HL Deb 07 May 1968 vol 291 cc1338-468

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee,—(Lord Keswick.)


My Lords, I oppose this Motion. I protest at this sage of this important Bill being taken as second business to-day, so soon after the Second Reading and apparently before the Government have drafted all the Amendments which we are entitled to expect that they will move in this House. This Bill is an important measure. It affects many interests. Many of us are still receiving letters from interests affected, asking us to represent their point of view. It is a long Bill, consisting or 45 clauses and five Schedules. In another place, the Committee stage occupied 27 sittings of a Standing Committee upstairs. In several cases there were promises or half-promises that Amendments would Id be moved in this House to deal with the points that had been raised there.

In one case there was what I think may be called a promise to deal with Clause 25, now Clause 28, dealing with the restriction upon traffic upon roads. As the Bill is at present drafted, we are told that this has no bearing upon Duchy roads; that is, roads or land of the two Royal Duchies, the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster, or upon Crown lands. I raised this matter on the Second Reading of the Bill, but so far as I can see despite the (I think I might say) promise that was given in another place, no Amendment has been put down by the Government. There was what one might call a half promise with regard to wardens being authorised to act on access land where there were no bylaws.

If these Amendments by the Government are going to be put down, it means that they come before your Lordships only on Report stage. The purpose of a Committee stage and a Report stage is in order that measures may be first examined at the Committee stage, and that there should then be time for discussion and consideration between the Committee stage and the Report stage in order that further Amendments may be made if it is thought desirable. If these Government Amendments are not put down until the Report stage, it is obviously impossible for anything to be done except by the peculiar procedure of your Lordships' House, which I think everybody agrees ought to be kept to a minimum; that is, by moving Amendments on the Third Reading of the Bill.

My Lords, since the Government control the business of this House they have no justification in saying that there has not been time for these Amendments to be drafted. The Amendments should have been drafted, and the Committee stage of the Bill should not have taken place until they had been not only drafted but also put down on the Order Paper first so that noble Lords could read them, and also so that there should be some consultation with the local authorities and the various bodies which have asked us to represent their points of view in this matter. The Second Reading of the Bill was taken on April 25 after Scottish business had been taken. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, my noble friend Baroness Elliot of Harwood, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who regrets he cannot be here to-day, all complained about the way business was arranged in this House without there being proper time or opportunity for noble Lords to consider what the proposals were that the Government were bringing before them.

Now, I understand we are going to be asked to sit until something like 10 o'clock to-night, which I think is quite unreasonable. The Government must bear in mind (I think they do; they have recollections of being in opposition and being private Members) that the work involved in drafting Amendments, in having consultations and so on, is a heavy one for private individuals to undertake, and to be asked to sit for all this time dealing with a large and comprehensive measure, affecting a great many interests of all kinds in all parts of the country, appears to me to be quite unreasonable.

It is considered in both Houses of Parliament normally to be discourteous on the part of a private Member to make a speech and not to wait until the end of the debate when the Minister replies. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the fact on April 25, when the Second Reading of this Bill took place, how few of those who had spoken were still in their places when he rose to reply, and we all, I am sure, realise that that is unfortunate and deplorable. But in the case of your Lordships' House, which had never undertaken to sit late to the extent that another place is in the habit of doing, it is not to be expected that noble Lords with other preoccupations should be able to stay here until 10 o'clock at night in order to hear the reply of the Ministers. It is in order to complain about the way in which the business of this House is arranged by the Government that I oppose the Motion that has been moved that this House should now go into Committee on the Countryside Bill.


My Lords, may I say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who has just sat down? It seems to me that the interval between the Second Reading of this Bill and the Committee statge is too short. In view of the magnitude of the Bill it is unreasonably short. Only yesterday I received a letter asking me to move a number of Amendments. They were lengthy, and of course the letter arrived far too late for me to even put the Amendments down, let alone allow time for them to be considered properly, although it is true that part of the fault there lies with the Post Office. The situation that has been raised this afternoon is constantly recurring in your Lordships' House, and in my opinion there is a way of avoiding it. First of all, too many Bills, in my respectful submission, start in another place, and too few in your Lordships' House. If they were more evenly divided that situation would not so often arise.

My Lords, the inevitable result of the taking of the Committee stage to-day is that the Report stage on the Bill will be unduly long, to put it no higher. In fact, though not in form, it will be a second Committee stage, and there may be occasions there when noble Lords forget that they should not speak more than once on the Report stage, which makes it often inconvenient. if I may make the point, I think that more Bills ought to be recommitted for a second Committee stage, which is perfectly possible under the Standing Orders. I think this ought to be done more often. Objection will be taken to that because that will cause further delays, but, my Lords, I think that is the lesser of two evils, rather than have a Report stage which is not at all what it is supposed to be in theory. So I say that more Bills such as this ought to be recommitted instead of having a very lengthy Report stage.

I should like finally to make one more point, and that is this. I have often asked, but never had a satisfactory answer to my question, why Public Bills cannot be carried forward from one Session to another. We shall be told to-day that this Bill must have the Royal Assent by August. I am sure we shall be told that; I feel it is coming. But why cannot it be carried forward to the next Session if it is not finished in this? That can be done, and is done, with Private Bills. If it can be done with respect to Private Bills, why cannot it be done with respect to Public Bills? I have been in the House for some time now, but nobody has ever told me the answer to that question, and I shall he very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord kennet, or some other noble Lord would tell me the answer to-day.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I have much sympathy with what has been said by both noble Lords, although I will not go into the deeper Parliamentary questions which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. I simply wish to say this. I hope that the Government will not seek in any way to curtail the time we shall need on the Committee stage of this Bill. We shall be starting it, if this Motion is carried, only twelve days after the Bill was given a Second Reading in your Lordships' House. In another place it occupied twenty-seven sittings of a Standing Committee; that is to say, something like seventy hours were required there to discuss this Bill. I am not suggesting that we shall need seventy hours here, but I think that that fact alone proves that it is a Bill of considerable importance and one that demands careful study.

Furthermore, it is not, so far as I am aware, a Bill which raises issues of Party controversy. The original National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill was treated very largely as a non-Party measure. I think that this ought to be, too, and my experience in your Lordships' House has taught me that it is just these Bills which do not raise sharp issues of Party controversy on which your Lordships can do particularly valuable work, with the wide range of experience and knowledge that is available in you- Lordships' House. I would not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in wishing to oppose this Motion with such vigour as to prevent our proceeding with she Bill to-day, but I hope that we shall manage to proceed with it in a friendly way and that the Government will accept that we shall need considerable time if your Lordships' House is to do full justice to the Bill.


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Some of us have other work to do and are not able to come to Parliament as often as people in another place who are paid to be there. We have bad no time at all to consider the many important aspects of this Bill. The Revised Marshalled List of Amendments was available only this morning, or possibly last night, and we have had insufficient time to consider the numerous Amendments. It is quite right that this protest should have been made. I do not want to delay the Committee stage, but as an Independent I want to say that the fact that this Bill is being pushed through as rapidly as it is is greatly resented.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like from these Benches strongly to support the protest which is being made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, about the lack of time given to consideration of this Bill. Our ancestors worked out a legislative process whose flexibility and strength is rivalled by no other legislative process which I have studied. It is being brought into contempt by what has been going on during these last years. If properly used, it can produce legislation of great clarity, well-argued and properly carried through. My mind goes back to last July when in one short afternoon we were asked to carry hundreds of Amendments to the Companies Bill. Quite a number of Ministers in private have agreed that that was a scandal. The Countryside Bill appears to be on all fours with that; it is on the same sort of lines.

I felt it necessary a little earlier this year to protest about the Theft Bill, one of the most important Bills to be brought before Parliament in recent years. We were given just about a fortnight between Second Reading and Committee stage. In many ways the Countryside Bill is a Bill of similar complexity. It is quite impossible for the organisations which have been created and built up to work upon these problems to consider what is going on in Westminster if they are not given more time over this Bill. The Government have disregarded the advice which they have received from the outdoor amenity societies. Those societies have to come together to discuss what is going on in order to give any advice or opinions which are necessary. How can they possibly do that until they know what has happened in the other place? Proceedings in the other place were concluded only a fortnight ago. Several important Amendments were passed there at the last moment. Until all this had been done and the reactions of the Government, as reflected by Government spokesmen on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, are known, it is impossible for the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Ramblers' Association and other organisations which are intimately concerned with this sort of measure, to come together to formulate their views. All this is being completely disregarded. It is an absurd situation. We have had a very valuable speech from an experienced ex-Chairman of Committees as to what could and should have been done on these occasions. I hope that the Government will pay more attention to the views which have been expressed this afternoon—views which are widely held not only in this House but in another place.


My Lords, I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. His point is really the only valid one that has been raised to-day. Bills which have no constitutional impact can easily be handled in this House and examined with much greater effect, perhaps, than in the other place. But all the noise to-day about this Bill is, I think, just a little froth. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, the Committee stage in another place took 27 sittings. It was possible for Members of this House who are interested in the Bill to have followed that Committee stage daily by reading the Hansard Report of the Committee proceedings. Then there was the lapse of time between the Third Reading in the Commons and the Second Reading in this House. Therefore, there has been time for Members interested in the Bill to consider the matter.

I doubt very much whether any point which was not raised in the Commons will be raised during the Committee stage in this House. All the appropriate societies have known what has gone on day by day in the Commons; briefs were sent to Members of the Commons, and have already been despatched to Members of this House. I have received a number of briefs from various organisations in support of the Bill—the National Farmers' Union and the rest. If we get on with the business rather than talk about what we are going to do, we shall perhaps finish up before 10 o'clock instead of after it.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, referred to "a little froth". I think that is a most unfair comment in relation to points which have been raised by noble Lords on both sides of the House. When he says that any important points in connection with the Bill will already have been raised in another place, I do not know how he can expect the societies involved to be able to consider the very important clause put down by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet; namely, Amendment No. 35. This has only just been put down and is highly technical from beginning to end. It is most important to one of the National Parks with which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and I are intimately connected, and we have had no chance whatever of reference to such people as the clerk of the local planning authority and those interested in the new clause. Therefore, I add my word of protest in relation to the procedure which is being followed, and I deny that there is any "froth" in this protest.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, may I say at once that I recognise the interest, indeed passionate interest, which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and other noble Lords have in these countryside matters. I would add that, strongly as he has spoken, he has not spoken with any more strength than have other noble Lords and Ladies in this House about the little time allocated to other important Bills which have to pass through your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Chorley says that our forbears have devised a pattern of Parliament and a system of legislation which is the finest in the world, but they have also devised a calendar, and we are faced with the overall limitations of that calendar. Although I agree that it would have been desirable to set back the first day allocated to the Committee, if in fact we set back the Committee stage, then noble Lords would wish us to set back the Report stage, which would mean that we should then impinge upon other important legislation which is looming up.

If we are to finish the timetable by August, it is essential to set aside a reasonable and fair amount of time for the different Bills which are coming before your Lordships' House. Surely what we propose is not unreasonable for a Bill which was introduced into this House on April 10 and which has had a great deal of time devoted to it in the other place. It is not as if this were the first House into which the Bill was being introduced, since the contents of the Bill have been well-known for many weeks and have received exhaustive discussion in the other place. Although I am a two-Chamber man and do not say that because matters have been discussed in the other place they should not be discussed here, we have to bear in mind the following facts. The Bill came before your Lordships' House on April 10, it had a Second Reading on the 25th—allowing fifteen days—and we have allowed another twelve days before the Committee stage. That is not out of line with what is usually done. If those periods had been extended, inevitably we should have come up against the other legislation after Whitsuntide.

I beg the noble Lord, Lord Molson, to believe that those who have some responsibility in these matters do not set down days lightly. We try to take into account the wishes of the House, I had no representation from the noble Lord, Lord Molson, earlier, but we have tried to consider all the different points of view and I hope he will be able to say, if he reflects, that we have tried to be reasonable in this matter.

There is one other point I should like to add. The noble Lord, like some of the rest of us, has had some experience in the other place where we had the benefit of the procedure of Standing Committees. We have to bear in mind that everything that goes through in that place, on the Floor of the House and through the various Standing Committees, has to be channelled through the one place here. To get all the legislation through this one place really means a certain tightening up of our procedure, and in the process of tightening up I personally try to bear in mind all that is said to me. I try to weigh what is said by one enthusiast with what is said by enthusiasts for other good causes, and I suggest to your Lordships that the result in this case is not unreasonable.


My Lords, while sympathising with the difficulties which the noble Lord has explained, he has made it perfectly clear to al of us that what is happening is that the Government are trying to get too much legislation through during this Session, and that therefore the legislation will not be properly considered. It is not the fault of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick.


My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Baroness said about my own share of the fault. But if we are to draw the conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has drawn, that we should postpone the proceedings of one Bill until the next Session, then I am afraid that that will be only postponing the evil day. We should only have a jam in the final Session, if that were done. I am not here to answer for the total amount of legislation going through. All I try to ensure is that what goes through this House goes through after fair consideration of all interests.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he indicate to us how late he wishes us to sit tonight? Also if we do not conclude the business—and it is most unlikely that we can give proper consideration to 77 Amendments—when does he expect us to sit again to consider this Bill?


My Lords, I indicated earlier that I thought we should sit until around 10.30 p.m., with a dinner break. I am not sure whether the noble Lord now wishes to extend that time, in view of the fact that we have not started quite so early as we hoped. Of course, if we cannot complete the proceedings today there will be other time.


My Lords, confining myself to the Bill I am rather unhappy that the noble Lord was not able to express himself rather more penitently in regard to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Molson and the other complainants. I emphasise, as others have done, that the acute difference in this Bill from the one which occupied so large an amount of time in another place is that that was virtually a non-Party, non-controversial Bill. That is the difference and that is why this Bill should have had much more Parliamentary time allocated to it. With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, I would point out that the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place admitted towards the end of the proceedings that the Government would very much need to use this House to deal with many of the Amendments which it was not possible to introduce there.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, replies, may I put one point to him concerning mineral undertakers? I understand that the Confederation of British Industry had a number of Amendments down in the Commons on Committee stage. Only one Amendment concerning a new clause was called, and I understand that the Government's reaction to it was very unsympathetic. The Confederation of British Industry were hoping that Amendments would be put down by the Ministry, but after further discussions on the subject none was forthcoming. In effect, none of the Amendments put down by Members for the Confederation of British Industry was called at the Report stage. There is a further batch for discussion in your Lordships' House, but as I received them only this morning it was quite impossible to put them down for discussion this afternoon.


My Lords, I have consulted with my noble friend, and I am afraid that we have been unable to identify any Amendment as one put down by the Confederation of British Industry. But if there are points which the noble Lord wishes to put down in the way of an Amendment, he will have time.


My Lords, it is very seldom that I find myself at all in agreement with the Government, but in the interests of everybody concerned I must honestly say that I think it would be very wise to proceed with this Bill now. After all, this is only the Committee stage and we have every chance of considering the Bill if we take it in time. I know exactly what will happen if we postpone it indefinitely. We shall be told by the Leader of the House that we must sit until 5 in the morning. Very few people would be here to do that, so the Government would carry anything they wanted.

Also, let the House remember—which we sometimes forget—how many facilities are open to us in the procedure of this House. If we come upon a very difficult clause on which there is a good deal of discussion, then we can adjourn discussion of it and move to recommit it at a later stage. That is an advantage here. Then, of course, there is the Report stage for which one wants to have full time. I must say, in the interests of everybody who has Amendments—and very important Amendments—to be considered, that I think we should consider them much better and have much more time to do it effectively if we proceed in the way the Government have proposed. It is very seldom that I support the Government, but on this occasion I feel as a very old Member—perhaps the Father of the House—that I must do so now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1:

General functions of the Commission

1.—(1) The functions of the National Parks Commission shall be enlarged in accordance with this Act and in future their name shall be the "Countryside Commission".

(2) The functions conferred by this Act on the said Commission (in this Act referred to as "the Commission") are to be exercised for encouraging the provision and improvement, for persons resorting to the countryside, of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and of open-air recreation in the countryside.

3.49 p.m.

LORD MOLSON moved, in subsection (1), before "Countryside", to insert "National Parks and". The noble Lord said: To a large extent this Bill is a Bill amending the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Under that Bill there was set up the National Parks Commission. For nearly twenty years the work of that Commission has been efficient and enlightened, and has commanded the general approval of members of all Parties. It was under the general ægis of that Commission that the Peak National Park was awarded a special prize by the Council of Europe for having the best administered National Park in Europe.

There has grown up a tradition of skilled and sympathetic administration. The purpose of this Bill is to widen the scope of the Commission to deal with matters affecting beauty and amenity and access to all parts of the English countryside. But it was admitted—indeed, it was asserted—by the Minister in charge of this Bill in another place that it was not intended that the priority which has so far been enjoyed by the National Parks, as places carefully selected as being of remarkable and outstanding natural beauty, should be in any way diminished. It was not intended that their status should be lowered. It was intended that their status should be maintained, but that at the same time the scope of the Commission should be widened. It would therefore appear to be appropriate that the name which has acquired so much credit during the last twenty years should be preserved, even though the responsibility of the Commission be altered in order to extend to the whole of the English countryside. It is for this purpose that I move this Amendment.

The Standing Committee in another place inserted the words set out in my Amendment. It was only when the Bill came on to the Floor of the House elsewhere that, as a result of pressure brought to bear by the Government, the words which had been inserted by the Standing Committee were deleted. This is not a Party issue at all. A number of sup- porters of the Government in the Standing Committee voted in favour of retaining these words, and certain members of the Opposition voted against it. The view that these words should be retained was expressed by the National Parks Commission in their Seventeenth Report; and it is, I think, the view of all the main open-air organisations that this name should be preserved. At a time when money is scarce, it is very desirable indeed that nothing should be done, even by implication, to reduce the priority which has been given to the National Parks. When butter is limited, it is as well not to spread it too thinly.

Almost the only argument that was advanced in another place in favour of making the title of the Commission shorter was that it would be mere convenient. The noble Lord the Leader of the House yesterday gave us the answer to that when replying to the complaint by my noble friend Lord Conesford that in giving to Mrs. Barbara Cagle the grandiloquent title of Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity very little more was being done than just lengthening it. My noble friend said: What is being proposed is to give: a very long name to replace an existing shore name."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6/5/68, col. 1273.] The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, answering on behalf of the Government, said (col. 1279): I think he"— he was referring to my noble frieni— would also agree that a title serves some value if, in a convenient and short form, it reveals what the subject is all about. I bell we that the title of this new Ministry does precisely that. If it is indeed the intention of the Government, as was stated in another place, that the Countryside Commission should continue to give special priority to the care and development of the National Parks, I think that they cannot logically resist this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 8, after ("the") insert ("National Parks and").—(Lord Molson.)


I rise to support the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. The new Commission, when created, will operate under two separate but connected Acts. They will operate under the Act of 1949, which is a "National Parks" Act, and under what will be the new Act of 1968, the Countryside Act. Those two Acts are separate, as I have said, but connected. The National Parks Act 1949 deals predominantly, but not exclusively, with National Parks and the preservation of the countryside in National Parks. The Act of 1968 will deal predominantly, but not exclusively, with recreation. There will therefore be a duality in the legislation under which the Commission will have to operate. It therefore seems to me logical that there should be the same duality in the title of the Commission which will have to operate these two Acts.

It has been suggested that to mention both "National Parks" and "Countryside" in the title of the Commission is tautology, because, it is said: "Are not National Parks themselves part of the countryside?". That may well be true. But let us take another example from the Government's own book. Let us take the late Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Is there not tautology in "land" and "natural resources"? Is not land a natural resource? If the argument against the double title is to prevail, why could they not have called that Department the Ministry of Natural Resources? The reason is perfectly plain. What the Government primarily had in mind in regard to that Ministry was not natural resources: what they had in mind chiefly was land, and legislation about land—legislation which has given us the Land Commission. That was the real purpose of the Ministry. They thought it right—and I do not blame them—to draw special attention to a matter to which they attached great importance.

Similarly, in this case I think it would be right to draw special attention to the concept of National Parks in the double title of the new Commission, because of the standing which National Parks have enjoyed over the years during which they have existed, and because (and I hope I shall not be thought offensive in saying this) it would be as well to remind Whitehall from day to day that National Parks are part of the countryside and that they deserve special attention. I say this because my experience is that Whitehall has sometimes been rather lukewarm, half-hearted, about the defence of the countryside in National Parks. For these reasons, I support this Amendment.

4.0 p.m.


I must repeat the statement that I made on Second Reading of this Bill, that I have an interest as Chairman of the National Parks Commission, which this Bill proposes to transform into the Countryside Commission. I find it a little fainthearted of the gallant advocates of National Parks that they do not feel that their interests will be so fully looked after by the present Commission unless their name is expressly introduced into the title.


My complaint was not about the present Commission but about Whitehall—a very different thing.


I fully recognise that that was the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, but I think that if we take the complaints which have been made from outside it will be seen that they have taken a rather different view. I am fully aware that the previous Commission were anxious to use the double title, "National Parks and Countryside Commission". But the Commission who will be operating this Bill take a different view. They feel that for practical purposes they need a title which is succinct and which people will use in full. They therefore favour the short title. If you have the full title, it is almost certain to be shortened. You cannot shorten "National Parks and Countryside Commission" very easily. It is very difficult to say, "I am going to a meeting of the National Parks and Countryside Commission" or "I have had a letter from the National Parks and Countryside Commission." What will happen, if the full title is adopted, will be that it will be converted gradually into "N.P.C.C." and there will be public confusion as to whether it has something to do with cruelty to children.

The question of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strang; but, after all, that Ministry did not last very long. I do not suggest that that was because of its cumbersome title but I think it hardly an auspicious precedent to quote in this context. The difficulty is that a cumbersome title is strongly adverse to publicity. I would urge upon the Committee that they have this much confidence in the future Commission: that the Commission will be well aware of their double responsibility, their responsibility to the National Parks and their responsibility to the countryside generally. After all, it is as broad as it is long. The 1949 Act was entitled "The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Commission Act"; but we have never had a National Parks and Access to the Countryside Commission. On that occasion we left out the words "Access to the Countryside" because it would make the title impossibly cumbrous. Fully to describe the duties of the new Commission and the duties imposed upon the authorities by this new Bill takes 11 lines in the Long Title. It could be argued that every element in the full Title ought to be included in the title of the Commission. That would reduce us to an absurdity. I can only say that for practical purposes I can see a great future for a Countryside Commission, and I think that a National Parks and Countryside Commission would start its life under a serious handicap.


May I support the noble Baroness? I support her on the ground that, in a way, I should like to try to get away from this dual concept of National Parks, on the one hand, and countryside, on the other. It seems to me that by having a short title and by considering this as "Countryside" we are more likely in the long run, whether we are landowners, farmers, hikers or antiquarians, to think in terms of the countryside which we use for a number of different reasons. If we have that view before us, we realise that we can use the countryside for all these different reasons and that all can get the maximum profit and enjoyment out of it. In the long run we are more likely to move towards this position by calling it the "Countryside Act" than by calling it the "National Parks and Countryside Act". I am loth, regarding any aspect of this Bill, to oppose the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Strang, who have done so much in this matter, but in this particular context I feel that they are wrong and that the noble Baroness is right.


I seldom want to oppose the noble Lords, Lord Molson or Lord Strang, and, as has been said, in another place the division on this particular subject did not take Party lines. I support the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Henley in their desire to call this the Countryside Act. I think the simplicity is useful. It follows the precedent of the Countryside (Scotland) Act which has just passed through both Houses of Parliament. The title does not exclude National Parks in any way; they are part of the countryside. "Countryside" is the greater description and "Parks" come within it. Nobody in his wildest dreams would want to do anything in any way to hamper or spoil the National Parks Commission, which has been splendid; but now we are going on to something bigger, to something w rich is spread throughout the countryside. I think it would be easier and better to follow the precedent in Scotland and have simply the Countryside Bill. I would support the simpler title.


I should like to say something in support of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, but I would first express my warm general support for the Bill unfortunately I had a public duty which I regarded as having to come first, so I could not take part in the Second Reading debate. As has been said this afternoon, this is a non-Party measure; and the debate so far has reflected that. However, one can say that it has been initiated by a Labour Government, and they deserve particular credit for it, since the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has been trying to get necessary Amendments to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside. Act year after year without success.

But to return to the proposal before your Lordships, I suppose one might say that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". I do not accept that view, because it seems to me, as one who has been in this movement longer, I think, than anyone in your Lordships' House, that it is very important indeed, from the morale point of view, that all those people who are giving unstinted service to the National Parks should not be disappointed by seeing "National Parks" removed from the Title of this Bill and from the name of the Commission. It is largely for that reason that I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Molson, this afternoon.

This is really a classic example of the unresponsiveness of the Government to informed opinion; and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, was right when he attributed it to the Whitehall influence. There are three sources of responsible information about this matter which the Government could have asked for their views. How far they went it is not clear, but I think it is pretty clear that they ignored the opinion of the outdoor amenities societies which have been operating in this field ever since the time of the Addison Committee. Also the National Parks Commission, who operated so successfully under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Strang for a long time and who had tremendous experience of this subject, were quite clear and, as I understand it, unanimous in advising the Government that "National Parks" should be retained in the title. The new Commission's first impression was the same.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? It was not so that the new Commission ever held this view. It was held by the previous Commission.


It was reported that the view of the new Commission at first was to this effect. I think that is a fair interpretation of the words used by the Minister in charge of the Bill in Committee in another place. Thirdly there are the people who run National Parks in the country. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to the Peak National Park, which was given a prize for being the best-run National Park in Europe. It is certainly the only National Park of the kind which Lord Silkin's Bill originally envisaged. Gradually the Act has been emasculated; but undoubtedly the Peak is the most successful of the National Parks in carrying out the intentions of the Bill as it was originally passed through Parliament. The Peak National Park has gone on record as being emphatically of the opinion that it would be a great mistake to leave out the term "National Parks" from the titles of the Bill and the Commission. So far as I know, this view is taken by the other National Park joint planning boards and other authorities which run the National Parks in different parts of the country.

The Minister in another place, in what I thought was a rather disingenuous speech, said that many organisations had been approached and were in agreement with the Government's view, the inference being that they agreed to deletion. But he did not mention any single one of these organisations which he claimed were on his side, and it seemed to me that what he was really referring to was the support which this Bill as a whole has received from organisations up and down the country, and not any support with regard to this particular item in it. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, rightly pointed out the view of the new Commission, it is still not clear that this view was a unanimous one. If you read between the lines, it is obvious that there was a difference of opinion in the National Parks Commission.


If I may interrupt my noble friend, I do not know what lines he is reading between. The means by which the Commission make up their mind are confidential to the Commission, and I can assure my noble friend that he is mistaken.


If my noble friend will read the speech of the Minister in the Committee proceedings in another place, she will find that it certainly conveyed that impression; and the statement he read out at the Report stage in another place is, I think, susceptible only of that interpretation.


My noble friend must allow me to say that the statement he read out said that the Commission, after considering the matter several times, were strongly in support of the shorter title.


It certainly does not convey the impression to me that it was unanimous, but that does not really matter very much. After all, the new Commission has been in office for only a very short time, and contains very few, if any, members who have been in this movement for any length of time. The present Government did not follow the excellent example of the noble Lord, Lord who put on the Commission a number of people who had been giving great service to this movement for many years. I am not suggesting that one should have a Commission completely composed of people who have been in the movement and are closely connected with organisations which work along these lines. The noble Lord, Lord Strang, who gave such great service, had not until that point been in the movement, as was the case with the noble Baroness.

I think the Minister was quite right to go outside the area of organisations which are concerned with these things. But I think that you can overdo it. It' you look at the members of the Committee which dealt with it in the Committee discussions in another place, you will see that those who voted in favour of retaining "National Parks" in the Title were those who knew most about this subject There were Mr. Carol Johnson, Vice-Chairman of the Commons Society; Mr. John Smith, an ex-Chairman of the General Purposes Committee of the National Trust; Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop, who is well-known to be one of the outstanding experts in the country on these problems; and Mr. Peter Jackson, the Member for the High Peak, who has been very closely concerned with the work of the High Peak National Park. I venture to suggest that the strong views of these Members of Parliament ought to have been accepted. They won by one vote, but on Report after midnight, after it had been tacitly agreed that there should be no more Divisions, they gave way without a Division. Had it not been for the fact that, of course, all three Ministers lined up with the Government in the Commons Standing Committee, the vote for retaining the words "National Parks" in the Title would have been very much stronger than it was.

This is a subject in which thousands of people are interested. There is the great Ramblers' Federation and there are hundreds of voluntary wardens who give their services every week-end. We are to have a discussion later on the subject of wardens. In the Lake District, which is my part of the country, there are over 300 volunteer wardens who, week-end after week-end, and sometimes during the week and during their holiday periods, give up their time to help in the work of keeping the National Parks places of outstanding beauty. So far as I know, these people are wholeheartedly of the opinion that "National Parks" ought to remain in the titles of the Bill and the Commission. I think it a great pity that the Government should, in effect, flout the view of all these excellent people, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that these words should be retained.


Would the honour of everyone be satisfied with a compromise by calling this "The Countryside and National Parks Commission"? Then the name would be preserved, the honour of the National Parks would be preserved and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, desires, no doubt the short title of the Commission by which it would be referred to in the country would be "The Countryside Commission", and that would bring in everybody.


What an ingenious suggestion! But it is not what is in the Amendment which is before us, and I think that in certain respects it is open to the same objections as the proposed title the other way round. The discussion we have had places me under tile embarrassing necessity of having to choose between the present and the past Chairmen of the Commission: and also in the unwelcome position of opposing the views of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, which I hate to do because of his great experience in this field, and because I am going to have to do it on a great many other questions later in the afternoon.


That sounds ominous.


The situation is still as it was when we touched on this matter during Second Reading. There art really three reasons for preferring the shorter title. The first—and this weighs very strongly with me—is that it is the view of the National Parks Commission that the shorter title should be adopted. I do not think that we should dwell too much on how the Commission reached that view and by what stages, with what degrees of unanimity or who said what to 'whom. The point is that it is clear that the Commission now favour a change in the name to "Countryside Commission". We had it from my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger this afternoon, and she has been kind enough to write to us at the Ministry setting forth the same thing formally as the view of the Commission.

Secondly, it would, I think, be absurd to maintain that because one sector of this great enterprise of looking after our countryside is not mentioned in the title of the body mainly responsible for it, that would carry the implication that the body was going to be downgraded or ignored, or treated as less important in any way than it always has been. That is absolutely not the case. I understood perfectly the point made by my noble friend Lord Chorley about morale, and how much we owe to the squadrons of voluntary workers in this matter. For what it is worth, I should like to put it on record that the Government are, as they always have been, extremely grateful for and admiring of the work done by those voluntary workers. But I think it would be a shortsighted voluntary worker who held that a change in the title of the Commission implied any decrease in the value of his own work. He would still be doing it whether in the countryside excluding National Parks, or in the countryside including National Parks.

Thirdly, there is the great point that it is more sayable—"N.P.C.C." would have the obvious disadvantages which were mentioned by my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger.

I was interested to note that in the Commons Standing Committee those Members who voted for the longer title continually referred to the "Countryside Commission" in their speeches. They did not even call it the National Parks Commission sticking out for the old title, let alone use the longer one for which they voted. They referred to it as "The Countryside Commission", as I think everybody should. I was interested, also, to notice that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, when speaking a moment ago more than once called the 1949 Act the "National Parks Act". But of course that is not its title, as my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger pointed out. Its real title is the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Nobody has ever called it that, and nobody ever will. It will be just the same in this case. The Commission will always be known as the Countryside Commission, and the view of the Government is that it would be better to call it officially by that title by which it is always going to be known colloquially.


When the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, says that it was noticeable that the honourable Members in another place who had supported the longer title always referred in debate to the Commission as the Countryside Commission, what strikes me straight away is that it would have been senseless for them to do otherwise, because so far as this Bill is concerned it is the Countryside Commission.

I must say that if the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Swinton had formed the substance of this Amendment—namely, that the body should be called the Countryside and National Parks Commission, I should have been much more favourably disposed to it than I am to this Amendment. I think that the initials N.P.C.C. would be unfortunate and misleading. I have a great belief in trusting the men on the spot—albeit, in this case they are the ladies on the spot—and I think that your Lordships' House should, not only out of courtesy but out of good sense, consider the views expressed by the present members of the Commission.

In addition to that, it seems to me that the national parks do not comprise the countryside, whereas the countryside does include the National Parks; and it would be a curious order if we were to put the lesser first and the greater afterwards. That again is an argument in favour of the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Swinton, but it does not support this Amendment. I do not know the intention of my noble friend Lord Molson about pressing this Amendment, but with great regret, because I always like to support him on these matters, I feel that I cannot do so in this instance.


Before I decide what to do, I should like to ask my noble friend whether, on Report stage, if I adopt the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Swinton he will come with me into the Lobby in support of it. Is my noble friend going to answer?


I had supposed that the proceedings in your Lordships' Committee were so planned as to give noble Lords on all sides of the House an opportunity to put questions to the Government. I had failed to realise that if I made a speech I might be expected to answer questions, too. I should not like to give an answer to that question on the spur of the moment. But I certainly say that I should be much more favourably disposed to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Swinton than I am to the Amendment at present under discussion.


In view of what has been said, and of the unfortunate absence of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who supported this Amendment and of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who has had to go away on important public business, I shall not press this Amendment to a Division now. But I give notice that I shall put down for Report stage the compromise Amendment which my noble friend Lord Swinton has put forward, and I shall divide the House on it, in the confident expectation that a number of my noble friends, on both sides of the House, will support me on that occasion. On that understanding and with that warning to the Government, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.25 p.m.

LORD MOLSON moved, in subsection (2), after the first "for", to insert: the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside and". The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2, standing in my name on the Order Paper. On Second Reading I said that I thought that twenty years ago, when the National Parks Bill was before your Lordships' House, no one at that time fully realised to what extent the two objectives laid down in Clause 1 of that Bill could in time become competitive. One was the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, and the other was to increase the facilities for those who have not the advantage of living in the country but who go there for the enjoyment and recreation which is there to be found. As a result of the great development in public transport, and especially of the private motor car, it has become obvious that there is a great danger that large numbers of people going in motor cars to solitary places of beauty are going by their very presence to destroy what they go there to seek.

There is a certain emphasis in this Bill on access to the countryside, which would appear to be emphasised by the way in which this is expressed. Subsection (2) says: The functions conferred by this Act on the said Commission…are to be exercised for encouraging the provision and improvement, for persons resorting to the countryside, of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and of open-air recreation in the countryside. That that is not the sole purpose of the Bill is shown by Clause 2, whore subsection (2)(b) refers to one of the new functions of the Countryside Commission as being to keep under review all matters relating to: the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside…". I think that we should emphasise the importance of the preservation of beauty, and it appears to me good draftsmanship and logical that Clause 1 of the Bill should set out the provisions of Clause 2 —what the Commission shall keep under review.

The Government may say that there is no need to insert these words in Clause 1 because they are already included in the Act of 1949 and are still included in Clause 2(2) of this Bill. To that my reply is that it is desirable that Clause l, which sets out the general functions of the Commission, should include a statement of those functions which are set out in Clause 2. Because I think there is a certain undue emphasis in the direction of providing facilities and not quite sufficient emphasis on preserving amenity, I move this Amendment, which will have the effect, I hope, of preserving a proper balance. This does not represent any change from the proposals which the Government are putting forward and I therefore hope that they will be broadminded enough to accept this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 11, after "for" insert the said words.—(Lord Molson.)


It will be seen from the Marshalled List that I had an idea similar to that of my noble friend Lord Molson, so that in this case, at any rate, he and I are at one And perhaps I may refer to Amendment No. 3, which I think could be appropriately discussed at the same time. I, too, felt, when I read the terms of this Bill, that the Government were making a mistake in Clause 1 in saying only that the functions of the Commission should be exercised: for encouraging the provision and improvement, for persons resorting to the countryside, of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and of open-air recreation in the countryside… I felt that they were making a mistake in not making any mention in the same context of the first duty of the National Parks Commission, as stated in Section 1 of the 1949 Act: the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty in England and Wales, and particularly in the areas designated by this Act as National Parks or as areas of outstanding natural beauty. I appreciate that it is the purpose of the Government to give the former National Parks Commission, through this Bill, certain additional powers, duties and responsibilities, and they relate to: the provision and improvement…of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside… That seems to me to be perfectly right so far as it goes, but I suggest to the Government that the Bill would be improved if they were to accept either the Amendment moved by my noble friend or my Amendment, which I somewhat prefer. I prefer my Amendment because it will leave the new purpose, that is to say, the provision and improvement…of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside… in the first place, in this new Bill, which is breaking new ground; but it will remind the Commission and all concerned that this must be done consistently with conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.

There is a danger—and my noble friend was quite right to draw attention to it—that this may be thought of as a townsman's charter; that once the Bill is on the Statute Book, the beauty of the countryside is by Act of Parliament to be subordinated to facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by townsmen. I do not believe that that is the Government's intention—I believe that the Government's intentions are wholly honourable—but I would urge upon them that it would do much to silence any criticisms or suspicions of that character if they were willing to accept one or other of these Amendments to Clause 1.


I hope that the Government will see fit to accept one or other of these Amendments. I entirely accept the arguments that have been put forward. The Government may argue that because, under Clause 2(2)(b), the words, the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside already appear, the point need not be plugged again by one of these Amendments. However, I do not think that that argument will wear, because, after all, the words in Clause 1(2) which refer to facilities for enjoyment, et cetera, are also repeated in Clause 2(2)(a): the provision and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside. So if one goes in twice, there is no reason why the other should not also go in twice. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that there is a real danger in a Bill of this kind that the people who administer it may forget that the countryside can easily be destroyed by providing facilities of a sort which they may occasionally mistakenly imagine are the right kind of facilities. I hope that the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment.


I support this Amendment strongly, because I think it would be at least curious if one of the primary functions of the Commission were not even mentioned in the clause declaring its general functions, and also because the Amendment states this particular function in what many people, including myself, consider to be its right order of priority. Also it is important that the functions of the Commission should be clearly defined at the very outset. In particular, if I may refer to a point that I made in the Second Reading debate, I think there ought to be no doubt or confusion about the functions of the Commission in relation to those of other statutory bodies. But if the drafting of the Bill remains as it stands, some confusion is likely to arise.

The drafting follows a form adopted twenty years ago in rather different circumstances, and in a later clause interprets "regard for natural beauty" as including the duty to conserve our fauna and flora. The Commission should, of course, have full regard to the importance of such conservation in all its policies and in all its administrative decisions. But should it be required expressly by Statute to keep all such matters under review? Keeping matters relating to conservation under review is commonly regarded as the function and duty of the Natural Environment Research Council and the Nature Conservancy, established by the Act of 1949. The overlap, as I am informed, is already giving rise to some confusion in Scotland, since in the Scottish Act the same language was employed.

Functions related primarily to amenities and to recreation in the open air and functions related primarily to the conservation of nature are, of course, allied and should be discharged in close co-operation. But they are distinct. I ask the Minister, therefore, as I have done before, either to introduce some Amendment which will clearly define the functions of the different bodies, or perhaps alternatively to undertake to issue to all concerned a circular letter making the position clearer. On the particular point of the primary importance of the words which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, seeks to incorporate in the Bill, however, I have no doubt, and I hope that your Lordships will support the Amendment.


While I wholeheartedly support the spirit of the two Amendments, apart from their being partly covered by Clause 2(2)(b), surely the point is also covered by Clause 11, which provides that every Minister, government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. I should have thought that those two clauses covered the position.

4.39 p.m.


When reading the Bill for the first time, I thought that the draftsmen had done an excellent job—and it is unusual in this House for the draftsmen to get compliments. I thought they had done an excellent job because of the conflict to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred. The Bill, as I understand it, is to facilitate the easier access and enjoyment of the countryside by the mass of the people, particularly those from the towns. If you are going to maintain the whole of the existing quietness and beauty in its present form, then the recreation, so far as the average townsman is concerned, will be negligible. There always will be conflict.

Let me take one or two examples—first, water. There are those who require water for a nature reserve. There are those who require water for sailing. There are those who require it for water ski-ing, which conflicts with sailing; those who require motor-boats, which conflict with sailing. Then there are those who even want to ride motor-bikes in the countryside, and who thoroughly enjoy t. The purpose of this Bill—and I think we should get it quite clear at the start in dealing with the Bill—as I understood it, was to give access to the countryside and facilities for recreation to all types of people, not only for those who want to hide away quietly, bird watching and the rest of it—I refer to the birds in the trees; quite a lot of people go into the countryside for other sorts of "bird watching". Therefore, as I understood the Commission's job, it was to bring about a balance and to see to it that all the various interests, in one form or another, were catered for in various parts of the countryside and that all of them could have a fair share.

It is obvious that if you are going to make facilities, such as reservoirs for water ski-ing, and if you are going to have opportunities for picnicking in beauty spots, you must allow access by motor cars and make provision for motor cars. If there are going to be opportunities for motor cycling in areas of the countryside which are very remote, it is obvious that those who enjoy the remoteness of those areas are going to De upset by it. As I understood it, the Bill has the purpose of providing for all types of recreation, all types of enjoyment of the countryside, and preserving a balance of the various types of activity in order that everybody can be, so far as is humanly possible, satisfied, arrangements being made for the enjoyment of all. However, I may have misunderstood the purposes of the Bill, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply will say whether I am right or whether I am wrong. I feel that if we add these words to the Bill it will not facilitate enjoyment of the countryside by townsmen but the preservation of the countryside in its present form for the benefit of those already there, and it will exclude the townsman's enjoyment of the various activities for which he wants to go to the countryside.


It seems to me that the noble Lord has made a very good speech in favour of the Amendment and also in favour of the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. I support this Amendment, but in supporting it I should like to say that I do not regard this Amendment as alternative to the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. It seems to me that both Amendments are highly necessary, and if the Government do not accept both of them I very much hope that both of them will be pressed to a Division. Quite frankly, I am terrified by this phraseology which runs all through this Bill about "open air recreation". I am not going to move an Amendment cutting out any reference to open air recreation, but it seems to me extremely important that it should be clearly laid down that the functions of the Commission are not only to provide facilities for enjoying the countryside and open air recreation, but are also the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and amenity.

I will now come to the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, regarding the Commission's function of providing for enjoyment and open air recreation—and I think many noble Lords can imagine what "open air recreation" means; we have had examples of it from the noble Lord who has just spoken. I think it equally very important that the functions of the Commission in promoting open air recreation should be qualified in the manner proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. It seems to me that these two Amendments have quite different purposes, and that both of them are highly desirable.

4.45 p.m.


I should like to support very strongly the arguments that have been put forward for securing that the duty of preservation is included in this first clause. I did not have the good fortune to be present at the Second Reading of this Bill, but I have read the whole of that debate with great admiration. Had we divided on the first Amendment I should have been placed in the greatest difficulty, because I thought that the arguments were finely balanced. I think that I should probably have come down in favour of the view taken by Her Majesty's Government, for the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. But, as I say, I think the arguments were very finely balanced.

Both Lady Wootton and the Minister, in their speeches on that first Amendment, said that the fact that the Commission was to be called the Countryside Commission did not mean that it was not going to carry out all the duties it had under the National Parks legislation, as well as new duties specially referred to in connection mainly with other areas, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, has referred. But if there are to be those two sets of duties, and the words "National Parks" are to be dropped from the title of the Commission, it becomes all the more essential to assert in the very first clause of the Bill what these objects are, what the duty of the Commission is as regards National Parks.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kahn. I see no reason why we should not have both these Amendments that have been proposed. But it may be that Her Majesty's Government will have points of drafting, and may prefer other words to either or both of them. What I think they cannot object to is putting in the very forefront of the Bill what they admit to be one of the primary duties of the Commission whose functions are set out in this first clause.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, rightly mentioned how very long he has been working for the cause of the amenity societies and many of the interests with which we are concerned in this Bill. In the matter of National Parks I think that possibly I was working even earlier than the period to which the noble Lord referred. I remember, a quarter of a century ago, when I was a Minister in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, my association with the late Mr. John Dower, who wrote a masterly White Paper on the subject of National Parks; and that was in fact, I think, the document which eventually led to this legislation. We should be giving, as the noble Lord, Lord Kahn, pointed out, a wrong impression of what was the purpose of this Bill, unless the description of what is the main object of the National Parks legislation found some place in the very first clause.

I do not wish to weary the Committee, but I do not think that any noble Lord, in any of the speeches that have been made, has expressed any doubt about the principle of this Amendment, except, I think, my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, who thought that perhaps it was unnecessary. Perhaps he will take it from me, as a lawyer, that it is rather a mistake to omit a most important function of the proposed Commission when setting out its general functions in the very first clause.

The other doubt was voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, who quite rightly emphasised another purpose of the Bill—namely, access facilities, and so on; but that must be without prejudice to the main purpose for which the National Parks were created, which was to preserve for all time their natural beauty. In my view it is essential that we amend this first clause.


I can beat the noble Lord by at least ten years, but I did not rise to tell him that. I will explain to him in the Library later. I rise as a lawyer to dot the i's and cross the t's of what has been said. It has been mentioned that in Clause 2 these words appear in another connection, and it has been suggested that that is sufficient. But, of course, legally speaking, the words in Clause 2 apply only to the functions which are described as the "new functions of the Commission". They are not of general implication; in other words, they come under the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. Therefore I strongly support his general argument.


I am a great lover of the countryside. I have lived a great part of my life there, I have participated in most of the sports and recreations, including shooting pheasants and hunting foxes, so I am really concerned with the preservation of the beauty and quietness of the countryside. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was probably overlooking one point when he said that access for the townsfolk to the countryside should be without prejudice to the preservation of the beauties of the countryside. Surely that is well covered in Clause 2, where it is laid down that the Commission, in encouraging townspeople to have their recreations in the countryside, are to have regard to the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside". What I object to about the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and to a smaller extent the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is that they would throw the whole object of the Bill out of balance. The inclusion of such an Amendment would be to misconceive the primary object of the Bill.

What is the primary object of the Bill? In the first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum, which is printed in the forefront of the Bill, it says: The Bill provides in Clause 1 that the Countryside Commission shall replace, and assume the functions of, the National Parks Commission. Then it says—and it is a pity that these words were not printed in black capital letters— In addition, for the purpose of encouraging the provision of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and opportunities for open air recreation in the countryside, the Commission will have new or extended functions under the Bill. That is the main object of the Bill, to make these countryside beauties accessible to people in the towns.

At the same time there is a warning in Clause 2 that in making these facilities available the Commission must have due consideration for the beauties of the countryside. If, as the Amendment suggests, the balance of the Bill is to be upset and the main object of the Bill is to be to preserve the countryside and not to make additional facilities available for townspeople in the countryside, then I feel the rights and desires of the townspeople will take a very poor second place in this legislation. I feel that every obstacle will be created in order to keep them out. The Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, actually puts the preservation of the beauties of the countryside before the words relating to the provision of facilities in the countryside for the townsfolk. That shows how his mind is working, if I may say so respectfully of one who has done so much in this sphere. While it is true that the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, does not make the same error, yet I feel the whole bias of that first clause would be switched from the interest of the townsmen to the interests of the countryside if these Amendments were accepted.

Speaking as a former country landowner, there is the further point that if precedence were given in Clause 1 to the preservation of the beauties of the countryside, might not the Government get a great many complaints from country landowners about the way this wicked Government were trying to interfere with the way they used their land? That is something they ought to think about.


May not the country landowner even complain?


He often does complain. When I was a country landowner the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, was a Ministry of Health Inspector, and he came down to conduct a public inquiry into a proposal to drive a main road right through the middle of my nice little estate. Fortunately, the scheme was killed. Country landowners will complain, indeed they will continually complain, but this gives them something else to complain about, and that is why I do not like it. This matter is adequately covered in Clause 2. We are always complaining that we have too many civil servants, too many official forms, so why do we want to have too many clauses in this Bill? I suppose the Amendment.


I apologise for reminding some of my noble friends that I was Member of Parliament for a part of the beautiful Lake District for some twenty years and saw the initial Act relating to this subject go through another place. During my twenty years as Member of Parliament I observed the deterioration in the amenities and beauties of the Lake District. It is a process that goes on, and I fear must go on; but it should go on as slowly as possible. It is true, of course, that modern transport offers the opportunity for townspeople to enjoy the amenities, the prospects, the views and the country air, which were not available to them in earlier times; and none of us can stand in the way of that kind of progress. But if you press this process too far and too fast you destroy the very enjoyment which you want a great many more people to have. For that reason, and because of my experience, I support some kind of Amendment like that moved by one or other of my two noble friends. I think the emphasis should be laid on the preservation of the amenities and the beauties of the countryside.

In concluding, may I tell a sad story about Canada as I have seen it? I can assure your Lordships that it is relevant and it will be brief. I have fished in Canada, in both Quebec and Ontario, and other Provinces. Except in Quebec all fishing is free, almost everyone has a motor car, and the roads, for some 200 or 300 miles through every big—and even every small—town are marvellous. The result is that millions more people can go to the countryside, and millions of acres of the countryside and nearly all the rivers have been ruined. Here is a real dilemma. If you keep the rivers and the fishing and the countryside in private hands it is undoubtedly better preserved, but it is not enjoyed by very many. If, on the other hand, you make a National Park and open it up, then you tend to destroy its beauty but you allow more people to see this evanescent and fading gift of nature. What are you going to do about it? I urge that we should go slowly and cautiously and not allow great trunk roads and secondary roads—every conceivable means of better access—to be run right through our parks; because if we do, instead of giving beauty to 10 million people we shall ruin the beauty for the extra million who might have had it if we had been more cautious.


I do not think anybody has dealt with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. It seems to me you can have quiet enjoyment of the countryside or noisy enjoyment of the countryside, but you cannot have both at the same time. I remember that many years ago my own county instituted a Private Bill to stop a private corporation from building a motor race track over the South Downs. Many hard words were spoken. The race track never appeared. What the noble Lord said is absolutely true. I feel—being perhaps old fashioned—that large tracts of countryside ought to be preserved for quiet enjoyment, but there may well be in country parks some area for the noisier element in our civilisation, if you can call it such. It cannot, however, be blurred over by a mere matter of wording. It is really a question of what Parliament's intentions are.


There is one point which I do not think has been made. I am not sure what the attitude of the noble Lord who is to reply will be. The words in the name of my noble friend Lord Molson seem to me to be exactly the same as the words in Section 1 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967. So what he is proposing to do is to bring Clause 1 of the Bill we are now considering exactly into line with the Scottish Bill, which I should have thought was something the Government would like.

5.3 p.m.


I have the greatest sympathy for the purpose of both these Amendments, and so far as the content is concerned I think the Committee can agree that there is no possible objection to either of them. I do not know how much your Lordships would wish me to go back over the general purpose of the Bill, but it has been discussed in the debate. It is the purpose of the Bill to do both things: to enable townspeople to go to the countryside in greater numbers than they have, and to enable the countryside to be preserved to a greater degree than in the past. I do not think they are irreconcilable in the mass. It may be that as the new system works out there will be places which are especially preserved to which people are discouraged from going, and other places to which people are encouraged to go and the preservation of which will be made all the harder by that fact; but it will still have to be seen to. The reason why the 1949 Act has both things right at the beginning in Part I, Clause 1(a) and (b), is because that Act was setting up the National Parks Commission and starting it off for the first time. The reason why only one appears in the corresponding clause, Clause 1(2), of the present Bill is that the 1949 Act is carried on, and this Bill provides certain new functions for the renewed Commission; and those functions are, broadly speaking, all in the direction of improving access, containing access and concentrating access in one place.

The objection of the Government to the passage of these Amendments would not be a substantial one. It would be one based on the objection to belt and braces wherever you find them. Let me remind the Committee that the 1949 Act, which continues in force, says that the National Parks Commission shall be charged with the duty of exercising its functions for the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty.


Would the noble Lord allow me to ask him to read whole of that subsection, or may I read it: and particularly in the areas designated under this Act as National Parks or as areas of outstanding beauty. It seems to me that if those words are not repeated in this Bill the implication will be that those functions refer particularly to National Parks and not elsewhere.


I think it is clear that they do refer particularly to National Parks but not exclusively, there being a distinction between particularly and exclusively. There is then the appearance of the phrase at Clause 2(2) in the present Bill, which has been alluded to several times: The Commission shall keep under review all matters relating to…

  • (b) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside…
But, above all, there is Clause 11 of the Bill at present before us, which says: In the exercise of their functions relating to land under any enactment every Minister, government department and public body"… and I take the Countryside Commission to be a public body— shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.


Is the noble Lord certain that the definition of public body does include the Countryside Commission?


I shall have to take advice; I am glad the noble Lord Drought the point up. As the Committee will know and some will regret, it is not so much the Countryside Commission win exercise powers as local authorities, and they, I think, undoubtedly are public bodies. It is there three times, in the 1949 Act which carries right on into the new system, in Clause 2(2) and in Clause 11. Do we need it again? I would advise the House that no, we do not; but, I repeat, not on substantial grounds because there is any danger inherent in it or because it conflicts with the policy the Government introduced in that Bill, but simply because it appears to me that a law is a better law if it does not repeat itself. Having said that, I should like to distinguish between this Amendment and the next Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, which we are coming to.


Before the noble Lord goes on to that, may I say that he said that he thought it better left out of the Bill before us. If it is better left out of the Bill before us, why was it better put in in the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967, where it appears in the first paragraph?


The Scottish Countryside Commission is quite a different animal. It is more independent. It has a lot more powers than the English one. Things it is bound to do should not automatically be carried across into the English Bill. Clause 11, in my view, is sufficient, and for that reason the House would be wrong to reduplicate this phraseology at the very beginning of this Bill. If the House takes another view, I shall not regard it as a tragic matter or one that ought to give rise to any deep dissension. But I think it is clear that the matter is more looked after by Clause 11 in respect of the next Amendment that we are coming to than it is in respect of Lord Molson's Amendment.

It seems to me that the wording of Amendment No. 3, which says that the Commission ought not to do anything which is inconsistent with conserving natural beauty and amenity, is more clearly covered already by Clause 11 than the wording of Amendment No. 2, which places the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and amenity among the purposes for which the Commission as a whole have to exercise their functions. My advice is against it on drafting and legislative grounds, but not on policy grounds.


I should like to express my appreciation of the most helpful and conciliatory attitude that has been adopted by the Parliamentary Secretary. I am very glad to know that he does not feel strongly about these words which I fear I must insist upon inserting in the Bill. If I had any doubt about it, it would not have survived the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. He expressed a point of view about the purpose of this Bill which I think makes it absolutely essential that these words should be here inserted, and in view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said I assume that it will not be necessary for us to go through the formality of dividing.

5.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 92; Not-Contents, 52.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Craigavon, V. Grenfell, L.
Airedale, L. Craigmyle, L. Gridley, L.
Albemarle, E. Daventry, V. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Amherst, E. Derwent, L. Hacking, L.
Atholl, D. Digby, L. Hawke, L.
Audley, Bs. Dilhorne, V. Henley, L.
Balerno, L. Drumalbyn, L. Horsbrugh, Bs.
Barnby, L. Dundonald, E. Howe, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Ebbisham, L. Hurcomb, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Egremont, L. Iddesleigh, E.
Blackford, L. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Inglewood, L.
Boston, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Jellicoe, E.
Bridgeman, V. Falkland, V. Kahn, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Falmouth, V. Kinnoull, E.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Foot, L. Lambert, V.
Buckton, L. Fortescue, E. Long, V.
Burton, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. MacAndrew, L.
Carrington, L. Gage, V. Malmesbury, E.
Chorley, L. [Teller.] Gainsborough, E. Mar, E.
Clinton, L. Glendevon, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V
Clwyd, L. Goschen, V. Meston, L.
Conesford, L. Greenway, L. Milverton, L.
Molson, L. [Teller.] Rathcavan, L. Sempill, Ly.
Monsell, V. Redmayne, L. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Rochdale, V. Somers, L.
Moyne, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly. Strathclyde, L.
Newton, L. St. Aldwyn, E. Swinton, E.
Nugent of Guildford, L. St. Oswald, L. Teviot, L.
Nunburnholme, L. Salisbury, M. Vivian, L.
Ogmore, L. Sandford, L. Wade, L.
Sandys, L. Waldegrave, E.
Beswick, L. Hall, V. Moyle, L.
Blyton, L. Henderson, L. Phillips, Bs.
Bowles, L. Heycock, L. Popplewell, L.
Brookway, L. Hill of Wivenhoe, L. Rowley, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hilton of Upton, L. Rusholme, L.
Burden, L. Hughes, L. Sainsbury, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Hunt, L. St. Davids, V.
Carron, L. Kennet, L. Segal, L.
Champion, L. Kirkwood, L. Serota, Bs.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Latham, L. Shackleton, L.
Crook, L. Leatherland, L. [Teller.] Shepherd, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Lindgren, L. [Teller.] Sorensen, L.
Gaitskell, Bs. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Stonham, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) McLeavy, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Garnsworthy, L. Maelor, L. Taylor of Mansfeild, L
Granville of Eye, L. Mitchison, L. Walston, L.
Granville-West, L. Morrison, L. Williamson, L.
Wootton of Abinger, Bs.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to. Clause 2:

New functions of the Commission


(5) Where it appears to the Commission that the provision and improvement of facilities for enjoyment of the countryside or the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside presents special problems or requires special professional or technical skill, the Commission—

  1. (a) shall notify their opinion to the appropriate local planning authority or other public body, and
  2. (b) on the application of any such authority or other body in any case where it appears to the Commission expedient having regard to the provisions of section 1(2) of this Act, and to the provisions of section 5(1) of the Act of 1949 (general provisions as respects National Parks), shall place the services of officers or servants of the Commission, or the services of consultants engaged by the Commission, at the disposal of the authority or other body for such period as may be agreed between them, and on such terms as to payment or otherwise as may be so agreed with the approval of the Minister.

(8) The Commission shall provide, or assist in the provision of, publicity and information services relating to the countryside, to places of beauty or interest therein, or to the functions of the Commission, and shall take such steps as appear to them expedient for securing that suitable methods of publicity are used for the prevention of damage in the countryside and for encouraging a proper standard of behaviour on the part of persons resorting to the countryside.

5.21 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (2)(b), after "countryside" to insert "and the removal of eyesores therein". The noble Lord said I beg to move Amendment No. 4. I hope that the Government will be able to help me here. Subsection (2) of Clause 2 slates the various matters which the Commission are to keep under review, and one of these in paragraph (b), is: the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. I am anxious to know whether that includes the whole concept of the removal of eyesores therein.

In another place there was a prolonged debate as to whether the Commission should have special responsibilities as regards derelict land. I appreciate that there are powers to deal with derelict land in other Statutes, but I think it would be unfortunate if dereliction were regarded as wholly outside the purview or the interest of the Countryside Commission, because there is a great deal of countryside which is spoilt, and indeed sometimes ruined, by derelict land. But, of course, that is not the only form of eyesore. I think your Lordships will at once be able to think of some beautiful view or other which is, at any rate in part, spoilt by one or more eyesores.

Curiously enough, in my experience, although some local authorities are keen and intent to try to remove blots upon the beauty of their areas, others take very little interest in this work. I should have thought that it was desirable that the Countryside Commission ought to have this within its purview, and that it should be normal for the Countryside Commission, as they think fit, to draw the attention of the local authority to practical actions that might be taken, either directly or through the agency of the Commission, to try to restore beauty where beauty is at present marred.

I am not anxious that there should be a duplicate executive function on all this, but I am anxious that the Countryside Commission should have the widest possible terms of reference as regards the beauty of the countryside. The "conservation…of the natural beauty of the countryside" can hardly include the removal of eyesores, because removal and conservation are very different things. But can "enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside" include the removal of eyesores therein? If it can, then I am content, and I will willingly withdraw the Amendment. But I hope that the Government will satisfy themselves that it will not be outside the scope of the Countryside Commission to consider how the beauty of the countryside could be improved if more vigorous action were taken in certain places to remove blots upon it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 37, after ("countryside") insert ("and the removal of eyesores therein").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


I should like very briefly to support this Amendment. We have today such up-to-date, efficient, earth-moving machinery that it is comparatively easy to remove many of the blots on the countryside—slagheaps, for instance. We are told, I think, that we have at present about 150,000 acres of derelict land—probably more. It is said to be divided into about 60,000 acres of excavations and holes, 60,000 acres of slagheaps, and some 30,000 acres of just derelict land. But, of course, where the excavations and holes include gravel pits, these can be very attractive when the water level comes up. The Minister will no doubt tell us that the removal of scars made on the countryside by man would come under "enhancement of the natural beauty" of the countryside. But if enhancement does not cover that, I cannot see why the Minister cannot accept this Amendment.


My Lords, even if "enhancement" covers it, I suggest that it would be better to have some direct words of this kind in the Bill to bring it to the notice of the local authorities that this sort of thing will in future be within their powers. In my experience, it is the positive rather than the negative that is important. It will be within the recollection of all your Lordships what the countryside used to look like when free advertisement all over the country districts was permitted. To-day, as a result of the advertising regulations, our countryside is the most free of advertising and horrid sights of that kind of practically any country in Europe; and certainly this state of affairs contrasts admirably with the situation in the United States. This shows what can be done in one important direction in the way of removing eyesores. I agree with the noble Lord who moved the Amendment that it would be valuable to extend this provision more widely.


I consider that this Amendment would tighten up the Bill a little too much. What would happen to the pit mounds which abound in many parts of the country and which ultimately we should all like to see removed? What would happen to the heaps of china clay which we see in Cornwall? It would be enormously expensive to remove these, and the cost would run into millions of pounds. To impose upon the Commission a stern duty—


This does not impose a duty. It is entirely permissive. That is the whole point of it.


And will the Commission be expected to go about their job with an attitude of mind that they should neglect it? If one puts this provision in the Bill, one obviously expects some sort of action to be taken. Otherwise, why put it in the Bill? If one is going to compel the removal of china clay heaps in Cornwall, and pit mounds, it will mean imposing upon British industry an enormous burden which at the moment it is unfair to ask it to bear.


It would be quite impracticable to remove all the slagheaps and all the mounds of china clay. But they could be planted, comparatively cheaply, with certain grasses and trees which could make some of them look quite attractive. We must also bear in mind that the amount of derelict land increases every year by about 3,500 acres.


Although I support this Amendment, I would invite the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to consider whether the word "therein" should not be "therefrom". Is not the word "therein" something of a grammatical eyesore?


To clear up one possible misconception, the powers and grants for the clearing of derelict land are dealt with mainly under the Industrial Development Act 1966 and under the Local Government Act 1966. When one refers in the Countryside Bill to eyesores and things that disfigure the countryside, it will more often be likely to be eyesores on a small scale rather than slag heaps or large pieces of derelict land.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked whether "enhancement of the natural beauty" could include the removal of eyesores. I should have thought that it obviously could. If you remove an eyesore, then the beauty of the place is enhanced. If it is not enhanced, one would not bother to remove the eyesore. I cannot prejudge the attitude of the courts, but I cannot imagine anybody bringing a case in the courts against the Countryside Commission for keeping this matter under review because it was not covered by "enhancement", or, if anyone were to be so eccentric as to do that, I cannot conceive the court's finding that it was not covered by "enhancement". But in fact the Bill is more concrete and specific than that, since later on it empowers the Minister to pay grant to local authorities for the removal of things "disfiguring the countryside". It also binds the Minister to obtain the recommenda- tions of the Commission about a scheme for doing this before the grant is paid. So that not only may the Countryside Commission do it, but they positively must do it, because on grants of this sort the Minister will ask for their opinion.

The point was raised that, even if the wording is sufficient in itself, why not put it in again? There are two reasons. First, the "belt and braces" reason,, as on the last Amendment which we considered, and, secondly, the fact that there are a number of grant-attracting functions in this Bill, particularly in regard to the planting of trees and the disposal of litter and if we are going to say that the Countryside Commission must keep under review the removal of eyesores, then logically we should say that they must keep under review all other functions which attract grant. If we do this, the clause will become very cumbrous. For these reasons I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the Amendment.


It is not my intention to press this Amendment, but I should like to make clear that I was thinking, not so much about removing slagheaps or china clay heaps, as about planting schemes to mask old workings that mar the beauty of a hillside. I was anxious to discover whether the Commission would be regarded as having an overall responsibility in these matters, and not merely a responsibility which would swing into action when the Minister consulted them about a local authority's plan. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I can only say that the eyesores must be "therein" before they can be removed "therefrom". I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.36 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved in subsection (5)(b), to leave out "with the approval of the Minister". The noble Lord said: This is a matter to which I attach great importance. It raises the issue of the degree of detailed control—I am inclined to say finicky—which the Minister is to exercise over the new Countryside Commission. My view is that in the last twenty years we have learnt a good deal about financial control. It is now widely accepted that one secures economy better by putting responsibility directly upon those who have to take the spending decisions rather than by watching over every movement and expecting everything to be referred back to some Government Department. Indeed, I have known cases where the net effect of that sort of attitude has been to incur additional expenditure. One takes up a great deal of the time of civil servants in considering whether the Minister can properly be recommended to give approval to some petty item of expense. There must, of course, be control at key points, and the Minister must have power to give broad directions. That is already in the legislation.

I would draw the attention of the Committee to precisely what the Bill will say if this Amendment is not accepted. Clause 1(3)(a) says that the Commission shall have power to make such charges for any of their services as they think fit". Not as somebody else thinks fit, but "as they think fit". Unless we make an amendment, the Bill will say in Clause 2(5) that the Commission may not agree on suitable charges to be made unless they have the approval of the Minister. This is a detailed point in Clause 2(5), and I cannot think that it could conceivably run to any substantial amount of money. Subsection (5) says: Where it appears to the Commission that the provision and improvement of facilities for enjoyment of the countryside or the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside presents special problems or requires special professional of technical skill, the Commission…shall place the services of officers or servants of the Commission, or the services of consultants engaged by the Commission, at the disposal of the authority or other body for such period as may be agreed between them, and on such terms as to payment or otherwise as may be so agreed". Then at the end of the subsection one sees the totally unnecessary words: with the approval of the Minister".

This appears fantastic. A local authority has some special problem and the Commission agree that they will lend that authority a member of their staff for six weeks to advise on handling that special problem. Both the local authority and the Commission are public bodies, yet unless we make this Amendment the Bill will say that the Commission are not trusted to reach an agreement as to what is a fair sum for the local authority to pay to the Commission for the loan of a member of their staff.

How can we get anywhere with this meticulous degree of control? Indeed, how can we get people to serve on the Commission if they are not trusted with these small matters? I am well aware that the former National Parks Commission suffered under this procedure for twenty years. I am well aware that when I was a responsible Minister the Commission were not too happy about the degree of detailed financial control imposed on them under the 1949 Act. But I am not raising that point now. What I am raising here is what we should say in this Bill which deals with an entirely new power of a new Commission.

I have no idea what total amount of money the Government think may be involved in subsection (5), or how large a sum it appears the Commission might waste by miscalculating the cost of lending a member of their staff to a local authority for a short time. But I suggest most strongly to your Lordships that this is not a case which justifies Parliament—that is to say, ourselves—imposing on the Commission the duty of going back to the Ministry for specific approval whenever they want to enter into a tiny transaction of this sort. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 27, leave out ("with the approval of the Minister").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


The noble Lord spoke as though that which was to be subject to the approval of the Minister on these occasions was only the terms as to payment or otherwise. But I am advised that not only is that governed by the approval of the Minister, but also the disposal itself of the persons; that is to say, the Commission can lend staff to local authorities with the approval of the Minister and then, that being subject to the approval of the Minister, the rate, or how the payment is to be settled, is also subject to the approval of the Minister. In seeking to remove those words the noble Lord removes the Minister's control over not only the rate of pay, but also over the loan of the staff.

The Countryside Commission will not have a grant-in-aid, and their accounting and personnel functions will be discharged by the Ministry as is now, and always has been, the case with the existing National Parks Commission. The officers and servants of the new Countryside Commision, as is already the case with the old one, are appointed subject to the approval of the Minister and the Treasury. In short, they are part of the Civil Service. Although they take their orders from the Commission, yet so far as pay, promotion and all the rest of it go, they are part of the Civil Service. Therefore, it seems natural to the Government that, if they are to transfer their services temporarily and provisionally to some other body, it should be with the approval of the Minister. Of whom else could one seek approval in such circumstances?

I agree with the noble Lord that this could be administered in a way which would be impossible and finicky, but I assure him that it will not be. I have very much in mind the question of short loans. Do the Commission have to go to the Minister every time they want to lend an officer to a county council for half a day for some problem? Obviously, this provision will be administered in such a way that that is not necessary, and categories and classes of loans of staff up to a certain period and so on can be approved administratively with blanket authority. In other words, I do not see that the presence of these words is either unusual or likely to lead to finicky restrictions, and I accordingly advise the Committee against accepting the Amendment.


I have no intention of withdrawing this Amendment, because whatever the noble Lord has said—and, of course, he speaks with entire sincerity—we must on the face of the Bill protect the Countryside Commission from detailed and meticulous control over all loans of this kind which may take

place. It seems doctrinaire to say that, because these members of the Commission's staff are paid direct by the Government, the Commission cannot be trusted to lend their services to help with a job which it is the Commission's duty to help with.

I find it difficult to understand the interpretation placed by the Parliamentary Secretary on the extent of cover which the words, "with the approval of the Minister" include. I must say it is extremely hard, considering that there is a comma in line 26 after "them", to cast the words "with the approval of the Minister" right back to the word "disposal" in line 24. But whether the noble Lord is right or wrong in that, if we leave the Bill unamended it means that the Commission must get authority from the Minister, either general or specific, every time they lend any member of their staff to mother body. That really is absurd. It is as absurd as saying that the Com mission can be trusted to put through local calls, but they may not put through trunk calls without seeking ministerial approval.

It is exactly this kind of matter which one inquiry after another has concluded ought to be put outside executive financial control. I am quite certain that, if those people who are appointed to the Commission are worthy to carry on the very considerable responsibilities towards the English countryside with which they will be charged, they are equally worthy to be entrusted with the responsibility of settling fair terms for the loan members of their staff to a local authority. I must press this Amendment.

5.54 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 48.

Ailwyn, L. Burton, L. Falmouth, V.
Airedale, L. Carrington, L. Foot, L.
Albemarle, E. Clinton, L. Fortescue, E.
Atholl, D. Clwyd, L. Gage, V.
Audley, Bs. Conesford, L. Gainsborough, E.
Balerno, L. Cork and Orrery, E. Goschen, V. [Teller.]
Barnby, L. Craigavon, V. Greenway, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Daventry, V. Grenfell, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Derwent, L. Gridley, L.
Boston, L. Digby, L. Grimston of Westbury, L
Bridgeman, V. Dilhorne, V. Hacking, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Egremont, L. Hawke, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Erroll of Hale, L. Henley, L.
Buckton, L. Falkland, V. Horsbrugh, Bs.
Howe, E. Merrivale, L. Salisbury, M.
Hurcomb, L. Milverton, L. Sandford, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Molson, L. Sandys, L.
Inglewood, L. Monsell, V. Sempill, Ly.
Jellicoe, E. Morris of Grasmere, L. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
Kinnoull, E. Newton, L. Somers, L.
Lambert, V. Nugent of Guildford, L. Strang, L.
Lloyd, L. Nunburnholme, L. Strathclyde, L.
Long, V. Ogmore, L. Swinton, E.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Poltimore, L. Thurlow, L.
MacAndrew, L. Rathcavan, L. Vivian, L.
Malmesbury, E. Redmayne, L. Wade, L.
Mar, E. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.] Waldegrave, E.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. St. Oswald, L. Windlesham, L.
Beswick, L. Hall, V. Rowley, L.
Bowles, L. Henderson, L. Rusholme, L.
Brockway, L. Hill of Wivenhoe, L. Sainsbury, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.] St. Davids, V.
Burden, L. Hughes, L. Segal, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Kennet, L. Serota, Bs.
Champion, L. Latham, L. Shackleton, L.
Crook, L. Leatherland, L. Shannon, E.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Lindgren, L. Shepherd, L.
Crock, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Sorensen, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Longford, E. Stonham, L.
Gaitskell, Bs. McLeavy, L. Strabolgi, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Mitchison, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Garnsworthy, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Popplewell, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Granville-West, L. Raglan, L. Williamson, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.58 p.m.

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL moved, after subsection (6), to insert: () Notwithstanding the provisions of the General Development Order any development or any class of development which it is proposed to undertake within the area of a local planning authority within whose boundary lies the whole or any part of a National Park, Nature Reserve or area of special scientific interest (as defined in section 13 of this Act) shall be submitted to the local planning authority and the Commission for planning permission.

The noble Duke said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should apologise to your Lordships' Committee for entering into what has so far been a purely English discussion, but I feel strongly about this point and I made it perfectly clear when the Scottish Bill was going through your Lordships' House that I would pursue the matter in the English Bill if I did not think it was satisfactorily dealt with, and I could not resist the opportunity to bring it up during the Committee stage of this Bill.

When the Scottish Bill was published I was extremely disappointed to see that the Countryside Commission were to be given no control over the activities of the nationalised industries in so far as their planning powers were concerned, and both on the Committee stage and on the Report stage of the Scottish Bill I moved an Amendment to the effect that nationalised industries in what were called in the Scottish Bill areas of special planning control should have to get planning permission for their developments. In addition, on the Report stage I widened it slightly and said that all other exempt buildings—and the other category of exempt buildings is comprised mainly of small agricultural buildings—should also have to get planning permission in these special planning areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, resisted the Amendment on behalf of the Government, but said: My Lords, should we not perhaps be optimistic, rather than pessimistic, and if there is to be an English Bill and if it is to be modelled on the Scottish Bill should we not at least hope that they will accept Clause 66 as well?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24/10/67; col. 1531.] Clause 66 of the Scottish Bill helped this point a little, and it is also in the English Bill as Clause 11.

I do not think this goes anything like far enough, and I am convinced that until the nationalised industries and small agricultural buildings are compelled to get planning permission in particularly beautiful areas, we shall run into more trouble, such as the Abingdon gas works, the Cow Green water reservoir, and the pylons which are springing up over Western Sussex from near Petworth to Midhurst—even though the Government's own inspectors came out against that particular route. I should have thought that one of the main functions and duties of the Countryside Commission should have been to control this sort of development. I was bitterly disappointed to discover that the English Bill was even more vague on this matter than was the Scottish Bill. So far as I can see, the Countryside Commission in England will have even less power to control this development than they had in Scotland.

The reason why the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, resisted my Amendment to the Scottish Bill was, I think, two-fold. First, because, due to the position of the Secretary of State, the control of nearly all the nationalised industries in Scotland is ultimately vested in the Secretary of State. Therefore, he could take a broader and more overall view than his opposite number in England where, of course, the nationalised industries are run by the Ministry of Power, the Ministry of Transport or some other Department. But there is no sort of overall cohesion between all these Ministries. And, secondly, the noble Lord resisted the Amendment because he thought it would be an intolerable burden on the various statutory bodies to have to seek this planning permission.

I have made this Amendment apply only to the areas of the National Parks, the nature reserves, or areas of special scientific interest. I think that this is, on the whole, too small an area. I should much rather make it apply to all the open countryside; but I realise that perhaps this would have been a great burden on some of the nationalised industries and that, as a start, we could establish, at least in these particular places where there are special amenity considerations, that the statutory bodies should have to seek planning permission both from the local planning authority and from the Countryside Commission.

Pressure on space is growing all the time, and there are going to be more and more cases like this. I think this s obvious, and I think we are in great danger of losing what beautiful areas of the countryside are still left in their natural state. I would add that I think the English countryside is even less capable of dealing with this than is the Scottish countryside, because, in "Caledonia stern and wild", in many places you do not honestly notice too much one oh electricity pylon or even a whole row of them. But these enormous pylons on the Sussex Downs tend to dwarf the Downs and reduce what is a very beautiful part of England to an annexe of the worst part of Victorian industrial Lancashire.

I should like to quote from an article which appeared in the Daily Mail on Monday July 31 last year. It was headed: The Spoilers. Must this destruction of Britain's beauty go on? It went on to quote Professor Colin Buchanan, who said: One day we may wake up to a sudden realisation that the countryside is no longer worth living in. The countryside could be rolled flat by the cars of millions, anxious to escape from the towns. Networks of powerlines and highways could crisscross the whole country. It is a long article, and I will not lead all of it. It went on to say—that is, the article, and not Professor Buchanan: Who are the real villains among the Spoilers? The service industries, the Government Departments, the 'Statutory Undertakers' as they are so ironically called. For they, unlike anyone else, have a high degree of immunity from planning control. The article goes on: Take the Electricity Board who are masters at riding roughshod over other people's interests. They employed a brilliant device for getting their countrywide grid systems exactly where they wanted them…irrespective of whether they damaged the country's beauty. They asked for approval of the position of each pylon in the grid individually. To oppose them was to suggest ruining the whole alignment of the grid. The cost, of course, would have been fantastic. No argument could support it. And as Graham Ashworth, Head of t le Civic Trust for North-West, says: No doubt many lies have been told about the relevant costs of re-alignments and under-grounding.' The article concludes: How is the spoiling to be stopped? Clearly the immunity of Government Departments and Service undertakings from ordinary planning control has got to come to an end. But more—much more—is needed if Britain's natural beauty is to be preserved.

I am not going anything as like as far as this. All I have suggested is that their immunity from planning control should come to an end in special areas of the countryside where there are particular reasons either of overwhelming beauty or special scientific interest. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 33, at end insert the said subsection.—(The Duke of Atholl.)


I support entirely the spirit in which the noble Duke has put forward his Amendment. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether the new clause which I think is now being inserted in the Town and Country Planning Bill in another place will meet the noble Duke's point to some extent? I think there is provision there for submitting the work of statutory undertakers to the arbitrament of the local planning committee. Of course the question of other forms of activity, like the various forms of agriculture, is entirely different. I do not know whether there are general conditions attaching to National Parks in respect to such buildings; but I know from experience that anything is better than to have to submit a whole spate of applications for directions. If some more general method of control is possible, I hope it will be enacted.

6.8 p.m.


It is something of a popular misconception that the statutory undertakers are free from planning control. They are not; they are subject to it like everybody else. What gives rise to all the difficulty is that when they are refused permission to do what they want the local authority may, in certain circumstances, be bound to pay them compensation for that refusal. This is not the case with other applicants for planning permission.


Am I not right in saying that they are also free of planning control if they propose developments on land which they already own—as was the case with the Abingdon gas works? I am sure that this was the trouble in that case, not the compensation. I agree that the local authority had to pay them compensation, but the fact is that the statutory undertakers were free of planning control because they already owned that particular site.


The noble Duke is quite right. They were initially free of planning control, but they could have been made subject to it—and were made subject to it—by administrative action of the Minister, the nature of which for the moment I have forgotten. For that I apologise to your Lordships. It is not the lack of planning control which gives rise to the difficulty. It is their duty to pay compensation which very often causes the local authorities not to exercise the perfectly good controls they have.

To turn to the Amendment, it is not the General Development Order that gives the statutory undertakers their privileged position with regard to planning, and the passage of this Amendment would not affect the position of the statutory undertakers at all. What it would affect would be a whole mass of very small developments done by ordinary, small people. The noble Duke spoke as though it would apply only in National Parks and the other areas suggested in his Amendment. But the Committee will see that the Amendment is actually drawn so as to apply throughout the area of any planning authority which contains a National Park, Nature Reserve or area of special scientific interest or part of one of those things. So that in the case of any county which contains one corner of one site of special scientific interest the G.D.O. would be suspended by the Amendment right across the county. This would apply to a very large part of England. I cannot say how large, but certainly a very major change in the law would result from the acceptance of this Amendment.

A General Development Order gives (this has been accepted throughout the existence of these Orders) a basic freedom from planning control for many minor acts of development, both by individuals and by organisations. To subject a very considerable part of the country to planning control over such small matters as the enlargement of a dwelling-house within the 10 per cent. tolerance which is allowed, or the erection of a fence, or even painting the outside of a house—let alone things like agricultural buildings —would, I submit, run the risk of bringing planning control into disrepute. The G.D.O. was not always there. It was introduced because people were annoyed at having to get permission to put up a fence or add a toolshed to the back of their house, and the Government of the day said, "O.K.; you can do this without asking permission." If we go back and abolish that, we are likely to run into all the troubles the presence of which caused the G.D.O. to be introduced in the first place.

One would also run into compensation difficulty, because either compensation would be payable on refusal of development permission under the noble Duke's Amendment, if it fell within Part II of the Third Schedule to the Planning Act; or, if it did not, compensation would be denied for refusing development which would rank for compensation if it was refused somewhere else in the country where the noble Duke's Amendment did not apply. Both are major difficulties against accepting the Amendment, but the main argument, I think, against the Amendment is that the purpose which the noble Duke seeks to achieve can be achieved already, and in a much smaller and more detailed and sensitive manner, by the use of the Article 4 direction.

This is something for which the planning authority applies to the Minister. The Minister is asked to make a direction, and he makes a direction under Article 4 of the Planning Act which has an effect somewhat similar to that which the noble Duke seeks. But the Minister could make it in respect of quite a small place, in a small area—in one parish, or half a parish, or round one lake—whatever it may be. I think that the Committee would be well advised to stick to the well-tried procedure and to remember that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government has said that he will look with a more favourable eye than has hitherto been the case on applications for Article 4 directions. We should leave it at that, because it is a procedure that may be applied sensitively in small areas and is free from growing disadvantages which are wide and extremely rigid, and appertain to the noble Duke's Amendment.


Can the noble Lord say anything about my question as to the effect of the new clause going into the new Town Planning Bill, and whether it will go some way to meet the feelings of the Duke about the control of statutory undertakers, which I quite agree is largely a matter of compensation?


It can only be a guess about the feelings of the noble Duke, but my guess is that it probably will go some way.


I realise that this question may be difficult to answer, but can the noble Lord say whether the West Sussex pylons were subject to an Article 4 direction?


Whether or not the pylons pass through any area in which an Article 4 direction is in operation is a question of which I am afraid I should need notice. The direction would not have made any difference. This was a proposal for development by a statutory undertaker to which there were objections. The objections gave rise to inquiries, after which decisions were reached by the Government. That is the normal procedure. While we are talking about these pylons, I should like to record to the Committee my doubts about how useful it is to quote general assertions that there must have been a lot of lies told about the differential in cost in burying wires or allowing them to go overhead. Such assertions can be of interest or value only when a given statement is asserted to be a lie and the matter can be looked into. Except on those occasions, I think that it is probably not worth repeating to the Committee.


The point I was trying to make regarding the West Sussex pylons was whether the Countryside Commission are to have any power to say that they think certain development would be a pity, or whether they will have the power to block such development completely if the Commission think that the development will absolutely ruin a particular part of England; or whether the Minister will in no way have to consult the Countryside Commission before giving a decision on such a matter. It seems to me that the Countryside Commission are to have remarkably little power to stop development which they consider undesirable, unless they can go to the Minister and say, "We think this is going too far." I believe that the National Parks Commission did this so far as Cow Green was concerned and, of course, as we all know, no notice was taken at all. That is the point I am trying to make. I fully accept that my Amendment is defective and goes much further in many ways than I should want, and not far enough in some other ways. I wonder whether the Minister can comment on that.


The noble Duke is quite wrong in saying that no notice whatever was taken of the National Parks Commission's view about Cow Green. The greatest possible notice was taken of it by the Government, and I suspect also by your Lordships' House which took a decision on the Bill. The fact was that it was held by the constitutional organs from whom the decision had to come that the view of the National Parks Commission had, unfortunately, to be overridden in view of the greater economic necessity. The Countryside Commission will be perfectly free, as the National Parks Commission now are, to let the Minister know their views about this sort of development. They will not, of course, be able to block the development because they are not a decision-taking organ in the planning structure—they are an advisory and consultative body.


I have no intention of pressing this Amendment. I fully realise that it is very defective, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.18 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (8), after "services" to insert "and printed material suitable for use in schools". The noble Lord said: I move this Amendment principally to raise the question of co-operation between the Commission and the schools of England and Wales. During our Second Reading debate there was some mention of the part which education would have to play if townsmen in particular are to learn to enjoy to the full the amenities of the countryside, and the additional facilities which may be available to them when the Bill has reached the Statute Book, without in the process creating a nuisance for other people, whether country dwellers or town dwellers. I think it is accepted by the Committee that this is a proper function for the schools, though the process of education ought not to end with the schools.

In another place Amendments were put forward which suggested that the National Parks Commission should in some sense take the initiative in influencing school curricula with the help of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and the constitutional point was rightly made that not even the Secretary of State can dictate in this country what shall be taught in schools. I hope that my Amendment avoids any constitutional pitfall of that kind, and I trust that the purpose of it, if not the actual words, may be universally acceptable.

It seeks to amend subsection (8) of Clause 2, which says: The Commission shall provide…publicity and information services relating to the countryside, to places of beauty or interest therein… If the Countryside Commission were to produce a kind of teaching manual for the benefit of teachers in schools and elsewhere I am not at all sure that this could properly be called either publicity or information. I am extremely anxious that we should get this Bill drafted so that the Commission shall not find themselves debarred from providing schools with precisely the kind of information about the countryside which teachers want.

This seems to me the most appropriate point at which to raise the whole question of how the Government see cooperation developing between the Countryside Commission and the schools of England and Wales, and I greatly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in replying, will be able to say something about that in general terms. If in addition he says that the phrase "publicity and information services" is sufficiently wide to include everything in the way of teaching materials which the schools and teachers might require for this intensely important task of educating those who are growing up in appreciating the countryside and in how not to spoil the countryside, then I should not press that any additional words should be inserted, but it seems to me desirable that somewhere in this Bill there should be a recognition that co-operation between the Commission and the teachers will be of the greatest importance. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 40, after "services" insert the said words.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


I do not know whether I can usefully reinforce the remarks of my noble friend, but I feel that this is a matter of importance. In schools in certain districts where the countryside is more accessible than in others and closely associated with urban areas there is a remarkable ignorance among children about how they should behave in the country. I think it is the absence of instruction by the teachers that brings this about. I have particularly in mind the frequent occurrence of fires on commons near towns, where it is well known that children are responsible because it is "fun" to see the fire engines coming. They also set fire to hay ricks or trample down growing crops. If there were a proper attempt on the part of the teachers to explain to children how they should behave, a lot of this trouble could be avoided. It is well understood that the Government themselves are not responsible for curricula in schools; that responsibility lies in the hands of the local authority; but, as my noble friend has said, there is room for appropriate literature to be put in the hands of those who have the opportunity to present the right thinking to children in schools. For that reason, I support this proposal.


Perhaps I should add that the present National Parks Commission distribute to schools a great deal of printed material dealing not only with questions of interest about the countryside in general but also with this specific question of countryside behaviour. We made a very wide circulation of the Countryside Code. I imagine that not enough is done and perhaps sometimes the Commission's literature may miss its mark, but certainly the Commission have done a great deal of propaganda among the schools.


Could the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, say how wide a distribution there has been of the Countryside Code to which the noble Lady has referred? It is very good. And could the noble Lord say at what cost?


I think the noble Lord intended this more as a probing Amendment than as an action Amendment. I was glad to hear the reasons which caused him to put it down, because I was not clear what he had in mind. The lack of any such provision as is in this Amendment has by no means prevented the National Parks Commission from putting out printed material for the use of schools. My noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger has mentioned the Countryside Code, which is famous in our schools. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, inquired whether I had any facts about its distribution. 'What I can say is that one of the Commission's wall sheets was displayed in 28,000 local authority schools. I do not have die cost at my fingertips, but the Committee will see that this is a large achievement.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, specifically mentioned a teaching manual, which I must say seems to me an excellent idea. I cannot imagine that a freedom which has been large enough to allow the Commission to put out wall sheets and the Countryside Code would not be big enough to allow them to put out a manual for teachers, but I will look into the matter and if there is any doubt in anybody's mind we will take steps. The Government hope that there will be more direct contact between the Commission aid the schools and we are not aware of any obstacle to this development. I entirely share the noble Lord's view of the way it ought to happen.


It is true that this was a probing Amendment principally, but it was just a little more. If it had not been put down there might have been no opportunity during the whole of the Committee stage to discuss this important aspect of the future. I am familiar with and highly appreciate the literature that has been produced in the past by the National Parks Commission. I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would have gone so far as to say that the Department of Education and Science was as thoroughly seized of the importance of this work that needs to be done in schools as is, I am sure, the National Parks Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Perhaps he can give that assurance or can say that he will not rest until there is equal keenness in that other Department. I think he will appreciate that one needs keenness everywhere. If he would like to say something about that, I will defer my withdrawal of the Amendment to give him an opportunity to do so.


I can readily give the noble Lord the second assurance he asked for; namely, that I will not rest until I have done what can be done by someone in my position to ensure that the situation is as the noble Lord wishes it to be, if indeed it is not already. That is the only reason why I cannot give the first assurance, because I regret that I have not informed myself of what the Department of Education and Science does about this matter. If the noble Lord wishes to raise it again at a later stage of the Bill, I will tell him the result of my inquiries and my urgings.


May I express gratitude to the noble Lord, and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.31 p.m.

LORD MOLSON moved, after subsection (8), to insert: () The Commission may with the approval of the Minister acquire hold and manage land in a National Park to be administered by them for the purposes specified in section 5(1) of the Act of 1949.

The noble Lord said: The section of the 1949 Act to which this Amendment refers reads as follows: The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas specified in the next following subsection, and for the purpose of promoting their enjoyment by the public. It has long been thought to be a regrettable omission in the Act of 1949 that the National Parks Commission had no power to acquire land and to hold it for the purposes for which it was appointed. In two Reports by the National Parks Commission in the past they have regretted this omission. We are fortunate in having with us now the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who was the Chairman of the National Parks Commission at the time when they drew attention to this lacuna in the Act. I will leave it to him to explain to your Lordships in what circumstances the Commission felt they were at a disadvantage in not having this power. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 46, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Molson.)


I wish to support this Amendment. The kind of powers which the Amendment would give to the Commission were strongly advocated, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said, by the National Parks Commission in 1965 and 1966. Indeed, this was one of the key recommendations in the plan which they put to the Minister at that time. In effect, the recommendation was that the Commission should possess powers to act in the matter of the acquisition of land and to possess in this matter powers concurrent with those possessed by local authorities.

I will, with your Lordships' permission, quote two brief passages from the Commission's submission to the Minister. They said first that what they wanted was: a central body able to hold land, particularly in National Parks but sometimes outside them too, and to secure its management for the public benefit. They said that this was plainly needed to step in when local planning authorities fail to act—e.g."— and these are the examples they quoted of the action which the Commission would take if they had those powers— to protect view-points and views, create facilities needed, and secure inner, remoter, motorless ones for walkers, riders, climbers, naturalists. Then a little later on the Report says: The Commission continue to be in no doubt whatever of the urgent need within the National Parks to make certain of the protection of the remaining reserves of solitude and wildness for the public enjoyment of them now and in the future. That general requirement is not met, or only partially met, by Clause 4 of the Bill, which provides for the acquisition, holding and management of land by the Commission, but only in certain special circumstances; namely, the circumstances in which the Commission will carry on experimental projects and schemes. That is only a very limited sphere.

The lack of this general power has over the years hampered the action of the Commission and has been to the detriment of the countryside. That is not in any way to attribute negligence to the local authorities. What happens is that properties come into the market which it would be in every way desirable to acquire for National Park purposes. In that situation a number of obstacles may arise. First, the purposes for which the property would be acquired by local authorities may not fall within the purposes for which alone local authorities are entitled to grant and for the purchase. The Minister of State explained in another place on December 14 that the purposes for which local authorities may now earn grant for land acquisition in National Parks are, first, for securing access, and secondly for the purposes of country parks. Those would be the powers under this new Bill. And here let me say in parenthesis that it is much to be desired that no country park will ever be established in a National Park.

The scope of the present Amendment is much wider than what is now proposed in the Bill, and I think rightly so. The purposes are any of those covered by Section 5(1) of the 1949 Act; that is to say, National Park purposes in general.

So much for the first obstacle. A second obstacle is that some of the National Parks are situated in poorer counties, and the cost of land purchase, even with grants, even for the limited purposes for which grant is available, may be a strain on their financial resources. A third obstacle—and this kind of obstacle has in fact arisen—is that while the park planning committee may want to purchase, the county council may for financial reasons be unwilling to agree. It is in view of these limitations upon the freedom of action that we in the National Parks Commission thought there ought to be concurrent powers vested in the Commission to act, if for one reason or another local authorities are unable or unwilling to act.

It has been objected that there is no need for these powers to vest in the Commission because the Minister himself already has under Section 14 of the old 1949 Act powers as wide as are now proposed in this Amendment, and those powers will continue to subsist. That is true. But for all the years that I was with the Commission Section 14 was a dead letter. Not once in twelve years did we succeed in persuading the Ministry to use the powers of Section 14. That, I think, is typical of the attitude of White- hall to National Parks. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, has been either more fortunate, more skilful or more persuasive, since now at last, for the first time, the Minister has bought some land—a large area—in the Snowdonia National Park. But one swallow does not make a summer, and that seems to me to be no reason for denying these powers to the Commission.

The Commission are well qualified to exercise those powers. The Commission have a wider experience of National Park needs than any single local authority. The Commission also have a more intimate acquaintance with National Parks and their problems than the Ministry. There is nothing new about this proposal. The desirability of the acquisition of land by the National Parks Commission was clearly stated by the Hobhouse Committee, whose Report was the basis of Lord Silkin's Act. What the Hobhouse Committee said was that they thought the Commission would find it desirable to acquire from time to time areas of particular beauty, historical interest or recreational value. For all these reasons, I hope the Government will think again about this important Amendment.


I hope that the Government will be able to accept this Amendment, or at any rate go some distance towards accepting it. The difficulties which arise from what the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has just been pointing out are within my own knowledge. The amount of time and energy which is put into trying to circumvent them is out of all proportion. It is sometimes possible, for example, to make an arrangement by which the National Trust will become the owners of some particular area, but it would obviously be much more sensible, and would establish a much more workable arrangement, if the National Parks Commission had these powers themselves; and all this energy, which frequently fails, as Lord Strang has pointed out, would not be put into the effort to find ways round the lack of powers which at present exists. Therefore I hope the Government will be able to make a gesture to accept this Amendment.


As everybody concerned with this matter will know, this Amendment really takes us back to square one. It goes back to the basic philosophy of the whole Bill and the whole idea of the sort of animal the Countryside Commission is to be. When the White Paper was in preparation and consultations were going forward to give birth to the White Paper which we discussed in this House two years before the Bill ever came to us—years ago—it was an open question whether the lead should be taken throughout by local authorities, or taken throughout by the Countryside Commission, a Countryside Commission which was much tougher and stronger than the one we have in this Bill. For reasons which will be very familiar to those who know the history, although there was a prima facie case for doing it either way, what was quite clear was that it could not be done both ways. We must have one or other body as the executive organ.

The reasons for making it the local authority were primarily that we had local government, that we have had local government for a long time, that the local authorities had been doing it for a long time in the National Parks, with the joint committees, and that they had been doing a lot of other things outside the National Parks for a long time; and although some of them were not as good at it as they ought to be and did not do as much as they should, yet, sooner than put the boot on the other foot and hand everything to the Countryside Commission, we should try to get a law which would encourage the worst local authorities to be a little better. That was the decision taken then. I do not pretend it was an easy decision to take. I think it was right, but I am certain we should not now change it.

The Bill is pointing towards the executive function of the local authorities, backed where necessary by the Minister and an advisory, consultative, philosophical, stimulating, think-it-all-out function for the Countryside Commission, with the one single exception of powers to acquire land for experimental purposes, which is not in question with this Amendment. This Amendment would go back on that. It would be a not very thin end of a rather large wedge. It would reintroduce the question of concurrent powers to its full extent. The reasons against concurrent powers are reasons which have been discussed at very great length in the House of Commons and accepted by the Opposition on Second Reading. It was accepted that the Commission should not have concurrent powers. I can only advise this Committee not to adopt this Amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Strang, referred to the history of purchase by the Minister, the history of acquisition of land by the Minister, in National Parks. He said that he took it as an indication of the general attitude of Whitehall towards these matters that during his 12 years with the National Parks Commission he had not been able to get any Minister to do it. I think that that is a bit unfair to Whitehall. He might just as well have taken it as an indication of the general attitude of the Government then in power to these matters. I take pride, as a Party man, that it has been a Labour Minister who has acquired large parts of Snowdonia. I do not say it is going to be done every day in future, but I am glad it was we who did it. I think that, so far as concurrent powers go, and powers as an essential organ to own land for these purposes, those powers should remain where they are, in the hands of the Minister, and not be duplicated into the hands of the Commission.


I cannot say that I think the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary is very convincing. It is of course quite true that the general philosophy of the whole of this legislation is, so far as possible, that reliance should be put upon the local authorities. It is equally the case that the Government have indicated on a number of occasions that where the local authorities do not act they are prepared to take reserve powers themselves. There seems to be no reason in logic why reserve powers should not also be granted to the Parks Commission.

As regards the attitude which has been indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary, that it is wrong unduly to interfere with local authorities, I am speaking from memory but I think it is paragraph 13 of the White Paper to which he referred which expresses the Government's dissatisfaction with the unwillingness of certain of the county councils to set up joint planning boards for National Parks which cover more than one county. Although we have not heard anything more about it since, the Government in that White Paper indicated that they might be prepared to use their default powers under the Act of 1949 to compel local authorities to take that action. If that is so, if there are to be default powers, then I see no particular reason why there should not be powers for the National Parks Commission and the Countryside Commission—either of them —under this new Bill to acquire land to enable them to carry out the purposes that have been laid down for them. It seems to me to he no departure from the general philosophy which the Parliamentary Secretary says underlines this legislation. I do not, however, propose to press the point further to-night, although I reserve my right to raise the matter again on the Report stage. Having said that, I ask permission to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4:

Experimental projects or schemes


(3) For the purpose of their functions under the foregoing provisions of this section the Commission may— (a) with the approval of the Minister acquire land by agreement, or may be authorised by the Minister in a particular case to acquire land compulsorily,

(4) The disposal of land under this section may be by way of sale or exchange, or by the letting of land or the granting of any interest in or right over land, but the Commission shall not under this section dispose of land by way of gift.

(6) The provisions of this section, except for that authorising compulsory purchase of land, shall have effect only for the purpose of removing any limitation imposed by law on the capacity of the Commission, and shall not authorise any act or omission on the part of the Commission which, apart from the said provisions of this section, would be actionable at the suit of any person on any ground other than such a limitation.

6.48 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (3)(a), to leave out all words after "agreement". The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 9. In fact, Amendment No. 12 is consequential on it. We now come to the important Clause 4, which deals with experimental projects or schemes, and I hope that one thing the noble Lord may be able to do in reply to my Amendment is to tell your Lordships a little more about the character of these experimental projects or schemes which the Government have in mind for the Countryside Commission. If he were able to do that at this stage it might save further debate on the subsequent Motion, That the clause stand part.

I am moving this Amendment because, as he may recollect, I said on the Second Reading of the Bill that I took the view that compulsory purchase powers are necessary in certain circumstances, but always dislikeable, because they are necessarily and unavoidably offensive to the individual against whom they are used. And I said that for that reason Parliament ought carefully to scrutinise any proposal coming before it for the extension of compulsory purchase powers or the granting of them in a new field. Here we come to a new field. This is the first of several Amendments I have put down, and in each case I shall be asking the noble Lord whether he can explain the reasons why compulsory purchase powers are sought and justify them to your Lordships' House.

Under this clause the Countryside Commission will get the power to prepare and submit proposals with respect to any area for an experimental project or scheme designed to facilitate the enjoyment of the countryside, or to conserve or enhance its natural beauty or amenity". Personally I back this new idea. I think it is an excellent one. But why, if it is an experiment, should the Commission not take the trouble to find some land which can be acquired by agreement for that purpose? Perhaps I should interpolate that, whereas on the last Amendment we were discussing the acquisition of land in a National Park, under Clause 4(3)(a) the Commission are given power to acquire land by agreement for the purpose of one of these experimental schemes, so that here the rightness or wrongness of the Commission holding land is not in issue. The only point that is in issue under my Amendment is whether the Commission should not confine their experimental schemes to land which can be acquired by agreement.

I find it extremely difficult to envisage any case where the Commission, desiring to carry out an experiment, would find it impossible in the whole of England and Wales to obtain any land by agreement for the purpose of that experiment. Presumably it is the experiment which is the essence of the matter, rather than that it is put down at the particular point "A" or "B". When a local education authority wishes to acquire land compulsorily for a school, that is because it needs a school within a particular, small area so that it shall be convenient for the children who will be going there; and if it is not able to obtain that land in that area by agreement then it must invoke compulsory powers. But there is no situation like this affecting—or likely to affect—the National Parks Commission. It will have the whole of England and Wales to choose from. Why should it not choose some land which it can acquire without compulsory purchase? I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 4, leave out from ("agreement") to end of line 5.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


I agree with the noble Lord that one must always scrutinise with the greatest care proposals for conferring the right of compulsory purchase on bodies which did not have them, or in circumstances where they did not have them before, but I think that much of the answer as to why the Commission need this right was apparent in the noble Lord's objections to it. He asked why the Commission should be let off the trouble of looking round to find another place that they could purchase by agreement; or, indeed, was there ever a place which could not be found somewhere in England or Wales? I think it possible that some of the experiments that the Commission may want to make will depend precisely on their being done in place "A" and not in place "B". I do not want to be drawn into giving examples because if I do so, and the Commission then apply to the Minister for permission in one of the places I have mentioned, and permission is refused, that may be an embarrassment. Conversely, if the Commission apply for permission to use compulsory powers for something that has not been mentioned in Parliament, that fact might be held as a reason against granting permission.

Let us imagine that the Commission wish to experiment about how a country park works out at a new distance from a big city which has never been tried before—either further or nearer. Or it may be a country park containing a certain mix of geographical features, such as a lake, a wood, a hill, and a marsh, and some new arrangement for dispersing people around the park. Or it may be a combination of both—a country park containing a lake, a wood, a hill, and a marsh in unparalleled proximity to a great city. I think it is fair to say that even by "shopping around" England it would be difficult for the Commission to find such a place that they could purchase by agreement. I do not expect this sort of case to arise often; but it is a possibility. I would inform the Committee that in the operation of his power to approve the Commission's proposals compulsorily to acquire the Minister will not give his authority unless he is satisfied that no other suitable site is known to be available for the experiment which the Commission desire to carry out.

The noble Lord also touched on the fact that compulsory purchase is always unavoidably offensive to the person against whom it is exercised. There is one exception to this, and that is in the case of trustees. There are trustees who own land who might prefer to have compulsory purchase exercised against them, in order to put it beyond doubt that they could not be held responsible for going against the articles of their own trust in selling the land in question. That is just an example.

I hope that my reply satisfies the noble Lord and the Committee. The powers would be used as seldom as possible. There might be unique occasions when they would have to be used, and the Minister will make it his business to see that such occasions are unique.


It is slightly relevant to the question that the Forestry Commission in Scotland have, for several years past, had compulsory powers to acquire land for planting and they do plant a considerable area every year. Indeed, I believe that they plant 30,000 acres each year, and acquire far more land, but I am told that on only one occasion have they ever had to use their compulsory powers. So it seems that compulsory powers are not really necessary. After all, one cannot plant trees everywhere, and one has to be fairly selective in the choice of land. Therefore I support this Amendment. I feel that where compulsory powers are not absolutely essential, they ought not to be available.


Has not the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, missed the whole point about compulsory purchase powers? It is the fact that such compulsory powers exist in the background that so frequently makes it possible for the appropriate authority to reach agreement with the potential seller of the land. If those compulsory powers did not exist, the potential seller of the land would be far more awkward than he frequently is at the moment.


I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is greatly helped in this debate by his supporters. The contribution which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is the one thing which has been said that inclines me to press this Amendment. It is thoroughly undesirable that the sale of land by an individual to a public authority should be under threat. I have had the experience of sitting as a minority member of an authority which never bothered to consider whether it could acquire property voluntarily because it found it simpler to clap on a compulsory purchase order and then negotiate. I think the authority imagined it was showing its strength. What it was doing was attracting to itself the maximum and this is a point which I hope the Minister will bear in mind: that it will be of great importance to build up the good name of the Countryside Commission, and that good name is always liable to be impaired if compulsory purchase is invoked. I certainly remember that in the case of the Forestry Commission in Wales, some years ago, when the Forestry Commission sought to use compulsory powers, it took many years before suspicion of the Forestry Commission subsequently died down.

However, I have achieved my main object in raising this Amendment, through the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has given me, and I am very much obliged to him. I will not seek to paraphrase it; I might get the "nuts" in the wrong place. It satisfies me that the Minister would not confirm a compulsory purchase order of this kind—indeed, would not permit the Commission to go forward with it—unless he had satisfied himself that no other land on which the experiment could be carried out could be acquired without compulsory purchase. I, too, can hardly think this situation would ever arise, because, as I said, normally when a local authority is seeking a compulsory purchase order it needs land in a certain small area, whereas here the whole of England and Wales is available. But for my part I am satisfied with the assurance the noble Lord has given, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.2 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (3), to leave out paragraph (g). The noble Lord said: This Amendment seeks to leave out an extraordinary paragraph. As I have said, the general purpose of Clause 4 is wholly acceptable to me, that the Commission should have power to go forward with experimental projects or schemes. But why on earth should they for this purpose need to set up and carry on any business or undertaking of any sort? Let me read to the Committee the paragraph which I seek to omit. It says: For the purpose of their functions under the foregoing provisions of this section the Commission may … (g) with the approval of the Minister and the Treasury, acquire by agreement and carry on or set up and carry on, directly or through an agent, or themselves carry on as agent, any business or undertaking, and, subject to the approval of the Minister and the Treasury, may dispose of any such business or undertaking.

What sort of business or undertaking is it thought that the Commission might conceivably need to acquire or to see up? Why, if there is any power of this kind requisite for the purpose of Clause 4, have not the Government closely defined in paragraph (g) the kind of business which they have in mind? The Minister will no doubt say that the Commission could set up a business under this paragraph only for the purposes of these experimental functions, but that goes very wide indeed. It rests entirely at the discretion of the Commission, subject to the approval of the Treasury, to decide what outlandish kind of business they would like to purchase or carry on.

There appears to be no provision here at all requiring the Commission to see whether this could be carried on or supplied by somebody else rather than by the Commission taking the initiative to carry on or set up the business. Indeed, I should have thought if it was a business that was likely to make ends meet it would automatically be supplied by somebody else. If it is a business likely to involve the Commission in loss, ought we not more carefully to scrutinise the powers we are giving to them to expend public money? There is no explanation at all in this Bill; and no adequate explanation has been given elsewhere by the Government as to why these wide powers of carrying on a business or undertaking should be required by the Commission for the purposes of their experiments. I think I am fully justified in moving that this paragraph should be omitted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 18, leave out paragraph (g).—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


The noble Lord's surprise surprises me. Why on earth should not the Commission be allowed to set up any business for these experiments? When we talk of experiment the Committee should not think of scientific or botanical experiment. If the Commission are going to make experiments in the genetics of forestry, it is hard to see why they should set up a business. But these would be social experiments. The Countryside Commission and the country parks are dealing with social matters, and the need is for experiment in deciding what will or will not work for society. This means people going to places, using things, buying things, travelling on things. There is a certain economic return on a certain outlay. It seemed to the Government that it would be wrong to leave out that aspect of the experiment from the powers of the Commission. A thing as simple as the provision of a cup of tea in an unlikely or experimental place may be precisely what one is talking about. The Commission would need power to acquire, to set up or carry on the business of selling a cup of tea. I think the objection lying behind the Amendment would be understandable if we were thinking of scientific experiments. But if we are thinking of social experiments, I think the clause is to be preferred as it stands, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the Amendment.


I should like a great deal more information. The noble Lord said that paragraph (g) was required before the Commission could provide a cup of tea. But paragraph (d) entitles the Commission to provide equipment, facilities and services on or in connection with land or with the use of land. What is the provision of a cup of tea except the provision of a service? I am entirely unconvinced that paragraph (g) is required. I wish the Minister could give us some more substantial explanation or example of the kind of business the Commission might wish to set up which is not already covered by the previous paragraphs. After all, by the previous paragraphs the Commission would be entitled to: (c) erect buildings and carry out works or other operations on land, (d) provide equipment, facilities and services on or in connection with land or with the use of land, (e) hold, manage, maintain, hire, let or otherwise dispose of such works, equipment, facilities or services, (f) exercise any powers to carry out work or to provide facilities or services conferred by this Act or the Act of 1949 on local authorities or local planning authorities. And then, as though that was not enough, the Government seek to add this omnibus paragraph which entitles the Commission to carry on any business they like. That must be wrong.


Does this paragraph mean that the Commission can acquire land compulsorily at agricultural value; that they can then build a dance hall or a casino, and then sell the land at an extremely large price to a third party? If the paragraph means that, it would appear to be very unfair. As I pointed out on Second Reading, anyone who has his land acquired compulsorily under this Bill ought to have the land offered back to him before it is offered to any third party; in other words, the original owner ought to have the first option.


I should have thought that, on the whole, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, gave quite a good explanation of what this is all about. I cannot help feeling that, although it is rather wide, it is the sort of clause which, if the Countryside Commission are to mean anything at all and are to operate in the way we all desire, is a reasonable provision to add to their powers. It is no more than the kind of power which nearly every company that is set up has in its Articles of Association. It does not seem nearly so frightening as the noble Lord fears. I hope that he will not press this Amendment to a Division, although I see the point that the Government must not do too many things that private enterprise can do. However, I feel that it is reasonable that the Commission should have this power.


May I be allowed to intervene for a moment? I have been making mental pictures while this discussion has been going on, and what occurred to me was this. Suppose that there is a part of the world—say in Norfolk, or somewhere of that sort—where there are rather exceptional circumstances for bird-watching, where there are birds breeding, so that the place is generally of interest to naturalists, and it is sufficiently obvious also to be of interest to visitors who like to come there. And suppose that the Commission think of acquiring this area, and find that there are one or two things already going on. There is a man who sells cups of tea; there is another man who hires out glasses to look at the birds, and another who sells souvenirs—I could cite quite a number of other instances of small businesses or undertakings which are carried on in an interesting place of this sort. Supposing that the Commission want this area developed, and perhaps extended a little, they are doing it really to facilitate the enjoyment of the countryside. It seems to me to be within the terms of the paragraph. I speak subject to correction from the Minister because he knows the Bill better than I now know it, although I knew it a little in the past.

If that is the position, it is quite impossible, surely, to define the kind of business or undertaking you want. It must be left, it seems to me, to the Minister as a man of ordinary sense. Even when one is in Opposition one sometimes think that Ministers on the other side have a good ration of sense, and I think the noble Lord, Lord. Brooke, will not think me rude if I say that I always regarded him as a good instance of that. You really must leave it to that safeguard, without trying to put in a verbal one. If you try to put in a verbal one, you find that you have left out something or have got it the other way round. I remember a particularly good case the other day of a Bill coming back in order to amend a rather technical clause about investments by local authorities—the kind of thing that sometimes gets left out and has to be corrected afterwards. The correction takes up the time of Parliament, and I think that in a case of this kind one must allow a reasonable sense of discretion to Ministers.


Could the noble Lord, in answering, tell us whether planning consent of a local authority would have to be sought? I know that it can be overridden, but in regard to some of these social experiments the whole concept is so vague that one finds it impossible to foresee exactly what might happen. It might be cups of tea; it might be Lord Lindgren's rather more noisy experiment. I have every sympathy with my noble friend Lord Brooke in querying whether we should give these comprehensive powers in regard to anything so completely vague as this.


May I intervene again, quite briefly? Lord Henley raised the question of possible conflict between the Commission and private enterprise in the running of these concerns. Of course, the Amendment would deprive the Commission of their powers contained in the draft of the Bill as it stands, to hire as an agent the private enterprise concern.

On the question of planning which Lord Gage inquired about, I do not find anything in the Bill which relieves the Countryside Commission of the normal operation of planning law.


I find one aspect of this paragraph seemingly unsatisfactory. I notice that not only is the approval of the Minister and the Treasury necessary for acquisition of a business—which may be a good thing—but the approval of the Minister and the Treasury is necessary before the Commission can divest themselves or dispose of the business or undertaking. I should have thought that was a bad thing. I should have thought that the Commission, having decided to embark on an experiment and having decided that the experiment was not going to be a success, alone ought to have the right to decide whether the business or undertaking should be disposed of. I should not have thought it right that the Minister or the Treasury should, under this paragraph, have the right to saddle the Commission with the business or undertaking and compel the Commission to go on carrying it on when the Commission have decided that the experiment was not going to be a success and ought to be wound up and the business disposed of. I should have thought that was a valid objection to paragraph (g) as it now stands.

7.17 p.m.


I think that the one effect that this Amendment has had is to create a widespread feeling among your Lordships that this paragraph had to be highlighted and is not wholly satisfactory as it stands. The only explanation I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, so far is that without this paragraph it would not be possible for the Commission to sell cups of tea. I think it would, under paragraph (d), and I see no reason why one should grant the Commission power to carry on any business or undertaking of any sort simply so that the visitor shall have tea.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, was helpful in pointing out a particular type of case which might arise, though his case seemed to be relevant only to the provision here that the Commission could "acquire and carry on". It was not relevant to the surprising power given to the Commission here to "set up and carry on" the business. Indeed, in the case of the man selling souvenirs or postcards I cannot see why the Commission, having acquired the land on which his business is set for the purpose of an experimental project or scheme, should not allow the poor chap to go on selling postcards or souvenirs, and should wish for the purpose of experiment to take over the business and to discover exactly how much money he makes out of it, and whether, if he employed management consultants like McKinsey's, he might be much more successful.


It would be barren to go on too far with this. I quite agree that I was taking his sense of "acquisition". I hoped that that was enough. But as regards the man, perhaps he would not want to. The business is going to be developed, and so on, something which he has been quite happy about in the past. Compulsory purchase, I agree, is sometimes very rough on people, but to oblige a man to go on with his business when somebody else is taking over the land and doing something else with it is, I think, equally oppressive.


That may be so, although many of these experiments, I imagine, will be successful only if they attract visitors, and I should have thought the man who sold souvenirs or postcards would be pleased if more visitors came, rather than immediately anxious to dispose of the business. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, is more easily satisfied than I am, since he found the Minister's reply convincing. I do not. I still think that this paragraph needs further attention. If I do not press my Amendment now it is only because I want to reserve the right to come back to it at a later stage of the Bill, and I very much hope that the Government themselves will re-examine this paragraph to see whether it would not be possible to limit these very extensive words in some way.

We are seeking to carry on discussions on this Bill in a co-operative and non-hostile manner, and I hope that there is not so much between us as I first thought. On the other hand, I venture to say that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, did not take this Amendment as seriously as I would have wished. He was not ready to give me examples of substance that would prove the necessity for giving the Commission powers of that sort. For the time being, and with the reservation that I may wish to return to this point on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.24 p.m.

LORD MOLSON moved, in subsection (4), to leave out from "land" to the end of the subsection. The noble Lord said: I cannot expect that normally the Commission would wish to give away land, nor that the Minister would approve it; but in view of the fact that the Commission have been given very wide powers for acquiring land I see no reason why, subject to the Minister's approval, they should not have the right to give land away. I can well imagine the National Trust owning land in the vicinity, and it might be convenient, and certainly in the national interest, that land which had been acquired by the Countryside Commission for the purpose of an experiment should be given to the National Trust.

It was argued in another place that it was never justifiable to give away something upon which public money had been spent. I see no reason to suppose that it is never justifiable to do so. It may well be the case that the whole of the land was expensive to the National Parks Commission, and that the National Trust would be glad to acquire it. I do not think that this is a power which would normally be used, and I do not think that in most circumstances the Minister would approve the exercise of the power. I see no reason whatsoever why, when the Commission are given these extensive powers that have been referred to by my noble friend, they should be debarred in all circumstances from giving away the land which they have acquired. It would appear to me —and I should be glad to have the Parliamentary Secretary's answer to this—that they might possibly circumvent the effect of this prohibition by selling the land to the National Trust for a quite nugatory price. I see no reason why, with the Minister's power, they should not sell a large area of land for a shilling or half a crown. If that is the case, then I think it would be far better for the Bill to contain that power, subject to the Minister's approval, rather than that they should be driven to an expedient of that kind. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 26, leave out from ("land") to end of line 27.—(Lord Molson.)


When the Minister comes to reply I wonder whether he would deal with the case of the John Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede. I understand that the land on which that memorial stands way given to the United States of America. I certainly know of an example in Devonshire where a small piece of land was given to the Dominion of Canada as a memorial. I believe it was for a small Chapel as a memorial to the former Governor of Canada. These gracious little instances should not be prohibited, and I trust that the Minister will be able to say something sympathetic to that point of view.


This is a matter which is touched upon by public finance, because we are talking here about land which is acquired with public money, and into which, in the generality of cases, public money will have been put, and which will have increased in value during the time it belonged to the Commission. We are talking of disposal of land of that nature, and so although it is not exclusively a House of Commons matter it is principally a House of Commons matter; and it is interesting to see that although an Amendment was introduced to the same effect as this in the House of Commons, it was withdrawn and not insisted upon. I think I am right in saying that it never came to a vote.

But I am impressed by what Lord Molson and Lord Iddesleigh have said about the two small examples, and although I should not at the moment give an impression that the Government are likely to accept this Amendment at a later stage or to introduce one equivalent to it, if the noble Lord will agree to withdraw it now, I will have another look at it with my right honourable friends and our advisers to see whether we agree that there may be circumstances in which the Commission should be free to dispose of land as a gift.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Molson, rises again, would he allow me to say a short word in his support? The point that occurred to me was exactly the one that occurred to him, that there is nothing to prevent a disposal of land at a very low figure indeed—and this kind of thing is, after all, not uncommon. I have known two cases in Scotland of the Forestry Commission getting rid of property which might have had a certain market value but would have been very awkward to sell. They disposed of that land at a nugatory price, or practically nugatory price, for the benefit of schools. This kind of thing does happen between one public, or semipublic; authority and another. I should have thought that the safeguard here is that if one looks back at the clause, there is to be no disposal without the leave of the Minister. That was sufficient to cover the case I have mentioned. I believe you will get into great difficulties over this. I am charging my memory, and I cannot recall it exactly, but there was a similar case about one of the Housing Acts where you could not give a property away but they did not say at what price you could let it. There was a great deal of letting at rents of a shilling or some such sum. It is a commercial practice, I believe, to try to deal with it in that way, and I should have thought that the leave of the Minister was sufficient.


I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his courteous promise to look at this matter again, and on that assurance I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?


I know that we all want to adjourn, but it would be a good thing if we could get Clause 4 out of the way before we do so. I would ask the Government to look at the clause again generally. In the first place, the Government are not willing that the Commission should have power to acquire land for the general purposes for which the Commission was set up. Secondly, they are willing for it to acquire land for experimental purposes. What are experimental purposes? Does this mean that they are to be temporary? Does it mean that there is some limit to the time?

It appears to me that this clause dealing with experiment is not entirely con- sistent with the rest of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Brooke has been doubtful whether it does not go too far in the way of allowing land to be compulsorily acquired. I am doubtful whether it is not too narrow in not allowing land to be given away. I hope that between now and Report stage the Government will be prepared to look at this matter again and then give us some better explanation why there is this departure, just for experimental purposes, from what the Parliamentary Secretary told us was the general philosophy of this legislation and the general powers of the Commission. We do not fully understand exactly what these experiments are, but in order to carry them out it would appear that a complete departure is being made, contrary to the general principles of the Bill. Therefore, without wishing to press the point at this moment, I would express doubts as to whether the clause has really been fully thought out.


I should like to support what my noble friend has said and to ask one or two questions. If it is decided to interrupt this discussion before I have finished my speech, I shall quite understand.


Then I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if the Committee do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.32 p.m. until 8 p.m.]


After the excellent meal provided by the Refreshment Department, I have one or two questions to ask about Clause 4 in addition to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Molson. I should be very much obliged if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would give us some examples of the kind of experimental schemes or projects which this clause might facilitate. I quite appreciate his reluctance to name particular parts of the country where they might be initiated, but the truth is that the rest of us who are not on the inside of these matters, as he is, have only the sketchiest idea of what his Department and the Commission have in mind in this field. I am not asking him to give an exhaustive list, but if he could suggest some instances of the kind of experiments which this clause may make possible I think it would help our later debates.

Secondly, I should be grateful if he would pursue the question which I raised on Second Reading. What happens when an experiment is over. These are defined as experimental schemes or projects, and you cannot carry on an experiment for ever; at some stage it must either be brought to an end or transferred, as it were, to permanent management. I understand—and I believe I am right in saying this—that the Government gave an undertaking in another place that if land which had been compulsorily purchased for the purposes of the experiment was no longer required, and it was agricultural land, then the Crichel Down procedure would be applied to it. It may be that the experiment has been a success and maybe everybody wants it to remain as a permanency, but I do not see how under this clause it can remain as a permanency because it will cease to be an experiment. Will the Commission have power to continue with a scheme or project when it has passed the experimental stage, or will they hand it over to the local authority or to whom? I just do not know.

I am not asking these questions in any hostile spirit, but I am very interested in the idea of experimental schemes or projects. I am not at all clear what is going to eventuate when an experiment has been carried through and it is clear that something other than simple winding-up should take place. I hope that the noble Lord, without going into excessive detail, will be able to help both me and my noble friend Lord Molson with these points which we have raised on this Motion.


I shall tomorrow read very carefully the remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Brooke of Cumnor, about Clause 4 in general, and I should prefer, if I may, to return a fuller answer at a later stage when I have had time and leisure to take into account the complex and interesting matters which they have raised. I have two observations to make. First, there is the general point about Clause 4: whether the Commission ought to have these powers to carry out experiments, and whether the powers are too widely drawn and not sufficiently precise. There may be a conflict here, because I know that many Members of this House are anxious that the Commission should have powers to do this, and that there has been some undertone of criticism of the Government for not giving them enough powers, The question of concurrent or default powers is something which we have touched on already this afternoon.

The powers of experiment in Clause 4 are the one great freedom which the Commission have and the Government are anxious that they should be free to experiment widely rather than it narrowly, in many ways rather than in few, in unfamiliar ways rather than in familiar. I think we should be unwise to restrict this freedom which the Bill gives to the Commission, because it is the field of action for the Commission par excellence. In the more familiar fields it will be for the local authorities to do things in the unfamiliar field of experiment it will he for the Commission. I hope the Committee will agree with the Government that it is right that they should have wide powers to experiment.

On the more particular point of what happens at the end of an experiment, we have just been discussing the terms under which the Commission may part with land which they have acquired. Of course, they may part with it under any terms which are approved by the Minister other than by outright gift, and on this matter I have undertaken to look again at the present provisions in the Bill. I think one may envisage that if the experiment is not a success it will be wound up, but I should not like without further notice to go deeply into the question of how it should be wound up.

When the point is reached, whenever it is, and it may be quite a long time after the beginning of the experiment, that something is a success and is no longer an experiment—and I foresee that it will be hard to decide at what point an experiment becomes so certainly successful that it stops being an experiment and becomes an established success—then, of course, the Commission will be free to dispose of the land within the limitations of the present subsection (4) of Clause 4 to another body. I think it would be in accordance with the spirit of the Bill if that other body were normally to be the local authority. I hope that goes some way towards answering the noble Lords' questions, and I shall go as much further as I can next time round at the Report stage.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

8.8 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, after Clause 5, to insert the following new clause:

Expenses of the Commission

".—(1) The Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, pay to the Commission such sums in respect of the expenses of the Commission as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine, and so far as relates to the use and expenditure of sums so paid the Commission shall act in accordance with such directions as may from time to time be given to it by the Minister.

(2) The Commission shall keep proper accounts and other records, and shall prepare for each financial year statements of account in such form as the Minister with the approval of the Treasury may direct and shall submit those statements of account to the Minister at such time as he may direct.

(3) The Minister shall, on or before the 30th November in any year, transmit to the Comptroller and Auditor General such statements of account for the financial year last ended.

(4) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall examine and certify the statements of account submitted to him under this section, and lay copies of them together with his report thereon before each [louse of Parliament.

(5) Section 95(1) of the Act of 1949 is hereby repealed."

The noble Lord said: I am moving to insert this new clause with regard to expenses of the Commission, to call your Lordships' attention to the unduly close financial control which, in my view, has been exercised over the National Parks Commission since it was set up nearly twenty years ago. I grant at once that I was one of the Ministers exercising that control, but a Minister is governed by Acts of Parliament and I am afraid that the trouble stems from the terms of the 1949 Act. Subsection (1) of Section 95 of the 1949 Act, which my new clause will propose to repeal, reads: The expenses of the Commission incurred in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister shall be defrayed by the Minister.

That appears to have been interpreted from the outset as making statutory pro- vision that the Commission could hardly raise a finger without seeking specific covering authority from the Minister. The result is that it has enjoyed none of the financial freedom and, consequentially, policy freedom that was recommended by the Hobhouse Committee which originally gave rise to this legislation. It has been treated throughout as a tool of the Government, and a tool which must be very tightly gripped. I understand that this control extends so far that it has been impossible for the National Parks Commission to send a member of its staff to a conference, or for a study tour abroad, without first obtaining the permission of the Minister. This is a body which, as I said on an earlier Amendment, is entrusted with great and far-reaching responsibilities regarding the appearance of our precious countryside, yet it is not trusted to spend a penny without supervision.

This new clause of mine—and I say quite frankly that I am moving it as a means of getting the matter discussed, rather than from a conviction that I have it drafted correctly—is designated to give the new Countryside Commission the same sort of discretion in matters of finance as is permitted to other bodies which are wholly or substantially financed by the Government. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will have observed that it is closely related to Section 71 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act. The noble Lord said earlier in our debates to-day that the Scottish Countryside Commission was a different sort of animal. It is apparently trusted by the Government to be a much more reliable animal—unless, of course, the Government are prepared to accept my submission that this detailed financial control over what has hitherto been the National Parks Commission should be replaced by a more intelligent system. My new clause is based partly on Section 71 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 and partly on similar provisions in the Science and Technology Act 1965 which deal with Research Councils and the financing of them by the Government.

I do not think that I need explain in detail the provisions of this new clause. I have drawn specific attention to subsection (5), and I think that the rest is self-explanatory. It will be seen from subsection (1) that, so far as relates to the use and expenditure of money coming from the Exchequer, the Commission shall act in accordance with such directions as may from time to time be given to it by the Minister. That is the right sort of financial control, in contrast with the wrong sort; namely, that which is, or at any rate has been up till now, so far as I am aware, imposed upon the National Parks Commission. This is a body operating with Government money, and therefore the Minister must have power to give directions to it and must be satisfied about its general procedure—and, of course, its detailed accounting methods, and so forth. But the Commission ought not to be required to be looking over its shoulder continuously, or indeed to have to check all the time whether a small, particular item of expenditure on which it wishes to embark has yet received ministerial approval.

Your Lordships will notice that I am not by this Amendment seeking to extend this freedom from ministerial control to the new functions of the Commission that are given to it in this Bill as regards the experimental projects or schemes in Clause 4, or as regards grants and loans to persons other than public bodies in Clause 5. These functions are new, and it may well be desirable, at any rate at the outset, that there should be close ministerial control of the use that the Commission makes of those powers.

The total expenditure of the Commission that I think should be freed from this meticulous departmental control is of the order of a quarter of a million pounds a year—a very small proportion of the national Budget. I am not suggesting that either the Treasury or the Minister should fail to take care of the pence. What I am saying—and I know this from experience—is that if a Department insists on the most detailed control of small sums of money, sums which even when added together come to a relatively small sum, judged by Exchequer standards, there is waste going on. There is waste of the time of those members of the body concerned who have to put up submissions for detailed financial approval to the Department, and there is waste of the time of those members of the Department who have to check these submissions and advise the Minister whether approval can be given. This is exactly the kind of thing which was condemned by the Plowden Committee on the Control of National Expenditure some seven years ago, and it is exactly the kind of thing which was condemned twenty years ago by the Committee on Local Government Manpower, which disclosed the fact that Departments were seeking to control the expenditure of local authorities in far too close detail.

What I am asking the Government most earnestly to consider is whether they cannot trust this Countryside Commission a little more to act responsibly in matters of finance. I am quite certain that if that is done it will be appreciated by the members of the Commission, and I am quite certain that it is more likely to lead to economy than to a waste of money. I know that this close control has irked members of the old National Parks Commission, and I should not be surprised (though I have no personal knowledge) if it irks the members of the present Commission. Whether it irks them or not, the simple fact is that it is wrong; and the Government, either by some means such as I have proposed in this new clause or by some other methods which I should have thought would entail a substantial loosening of subsection (1) of Section 95 of the 1949 Act, must do something about it. Otherwise, a great opportunity will be lost, and we shall continue with an unsound system of public finance. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 5, insert the said new clause. —(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


I fully agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has said, and wish to support the Amendment he has put forward. Under the 1949 Act the expenditure of the National Parks Commission is borne on the Votes of Government Departments, chiefly the Vote of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Under that Act, that expenditure relates principally to salaries and staff, and to the cost of information activities. It is covered by Estimates presented to the Ministry and submitted by the Ministry to the Treasury.

Under this new Bill, the expenditure of the Commission will be a good deal more widely spread than under the 1949 Act, even though the Government will still not agree (I think wrongly) to confer anything more than very limited executive powers on the new Commission. As examples of the new kind of expenditure there will be, first of all, the various operations involved in the promotion of experimental projects or schemes under Clause 4; there will be the provision of professional and technical services to the local authorities under Clause 2(5), and there will be the conduct of inquiries, investigations and research under Clause 2(7). There will also be the provision of grants or loans to private persons under Clause 5.

If the Commission are to have the increased power and status which the Government have in mind for them, it is hardly consistent with that heightened status that they should continue to be tied hand and foot to the Ministry in matters of day-to-day finance. I am afraid that the trouble is that Governments, no matter from what Party, do not really like these quasi-independent statutory bodies to be too independent, and they are determined to keep them in leading strings. That attitude was very clearly expressed in another place by the Minister of State when he rejected an Amendment in the same terms as the one which is now before the Committee. In the past the position has always been unsatisfactory, and it will be even more unsatisfactory in the future. It is not right that in this essential respect, in financial matters, the Commission should be a mere annex of the Ministry.


The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said that it is wrong, it is quite simply wrong, that the Commission should be so closely tied financially to the Ministry. But I think it is true to say that all things are relative and one must find the right place in the spectrum for all new systems—in this case the place in the spectrum between complete financial independence and complete financial and policy dependence on the parent Department, as it were. Lord Brooke's Amendment would constitute something roughly equivalent to a grant-in-aid to the Commission, although this is a phrase which he avoided.

The noble Lord instanced the Scottish Countryside Commission, and pointed out how that body had the greater degree of financial independence which he seeks by this Amendment to achieve for the English Commission. When the new English Countryside Commission began to be canvassed, the decision had to be taken: should it resemble the Scottish Commission which, of course, had been invented de novo because the Scottish Act was first in the field. So the Scottish Countryside Commission, besides being a different sort of animal, is also a completely new animal, whereas the English one is a successor of a very well-tried and successful animal which has existed until the time of this Bill. The Government decided that the English Countryside Commission should, on the whole, resemble its English predecessor, the National Parks Commission, rather than its new-born Scottish brother, the Countryside Commission for Scotland. The financial system reflects this decision as well as many other things.

The expenses of the new English Commission are to be borne on the Vote of my Ministry, and in this they are like the grants to the local authorities payable under this and other Bills. The Commission are assimilated to the normal fact that these grants for useful things to be done by local authorities or central advisory bodies which might not otherwise be able to afford to do them, should come from what has been the traditional source; namely, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and should be administered under the traditional degree of control. The decision to do this was really part and parcel of the decision—which, as I have said, was a difficult one; but taken rightly—that the Countryside Commission should be primarily an advisory and not an executive body.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, connected with the alleged lack of financial independence a lack of policy independence. I do not think this is really fair. I think it is possible to reconcile an independence of policy with a financial dependence. It may not be possible to do so in the case of an executive body; but in the case of an advisory one it is possible to do so, especially when the advice is given publicly and when everyone knows what the Commission think. In a sense, the fact that their money comes from the Ministry will be an incentive for the Minister not to override their advice, because the charge of, "Look, you pay for it, so you do not have to pay any attention to it" will be such an obvious one and therefore more difficult to counter. My guess is that the Ministry will pay more attention to the Commission's advice because they are aware that they are paying for it than they would feel bound to do if they were utterly separate from it.

I cannot do better than to quote what the Minister of State said in the House of Commons when a virtually identical Amendment was moved there by Mr. Channon.


Before the noble Lord does that, I wonder whether he appreciates that this argument about grants to the local authorities is totally irrelevant to the point of my Amendment—as, with respect to him, are the remarks of the Minister of State when he resisted a similar new clause in another place. We are not talking about grants to local authorities or whether the Minister will pay more or less attention to the Commission when they advise him on these matters. We are talking about the internal expenditure of the Commission. If the noble Lord would address himself to that matter I think he could probably spare himself the trouble of reading out what the Minister had to say about grants to local authorities, for it is wholly irrelevant.


I was not going to read out what he said about grants to the local authorities but what he said about the independence of the Commission in policy matters and to draw the Committee's attention to other provisions to secure an increase in policy independence for the Countryside Commission when compared with their predecessor, the National Parks Commission. The point here is—and I quote: … we have put an unusual fetter on the Minister, because we have said that not only will he seek the Commission's advice as to which are the projects for which he should agree to give grants within a certain overall budget but that he shall not depart from that recommendation without consulting the Commission about his disagreement. It is not merely that he has to give reasons, as it were, but he must discuss the matter further with the Commission. This is a recognition of what we intend to be the real influence which the Commission will have. We regard it as an exceptional circumstance if in matters of determining priorities of expenditure, the Minister should depart from the Commission's advice. I think that this is the big new factor and it makes a difference between the position of the present Commission and that of the new Commission. I imagine that objection to financial dependence must be based on objection to a possible policy dependency, and in assessing the likelihood of the Commission's being bound in their policy recommendations by the fact that their money is closely tied to the dispositions of the Minister of Housing and Local Government I should like the Committee to bear in mind the new procedure which is written into this Bill (which was not in the 1949 Bill) and which binds the Minister to go back to argue out with them any issue on which he differs from them in the policy field.

8.30 p.m.


I think the noble Lord is exaggerating the difference between what happened under the 1949 Act and what will happen under this new Act. In practice, the Minister has never yet disagreed with the recommendations of the National Parks Commission over a grant to a local authority, but if he did I am certain that he would come back to the Commission and discuss it with them. That is no more than is now proposed under this Act.


I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has wholly failed to convince me about this. Indeed, I am the more sure of that, in that the answer he has proffered to the Committee is an answer to a different point, one that was not made either by me or by the noble Lord, Lord Strang. I know that a gambit which can be employed from time to time is that, when one has not much of a case oneself, one argues as if the opponent had put up a different case, and one proceeds to demolish that. I am not in the least concerned about the grant-making power of the Ministry, and I think I am less concerned about the question of freedom of policy than was the Hobhouse Committee which stressed that aspect of the matter.

What troubles me is that in its ordinary day-to-day working, what I might call its internal expenditure, the Commission has hitherto been kept in too tight leading strings; and, as I have said —and I must repeat it—this is exactly the sort of financial control that has been criticised and rejected by many bodies, including Government Committees, including the Plowden Committee on the control of expenditure, as being the wrong way to achieve economy. I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about this. I do not want to take this Amendment to a Division. I am sure that one could pick holes in it, and it might not achieve exactly what I wished to achieve.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, comes on to his intention with regard to the Amendment, may I say that I took it that his objections to this degree of financial control were based on the fear that it reflected an unacceptable degree of political control over the actions of the Commission. If he is not saying that the Commission is too closely bound in what it can advise, if he is quite happy about that, then I submit that this is a matter more properly to be considered in the House of Commons, where it has been considered, than in this House. If it is simply a matter of financial administration, I do not think it is really for us. If, on the other hand, it were a matter of unacceptable political control over a semi-independent body, then it would be a matter for us; but I understand that is not the noble Lord's point.


I know of no bar against your Lordships' House discussing matters of financial administration. What we do about them is another matter. Here there was every reason to discuss the matter afresh, as the Minister of State in another place appeared to have misconstrued the intention of the new clause which was moved, and offered in rebuttal of the new clause a series of arguments which, as I have said, are irrelevant.

I am not concerned about political control in the broad sense, nor do I think that this is a matter which is likely to be frustrating to the Commission so far as large policy decisions are concerned. What I do say is that it is a gross interference with the power of a body like the National Parks Commission, or the new Countryside Commission, to do its job properly if it has to come back to the Ministry to get financial approval of every detail. After all, when we have small children we give them pocket money, but we do not ask them how they spend every halfpenny of it—or if we do, we are very foolish, because we shall probably be told lies. The Countryside Commission cannot tell lies but the experience must be as aggravating to the Commission as it would be to our small children if we demanded that they get detailed permission from ourselves, as parents, before they spent any penny of the weekly pocket money they received.

Literally, this is of the same order of magnitude as the control of a child's pocket money. This total expenditure is something of the order of a quarter of a million pounds a year, and my case is that it is subjected to a degree of detailed departmental control which is wholly unjustified and is contrary to all the advice which has been given by responsible bodies, including the Plowden Committee, about how the Government should achieve economy in administration.

Whatever the noble Lord says about the powers of your Lordships' House to discuss financial administration, I certainly shall have to consider whether, or by what means, I can return to this matter on Report. But I beg the noble Lord to accept that this is not a Party issue. Nor is it something which should give rise to a quarrel between one House of Parliament and another. It is a view which has been formed by myself and others who have had experience of this working and who know that it is wrong. It is easily alterable, and it will be altered at once as soon as the Government apply to their own procedure in financing the Commission the consensus of advice given to them by important and responsible bodies of their own, from the Plowden Committee down. I cannot carry the matter further to-night, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Country parks and commons: preliminary]:

8.36 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (1)(a), to leave out "and". The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 14, which is a paving Amendment for No. 15. In this I am taking up another point which I raised on Second Reading. We come here to the new powers of local authorities, and Clause 6 says that: … a local authority in exercising those powers in any area in the countryside shall have regard

  1. (a) to the location of that area in the countryside in relation to an urban or built-up area, and
  2. (b) to the availability and adequacy of existing facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public."
I am seeking, by my Amendments, to insert in the Bill that the local authorities shall also have regard to anything that the Commission may have to say on the matter.

On Second Reading I raised the question whether it was within the functions and powers of the Commission to make representations to local authorities in cases where it appeared to the Commission that a local authority was not taking all the progressive action which it might reasonably be expected to take to secure the greater enjoyment of the countryside. In this clause we are concerned particularly with country parks. I can envisage that there might be an area of ground which had been brought to the notice of the Commission and which seemed to the Commission to be an ideal site for a country park. But it might be that neither the county council nor the district council concerned was ready to make any move, either on financial grounds or otherwise; and the question which I wish to have answered is whether the Countryside Commission must just sit down under that or whether it can take any initiative. I do not want the Commission to overrule a local authority, but it seems to me that we ought to make clear on the face of the Bill that the Commission can make representations to local authorities about these matters, and that any representations made by the Commission are among the matters to which local authorities should have regard.

If there is some better way of doing this than by means of my Amendment nobody will be better pleased than myself, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will appreciate that there is here quite an important issue. Is the Commission active or passive in these matters? If the Commission feels that a local authority ought to be moving in the direction of securing a country park, and the authority is doing nothing, is the Commission compulsorily passive or it is to be empowered by some such Amendment as mine to be active? I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 30, leave out ("and").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


As I listened to the noble Lord's explanation of this Amendment, it took on a slightly different contour in my mind from what it had before. I had imagined that it was the noble Lord's purpose to ensure that local authorities who intended to provide a country park should not send the proposal to the Minister without first paying regard to any recommendation the Commission had made to them. If I am right in chinking that this would be the effect of the Amendment, I think it is unnecessary, because a local authority knows that the Minister must approve a proposal for a country park for grant purposes and that he is bound to hear the advice of the Commission on the proposal. It will be a rare thing, as I said in an earlier context, for the Minister not to take the advice of the Commission, and since the, local authority knows that the Minister is going to listen to the Commission I think it would be an eccentric local authority which neglected at the earliest possible stage to get in touch with the Commission if their backing is going to be a virtual sine qua non to getting the Minister's approval.

If that was the noble Lord's intention, I should have advised the Committee that it was not necessary, but if he wishes merely to make sure that the Commission shall have the right to approach a local authority off its own bat, taking the initiative, I think that this right is secured by Clause 2(4), which says: The Commission shall advise… any public body, on such matters relating to the countryside as … the Commission may think fit". This gives them a blanket justification for approaching any public body, including any local authority which may be proposing to provide a country park, or does not seem to be doing so when the Commission think that they ought to be providing one.


I agree with the noble Lord that the words I suggest would not be necessary merely to ensure that a local authority shall consult the Commission before taking a proposal to the Minister. I had in mind rather the relation between the Commission and what appeared to them to be a laggard local authority. It had occurred to me that Clause 2(4) might cover the point I had in mind. I am glad that the Minister agrees that that would give the Commission a locus standi which would entitle them to make recommendations or representations to a local authority, and I think that the point is covered. I hope that this short debate may have made it clearer to all concerned. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.


I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. The object of this Amendment is to avoid the position which exists in the Bill as now drafted that a district council wishing to create a country park in its area has to obtain planning permission from the county council, on the one hand, and to consult them under the provisions of Clause 6, on the other hand. This was discussed in the Select Committee in another place, and the Minister of State acknowledged that there might be cases where planning permission would not be required but said that in these cases it was quite reasonable for the district council to have to consult the county council. But in the submission of those of us interested in rural and urban district councils, this is unnecessary, and if this Amendment were accepted it would mean that it should be necessary for district councils to obtain the consent of their county councils only in cases where they do not have to obtain planning permission. With these brief words, I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 7, line 20, column 2, at beginning insert: ("Where planning permission is not required".).—(The Earl of Gainsborough.)


I hope that the Government will favourably consider this Amendment. I know that there is a strong feeling among district councils that they are too frequently put under the thumb of the county council and allowed too little independent power. I know that in another place it was argued on behalf of the Government that it would be awkward if every district council throughout England and Wales could put up proposals for country parks to the Minister regardless of what their own county council thought. There is something in that argument, but I do not think it carries final conviction. The Amendment of the noble Earl does not go nearly so far as that. He is not suggesting, I understand, that in all cases district councils could go straight to the Minister, but that it should not be necessary for a district council to consult the county council twice.

If there was a development for which planning permission would be required, the county council could clearly have their say as planning authority, and if there is some system of delegation in that particular county, that system could easily be adapted to ensure that the county council had final control in a matter of this sort. If planning permission were not required, then I understand that the noble Earl accepts the Government's argument in another place, that it would be proper for the district council to obtain the consent of the county council.

The reason why I am particularly sympathetic to this Amendment is because it is in line with the principle which, as your Lordships will have detected, I have been seeking to establish throughout this Bill, that there should not be unnecessary intercommunication. When it is not absolutely necessary to obtain permission to do something, the law should not require it to be done. I am one of those who, from my experience in local and national government, believe that a tremendous amount of paper work and an almost equal amount of friction can be got rid of if Parliament would carefully look at these provisions that require somebody to consult somebody else on every conceivable occasion. I hope the noble Lord will now look at this in the spirit of seeing whether, by such means as this, the system of administration could be simplified without any weakening of necessary control.


Of course, I have the utmost sympathy with that object, but I think that we have to look at each case to see whether the maximum saving of paper and effort is to be found in the imposition of a requirement to consult or in the removal of a requirement to consult. It seems to me that in this case the maximum saving may lie in the imposition of the requirement to consult, because the point where you apply for planning permission is already a pretty advanced point in your planning, and it might be—in fact, it certainly would be—that a district council which was planning along, getting everything ready, hatching its ideas and carrying things forward to the planning stage, had never said a word on it to the county council until the time when it had to go along for statutory outline planning permission. It might be that it would have wasted a lot of time and effort on something which the county council were dead set against, and that time and effort could have been saved if the district authority had come along a year or two earlier and written one letter saying: "What about a country park in place X?"

I have already said that I think it is difficult to know when one is getting this right. But I noticed that in the other place an Amendment in exactly the opposite sense was put down; namely, that consent from the county council should be required only where planning permission was required, and not where it was not. Between that approach and this approach, exonerating the district councils even from planning consent, and the approach of the Bill itself, I think it is probably best in this case to "play it safe", simply in the interests of better communication among local authorities and the saving of wasted effort. I think it is better to leave it as it is, which would mean that the district council should go along first with the simple idea: "How about it?", and the county council should say either, "We favour it" or "We disfavour it"; and only later would the scheme come up for planning consent, when I should very much hope that in co-operation they would be able to plan the scheme together.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for supporting me and, indeed, explaining the position in a far more satisfactory way than I have. I am grateful, also, to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his sympathetic reply. I can see that there are difficulties in this matter, and I appreciate that in another place an Amendment with completely opposite wording was moved with the object of achieving the same state of affairs that I have now suggested. It was thought that this way of doing it was slightly better, because it meant that only in cases where planning permission was required would the district council have to consult once.

I quite agree that in a proposal of this kind any authority would wish to consult with the county council, as planning authority, before putting a proposal forward. But this is a statutory requirement for district councils to consult twice, and as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, pointed out, all these things tend to complicate procedures and to diminish the responsibility of district councils in doing their work, because they feel inhibited by the fact that at every stage of the negotiations they have to consult with the county council. However, in view of the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I hope that when the Bill is passed it will work in the way he has outlined. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7:

Power to provide country parks


(4) A local authority shall have power to acquire compulsorily any land required by them for the purpose of their functions is under this and the next following section.

8.54 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved to add to subsection (2): Provided that a local authority shall not under this section provide accommodation, meals or refreshments except in so far as it appears to them that the facilities therefor in the neighbourhood are inadequate or unsatisfactory, either generally or as respects any description of accommodation, meals or refreshments, as the case may be.

The noble Lord said: I trust that the Government will agree to this Amendment, because, as I am sure they will appreciate, it is taken directly from Section 12 of the 1949 Act. We now come to Clause 7 of the Bill—the power for local authorities to provide country parks. Subsection (2) develops those powers and, in particular, says that A local authority shall have the power…

  1. (a) to lay out, plant and improve the site, to erect buildings and carry out works;
  2. (b) to provide facilities and services for the enjoyment or convenience of the public, including meals and refreshments, parking places for vehicles, shelters and lavatory accommodation."
These powers are similar to the powers given to local planning authorities in National Parks under Section 12 of the 1949 Act, and that Act contains the proviso which I recommend to your Lordships to insert here.

I was not a Member of either House in 1949, so I cannot speak with first-hand knowledge as to why Parliament thought fit (it was under a Labour Government) to insert that proviso in Section 12 of the 1949 Act. But the reasonable supposition is that the Government did not want the local planning authority in a National Park to set to work to do all kinds of things which were being satisfactorily done already. Not only would that be a duplication, a waste of resources and the unnecessary, spending of public money, but it would also be one of those matters likely to attract to the whole project of National Parks: and I have repeatedly emphasised in our debates the importance of attracting goodwill for all this work in the countryside.

If in fact there is a perfectly good inn in the village, which is providing accommodation; if there is a perfectly good café which is providing satisfactory meals or refreshments, it cannot be in the public interest that a public authority should proceed to duplicate those facilities. That, to the best of my knowledge, is the reason why these words appeared in the 1949 Act, and I can see no reason why they should not also appear in this clause. A similar proviso, curiously enough, appears in Clause 9, 'subsection (3). The Government appear to have forgotten to put it into Clause 7, and I am seeking to make good that lapse of mind or lapse of memory. Moreover, this seems to be fairly well established Government policy, because if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will be good enough to look at Section 50 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967, which was passed so recently, he will find that in connection with the powers given to a Scottish local authority to make arrangements for securing the provision of accommodation, meals and refreshment in the countryside, this identical proviso is appended.

This matter was discussed to some extent in another place. There the Government sought, if I remember rightly, to argue, not in this context but in a different context, that National Parks were different from country parks. But I really cannot believe that a substantial distinction can be maintained between the country parks described in Clause 7 on the one hand, and, on the other, the National Parks, the common land cases, in Clause 9, and the Scottish cases covered by the proviso in Section 50 of the 1967 Act. What I am suggesting is that we should make our policy uniform and that we should insert these words here. If the Government venture to argue that this is a grandmotherly attitude towards local authorities, I would remind them that the Government of 1949 were in that case grandmotherly, and the present Government in 1967 were grandmotherly in the Scottish Act. The sensible thing to do is to insert the same proviso in all these cases and thereby ensure that we avoid duplication. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 5, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

9.1 p.m.


The difficulty here is the words "in the neighbourhood", because a National Park, to which this proviso relates, is an enormous place, and there is a prima facie case for saying that if there are good enough cafés and hotels and all the rest of it within that enormous area, why should the Commission be entitled to add to the number? But a country park is going to be something a great deal smaller than a National Park, a great deal more concentrated, and there may well be adequate cafés, hotels and all the rest of it in the neighbourhood, meaning within a mile or two of it or within two or three miles of it, but there may not be adequate ones within it. So if we imposed this condition we should run a risk of forcing the Countryside Commission to deny a meal or bed being provided by them to the visitor, on the ground that there was already one a mile or two away from the edge of the country park. The question is: will the visitor want to go that extra mile or two, or five miles, to find his bed?—because although this may be "in the neighbourhood", in the terms of the noble Lord's Amendment, it may not be within the country park which he has come to visit.

However, I am impressed at first sight by the noble Lord's argument about how, on the one hand, we have Scotland and the National Parks, and, on the other hand, we have simply the proposed country parks. I should like to ask him to withdraw his Amendment while I have another look at this matter. It may be that, having had another look at it, we shall conclude that the right course would be to free the Commission of the limitations in the places where they are at present bound by them, rather than to impose a limitation in the country parks as proposed by the noble Lord's Amendment. Clearly there is some case for uniformity in this matter, and I should like an opportunity to look at it again, if he will agree.


I am very glad indeed to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say he is prepared to look at this matter again. I am bound to say that I do not recall hearing a more peculiar argument than the one he has advanced. It was that if there was accommodation of a certain kind in National Parks with great areas it was not necessary to duplicate it, but that in the case of the small country park it was perhaps permissible to duplicate it. I cannot help wondering whether perhaps, in looking at his brief, he has got the argument in some way inverted, because I cannot really think that that argument is sustainable.


if the noble Lord will allow me to say so, no, I do not think I have the argument inverted at all. The point is that the Amendment says, "the … facilities in the neighbourhood are inadequate". My point is that the country park may be very much smaller than the neighbourhood. We may therefore be forcing the visitor to go out of the country park into that part of the neighbourhood which lies outside the country park and where the facilities are adequate. But I foresee country parks as being small and rather concentrated places, and quite different from the National Parks, where you take a great walk and are happy to go 20 or 30 miles. This may be a place where you want to live and move and have your being, or, rather, live and stay still and have your being, in an area of half a mile or so.


Of course this is entirely satisfactory. The Parliamentary Secretary is going to look at this argument again, and when he has looked at it I think he will be extremely likely to adopt the argument which has been advanced by my noble friend.


Could I suggest that it depends where you take your measurement from as to whether it is two or three miles?


I hope that my noble friend, in looking at this matter again, will consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, because I do not think, if I may say so, that they hold water. There is the greatest difference between a National Park and a country park. If this Amendment is accepted, in this or some other form, it would mean the kind of situation in which we have, say, Hyde Park, and the local authority could not place a restaurant by the Serpentine because that Park is surrounded by first-class restaurant accommodation, North, South, East and West.

The relevant wording, to my mind, would appear to be in paragraph (b), which is, "for the enjoyment or convenience of the public". I should have thought that the fact that there are adequate catering facilities outside the country park had nothing to do with the case at all. It is for the convenience of the public inside the park. I do not think they can be expected to walk quite a long distance to some restaurant rant or hotel outside, when they could be provided with adequate facilities for refreshment inside the park.

Also, it seems to me, if I may say so with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, a very strange Amendment to come from the Opposition, because I always thought the Opposition was wedded to the idea of competition. For that reason, I shot. Id have thought it would have been eminently desirable that the restaurants and hotels in the neighbourhood and around the park should be in competition with any facilities the local authority might wish to provide in the park; furthermore, that the facilities provided by the local authority in the park should be in competition with those outside the park. That, I should have thought, would in the view of the Opposition have been an eminently desirable state of affairs. I was rather surprised that this Amendment, which attempts to restrict competition in this way, should have been put forward.


Competition is a very good thing, but competition entirely financed by public money is a different matter.


These facilities are usually provided by local authorities and are sub-contracted to contractors, who are also catering experts in their own field. It is not the local authority themselves who do the catering; they are putting the job out to tender.


But nothing is more likely to annoy the ratepayers of a public authority than if that authority sets up, with its own money drawn from the public, a business that is competitive with the businesses of existing ratepayers. However, I do not think we need get into a prolonged argument about municipal trading, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said, which I welcome. I was led into using the phrase "in the neighbourhood" by the fact that it is thought appropriate by the Government for use in Clause 9, and it seemed to me that a number of the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, could have been, with equally great or small effect—I think the latter—used against his own proviso in Clause 9.

I notice that in the Scottish Act it is not thought necessary to raise the neighbourhood question; and it is left to the discretion of the local authority to decide how distances are to be measured, and so forth. That seems to me to be the sensible approach, and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is examining this he will consider whether he can simplify the Bill by using one phrase, as in the Scottish Act, which would apply to all the actions of local authorities under different clauses. If his conclusion is that the proviso should be taken out of Clause 9—and, it may be, out of Section 12 of the 1949 Act—I can promise him that he will incur my vigorous opposition. But I hope, in view of what he has said, that there is a via media here, and that we can achieve what I think all of us want, by getting the right words that will apply to common land also applied to country parks, whether on land or water.


Before the noble Lord leaves that point I wonder whether he can tell me why I shall incur his vigorous opposition. I thought that above all he was in search of uniformity, and this would be one way of achieving it.


It would be the wrong way of achieving uniformity if we removed this proviso entirely. The right way would be to insert, somewhere in this Bill, a single proviso covering all the activities of local authorities under these particular clauses, Clauses 7, 8 and 9.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, should I be right in interpreting his motive as being that he does not want a public authority to compete with private enterprise?


What I do not want is unnecessary duplication by public authorities of services that are already being satisfactorily provided. This was accepted by the Government in the 1949 Act; otherwise this proviso would not be there. It was accepted by the present Government in 1967 for Scotland; otherwise it would not be in that Act. And the simple course is to apply it by a single proviso to Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 of this Bill. Meanwhile, in gratitude to the noble Lord, and to facilitate progress, I will mention that in the light of this discussion I do not propose to move Amendment No. 19, which covers some of the same ground.


I do not know why the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, thinks that two wrongs make one right. One thing that has become apparent to me in the course of the discussion on this Amendment is that there is something wrong with the 1949 Act, and I very much hope that the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary will find some means in this Bill of amending that Act. In my experience, facilities are almost invariably inadequate, and local authorities are almost invariably reluctant to use the powers which they possesses. This clause does not place any imposition on local authorities: it simply enables them to provide facilities; and if they are threatened by legal proceedings to deal with the rather dubious issue of whether existing facilities are adequate, their natural reluctance to exercise initiative will be reinforced.

With regard to Clause 9 I am frightened by the words "in the neighbourhood", which come from that clause. I suspect that "in the neighbourhood" means in the motoring neighbourhood, 20 or 30 miles away. I suspect it does not mean in the walking neighbourhood, and I hope that the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary will also pay attention to the desirability of amending Clause 9 and avoiding the use of the words "in the neighbourhood".


There really is no reason to amend the 1949 Act, because if the existing facilities are unsatisfactory or inadequate the local authority then have power to proceed. I know of no case in my own experience where there was a lack of facilities in a National Park and nobody was prepared to provide them. Fortunately, we have still a fairly free economy, and if there is a demand for facilities they do get provided, except possibly in the most remote places where there are no people to provide them, and then the local authorities can step in and provide them— and a very good thing. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 a.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved to leave out subsection (4). The noble Lord said: This Amendment is designed to seek a statement from the Government as to the reason why the local authority should be given compulsory powers to acquire land for country parks. There may be good reasons for this, but I said on Second Reading that I proposed to question each of these because Parliament ought to probe the matter before granting additional powers. In what sort of circumstances do the Government envisage that a local authority will be unable to provide a country park except by using compulsory powers? Do they imagine that wherever there is an area of attractive open land somewhere outside a town which the owner is unwilling to sell that will be a suitable place for the local authority to come along and say, "This must be made compulsorily a country park"? I trust that the Government are going to be able to say in this case, as in the former case, that it is expected that the use of compulsory powers will be very rare and that they will be used only in exceptional circumstances.

But that, of course, is not what the Bill says. The Bill says in broad terms that the local authority shall have these compulsory powers. I say again that my objection to them is not only because compulsory powers are necessarily offensive to the person against whom they are used, but because it is most important that the local authorities concerned, as well as the Countryside Commission, should acquire goodwill rather than ill-will in exercising their powers under this Bill. Countryside parks are to be happy places. It is not desirable that they should be places round which hangs an aura of controversy, perhaps for years, because the acquisition took place in controversial circumstances. I should have thought that these country parks, the idea of which I thoroughly approve, could well be placed in situations where there would be no need for compulsory powers. If the noble Lord is able to say once again that he envisages the use of compulsory powers for country park purposes as very rare indeed, I shall not feel disposed to press the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 18, leave out subsection (4).—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


Although I am connected with local authorities as well as being an owner, I must make some protest against the conferment of these extremely wide powers in connection with anything so totally vague as the recent conception of country parks. In the financial condition of the country I do not think that anything would be lost if we delayed a year or two to see what emerged from this Bill and then considered whether there should be compulsory powers. I noticed on Second Reading that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who knows something about these matters, asked whether anybody could tell him what a country park was going to be. In response to that, various noble Lords made some suggestions, varying from Mitcham Common to Clumber Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, added a few suggestions of his own.

Listening to that debate, it seemed to me that theoretically almost anything, any property in England, could be bought and perhaps the occupants of the house turned out. Yet when you come to consider the practical aspects of this, the whole picture is entirely different. Noble Lords have been saying that local authorities need prodding and stimulating to take up their duties under this Bill. But I have no doubt that noble Lords also realise that we in the local authority world have been prodded and stimulated in an entirely different way by the noble Lord's colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In fact, we have been told quite categorically that our growth of expenditure in the local authority world must not exceed 3½ per cent., not only in this financial year but in the next one, too. In my authority, anyhow, it has been calculated that the commitments under recent legislation will absorb entirely the permitted increase; so that if we want anything new we have to take it entirely out of the rates or divert it from some other service.

I cannot believe that there will be a great rush to acquire land by compulsion for these country parks, unless of course the maximum grant is given by the Commission. I think any stimulation from the Commission will result immediately in an application for a 75 per cent. grant. I should have preferred a greater degree of constitutional formality surrounding these propositions.

As we do not know whether we are talking about country parks of 20 acres, 200 acres or 2,000 acres, I personally should have liked to see anything above a certain size submitted to a procedure analogous to the Provisional Order procedure, whereby where necessary the Minister can lay before Parliament a definite scheme incorporating provisions for compulsory purchase as well as other compulsory provisions for sparing the best agricultural land. I also think that if more deliberate procedure of that sort was entered into, it might do some- thing to guard against the kind of interference that I know occurs, and that we have heard occurs, in National Parks and from other people having compulsory powers.

I remember my noble friend Lord Hylton telling me that the exact point of intersections in Somerset of a National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a nature reserve, was the point selected for the erection of a nuclear power station. As has been said, these country parks are much smaller; but I should not be too surprised if, after a couple of years, somebody had some determined idea of putting a row of pylons right through the middle of one.

Although there is no way of guaranteeing that that would not happen, I feel that a more deliberate procedure, coupled with an extensive inquiry, might be more of a safeguard. It may be that nobody else agrees with this suggestion of mine, but I am unhappy about this almost common form by which many projects now have to have compulsory powers attached. Therefore I hope that some further consideration will be given to this matter.

9.25 p.m.


Before the Minister replies, I should like to ask him just one question and, as I have not such experience of local government as has the noble Lord who has just spoken, I beg to be excused if I am asking a question which many noble Lords would think was too elementary and to which I should know the reply. Clause 7(2) says: A local authority shall have power to acquire compulsorily any land … Is that limited to land within their own area, or does it include land within the area of another local authority? Then, again, it is not entirely clear to me what is meant by "local authority". Does it mean an urban or rural district council, does it mean a county council, or does it mean both, and, if so, can they all acquire land in one another's authority? If, in fact, the powers are as wide as that, it seems that it is something like a jungle which the noble Lord is asking us to agreed to.


The noble Lord opposite said that he was unhappy about these compulsory powers being conferred on local authorities. I should be very unhappy indeed if they were not so conferred, and I do not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is making such a fuss about them. Compulsory purchase has been the law of the land for well over a hundred years. It has been used by Liberal, Conservative, and Labour Governments year after year. The noble Lord himself used it when he was Minister of Local Government, so why the same powers should not be available in this new development I really cannot understand. This is not a one-sided affair. If the council do not possess the right to fall back on to compulsory powers in a difficult situation, then the owner, by virtue of that very fact, actually possesses those compulsory powers. He just says "No", and then the whole question of public progress is frustrated. The council's hands are tied; they can do nothing at all, or if the council has to pay some punitive sum which the landowner demands the ratepayers are exploited.

I do not believe that compulsory powers will often need to he used under the provisions of this Bill. The noble Lord opposite created the impression that many, many parks may be bought; but councils have limited money. They have to produce budgets every year, they have to be answerable to the ratepayers every year, and it frequently happens that the amount of the increase in the rates is a very lively question when local government elections are held. So I do not see local councils buying land for these purposes unnecessarily. If they think that a particular piece of land is desirable as a local park, as a country park, then they will probably try to buy it, but they will not go about buying every piece of land that they can have out of sheer cussedness.

The noble Lord opposite asked for suggestions. He said that some of my noble friends had suggested places that might become very suitable country parks. Although it is not strictly relevant to this clause, I can also suggest one or two around Stansted and its surrounding villages in Essex. What a lovely country park that would make! But I am digressing. We are considering the desirability or otherwise of allowing authorities to have compulsory powers. If they do not have compulsory powers, their hands are tied. They are completely at the mercy of the landowner, who may be advised by a very able solicitor or land agent, and I think in the interests of the ratepayers these compulsory powers ought to be granted.


In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, may I say that because a thing has been in existence for a very long time it is not necessarily proof that it is a good thing. I personally feel that there have been a great many grave injustices under compulsory purchase, and I am very much against the widespread granting of the power to local councils or to anybody else. I have more than once thought that it is a power that should be granted only by Parliament itself. That is perhaps not a very informed view, but I certainly support my noble friend's Amendment.


The noble Lord says that because a thing has been in existence for a long time it may not be a good thing. If I may trespass on his professional preserves, music has been in existence for a very long time: does that make it bad?


I did not say that it made it either good or bad. I merely said that it did not necessarily make it good.


What the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, does not quite see is that nobody is disputing that occasionally Parliament has to confer powers of compulsory purchase for clearly defined purposes. What is being called in question is the desirability of conferring on local authorities compulsory purchase powers for not very clearly define I purposes, where the only effect of the grant of such powers is to exclude all Parliamentary control. Surely it is a point of substance that we should not simply grant powers of compulsory purchase to every local authority if the only effect is that in a highly controversial case where national as well as private interests may be involved Parliament will have no further control in the matter.

It is often assumed that unless we do something of this sort it might be possible to prevent something required in the public interest from being done. Parliament will however, I hope, continue to exist. Parliament will be able to grant rowers where it sees fit. I should have thought that the point was accurately stated by my noble friend Lord Gage who has great experience of local government in Sussex. If we do not have powers quite so ill-defined as this, it does not mean that we cannot have any powers of compulsory acquisition in any case. It means that we should not grant such powers unless, first, we define very closely the purposes for which they can be used, and, secondly, we are satisfied that we desire to exclude the possibility of Parliamentary control.

9.33 p.m.


The overall question, "For what purpose should a local authority have compulsory purchase powers?" has by now, I think we must admit, become almost coterminous with the question: "Is the need for the satisfaction of which the powers are in question a serious social need or is it not?" What we are talking about is whether the provision of country parks as places for people to get to in the countryside is of comparable seriousness to the provision of housing, schools, hospitals or defence installations, for which compulsory purchase powers have existed for some time. The Committee would be justified in concluding that it is a serious social need which is met by the provisions of this Bill, and the bodies which are to meet this need—namely, the local authorities—have a right to compulsory purchase powers to meet this need. They will use them—and the Ministers responsible will ensure that they use them—only in accordance with the usual restraint; that is to say (and I am happy to give Lord Brooke this assurance) that it will be only in exceptional cases that Ministers will approve the use of these compulsory powers. Obviously, a normal negotiated agreement for the transfer of land is to be preferred in every case, but if the need is a serious one the powers should be in the background.

I would ask whether the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, would agree that I should write to him about his point of one local authority compulsorily purchasing land in the area of another. This is a complicated matter, and does not come into the Amendment before the Committee.


I do not think that it is a complicated point. We are now asked to approve a clause which is very wide. The burden of most of my noble friend's argument has been that, whereas compulsory powers may be reasonable in many circumstances, they are not reasonable in this wide and vague way. I thought the point I put to the noble Lord was fairly straightforward to somebody in charge of a Bill. Is it not possible for him to get the answer from the Box, since this is something on which possibly one might decide whether to vote for or against the Amendment? Many Members of the Committee would like to know to which of the local authorities we are in fact giving this power. Can any parish council, under the wording of this clause, acquire an unlimited area of land in another authority's area?


A parish council's expenditure is limited to a 1½d. or 2d. rate, or something of that kind, and therefore it is hardly likely to indulge in large land purchase, either in its own village or in somebody else's.


It is assumed in most of this discussion that these compulsory purchase powers, if they are to be exercised, will be exercised only against private individuals. May I put this case to the Minister? If a historic house has been acquired by the National Trust, will the grounds of that house be capable of compulsory acquisition under this clause and, if not, where does he find the limitation?


Would the noble Lord also bear in mind, with reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, has said, that there are some parishes—we are probably in one now—where a 1d. rate is worth a large sum of money?


Will the noble Lord tell me who is the chairman of the parish council of Westminster?


I was only trying to save the time of the Committee. But the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is not as I suspect he would wish it; that is to say, local authorities have these powers in the areas of others. It is provided in Clause 6(3): A local authority may exercise the powers conferred by the three next following sections inside or outside their area, except that only the council of a county borough may exercise those powers wholly or partly within the county borough. It is a complicated matter and we could go on for some time, but it is all in the Bill. I do not know whether that meets the noble Lord's point.


I think that my moving this Amendment and my raising of the matter has disclosed that this is a question of quite considerable substance, and that it has not been made wholly clear to your Lordships that the Government have appreciated the extent of what they are doing. I am not proposing to press this Amendment, because I for my part can conceive circumstances in which a local authority might need to use compulsory powers for the acquisition of a country park. The circumstances which occur to me were not, I think, mentioned by any noble Lord who was defending this subsection. What I had in mind was a case where there were many willing sellers but one obstinate refuser, and it might seem unreasonable if what was otherwise a sound and generally acceptable scheme could not be carried out because there was just one significant plot of land which could not be obtained by agreement.

I would correct the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, on one point. The compulsory powers do not go back 100 years; they go back 300 years to the Great Fire of London. It is quite interesting to see how they were first accepted by Parliament during the reconstruction after that fire. I must say that I thought he gave us a magnificent example of doctrinaire Socialism, when he informed us that if the owner of a possession was unwilling to sell that possession he was, as it were being granted by Parliament compulsory powers to retain it.


I did not say that. I said that if a council did not have those compulsory powers, then the owner of the land had those compulsory powers because all he had to do was to say, No.


That is what I call doctrinaire Socialism; that there should be any sort of criticism against a man who is unwilling to sell for what may be a perfectly good reason. Anyhow, in the context of this Bill I hope we are now all agreed that the more that can be done by agreement the more likely it is that these plans for country parks, and so forth, will work out successfully. We may have to con- sider between now and Report stage whether any further limitation should be made on subsection (4), but for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8:

Country parks: sailing, boating, bathing and fishing


(2) If a country park is bounded by the sea, or by any waterway which is not part of the sea, the local authority providing the country park shall have power to carry out such work and do such other things as may appear to them necessary or expedient for facilitating the use of the waters so adjoining the country park by the public for sailing, boating, bathing and fishing and other forms of recreation

(4) The local authority, before acting under the foregoing provisions of this section, shall consult with such other authorities, being authorities which under any enactment have functions relating to the sea or other waters in question, as the Minister may either generally or in any particular case direct, and Schedule 1 to this Act shall have effect as respects any objection made by authorities so consulted.


I said I was not going to move Amendment No. 19, but I must take the opportunity to ask where the Minister is. It is perhaps just as well that I am not moving this Amendment, because it occurs to me that there would be nobody to reply to it.


May I explain? The noble Lord had said that he did not propose to move this Amendment. The following Amendment was to be moved by—


The noble Lord could have waited until my noble friend sat down.


But the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, had already stated—


No, he had not.


The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was not in the Chamber when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that he did not propose to move Amendment No. 19.


I was in the Chamber.


I cannot understand why the noble Lord denies the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said quite clearly that he did not intend to move Amendment No. 19.


What I was saying was that I did not understand why, when my noble friend Lord Brooke was making a speech, the Minister in charge of the Bill walked out.


And the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition walked in.


I do not intend to move this Amendment, but I see no reason whatever why I should not speak on the question, "Whether the clause shall stand part?", and I should have thought it desirable that the Minister in charge of the Bill should be present until we had passed to some other Amendment which was being dealt with by some other Minister.

9.43 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, in subsection (4), after the first "shall", to insert: obtain the consent of the river authority within whose area the waterway is situated and". The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 20, and I would suggest that, with the leave of the Committee, I discuss also No. 21 which is directly related to it. This is a small point. The purpose of the Amendments is to make an adjustment between the relationship of the river board and the local authority which I think would be an improvement over that which the Bill now provides.

It will have been noticed that in Clause 8 there is provision for the making of country parks where water is a feature of the country park, and it will have been noticed that in subsection (1) of Clause 8 the recreation shall include sailing, boating, bathing and fishing". These are all recreations for which river authorities are responsible to a greater or lesser extent. For instance, I suppose it would be true to say that all river authorities are statutorily responsible for the fisheries in the rivers and waters for which they are responsible. Some are also responsible for sailing and boating, and some provide bathing as well. So there are direct statutory responsibilities now resting on the river authorities in these areas, and it seems to me that it would be a better relationship if the river authority was of an equal status as the local authority where a country park was to be set up.

There is a direct precedent for the suggestion that I am making, though in the reverse way. It is under the Land Drainage Act 1961, Section 34. That section authorises local authorities to carry out land drainage works in their districts to prevent flooding or to remedy or mitigate damage caused by flooding, but there is an absolute prohibition against local authorities carrying out the works on the main river as regards these watercourses without the consent of the river authority—in other words, exactly the reverse situation to what I am suggesting here. This Bill, as drafted, does no more than provide that a river authority shall be consulted. The river authority is not even mentioned in this clause; it is swept up in subsection (4), along with any other authorities.

I mentioned this point on Second Reading. I am sure it is our common wish that these country parks, when they are set up, should be successful and that —especially where there is water for which the river authority is responsible—they should be used to the maximum. Water sports of all kinds are the glamour sports of to-day and we want to make sure that they are used in the best way. I am sure that we shall not get that unless the river authorities are brought in from the start in order to get their expert know-how and co-operation rather than their obstruction. To take an extreme example (and I will not take more than another minute of your Lordships' valuable time), the Thames Conservancy has been in existence for a century carrying out just these functions—all of them. It would be absurd for a local authority, or any authority along the great length of this river, to set up a country park without getting the partnership of the Thames Conservancy. Yet this is how the Bill is drafted.

I know that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is most reluctant to see the river authority put on an equal basis here with the local authority. I am sure it will work better like this. I am sure from past experience with river authorities on a consultative basis that that will not work satisfactorily. It is a small point; but it is obviously a good one. I hope that the Minister will accept my Amendment and thereby improve the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 10, line 30, after ("shall") insert ("obtain the consent of the river authority within whose area the waterway is situated and").—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)


The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said that this was a small point, but I know that there are many people who believe it to be a most important point. The noble Lord himself said that he had put forward this case on Second Reading. Subsequently, as he will know, there were deputations to the Minister, and the case on behalf of the River Authorities' Association has been very well put and carefully considered. What I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is that the objective that he very reasonably set before us can be achieved within the present framework of the Bill. Clause 8 already provides for consultation, as he knows, between the local authorities and such other authorities … which under any enactment have functions relating to the sea or other waters … The river authority would certainly be an authority which the Minister will direct local authorities to consult.

There may be a case where the river authority has a different point of view from that of the local authority; but, as the noble Lord will see in Schedule 1, there is a very clear provision that action shall not be taken by a local authority in the face of opposition from a river authority unless the Minister so directs, and the Minister will consult with the Minister of Agriculture as appropriate. Although the Amendment substitutes for the present "consult" the provision of "consent" by the river authority, I would nevertheless put it to the noble Lord that this change, against the background of Schedule 1, would not make any practical difference. As at present drafted, the clause prevents any action being taken in the face of opposition from a river authority unless the Minister so directs.

The noble Lord said that there could be a case where the river authority itself could provide facilities for boating and sailing much more efficiently, agreeably and attractively than the local authority. In such a case there is provision for an arrangement between the local authority and the river authority under which the river authority could undertake the kind of function which it is thought they could perform better than the local authority. I should have thought that in that case the noble Lord's objective would be achieved.

Moreover, as I am advised, there are obvious difficulties in the arrangement proposed; that is, that the river authority should be given the power to provide these facilities, when they do not own the river or the land around the river, and there would be difficulty in their provision of the necessary physical apparatus that would go with some of the sports or pastimes which the noble Lord has in mind. In those circumstances, although I appreciate the objective of the noble Lord, I ask him to think that it can be achieved with the present wording of the Bill, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.

9.51 p.m.


May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for producing such a persuasive case in answer to my Amendment. I think his last point, however, referred to a later Amendment which I am moving in the form of a new clause, because these two Amendments refer only to requiring the consent of the river authority and not to extending their powers to provide these facilities themselves. I think the point is a little more substantial than the noble Lord has made out. I agree that Schedule 1 provides some safeguard, but must remind him of the point which I made on Second Reading about the experience of the river authorities under the 1961 Land Drainage Act, which provided consultative machinery—or it was later provided by Ministry circular—requiring local authorities to consult the river authorities before allowing planning consents for development in the flood areas. This has not been a happy experience for the river authorities. It is true that normally the local authorities ask river authorities for their advice about building in these areas, but very frequently they do not take that advice, and this has left a very poor impression on the minds of members of river authorities.

There is no denying that the authority that has the statutory power to initiate schemes will get the bias their way when the Minister comes to decide what is to be done. What I am trying to do, in order to avoid quite unnecessary friction which there could be between local authorities and river authorities, is to put them both on the same basis using the excellent precedent that I have cited of the 1961 Land Drainage Act with regard to local authorities taking action about flood control. Here is an exact precedent, and all I am asking is that it


This Amendment is to prevent a local authority from exercising their powers under Clause 8 so as to contravene the provisions of Section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964. Section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964, as noble Lords opposite will know, provides that the Minister of Transport may make orders prohibiting without his consent certain harbour works costing more than £500,000. It is most unlikely that any works carried out in the exercise of powers under this clause will approach this sum, but those who have responsibility under this Bill nevertheless think should be done here. It has worked very well with regard to the Land Drainage Act, so let us do it here. River authorities will be happy; it will make little difference in practice, and when such county parks are constructed they will have a better chance to get off to a harmonious and successful start. I earnestly hope that the noble Lord will accept this sensible Amendment, but if he does not I fear that I must invite my noble friends to divide the Committee.

9.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 20) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 31.

Airedale, L. Craigmyle, L. Kinnoull, E. [Teller.]
Balerno, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Malmesbury, E.
Barnby, L. Falmouth, V. Nugent of Guildford, L
Berkeley, Bs. Fortescue, E. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller]
Bessborough, E. Gage, V. Sandford, L.
Boston, L. Gridley, L. Sandys, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Henley, L. Somers, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Howe, E. Strathclyde, L.
Carrington, L. Iddesleigh, E. Vivian, L.
Conesford, L. Inglewood, L. Waldegrave, E.
Beswick, L. Heycock, L. Phillips, Bs.
Blyton, L. Hill of Wivenhoe, L. Popplewell, L
Bowles, L. [Teller.] Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.] Raglan, L.
Brockway, L. Hughes, L. Rowley, L.
Champion, L. Kennet, L. Rusholme, L.
Chorley, L. Leatherland, L. St. Davids, V.
Crook, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Serota, Bs.
Gainsborough, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Shackleton, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Maelor, L. Strabolgi, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Henderson, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

it is necessary to make this provision. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 6, at end insert ("or section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964 (control of harbour development)").—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9:

Powers exercisable over or near common land


(5) A local authority shall have power to acquire compulsorily any land in the neighbourhood of the common land which is required by them for the purposes of their functions under this section and which is not common land.

10.3 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved to leave out subsection (5). The noble Lord said: We now come to Clause 9, which I find to be of a very mysterious character. It is concerned with commons. The Explanatory Memorandum at the beginning of the Bill says: Clause 9 and Schedule 2 provide powers for the carrying out of appropriate works on small portions of commons already subject to de jure public access or on adjoining land to enable better use to be made of the commons for open air recreation. I can find nothing in Clause 9 or Schedule 2 limiting these powers to small portions of commons, but that is possibly because I have not fully understood the provisions in the measure. I have Amendments down later to try to clear up certain points in Schedule 2, which goes with this clause. But my present purpose is to move to leave out subsection (5), which is the compulsory purchase provision here. I introduce that by making these general remarks, because I think it is very difficult for us to debate constructively the need or otherwise for compulsory purchase in connection with this clause if it is not wholly clear to your Lordships what the clause as a whole is about.

It would be very helpful indeed if the Government explained in what sort of circumstances they think a local authority may be disposed to exercise the powers herein over or near to common land, because then it will be easier for your Lordships to understand whether or not the local authority should have in addition compulsory powers of acquisition of land in the neighbourhood of the common land for this purpose. It may be perfectly all right, but I am quite sure that here if anywhere Parliament ought to inquire of the Government why this extension of compulsory power is desirable, and the Government ought to justify that to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 34, leave out subsection (5). —(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

10.6 p.m.


I appreciate that this is a puzzling one. If the exercise of the powers of local authorities for improved access were being used not on a common, it is beyond doubt they would have compulsory purchase powers to do it, but when they are exercising these powers on common land the powers conferred on them by the Bill to do so are of a different nature. Nevertheless, in arranging a common the better for the public good, to give better access and make better use of existing public; rights on commons, it may be that in certain cases it would be absurd to be forced to do whatever one was going to do precisely on the common, rather than just over the boundary in somebody else's land.

The kind of thing the Government have in mind is an approach road, avoiding creating a road hazard by building a place for cars to turn, a little curve or something like that; or some small piece of development, a tiny building or car park, or whatever it may be—this kind of thing which under the use of the common land powers one would expect to go on the common but which, according to all the canons of common planning sense, should go just past; then compulsory purchase powers should be available to allow local authorities to do it. It is really a bit of tidying up at the boundary between the powers applicable to common land and powers to be used by means of compulsory purchase.

I think it will be only very occasionally that it may become necessary for local authorities to use this bit of compulsory purchase power against the wishes of an owner. It will always be in order that an existing right of public access over the common may be used to better advantage, because normally the appropriate place for the development of public facilities which we are talking about will be on the common itself. But it seems to the Government desirable that this should be so. The local authority would be allowed to use the compulsory purchase powers in regard to the neighbouring land only if the Minister was completely satisfied that it was quite impracticable to put the public facilities on the part of the common itself to the improvement of which they should contribute.


I am still puzzled by the Parliamentary Secretary's answers here, because when moving this Amendment my noble friend said that he saw in the Memorandum, as indeed I have seen, that this was a de minimis provision; that it was to be used only very slightly. The Minister in his reply says, "a tiny building". Where does he find in this section anything about tiny buildings? It says, "any land".


If it is going to be something big the local authority will obviously proceed under their ordinary compulsory purchase powers, which in any event we hope they will never have to use. But if it is a big scheme, they will make a country park by using compulsory purchase to get the land. But what we are talking about here is something just on the edge of a common, which will not require the full battery of country park compulsory purchase powers, though it will still be necessary to make the best use of the common. I think the answer to the noble Earl's question lies in the fact that, if it is to be a big development, it will not come under this provision; it will come under the provisions we have been considering earlier this evening, about compulsory purchase powers for country parks themselves.


But if the Minister uses the expression "just on the edge of the common", one would surely expect the subsection to read "contiguous to the common" or "adjoining the common". But it does not: it says "in the neighbourhood of the common". Under that wording it would be possible, surely, compulsorily to acquire land which had no contiguity with the common; it might be perhaps a mile away. Would it not be better to redraft the subsection to make quite sure that the Minister's words "just on the edge of the common" are reproduced in this subsection?


Here we are back to the philosophical question of how big is a neighbourhood. If the noble Lord cares to put down an Amendment at a later stage, it will be considered.


The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, sought to get me into trouble over the use of the word "neighbourhood" a few Amendments ago, and now the point has rebounded on to his own head. I am inclined to agree that if there is a case for Clause 9 there is a case for a suitably drafted sub- section (5), because it may be important that there should be proper access for cars and a turning place to enable people to get to the common. But those words "in the neighbourhood" are very wide. However, what I really want to debate is the purpose and value of Clause 9 as a whole, and I think the best thing I can do is to raise that in the debate on the Question, That Clause 9 stand part, which will be facilitated if I first ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?


Parliament has always shown itself to be specially interested in matters of common land, and here is a clause which is designed in some respects to interfere with common land, but on the pretext that thereby the action taken is going to add to the enjoyment of the public. I think it would be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would expound this clause to us in simple terms. I have read the Explanatory Memorandum, which informs all and sundry that this is confined to: the carrying out of appropriate works on small portions of commons already subject to de jure public access". As I read this clause, however, it could be applied not to a small portion of a common but to the whole of a common, however large the common may be; and if there is already de jure access to this common I find myself asking what additional buildings and works will be required there.

Of course, we also have the powers to provide facilities and services for the convenience and enjoyment of the public. That may be desirable on a common as a whole, but in all the circumstances is it thought by the Government likely that a local authority will wish to take either the whole or, as the Explanatory Memorandum says, a small portion of a common and erect buildings and carry out works on it? What are the circumstances, what is the object; what will be the result, and how is one to be sure that in the end there will be greater enjoyment for members of the public on that common than if the common were left as it was originally intended to be; namely, as common land with de jure public access? Those are the questions which I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would answer.


In general, the purpose of this clause is to give the local authorities concerned, about which I think the noble Lord is not inquiring, a power to acquire, by agreement or compulsorily (and in the latter case with ministerial control), parts of a common to which the general public have a permanent legal right of access, and to provide facilities such as car parks, shelters and toilets. The part of the common which will be benefited by the provision of these facilities may indeed not be small: it may be the whole common. But the part on which the facilities will be built will be a small part. The authorities take only little bits of land to carry out the job required, although the whole common may benefit therefrom. The object is to enable the right of public access to be more effectively used, and the effect will be for the common to function very much as a country park but without altering its status as a common.

In exercising their powers local authorities are required to have regard to the same considerations found in Clause 6 relating to the enjoyment of the countryside as if they were providing a country park under the provisions of Clause 7. The phrase "small parts" applies to the parts on which the local authorities are to build things. They will not be taking the whole common for development, but when they have taken the small parts the common as a whole will benefit as regards public access and enjoyment.


Could the noble Lord answer one question? At the beginning of his speech he used the words "parts of a common" several times, and put great emphasis on the word "parts". I am at a loss to see which subsection he is referring to, because I cannot see any reference to "parts of a common".


I was referring to the Explanatory Memorandum, about which I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor.


My noble friend Lord Brooke asked for clarification on the whole clause. I am going to follow him and ask whether the Minister could help me on the interpretation of this clause. He has described what powers the local authority might have to acquire parts or the whole of a common, but it would seem from that that the local authority might be impelled so to do by the absence of development which might have been carried out by the owner of the soil.

It seems to me that the clause proposes to put into the hands of the local authorities the power to carry out work which probably would be to the advantage and convenience of the neighbourhood, but it seems curious that we should be proceeding to legislate now to give into the hands of local authorities for the first time power to do something which with equal effect could for long have been done by the person seized with the rights of the common, the owner of the common. The person seized with the common rights is the owner of the soil. One might have thought that he would have had an opportunity to do what we are now legislating, or proposing to legislate, should be put into the hands of the local authorities to do. It seems a rather curious thing that we are now proposing to vote on a clause that my noble friend Lord Brooke has suggested should be analysed as to whether the whole clause is wanted, and the curious effect of what this is going to do as against what has been the rights of the owner of the soil. Let us take a common where the owner of the common might well wish to replant or enclose for the benefit of the land, the community and himself. I understand that lie is barred by Common Law, and therefore he is at a disadvantage, It is curious that in that area we are doing something which the owner of the soil might well have wished to do but is prevented by law from doing.

10.20 p.m.


I take the noble Lord's point. I do not know whether what he has been saying would lead him to look with favour or disfavour on the present clause. I am not quite sure which way he is pointing. Does he wish the Government to take away this clause so that local authorities shall not have power—


I am seeking interpretation in my perplexity.


The interpretation that I have given is that local authorities will have power to do these things. Whether or not the soil owner in the past had power to do them is something that I am not able to answer without notice, but I hope that all soil owners who may be able to assist and collaborate with local authorities under this clause in future will do so. Local authorities will greatly welcome their assistance.


I should like just to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord for the trouble he has taken in replying to my questions. I must say that we have come rather late at night to one of the more obscure clauses of the Bill, but we shall have occasion to revert to the subject when we reach Schedule 2, which is related to this clause; and though I do not as yet claim that I fully understand the clause and the case for it, no doubt when I read what the noble Lord has said it will start to become clearer to me. If I still have further questions I think it will probably be in order for me to ask them in relation to Schedule 2. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee and would meet with general approval if I were to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past ten o'clock.