HL Deb 20 May 1968 vol 292 cc457-77

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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 he the "Countryside Commission".

LORD MOLSON moved, in subsection (1), after "Countryside" to insert "and National Parks". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Strang and Lord Chorley. I moved this Amendment at the Committee stage, As a result of a suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, as a compromise, I did not press the matter on that occasion, although I have every intention of pressing the Amendment which I have put down for to-day and which embodies his compromise.

This Bill is to a large extent an amendment and an extension of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. It has been made quite plain by the Government that they are building upon the experience of that earlier measure, and I do not wonder that they do so. It was passed by a Labour Government and was supported at that time by many who did not belong to the Government side. In the opinion of every impartial observer that Act has been an unqualified success. It has done a great deal to remind people of the outstanding beauty of many parts of our countryside and of the need, in these days of industrial and commercial development, to safeguard the most beautiful parts of our countryside.

We who are pressing this Amendment welcome the fact that this Bill, introduced by the present Labour Government, is carrying the same process further and that the Commission set up under the 1949 Act to deal with the National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are to have their scope extended in order that they may be responsible for preserving the beauty of the whole of our countryside. That is entirely to the good, and we welcome it. We are very glad that the responsibility of the Commission is being extended and that the word "Countryside" is to be included in their title. But we feel very strongly that none of that is a reason for dropping the title which the Commission have had for the last twenty years, particularly since, in the opinion of all impartial observers and of successive Governments of both the main political Parties, the National Parks Commission have discharged their duties so well. When we are extending their responsibilities do not let us disregard an honourable and successful tradition.

We do not press this Amendment merely because of the name, important as that is, and not solely for the purpose of preserving traditions, honourable and distinguished as they are. We do so because it is important to maintain our priorities. So long as there is a shortage of money—and I cannot see the lime when there will not be some shortage of money—it is important that money should be spent according to priorities. I think it was Mr. Aneurin Bevan who said that Socialism depends upon proper priorities. A great many other things besides Socialism depend upon proper priorities. All sound administration of every kind depends upon proper priorities, especially when, as I say, there is likely to be a shortage of money.

Since this Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, we have been warned by the Government (and I make no complaint about it: on the contrary, I commend them for their realism) that the amount of money which they originally hoped to spend under this Bill will have to be restricted. If that is so, it is surely of great importance that the limited amount of money available should be spent with some degree of priority on those parts of the country which have been selected as of such particular beauty and interest that they have been made into National Parks. I am thinking of the Lake District, the Peak District, Dartmoor and Exmoor, to mention only a few of them; and, of course, in Wales, Snowdonia, in all its beauty. If there is to be a limit upon the amount of money spent, it is important that this new Commission should bear in mind the importance of giving some priority to those parts of England and Wales which have been under the special care of the National Parks Commission during the last twenty years.

I do not attach exaggerated importance to names, but I think there is more in this than a name. It would be true to say that almost all—indeed, so far as I know, all—of the amenity societies like the old name, National Parks Commission, and are in favour of preserving it, because of what it has implied in the past and what it ought to imply in the future. We welcome the extension of the Commission's responsibilities, but we consider it of great importance to preserve the continuity of an honourable and successful and distinguished tradition. I beg to move this Amendment, which is a compromise suggested by my noble friend Lord Swinton, giving priority to the bold idea of the countryside and yet preserving the words "National Parks".

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


My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment which stands in my name as well as in that of my noble friend Lord Molson. I will not repeat all the arguments that I used on Second Reading and in Committee. The main argument I used was that as this new Commission will operate under two separate but connected Acts—the Act of 1949 and this new Act of 1968—that duality ought to be preserved in the name given to the new Commission with their extended functions.

The Amendment discussed in Committee was that the title should be National Parks and Countryside Commission. As my noble friend has said, a compromise suggestion was made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who has expressed his regret that it is not possible for him to be in the House to-day. It seems to me that the compromise suggested has a good deal to commend it. It preserves the duality; it gets rid of one of the difficulties which was urged against the earlier Amendment: that this double title was such an awful "mouthful" that no one would ever know quite what to call the Commission. It seems to me that this proposed new title provides a possible solution.

The full title of "Countryside and National Parks Commission" would appear on all official documents, and on the stationery of the new Commission, but in everyday practice people would probably call it, for short, the Countryside Commission. There is a precedent for that. The full title of the 1949 Act is the "National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act" but, except on official papers and on official occasions, no one calls it by this full title. It is always referred to as the "National Parks Act" Similarly, the new Commission would commonly be called "the Countryside Commission", but for official purposes it would bear its full name. All the arguments which were advanced by my noble friend Lord Molson, with whom I entirely agree, would be met by this extended title with the revised order of the two parts of it. It seems to me that the new proposed title ought to satisfy everybody, and I hope that the Government will change their minds about it.


My Lords, I do not want to repeat the arguments I put forward at the last stage, but I have been thinking about what was said by my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger, the present Chairman of the National Parks Commission, and I can see that her contention that the name "Countryside Act" is simpler is obviously true. But there is a certain emotional element—a morale element, as I called it—and I can see that the new Commission who are just taking up their work would prefer to have themselves thought of as the Countryside Commission, just as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and that happy band of warriors who work with him have an emotional feeling in favour of preserving the title of the Commission tinder which they work.

It seems to me that the noble Earl's compromise suggestion was a happy way out of this difficulty and I hope that the Government will feel able to accept it. The noble Baroness's suggestion that "Countryside" is simpler is a better argument than that put forward by the Minister in Committee below, when he said that it was simpler and more accurate. I do not think that it is more accurate. If we look at this important Bill, we see that a substantial amount of it is taken up with amending the National Parks Act and with the actual work of the old National Parks Commission. Therefore, it certainly is not more accurate to leave "National Parks" out of the title; in fact, I should have said it was the opposite. Leaving it out fails to bring home to the person or the organisation coming to the study of the Act what will remain undoubtedly the most important part of the work of the Commission, whether it is called the Countryside Commission or the Countryside and National Parks Commission, and that is important.

The other point which was made by the noble Baroness was that, from a publicity point of view, "Countryside" was a more useful title. I have been thinking about that, and I doubt whether it is true. My friends who are in the publicity movement have always told me that it is a cardinal rule of advertising, which I suppose is publicity, that there should be something concrete on which the mind can work. "Countryside" is a very general term; "National Parks" is much more concrete, and it is something which the out-of-door public of this country has come to know about and attach importance to. I should have thought that it was a considerable advantage, from the point of view of impingement on the mind of the person to whom you are addressing yourself, that it should have some concrete subject attached to it like "National Parks", in addition to the rather general and vague word "Countryside", which may mean one thing to one person and an entirely different thing to another. Therefore I felt that this was a fallacious argument. In view of all these considerations I hope that the Government will feel able to accept the compromise put forward so felicitously by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on the last occasion.


My Lords, I hesitate to get to my feet, as really I have nothing to add that I did not say on the Committee stage, but what I said then has not been touched on and I think it is the most important part; that is, that the countryside should be regarded as single and indivisible. I do not want to have bits of the countryside a country park, bits of it places you are allowed to spoil, and other areas where you may earn your living upon it. It is all one and the same. If we are going to make the best use of it and get the best co-operation from farmers, landowners, rambler and tourist interests, and all the rest, I think we must regard it as something single and indivisible. My only reason for not agreeing to this addition of "National Parks", although I see the strength of the noble Lord's argument and the sentiments behind it, is that I think it militates against trying to regard the countryside as one single thing.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I think all sides of the House must be in complete agreement with the reasons for which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, introduced this Amendment, but whether they outweigh the reasons on the other side is a matter on which I think the House is divided. There is clearly agreement that the National Parks are the most special and most important bits of the countryside from the point of view of public access and public enjoyment. There is clearly agreement, also, that the National Parks Commission, as it now exists and has existed for twenty years, has done a magnificent job in interpreting and applying the 1949 Act. There is clearly agreement that it would be most undesirable were there to be any suspicion of a demotion of the place of National Parks in all the categories with which we are dealing in the present Bill and with which the Countryside Commission, or whatever it is called, will be dealing.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that there will always be a shortage of money and when there is a shortage of money you must pay attention to priorities. I agree with him about that. I agree with him, also, that National Parks must remain a very high, if not the highest, priority in all this work of protecting the countryside and making it accessible. But I do not think you really secure proper adherence to priorities by means of short titles. I think the short title ought to pay attention to what is most easily memorable and repeatable and what gives the most accurate picture of the whole range of subjects dealt with in the Bill and the whole range of subjects dealt with by the Commission which is to be the main instrument for progress in this field.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the countryside is single and indivisible, and the Commission which will be taking over from the National Parks Commission must deal with it as single and indivisible and must be able to handle the relationships between all the special categories of land which are to be found in the countryside; namely, the National Parks, the existing areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest, areas with a high landscape value, and the proposed new country parks, picnic places and all the other designations. All these are special parts of the countryside, and there will be the rest of the countryside in which access agreements and access orders may come about, and to which we wish to encourage people to go in the right way, at the right time and place, on all of which it will be the Countryside Commission's responsibility to design means of progress.

That being so, I think the House would be right to give priority in this discussion to neatness of phraseology and compendiousness of meaning in preference to a recognition of the great work done by the existing National Parks Commission and in preference to ensuring that a danger, which I do not believe is real, is avoided; namely, that of a demotion of National Parks themselves within the structure. All that being so, I would advise the House not to amend this wording but to keep it as the "Countryside Commission".


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has set out the issues very clearly and some of your Lordships may feel that they are nicely balanced. I was against the Amendment in Committee to call it the "National Parks and Countryside Commission", because it seemed to me desirable that one should bring the countryside concept to the fore. But I am much more favourably inclined towards this Amendment, because I, for my part, should be sorry, like my noble friend Lord Molson, to see the reference to "National Parks" dropped out entirely. It seems to me that we can very easily keep it in, though I grant that in practice probably the Countryside and National Parks Commission would be commonly called, as the noble Lord, Lord Strang, indicated, the "Countryside Commission". I think, if I were to be invited in some years' time to come to join a body of this character and I had a special interest in National Parks, as many people have, I should be more inclined to accept the invitation if it were called the "Countryside and National Parks Commission" than if it were just called the "Countryside Commission".

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that this was a unitary undertaking. There is another aspect to that. It so happens that on Friday last I was in the Brecon Beacons National Park, on the road that leads over from Ebbw Vale to Llangynidr, where one gets magnificent views into Carmarthenshire to the West and across the Usk valley to the Black Mountains to the East. Frankly, if I had been asked to describe that view, I should not have described it as a view of the countryside. The Welsh countryside which I picture is something quite different from that. This was a panorama of rolling hills and sharp cut mountains—exactly what the concept of a National Park conveys to me.

Bearing in mind that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, himself said that National Parks would probably always have first priority in the Commission's order of importance, I think we should not exclude them from the title. I conclude by saying that with this Amendment I cannot conceive that any considerations of Party controversy or Party philosophy are involved. I should not dream of advising anybody to vote one way or the other on Party grounds from the Opposition Front Bench, but for the reasons I have given, if it comes to a Division, I myself will vote for the Amendment.

3.29 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 3:

Exercise of functions of Commission in Wales and Monmouthshire

3.—(1) The Commission shall, after consultation with the Secretary of State, appoint a Committee for Wales.

3.38 p.m.

LORD MAELOR moved, to leave out subsection (1), and insert:

"(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a Commission for Wales, as is the case for Scotland."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I have been rather reluctant to table my Amendment because I know that the idea of establishing a separate Commission for

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 41.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Effingham, E. Mills, V.
Ailwyn, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Milverton, L.
Airedale, L. Falmouth, V. Molson, L. [Teller.]
Amherst, E. Foot, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Amulree, L. Forbes, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Auckland, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Ogmore, L.
Barnby, L. Gainsborough, E. Portsmouth, Bp.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Goschen, V. Rankeillour, L.
Blackford, L. Greenway, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Bridgeman, V. Grenfell, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. St. Helens, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Horsbrugh, Bs. Sandys, L.
Caccia, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Sempill, Ly.
Carrington, L. Iddesleigh, E. Somers, L.
Chorley, L. [Teller.] Ilford, L. Strang, L.
Clwyd, L. Kings Norton, L. Teviot, L.
Cottesloe, L. Loudoun, C. Thurlow, L.
Craigavon, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Trefgarne, L.
Derwent, L. MacAndrew, L. Uvedale of North End, L.
Devonport, V. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Vivian, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mar, E. Waldegrave, E.
Mersey, V. Wedgwood, L.
Addison, V. Henley, L. Raglan, L.
Archibald, L. Kennet, L. Rea, L.
Beswick, L. Klloracken, L. Rhodes, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Latham, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Burden, L. Leatherland, L. Rowley, L.
Chalfont, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Royle, L.
Crook, L. McLeavy, L. St. Davids, V.
Denham, L. Maelor, L. Samuel, V.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Mitchison, L. Serota, Bs. [Teller.]
Faringdon, L. Moyle, L. Shackleton, L.
Gaitskell, Bs. Nunburnholme, L. Stonham, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Pargiter, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Granville-West, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.] Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Plummer, Bs. Williamson, L.

Wales was rejected by the Minister of State in another place. I fail to understand why she opposed what I regard as a most reasonable request. One has not to be a Welsh Nationalist to be a good Welshman, and, as I have repeatedly stated in this House, I am first and foremost a Welshman, and proud of the fact. By the establishment of the Welsh Office the present Prime Minister has recognised the nationhood of Wales once and for all. We are a different people in many respects—indeed in most respects. We have our own language, our own traditions, and our own way of life. We take a great pride in our country. It is the only democratic Socialist country in the world, because 80 per cent. of our representatives in the other place belong to the Labour Party. That shows that it is an intelligent nation. A third of our beautiful country—I want to repeat this: a third of Wales—is within a National Park.

I should declare an interest and state that I was personally responsible for persuading Mr. Harold Macmillan when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government to allow the Snowdonia National Park to be administered by a Committee composed of representatives of local authorities in that area. Up to that time it was administered entirely by the Commission here in London. That Committee carried out an excellent job of work. This was because all the members were interested in the Park, and each one of them resided within the National Park. The Committee obviously did not have the powers of a Commission.

It is now proposed to have a Commission for England and Wales, and for a Committee under the auspices of the Commission to be in charge of Wales. This set-up does not apply to Scotland. Scotland is to have its own Commission. I contend that what is good enough for Scotland should not be denied to Wales. I am sure no one would suggest for a moment that we have not the men and women in the Principality capable of administering the National Park. Indeed, we have already shown our prowess by the manner in which we have controlled other national bodies. For instance, we have the Welsh Joint Committee of Education in charge of Welsh education, which is an example to anybody outside the Principality. We have the Welsh University, with its four constituent celleges. We control all these. Then we have the Welsh National Museum and other similar institutions. We have already proved beyond a shadow of doubt that, given the power, we are capable of exercising it to the advantage of the institution concerned. Why, therefore, can we not have all the powers and the prestige of a Commission to take charge of our National Park, especially now that the Secretary of State for Wales has bought the mountain of Snowdon for the nation. That mountain now belongs to you and to me. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, refer to the area in South Wales where he was last week. In fact the whole of Wales is fit enough to be regarded as a National Park. It is beauty everywhere—wherever you go you are confronted by beautiful countryside.

It was put forward by the Minister of State in another place that by being placed in the charge of a National Commission for England and Wales we should have the advantages of a large organisasation for scientific research, information and education. I hope to goodness my noble friend will not repeat that argument this afternoon, because I do not understand it and I do not follow it. I am sorry to have to cross swords with the honourable lady in the other place, because I have always held her in the highest regard, and once publicly declared her to be the most intelligent woman in the House of Commons; but I was very surprised indeed to find her advancing this argument in order to support her objection to the establishment of a separate Commission for Wales. Surely Offa's Dyke is not so insurmountable as to prevent any good ideas passing from London to Cardiff.

I would remind your Lordships that until recently the Welsh Department of Education was attached to the Ministry here in Whitehall. Until recently the Permanent Secretary lived in London; now he and his staff have been transferred to Cardiff. I am sure no one would dream of suggesting for a moment that because of this move anything of value that is known to the Ministry here in London will not be conveyed to Cardiff. The very idea of it is ridiculous. The Ministry in London are not going to say: "Now we must not tell our Welsh counterpart anything about this. It is a good thing, but do not let them know about it." There is bound to be consultation, and of course there is consultation. Indeed, I was speaking on the telephone just now to the Ministry for confirmation of what I have just said, and they told me that the Permanent Secretary regularly comes up from Cardiff for consultation here in London. If we had a Welsh Commission it would of course be working in full consultation and in perfect harmony with the English Commission.

This Amendment is so reasonable and so justifiable that I am presumptuous enough to believe that this afternoon I shall have the full support of your Lordships on all sides of the House. I have no desire to divide the House on this issue, and if my noble friend can assure me that he will look again at this clause I shall certainly not divide the House. Otherwise I shall feel compelled to do so—I cannot help myself. I would not be worthy of my country and my nation if I did not put this to the test here this afternoon. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 5, leave out subsection (1) and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Maelor.)


My Lords, before the Minister speaks I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Maelor. There is no reason at all in these days why Wales should not have its own Commission, as England and Scotland have. In fact I think the noble Lord has been modest; I cannot see why the headquarters of the Commission should not be either in Edinburgh or Cardiff. Why should it always have to be in London? All the activities are concentrated here in the "great wen", in London, and it is causing great dissatisfaction in other parts of the country that everything should have to be referred to Whitehall and Westminster. Other parts of the country are treated as if they were reservations where the Red Indians roam, and I think it is time that our nation, the nation of Wales, should be regarded equally with England or Scotland. For these reasons I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, and I hope that if it is not accepted he will press this Amendment to a Division.


My Lords, the discussion so far has taken place without any reference to the fact that the Bill has already been amended in another place to allow for a statutory Committee of the Countryside Commission for Wales. Let me take up some of the points which have been made. First, I should like to say that it seems obvious (does it not?) that there should be a separate Welsh Committee. One can get a false picture of the matter by listening to only one side of the question. The purpose of the Government in this has been to provide the best arrangement as between England and Wales for getting the best services and the best system for Wales. If it were clearly better from the Welsh point of view, in terms that would be understood and accepted on both sides of the Border—and I do not think the English are unreasonable about this sort of thing—for there to be a separate Welsh Commission, then that is what the Government would have done. But it is not, and for the following reasons.

Let us first consider the analogy with Scotland. Why is it right to have an entirely separate Scottish Countryside Commission but not right in the case of Wales to go further than having a separate statutory Committee of the Commission for England and Wales which will be responsible for Wales? In Scotland until this year there was no Countryside Commission at all. The question that had to be faced, therefore, was how shall all this be started up in Scotland; do we expand the United Kingdom National Parks Commission to cover Scotland, perhaps with a statutory Scottish Committee, or, since they are starting from scratch, whereas in England and Wales there has been 20 years' experience, should Scotland have an independent Commission of a slightly different character? In that case it seemed only reasonable, because of the 20 years' time lag in Scotland, because they were starting from the beginning, to provide for a separate Commission in Scotland. That is not the case as between England and Wales.

If there were to be a separate Commission for Wales one would be tearing apart an arrangement which has worked, and in my submission and I think most noble Lords would agree, has worked very well over the last 20 years. Would it be justified completely to saw up the fabric of the Commission and its technical staff into two entirely independent halves after 20 years of successful operation? I think not; and that is why the Government have proposed the halfway house of a statutory Committee for Wales, sitting in Cardiff under a Chairman with special knowledge of Wales who will be a member of the Commission itself, and with Welsh members in it to the number of four, who need not even be members of the Countryside Commission; they can be persons brought in for that purpose because of their knowledge and experience of the Principality.

One wants to consider what would be likely to happen if there were a separate Countryside Commission for Wales. At the moment, since there is one Commission nobody inquires very closely how much money and how much eflort is going into England as opposed to Wales. If there were two entirely separate Commissions everybody, English, Welsh, public opinion and Parliament would be forced to inquire who is getting the better deal in terms of acreage, resident population in the National Parks and town-dwellers likely to want to go to these parks in the country. Once that question was asked you might get a body of opinion building up that Wales was, and had been for some time, getting too good a deal, a deal which could not be justified on strictly numerical canons of equity. If, on the other hand, it remains under one overall umbrella and a single Commission with a statutory Committee for Wales, those questions are less likely to arise and pressures for unwelcome solutions less likely to occur.

For instance, I expect most of your Lordships know that the first two experimental projects which are likely to be carried out by the Countryside Commission are going to be in Wales—two running in Wales before there is one in England at all. They are a land management scheme in Snowdonia and an experimental day centre in the Pembrokeshire National Park. Suppose there were two separate Commissions, what likelihood would there be of the first two experiments being in Wales? I think public opinion would demand—it would be difficult to do otherwise—to have one in Wales and one in England. These considerations should not be absent from our minds. But most important is the question of the technical staff, the staff base of the Commission. It is unitary; much of its work, but not all, is really unitary as between England and Wales. Geological strata nip under Offa's Dyke and come up the other side. Many other aspects of its technical work are absolutely single, and it would be quite false, in technical staff management terms, to carve it up into two separate halves.


My Lords, does not the same argument apply to Scotland? If this applies to Wales, should there not be, in fact, one Commission which embraces Scotland as well?


My Lords, the same argument does apply, and if it were the only argument then I should not feel on strong ground in asking the House to maintain the distinction between Wales and Scotland. But in my submission the other argument about Scotland, namely that they are starting from scratch, overrides this one. That argument is absent in the case of Wales.

For all these reasons it seems right to the Government to have a Countryside Commission for England and Wales. The fact that the Commission is all one is not very important. What is important is that the Countryside Commission staff, the technical people, the experts for England and Wales should be all one. If you started dividing the staff up on a per capita basis, or any other basis, you would find that only a small minority would be able to go to Wales. There is a clear gain in efficiency and the commonsense running of the service in having one body of technical people under the direction—here is the main point—of two groups, which is what the Commission will be to all intents and purposes, the main body of the Commission, which will deal with English business and joint business which will be only of a technical nature, and the statutory Welsh Committee which will meet in Cardiff and be manned by persons with special Welsh knowledge who will be able to call fully on the unitary body of technical ability available to both halves. You will get the Welsh will in it, but not restricted to the technological base available in Wales or which can be posted to Wales without detriment to the rest of the country.


My Lords, are we to understand from that that the expertise available in London will be totally denied to Scotland when they have their own Commission? Are they going to start absolutely from scratch, without any benefit from London?


No, my Lords, of course it will not be totally denied. There will be, and indeed there is already, close collaboration between the English and Welsh Commission and the Scottish Commission, and technical exchanges and visits of every sort. That is to help the Scottish Commission to start up in many technical respects. This should not override the aim of maintaining a unified body of staff where it has been for 20 years, although the directory political will be de facto divided up between England and Wales by the clause as it stands. The Government and the Secretary of State for Wales do not think that Wales would be the gainer by a separate Commission. I would ask the House to maintain the arrangement reached after a very full debate in the House of Commons. It seems the right one: a division between the overall political and social direction, which will be virtually separate for England and for Wales, and the underlying technical and expert basis, which will continue to be unitary as it has been for 20 years with good results.


My Lords, I, of all people, am under no illusion as to the importance of the work to be done in Wales. I well recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, stated, that something like one-third of the whole land surface of Wales is National Park, and I had the privilege of helping to administer the National Parks there. I remember appointing at least two Welsh people to the old National Parks Commission, one of whom at least has made such a reputation there that she has been continued in office under a Government of a different political complexion, and I nave no doubt at all that my choice of her has been amply justified.

It seemed to me strange in the extreme, when I first saw this Bill as introduced in another place, that the Secretary of State for Wales had seen no necessity to introduce into it any special provision at all for Wales. The matter was raised by the Opposition on Second Reading, and on the Committee stage Mr. Gibson-Watt, on behalf of the Conservative Party, moved an Amendment designed to divide the Commission into two divisions. The Government were not willing to accept it, and the Amendment was rejected. The arguments that were used on behalf of the Government at that stage were not convincing. They certainly did not convince the Opposition, and they appear not even to have convinced the Government themselves, because on the Report stage the Government brought forward what is now Clause 3 of this Bill. Thanks to that Opposition pressure in another place a considerable advance has been achieved. I think the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, will himself accept that Clause 3 is a vast improvement on the Bill as it stood at the beginning.

The question now is whether we should go further and accept his Amendment that "The Secretary of State shall appoint a Commission for Wales, as is the case for Scotland". If I thought that that was going to be an improvement here and now for the administration of the countryside and National Parks work in Wales, I should not hesitate to support him. But in the particular circumstances I am not convinced that it would be. I am not convinced largely on the ground that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned, that it would mean the splitting up of scarce staff. There is not a great deal of accumulated expertise on the sub ect of National Parks and countryside administration, and if it is a case of administering the same law in two countries with a limited but extremely valuable staff of experience, I doubt whether it would be right and to the advantage of Wales if, here and now, that staff were split. In years to come it may be different. If this subject were being debated again in five years' time, I might easily be led to take a different view—that there ought to be a Commission for Wales, when the work has been built up.

The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, has moved an Amendment saying that The Secretary of State shall appoint a Commission for Wales, as is the case for Scotland. With great respect to him, that does not seem to me a good form of words to move into the Bill. The Commission for Scotland is really one charged with different duties under widely different legislation, and it appears to me that it would be misleading to imply by those words that the Commission for Wales was, under this Bill, to be an exact parallel with the Commission for Scotland. The Commission for Wales and the Commission for Scotland would in fact be administering different tasks under different laws. On that maybe technical ground, I do not feel that I can support this Amendment.

But I have a most important question to put to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, speaking on behalf of the Government. In Clause 3, subsection (1) says that The Commission shall … appoint a Committee for Wales. Subsection (3) says The Commission may … delegate any of their functions in Wales or Monmouthshire to the Committee for Wales. I want the Government to tell us what is meant by subsection (3), because it appears to me that the new Commission could strictly abide by the letter of the law and delegate nothing to its Welsh Committee, thereby rendering its Welsh Committee abortive. Why does not subsection (3) say that the Commission shall delegate their functions in Wales or Monmouthshire to the Committee for Wales? If this is one of these technicalities about which I have often argued in Committee from both sides, as between the legal desirability of putting in "may" or putting in "shall", which has determined the Government, can they say that in practice this word "may" will be so interpreted as to mean "shall"; that is to say, that it is the desire of the Government, in the administration of this Bill when it becomes law, that the Countryside and National Parks Commission shall make the fullest use of their Committee for Wales and shall, so far as humanly possible, delegate their functions? I should be much more content if I could have an assurance of that kind from the noble Lord.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, yes, I can of course give that assurance. That is the intention of the Government. It is the desire of the Government that the Commission should, so far as is humanly possible, delegate their functions in regard to Wales to the statutory Welsh Committee. One reason against using the word "shall" as opposed to the word "may" in the body of the Bill is that if we used "shall" we probably have to have a Schedule in the Bill saying which of their functions the Commission "shall" delegate to the Welsh Committee as opposed to the functions which they shall not. The Government did not want to do that because they wanted to leave the matter to be discussed between the Commission and the members of the Welsh Committee when it is set up, in order to get a sensible system which might be changed and revised from day to day in its operation, as circumstances and experience develop. That is the reason. It certainly is the intention that the fullest sensible use of these powers to delegate functions should be made. I draw to the attention of the House that the clause goes on to mention the advisory powers in Clause 2 specifically —that the fullest possible delegation of those powers shall take place. The House will have noticed that the advisory function can be to the Secretary of State or not, through the Commission, as shall be worked out at a later time.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 4:

Experimental projects or schemes


(3) 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.

4.7 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved, in subsection (3)(g), after "undertaking" to insert "relevant to the experimental project or scheme". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3. I hope that the Government will be willing to accept this Amendment, because it seems to me to be of an uncontroversial character. In paragraph (g) of subsection (3) of Clause 4 the Commission are being empowered to 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. I invited the attention of your Lordships in Committee to the width of those words. The only limitation at all in the subsection is that the Commission can do those things only for the purpose of their functions under the foregoing provisions of this section. But I suggest that it would be sensible to insert the words relevant to the experimental project or scheme after the words any business or undertaking so as to limit this power to acquire or set up and carry on any business or undertaking to businesses or undertakings that are relevant to the experimental project or scheme.

If it is argued that those words are unnecessary because the subsection begins with the words For the purpose of their functions … the Commission may", I would reply that within that definition the Commission might set up a steelworks on the argument that they were going to make a big profit out of those steelworks and that would all help to finance and to further the experimental project or scheme. In fact, I do not think that the Commission would be likely to get the approval of the Minister or the Treasury for setting up a steelworks, but they could go quite wide if they were limited only by the words For the purpose of their functions under the foregoing provisions of this section. I am not intending by these words to create awkwardness for the Commission. I think it is reasonable to suppose that this paragraph (g) is inserted to enable the Commission to acquire or carry on businesses or undertakings that are relevant to the experimental project or schemes. If that is so, I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 21, after ("undertaking") insert ("relevant to the experimental project or scheme").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


My Lords, I am at one with the noble Lord in his desire to keep the Countryside Commission out of the steel industry. Our advice in the Ministry was that this purpose would be achieved by the clause as drafted, but since I am always loth to differ from the noble Lord, except on occasions where there is an issue and I think I am right and he is wrong, I would advise the House to accept his Amendment because it will make this aim doubly certain of achievement.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.