworth's time and in my time was one of the most lovely valleys in the whole of the Lake District, he will find its character completely changed; and if he knew it before the First World War I think he will agree that it has been changed considerably for the worse. I do not think that the possibility of this kind of extensive afforestation in the national parks areas was envisaged in 1949; otherwise I feel that there would have been some provision made for control.

Now, my Lords, there is another matter about which I should like to say something. I refer to Dartmoor, which has been very much in the thick of this afforestation problem. I think that the Economic Forestry Group people themselves have said that their proposals would affect something (I think it is) more than 10 per cent. of the area at Dartmoor; and if one considers also the claims of the Army (which I want to mention in a moment), the claims of agriculture and the other claims, that does not leave a great deal of land for the enjoyment of the general public who wish to go to Dartmoor to seek fresh air and recreation.

But an even more serious problem at Dartmoor is the fact that since the end of the war it has been a very important military training area. Before the National Parks Act was put upon the Statute Book there had already been an inquiry in 1947 into the use of Dartmoor as a training area. A sort of compromise was reached at that stage which covered the use of a large part of Dartmoor for firing practice and another area in which training could go on but in which firing was not to take place. In the interval between that time and the present time, there has been a radical change in the situation at Dartmoor. Many more people are now coming in, the type of military exercise which is going on has changed radically, and different types of artillery are now being used.

The whole situation has become such that in my submission, and in the submission, I think, of pretty well all the amenities organisations which are in touch with Dartmoor, Dartmoor is no longer a satisfactory place for military manœuvres and exercises to be carried out. The mortar shells which are fired are frequently found alive. I have here a photograph of live mortar ammunition which was found by ramblers across Dartmoor. Then, a large number of troops leave litter all over the place, and I have got other photographs showing a really disgraceful state of affairs in that respect. Buildings are put up by the military. I do not know whether the War Department have an architect, but if they have, he certainly was never used for the purpose of these stores and other places which have been put up.

In many other ways, also, the situation has been completely changed. As I understand it, the War Department are quite unsympathetic to the representations which have been made by the Dartmoor Preservation Society, and I should like to appeal to the Prime Minister himself to look into these matters. In the years immediately after the war, my noble friend Lord Attlee, who was here until a few minutes ago, himself took a very strong and personal line in regard to these matters. The military were at that time established all over the country. If my noble friend had not intervened they would have kept a stranglehold on a large number of areas; but he indicated, very firmly, that, if necessary, he would look at this problem, and the result of that was very chastening for them. We were negotiating with the War Department, and found that they were very susceptible to that sort of high political pressure. I hope the present Prime Minister may have these matters brought to his attention and may be prepared to intervene, if necessary, in this sort of question. Dartmoor is a most important area, and I feel it should receive very careful and sympathetic consideration.

I have not time to deal with many of the points of which I made note, but before I sit down I should like to add something to what the noble Earl, Lord Feversham, said as to the problem of manners and behaviour in the national parks. I am afraid he is only too right; if anything, he rather underpainted the picture. I have a pretty close knowledge of the Peak District National Park, as I have the honour to be President of the Sheffield and Peak District Branch of the C.P.R.E. That park is possibly the worst case, as it is surrounded by industrial areas from which it is easy to get on motor bicycles. Half the hooligans in the North of England seem, some week-ends, to come in, and the lot of the farmer in that area is certainly a very unfortunate one.

I have had the great pleasure of being taken by the noble Earl round his own national park in the North Riding, and if any others of your Lordships would like the same opportunity I can assure you that not only is it lovely country, but it is very pleasant indeed to be taken round by the noble Earl himself. He has made a number of constructive suggestions which I think deserve the closest consideration by the authorities. The problem of fire, especially in the national parks where afforestation has taken place and particularly in the forests on the East side of the country where the weather is drier, is a very real one, and I do not feel that enough attention has been paid to it. He has given us examples of serious damage which has been done. More serious damage will take place, if urgent attention is not given to this matter. I know the Forestry Commission have had this matter very much in mind, and have been prosecuting research into it. The Fire Service Training and Research Trust, of which I happen to be a member, has been giving a little help in that direction, but it is a matter which requires a great deal more work put into it, not only on the part of the Forestry Commission but on the part of the authorities who are responsible for the parks and who are local fire authorities.

In the Peak District there is a most useful warden system which has been operating for several years. Without the wardens, I think the amount of damage done by hooligans would be infinitely larger than it is. But, again, you need finance. You rely on volunteer wardens to some extent, but you must have a cadre of paid ones so that you can be sure of having people there throughout the week-ends, and have trainers to train the voluntary wardens. This is no doubt a possible solution, but it is a solution which is possible only if more money is forthcoming.

Finally, I should like to say how much I enjoyed the imaginative and poetical perorations of the noble Earl's speech. As he thought and said, how much we in this country, and our great poets and writers, owe to sojourns in the countryside—and the poet of my own native land, Wordsworth, how much have we in England owed to him and his magnificent poetry, his beautiful thoughts! And how much of that did he derive from the natural beauty of the Lake District, as he then knew it! Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole of the National Parks movement is the one to which the noble Earl then referred, and I should like to say how much I enjoyed his speech.


My Lords, before the noble Lard sits down, could I give him some information? As I understood it, he felt—and if I say anything wrong, I hope he will correct me—that the Country Landowners' Association and the Timber Growers' Association had not very much to contribute towards the agreement that has been come to.


No, the noble Earl was not here. What I said was—


With respect, I was here. I was on the Woolsack.


Then the noble Earl has misunderstood me. I did not say that they had not much to contribute, but that the agreement had not been properly tied up. I have not got it here with me, but when I read it I did not feel that the obligations entered into were sufficiently specific, and that even if in individual cases specific obligations were entered into, these would cover only the parties to them. There are all sorts of other people not obliged by this agreement, yet who might take a great part in afforestation in national parks, because at the present time the National Parks are not protected by planning law.


I want to give the noble Lord an assurance, and a specific one. The Timber Growers' Association, of which I am a member, and the Country Landowners' Association, which, after all, fathered the Timber Growers' Association will do everything in their power to make this agreement work. Whether things are tied up properly or not, we will do everything we can to see that our obligations are met. For the purposes of the Record, may I state—I do not think I did in my speech—that the agreement which has been come to has been come to between the National Parks Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Timber Growers' Association, and the Country Landowners' Association, and is backed by the Minister.


My Lords, could I be a little irregular and ask the noble Earl what proportion of the potential woodland developers comprise this Association?


My Lords, it is very difficult for me to answer that question. So far as the Timber Growers' Association are concerned, they came into the matter only six months ago. They are very busy recruiting at the moment, and are just about forming their Executive Committee. Members are elected by regions on to the Council, and from the Council the Executive Committee is being formed.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of keeping your Lordships for more than a few moments this afternoon, but I should like to add my voice to the chorus of unanimous approval and appreciation of the work which the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and the Commission are doing, and doing with very little money. I think the debate has shown that we wish more strength to their elbow, and more pounds—or perhaps I should say thousands of pounds—in their bank account.

There is one personal experience to which I should like to refer. During the course of this afternoon noble Lords have referred to "my national park" and so on. "My national park" is the second in seniority and the largest in area, the Lakeland Park, and in view of the remarks which have been made about difficulties of working together of the Forestry and the amenity people, I should like, if I may shortly, to relate a small experience of my own. I happened at one time to have the privilege and the responsibility of owning a small valley called Miterdale, which the noble Lord. Lord Chorley, will doubtless know, and there is a little river, called the Mite, which starts in a little mountain tarn called Burnmoor and runs down to sea level, some four or five miles to the West, and through countryside of peat, and out, crop rock and heather down to green pastureland and woods where there is a little 15th century farm. The Forestry Commissioners wanted to plant trees in this little valley, and reluctantly I had to accede to their wish. Being, I hope, on speaking terms with both the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, I asked for their guidance and I strongly suspect they both went up to see the place, and, in any event, they seem to have given good instructions to others.

I was worried whether the Forestry Commission would have regimented this valley with conifers, which grow as rectangular regiments of almost Teutonic appearance, like the trees one Sees in the Black Forest. Some people may like them, but the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and I think that they do not fit in with the Lake District scenery. I was worried about the effect on our delightful scenery. But things went very well and I want to put on record what these two apparently competing organisations were able to do. It was agreed that there should be open land of 200 to 300 acres and that there should be maintained 200 or so head of sheep in perpetuity, so that trees could not be planted everywhere. By cutting a swathe up the valley to the top of the dale, people can look up from the lower valley to see Scawfell, the highest mountain in England. Moreover, through this valley, along the borders of the river and its small tributaries, hardwood should be planted and the conifers set back to more suitable places. I want to put this on record to express thanks, as one who is an owner of land, for what has been done by these two bodies, which are said to he at one another's throats and to have found it a little difficult to find their way to cooperate together, but who, in now doing so, are proving an asset to the cause of preserving our countryside.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, my first task, which is a pleasant one, is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on initiating the debate this afternoon. Some 14 per cent. of the total land surface of England and Wales lies within the national parks or their younger cousins, the areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is quite right, therefore, that from time to time your Lordships' House should review the progress made in the preservation and use of these great tracts of lovely country. As the father of the legislation establishing the national parks, it is only right that the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, should now, for the fourth time, I think, initiate a debate here on this important subject.

My second task is to make it clear that the Government fully share the keenness about the future of national parks which all speakers this afternoon have shown. I have seen it suggested recently in the Press, and I think it has been implicit in some of the speeches in your Lordships' House this afternoon, that the Government are in some way indifferent to the Parks. That is simply not true. Collectively, the Government, the Commission and the park authorities take a very active interest in this matter. My right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is himself keenly involved in it. He knows all the parks personally and will shortly he addressing the National Parks Conference at Harlech. Indeed, there will be two and a quarter Ministers there—my right honourable friend, my noble friend the Minister of State for Welsh Affairs and myself.

A large number of points have been made in this debate, and I fear that I may not cover all of them in my reply or all of them adequately. If there are any loose ends, I shall, of course, make it my business to see that they are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend and his Department. I do not wish to make any invidious comparisons. We have heard many good and constructive speeches in this debate, but among the most distinguished and most constructive of those speeches was. I think, that of my noble friend Lord Feversham. I shall not he dealing in detail with some of the points he put to me, but I can assure him that those points will be carefully examined by the Departments concerned.

After eleven years, the main structure of our national parks system is firmly and, on the whole, I believe, soundly established. There is, first, the National Parks Commission itself. Like other speakers, I should like to emphasise how much the parks owe to the absolutely devoted work of the Commission, of the officers and of the Chairman the noble Lord, Lord Strang. There are now the ten national parks—all going concerns, although I would suggest that some are more going than others. Then there are the areas of outstanding natural beauty, to the designation of which the National Parks Commission are now devoting a great deal of energy. Twelve areas have now been designated, and four or more follow every year. Here, I should like to congratulate those county councils who are following up with positive action the designation of areas that lie within their boundaries, and I would express the hope that all county councils will use the additional powers which designation confers on them. I would also, if I may, take this opportunity of clearing up a little confusion which arose between the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire, to say that the Chilterns are not yet designated.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, deplored the fact that London's nearest national park is in the Peak District, some 150 miles away. The noble Lord made it clear in his speech that the Hobhouse Committee had suggested that the South Downs should become a national park. The National Parks Commission decided, for, I think, good and sufficient reason, that the Downs were unsuitable, but hope to designate the Sussex and Hampshire Downs as separate areas of outstanding natural beauty, like the Surrey hills and the Chilterns later. It is with these that Londoners will have to be content. Using Lord Silkin's own words, in 1957, quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT [Vol. 202, col. 651]: It is inevitable, but a great pity, that there is nothing within reasonable reach of London. The noble Lord also asked about the Norfolk Broads. In the debate two years ago, my noble friend Lord Dundee referred to the recommendation of the Bowes Committee and said that discussions were taking place between the Great Yarmouth and Haven Commissioners and the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board. That was the position two years ago. Unfortunately, there is still considerable local disagreement over this, and up to now my right honourable friend has felt a natural reluctance to impose a settlement which would not command broad local acceptance. However, as the Bowes Committee and also the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, have pointed out, this is a matter of urgency, and my right honourable friend recognises that he may have to step in.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, asked if the Government would consider turning the Solent area and the New Forest into a national park. Having spent my childhood on the Isle of Wight and learned to sail, and capsize, in the Solent and its creeks, I sympathise with the noble Earl's feelings for that beautiful, but threatened, area of the country. I think that the idea which he put forward is an attractive one. But, of course, it is for the National Parks Commission to decide whether to designate the Solent area as a national park. I understand that the Commission take the view—and I think the noble Earl is aware of it—that this area does not qualify under the Act, since these shores are not (and here I quote the Act) "an extensive tract of country" and since the Act does not apply to tidal waters. The noble Earl knows that the waters of the Solent are doubly tidal. However, the Commission hope to designate much of the coastal strip on both the Hampshire and the Wight sides as an area of oustanding natural beauty. In addition, as I think the noble Earl said in his speech, the Hampshire County Council have put forward a project for a green belt to include most of the Hampshire Solent coast. It will be seen, therefore, that both the Commission and the local authorities have a special concern for this very special strip of coastline. I think that is the most that I can say to the noble Earl.


Perhaps I might ask the noble Earl whether my suggestion of having three national parks might be possible. Would that conflict with the Act? There would be no question then of tidal waters being affected.


I shall naturally he glad to put this proposal for this ingenious trinity of parks to my right honourable friend; and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has himself heard the suggestion. Whether or not it gets round this particular difficulty I have not, off the cuff, the faintest idea.

When the National Parks Commission were set up, preservation of the landscape was the first main objective, together with facilities for the enjoyment and enhancement of the natural beauty of the parks. I was much struck by a phrase I recently came across in a book by that distinguished landscape consultant, Miss Sylvia Crowe, when she wrote: Good landscape is part of the nation's standard of living. The Government accept that dictum, despite the fact that we sometimes have to accept encroachments in the parks that in an ideal world or, indeed, in a bigger country we might otherwise resist, the encroachments of military interdependence as at Fylingdales; the encroachments of twentieth century power at (my noble friend Lord Dynevor may object to my pronunciation here) Trawsfynydd, or Milford Haven; and those essential developments which result from the everyday needs of the many people who live and work in the parks. Thus absolute preservation is, in the Government's view, an unrealistic ideal. Indeed, it may even be an undesirable aim, as we should not wish the parks to become fossilised museums, but much prefer them to be, in Lord Silkin's phrase, "living, dynamic things". We must therefore strike that reasonable balance between the requirements of beauty and those other requirements, tiresome though they might appear to the park perfectionists, of defence, power, the national economy, and the many people to whom the parks are both a home and a livelihood.

What about these other considerations of defence, the economy and power? On defence, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to the use of Dartmoor for defence purposes. Of course the use of land in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty for Service training or for defence purposes is often controversial. When, as at Dartmoor, a considerable area is involved (I do not know the precise area, but I think that when it is in use it is approximately one-third of Dartmoor), and the public are denied access for fairly considerable periods of time or at frequent intervals, the grievance felt is naturally considerable. However, in the case of Dartmoor, as indeed the noble Lord made clear, these training areas were in use before the national park was desigated, as such. Efforts have been made, both here and elsewhere, and not without success, to reduce the areas held and also to restrict as little as possible the access of public to the land.


May I interrupt the noble Earl? What I am asking is that there should be a new inquiry, in view of the very altered situation since 1947 when the earlier inquiry was made.


I shall, of course, be glad to bring that suggestion to the attention of the Departments concerned. But I should like to make it clear that in the last two or three years the War Department have given up approximately 4,000 acres at Merrivale End in Dartmoor, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, did not make. The noble Lord also complained about the use of a new type of artillery on Dartmoor. I think he should consult other members of the Party opposite, because usually we on this side are under attack for not introducing new equipment into the Army.


I am not objecting to the use of new equipment. What I say is that it has altered the situation on Dartmoor, because a different type of projectile is used: one which often comes down and does not explode, thereby creating danger to the walkers across the country. There is now mortar fire, and I understand that the shells do not explode in the way that the older type of artillery did. I may, of course, be wrong about that.


As I have said, I will gladly bring to the attention of the Departments concerned the suggestion for a new look at this problem.

Next I come to forestry. Many noble Lords have drawn attention to the threat which large-scale afforestation poses for the parks. This is certainly a major problem. It is mainly felt, I think, in the South West, in Exmoor and Dartmoor; but it could well be felt—indeed, it has at times been felt—elsewhere. It arouses strong local feeling, and its importance is reflected in the great atten- tion paid to it, and rightly so, in the last two Reports of the National Parks Commission. I myself touched on this matter briefly in the debate in your Lordships' House on February 14 on the Devon County Council Bill. However, in view of what has been said in this debate, I feel that I must, although as briefly as possible, re-state the Government's attitude towards this problem.

There are, as we see it, two distinct issues: first, the replanting of existing woodlands, with conifers or not, as the case may be; and secondly, the large-scale afforestation of open moorland. I know some of these lovely Dartmoor woods—Buckland, for example—and I can understand the strong desire to preserve them as they stand, although many of them contain, as I understand it, timber which badly needs replacing. I am happy to say that a very large measure of agreement has now been reached between the forestry interests and the planning authority; compromises have been made on both sides and, so far as the existing woodlands problem is concerned, I believe that it is fair to say that the threat has sensibly diminished through the good sense exercised all round.

The knottier problem—and I think we must frankly face it as a knotty problem—does seem to be the proposals by private forestry interests to plant large areas of open moorland. These moorlands have a unique character and one can well understand why some of your Lordships have called for the imposition of planning controls over forestry in national parks. However, as I made clear in the debate on February 22, the Government have felt it much wiser to proceed by the voluntary method rather than by compulsion. That is why my right honourable friend decided to seek the co-operation of the timber growers, who in their operations so far have shown a willingness which we must acknowledge to consider the interests of amenity. As a result, a voluntary scheme, to which my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire referred, has been drawn up.

The Government's view is that this agreement should be given a fair trial. We see no reason why it should not be possible to reconcile the interests of the national parks with those of good forestry and of the landowners concerned; and I must say that in this respect I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord!, Lord Dalton, had to say on the matter. But obviously the success of the scheme, which provides for the sort of consultation for which I understood the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to be asking, will depend upon the cooperation displayed by all those who are parties to it. However, on the present evidence, there is no reason, I believe, to think that this co-operation will not be forthcoming, and willingly forthcoming; and I was glad that my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire was able to inform us officially of the determination of the Chairman of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England to do all he could to make a success of this scheme. I can, of course, give the noble Earl the assurance he requests: that the Government, for their part, are determined! to do all they can to make a success of this scheme.

I should like particularly to draw your Lordships' attention to (I think it is), paragraph 7 of the scheme, which states that, in the event of disagreement at any stage, the good offices of the Government Departments concerned will be available. Surely it is better to proceed by the voluntary method, if possible. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked what would happen if the voluntary method failed, if agreement could not be reached. My answer to that is twofold. First, this is a hypothetical question; it is a bridge which I do not believe at the moment we shall come to because, secondly, I and the Government are confident in the good sense of everybody concerned in this. However, should the voluntary approach fail, then all I can say is that we shall have to think again.

Several noble Lords have mentioned the equally knotty problem of reconciling the requirements of modern power with those of the national parks. This difficult matter of the power stations and their associated power lines was debated in your Lordships' House in February of last year, and I can add little to what was said then. So far as the power stations are concerned, our policy is to permit their siting in national parks or in areas of outstanding natural beauty only if the Ministers of Power and of Housing and Local Government are quite certain that suitable sites cannot be found elsewhere—I repeat, quite certain.

So far as the high power transmission lines, the super-grid lines, are concerned, whilst undergrounding remains so much more costly than overheading—if that is the phrase—it must be expected that overhead lines will continue to be used in most cases. The cost differential at present is just too great. For the time being, therefore, we must mainly rely on the earliest possible consultation between the local authorities, indluding, of course, the park planning committees, and the local Electricity Boards, aimed at helping the Boards to find the least obtrusive routes for overhead lines. Some of the examples quoted in Appendix C of the Parks Commission's Eleventh Report show that local Electricity Boards have made concessions to amenity by altering line routes, or varying sections of them, especially the lower-power distribution lines, although there may well be room for improvement in this matter, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Feversham.

In the debate in February a year ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, expressed some scepticism about the Government's serious concern for amenity when it clashed with the national appetite for power. He asked for one or two decisions in the right sense which would show that proper regard had been had for amenity. Unfortunately, the most important pending cases which concern the national parks, those of Borrow-dale and Martindale, are still, as it were, sub judice; and obviously I cannot comment on them. However, although it concerns a Green Belt and not a national park, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the recent decision by the Minister of Power, in consultation with my right honourable friend, to refuse consent to three miles of a proposed overhead 275 kilovolt line between Elstree and Mill Hill. Surely that is an indication of the Government's attitude in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked about the recent inquiry into the proposals of the South Wales Electricity Board to supply electricity by overhead wire near Whitesands Bay, in Pembrokeshire. I do not wish at this rather late hour to go into the merits of that particular case, but I should like to read three extracts from the reply of my right honourable friend to the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Strang, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred. In the first place (I will not read this extract), my right honourable friend said that the eventual decision which was reached represented, in his view, a reasonable balance between utility and amenity. Secondly, he went on to state that the Minister of Power is asking the Boards to take particular care in future, when they have to justify their proposals either before or at a public inquiry, to do so on the basis that in their judgment they are a reasonable balance between the Boards' statutory duties to develop an economical supply, on the one hand, and to take amenity into account, on the other.

I should like to mention that in the recent inquiry in January on the Borrowdale line, the North West Electricity Board, at the opening of the inquiry, made it clear that the electricity would be provided quickly, whether consent was given or refused to the overhead line they suggested. I should like to read one further extract from that letter. That says: Finally, I should like to assure the Commission that both the Minister of Power and I "— that is the Minister of Housing and Local Government— are determined that the Electricity Boards should carry out their duty under Section 37 of the 1957 Act. I feel that that is perhaps a sufficient answer to the allegation that Section 37 is a dead letter.

My Lords, I have touched on some of the more difficult sides of this constant struggle to defend the national parks—the battle against the forces, sometimes irresistible, of national defence and power, and the demands of our increasingly wealthy society. The Report of the Commission also shows how much valuable and patient, yet quite unspectacular, work is being done, most of which does not hit the headlines. Preventing undesirable development in the parks and elsewhere is mostly just hard slogging. Yet many undesirable things are avoided by the Commission's unremitting attention to development proposals. When new development is allowed, the parks autho- rities go to great pains to see that it merges with the landscape. Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Strang, I had the chance recently of attending a meeting of one of the committees of the National Parks Commission. I was very much struck by the deep care and intimate knowledge with which these often very detailed matters are handled by the Commission.

So much for preservation. I should like now, in conclusion, to turn to the more positive side of this coin. Here, steady, but modest—and I freely admit it is modest—progress is being made. Several noble Lords have referred to the question of the public rights of way, and the long-distance routes. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred, I thought in perhaps unduly gloomy terms, to the rights of way which he feared are being lost. I was surprised to hear that, because (of course, I may be wrong) it is not my understanding that the position is so desperate. All, or nearly all, the county councils concerned have completed their surveys, and the process of getting public rights of way through the various stages on to a definite map is going ahead. But I would admit that that process is taking time. The same applies, of course, to the long-distance routes to which the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, referred. The progress here is slow and patchy, and this is to be regretted. But the Pennine Way, the Cornish North Coast Path and the Devon South Coast Path are making very good progress. Others are making slower progress, but I would agree with my noble friend Lord Dynevor that the voluntary method is far best applied in these cases.

Almost all noble Lords have called for more expenditure on the national parks, and I shall be coming to that aspect in a moment. I would mention here, however, that Exchequer grants to the park authorities are now three times what they were when your Lordships last discussed this matter. They are, of course, still a relatively modest sum. I think the total Exchequer grant in respect of national parks is something under £70,000 a year at present.

I am glad to see, however, that there has been a modest increase in the park information activities. The Commission hope to see at least one small information centre established in each park, and that is surely a good thing. There are many other ways, of course, in which the Commission are striving to foster an informed body of opinion, and my impression is that interest in the parks is in fact growing. The B.B.C., incidentally, plan to produce two programrnes, one sound and one television, about the parks this summer, and this, too, should be helpful in creating a deeper knowledge and appreciation of what the parks are.

However, when all is said and done many people feel that more could, and should, be done for and in the parks. Certainly this view has been voiced from many quarters in this House this afternoon. Of course, we must be careful what we do to the parks. In essence they remain places to which people go to seek and enjoy the solitude of great reaches of beautiful and relatively wild country. They are a retreat from the rush and vulgarity of our urbanised, motorised, televised twentieth century. In developing the parks, we must, therefore, be careful to preserve their essential characteristics, as my noble friend Lord Hylton pointed out. However, it seems that there is scope for a somewhat more positive approach. For more facilities generally. For the quicker elimination of the still existing eyesores. For more car parks. For more boundary signs. For an expanded warden service, which might well meet some of the difficulties about the behaviour of visitors to the parks, to which my noble friend Lord Feversham drew attention, although of course some of his suggestions could be met only by legislation. For a more effective fire service, which was also suggested by my noble friend. For more accommodation generally, whether of the comfortable kind which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, favours, or the more rigorous kind as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dalton.


My Lords, I suggest both, according to taste. I do not think they are exclusive.


May I say I was particularly attracted by what the noble Lord, Lord Dalton, had to say about this matter, not because I prefer the more rigorous kind myself, but I recall that, a year ago, climbing and skiing in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, which are pretty remote, my companions and I came across a number of excellent refuges. We find too little of this sort of thing in the parks. It seems to me, too, that there may be a need for more facilities and better facilities for sports and hobbies, for camping and caravanning, in the right places—it is very important that these should be in the right places; for riding, for sailing, for rock climbing, for all forms of adventure training, for archæology and other forms of nature study. Some of the more enterprising park authorities are moving along those lines, and they are to be congratulated on it. The Peak have established a very successful ski run at Hale. The Lake District sponsor six week-end mountaineering schools. All the same I personally have the feeling that a great deal more could be done, given the determination and the means.

In fact, to conclude, the time may now have come for the parks to enter a new and more positive phase of their history. After all, we now have eleven years' experience of working them. The Commission are looking into what might be done, and the Minister has asked them and the park authorities for further up-to-date information, so that he can get a really comprehensive picture of the needs of the parks. This information is now beginning to come in, and it has been considerably supplemented this evening by the information provided by your Lordships in this debate, including a number of most interesting specific proposals, of which I should like, if I may, to single out that of my noble friend Lord Feversham for a direct Treasury grant to the National Parks Commission, without committing myself in any one way or the other on it. It is, in any case, clear that a constructive approach will almost certainly mean widening the powers of the Act, extending the eligibility for grants, and, last but not least, more cash. In the near future my right honourable friend should be in a position to see what can be done over and above existing programmes, and to decide how far this calls for new legislation and for more money from the Exchequer. In any event, I can assure noble Lords that the needs of the parks will be viewed sympathetically and constructively. I can also assure them that my right honourable friend will take careful note of the many valuable suggestions made in to-day's debate by previous speakers, all of whom possess an intimate knowledge and love for these parks.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House very much longer, but I should like in no conventional sense to express my gratitude to all those who have taken part in the debate for the most valuable contributions which they have made. I think it will be agreed that this debate has been really worth while. Every speaker has spoken with knowledge and with keenness about the Motion, which I am afraid is not always the case with the subjects we discuss here—at least not always with the detailed knowledge which they possess. I should like, in particular, to express my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, upon the reply which he has given. I know that he has taken a great deal of trouble to acquaint himself with the subject, and if this debate has served no other purpose it has served a highly educational purpose so far as the noble Earl himself is concerned. He has issued a great many pledges, a great many undertakings of consideration by the Minister of various points that have been made, and promises that certain things will come about in the near future. He and the Government will be held to those undertakings. He must not be surprised if in the near future Questions are put to him, or to whoever happens to be answering for the Government on this subject, as to what progress has been made on the particular matters to which we have referred. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.