HL Deb 18 July 1967 vol 285 cc204-8

3.9 p.m.

House in Committee (on Recommitment) (according to Order).

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.


I am sorry—I was thinking of the paragraphs, but in fact I want to address the House on Clause 1 and to move a manuscript Amendment. May I do so now? I did say to the noble Lord as he took his seat that I wished to speak on the first clause.


I very much regret that the noble Lord has missed the opportunity of moving a manuscript Amendment to Clause 1 or Clause 2, although he can still do so in the Schedule. On the other hand, of course, he can still speak on the Bill later.


I think I can bring about the same result by amending the Schedule, but I thought it might be more convenient to everybody concerned if I moved the Amendment to Clause 1.


I remember occasions when this has happened before. The Question has been put and someone has missed it, owing to something else happening, and it has been put again. I think there are precedents for that, and I should like to suggest to the noble Earl the Lord Chairman that he might follow that precedent. Sometimes it is not at all easy to hear in this House, when people are talking, and it is quite easy to miss the Question when it is put. Obviously, my noble friend's mind was on something else, and his ears were not particularly receptive at that moment.


With the leave of the House—and of course I can do this only with the leave of the House—I will go through the Bill again from the beginning.


(THE EARL OF LONGFORD): I am quite ready to join in giving leave, but the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is trying the Government a little high. We have had absolutely no notice of this manuscript Amendment. I speak without any personal connection with this matter. We were hoping to get to the last stages to-day, and now the noble Lord is bringing up a most complicated provision.


Needless to say, I shall deal with that.

Clause 1 [Confirmation of order in Schedule]:


Let me say at once in answer to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, that I very much regret not having given notice, and the reason is that I noticed the matter which I am now going to bring to the notice of the Committee only as I entered the House. That was doubtless due to the fact that I missed the earlier stages on account of illness. I am quite certain that the Committee, whatever it may think fit to do to-day, will think that the matter which I am raising is one which ought to be raised. To make clear what my manuscript Amendment is, it is Page 1, line 12, after ("Act") insert ("with the exception of article 17 of the Order")". That brings me at once to the Schedule, and I will say what article 17 of the Order is. Perhaps I had better read paragraph (1) of article 17: For the purpose of providing a parking place under section 81 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, a local authority may, with the consent of the Minister, utilise any part of an open space: Provided that the part of the open space utilised under this article shall not exceed one-eighth of the total area thereof or one acre whichever is the less. To speak from memory—and I think that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will confirm this—this precise provision was included in a Local Government Bill introduced some years ago at the time when my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor was the Minister concerned. It was introduced in a Bill which came before this House, and the Bill has long been an Act. But I moved the deletion of this provision and, speaking from memory, I was strongly supported by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin and others, and we succeeded in getting this provision deleted. It seems to me an appalling thing that this provision can be reintroduced, apparently without any argument at any stage of the Bill, so far as I know, in either House. I do not believe that that is in the interest of Parliament, and I believe it will horrify the public when this comes to their notice.

The provision concerned, providing parking places, is not in the interest of the parks. It is not limited to that. I am speaking entirely from memory, but I think I am right on all these facts. It is providing general relief for traffic. There is no prima facie case whatsoever why one-eighth of a park or open space should be taken for this purpose, rather than one-eighth of anything else—oneeighth of a business property in the city, which, of course, would be laughed out of court if it were suggested; or one-eighth of all the betting houses. There are all sorts of things you might provide, if you once said there was a prima facie case for taking a particular class of property and saying that one-eighth could be used for the relief of traffic.

Open spaces in this city are not so common, or provided so excessively, that there is a prima facie case for taking them from the users of parks and using them for the relief of traffic. The proposal really is quite outrageous. I do not believe that it would have stood any chance in either House, had attention been drawn to it in argument. I repeat my apologies to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. Nothing would have induced me to do this now had I seen it earlier. My only excuse for not seeing it before perhaps is a bad one, but it is that I was absent ill. I can assure him that, had I seen it before, I should have fought it in every way I could, because the preservation of amenities, in spite of the eagerness of Her Majesty's Government and previous Governments to destroy amenities as if they did not matter, is almost the most important thing that we ought to be considering. We are busy creating an almost universal slum in town and country, and it is time we stopped it. I beg to move the manuscript Amendment, which I have read out to the House. Amendment moved— Page 1, line 12, after ("Act") insert ("with the exception of article 17 of the Order ").—(Lord Conesford.)


It is very difficult, I appreciate, for the Government to be in a position to give a firm answer to this point which has been raised by my noble friend at this stage, and, as he has explained, unfortunately without notice. But the point is one of very great importance. I must say that I had not known of it until my noble friend drew my attention to it. When one considers that this would apparently give a right to take an acre of Hyde Park or St. James's Park, all for making a concrete slab of parking places, I hope the Government will think again about it. I hope that the Government will not turn down my noble friend's suggestion out of hand.

This is a short Bill. Apart from this it is not a controversial Bill. My appeal to the Government is to adjourn consideration of it to-day and give further consideration to this point. I see from the Order Paper that it is down for all stages to-day. Now that this point has been raised I think we should not take all stages to-day. Perhaps it would be much better to adjourn the Committee and consider it. My noble friend can then put down a formal Amendment, and we can deal with the Bill quite shortly another day in all stages.


I should like to support very much what has been said by the two noble Lords. I am afraid that I had not observed this particular matter in the Bill, but I have in the past raised various points dealing with the London parks and the practice of the Government of allowing parts of open spaces to be developed and built over. I would very much support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and the noble Viscount, that we might adjourn the Committee stage to-day, and take some further action in the future.


The noble Lord places me, as I think he recognises, in the greatest difficulty, in that I have had no warning whatsoever of this until I heard him speak. Both noble Lords who spoke first on this made the situation out to be a little worse than it is. To take up the noble Viscount's point about St. James's Park and Hyde Park, the Royal Parks are not affected by this paragraph in the Schedule. It refers only to local authority parks. Paragraph 17 of the Schedule is based on a model clause which is already in effect in over forty Acts of Parliament affecting other towns in the country. These powers are already available in parts of Greater London and in the Middlesex area. What is being done therefore by this clause is a rather slight extension of this power to those areas in Greater London which do not already have it. Some already have it, some do not. In nearly forty other places it is in effect, and it would not cover the Royal Parks.

Having said that, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, that if, after my explanation, he still feels that this power ought not to be extended to the remaining parks of the Greater London area, then I will move the suspension of the Committee stage on this Bill and look at it in greater detail.


I thank the noble Lord for what he has proposed. I am conscious that I placed him in a difficulty, for which I apologise and for which I am genuinely sorry. But, knowing that the noble Lord himself is passionately concerned for amenities, I greatly welcome what he has just said.


It is now the procedure that the debate on Lord Conesford's Amendment be adjourned, and that eventually we shall come into Committee again upon the same Bill at the point at which we have now left it; namely, that the Amendment has been moved. We can then resume our discussion upon it.

House resumed.