HL Deb 25 April 1968 vol 291 cc775-865

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill will be only the third Act ever really to affect the right of ordinary people to enjoy the countryside. The first attempt to pass such an Act was when James Bryce introduced a Bill in 1884 to give access to mountains in Scotland. It did not get through. In 1888 Thomas Ellis introduced a Bill to give access to mountains in Wales. It did not get through. Sir Charles Trevelyan, the poet, had two shots at it in 1908 and again in 1927—both failed. But in 1939 the Access to Mountains Act did get through and that was the first law dealing specifically with access to open country. Unfortunately, it was a Private Member's Act so no charge could be placed on public funds, and no order was ever made under it before it was repealed by the 1949 Act, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which was introduced into the House of Commons by my noble friend Lord Silkin and is the present law. Since then we have had nearly twenty years' experience of that law.

We have had the meetings of "The Countryside in 1970" Conference, many of the luminaries of which are Members of this House. They are too numerous to compliment individually but, as I have done before, I should like on behalf of the Government once again to thank them for the work they have done. I should like also to compliment the President of that Conference, the Duke of Edinburgh, for his work in this field. It has been characteristically robust, energetic and commonsensical, and if he sometimes criticises the Government for having too many Departments concerned in all this, I should like to say that the Government have no criticism at all of the manner in which he has weighed in and grouped the voluntary enterprises concerned towards more effective action.

Two years ago we had a debate in this House on the White Paper which foreshadowed this Bill, and, if I may, I should like to remind your Lordships of what I said then We have to think, all at the same time, of next year's harvest, of next year's breeding grounds for the peregrine falcon, of the new towns or districts of towns which we shall need in 1975, of where the water is to come from in 1985, and where the timber is to come from in 2050. Then, with all these, we have to think of next week-end's motorists coming out of the city to enjoy themselves in the best of all possible ways: by breathing the fresh air and getting some sun on to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18/5/66; cols. 988–89.] The Bill which now comes to us from the Commons is, I submit, a very good way of reconciling all those different things. It is perhaps not perfect, but it is the best that can be done with the present conflicting interests in our society. There are one or two omissions in it which I shall be inviting the House to remedy at Committee stage. No doubt Members from all sides will have other ideas for changes and additions, and I look forward to constructive debate at that stage.

I believe it will be most useful if I simply tell the House now in what respects this Bill changes the 1949 Act, and what new things it does which were not done by that Act. The 1949 Act set up the National Parks Commission, so familiar to, and respected by, all of us, and I look forward to hearing the observations both of its former Chairman and of its present one this afternoon. The Bill replaces that Commission by the Countryside Commission, and binds that new Commission to appoint a Committee for Wales. The change of title symbolises the fact that the new functions of the Commission under this Bill would apply to the whole country, not simply to National Parks. The 1949 Act provided for the setting up of the National Parks as we know them. This Bill gives the National Parks authorities better powers to provide things in them to keep them tidy and allow people to enjoy them, including facilities on the sea bounding a National Park. It gives the Countryside Commission the duty of providing for people's enjoyment of all the countryside in the land: the National Parks Commission had it only in National Parks.

The Bill empowers the Countryside Commission to investigate, inquire and research into matters relevant to it. The Government regard this as one of the most important provisions in the Bill. We already know a good deal about who wants to do what, who wants to stop who doing what, but we do not always yet know how the wishes of the former can best be reconciled with the wishes of the latter. The Bill empowers the Countryside Commission to undertake or promote experiments, subject to the Minister's approval. This is important because, if the Countryside Commission want to do something that some people think is a good idea and others do not, they will be able to do it and find out. If it turns out not to be a good idea, no doubt they will then stop doing it. The 1949 Act empowered the Minister to make grants to public bodies in pursuance of its objects. This Bill allows the Countryside Commission also to make grants to private bodies and persons.

The 1949 Act set up the nature reserves, the sites of special scientific interest, and conferred powers on the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy has now become part of the Natural Environmental Research Council, and this Bill empowers them to enter into agreements with the owners of certain sites of special scientific interest in order to protect them from anything inimical to those interests. The 1949 Act provided for the mapping and recording of rights of way. This Bill simplifies the procedure and, perhaps belatedly, allows for the deletion of errors from the definitive maps of rights of way. The 1949 Act provided for the restoration of footpaths after ploughing, and this was re-enacted in the Highways Act 1959. The present Bill prescribes a time limit for that restoration and empowers highway authorities to do it themselves, if the owner does not, and to recover the costs.

The 1949 Act provided for public access by agreement, by order, or by acquisition, to mountain, moor, heath, town, cliff and foreshore. The present Bill, lapsing into prose, adds to that list rivers and canals, other than British Waterways Board canals. Reverting to poetry, it also adds to it their banks and woodlands in general. The British Waterways Board canals are left out, because all that is dealt with in the Transport Bill which is now before the House of Commons. Under present law, ploughing automatically prevents public access to a field. The Bill will give the Minister power to satisfy himself that this shall no longer be the case unless the detriment to agriculture caused by public access would out-weigh its benefits to the public. Under the present law a landowner has to prove undue hardship if he is to receive immediate compensation for an access order being made on his land; otherwise he has to wait five years. The Government think that this is too tough and propose to change "undue hardship" to "special circumstances". The 1949 Act allows a saving for the interests of agriculture and forestry in regard to all these functions. The present Bill adds to this saving the more general concept, economic and social interests of rural areas. The Bill gives traffic authorities better powers to make traffic restriction orders in the interest of amenity, et cetera, in National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and such places. The 1949 Act allows grant for the establishment of access to open country and for the planting of trees only in National Parks and areas of oustanding natural beauty. This Bill extends that grant-giving power to cover all the countryside in the land. When this Bill becomes law, all rural England and Wales will be eligible for the grants that are now payable only in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. This does not mean—and I wish to emphasise this now—that there will no longer be any role for the designated A.O.N.B. as we now know it. The fact that it is shaded on the map will retain considerable psychological and political importance. The 1949 Act says that a National Park authority can do anything it thinks fit in the interests of a National Park except anything which somebody else can already do under some other law. This Bill removes that limitation, so that National Park authorities can do any particular thing, whether or not anybody else can also do it.

So far, I have been dealing with the changes effected by this Bill in the 1949 Act. But this Bill also contains many provisions which appear now for the first time in our law. They are these. Clause 11 is quite new and, in my view, extremely important. It lays the duty on Ministers, on Departments of State and on public bodies whatsoever to have regard to natural beauty and amenity in exercising their statutory functions relating to land. This is, of course a declaratory provision, but the Government think it well worth while to have it in the Bill in order to set the general tone for the future.

The Bill introduces for the first time the country parks, picnic and camping sites, and grants for their creation, as well as the powers to make by-laws and appoint wardens to see to it. These are the provisions of the Bill which have attracted the greatest public notice so far, and rightly so. They are perhaps the crux of the whole Bill. These clauses are the translation into statutory and financial terms of the general strategy which will encourage people to go to places where they are assured of a pleasant, peaceful and uninterrupted time. This will be nice for townsfolk. It will also be nice for farmers, since the more people go to places arranged for them the less people will want to go to places which have not been arranged for them, and where they may get in the way of the economic processes of agriculture and forestry.

I do not want to paint a picture of a rigidly regimented country with urban families playing softball cricket in neat rows beside the public lavatory under precisely ordered trees, while two fields away Farmer Giles, flanked by two ferocious alsatians, guards his barley. There has always been a sort of running war between walkers and campers, on the one hand, and farmers and foresters, on the other. This is natural, and though we shall certainly mitigate the ferocity of the war with this Bill, I think we can never hope to make permanent peace. In the past, both sides have committed excesses and atrocities in this war. Some trippers make the countryside hideous with their leavings; but so do some farmers, especially with the vast orange polythene bags which they leave about after distributing the fertiliser which has been in them. Some trippers seem to take pleasure in treading down young corn. Equally, some farmers seem to take pleasure in ploughing and sowing the footpaths where people have walked for 5,000 years on pleasant turf. All that will, no doubt, continue, but the country parks and camp site provisions in this Bill should do a lot to make things better.

The Bill will for the first time help bodies which own reservoirs to admit the public and to provide for recreation at their reservoirs, giving them powers which they did not have before. Gradually we can hope to see reduced the number of those grim, leaden reservoirs with concrete fence posts and tall wire netting round them. Wherever the purification plant permits, we must now have sailing and swimming. The Forestry Commission also gets powers to provide for recreation and to plant trees simply because they look nice. There is a sophisticated system introduced, which no doubt the House will wish to debate in Committee, for compensating owners of woodlands who are required by planning authorities to plant in such a way that the Forestry Commission does not think they qualify for grant on purely economic canons; and there are many minor provisions.

My Lords, let me give you some figures which show graphically enough the need for this Bill. In the 10 years between 1954 and 1964 the number of anglers in this country increased from 2 million to 3 million; the number of dinghy sailors increased by 80 per cent.; the number of identifiable equestrians increased by 130 per cent.; the number of caravanners increased by 240 per cent.; bird-watchers by 257 per cent. and campers by no less than 370 per cent. The only people in the categories which concern us today who decreased were the cyclists. Their numbers went down by half. On a warm and pearly day like this, I expect most of us would like to be out in the countryside we are talking about, doing one of those things. But since it is the lot of legislators to stay indoors and try to improve things for other people, I look forward to an interesting debate this afternoon. Let us not get too much bogged down in detail at this stage. We shall have plenty of time later to discuss whether or not a cyclist should be required to dismount when he meets a bull going in the same direction as himself, but unaccompanied by a herd of cows. This afternoon let us keep to the broad issues; and I look forward with the greatest interest to hearing the views of many Members of the House on a topic which this House is particularly well composed and qualified to discuss. I beg to move.

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

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, yesterday, conscious that we were liable to be here to a fairly late hour this evening, I ventured to play truant and leave the Palace of Westminster about 6 o'clock, and travelled in an overcrowded Underground train to Paddington. A couple of hours later I was above the Kennet Valley, with Savernake Forest at my back and, in front, the circle of the sun dipping below the Marlborough Downs. Suddenly, at that moment, this Bill came to life for me. At first I read it as one reads any other piece of legislation. One cannot expect the skill of the draftsman, though it will produce exactitude, to produce sentiment. The Parliamentary draftsmen, for whom I have an immense admiration, can hardly be expected to convey, in their style of writing, thoughts of birdsong or of wild cherry blossom. I must say that with the reference in Clause 7 to "a park or pleasure ground" we begin to get happy reminiscences of Kubla Khan. If noble Lords will read the Bill and Coleridge's poem—and let me say that I recommend them to do it in that order—they will find that Kubla Khan, although he did not then know it, was, in fact, decreeing the provision of a country park in Xanadu.

It was appropriate that these thoughts came to me in the neighbourhood of the noble Lord's eponymous river, as he has so felicitously expounded to us the intentions and clauses of the Bill. I am sure he was right not to go into great detail, and I shall seek to do the same, because I cannot help thinking that the intentions of this Bill will get a widespread welcome from your Lordships and that it is a Bill on which we may be able to do mast of our useful work in Committee. Most of its intentions are wholly acceptable, I should think. Indeed, it might largely be called a bipartisan measure, for it was foreshadowed in the Conservative Election Manifesto of 1964, which said: We propose to set up a countryside commission with sufficient resources to secure the positive care of countryside and coast, including the national parks. It will be charged with promoting the systematic clearance in these localities of derelict land and other eyesores. Whilst strictly safeguarding secluded areas, the commission will advise planning authorities on the designation of 'recreation areas' where boating, climbing, gliding and similar activities will be welcome. We were prevented by the electors from carrying that into immediate action, but I cannot help thinking that the preparatory work done on that proposal must have been of some assistance to the present Government in bringing forward this Bill. The point that. I am not sure about is how much the Government's Countryside Commission in this Bill will be empowered to promote the "systematic clearance of derelict land and other eyesores". I hope that on examination it will be found that the powers to do that, in conjunction with other powers elsewhere, are going to be sufficient.

My Lords, how necessary it is in these matters to be farsighted! We all appreciate and admire the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his 1949 Act. I think he would be the first to agree that many of the original ideas which were commonly held in 1949 about the kind of activities which would occupy most of the attention of the National Parks Commission had to be re-thought in terms of the impact of the car. Few foresaw the extent of its influence. Few foresaw, twenty years ago, that concentration of cars would be the major problem of the Lake District; and to-day that pressure is growing rapidly in many other areas of great beauty in our country. The importance of Clause 28 in this Bill, which deals will traffic regulation orders, is much more obvious nowadays than it would have been at the time of the 1949 Bill. Now the prospects which are outlined in the White Paper, Leisure in the Countryside—of a 35 per cent. increase in population and of a 150 per cent. increase in cars—impel us to think further ahead if we are not to lose both the fun and the healing qualities of the countryside. The question is whether this Bill goes far enough. I hope that both in the course of the debate to-day and subsequently your Lordships will probe that question.

For my part I most warmly welcome its general idea. We all look forward to hearing the present Chairman of the National Parks Commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, speak later in the debate. I shall be particularly interested also to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who was of such great assistance and support to me when I was the responsible Minister. He brought wisdom and enthusiasm to the task of chairing the National Parks Commission. I shall be interested to hear his views on whether the Bill is purposive enough, from the point of view of the new Commission, and whether the powers it gives to the Countryside Commission will be sufficient. I would also welcome his views, and those of other noble Lords, on whether the Bill gives sufficient financial discretion to the Countryside Commission, particularly with regard to its own administrative expenditure; because it never seemed to me that it was necessary for the National Parks Commission to have been kept in such tight financial leading strings as it was under the 1949 Act.

I think we shall all be glad that there is to be, according to the Government, continuity between the existing National Parks Commission and the Countryside Commission. The National Parks Commission has learned the necessity of holding the balance between residents and visitors; indeed, between all the various interests which are present in a National Park. The National Parks must not be either museums or show-grounds; they must have their own natural life, as well as give pleasure to holidaymakers.

There are tensions here, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, indicated, and there always will be until either the Kingdom of Heaven arrives or all townspeople have been sufficiently educated to understand the life of the countryside which everybody wants them to enjoy, but with which it is churlish of them carelessly to interfere. While we have been conscious already of these tensions in National Parks administration, one must bear in mind that this Bill—by, quite rightly, seeking to re-model part of our countryside for the specific benefit of visitors and holidaymakers—may extend those tensions more widely, even though it may in some respects relax them by concentrating the visitors on certain areas instead of having them ranging over everybody's fields.

My Lords, to anyone who cares for the villages of England and the mountains of Wales—the Bill does not apply to Scotland—it is going to be a thrilling job to serve on this Countryside Commission. I am well content with the present membership of the National Parks Commission, but I think it is right to ask (because we must look ahead) how many members of the Countryside Commission in the future the Government contemplate will have practical knowledge of farming, practical knowledge of management of woodlands, practical knowledge of the problems of rivers. My own belief is that the balance has been well maintained on the existing Commission over the last twenty years or so. I am not sure whether it has always been so well maintained on all the joint planning boards and park planning committees, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord, when he comes to reply some hours hence, would indicate that that is a matter of concern to the Government, because it seems to me that if the administration is to be successful, so much depends on maintaining the good will of everybody. Good will is more likely to be maintained if the various interests which may be in conflict find themselves directly represented on the bodies that have to take decisions.

Incidentally, my Lords, I cannot find anywhere in the Bill mention of the river authorities. That must be a mistake, for Clause 8 makes special mention of "sailing, boating, bathing and fishing" in connection with the new country parks. Another matter which, I would say, must be examined in Committee is the frequent mention throughout the Bill of new powers of compulsory purchase. I am not one who thinks that compulsory purchase powers are anathema in all circumstances; we should indeed have very curious, twisting new roads if compulsory purchase did not exist. But compulsory purchase powers are offensive to those against whom they are invoked. Therefore Parliament ought not to extend the scope of compulsory purchase in any direction without first satisfying itself that the extensions are proved necessary.

It is not wholly clear to me whether the Countryside Commission has any power or function in relation to the new country parks, or whether it could stimulate laggard authorities which it thought should be doing more in this direction. I warmly welcome the new powers for local authorities given in Clause 6 onwards. The main new duties of the Countryside Commission as set out in Clause 2 are to keep under review a number of pertinent matters and to consult planning authorities and other bodies: under subsection (3) the Commission can react to proposals made by others: it can advise Ministers: under subsection (7) it can initiate research, as the noble Lord said: and so forth. But apart from research, how far can it initiate action except within the existing field of the National Parks? Is this power of initiative in fact confined to Clause 4, relating to the promotion of experimental projects or schemes? I hope we shall hear more about what is envisaged under Clause 4.

My Lords, what happens if an experimental scheme proves successful and passes from the experimental stage? Does the Countryside Commission carry it on permanently, or does it hand over the scheme to other management? Let me hasten to say that I am thoroughly in favour of this provision for experimental projects and schemes, but I do not know how far it has been thought out. What is envisaged under the somewhat startling provisions in subsection (3)(g) which enables the Countryside Commission to set up and carry on, directly or through an agent, or themselves carry on as agent, any business or undertaking …"? When one first reads those words they are intimidating. I do not think they are intended to be used for such sweeping purposes as might be indicated, but again that seems to me a reasonable matter for your Lordships to inquire into during the Committee stage.

I am extremely glad to see the declaratory Clauses, Clauses 11 and 33. I think it wholly right that those should be written into a Statute. Between them they are concerned with keeping the balance right. The Bill as amended under Opposition criticism—lengthy but friendly—in another place, I think has the balance of considerations right, with a proper bias in favour of safeguarding the life and beauty of the countryside against those who might make it simply a townsmen's playground. This matter of balance also is important for discussion during the Committee stage. I want to acknowledge that in another place the Government were ready to pay attention to criticisms expressed in Committee. I think that the provision for a separate Committee for Wales, though it may not be perfect, is a considerable advance on what was in the Bill as originally presented to Parliament. I was encouraged when the noble Lord said this afternoon that he looked forward to constructive debate during tire Committee stage.

My Lords, if the countryside is to survive the assault of the car and the presence and pressure of a rapidly increasing population with, one day at any rate, more money to spend, there is going to be a need for far more widespread education in the ways of country life, and in how to be sensible about not spoiling the countryside or the mountains for oneself or for others. This education must start in the schools, but it must not stop there. It must be furthered through every medium of publicity; how to enjoy yourself without being a nuisance to others must be the theme. It applies to everything, from shutting gates and not using transistor radios on river banks, to taking proper precautions when you go climbing in Snowdonia. I must confess that I am no mountain climber, but I have walked over the Lakeland fells all my life, and I know enough of them and their frequenters to appreciate the quality of the little booklet The Mountain Code which has recently been produced. It contains an admirable foreword by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who I know is disappointed at being prevented from being present and taking part in the debate to-day.

While on the subject of the Lake District, may I say that I am not at all clear how the Bill is going to help with the problem of Ullswater, Windermere and other stretches of open water where speedboats and water-ski-ing may give tremendous excitement and pleasure, but at the same time may cut right across the quiet enjoyment of all sorts of other people. I know that this is a matter which has concerned the National Parks Commission in the past, and it would be helpful if at some stage we could have explained how the developments in this Bill will assist.


My Lords if the noble Lord would give way—I have had this business of waiting four or five hours when I have got the answer ready—I would say that this is one of the matters which the Government propose to take up in the Committee stage.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. I hope that he does not resent my having raised the matter now. I am not sure, either, whether this Bill is going to assist towards actually extending the use of the warden service which has been so great a success in some of the National Parks. I think that wardens could be utilised more widely. Perhaps again in due course the Government would say something about this matter. Clause 37 appears to say that you can have wardens only where you have by-laws. I should like to see wardens used more extensively. That puts me in mind to ask whether the Government are satisfied that the powers to deal with litter in the countryside are going to be sufficiently developed to meet the further onslaught of townsmen, which is likely to be more and more channelled into particular areas.

In Committee I am sure that we shall have further argument on Clause 25, which deals with the responsibility for stiles on footpaths and bridleways. I hope that the Government may have something more to say about this. There was an indication in another place that that might be so. Clause 26 is also of considerable concern to farmers. As to Clause 24, on signposting, footpaths and bridleways, that seems to be an excellent plan when rights of way across fields have been sorted out. When I say "sorted out", I mean this. I am not a mountaineer, but I am a walker; nevertheless, I can see no reason why farmers should have to keep open ancient rights of way that no one in modern times ever uses or requires, provided the farmers for their part will agree with the local planning authority on those useful paths across their land which ought to be preserved and respected and kept open to the public. If this process could be vastly speeded up throughout the country, it would be a help to everyone; and then the footpaths should be properly signposted. The Gosling Committee has just made recommendations on this. I hope that the essential parts of their proposals which require legislation will be embodied in the Town and Country Planning Bill now before Parliament, if it is thought that this Countryside Bill is not a suitable medium for general footpath legislation.

I welcome Clause 19, concerning facilities on and around reservoirs, and Clause 20, about the provision of facilities by the Forestry Commission. If I can recall to your Lordships Kubla Khan again, your Lordships may remember: Here were forests ancient as the hills Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. From Clause 20 we may find that the "forests ancient as the hills" will in future enclose … places for meals and refreshments … information and display centres, shops in connection with any of the aforesaid facilities … I merely quote that in order to stress the necessity for keeping a balance. I have no great objection to Clause 20 as it is, but those who implement and administer the powers given in the Bill will have to be very wise if they are not to stray too far in the direction of sacrificing the countryside or woodlands to the visitors, important as it is that the townsman should have the enjoyment of both.

In conclusion, we are dealing with quite simple, I may say earthy, matters in this Bill, and only if we apply a lot of human common sense shall we get the legislation right. With the growing pressures, time is of the essence. This is really my main anxiety about what in its stated purposes is a splendid Bill. Is anything really going to be done under it, measuring up to the urgency of the need? Much that is in the Bill demands the expenditure of money. The Government have imposed very stiff curbs on both central and local spending. The Bill provides for grants up to 75 per cent. to local authorities, and as that is a money matter your Lordships cannot alter it in this House. What I cannot see is how local authorities over the next year or two are going to be able to find the remaining 25 per cent. towards new projects, and yet keep within the Government's spending directives, which are compelling them to clamp down even on existing items of expenditure. Pressure on the countryside is growing so fast that there is literally no time to lose. My fear is that because of the financial stringency the Bill, on reaching the Statute Book, may be virtually a dead letter until the 1970s. I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and her colleagues much better fortune than that, because they can be quite sure that Parliament, without distinction of Party, is desirous of creating machinery here which will fulfil the hopes that those who care for the countryside have cherished for many years.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for yielding me his place in the order of the debate. I had to make the request because I have an earlier engagement which is quite inescapable. That means that I shall not be able to stay very long in the House, and for that I have already apologised to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to whom I shall put two questions, of which I have given him notice. I am grateful on my own behalf and on behalf of my former colleagues for the kind things which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said about us. We shall remember him always as a Minister whose whole heart was in the work which we in the Commission were called upon to do. I rise, like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to give a warm welcome to this Bill. It is good that at long last we should have a Bill dealing with the countryside as a whole. The Bill does a good number of things which need to be done and does them in the right way. But the Government have left undone a certain number of things that ought to be done. Still, we have very much to be thankful for.

The passage of the Act of 1949—Lord Silkin's great Act—was an epoch-making event, but that Act was in many ways defective. For year after year the National Parks Commission pleaded with successive Governments to bring in the necessary amendments, but for years the Government said that they could not find the time. Action was so long deferred that the Commission decided in 1964 that the situation had changed so much that what was now required was a complete reappraisal and the introduction of comprehensive legislation for the countryside as a whole. The Commission urged this as a matter of first priority on the present Government when that Government took office in October, 1964, and the Commission laid emphasis on the designation of what they then called "well-chosen recreation areas" near towns or in the countryside away from National Parks which might serve to relieve pressure on the Parks themselves. That was the germ of the idea of country parks for which this Bill now provides.

In April, 1965, the Commission took their proposals a stage further. They submitted to the Minister a comprehensive programme of legislation based on the need for positive forward planning for open air recreation on a nation-wide basis. Their recommendations comprised a whole range of new duties and powers for local authorities in general, for National Park planning authorities and for the National Parks Commission itself. Following this, in February, 1966, came the Government's White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside. Three months later, in May, 1966, the Commission addressed a memorandum to the Minister giving their views on the White Paper. They said that it went far to meet their recommendations, but there were important omissions to which they drew attention. That was the last major act of the old Commission before they were suddenly, and I hold inexcusably, put out of office.

It is fair to say that the present Bill does give effect to many of the recommendations made by the Commission over the years. The main feature, of course, is the provision of country parks; but there is also a wide range of useful provisions which will be of great benefit for the future. I particularly welcome the power in Clause 28 to make traffic regulations. This clause, we have been assured in another place, will permit, among other things, the establishment of motorless zones where these are shown to be needed. But it is a pity that nothing has yet been done to cover the ease of roads on Crown property. This is of great importance on Dartmoor.

Another failure of the Bill, as I see it—and it is a serious one—is the failure to provide for the reimbursement by the Exchequer to National Park land authorities of the additional administrative costs due to National Park activities. This state of affairs has from the very beginning hampered proper development of the National Parks. The Government have now once again resisted this proposal, and have persuaded the other place to turn it down. Other shortcomings in the Bill relate to the functions and powers of the Commission. The National Parks Commission have been in the past, and the Countryside Commission will increasingly be in the future, a unique institution. They will be the one body in the country whose duty it will be to attend to the evolution of the countryside in all its aspects. As such, they ought to have adequate powers independently exercised. Their functions and powers are indeed much extended, and rightly so, in this Bill; but they will lack certain powers which many people think they ought to have. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said, the Bill is not purposive enough in this respect.

First, the Commission should possess default powers or concurrent powers to take executive action, subject to the approval of the Minister, in cases where local authorities are unable or unwilling to do so. Secondly, they should have a measure of financial independence, with a budget of their own, and liberty, within that budget, to incur expenditure for purposes for which funds were voted. Here again, though both these points were strongly urged in another place the House was persuaded to resist them.

As regards the topic of independence, I have one further point to make. In a letter to the Minister, of May 4, 1966, I said that the Commission's work in the past had been beneficially conditioned by the independence which the Act and the practice of Ministers had happily afforded them; and I hoped that the new Bill, when it came, would not in any way call in question that independence. So far as I can see, the Bill does not do so. In fact, unless I have misread it, I am reassured by subsection (4) of Clause 2.

This subsection places upon the Commission the duty to advise Ministers on any such matter relating to the countryside as the Commission may think fit. This, I think, goes far to reinforce, among other things, the complete liberty already exercised by the Commission, first, to express their views, whatever these may be, to the Minister, if need be through counsel, at public inquiries on planning appeals or other similar instances; and secondly, in the case of Select Committees on Private Bills, to express their views, whatever these may be, by way of a memorandum to the Minister, which the Minister will bring to the attention of the Select Committee with his own observations, if any. I make these points, my Lords, because both these liberties have at times been questioned, I think mistakenly, in some quarters. I should hope that the Minister would now confirm them.

To speak now in a more general way, the Act of 1949 and the new Act will stand side by side. The Act of 1949, except in so far as it is amended or extended by the new Bill, will remain in full force. The two Acts will be, as it were, Siamese twins. This is important, because there will be an essential difference between the conception and purpose of the two Acts. And that is why it would have been logical to recognise this duality by calling the new Commission the National Parks and Countryside Commission. I much regret that in another place the decision of the Standing Committee on this point was reversed.

The Act of 1949 is in essence a preservation Act, primarily in regard to National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty but also in a more general way to the countryside as a whole. It has a double purpose, but the purpose of preservation and enhancement of natural beauty is stated first. The second purpose, the encouragement of the enjoyment of opportunities for open air recreation, is placed second. It is with this priority that in my time the National Parks Committee interpreted the Act. In the present Bill the emphasis is different. In Clause 2(2) first place is given to the provision and improvement of facilities for enjoyment of the countryside. The provision for the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside comes second. Indeed, the emphasis of the new Bill is on the theme of facilities for enjoyment.

There is the conventional amenity clause, Clause 11, but this in itself will not, I think, cut much ice in the face of the formidable forces which are massed for the invasion and spoliation of the countryside for one purpose or another. And there is, of course, the counterpart to the general amenity clause in Clause 33. By this clause Ministers and others concerned are to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas. That is very right and proper; but I suggest that Clause 33 will have a more powerful effect than Clause 11. The agricultural, forestry, economic and social interests have powerful Government Departments behind them. There is no similar powerful Government support for the amenity interest.

I note, incidentally, that in Clause 18 (6) it is stated that in order to facilitate consolidation references in the Act of 1949 to the preservation of the natural beauty of an area shall be construed in the same way as references in this Act to the conservation of the natural beauty of an area. The two words are "preservation" in one Act and "conservation" in the other. I confess that following present fashion the Parks Commission in my time did begin to use the word "conservation" instead of "preservation", and various definitions for "conservation" were attempted. But I have always had at the back of my mind a faint suspicion of the word "conservation". Whatever "conservation" may mean, its meaning is not identical with that of "preservation". In the 19th century there was much discussion about the meaning of the term "non-intervention", and Talleyrand is reputed cynically to have described it as a metaphysical and political phrase meaning almost the same as intervention'". I wonder whether in the minds of many people the word "conservation" does not carry with it in some degree the conception of non-preservation. If so, its use can be dangerous.

The key question to my mind is whether the new Bill will increase the protection at present afforded to the countryside. It is clear, I think, that it will not. Will it, on the contrary, tend to decrease that protection? I very much fear that it may. This may be inevitable. The more recreational facilities are provided, the more likely is it that damage will be done. But the Bill is quite well designed to keep that damage to a minimum if all concerned will play the part which the Bill lays down for them. But recreational facilities are not the only threat. The great and growing threat from industry, telecommunications and defence works still remains. The new Bill, as I see it, does nothing new to help in this field. The conflict between the claims of industry and the claims of the landscape is an abiding one. There always are, and there always will be, apparently good and powerful reasons why in the national interest the landscape should give way to essential development; and sometimes we must allow that these claims have to be admitted. The question is, in which cases to take a stand. And this question cannot be answered by legislation and will certainly not be answered by these two Acts.

The future safety of the countryside will depend on the sensitiveness and determination of planning authorities, upon the resolution and persuasiveness and authority of the Countryside Commission—and here I am sure our affairs are in the safest hands in view of the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. It will depend also on the vision which we hope will not be denied to Ministers, and to the farsightedness which has sometimes been shown by Parliament. All these need to be stimulated by public opinion. In my 12 years with the Commission we were constantly bombarded by amenity societies, those whom one of our present junior Ministers characteristically once called "longhaired preservationists". We thought sometimes that some of our preservationist friends were making am unnecessary fuss, but on the whole I have no doubt they were right to agitate. It is essential that they should go on agitating. They kept the Commission and the park planning authorities on their toes; they had their effect on Ministers and on Parliament. The countryside cannot do without them and it would be a sad day if, even with their meagre resources, their voice fell silent. When the new Act comes into force their role will become even more necessary than ever.

In their Memorandum to the Minister of May, 1966, the Commission quoted the view expressed in 1952 by a former Minister of Housing and Local Government. That view was to the effect that in National Parks amenity considerations have prior authority over industrial and material needs. That proposition the Commission said had not since then, so far as the Commission were aware, been questioned or rebutted by any succeeding Minister. The Commission therefore expressed the hope that the present Government would take an early occasion to declare themselves in a similar sense. So far as I know, there has been no response to that challenge. May we expect that response to-day? As I have said, my Lords, the Bill is on the whole to be warmly welcomed, and I would hope that your Lordships will not need to give it the thorough "doing" it received in another place.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, we started our Second Reading debate so late that there was a real possibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Strang, told us, that he might have to refrain from speaking at all. I am extremely glad that we were able to hear his speech. I thought it was one of the most interesting speeches I have heard on this Bill so far, and I have read all those made in another place. The noble Lord was the most distinguished Chairman of the National Parks Commission for a number of years, and his thinking on the problems that faced it must have been formative in a great deal of what we are doing and thinking about now. That being so, I was extremely interested to hear him say—and in this he confirmed what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was also saying—that he felt this Bill was possibly not purposive enough, did not go far enough and lacked certain powers. I rather feel the same. This Bill is really about access; it enlarges access very much. In enlarging access it raises other problems which it does not really measure up to, and I think that in the course of the next year or two we might find that we shall have to bring in further comprehensive legislation to try to deal with some of the problems raised by enlarged access which Lord Strang spoke about.

I want to speak on one fairly narrow issue of the Bill, one which I do not think has been sufficiently emphasised. As I say, this Bill is primarily about access. I welcome that, because 95 per cent. of us in this country live and work in towns, and we want to go into the country and to have access to the country, and it is right we should have it. Secondly, I welcome it because if people are not allowed to go into the country in an orderly way, they will go in in a disorderly way, and it will, as Lord Strang has pointed out, possibly wreck those things which they seek. Certainly if they do not go as far as doing that, they may well make agriculture and forestry almost unworkable.

Nevertheless in the White Paper—and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, stressed very much this aspect of the White Paper—the proposition was put forward that the problem was to enable townspeople to enjoy their leisure without harm to those who live and work in the country. I think that the danger, or the point at which this Bill lacks punch, is that it may lack the powers that will enable it to do just that. There is an assumption among townsmen that there is a human right to go where one wishes in the country; and I agree with that. But I think it is being forgotten that although the land belongs to the people in some very real sense which even the most property-conscious of us recognise, in this imperfect world that land is a property which was acquired for money or money's worth.

This Bill, by enlarging rights, is in some degree taking away from one citizen and giving to another. If those rights are enlarged they take money value away from somebody, and unless one believes in expropriation without compensation—and I do not think any of us do—then it must be recognised that one is doing something at somebody else's expense and that probably something should be done to remedy that position. In my view this is not sufficiently recognised. I have read all the speeches that were made on Second Reading in another place, and although one or two people touched on the point that it was important that the enlarged rights that the townsman would have over the countryman must not be such as to injure agriculture or forestry, very little has been said about the fact that by enlarging these rights something is being given to somebody which belongs to another person.

The rights are undoubtedly being enlarged. For example, the old footpaths were used by a small number of local people in order to get from A to B. What we now want—and I include in this myself—is something much more than that: we want to be able to walk for miles across the country, over great tracts of it. But if we are to have that right we must not put three-quarters—or even one quarter, because there have been various suggestions made in Committee stage in another place—of the onus for gates, stiles, and so on, on the unfortunate person against whom we have enlarged the rights.

There is also the greatly enlarged access to rivers, and the use of those rivers. However well educated the townsman becomes, and however careful he is, that access will still damage some people who I think have not been sufficiently considered in this regard. It seems to me not unreasonable that I, from these Benches, should stand up for the person who in this respect has now become an underdog. It may well be that owners and occupiers of land were once powerful, but now they are rather the reverse, and I think that at any rate some lip service should be paid to them and some recognition made of the situation.

Perhaps I may give some idea of the problems facing the owner and occupier of land by citing my own case. I own about two miles of Roman Wall. One always rather dislikes the word "own" when one talks about things like Roman Walls, and my parents may well have felt the same. At any rate, thirty years ago they made a deed of guardianship with what was then the Office of Works, feeling, quite rightly, that the public should, as of right, have access to the Wall. Thirty years ago quite a number of people came in the summer to look at the Wall. Mostly they came on foot, many were antiquarians; most of them were to some extent countrymen, and they behaved accordingly. Now the position has changed. Coach-loads of people come, large numbers wander over the land, to the extent that the tenants of five or six farms are put to some great inconvenience. This is what will happen as a result of this new Bill.

Access is being enlarged in a way which is bound, by the very nature of the number of people, however carefully trained and educated in country ways they may be, to damage the interests of those farmers. I see that there is a germ of recognition of this problem in some aspects of the Bill. Some attention is paid to compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned the rather complicated provisions dealing with trees. There are also to be payments for restrictions imposed upon the farmer where there is a special area of scientific interest, and there are now also the new access agreements which will offer payment for damage done. However, I foresee that this problem will become a much greater one, and it is the sort of problem to which I do not think sufficient attention has been given.

I foresee that in a country like England in twenty or thirty years' time agriculture may well not be the most important land use. I do not think that necessarily matters. During the war, when we were pressed for food to be grown on our own land as never before, or since, quite large areas of land, such as the wolds of Yorkshire, were used in such a way that training came first. Tanks went where they wished over the corn, over other crops, over hedges—the lot—and on the whole I think the compensation arrangements for this damage worked very well. Although no doubt the amount of crops grown on that land was not as great as if there had been no tanks going over it, nevertheless there was a fairly high rate of production.

This aspect of land use may well come about by the end of this century. There are so many people wanting to use land for other purposes that it may be necessary to make the best use of land from an agricultural and forestry point of view while at the same time giving the public access to the enjoyment of that land. I hope that that view is not heretical to my landowner and farmer friends, but I believe that that is what is coming, and I think that future legislation will have to be drafted in terms of how one can measure up the sort of compensation that must be paid for acquiring the right to do with the land what the townsman now wants to do.

My Lords, I welcome this Bill. I think it is a good one; and so do most of my landowner and farmer friends. But I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strang, that it must go much further in certain directions. One of those directions is that which I have perhaps "plugged" to-day because I feel that nobody else in another place has done so, and I suspect that it will not be strongly aired in your Lordships' House. However, having said that, I would express the hope that people will recognise that the enlarging of the rights of the public is being done at the expense of somebody else, and the least one can do is to recognise that fact, even although at present there is no machinery for putting it right. I welcome the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill and should like in the first place to congratulate the Government on the pleasing title of it. The very word "countryside" is pleasing in our ears, although the history of the word "countryside" is not quite so easily arrived at. "Side" seems to suggest a plane or surface, and hence applies especially to strips of country which can be visualised as a whole, either by standing above them—as, for instance, on the North Downs or the ragstone ridges of Kent, looking over the Weald, or by standing below them as in Westmorland and looking up to the Lake Mountains. The love of the countryside, in our sense of the word, depends upon the growth of towns. We find it, of course, in the Roman poets, but it emerged in our own country in a special way at the end of the 18th century in English verse. In 1756 Edmund Burke wrote his treatise on The Sublime and the Beautiful, and it is noticeable that he says nothing at all about the beauty of nature in the sense that we understand it, but only about the beauty of individual objects such as swans and peacocks. William Cowper, however, by 1785 began to write of the contrast between town and country and coined the famous line: God made the country and man made the town", a sentence which is open to a certain amount of criticism, as I shall show in a moment. But he heralds the coming of Wordsworth and the great chorus of nature-loving poets. Had we been discussing all this in a Wednesday debate, what a field day we all could have had; we should have become a real ramblers' association and rambled in our speeches far and wide! As it is, we must keep more strictly to the Bill.

I should like to raise one point at the start, although it has already been aired. It is wrapped up in the words of Clause 33 where the Commission and other authorities are charged to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas. I should take this a stage further and say that the Central Government must have regard to that and also to the economic and social needs of the whole community. We must believe that the countryside was made for man and not man for the countryside, and try to strike a real balance between preserving it as a fetish and preserving it as a vital breathing space for an increasingly pent-up population. I was rather shaken myself to read in an article by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, that in order to house the population of this country by the end of the century it would be necessary to build a new town for 50,000 people every three weeks between now and the year 2,000. If one contemplates what that means in the matter of using up of the countryside, one begins to see how enormously important are these Bills that provide for some kind of preservation.

In Clause 11 we have some provision. We are told there: In the exercise of their functions relating to land every Minister, government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. That is a fine sentence, but I have some sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, that there is rather a long gap between that broad generality and any actual legal compulsion. I deplore the presentation of countryside interests as though they were primarily an anti-farming interest, and here, perhaps, at least I can pay a little of the lip service that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was asking should be paid. We have to remember that it is in large degree the farmers who make the countryside attractive. What would Kent look like without its oasthouses? What would East Anglia look like without its fields of golden corn? It is true that footpaths must be preserved for people who want to walk on them, but they form only an infinitesimal part of the wealth and variety of the countryside as a whole.

The difficulty is, of course, to balance the needs of good farming with the needs of recreation for the people as a whole. Driving recently through North Essex, in territory where in years gone by I used to ride a good deal, I noticed that all the headlands over which we used to ride are now ploughed up and sown, right up to the line of the almost vanished hedges. We cannot expect the farmers to provide free riding space on valuable arable land, but it does mean that special efforts are needed to preserve bridleways for horse riding, which is now so popular and democratic an exercise, and I believe the Bill does provide sufficient powers in that matter.

It is, of course, equally important to ensure the good use of the countryside by those who visit it from the towns. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has referred to the little pamphlet just off the press and so warmly commended by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Lord Hunt tells me in a letter that he would have been here if he had not been ski-ing for us against the French, so at least he is practising what he preaches. This is a very valuable pamphlet for helping young people and others to form the right kind of standards and habits when they are visiting the country, particularly the mountain areas.

I hope that when it comes to putting this Bill into practice the main stress will be on providing amenities in the countryside as a whole, rather than on the appropriation of isolated stretches of particularly beautiful country. There is a place for that, and it is provided for largely by the present National Parks Commission. I want to stress, however, that the countryside is all rural England. Small things like car-parking facilities are a vital necessity in any attractive country area, for it is becoming virtually impossible to stop a car safely and happily in any road in the country. Therefore, when people in cars—and many of them are going to be in cars when they pass through large parts of our country—want to stop and look at it and enjoy the countryside, there must be places where they can do so, and I am glad that in Clause 10(2) that is provided for.

I have just a few other points that perhaps are worth mentioning. I think we must face the fact that this National Parks and Countryside Commission will require a very efficient and large staff if it is to do its work properly. It needs staff for the collection of data. At present, I am told, there is a useless collection of material, although a large one, because they lack people to supervise its collection and to give it sense and order. I think that the wardens will need help from voluntary wardens, and there will be problems of overlapping interests between the new Commission and the Nature Conservancy. That is something to which a good deal of attention will have to be paid.

Another important point is that in this new realm an enormous amount of responsibility will fall upon the county planning officers. So many interests are involved in all these decisions as between the needs of development, the needs of housing, the needs of preservation, the needs for recreation, that in the end I believe many of the actual decisions will be taken under the guidance of the county planning officers. It is therefore essential that these should be kept up to a very high standard of efficiency and sensitiveness.

The last point I want to mention perhaps only just adheres to this Bill, but I think it is of some interest. His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, speaking on "The Countryside in 1970", said: We are, in fact, sharing this countryside with a lot of other creatures. … There is a point to be made for the conservation these things"— these creatures— for their own sake, not necessarily for our sake. This opens up a very big subject, but I thought it would be of interest to your Lordships to know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the British Council of Churches have called upon the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility to set up a working party to consider this subject and to comment on its implications for the use and conservation of natural resources. The Chairman of this Board is to be Professor Dimbleby, the Professor of Human Environment in the University of London. I must say that those of us who are concerned with this matter are falling into a certain jargon. We are beginning to talk of "the theology of ecology"—not a pretty sounding phrase, but it is a way of saying that we believe there are deep spiritual and ethical considerations to be borne in mind when we are considering out relationships with many other forms of life, and that we cannot measure them all only by the pleasure or interest chat they give to us. I wish the Bill all success.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, for many years now there has been a recognised need and a strong demand for a Bill of this kind, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Strang that the creation of this opinion, and indeed of the possibilities of the action now being taken, is largely due to the continued efforts of the voluntary bodies interested in the preservation of the countryside. I will not now enter into argument upon the difference between the terms "preservation" and "conservation". I have had to argue that many times in the last few years, not only here but in countries abroad. But I am not myself afraid of the term "preservation", although it is regarded as something which is bent on keeping the obsolete and making no allowance for change of circumstances. I do not think that is a justified charge, but it is one that is commonly made.

All the organisations which I know to be interested in the countryside and in the plants and animals which add so much to its charm are genuinely grateful to Her Majesty's Government for having advanced the Bill to its present stage. They appreciate that it marks a real advance. In spite of perhaps an excessive emphasis on the aspect of recreation of urban populations, the Bill at last gives some legal expression to the growing opinion among all Parties in Parliament in favour of effective conservation of the countryside, and it improves at least the administrative structure essential to that end; though I feel that there was justification for what was said by Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that it could with advantage be made more purposive in its terms.

Some of these organisations, and many individuals, including many Members of your Lordships' House, no doubt regret, as did Lord Strang, that the Bill fails to give to the new Countryside Commission more executive power, so often and so strongly desiderated in the past by the National Parks Commission which it is to replace. There is in the Bill a better prospect of greater cohesion between those responsible for advising upon the fundamental problems of a better use and a better treatment of our limited remaining undevastated land; and admittedly there is room for closer co-operation between the numerous voluntary bodies interested in the preservation of the countryside and its architectural and archaeological features throughout rural England and rural Wales on the one hand, and the equally numerous bodies primarily concerned in the conservation of its wildlife. Through the Council for Nature and the movement known as the Countryside in 1970, and other agencies, something has been achieved in this direction and more is under discussion; but some rationalisation is surely also required between the umpteen multifarious Ministries and Departments and quasi-official bodies which determine, or have a voice in determining, the use of our land, hitherto in far too piecemeal a fashion. I hope that the Bill will help and not hinder in that direction.

That brings me to a point which I should like to emphasise. The Bill in Clause 2 charges the Commission with the duty of keeping under review all matters relating to the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. That, of course, is one of their essential functions. Natural beauty, under the interpretation clause, is to be construed as including references to the conservation of its flora and fauna, a point which is of particular importance in the construction of Clause 11. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that though in terms that clause is, and can only be, declaratory, it is still of great importance. But surely it would be better not to define natural beauty and amenity as including aspects of nature which those terms in common parlance do not include. And is there not, as a result of this definition, a real risk of some confusion between the appropriate functions and direct responsibilities of the Countryside Commission on the one hand, and the Natural Environmental Research Council and the Nature Conservancy on the other?

I realise that in this method of drafting, the Bill follows the drafting of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but, if I have understood the position correctly, the responsibilities of the National Parks Commission in these matters were of a less direct character and, so far as concerns any requirement to keep progress under review, were in fact limited to National Parks. The new Countryside Commission should, of course, like all Ministers and all Departments, have regard to the conservation of our flora and fauna; but if, in future, the Commission are actively to keep under review all matters relating to the conservation of flora and fauna throughout the country, there may be some confusion or misunderstanding of the scope of the functions of the Commission and the Natural Environment Research Council which it seems to me it would be desirable to avoid, but which the drafting of the Bill actually seems to invite.

No doubt it will be said that any risk of this kind can be avoided by administrative action; but your Lordships may not think it altogether satisfactory that if Parliament itself, by Statute, imposes a duty on one body, that body should be able administratively to leave it to some other body. I suggest that this matter might with advantage be further considered before the Bill reaches the Committee stage. There is another reason why I suggest to your Lordships that it is not satisfactory to interpret the scope of Clause 11 by reference to the interpretation clause. This injunction is intended to be observed by public bodies and authorities of all kinds, and by their professional and other staff, and it is too much to expect an officer of a river board, for example, having read Clause 11 and seen the reference to "natural beauty and amenity", to look some twenty or thirty clauses on to discover that those words also include the conservation of flora and fauna. Why cannot the clause carry its full implications in its own terms? At a later stage I shall feel bound to press the Minister to undertake at least to issue an explanatory circular to all authorities and bodies concerned in the matter. Such an undertaking is necessary because the points appear to have been completely overlooked or ignored in the circular already issued by the Scottish Office in dealing with the Countryside Commission for Scotland.

I hope that when we come to examine the Bill in Committee there will be some further discussion on Clause 13, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred. It goes only a very small way towards providing some protection for sites declared under the Act of 1949 to be of special scientific interest. It is better than nothing at all, but the clause seems to me to be only a feeble and faltering step in the direction of protecting from deterioration, or even destruction, numerous areas which are important for science, for education of children, for recreation and for maintaining the varied beauty of the landscape. I will not pursue this point now, but I hope to refer to it at a later stage.

I have already explained to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that I shall be unable to remain in the House for the conclusion of the debate, but I assure him that, having raised the particular points, I am in no way weakened in my general support for the Bill. The noble Lord was justified in saying that it breaks a great deal of new ground in many important directions. The conception of country parks, the proposals for multiple use of many areas of water—a matter which is becoming more important—and many such points mark a very real advance on the old position, and there is a great deal of good will in relation to using these resources in a reasonable way. Yet, if these encouragements to recreation are to be given, one cannot disguise from oneself the difficulty to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, drew attention, of holding the balance between, on the one hand, the use of the countryside for that purpose by a very large number of people who are now completely mobile and, on the other, the risks of destruction of the very things which people go forth to see and to enjoy.

I feel that some greater rationalisation of the Government machine is needed. There has been far too much piecemeal dealing with this fundamental problem of the right use of land. Every Minister in every Department is beset with his own problems, and what is required is a really comprehensive public surrey of what best can be done in guiding inevitable developments in the least harmful direction, rather than to look at the matter point by point as one inquiry is taken by an inspector of one Department and then another inquiry is conducted by a different inspector from another Department. We require a more unified outlook to see where the economic developments of the country will make demands upon remaining land and to judge where the balance of advantage lies in a particular direction. It will be very difficult to strike that balance. I know that if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, were himself holding the scales he would hold them fairly and reasonably, but this will become a growing problem. It is an urgent matter, and if, because of defects in the machinery or lack of finance, too much time goes by, then the damage will have been done.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a word of general welcome to the Bill. I recognise that with the increasing opportunities of leisure for the whole population and the advance of the universal motor car these additional facilities are increasingly needed. There are many points in the Bill that I should like to explore into their highways and byways, but I will deny myself the pleasure of doing so, both from the point of view of saving the time of your Lordships, and because—and I hope your Lordships will forgive me—shortly after making my speech I shall have to leave. I shall therefore concentrate my remarks on one aspect only.

I begin by declaring a personal interest, since as President of the National Association of River Authorities I have an interest in the provisions of this Bill. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor for observing critically that there is no mention in the Bill of river authorities. They are anonymously referred to as "other authorities generally who may be consulted". I suggest that this is an unwise structure for a Bill which is setting up, on the initiative of local authorities, country parks which in many cases will include rivers, lakes, farms, and so on. The river authority is the statutory authority responsible for these features of the countryside. An important part of the parks, as Clause 8 sets out, will be the activities which take place on water—sailing, boating, bathing, fishing and other forms of recreation.

I would remind the House that under the 1963 Act the river authorities are responsible for water conservation throughout the catchment areas. This means that they will not only have to construct large conservation reservoirs but, in conjunction with other river authorities and with the assistance of the Water Resources Board, also have to take part in the transfer of water from surplus areas to shortage areas. Secondly, river authorities are responsible for all land drainage in their areas, which means that they are responsible for dredging their streams, for wood-cutting, and so on. Thirdly, river authorities are responsible for all fisheries in their areas—and angling, of course, is one of the most important recreational activities that takes place on water. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has quite rightly referred to the large increase in angling which has taken place in recent years. Fourthly, in a number of river authority areas river authorities are responsible for navigation and for the maintenance of locks and weirs.

When one turns to Clause 8(2) and sees the activities on water for which country parks will provide, one sees that those are the very activities for which river authorities are now largely responsible, and statutorily responsible. In these circumstances it would be absolutely lunatic for local authorities to proceed to develop those recreational activities except in partnership—equal partnership—with the river authorities. I say that for two very good reasons. First, if the local authority began without consulting the river authority, they might easily get their plans technically wrong because they did not know what was involved. Secondly, of course, unless they started from the beginning with the river authority, they would be quite certain to cause the maximum of friction and obstruction from the river authority. So I suggest that clearly the river authority should be brought into the business of forming a country park as an equal partner from the start and that, when we come in due course to the Committee stage, we should amend the Bill to say so.

Let me mention, finally, that the Bill provides in Clause 8 for consultation with other authorities, which presumably includes a river authority. But river authorities have had some experience of this under the Land Drainage Act 1961. They were promised by a Ministry circular consultation with the planning authorities, in regard to proposals to develop and for flood prevention, but the experience of the river authorities under that provision has not been a happy one. In most cases, I suppose, the local authority asks the river authority what is their view about a particular proposal to develop. But in all too many cases the local authority then disregards the advice of the river authority, which might just as well not have had a chance to open its mouth at all.


My Lords, the noble Lord is not overlooking, I hope, the fact that the Bill provides that the Minister shall be able to direct a planning authority to consult a river authority in this matter.


Yes, my Lords. I suppose the Minister could do that in regard to a proposal to develop, because in some cases that goes to appeal. But experience shows that where there is statutory responsibility for the promotion, Government Departments as a rule back the authority which is initiating it; that is, the local authority. I urge on noble Lords that this is the wrong balance in this proposition, where we want these water recreations to be developed to the maximum. I make the point again that the machinery of consultation which we have seen working not very well under the 1961 Act is not one which commends itself to this Bill.

It is a short and simple point and, if I may, I will put down Amendments which I shall move and perhaps deal with at greater length in the Committee stage. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, with his great knowledge of, and sympathy for, these matters, will look at this point sympathetically. Also, I hope that your Lordships, with your great interest in the full development of the countryside, will see that we can benefit if we make the river authorities equal partners with the local authorities in developing country park schemes which have rivers, lakes or ponds included in them, and where we want water recreations. With that simple comment, I have much pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, it must be gratifying to my noble friend that every single speaker so far has either praised the Bill or had to struggle very hard to find points of criticism—sometimes with a small measure of success, though they have generally been points which are not vital to the policy or principle of the Bill. It will not surprise him that I am going to follow along the same lines. I happen to be the only person on this side of the House, except for my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger who is of course the Chairman of the National Parks Commission, who is speaking on the Bill. But I hope that the House will not assume from the lack of speakers from this side that there is inadequate enthusiasm for this Bill.

I regard this Bill as a non-Party measure. It is true that it had a long Committee stage and a large number of Amendments in another place, but having read most of the discussion I am glad to say that I think the whole of the discussion there was constructive and helpful, and that it is a much better Bill as it comes to this House than when it was first introduced. May I pay a tribute to the Member who led the Opposition in another place? I have not had the pleasure of his acquaintance, but I have read his speeches on this Bill and I am very glad to be able to pay a tribute to him and to say that in the consideration of this Bill he led the Opposition in a very wise and able and progressive manner. I am sure we shall consider the Bill in the same way in this House, and I have no doubt that arty Amendments will be put down in a constructive spirit and entirely with a view to improving this Bill.

The access to the countryside, the preservation of the countryside, and the whole policy of this Bill have been an evolutionary process. My noble friend gave us a fascinating history of the attempts which have been made to provide access to the countryside. It is interesting to note that the early measures were concerned with access to mountains, and not so much to the countryside. I think that must be due to the fact that in those early days most people actually had access to the countryside, and did not particularly need a measure of this kind to give them further access. But to-day, with 80 per cent. of our population living in urban areas, and in areas which are largely increasing in size, it is becoming all the time of greater importance that the population should have access to the countryside, and should pt to understand it and know something about it.

There are still a very large number of people in London who have never been to the country. It is a surprising thing, but when I was representing an area in the centre of London I came across a good many of my constituents who had never even been outside the area of the constituency. Probably that is not quite true to-day, but there are still a considerable number of people living in London who hardly ever get out of it. It is becoming more and more difficult to get away from London, as was said by the Minister of State in introducing this Bill in another place. It is quite an ordeal to travel out of London, or out of some of the great cities and on to the main roads; not merely to go to National Parks but to go to places of outstanding natural beauty or to enjoy the open air. I should have liked something more in the Bill to show how the Government are proposing to deal with that problem.

It is all very well to talk about access to the countryside, but one has to get there. The access about which the Government are thinking and which we have been discussing is to the places that we talked about—the National Parks and places of outstanding natural beauty. But getting there is becoming more and more difficult. If one looks at the map in, I think, the Eighteenth Report of the National Parks Commission, one sees that the National Parks have been kept as far away from the South-East of England as possible, not deliberately, but by force of circumstances. Four of the ten National Parks are in Wales. Others are in the South-West and the Midlands, and it is quite impossible for anyone living in London who has a day off to visit one of them.

I have said that this was an evolutionary process, and I paid full tribute to the Opposition for the part they played in creating and developing National Parks. I think my noble friend made one omission in his history of the National Parks, and I should put that right. The 1949 Act, which I had the privilege of introducing, was based on the Report of the Hobhouse Committee. We all owe a tribute to Hobhouse for the excellent work he did in producing that Report. The Committee was set up through the initiative of my predecessor in office, the late "Shakes" Morrison, a very lovable and able figure who became Speaker of the Commons and later a Member of this House, although we saw very little of him. I freely pay tribute to the Committee's Report.

I also accept the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that but for force of circumstances he might have been introducing this Bill, or something like it, and from the other side of the House we might have been making the speeches which have been made so far and will probably be made later in criticism of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that when we reach the Committee stage there will not be a three-line Whip and that we shall allow Members of the House to consider quite freely on their merits any Amendments, and not feel that we must support the Government because this is the Government's decision.

I compliment my noble friend Lord Kennet on the way in which he introduced the Bill. It is a long and complicated Bill, and he made the task of noble Lords listening to him very much easier by not going through it clause by clause but by explaining in the clearest possible language the innovations which it contained and the amendments to the 1949 Act. In that way we all appreciated the significant factors in the Bill, and I congratulate him on his innovation—I do not remember this having been done before—and on the saving of time that he effected. I think that his speech was the shortest of any so far. It was shorter even than mine will be and I think really the most effective. I shall take his advice and not deal with points which perhaps can be better dealt with in Committee.

It was interesting to me as I listened to the speeches to-day to cast my mind back to those made in 1949 in criticism of the then National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill. They were almost identical to the criticisms made to-day. The powers and functions of the National Parks Commission were advisory only; it had no executive powers. People asked what it was doing at all. They asked, "Why cannot we give it a sum of money and let it spend it entirely at its discretion? Why are we not giving it planning powers?" We had only recently transferred planning functions to the county councils and county boroughs, and it seemed to those in charge of the Bill that it would be wrong to deprive them of planning powers over what represented a quarter of the area of Wales and 10 per cent. of the area of the whole of the British Isles. I think that these and other criticisms which were made of the 1949 Act have not turned out to be seriously effective.

I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who has been trying very hard and with great perseverence to have improvements made to the 1949 Act, both administratively and legislatively. But when one boiled it all down it did not seem to amount to very much. I do not think that the Commission was recommending the large-scale extension of functions that the Bill contains, the creation of country parks and the opportunity for carrying out experiments in the countryside, not merely in the National Parks, as I understand it, but in the country generally. Those are very wide extensions of powers being conferred on the Commission, but I do not recollect that very strong demands were made for a measure of this kind. I read the statement in the Commission's Seventeenth Report. The criticisms were not very serious, and they have been very largely met in the Bill.

I should like to ask my noble friend who is to reply one or two questions. I suppose that of necessity the Government must be somewhat vague about what country parks are or will be. I did not find it very clear, either from the White Paper or from the Bill or from the speeches, what really was envisaged. Could my noble friend give me an example of a country park? Take London, as an example. Would he regard Mitcham Common (if he knows it) as suitable for a country park? Or the Crystal Palace? Or even Clapham Common, which is in the heart of London? Or the Alexandra Palace, or places of that kind? Would he regard them as country parks which could be adapted to provide recreation for the people of London? Or would he want them farther out? And, if so, how much farther out? Would he regard Box Hill as a country park? I should be grateful if he could clarify what is in the mind of the Government. I realise that he is leaving a good deal to the discretion of the local authorities, and it is quite right that he should do so, but they will need some kind of direction from tie Government. There will be a contribution towards the cost, and they will have some say. So it would be helpful from the point of view of what we might have to say in Committee if he could somewhat enlarge on that aspect of the matter.

I was not very clear about the kind of experiments that the Government have in mind for the countryside. Are they experiments in use, or are they experiments in providing equipment? For instance, might they be experimenting on the desirability of having caravans in country parks themselves? I find it difficult myself to visualise the kind of experiments that the Commission could initiate, not merely in the National Parks but anywhere else.

I think I have just about beaten my noble friend; I have spoken a little longer than he has. But I feel that the best thing we can do is to discuss this Bill in a very general way. I have a number of detailed points. I should like to tackle him on the question of stiles and fences. The Government ought to go a little further than they have done so far, if only to get the good will of the farming community. The farming community have issued a statement which, to a very large extent and rather surprisingly, welcomes the Bill, and in it they promise to use all their efforts to make the Bill a success. But they criticise the obligation that is being put upon them to maintain fences and stiles, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to look at that again.

I welcome very much indeed what the Government are proposing about sign-posting footpaths. Sometimes a footpath exists without any indication that it is a footpath at all; and I have seen only one footpath, so far as I can remember, which indicates where it leads to. That is rather important. From time to time I have followed footpaths and found myself in surprising places—places I never dreamt the footpath was leading to. Perhaps they could give some indication as to distance as well. When you embark on a walk you are embarking on something of no return; you have to see it through to the end. If one could know that it was a walk of 3 miles, 5 miles or 10 miles, as the case may be, one would know what to avoid. But, subject to these points, which can all be dealt with in Committee, I, like every other speaker so far, extend the most cordial welcome to the Bill. I hope the Government will be receptive to any suggestions from this House, and that the Bill will emerge a better Bill even than it is to-day.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said in complimenting the Parliamentary Secretary upon the brief and clear manner in which he has drawn our attention to the ways in which this legislation will alter the existing law. However, I think it was easy for him to do that, because to a very large extent this Bill is based upon the Act of 1949, which it extends, improves and amends. It is always a pleasure to me to refer to what is now a distinguished series of Bills which in Parliamentary history will be associated with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I supported his Bill on the Floor of another place; I served on the Committee upstairs; and, as Member for the High Peak, I naturally took a close interest in the working of that measure. I think he is entitled to a good deal of satisfaction that the legislation has worked as well as it has for the last twenty years.

Where I slightly differ from him is when he complains that, his legislation having been so satisfactory and having worked so well for twenty years, the Opposition in both places, when this new Bill is introduced, are trying to draw attention to the small but still quite important matters of administration which stand in need of amendment. I do not think that the National Parks Commission were unreasonable in pressing, year after year, for a number of changes. They may have been small changes, but it is those who administer an Act who come to realise where the difficulties lie. It was the Standing Committee on National Parks, of which I am Chairman, which, having been invited by the last Government to make suggestions in connection with this legislation, produced about three pages of amendments which we recommended and which were based upon the practical experience of those administering the Act.

My Lords, from the point of view of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Clause 11 is much the most important feature of this Bill. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England is a federation of more than thirty bodies like the National Trust, the Royal Institute of British Architects (which was largely responsible for its being brought into existence 40 years ago) and the Ramblers—all sorts of organisations, national and local—who have co-operated for what is embodied in its title: the preservation of rural England. Now, belatedly, in Clause 11 of the Bill, we are given a charter. Our successes in the past have been due to the generosity and the support of the general public. The Government Departments have been extremely polite. They have answered all our letters, or almost all our letters, and have paid public tribute to the value of our work. Now, under this Bill, Parliament is instructing all concerned—Government Departments themselves, statutory bodies, all local authorities—to do for the future in the interests of the preservation of the beauty of England all that we have sought in the past to persuade them to do.

The National Parks Commission, which was established by the Act of 1949, was given in Section 1 of that Act two duties, and it would be idle to pretend that twenty years later it is not obvious that there is some difficulty in reconciling the different objectives contained in paragraph (a) and paragraph (b) of Section 1. Paragraph (a) gives as the first objective of the Commission: the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty … particularly in the areas designated under this Act as National Parks or as areas of outstanding natural beauty;". That is preservation and enhancement. In paragraph (b) the words used are: … for encouraging the provision or improvement, for persons resorting to National Parks, of facilities for the enjoyment thereof and for the enjoyment of the opportunities for open air recreation and the study of nature afforded thereby, Preservation and access have become increasingly competitive—and when I speak here of "access" I am not using the word in the sense in which it was used in the title of the Act of 1949, which was in connection with access agreements to private land, especially in the Peak District. All that is still important, but that is not the kind of access with which we are primarily concerned and with which this Bill, I am glad to see, is beginning to deal. The access we are considering is the incursion of visitors into the countryside, and especially into National Parks, seeking rural solitude yet threatening to destroy, by their very numbers, the thing they come to seek. In 1949, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, none of us visualised such a rapid and tremendous increase in the number of private cars. There is a real danger to-day that National Parks may become car parks. Land-Rovers are able to drive away from roads and over turf and open country into places where twenty years ago no motor car ventured to go.

This problem of preserving and, at the same time, giving access was clearly illustrated very soon after the passing of the Act, when I was still concerned in the matter of the High Peak, when the Carnegie Trust offered a fairly substantial sum of money for the building of a tea-house on one of the splendid ridges in the Peak District. Those of us who were concerned with this matter, and especially the Peak Parks Planning Board, declined the offer of this unwelcome gift from the Carnegie Trust. I do not think the Ministry of Housing and Local Government quite approved, but I have not the slightest doubt that the decision was right. I understand that another National Park took a different view. At Brecon Beacons they have a tea-place in what previously was a solitary and beautiful piece of country. As a result, there has been an influx of motor cars, and the authorities are confronted with the problem of providing car parks and so on for the large number of people who come there. I give that as a practical example of the conflict between paragraphs (a) and (b) of Section 1 of the 1949 Act.

My Lords, we must preserve a fair balance between these two desirable objectives. This Bill goes, I think, a long way to achieve that, partly by positive measures and partly by restrictive measures. Much the most important of the positive measures is the provision for country parks. There was a recommendation of something of the kind by the Standing Committee on National Parks and by the Town and Country Planning Association. Both these recommendations were made without any consultation between the two. Even I, who am Chairman of one and President of the other, did not act as an intermediary when they both thought of this idea.

Country parks should, of course, be suitable for the inhabitants of towns who like somewhat gregarious enjoyment and who would be glad to have the opportunity for that kind of open-air recreation within a reasonably short distance of their homes. The effect of that will be to relieve the National Parks, will their great natural beauty in the more remote areas, from the influx of these people who do not really seek the particular things which the National Parks can provide. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether he could give an idea of exactly what he had in mind. I hope that these country parks will vary very much according to the particular opportunities that exist.

One that I have in mind and which has already been set up is the Lea Valley Development, just to the north of London. When it is fully developed, this scheme will provide all kinds of agreeable, gregarious, outdoor entertainment for the masses of people from London at a reasonably convenient place where they will have, I hope, all that they want of that kind of enjoyment. Another country park, quite different in character but also extremely good for its purpose, is Clumber Park provided by the National Trust. There is very little there in the way of provision for the gregarious and sometimes rather noisy enjoyment which I do not doubt there will be in the Lea Valley. But visitors will have a splendid ducal park of the past which has been acquired by the National Trust and is now open to the large numbers of people living in the industrial Midlands who greatly enjoy going to this beautiful and secluded place.

Equally valuable and in the same conception is the provision, under Clause 10 of the Bill, of camping sites and picnic sites—small developments but extremely valuable, I am quite sure, not only because of what they will provide but because of what they will do to prevent the spoiling, by litter and by casual pauses by motor cars, of the rest of the countryside. It is also necessary that there should be restriction. I greatly welcome Clause 28 which provides that traffic may be controlled or even prohibited for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty. I only hope that it will be used more effectively than was Section 93 of the 1949 Act. This is of the utmost importance in the case of Dartmoor. There a number of roads have been developed and technically improved by the military authorities, and as a result increasing numbers of civilian cars and Land-Rovers are using these military roads and penetrating into the seclusion of Dartmoor and almost destroying its charm and beauty.

I must warn the Government that the answers given in another place about the scope of this clause are entirely unsatisfactory. Because Dartmoor is part of the Duchy of Cornwall and because it is a Royal Duchy, the Government said that traffic restriction orders would not be applicable on Dartmoor. There is not the slightest reason, constitutionally or otherwise, why the same restrictions should not be applied by the Royal Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster and the Crown Estates Commission. The Duchy of Cornwall is willing and eager to have these powers, and I have been authorised to say so. The same applies to the Crown Estates Commission. So we cannot be fobbed off with some constitutional argument that because these places are part of the Royal Duchies and Royal land, traffic regulations, which in the opinion of the Government are desirable and necessary for all other National Parks, should not be made to extend to those on the Duchy of Cornwall and in the case of the Peak District where part of it is Crown land.

I made a remark about the courtesy of the Government in always, or almost always, answering letters from the C.P.R.E. I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary, asking him to receive a deputation on this subject, and I have not yet received a reply. I think it is perfectly all right, because the Chairman of the Commons Preservation Society received a reply in which it was said that the Government were likely to move an Amendment on the subject which they hoped would be satisfactory to the amenity societies. So I shall take exception to the failure to answer my letter only if the Amendment, when the Government put it down, is not all that I hope it will be.

I may say at this point, although it does not come under the same clause, that I was very glad indeed that the Parliamentary Secretary repeated an assurance given in another place about an Amendment to deal with the problem of noisy motorboats and ski-ing on inland waters. It is a matter of the utmost importance that the enjoyment of the countryside by those who do not like noise and violent movement should not be spoiled by those who do.

I need say nothing at this stage regarding footpaths, because I think that on the whole the Bill in its present state is reasonably satisfactory. As the Gosling Report was published just as the Bill was emerging from another place, we understand that some Amendments giving effect to most of the recommendations of that Committee will be put down for your Lordships' consideration.

The administration of the National Parks has not been entirely satisfactory in the case of those parks which go into more than one county. In paragraph 13 of their White Paper, Leisure in the Countryside, England and Wales, the Government went quite a long way in recognising the weight of the criticisms that have been made. Paragraph 13 states: The Government have…been impressed with the weight of opinion in favour of joint planning boards for those Parks which cover more than one county, and they hope that the planning authorities concerned will consider very seriously the possibility of a change. The Government will consider whether it would be desirable to exercise their power to revoke existing arrangements if further experience shows this to be required. There are only two National Parks which have joint planning boards. One is the Peak Park, and it is the only one that has its own planning officers. It is the only one where the whole of the Park can be planned and administered as a single unit. In the Lake District there is a joint planning board, but it works through the planning officers of the two counties concerned. For other National Parks there are no joint boards at all, and without going into details this paragraph in the Government's White Paper recognises how unsatisfactory it is where the county councils concerned have not availed themselves of their powers under the 1949 Act, although they are not compelled to make use of them.

I am glad that the non-local authority members of these boards and committees will in future be appointed by the Minister. In the past he has nominated them, but they were actually appointed by the local authorities, and in some cases this resulted in a conflict. But I much regret that the proportion of the national representatives has not been increased from one-third to one-half. I well remember putting this point in an Amendment in another place in 1949, when the last Bill was before Parliament. I have no doubt that the chief reason was that given by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in another connection to-day, that having just passed the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, he did not feel that two years later he could deprive the newly created planning authorities of so much of their authority. But twenty years have passed, and if they are National Parks, the national element upon the committees controlling them ought to he increased.

My Lords, I agree with what has been said about the importance of the new Commission enjoying some greater degree of financial autonomy. I much regret that its name has been changed from the National Parks and Countryside Commission (which was what the Select Committee of the House of Commons wished it to be) to the Countryside Commission. I believe this a matter upon which the noble Baroness the present Chairman of the Commission and I may not be entirely in agreement, although I think that it would be one of very few points upon which she and I differ. Perhaps the name "Countryside" is in some respects a tribute to the Countryside in 1970 Conference, that remarkable movement organised by the Duke of Edinburgh which has included so many leading personalities in the nationalised industries and private industry, which has done so much to arouse public opinion, and which also has done a good deal to promote the conservation of beauty. But I regret the change in the name, and not merely for sentimental reasons. All good administration involves priorities, especially when money is hard to come by. It is important that such money as is available should not be spread too thinly over the whole English countryside but that much of it should be concentrated upon the National Parks and the places of outstanding natural beauty. I welcome this Bill as representing a great step forward in the outlook of the Government, but what is more important than the actual provisions of this Bill is the spirit of the administration.

On July 14, 1952, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, Mr. Macmillan, said about the National Parks: In those areas which are designated as National Parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position. That is really the difference. It is just that which distinguishes National Parks from the general functioning of the county councils over the rest of the country. Whereas in the country as a whole we must firmly face the fact that, if it is to exist and continue as a country able to keep its population at a high standard of living, proper regard must be had to industrial and material needs—and the creation of wealth is a paramount need—in the National Parks the position is the other way round and the amenity considerations have the prior authority". [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 14/7/52, col.1931.] What has been the experience? The noble Lord, Lord Strang, speaking in your Lordships' House on February 23 last year, said this: …the main threats to National Parks, the threats most difficult to meet, come from the Government itself and from the great statutory and private developers like the Electricity Boards, the broadcasting authorities, the oil companies and the water undertakers. And I added that I could remember no case where a Government Department had been diverted from plans for erecting large installations in National Parks by anything that the Commission might say about the intention of Parliament as embodied in the National Parks Act." [OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 813.] We have Fylingdales, the great radar station in Yorkshire. We have the military all over Dartmoor, or over a great part of Dartmoor, parts of which are closed while they practise with live ammunition. Oil, gas, limestone, water. have all been given priority over amenity considerations. Now we have the traffic limitation, in Clause 28, but it will be necessary, in addition to that, for there to be some restriction upon the activities of local authorities in widening and improving roads, especially in the Lake District, which are having the effect of destroying exactly what it was intended to conserve. There may well have to be, too, some limits upon the expansion of forestry and agriculture.

I welcome this Bill. We have at the present time in the Minister, Mr. Greenwood, and in the Parliamentary Secretary who speaks for him here, two Ministers who are alive to these amenity considerations and are genuinely doing their best. I hope that the new Commission will enjoy greater authority and a considerable measure of financial and other independence. I would repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has said about the importance of the Commission having a view of its own and being able to express that view to Select Committees of this House and of the other place, and not merely to the Minister. This Bill, I believe, represents a substantial and welcome change in the attitude of public opinion and of Parliament.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to add my support to this Bill and at the same time to make certain comments about its implementation. In doing so, inevitably I shall cover some of the same ground, but I hope that even at this stage in the debate I shall add some new points. First let me say that it is a matter in which I take special interest in the diocese of which I am Bishop, though I need not declare an interest in the technical sense. Like the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who has just spoken, I take a great interest in the Peak District. The Derbyshire Peak District formed part of the first of the National Parks, and in 1963 the Peak Park Planning Board was awarded the European Diploma of the Council of Europe for the maintenance and care of an area of unspoiled natural beauty. It is surrounded on every side by the big built-up areas of Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and the Potteries; and it is estimated that 15 million people live within 50 miles of the Peak District.

Those who live in towns and those who live in the country each need what the other has to give. That point needs little labouring, and it is the main purpose behind this Bill. The countryman needs the facilities of the town for shopping and recreation and the farmer looks to our industries and to the people who work in them and who mostly live in towns for his fertilisers and agricultural machines. Those who live in towns need access to the country for recreation. There would be less vandalism in towns if young people, living in small houses in vast housing estates, had more opportunity and more encouragement to find healthy exercise in the country. With our expanding population it will become all the more important to preserve agriculture and the land and to produce as much food as we can in our own country and not to become too dependent on supplies from overseas.

While, however, town and country thus need each other, there is a wide and growing gap between those who live in town and those who live in the country. It comes to a head when there is a major clash of urban and industrial or agricultural and amenity interests over the use of open land. Long before such clash of interests arises, the difference of outlook reveals itself in all manner of little, underlying ways. The countryman is used to solitude and feels lost in a crowd. The townsman is used to living in crowds and feels lost if he is alone. On a Bank Holiday in the country you may see twenty cars parked side by side and the people sitting out with their picnic meals at some place where there is water or a view, while a mile away the lanes may be empty.

The countryman enjoys, if he scarcely notices, the peace of nature, broken only by the hum of insects or the song of birds. The townsman is used to noise; life is strange and empty without noise, and if he goes to the country he takes his transistor wireless set with him. Those who live in towns become accustomed to the pace and pressure of life. The countryman must work with the slower rhythm of nature. As every farmer knows and every motorist on a country road discovers, you cannot hurry a cow. In our towns street lights and pavements are a necessity and life would be dangerous without them. If they are introduced in a village, they seem the first menacing threat of an encroaching suburbia.

The Bill we have before us sets side by side two objects: the provision and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. The great danger for our small and crowded island is that in seeking the first of these objects we may neglect and lose sight of the second. Those who live in towns need access to the country. They have the right to their own distinctive enjoyments. More, perhaps, than many of them realise, they need also the distinctive values of the country—its peace, its slower pace and closeness to the world of nature. All too easily, however, they could destroy the very things they come to the country to enjoy. Whenever it is an issue between town and country (as it has been in various recent Orders before this House), by sheer force of numbers the town almost always wins. We must hold together the double purpose of this Bill, access to the country, yet also the prevention of damage in the countryside"; and if we fail, we could within a generation turn "England's green and pleasant land" into one vast suburbia.

If we are to avoid that appalling prospect, it will need vigilance and co-operation from many different bodies. It is true of Governments as it is of individuals that example is better than precept. It is significant that the Bill before us says that the proposed Countryside Commission shall advise not only any Minister having functions under this Act", but also any Minister or any public body, on such matters relating to the countryside as he or they may refer to the Commission, or as the Commission may think fit. My Lords, may I crave your patience a little longer while I suggest some of the places where various Ministries and public bodies will be concerned. The implementation of this Bill will be a major concern of the Ministry of Transport. It has been estimated that there were 10,500,000 cars in our country in 1963, and that there will be 18 million in 1970, 25 million in 1980 and 35 million by the year 2010. Those who come to the country in their cars for recreation will need adequate roads and parking places. If, however, there are to be places for quiet, and places where people may walk or ride in peace, there must be some reserved areas which cars may not invade.

I notice also that the Bill provides that the Road Traffic Regulations Act passed last year shall in future include: the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty of the area, or of affording better opportunities for the public to enjoy the area for recreation or the study of nature. We do not conserve the study of nature if we destroy all the hedges and verges where birds, small animals, insects and wild flowers thrive. We scarcely enhance the natural beauty of a country lane if wherever there is a bend some enterprising road engineer comes along and says, "Let it be made straight". The beauty of the country is not improved if at every remaining corner there is placed a vast board with ugly black and white zigzag lines. I would commend to the appropriate Minister the words of the late Garth Christian in his book Tomorrow's Countryside: The small country roads that meander between fields and woods from one village to another should be preserved for slow local traffic with speed limits strictly enforced. Other Ministries and public bodies will also be involved if this Bill is to achieve its double purpose of access to the countryside and conservation of a countryside to which there may be such access. As I travel round the country, far too often one seems to come across derelict military camps or airfields, when surely the land should long ago have been restored for agricultural use.

Also, far too often in the country one comes across the very unsightly refuse dumps which have become common in recent years. It has become a recognised principle that "litter attracts litter". It is little use putting litter baskets at every place where cars may park if the baskets are emptied merely to dump that litter and refuse from a town in some convenient neighbouring field or valley On the very morning when I was studying the Countryside Bill there was a heading in The Times, "Rubbish Dump at Beauty Spot"—not, I am glad to say, in my own county. This dumping would be quite unnecessary if more local authorities would follow the example of the enlightened few with modern methods of refuse disposal.

The Ministry of Education will also bear a major responsibility if this Bill becomes law. There are obvious precautions that children in schools should be taught, to help farmers by closing gates and not breaking down hedges or walls. These are, however, negative precautions, and they will best be learnt if children and adults learn to take an interest in the world of nature, and to take a positive interest in the conservation of the countryside. In a fascinating chapter in the important book to which I referred, Garth Christian gives many examples of how this is in fact happening in many schools. He can, however, still write: There is no shortage of published material on how the gymnasium or the art room can he used to the best advantage: far too little has been published about how educational nature reserves, field centres and plant and animal habitats around the school grounds should be managed and used with wisdom and skill. If the double purpose of this Bill, access to the countryside and the conservation of the countryside, is to be achieved, then certain points will have to be watched in the implementation of the Bill. The good work already undertaken by the National Parks must be continued and strengthened. The National Parks are quite different in character and purpose from the proposed new country parks, and I hope this difference will be recognised by restoring the full title, "National Parks and Countryside Commission".

There must be close co-operation between this new Commission and the various voluntary societies interested in recreation and in the conservation of the countryside: the Caravan Club, the Camping Club, the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostels Association, the various Nature Societies and Trusts and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Local wardens will be needed: some may be voluntary, but many will need to be paid and will need accommodation, and therefore there will need to be adequate financial support for such wardens. At times the new Commission will need strong Government backing if we are to check the process by which so often the countryside seems to be the loser whenever on any issue its amenities are threatened.

Above all, those who work at the centre and locally for the proposed new Commission will need to be people who understand the double purpose of the Bill and who have themselves an equal insight and an equal care for those who live in towns and those who live in the country. And in days when there is so wide a gulf between town and country, it will be essential and not easy to find people with this double care. I believe that this Bill is urgently needed for the sake both of town and of country. I believe it will work only if we can build a growing body of public opinion which can see the need for young and old from towns to have access to open country, yet with this see, also, the need for nature conservancy and for preserving what is left of our countryside.

8 p.m.


My Lords, as Chairman of the National Parks Commission, which this Bill proposes to transmute into the Countryside Commission, I must of course declare an interest in this Bill. Indeed, I have had to give serious thought to the question whether it was proper for me to intervene in this debate at all. On that topic I sought advice from those who are the appointed guardians of your Lordships' procedure. The advice, I may say, was always helpful and never conclusive, and I was at the end thrown back upon the Standing Order which lays down that it is for every Lord, if in the position of being a member of some public body, himself to determine when it is proper for him to speak and what it is proper for him to say. My own interpretation of the Standing Orders was as follows: that it would be proper for me to speak provided, first, that I did not usurp the functions of the Minister in charge of the Bill; secondly, that I did not voice opinions which were not shared by my fellow Commissioners, and thirdly, that I did not report or answer criticisms on the day-to-day work of the Commission. In relation to the second of those dangers I must, I think, be my own watchdog; but on the first and third I hope that my noble Leader (were he present) or my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill will pull me up at once if I should inadvertently tumble into either pitfall, and that he will instruct me immediately to scramble out as best I can.

I am the more anxious to take part in this debate because I feel it would be ungracious if those who have been intimately concerned with the work of the National Parks Commission and may be intimately concerned with the work of the Countryside Commission, were precluded from giving a welcome to this Bill; for this Bill, along with its Scottish counterpart already on the Statute Book, is, I think, something of a landmark. These two measures together express a new sensitivity to the beauties of our countryside and a new appreciation of the opportunities for enjoyment which these offer. This is also, I think, the first time that there has been a really comprehensive approach to the problems of the countryside.

A number of noble Lords have referred to the declaratory clause, Clause 11. Clause 11 reads: In the exercise of their functions relating to land under any enactment every Minister, government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside". That clause might mean everything, or equally well it might mean nothing, and I hope to hear in due course what steps the Government are taking to bring that declaratory clause to the notice of those whom it concerns. I cannot think that, let us say, the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Defence would feel it his duty, when he sees that the Countryside Bill had passed Parliament, to acquaint himself with its contents. I hope, therefore, that this particular clause will be brought by the Government to the notice of every one of the Ministers and public bodies concerned. If it would be of any help, I am sure the Countryside Commission would be only too glad to design an illuminated text of that clause which should be hung in every ministerial office and the board room of every public corporation.

I think that the most imaginative new concept in this Bill is that of the country parks. The National Parks, I suppose, are intended primarily for the contemplation of nature, and they are subject to the increasing pressures we all know, because perhaps there are inadequate alternatives for people who might be equally well satisfied with something different. One thing at least is clear: when people go out for a drive in their cars at weekends or in the course of their holidays they desire a definite destination to go to and to which they can say they have been. They also desire a comfortable and suitable place in which to take their lunch. How often have your Lordships gone for a drive with a sandwich lunch gone down the road, looking for a suitable place to stop and picnic, and finding every time you saw a suitable place, that you had already passed it, with the result, unless you were extremely strong-minded, that you arrived at your urban destination with your lunch uneaten?

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked what kind of place country parks would be, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Molson, gave some admirable examples. Country parks will of course be initiated by local authorities, and for that very reason, because of the variation among local authorities, the parks, too, ate likely to be varied; and even under the ægis of the single authority it is likely that there will be parks which offer very diverse opportunities. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked whether Box Hill might be a suitable country park. I would think this an eminent example of the kind of area of a country park which offers nothing but a beautiful view and a hill to climb. Equally, it may be true that a number of reservoirs will become country parks, offering opportunities for boating and, in some cases, for the, more active sport of water ski-ing. But I hope that the country park first of all will become a household term, so that people will have some idea of what they are going to see and what they are going to get if they aim to visit a particular country park.

I hope, moreover, that although there will be this great variety in the opportunities offered, country parks will nevertheless maintain a common standard, and perhaps the Countryside Commission will have some part in maintaining this standard, in seeing that this standard of amenities is maintained throughout. Inasmuch as it will lie with the Countryside Commission to pay 75 per cent. of the cost of establishing a country park, even if, as the Bill now reads, the Countryside Commission is not entitled to consultation, even if the Countryside Commission is not necessarily consulted about the formation of a country park, I hope that the financial lever will enable it to maintain a certain standard of amenity.

All this involves some limitation upon our freedoms. The days of my childhood, when we could all walk where we would throughout the countryside and pitch our tents at the spot of our choice, and use the entire countryside as one gigantic public lavatory—are gone. We have now moved into a world of wardens, by-laws, litter bins and authorised picnic places. But these restrictions are cheap at the price when one realises that they are the only means of protection against utter destruction of the amenities which we go into the countryside to find. And the more willing the co-operation of the public, and the more the understanding of the public of the purpose of these regulations, the less restrictive they will need to be.

No Bill is so good that it could not be better. I appreciate very much some of the remarks that noble Lords have made about the limitations this Bill still maintains upon the powers and the independence of the Countryside Commission. The National Parks Commission never lived up to the image which was projected during the debates that preceded its formation by some of those who now hold high office in Her Majesty's Government. May I, for instance, quote what was said in Committee by my right honourable friend who is now the Minister for Employment and Productivity in the course of the progress through Parliament of the Bill setting up the National Parks Commission? She said that the Commission should provide expert aid; that it should decide what monetary aid should be given from public funds; that it should make grants to societies; that it should provide huts, hostels and camping sites; that it should make by-laws for the protection of areas to which the public have access, and so on. In short", she said, it would be essential to establish a National Parks Authority at the centre with far greater powers and greater authority than the Bill contemplates". If this quotation seems to your Lordships to be a romantic dream to which I have a nostalgic attachment, I think the observations that were made in the course of the same debate by, as he then was, Sir Arthur Salter, still have great relevance. He doubted whether, under the terms of appointment proposed and the functions proposed for the National Parks Commission, it would be possible to obtain the services of people of the status which was desirable.

I could not esteem too highly the skill, the knowledge—the expert knowledge—the wisdom and, above all, the zeal of the Commission over which I have the honour to preside. But when I see my fellow-Commissioners straining at the leash which the Government compel me to place upon them, and banging their heads against the wall which separates them from the money they are supposed to spend, I sometimes wonder how long I shall be able to retain them in the face of these frustrations. I must here make it abundantly clear that I am not raising any question about the right of the Minister to determine, on the recommendation of the Commission, what grants should be payable to local authorities. I am referring to the Commission's own expenditure. The sums involved are extremely modest. They amount, in the present stringency, to less than £100,000, and we ask ourselves why we are not considered sufficiently financially responsible to spend that money in the way that seems to us to be most appropriate to the purposes of the Commission.

There is another point. Under the Bill the Commission will be entitled to receive gifts. It is not clear to me at the moment whether, if we receive gifts, we must hand them over to our masters so that they may be given back to us with little tickets on them, telling us how much we should spend on this, and how much we should spend on that. I have no doubt that this matter will be raised again at later stages, and I do not wish to pursue it further now. I will only say that my fellow-Commissioners ask themselves why they are held to be less financially responsible than, say, rural development boards or the Development Commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Strang, and one or two other noble Lords who have spoken have expressed regret about the change in the title of the Commission, and have wished to retain the formula, "The National Parks and Countryside Commission" believing, as I think mistakenly, that this implies some lowering of the status of the National Parks. From the point of view of publicity, I would submit that there are—arid the Commission is with me on this—great advantages in a two-word title. Witness the widespread recognition of the title of the National Trust in contrast, I think, with some organisations with similar objectives which have more cumbersome descriptions. Moreover, "National Parks and Countryside Commission" would be a title that was begotten of an amalgamation; and titles that come from amalgamations are sometimes illogical, even to the point of absurdity. I recall as a splendid example the name of an hotel which I used to know in Paris—"L'hotel de l'univers et du Portugal". One would have thought that the greater included the less, and that Portugal was part of the universe. Equally, I should have thought it was perfectly clear that the countryside par excellence included those particularly beautiful areas which have been designated as National Parks. Indeed, I should have thought that the authorities governing the National Parks, far from feeling that their status was lowered, would have taken pride in the fact that the experience they have accumulated and the standards they have evolved are now to be applied over wider areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Strang, expressed suspicion about the distinction now made between conservation and preservation. I think perhaps there is here some divergence of policy, but I am sure his suspicions are not well founded. When I was a child we used to have on the table some jars that were labeled "conserve" and some that were labelled "preserve", but to us they were all "jam"; and I hope that both conservation and preservation will be, to your Lordships and to the public outside, "all jam".

I believe it is true to say that there has been some shift of policy (and I think it is right) in recent years: on the one hand a shift away from attempts to preserve the countryside at the expense of not allowing anyone to look at it. I am most conscious of the strength of this temptation if one happens to live, as I do, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is difficult to accustom oneself to the idea in one's own area that the hordes of visitors who come on Sundays have a right to be there. I am sure we have to fight against this and, as has been said many times, we have to arrive at some reconciliation of these competing interests. On the other hand, and at the other extreme, I do not think we are aiming, as one cynic put it, to make it possible for the masses to enjoy the solitude of lonely places. The National Parks Commission never has seen—and I am sure never will see—its function as that of permitting urban hordes to descend upon the countryside without regard to the legitimate interest of those who live on and off the land. Here, perhaps, I may refer, as an example, to the strenuous way in which the National Parks Commission discouraged ramblers and other visitors during the height of the recent foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The Bill recognises, even if somewhat belatedly, that the increase in the gross national product is not the be-all and end-all of earthly existence, and that the price to be paid for technological achievements can sometimes be too high. The task to which we are asked to set our hands is the task of reconciling technical achievements, the welfare of the rural population, the public demand for outdoor recreation and the conservation of natural beauty. I submit that beyond doubt in this day and age success in that task is a prior condition for the survival of any kind of civilised living.

8.19 p.m.


My Lords, I feel I am most fortunate in immediately following the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. Her speech, lucid, fluent and informative, forced one to listen to it attentively; but of course she speaks with great knowledge and great experience and has made a valuable contribution to the debate. I also want to congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the clear and concise way in which he presented to us the main points of the Bill and the changes which it contemplates as against its predecessors, and particularly, as has been mentioned, the 1949 Bill. I was impressed by the introduction that was given in another place by the Minister, and I should like to quote his words. It seeks to provide better opportunities for people to enjoy the countryside…It seeks also to provide for better conservation, better protection of the beauties, of nature…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 10/11/67; col. 1415.] The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, was responsible for the production of these reports of the National Parks Commission, and we are indebted to her for them.

The Bill is happily one that can be free from bipartisan controversy and will commend itself, as has been said by so many speakers this afternoon, to both sides of the House. It had an immensely long discussion in another place; a vast number of words were reported in successive issues of Hansard, and the problems raised were varied. My noble friend Lord Molson suggested that he was aware of amendments that were already being suggested as likely to be produced by the Government. It seems that considerable regimentation will be brought about by the Bill. It will certainly involve large expenditure, but the greater part of this apparently is going to be borne by the national exchequer. How the 25 per cent. should be spread over the councils or village bodies, and so on, that may have responsibility thrust on them, is a question which may give rise to feelings. At any rate, the Bill extends great responsibilities to the local authorities. There will be variation in the degree of enterprise which they display in following them out.

I suppose the establishment of the Countryside Commission was a natural extension of the National Parks Corn-mission. Lady Wootton's speech was an example of a good Second Reading speech. I hope I may have indulgence if I digress a little to bring out certain points which seem to require clarification. I turn to Clause 2(2)(c) which requires the Commission to keep under review the need to secure public access to the countryside for the purposes of open-air recreation. All the discussion in another place disclosed the ambiguity that exists with regard to the character of the access permitted to the public. From that follows clearly the necessity for definition of "access by the public"; that is, where passage is reserved for pedestrians free from the risk of interference by persons using other forms of motion, such as horse or wheels.

Nowhere in the Bill, which I have read carefully, where access by the public is mentioned have I been able to find a clear definition whether such access is to be permitted only on foot or otherwise, either on horse or wheels. I bring up this point in strong defence of the pedestrian. I have good reason from experience to know that in many places, such as on commons, there is serious resentment on the part of pedestrians that they are molested by horses. Even if there is no molestation, the passages over which they pass, if on clay land, are "chewed up" in a manner which is extremely inconvenient, as well as dangerous, for pedestrians.

I should here declare an interest, because I have the responsibility for a common, and in exercise of that responsibility I have dug deeply into matters connected with common land; and there is much in this Bill dealing with commons. Curiously enough, until recently it appears not to have been challenged that the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 did not in its assumed intentions define the manner of its superseding the provisions of the Law of Property Act 1925. To illustrate my point better I will, with the permission of the House, read from Section 193 (1) of the Law of Property Act: Members of the public shall…have rights of access for air and exercise to any land which…at the commencement of this Act is subject to rights of common… It is clearly recommended in the Gosling Committee's Report that the Government should recognise that a footpath means a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only; a bridleway means a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot and a right of way on horse.

All this is influenced by the legal distinction, which I have found it hard to understand, between access and passage. Legally, these are two entirely different things. For myself I find it hard to understand how there can be a clear distinction; how, once access is obtained passage does not follow. But that apparently is not so. Clause 9(1) of the Bill affects the common land to which the public have right of access, and Clause 9(6) says: common land' has the meaning given by section 22(1) of the Commons Registration Act 1965". There is another Act brought in. The phrase continually used is: Common land to which the public have rights of access". But how? No indication is given as to what is meant by "access". But Clause 44 of the Bill now before us clearly defines the difference between footpaths and bridlepaths.

There is in the country, of course, a growing interest in horse riding. Statements have been made about how widely this is developing as a manner in which the public take exercise. I have great personal interest in and sympathy with it. I have been an ardent participant all my life in all sports which involve the company of a horse, and I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for it. At the same time, as has been urged by other speakers to-day, all rights must be respected; and it is for that reason, because of the ambiguity which I would say comes from the nebulous Section 193 of the Law of Property Act, that I raise particularly this point in regard to the interests of the pedestrians.

The Gosling Committee on footpaths also put great emphasis on the extent to which horseriding is increasing. On the first page of the introduction to their Report they made clear what a footpath means, and also what a bridleway means. The Act of 1949, which has been much referred to, calls for maps to be produced which clearly define the difference between the two. This is in Section 9 of Part II. The Committee emphasised that this must be regarded as a starting point for defining. They recommended that: Highway authorities should be given powers to deal effectively with anyone unlawfully riding a horse on public footpaths which are not bridleways. There are precedents where this problem is easily solved—for example, Esher Common, where passage on horse is entirely forbidden. It is to be hoped, therefore, that when in Committee we come to the clauses dealing with this problem of access the Minister will be able to put before us some clearer interpretation of what I have tried to present as the apparent legal difficulties at the moment.

With the rising standard of living and the increase in automobile population, and, we must hope, of education about nature and the countryside, it will become clearer how much greater is the need for access to the countryside; how much better it is that children should be taken out to the countryside in automobiles than remain in towns, glued to the T.V., with all the "tripe" that it puts out. As education develops, it may even lead to wider recognition of the danger of fires, a point which has already been mentioned in the course of the debate. It may even contribute to a reduction of juvenile delinquency, and, let us hope, stimulate the public conscience to demand more diversified action to conserve the countryside. I give my support to the Bill.

8.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to apologise in that I have an important appointment at 9 o'clock, so I hope that your Lordships will excuse me if I leave before that hour. I had no idea that this debate would last so long. I welcome this Bill. As I said when the White Paper was produced two years ago, the more people who can have open-air recreation and can enjoy the countryside the more healthy, in my opinion, they will be in mind and in body.

But there is here an appalling problem. We have heard several figures about the growth in the number of cars. We have been told that there are now 12 million cars in this country, and that by 1980 the total will be 25 million. We have a great increase in population. I think it is now just under 60 million. When I was a boy, the population was only about 36 million. Then we have about 100,000 acres of land taken over every year for building. And yet more land is taken for roads, for works by public bodies and for reservoirs. As I say, it is an appalling problem. This Bill is a bold Bill, and I welcome it. I only hope that it succeeds in its aim to preserve some of the countryside and to help more people to enjoy it without destroying it.

We were told to-day that we have 3 million anglers in this country. New Zealand, which has the same geographical area as the British Isles, has a population of about 2 million, I think I am right in saying, and it has been found necessary to restrict people in regard to fishing That makes you think! Our Island is the same size geographically, and if fishing has to be restricted in New Zealand, it shows the real problems we are up against in this country.

If I may turn for a moment to Clause 2, which has been mentioned a great deal, I should like to point out the contradiction in this clause to emphasise the point I have already made about the great difficulties. In Clause 2(2)(c), which is concerned with the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, it says: the need to secure public access to the countryside for the purposes of open-air recreation. These two things are really at loggerheads the one with the other. We shall have to come to a compromise on this. To a great extent our countryside has been conserved in the past by the seclusion that it has enjoyed from private estates. In days gone by the public did not pour from the towns to the same extent as they do now, and the rural people were able to enjoy the countryside; they were able to enjoy the private estates. But now this tremendous pressure of the urban population coming out to the country has to be controlled.

On this question of the country parks, I should like to make the point that local authorities are to be responsible and I am glad to say that they are to be advised by the Countryside Commission. I hope that the Countryside Commission will include some practical people. Although I have a high regard for academic attainment, we do not want to see the Commission cluttered up with dons. We want to see serving upon the Commission practical people with knowledge of the beauties of country estates, of timber and of general country life. In the case of tree preservation orders, I have sometimes been surprised to come across people serving in local authorities on tree preservation committees who did not know the difference between an oak and an ash. We must avoid that kind of situation in the Countryside Commission.

I have given most of my ground in Northern Ireland (perhaps it is not quite true to say that I gave it, because in fact I sold it; but it was sold quite cheaply) to the local authority, and the local authority have not in fact enhanced its natural beauty. They have put up a great many concrete lamp standards, laid tarmac paths, and installed concrete benches. When we get these country parks, we need to make them as much like natural country as possible. I should like to see tarmac roads abolished in these parks, and in their place winding roads of sand or yellow granite chips to blend with the natural contours. I feel that if local authorities have too much say in these matters, one will not get a country park. One will certainly get an open space where people can go, but it will not be a country park.

Some of the matters to which I was going to draw your Lordships' attention I will leave to the Committee stage, since the hour is getting late. But I should like to draw attention to Clause 19. Under the provisions of the Bill statutory water undertakers, river authorities and public bodies generally will not be subject to the access orders to open country to which the private landowner will be subject. By Clause 19 they are under a duty to permit the public the use of their waterways and their land: if it appears to them reasonable to do so". The word "reasonable" is very broad. I feel that it would have been better to say that if in their opinion there was no danger of pollution, the public could use the waterways. The word "reasonable" can be interpreted in practically any way.

Clause 16 relates to access to woodlands. The only real woodland which the public can enjoy is open scrub woodland. Modern forestry plantations are far too thick for the public to get through —although they can enjoy the rides—and, of course, there is a great danger of fire. I am not sure who, under the Bill, will pay if there is a fire, or damage is caused by the public. It is of course possible to insure against these risks, but it is surely fair that the Exchequer or the local authority should pay the insurance premiums. This may already be covered in the Bill (I have not read it word for word), and in any event this is perhaps more a Committee point.

Clause 25 deals with rights of way. As I read the Bill, the private landowner is responsible for the maintenance of stiles and gates and public rights of way. The local authority may contribute not less than one quarter of any expenses to keep up gates and stiles, but surely the highway authority or local authority should be responsible for the whole upkeep of stiles and gates on public rights of way. Furthermore, if a member of the public falls over a landowner's stile on a right of way and breaks his leg, who compensates him? Will this fall upon the landowner, or will it be up to the public authority to compensate him?

I compliment the Government on the Bill as a whole; it is excellent in its intentions; and I especially congratulate them on Clause 30. It is a completely new provision to enable the payment of grants for the removal of objects which disfigure the countryside. This is a great step in the right direction. I only wish that the provision applied to pylons, but I am afraid that it will not do so. It always amazes me to be told that it costs three times as much to put a power line underground as to put it on a pylon. I find this very hard to believe, but I am assured that it is the case.

I am a little worried about the powers of compulsory purchase in the Bill, which are being greatly increased. So far as I can see, the local authority can put a compulsory purchase order upon a landowner to acquire land, but they need not use that land for the purpose for which they acquire it. This seems to me to be quite wrong. I should like to see it laid down that if a local authority, having acquired land, find later that they do not want it for the purpose for which they acquired it, then they ought to offer it back to the owner. The original owner ought to have the first option, and the authorities ought not to offer it to some other party.

There is one other point which I should like to make, which will perhaps cheer up townspeople. Country people are very inclined to regard townspeople as despoilers of the countryside, but on the whole I have not found that to be so. Although there are a few bad instances, a number of farmers, in my opinion—I am a farmer, but I am also a landowner—spoil the countryside by erecting hideous buildings, and it is a great pity that in certain parts of England all the hedges have been torn down.

I was extremely pleased to see in Clause 13 of the Bill, that areas of scientific and geological interest are to be protected from agriculture and forestry. To conserve the natural beauty and quality of the countryside, while at the same time securing public access to the countryside, is difficult, and we are bound to lose some of the countryside. We cannot expect to keep it as we have known it, because, after all, the real charm of the countryside is its exclusion, and if the public are to enjoy it we cannot have that exclusion. The pressures on the countryside to-day, with our affluent, motorised society, are so great that I am afraid that, in the South-East of England at any rate, we shall lose most of our countryside in the future. According to the statistics, we are going to have an extra 6 million people in the South-East by the end of the century. It is a very overcrowded area now, and I am afraid that even with this Bill most of the countryside will go.

I shall end by saying that I hope Oscar Wilde's words do not come true, that each man kills the thing he loves. Because every Englishman (and that includes townspeople), quite unlike the French, loves the countryside, and if the average townsman makes a bit of money his first idea is to buy a cottage in the countryside. As I say, I only hope that this Bill will really do something to preserve the countryside, and I wholeheartedly support it.

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, having reason to be very conscious of the increasing number of visitors to the country generally, as well as to the National Parks, I was glad when I heard in the gracious Speech that we could expect a Bill on these lines. This evening I am going to speak particularly about Clause 11 and the following clauses which, taken together, could be described almost as a National Parks (Amendment) Bill. Because the hour is late I hope that your Lordships will not think I shall be speaking for too long.

I have a long-standing interest in National Parks. Perhaps that is natural since I represented in the other place a county which includes a large part of the Lake District, and, while all our National Parks in this country are remarkable in their own way, I claim that our English Lake District is the most spectacular of them all. There are the well-known opportunities for rock-climbing and adventure, and there are also growing opportunities for water sports. That is fairly well known.

What is not so well known—and I do not think the noble Lord who opened the debate appreciated it—is that we have a unique tradition of freedom of access to our hills. Access agreements are virtually unknown because they are unnecessary, and long may that remain so! And we have no traces of that war to which the noble Lord referred. It is important that the administrative provisions which we are setting up under this Bill should be appropriate to the purpose which we have in mind, should be effective and should give no excuses for friction.

Some noble Lords have spoken about the danger to our countryside, and, although it is perhaps rather hard to say so, I am not sure whether the lack of understanding of amenity is not greatest in the minds of some of our local authorities, particularly the highway authorities, who appear nowadays to worship twin gods called "Road Safety" and "Traffic Flow". If they are to appease those gods it means widening and straightening all our country roads, inevitably changing the character of the surrounding country.

In our particular National Park, the Lake District, unfortunately as I think, the responsibility for the highways remains divided between the highway authorities of the three county councils concerned. Though I am sure they do their best to co-operate, it is a fairly imperfect result which they achieve. I should like to see the Lake District Planning Board with at least some overall powers in this regard, if we are not to see irreparable damage done to parts of the Lake District, even if it is done with the best of intentions.

This Bill is going to help us in many ways, but with more understanding in Whitehall it could have helped us even more, and I understand that that is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strang. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford mentioned the omission of river authorities from the Bill and I am going to mention two other examples of omissions. At the same time, let me say that while I see no inherent merit in complicated administration, the ever greater number of visitors at least demands that we should not overlook safety.

The first omission that I want to speak about is the warden services. They have a whole clause in the Bill, but it is really an ineffective clause. Noble Lords will recall that the warden services were an experiment set up under the 1949 Act, since when they have amply justified themselves, and I maintain they should now be given the chance of offering their services unhindered in all the hill and upland areas. Without doubt they are welcomed wherever they go, not as a disguised constabulary but as the friends and advisers of visitors.

But, unfortunately, under the Bill they have no standing except where land is in public ownership or where it is subject to access agreements. Since in the English Lake District relatively little land is in public ownership, relatively little land is subject to access agreements, and a large part of the land over the 2,000 feet contour is the type of common land which is also a special case, the warden services are precluded from operating over a very large part of the area where they are most needed. Often, through timely advice and help to the inexperienced, accidents have been averted and the warden services could be in a position to save lives.

My Lords, there is always an element of hazard on the hills, and I have in my hand the report for 1967 of the Lake District Mountain Accidents Association, which is the body which controls the various mountain rescue teams. It may surprise some noble Lords to know that in 1967, on our Lake District hills, there were 8 fatal accidents and 67 major accidents known to the mountain rescue teams, and without doubt there were a number of others of which the Association never heard. In 1966, there were 17 fatal accidents. One of these accidents involved a search lasting three days, in which 1,387 people, 22 police tracker dogs and a helicopter took part, and at the end they were too late. Mountain rescue is entirely a voluntary service. It is not mentioned in the Bill—I do not see any reason why it should be—but we should note that the mountain rescue teams go everywhere. They are welcome everywhere, and they enjoy the good wishes and support of everyone. I would maintain that, with that example, there is scope for a new clause in order to make the warden service more effective.

My Lords, if the hills offer hazards, so do our lakes—and increasing hazards, because of the number of inexperienced people who use them. Our two biggest lakes—as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned—are public navigable waters and are subject to collision rules under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, as well as the county council by-laws. Others of our lakes are of uncertain status. Others again are privately-owned; but all except those suffering under the dead hand of Manchester Corporation offer facilities for recreation. I would submit that local authorities ought to be in a position, through, regulations, to provide for fair shares as between those who want the noisy sports and those who like the quiet, which is the true nature of the countryside—and this is important since the whole trend of this modern world is to become ever more noisy. In all cases they ought to be able to provide for safety. An inexperienced man, whether in a sailing boat or in a motor boat, can be a danger not only to himself but to others.

This is not provided for under the Bill. I believe that the Government have a new clause in mind. When the noble Lord, in answer to a question, said that this was in the Government's mind, I think he could have gone a little further (could he not?) and said that they proposed to put down a new clause. At least, I have seen correspondence from his Department to that effect. But the letter which I have seen—I will not read any of it to your Lordships this evening —has at the end a rather sinister sentence about, "saving public rights of way". Since two of these lakes, which are public navigable waters, are the most crowded, they present the greater dangers, and I hope that the Government will not press this "saving public rights of way" so far as to mean that those who could be the greatest hazards to their friends are in fact going to be outside the check.

I also want to ask the noble Lord: why should water undertakers be excluded from this clause? Their problem, admittedly, is different, and is dealt with under Clause 19. But so far as I can see, Clause 19 is entirely permissive. The Minister spoke very hopefully, but there is no requirement in Clause 19 that I can see for water undertakers to observe any general code. It is simply that they "may" provide certain facilities. Nor are there any sanctions or reserve powers in the hands of the Minister if a water undertaker decides to do little or nothing beyond express good intentions. Manchester Corporation is, of course, the authority most concerned here, and over the years has proved to be a most inconsiderate neighbour. No one in the Lake District, from long experience, sets any store whatever by what they may say.

It is only two or three days ago that I received a peevish Press hand-out from the Corporation waterworks complaining that your Lordships and the other place, when they gave authority for the Corporation to proceed under an Order under the 1945 Act, had in fact put them in a difficult position by not allowing them to ruin Long Sleddale, and that they were now having to take their consultants' advice to see what could do. They do not go further than that nor say in detail what they have in mind. I should like to think that Clause 19 could be strengthened, not so chat the water undertakers were coerced or made to do things which were a hazard to their water supply, but at least so that they were not allowed to do nothing for decade after decade.

My last point, my Lords, is this. Where in the Bill, I should like to ask the noble Lord, is there any reference to requiring the Countryside Commission, local authorities or others to consult with their Scottish neighbours? Is this just one more example of Whitehall draftsmen forgetting that this country has a land frontier? Since the countryside on both sides of the Border offers the same wonderful opportunities for recreation, surely common sense would dictate that planning on both sides should be co-ordinated. I raised this point during the Report stage of the Scottish Bill during the last Session. When he replies I hope the Minister tells us why there is no reference whatever to Scotland in this Bill.

Obviously, my Lords, there is a great deal to be done in Committee, because there is so much detail in this Bill, and, despite the long time for which it was considered in another place, since no great Party issues are at stake here I hope that the Minister will do his best to meet the wishes of this House.

9.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on the way he introduced this Bill. To me it was a model of efficiency and brevity. I hope also to be brief. My particular interest in the Bill, which I must disclose, arises out of my holding office as the Official Verderer of the New Forest nominated by Her Majesty the Queen and, in that capacity, as chairman of the Court of Verderers. As your Lordships will know, the origin of this Court dates back to before the Norman Conquest. More recently the constitutional powers of the Court have been revised and enlarged under various New Forest Acts of 1877, 1879 and 1949, and as recently as four years ago in 1964.

The Court of Verderers were reconstituted under the Act of 1949. Apart from myself there are five elected Verderers; that is to say, persons elected in accordance with the New Forest Acts by occupiers of land to which common rights over the Forest attach; and this land is not necessarily within the ambulation of the New Forest. Then there are four appointed Verderers; and these appointments are to my mind very important. One of these four is appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; another by the Forestry Commissioners; a third by the local planning authority, which is the Hampshire County Council; and the fourth, the amenities Verderer, is appointed by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. And, at the risk of appearing immodest, I must tell your Lordships that we are a fully representative, thoroughly efficient and modern administrative body.

I will not go into our statutory functions in detail, but I should say that they embrace the administration of common rights, animal health and welfare and the general preservation of the amenities of the Forest, including a very close liaison with the Forestry Commissioners on various forestry and forest matters. We have to maintain a fair balance between the interests of the commoners, the Forestry Commissioners and the public, all of which interests—and this is very important—are interdependent. Like all noble Lords, the Verderers have welcomed the main purpose of the Bill: the improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public. Of course, the New Forest is widely enjoyed by members of the public and we are expecting this coming year over 4 million day visitors who will enjoy, we hope, camping, picnicking, and just coming to enjoy the Forest itself. The Verderers have for years been active in providing and improving suitable facilities for this purpose.

However, I must say that the Verderers have certain reservations about the Bill. For example, your Lordships may find it strange that in a Bill which confers such wide powers upon various bodies to do things in the New Forest, among other places, and perhaps do things which might cut across the statutory duties of the Verderers, the Verderers are not mentioned at all, even as a body which ought to be consulted.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned his approval of Clause 20, but he emphasised that much care and thought must be given to the difficulties of its administration. The Verderers also are particularly concerned about Clause 20, which would enable the Forestry Commissioners to provide various tourist, recreational or sporting facilities—and equipment facilities or works ancillary thereto—on land which would be placed at their disposal by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, including the particular facilities described by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. The total list of facilities is to be found in paragraphs (a) to (g) of subsection (2) of Clause 20.

Most of these matters are already covered in relation to the New Forest by Section 18 of the New Forest Act 1949, as amended by Section 6 of the most recent Act of 1964. For example, the use of land in the Forest for the purpose of recreation can be authorised by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the provision of car parks can be so authorised; the provision by the Forestry Commissioners of camping sites and other services and facilities can be so authorised. However, the requisite for authorisation by the Minister is the agreement of the Verderers, with respect to matters of this kind and indeed other matters, such as the exchanges of land in the Forest. The underlying principle, accepted by Parliament and enshrined in the New Forest Acts, is that the Verderers, with their particular local expertise, are the proper body to be in control.

Clause 20 of the Bill would enable the Forestry Commissioners to provide these facilities without the agreement of the Verderers, and indeed without consultation with them; although I must say, and it is probably only fair to say, that certain assurances have been given about consultation outside the Bill. In saying this, I should not wish it to be thought that I am tilting at the present Forestry Commissioners, with whom the Verderers have the most cordial relations. Following the detailed investigation into the New Forest by the Baker Committee, the reorganisation effected by the New Forest Act 1949 has done much to heal the running sore which had been a source of trouble over the centuries between the commoners and the Crown. I wish to pay tribute to the part the Forestry Commissioners played in helping to bring about this improvement—and long may it continue! But it is important to remember, as one or two noble Lords have said already, that we are legislating for many years to come. The Verderers attach the highest importance to the principle that in matters within their proper sphere they must continue to be the controlling authority, and I shall be asking your Lordships to consider this matter again in more detail during the Committee stage.

9.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my small tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the admirably lucid way in which he introduced the Second Reading of this Bill. I regret that I shall not be able to follow my noble friend Lord Malmesbury into the glades of the New Forest, since I had expected to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hives, on the subject of agriculture. It is for this reason that I intervene in this debate.

When the White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside England and Wales was published in November, 1966, I felt there was cause to question the problem of the rival claims of leisure and food production in the countryside. I feel that the use of the countryside for leisure cannot easily be put on a par with the producers' need for the same land for farming. I am diametrically opposed to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, expressed earlier this afternoon, on multiple land use, except in very rare cases. It will be remembered that the noble Lord referred largely to special circumstances during the war when the Defence of the Realm Act applied, and the military had overall powers of access to the countryside.

We must be very grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, intervened during the debate. I particularly welcome her suggestion that Clause 11 should be enshrined in every Government office on an illuminated scroll. I venture to suggest to her that the very short Clause 33, which consists of only one sentence, might be added to the illuminated scroll. With the permission of your Lordships I will read that clause, It says: In the exercise of their functions under this Act and the Act of 1949 it shall be the duty of every Minister, and of the Commission, the Natural Environment Research Council and local authorities to I, awe due regard to the needs of agriculture anti forestry and to the economic and social interests of the rural areas. I particularly welcome Clause 33 and also Clause 34 which deal with the avoidance of pollution. Both these clauses should be welcomed by farmers and the rural community in general. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in her comments on Clause 11, said: "It may mean everything; it may mean nothing". Let us hope that in the case of Clauses 33 and 34 it will mean everything.

Fields are factories, and the farming community, dealing now with its dwindling acreage, has every right to be concerned, especially about the public rights of way to which so much attention has been given this afternoon. I will not dwell further on this subject; it will be the cause of Amendments during the course of the Committee stage. The rural invasion of townsmen into the countryside, to which my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard referred, and his alarming figure of some 25 million cars in 1980, which is approximately a one hundred-fold increase, should give us special cause for concern. But I think we ought to consider the comments of the Gosling Committee on rights of way, especially in regard to stiles. If farmers were to accept the obligation to maintain stiles and gates across footpaths, they should be entitled to a contribution from the highway authorities. From the farmers' standpoint this really would not be enough, taking into consideration the damage which takes place and the inevitable need for replacement. It is surely only fair that farmers should expect public damage to be paid for out of the public purse, and I feel that there is a strong case for a 100 per cent. grant aid for the cost of replacement, subject to the necessary proviso that it should reach the required standard.

Speaking in the interests of the farming community, I can see no justification whatever for Clause 21 granting substantial powers to the Forestry Commission to acquire further land. This has been referred to another place as "the Naboth's Vineyard Clause", and it should be recognised for what it is, a further intrusion of Whitehall into the countryside to the detriment of farmers.

I am a Midlander, and I hope that I share the enthusiasm for the proper management of the countryside. I was delighted when my noble friend Lord Molson was able to furnish the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, with two fine examples of country parks. If I may be permitted to do so, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to a further example—to Cannock Chase, where the Staffordshire County Council have carried out a pioneering operation of which we in the Midlands are specially proud. It is a venture which they have carried out without the powers to be conferred by this Bill, and it therefore poses the question whether country parks could not have been brought into being before now. Staffordshire County Council has been uniquely fortunate in its planning officer.

I hope that the Countryside Commission, if they have not already done so, will pay a visit to Cannock Chase. There are certain aspects of the work there which is particularly well organised, particularly the car parks and the refusal to give access to motor cars to a large area of this new country park. They have been able to restrict motoring to give that feeling of quietness and, above all, that feeling of ruralness to which my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard referred. I commend especially to the Commission my noble friend's comments on the intrusion of tarmac and of concrete lamp posts and signs. Our objection is not in any way hostile to the rural community, but the proliferation of signs is a bad thing, especially in country parks. The question of signs in this particular part of Cannock Chase is interesting in that, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one.

In regard to buildings and other amenities, their experience has been particularly valuable. I asked the planning officer of Staffordshire what he had learned in this particular connection, and he said this: "We had in the centre of Cannock Chase or thereabouts old buildings which we felt would be well converted into public lavatories." They did so, and learned a most unfortunate lesson. After one bank holiday it was reported that the buildings had been broken into by a group of vandals, and the sanitary ware had been destroyed to such an extent that there was no piece of sanitary china larger than half-a-crown. The buildings were bricked up. The following bank holiday they were broken into again and severely damaged. After that the Staffordshire County Council decided that it was much better to demolish the remainder of the buildings and abandon the idea of having a public lavatory in the centre of the park.

I feel that they did so for a good reason, and I call in question the advisability of bringing public lavatories, which are extremely difficult to maintain, into the purview of the Countryside Commission for country parks. I feel that the minimum facilities are those desirable, except in the case of a totally different type of park, already referred to by my noble friend Lord Molson, like Lea Valley Park, in which it is a case of "anything goes"—a "helter-skelter", fairground type of approach, which is totally different and having an entirely different atmosphere.

I do not think that any noble Lord this afternoon has spoken on the needs of Wales. I have special reason for doing so, because I think that, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Woldingham, I was the only Member of your Lordships' House at the disaster at Aberfan, where I was in the capacity of a member of the Red Cross. I felt strongly at that time, and have felt since, that the most alarming and overwhelming avalanche which took place and caused this tragedy should not be allowed to recur elsewhere in Wales, or in any other part of the United Kingdom—or elsewhere, for that matter. I feel that there is the strongest possible case for putting into practice the levelling off of slag heaps and rural reclamation as a whole.

The claims of Wales for a separate Countryside Commission are extremely strong. There are, naturally, similar claims for the North of England and other parts of our country which suffer from slag heaps and similar industrial waste. But Wales is a very concentrated area, and the valleys around Swansea especially could benefit enormously from having a Countryside Commission for Wales, and not just a Countryside Committee, to which they are entitled under Clause 3. I feel that this is a grave omission from the Bill, as a whole.

9.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for being absent during his opening speech, but I was attending a meeting of the House of Lords Motor Club, and when I got back he had finished speaking. As this has been a long debate I shall be brief. So far as I am concerned, I propose to deal with one particular phase of the Countryside Bill. I am concerned with the possible effect the Bill will have with the banning of all forms of motor sport in our National Parks and perhaps the new country parks which are now being planned. Ironically, I understand that the intention of the Bill is to encourage recreation in the country. Yet there is opposition to motor cyclists even wishing to venture off the tarmac.

As a result of letters that I have received and from what has been said by people I have spoken to connected with the sport, in which I myself have taken part on one occasion, I speak with particular reference to motor cyclists, because they invariably get rather rough treatment from people who look upon them as riders of noisy and possibly smelly machines. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but I think opposition to motor cyclists comes mainly from ignorance and prejudice. I may add that motor cyclists have no wish whatsoever to spoil the countryside, any more than has anyone else who frequents it at the moment.

To-day we have the best trials riders in the world. The hammering received by motor cycles in trials and scrambles is put to good use in research to produce a better and safer machine for the general public and, of course, for export. These trials are naturally breeding grounds for our riders to take part in international events. There seems to be no limit to the freedom given to pedestrians and equestrians, but motor cyclists are to be denied this freedom in our National Parks Some people seem to think that competitors swarm all over the country every weekend, but the Ministry of Transport's rally regulations exercise strict control over any practice of this kind, and motor sporting clubs affiliated to the R.A.C. and A.C.U., totalling about 2,000, must obtain permits for events which are conducted off the highway. Motor cyclists do not claim large sums from public funds or seek to take away other people's rights. They ask for only the same facilities as those provided for other outdoor pursuits, such as rambling and horse-riding expect in this Bill.

I am not opposing the Bill root and branch. It is obviously in many respects very well intentioned—and that has been referred to by your Lordships on more than one occasion. It includes useful measures on the provision of picnic places, shelters and wayside parking. But it seems to me to fail to provide the basic right of access to the countryside, and touches on that most fundamental of liberties, the right of a citizen to go where he or she pleases on the public highway. I can see that there is a very real general threat to motor sport contained in this Countryside Bill, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give the most careful consideration to this aspect of it.

9.32 p.m.


My Lords, 19 noble Lords have spoken in this debate, and of those who have spoken I think about eight or nine are left. To those who Are left I will answer to the best of my ability the points they have raised. Points which were raised by other noble Lords who have had to leave for one reason or another I would ask the House to excuse me from answering, unless indeed any noble Lord who is still here wishes any particular point raised by another noble Lord who has left to be answered, in which case again I will do my best. It is particularly pleasant to share a local interest in a bit of the countryside with my Opposition marksman, Lord Brooke. I was very much pleased and interested on a local basis by his poetical evocation of the state of the Marlborough Downs at sunset yesterday. I wish I had been able to take the same train. The Government look forward with objective interest to plans now afoot between the local authorities and the Countryside Commission to make that part of the world into an area of outstanding natural beauty. That part will include not only bits of my eponymous river, as the noble Lord put it, but also parts of what I call the "Me and Eden Canal"—I refer to the Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs not too far from that river.

The noble Lord asked about derelict land under this Bill. This is not the Bill which deals with derelict land. It comes under the Local Government Act 1966, and provisions about clearing derelict land are included in the Industrial Development Act 1966. It has not been left out of this Bill inadvertently, but only because it comes into others. The noble Lord asked in rather general terms whether the Bill was sufficient or adequate to allow the Countryside Commission to stimulate local authorities to make country parks, and whether it allowed the Countryside Commission in general to initiate things to a sufficient degree. My answer to this is, Yes, I think it does. If he does not think it does we could discuss the matter, and I should be interested to see any Amendment he would like to put down to make this more clear. But the intention of the Government is that certainly it should put the main initiative for proposing things on the Countryside Commission. Although many of those things will have to be done by planning authorities, yet the Countryside Commission are to co-ordinate them all and to propagate standards in these matters. I, for one, certainly hope that it will prod planning authorities which do not otherwise show signs of acting into doing so.

The noble Lord raised the general point about the constitution of the Countryside Commission and whether farming and forestry interests would be sufficiently represented on it. I think that was his point.


My Lords, I was referring both to the Commission and, even more important, to the local planning committees and the joint planning boards.


As to the joint planning boards and the National Parks authorities, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently gave an undertaking in a letter to the National Farmers' Union, which was repeated in the Commons Standing Committee. I quote: That the Minister, in making appointments to the planning committees and Joint Planning Boards, should bear in mind the need to redress any imbalance there may be, having regard to the known qualifications and interests of the elected members. That is how he conceives his duties in regard to those planning boards, and I have no doubt he will do his best to ensure the same effect in the Countryside Commission. I have no reason to suppose that at the moment that balance is not an effective one within the Commission.

I am glad the noble Lord mentioned and praised Clause 11. That really is a bipartisan clause, if ever there was one—the clause which lays on all public authorities the duty of seeing to amenity in general terms. I think there will be little partisan discussion on the provisions in this Bill generally, but I am particularly glad to notice the almost ecstatic Party unity on this particular point.

The noble Lord also enquired about money. Of course that is not a matter for this House, but we all know that much of the effect of this Bill will depend on how much money can be put into it, and I should like to repeat what was said by the Minister of State of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in the House of Commons on the Third Reading of this Bill. He gave a considerable amount of financial background, which can be looked up in Hansard, but I think the key passage is the one which runs as follows: The intention that Exchequer expenditure in a full year of operation should reach £2 million remains, but we now expect that it will not be reached as early as was formerly hoped. In fact we now expect the total expenditure of the Commission and local authorities in the three years that is, the three years beginning now— to be of the order of the following amounts: in 1968–69, £837,000; in 1969–70, £1,200,000, and in 1970–71, £1½million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 9/4/68, col. 1323.] The noble Lord, Lord Strang, raised many interesting points which I should answer if he were here, but since he is not here I will not answer them all. However, there are two which I would answer, and these are the two points of which he gave me warning. The first is: under the new dispensation of the Countryside Bill, will the existing freedom—which may have been criticised or not, but the undoubted existing freedom of the Countryside Commission to state its views to all and sundry, to the Minister, at public inquiries, and to Parliament, wherever it likes, through counsel if appropriate—be in any way impaired? I can say shortly and definitely, No, it will not. That freedom exists and that freedom will continue.

The second point he raised was the famous statement by Mr. Macmillan in 1952, when he was Minister of Housing, about what is the presumption between amenity and industrial or other development in National Parks when compared with the balance of presumption in other parts of the country. The noble Lord did not, though other noble Lords did, go on to quote the subsequent remarks by Mr. Macmillan in the same speech. This matter must be kept in perspective. Mr. Macmillan put both sides, and we should not dwell excessively on the first part of his double statement.

I am not much enamoured of ringing Government statements without the force of the law about what priority shall be accorded to this interest where, and what priority shall be accorded to the other interest where else. But it is clear that in the National Parks, and to a lesser degree in areas of outstanding natural beauty, the presumption is in favour of a given decision going, where there is a conflict, in favour of the amenity interest. In other parts of the country it may be more appropriate for the decision-making organisations, whether they are planning authorities or the Ministry, or indeed Parliament itself, to lay a presumption in favour of economic development, though even there it would be quite wrong for amenity interests to be forgotten. I believe that in saying this I do no more than confirm the obvious.


My Lords, I did not quite follow what the Minister said. I also quoted this passage, which was of course a considered statement made in the House of Commons, and at the risk of wearying the House I read almost the whole of the passage. I should like to know explicitly whether that statement by the Government of the time is accepted by the present Government?


My Lords, yes; Mr. Macmillan's speech seems to the present Government to be a very balanced statement of the conflicting considerations. I seek in no way to improve on it, refine it or reinforce it.

Several noble Lords have raised the question of the title of the Countryside Commission as between the alternative titles, Countryside Commission and National Parks and Countryside Commission. I think that on this we must have regard to common speech, and recognise how difficult it would be if people had to go round saying to each other, "Surely this is a matter which the National Parks and Countryside Commission ought to take an interest in"; or "Have you put your case to the National Parks and Countryside Commission?"; or, "This seems to be an area of policy which ought to h e considered by the National Parks and Countryside Commission". It would never be done. It would immediately become the N.P.C.C. It would take its place in the usual list of the R.S P.C.A. the C.P.R.E., and all the other sets of initials which are so difficult to remember. For this reason the Government are clearly of the opinion that it should be called the Countryside Commission; and no more than that. The National Parks are part of the countryside, and the Commission's functions in that respect can easily be subsumed into the larger title, as my noble friend Lady Wootton explained. So in the interests of clarity I can hold out no hope of the Government's meeting with favour any possible Amendment in this direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised the question of compensation for persons, and especially landowners, whose rights were affected by an increasing influx of townspeople. The point is that the 1949 Act continues to apply to compensation. That Act provides for compensation in respect of any depreciation in the value of the interest of any person in the land. So if the intensity of public use increases, and leads to greater depreciation, the compensation under the 1949 Act will automatically increase to keep pace with it.

I want to thank both the right reverend Prelates, the Bishops of Leicester and Derby, who have spoken in this debate for their general observations, shall I call them, on this difficult area of conflicting interests, and the wisdom which they brought to the overall problem of solving these conflicts. I hope they feel that the Bill makes not too bad a job of getting on towards that solution. It is indeed a good thing that this House should have heard them on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is not present, so I will not take up the time of the House to answer his points. Lord Hurcomb also is not present. My noble friend Lord Silkin, the "father" of the present law, and I hope a benign grandfather or great-uncle of the new one, raised many points of interest. He asked, "How on earth are people going to get there? It is all right to have a country park and nicely preserved countryside, but how on earth do you get out of the towns to get there?" I think that was his point. It is a very difficult problem, of course; but this is not the Bill in which to solve it. In so far as legislation can solve the problem of congestion on the interface between city and country, and public transport, and indeed private transport, that will be done by the Transport Bill, which will come before this House shortly and occupy us, I suspect, for an extremely long time. I agree with him that we should bear this point in mind when we come to consider that Bill.

He complained that there are not any National Parks near London. But what we call National Parks are made, I think, by tradition. They are the large, exceptionally beautiful, wild areas of England or Wales, and there are none of them near London. I do not think one can invent a National Park. It would sound somewhat false, comparing it with an existing National Park, if we said, "Let Leith Hill or Erith Marshes be a National Park". They would not really be wild; they would be small. It seems to me that these are more in the nature of country parks or A.O.N.B.'s. There are, of course, plenty of areas of natural beauty near London, on the Surrey Downs, in Kent, on the Sussex Downs, the Wiltshire Downs, to which I have just referred, the Wiltshire-Berkshire Downs coming up.

He asked also what kind of an "animal" a country park would be, and in what sort of places we shall put them. He gave various instances. Could Clapham Common or Mitcham Common be a country nark, or would it be something more like Box Hill? Here I must be vague, because I must not prejudice applications from planning authorities. I must not prejudice the approval or disapproval by the Minister of applications from various planning authorities. This touches also on the point about the rules mentioned by my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger. So long as she did not prejudice me, she was allowed to speak. So long as I do not prejudice her, I hope that I may say something on this matter. But all this is going to come up from local proposals, and one should be careful in handling specific names. With that reservation I should say that what the Government have in mind, in the most informal possible way, is that the country parks would be in places of the nature of Box Hill—the Box Hills of this country: I am not in any way specifying the Box Hill which we know in Surrey—rather than in the "Clapham Commons" of the country. I do not know whether the noble Baroness would agree with me—I see her nodding; and I think that seems to be common sense.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, raised many interesting points. I do not know to what extent he intends to translate any of them into Amendments. If he wishes to do so, of course they will be most carefully considered when they arise. He mentioned a request to my colleague, one of the other Parliamentary Secretaries, to receive a deputation. I am sorry, but I have not been able to find any trace of it. Something seems to have gone astray. We shall go into it as fully as we can to-morrow morning, and try to tie up the threads. I hope that the noble Lord will accept my apologies.

If I understood the noble Lord aright, the deputation was about Royal roads and whether the Bill will enable the relevant authorities to make traffic regulation schemes on roads on Crown property, especially on Dartmoor. We are working on a possible Amendment which would provide for this in the Bill, and I have great hopes of being able to lay something sensible before your Lordships on the Committee or Report stage.

I now come to the most important and carefully balanced speech of my noble friend Lady Wootton, though the Government cannot agree with every word she said. She asked what we were going to do about bringing Clause 11 to the notice of everybody. I must confess that I had not thought about this, but it is most important that we should do so. I should like to ask whether she will meet me or my right honourable friend the Minister of State soon so that we may talk about this matter. She said that the Countryside Commission should design an illuminated text of the clause to be hung up everywhere. This seems to be an excellent idea. Let us talk about that as well. Once we have settled the design, no doubt we shall have to have a longer talk as to who is going to pay for it—whether it be the Treasury, the Ministry or the Commission itself. At any rate, I am sure we shall be able to get over that problem. I think the entire House will agree that this is a clause worthy of illumination and distribution to all persons, whether or not they are yet enlightened.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, raised the question of what should be done about lakes. The point is that there are certain lakes on which noisy motor boats charge up and down, and other lakes where they do not. It would clearly be desirable if we could arrange to keep it that way, so that things which some people do not like could be confined to some lakes, and so that there should be a number of quiet lakes in the country. This is a complicated question, and it seems to the Government most likely that we shall be able to solve it by the encouragement of by-laws to be made to cover individual lakes or separate classes of lakes according to ownership and the prevalence of such by-laws at present. This matter is now being actively examined. Once again I have good hopes that the Government will be able to table an Amendment on Committee stage to allow the matter to be regulated by bylaws, and also to allow for the national enforcement of whatever system may be provided for by the Amendment which I hope in time to be able to table. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, raised the question of consultation with the Scottish authorities. Do we really have to put this in the Bill? Cannot ccnsultations go on without a duty being laid upon everybody to do what is, after all, a common-sense thing?


My Lords, I mentioned this only because Government Departments do not do the commonsense thing. Those of us who live on the Border are too aware of this. The differences which exist between the Administrations on both sides of the Border are not a credit to the 1960s.


My Lords, I am not in a position to deny that any Government Department has ever failed to consult its Scottish opposite number when it ought to have done so. But I think that in this case it is so obvious that where there is any question of a difference on the Anglo-Scottish frontier on countryside questions—


My Lords, would it help my noble friend to know that arrangements are already in hand for an interchange of views between the Countryside Commission in Scotland and the Countryside Commission in England?


My Lords, I think that will be of the greatest help to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and to the House in general. I hope we can leave it at that—in other words, that common sense is likely to prevail. The noble Lord also asked whether we could not make Clause 19 mandatory on water undertakers; but all the powers proposed by the Bill are in fact voluntary powers which may or may not be used. The Government are not convinced that there is a case for making an exception in the case of Clause 19.

The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, expressed the views of the Verderers of the New Forest and it was interesting to have them. I believe there has been contact between the Verderers and my Department, and their point of view is taken into account. I hope the noble Earl will be satisfied with the outcome of the contact which has already taken place. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred to Welsh slag heaps. That is a point on which I should perhaps take him up. It is the derelict land point again. The short answer is, not this Bill but other Bills.

As to the question of the Welsh Committee of the Countryside Commission, that is a matter which was discussed at great length in the House of Commons, and I think all the interests there—I hope I do not misinterpret them—are, by and large, content with the arrangement which has been reached; namely, that there should not be a separate Welsh Countryside Commission, but that of the British Countryside Commission there should be a Welsh Committee. This will operate quite separately and will look after Welsh interests with a considerable degree of independence. But what it will enable the new Countryside Commission to do will be to have joint technical staff in both, because if every technical and every person with specialised knowledge (and the Countryside Commission has to cover a lot of highly specialised fields) in an English Commission had to be duplicated in miniature—and it would have to be in miniature, because Wales is a smaller country—on a separate Welsh Commission, there might be a net loss of advantage to Wales. It is better to have a semi-independent Welsh Committee, using a common store of expertise and technical knowledge.

Lastly, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that there is nothing in the Bill which forbids motor cyclists doing anything. They are not discriminated against, and I have every confidence in the planning authorities and the Countryside Commission to continue allowing, under the present Ministry of Transport regulations, motor cycle rallies and all other uses of motor cycles with at least as much liberality and flexibility as at present.


My Lords, the Minister was dealing with cycles. Could he say whether there is any intention to extend hospitality for cycles to footpaths?


My goodness, my Lords! These questions of cyclists on footpaths and pedestrians going the same way and the bull going the other way, and whether a fatstock bull unaccompanied by cows is more dangerous than a dairy stock bull accompanied by cows, have occupied the House of Commons right through the night. If the noble Lord having read the House of Commons Hansard on the Committee proceedings, believes there is anything more to say, then let us by all means hear it in Committee on the relevant clauses. I cannot say that the Government will not yet introduce Amendments, but it is a complicated and, to my mind, slightly unreal matter. People will keep going along through the countryside and they will keep climbing the stiles. No doubt we shall have interesting debates on it later. This has been a long debate—


My Lords, will the noble Lord make clear whether there will be a clear distinction, and whether this covers footpaths and bridleways?


Yes, my Lords, we shall distinguish between footpaths, rights of way, bridle paths, green lanes, walkways, places where motor cycles may not go and make a noise, and places where they may go and make a noise.

I am really delighted on behalf of the Government with this measure of all-round support which this Bill has achieved on Second Reading. I think it is clear that all Parties in this House want it broadly as it is, as they did in the other House. I think it is clear that everybody in the country wants it. We shall have a lot of interesting "argy-bargy" and "push-me pull-yu" between the conflicting interests at the Committee stage and I look forward to that. But I think that to-day we have had a very useful debate.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.