HL Deb 14 February 1961 vol 228 cc709-16

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, this is a General Powers Bill consisting of 138 clauses and three Schedules. I wish to make a statement on Clause 55 which I apprehend is likely to give rise to considerable controversy. This clause pro- vides for the control by the County Council of afforestation on certain lands which were previously exempted by Section 12 (2) (e) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, from the obligation to obtain permission for development. There are twelve Petitions against this Bill but none of them is against this clause, which is therefore technically unopposed and would normally not have to be specifically justified by the Promoters before the Committee. For this reason, I shall support the Motion standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second lime.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a, —(Lord Merthyr.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.


My Lords, now that the Bill has received its Second Reading, I beg to move the Instruction standing in my name. As the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has stated, Clause 55 seeks to amend Section 12 (2) (e) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. This section was meant as a safeguard for forestry, and, if I may, I will refer very briefly to it. It reads: in this Act, except where the context otherwise requires, the expression 'development' means the carrying out of building, engineering mining or other operations in, on, over or under land; Provided that the following operations or uses of land shall not be deemed for the purposes of this Act to involve development of the land, that is to say: (e) the use of any land for the purposes of agriculture or forestry (including afforestation), and the use for any of those purposes of any building occupied together with the land so used;… As I have said, this clause seeks to amend that, and a number of us feel very strongly that this should not be amended.

But the most important reason for my rising to move this Instruction is that originally, when Clause 55 was inserted in the Bill, there was, I understand, a strong outcry that it should not be included. We had thought that the clause was to be withdrawn and that an agreement which has now been come to was to be made between the Government, the Forestry Commission, the National Parks Commission and the two bodies who represent land owners and woodland owners. Now, in spite of that agreement, which I understand was reached last month, this clause has been inserted. Surely it is a strong matter of principle that when an agreement of that kind has been reached a Private Bill should not include a clause such as this, which goes against the very principles of that agreement. If this clause were to be passed it would set a precedent for other counties; they would start bringing in such a clause in their own private Bills.

There is one other point of which I have not given notice (although I do not think that matters) which I might make: that if afforestation with careful voluntary planning under this agreement were allowed, it could possibly affect the rainfall in the area and so help to prevent the floods that we have seen occurring in Devonshire and other counties in that part of the country.

In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity of thanking both the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and his advisers for helping me to frame the Instruction which is on the Order Paper. I would ask your Lordships to take notice of the wording. I am not asking for the clause to be deleted, here or elsewhere, but only that it shall be given special attention by the Committee. As the Lord Chairman has stated, it is an Opposed Bill but this clause is not opposed; and with this Instruction I am drawing the attention of the Committee to the clause.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill may be referred not to pass Clause 55 (Control of afforestation) without special attention.—(The Earl of Buckinghamshire.)

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in this matter. It appears from what he has told us that the clause, if carried, would establish quite a new precedent and one in opposition to the powers given by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. He pointed out that agriculture and forestry are the two basic uses of land which are free from control. This clause in the Devonshire County Council Bill seeks to control planting of new land.

In my view there are severe objections to that method of thinking. First, as the noble Lord has said, if the Bill should be passed in its present form for one county, it is perfectly clear that any other county with a national park, or with common or open land under access agreements, would, or might, bring it under control in the same way. I think your Lordships know that no less than one-tenth of the land surface of England and Wales is included in national parks, and much of this land is the only reserve for plantable land if there is to be no interference with good agricultural land.

I believe that not only the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but also the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who casts a fatherly wing over forestry in all its phases, is involved in this new proposal. We in the West of England are very fortunate because the National Parks Commission singled us out as doing sensitive but intelligent work in surveying woodlands within the national parks. While we are grateful for having been singled out in that way, I believe—and this afternoon I am speaking entirely for myself, although I am a member of a National Parks Committee—that we must not press too far the control of forestry by national park committees. What we want is the sort of co-operation envisaged in the agreement to which my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire has referred.

The agreement holds out very good hopes that, by consulting together various interests—the national park interests, the private forestry interests, the Forestry Commission interests and the local inhabitants—they will all come to some happy agreed solution. That may sound rather far-fetched to your Lordships, but I hope that in regard to some of the parks, at any rate, agreement will be reached. That will be much better than this rather formal sort of compulsory power that is suggested in the Devonshire County Council Bill. Also, of course, it is far better than any more extreme action that might be taken by any national park committee in trying compulsorily to acquire land for forestry and so on—but that is another point which I must not raise to-day. I do not think that national parks can be treated as museum pieces. New woods must be planted; there must be a great dean of now forestry; and I do not believe that this method of control is going to help. I therefore support the Instruction of my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire, I think that your Lordships may like a brief comment from maiden me on Clause 55 of this Private Bill. Clause 55 deals with an admittedly very important problem. The possibility of large-scale afforestation of open land in national parks has recently, as many of your Lordships know, caused widespread concern. It must not, of course, be forgotten. as my noble friend Lord Hylton said, that forestry, like agriculture, is part of the natural scene in a national park and is also essential to the life of the park and its people. On the other hand, new forests in national parks could not only change but also impair the essential character and beauty of the landscape, if the wrong sort of trees were planted or if they were wrongly sited. 'It is not surprising, therefore, that many representations about this matter have been made to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. In view of their responsibilities for Dartmoor National Park, it is also very proper that this should be a subject of serious concern to the Devon County Council as the park planning authority.

Granted that concern, the question is whether it be wise to proceed in the way suggested by the Devon County Council in the Bill. As your Lordships know—and it has already been made clear in the House this afternoon—agriculture and forestry have never been regarded as development for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It seems most undesirable that they should be made so without some especially compelling reason, even in a national park or in the other areas covered by Clause 55 of this Bill. Apart from this, again as my two noble friends have already made clear, discussions have recently been proceeding, at the Minister's invitation, between the Ministry, the National Parks Commission, the Forestry Commission, the newly-created Timber Growers' Organisation and the Country Landowners Association with a view 'to working out a voluntary scheme to deal with this very problem. I am glad Ito confirm what has been said, that agreement on a voluntary scheme has now been reached, and I would also pay tribute to the part which the noble Lord, Lord Strang, as Chairman of the National Parks Corn-mission, has played in working out this scheme.

I feel that I should make it clear that the Minister's view is that this new voluntary scheme should be given a fair trial. It is surely better to proceed by voluntary agreement, if possible, rather than by any form of compulsion; and if Clause 55 remains in this Bill, with its compulsory powers, no one could really say that we were giving the voluntary scheme a fair chance. In view of this, the Ministry have now approached the Devon County Council, expressing the hope that they will withdraw Clause 55. I understand 'that the County Council wish to discuss this matter further with the Ministry, who are of course willing to do so. In any event, my right honourable friend will be reporting in the normal manner to the Select Committee, where the various issues can be, and indeed should be, threshed out. And, in view of what I have said, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I am quite willing to accept my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire's Motion for an Instruction.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl expresses thanks for the speech of the noble Earl who has just spoken, I rise first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Jellieoe, on an excellent first performance from the Treasury Bench—excellent not from the purely conventional way but because he did not read his brief. He appeared, at any rate —and I believe it was so—to have digested what had been told to him and used his own language. I hope that some of his successors will take a leaf out of his book and will be equally successful.

On the merits of the matter, of course there can be no objection to giving a Committee an instruction to look at a particular clause. That is their job, and one would hope that they would do it without any direction from this House. 1ndeecl, I rather deplore giving directions from this House to a Select Committee of its own Members asking them to pay particular attention to a particular clause. I have no objection to the Bill's being discussed generally, and the particular clause being discussed generally, so that the Committee may know what are the feelings of the House. But I think it is rather offensive to tell the Committee, after a discussion of this kind. to pay particular attention to a particular clause.

Again on the merits of the matter, I agree somewhat with those who have drawn attention to the clause. not necessarily for the reasons they have given, but because if we are to bring any control over forestry, even in national parks, it ought to be done as a general measure and not done by a Private Bill in particular cases. I think there is a lot to be said for control of forestry. I should even be prepared to discuss agriculture in national parks. Obviously, the present view is that they should be exempt from control, but there may be a case for controlling them, and I should like that matter to be considered. But certainly this would appear to be prejudging their consideration and applying it to an individual case. For these reasons, I am not going to oppose the Instruction. I do not think it is worth very much further debate. But I rather regret that it was felt necessary to give this Instruction, because I am quite sure that the Committee would have taken this into consideration in any case, especially in view of the agreement about which the noble Earl has just told us, and also the action the Minister proposes to take.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has taken the very words out of my mouth in offering the noble Earl congratulations on his first speech on the Front Bench. He has, I understand, a more difficult Motion to reply to later on, and I am delighted that my Motion should be the first to, shall I say, break him in. With regard to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I should like to make it clear to him that I had no intention whatsoever of giving any direction to the Committee. All I was asking was that the attention of the Committee should be drawn to this particular clause. They are perfectly free, as I understand it, to pass the clause or not, as they wish. Once again, I would repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and to his advisers, for the framing of this Instruction, because it was due to them that it was done in this way. I am most grateful; and I hope that the House will accept my Instruction.

On Question, Motion agreed to.