HL Deb 19 February 1969 vol 299 cc821-904

2.51 p.m.

LORD BYERS rose to call attention to the inadequacy of long-term plans to deal with the increasing threats to the environment and quality of life, particularly pollution, noise, traffic congestion, thoughtless urban and rural renewal and insufficient measures for conservation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to begin to-day with a quotation. It is this: The problem of the future of the whole land area of the British Isles is one of the most urgent and difficult which we have to face to-day. I say 'to-day' deliberately because this problem cannot be put off. The process of development is virtually irreversible which means that we cannot afford to let things happen by chance or accident, only to be regretted later. That is a quotation from the foreword of a remarkably important book written in 1966 called Tomorrow's Countryside by Mr. Garth Christian. The author of the foreword and that extract is His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. It is this theme which I hope will be the subject of our debate to-day; and I should like to thank the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have put down their names to contribute to this important subject. I have tried to condense this theme into the Motion which I am now moving which is: To call attention to the inadequacy of long term plans to deal with the increasing threats to the environment and quality of life, particularly pollution, noise, traffic congestion, thoughtless urban and rural renewal and insufficient measures for conservation.

My Lords, by the end of this century, which is only thirty years ahead of us, Britain will have a population of over 70 million and the world will have 7,000 million plus. I think this question arises. What are we doing to prepare for this? Sir David Renton came to me not more than two hours ago and drew my attention to a Motion being put in another place, an all-Party Motion, calling for adequate machinery and plans to deal with this problem. That Motion was given the backing of something like 326 Back Bench Members of another place. I should like to hope that in the course of this debate we may hear what the Government are proposing to do to deal with this tremendous problem—because this huge increase in numbers and the expansion of material wealth in the industrial world will produce tremendous pressures on the physical environment in which we live. In my view, birth control is only a partial solution. The fact is that man is aggravating this problem by destroying his environment at an accelerating rate. Industrial effluent in the Great Lakes of North America is killing fish in the Gulf of Mexico. It is almost impossible to find a bird specimen anywhere in the world which does not contain some traces of pesticide. Soil erosion is a worsening problem in huge areas of the world. The Sahara Desert in West Africa is advancing at the rate of twenty miles a year. In Soviet Central Asia, in parts of America and, I believe, even in East Anglia, dust bowls are replacing fertile land. Air pollution in Los Angeles is apparently so bad that Frank Sinatra has to give up either his home or his singing.

My Lords, this is the larger picture, but similar things are happening in this country. My case is that we need to look a long way ahead when making the decisions of to-day if we are to reduce the damage to the environment and quality of life of future generations. We have to face up to the consequences of trying to avoid contamination of the environment. Often it will cost a good deal of money to do so; it will often involve the delay or prohibition of profitable development and investment. It means locating industry on the basis of environmental needs as well as economic policy and electoral popularity. It means, if it is to succeed, a major educational programme for those in industry, agriculture, property development and a number of other fields. It means, in short, the popularisation of ecology.

Ecology, as your Lordships know, is the scientific study of the inter-relationship of plants, animals and man in the environment. It has been said that it is a way of thinking; it is, indeed, an attitude to life. In its simplest and negative form, I suppose it means making sure that you know what you are up to before you do it when dealing with Nature. In its positive form, it is the recognition that we now possess the technical resources and the knowledge to direct a programme, for instance, of urban and rural renewal in a way that could produce actual improvements in the environment of our people. I do not want in any way to belittle the tremendous efforts being made by people and organisations. I am extremely impressed with the public interest in this problem. Since the announcement that we were to have this debate I have been inundated with literally pounds of material from people who take a great interest in this; and I am delighted that that should be so.

My Lords, I was extremely interested in the Final Report of the conference held under the auspices of UNESCO last September. A lot of good work was done at that conference on identifying the problems connected with soil, water, vegetation, animal and other resources, together with papers on the research needed to find out about the deterioration of the environment in many other aspects of our life. I think we in the United Kingdom can also take some credit for the improvements which have already been achieved over the past few years. There are, for instance, the improvements in our rivers. For the first time for about one hundred years, I think, there is oxygen in the Thames at Westminster. I believe there are fishing expeditions taking place in those reaches. This is a remarkable thing. I believe that the River Trent, which used to have an abominable reputation, is soon to become a source of drinking water—if it is not one now. I think that one of the most dramatic improvements has been the creation of whole zones of relatively clean air in this country; and as a result of the Clean Air Act, at least we have been spared some of the appalling smogs.

And so, my Lords, one could go on drawing attention to the really important improvements which have been made. But we cannot afford to be complacent. My purpose to-day is to help rather than to criticise, and to support the efforts which are being made by people and organisations by drawing attention once again to some of the problems which we are fighting and the long-term repercussions which we have to face. I believe that what we need above all is a major educational programme to supplement the work of our voluntary and other organisations, because there is so much which has to be done fairly quickly if we are to convince all farmers, architects, surveyors, engineers, industrialists and others that an understanding of the problems of environment is vital if we are to hand on a reasonable environment to the next generation. As to the problems themselves, I will mention only a few. I know that noble Lords will be mentioning many others and my noble friend Lord Henley, who is speaking at the end of the debate, will fill in any which I have had to omit.

My Lords, I should like to begin with the problem of pollution. This has been said to be the greatest problem of our age. I am not going to deal with it in detail, because the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has his own Motion on the Order Paper and in due course will be dealing with it in a far more sophisticated and comprehensive way than I can. But at a more mundane level, we have to face the fact that in parts of our territorial waters to-day it is not uncommon to find oneself swimming in sewage. This is a shocking thing for 1968–69 and I very much welcome the action of the Government in setting up the Committee under Mrs. Jeger which will deal not only with sewage but, as I understand it, with water use and conservation. This is an important step forward. In Britain domestic water consumption averages 40 gallons a day and industry takes about 20. These figures are bound to increase, and we need a long-term plan to see that water is conserved and used intelligently.

I think we have to pose the question and answer it, whether we are going to permit the continual increase in our water supplies and in our sewers of chemicals, detergents, paper goods and kitchen waste. In certain parts of London, notably in Lambeth—and, if I may say so, from time to time even in this House—the drinking water which, no doubt, has been properly treated to ensure its safety, tastes like something out of a farmyard. Any noble Lord who cares to can try it to-day. This is one of our bad days and the taste of the water is absolutely horrible. If this is what it is like now, what are we going to hand on to the next generation? I hope that this is something we shall tackle with some sort of urgency.

May I return to another aspect? I have found in my own experience that there is a remarkable lethargy on the part of some local authorities in forcing industry to tackle its effluent problem speedily and effectively. Every year of delay may well mean the storing up of more unnecessary and exacting problems. I have mentioned that a great deal has been done to get clean air, but still the people of Thurrock appear to be making little progress against the pollution of their area by the local cement works. I believe that industry has to be made to face these problems. Once industry has to face them, I am quite sure that the problems will be solved. In the same way the restrictions on noise are, in my view, leading to far better designs for jet engines to reduce the noise and to increase the power. In this connection the reports about what Rolls Royce have been doing are quite remarkable. But I am sure that if these problems are to be solved people have to be made to face them.

Next, I turn to transport. One of the things which worries, and indeed frightens, me is our failure to tackle what has been called the menace of the motor car. Varying estimates have been made, but it seems generally accepted that there is a distinct possibility that by 1980, in ten years' time, the number of vehicles will be close to 25 million, against the 15 million to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, when he was Chairman of the Buchanan Report Steering Group, described the situation regarding vehicles as a national emergency which will be on top of us almost before we can think what to do about it. Everything is conspiring to bring more cars on to the roads. More people can afford them. More people, and particularly youngsters, can buy secondhand cars relatively cheaply and on hire purchase. With the prospect of cheaper cars—I am told that there will be "throw away" engines at any time now—more and more people will have cars and the road space will not be able to accommodate all of them.

The way in which the London motorway box is progressing gives rise to strong fears that we are not looking nearly far enough ahead in dealing with these problems. An imaginative, long-term, comprehensive road system is, of course, essential, and there are signs that the Ministry of Transport under the present Government are dealing with this matter with some urgency and looking at it afresh. But, in my view, such a road system is only part of the story. The increasing demand for motor cars is, to a considerable extent, due to the complete failure in many places of the public transport system. In London and the surrounding districts of which I have knowledge Green Line and green country buses move in a world of their own. Timetables are pure fiction. On the line I know best there is now an hourly service instead of a half-hourly service and the delay is anything from 30 minutes to well over an hour. The other day I waited at Stockwell for 40 minutes in the pouring rain for one of these buses to come along. If the public transport system is as unreliable as that, it is little wonder that people go and buy the cheapest secondhand car they can in order to get from one place to another.

I believe that if we are to look far enough ahead we have to realise the importance of the public transport system in matters of environment and the quality of life. I believe that many of the Beeching railway closures must have stimulated the purchase of motor cars quite considerably. It may well be, my Lords, that the pattern for the future is that we shall bring our motor cars into the outer ring roads of a city and proceed to the pedestrian precincts in the centre by public transport if we have enough time; but if we are in a real hurry we shall have our own roller skates. I believe that traffic congestion is one of the things which will bring this country to a grinding halt unless we look far enough ahead and take the right measures.

Next I wish to mention rubbish and waste disposal. It is a matter which is causing grave concern, not only here but in the United States of America and elsewhere. I think we are making progress. More authorities are realising that there is a positive aspect to this problem. The intelligent processing of waste can result in the creation of such things as new composts which may be used to reclaim derelict land, and the intelligent dumping of waste material can provide parks and recreation areas which would otherwise be lost to us.

I wonder whether there is not a long-term case for seeing that these activities are planned many years forward on a regional rather than a local basis. Is there not a case, for instance, for setting up regional surveys to discover areas where this type of reclamation would provide the optimum advantage to the country? Should we not also gain a great deal more if more information, particularly information on costs of comparative methods, were made available to interested authorities to demonstrate the advantages of one system of waste removal and rubbish disposal over another?

My Lords, there are many other aspects of problems of environment with which I hope we shall deal during this debate, but I want to conclude by saying this. In this Motion I claim that long-term plans are not yet adequate for dealing with the problem of the balance of nature and of environment. I want to stress once again that this is not in any way to belittle the voluntary and professional work which is being done at all levels. We may well be proud of this as a nation. There are, however, four main areas in which much greater progress could be made. The first is in the overall national co-ordination of planning. In our Party our concept of the structure of government which has emerged in the last decade has been one of far greater autonomy for Scotland and Wales and the regions of England and for the creation of a national plan of development in collaboration with the regions, leaving the regions very largely to fill in the local implementation in a national plan to which they have been a party in agreeing. I think it was something like this that Professor Arthur Ling, the President of the Town Planning Institute, had in mind when he wrote the article in The Times on February 8 called "Wanted—a Master Planner". I believe we shall have to come to something like this. I believe that if a comprehensive structure of that sort had been available, many years of time and many thousands of pounds would have been saved in deciding where to put the third London Airport.

Secondly, although the knowledge of ecology is spreading rapidly, in my view there is still a great deal more which could be done to enlighten industrialists, businessmen and others about what is involved in this type of planning. It is almost an extra dimension which has to be tacked on to one's thinking and I should like to see this subject incorporated in business management conferences, courses, seminars and other places where these big problems of industry are discussed. Thirdly, I believe that a great deal more could be done to interest and enlist the help of the young. Where this has been done—in Swansea Valley, in Ashdown Forest and in other places—it has been a great success. And, of course, it is a tremendous investment for the future if we can get young people in on an understanding of this problem at an early age. Finally, we want to be much tougher in dealing with those who knowingly contaminate and pollute the environment. I believe that where the nation is prepared to be tough, as it has been with clean air, it will produce results. Although it may cost more to achieve, the next generation will indeed be grateful for it. I beg to move for Papers.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for agreeing to my speaking before him. I understood that this was the original intention until I entered the House this afternoon and saw the printed list of speakers. It is clearly right that in a debate of this nature there should be a contribution, however inadequate, from this Box. Indeed, I think the House would expect it. But I must explain that the views I am going to express are my own personal views. I do not see that it could be otherwise. From that it follows, of course, that I am more than usually reluctant to inflict myself upon your Lordships.

I am sure that the whole House will be absolutely with me when I say that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is to be congratulated and thanked for his comprehensive and masterly treatment of one of the real problems of our times. It is not really a new problem: it has been with us, I would guess, ever since the first glimmerings of industrialisation. But it has grown ever more pressing as the processes of change and development have speeded up. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, is clearly on the side of the angels—although I hesitate to call him an angel: he probably would not like that. Like him, I also am on the side of the angels. The trouble, it seems to me, is that on the subjects of æsthetics and amenity the angels do not give clear guidance. I suspect that this is because they cannot. I know what I like and what I dislike about the environment in which I live; I know what adds to and what detracts from the quality of my life. But I also know that during my life my tastes have changed. Certainly what I do not know is what constitutes the quality of life, and I doubt very much whether anybody else does. It is an insoluble metaphysical question.

I should not like the quality of life, or the environment in which we all live, planned for me by Governments, local authorities or special committees, except to the limited extent, to which I shall come later. May I illustrate this theoretical argument with some practical examples? The growth of the motor car has involved the building of many new roads and will involve the building of many more, and this has meant that it is increasingly hard to find a really quiet and unspoilt spot in the countryside. This I regret, like many others. But it has been offset—many people will say more than offset—by the fact that more and more people have been able to see more of their own country, and indeed to journey abroad to other countries, whereas in earlier generations the limits of travel were probably determined by the distance one could ride in a bus.

The same is true of the aeroplane. Because of the siting of aerodromes, there is hideous interference in people's lives, both in the sense that there is more noise and in the sense that places which were once peaceful have become very busy. But, against this, the growth of package tours has opened up the world to people, especially the young, and this is good. It has undoubtedly enriched the quality of life of many people, albeit at the expense of the amenities of others. Again, I do not believe that it can be denied that the Concorde aeroplane is a potential threat to the environment, because loud noise and risk to structures seem inseparable from supersonic flight. I happen to think that the disadvantages of the Concorde, if it materialises, will outweigh its alleged advantages, but I do not suppose that many noble Lords will agree with me about that. Yet again, the removal of traffic congestion, which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, wants to see and which is highly desirable in itself, could well be counter-productive in teams of environmental amenity, because it will be achieved only by road construction on a scale that will lower the quality of life of many people.

It is for reasons of this kind that I feel it is difficult, even impossible, to make dogmatic assertions about how the environment should be planned. What I think the Government can do, and should do, is to plan to deal with those features of the environment which constitute a potential danger to health, and even perhaps, in the long term, to life. I am thinking particularly of pollution and of failure to maintain the balance of Nature. We are all of us conscious of our environment, of our surroundings, by the use of three of our five senses—hearing, smell and sight. I have long been convinced that in the world there are more bad sounds, smells and sights than good ones. But I have also noticed in my lifetime that whereas sounds have got worse, smells have got better and sights have remained, on balance, much the same.

May I take sound first? Above all other tribulations I detest noise, especially when it is unsolicited. In this connection, it is monstrous that British Rail should be contemplating the installation of piped music in some of their trains. On the other hand, people do become accustomed to noise, even those who have the misfortune to live near airports, and there must be many people who actually enjoy noise. Why otherwise on line weekends do so many family parties park their cars for long periods on the sides of busy roads, and sit inside or outside their cars, drinking tea and listening to the roar of traffic passing by? Any police officer will tell you that motor-bikes with particularly noisy exhausts are attractive and stimulating to female pillion riders. I myself always avoid dances if the music is to be provided by a "pop" group, because they usually make conversation absolutely impossible. But my family assure me that "pop" music without loudness is like ginger pop without gin.

So, my Lords, much though I detest noise, I do not find it easy to pontificate about it. On the other hand, I believe that in certain circumstances there are good grounds for believing that noise can be a health hazard. I am sure it is desirable that there should be more research into this aspect of the problem of noise.

Now, my Lords, I move on to smell. I can just remember the era of carriages, hansom cabs and crossing sweepers; and I am certain that the environment is sweeter smelling since the horse was replaced by the internal combustion engine, notwithstanding diesel fumes. Again, my Lords, you and I have all lived in a period during which there has been a continuing upward trend in the standards of personal hygiene. The extent of this change was neatly put the other day by a distinguished don, who had observed that, whereas in his youth university students wore a clean shirt every day but had a bath only once a week, now, although they may wear the same shirt until the last possible moment, they have a bath every day. All these things are on the credit side of the national balance sheet.

A major cause of bad smells is, of course, pollution, and I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said about that. But I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, how the inter-departmental Committee on the disposal of solid and semi-solid toxic wastes is getting on. This Committee was set up in 1964 and was, I understand, expected to report in 1967. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us when it will report—and ought not the Committee perhaps to be given a touch of the spur? May I ask the noble Lord, also, two questions about the Working Party on methods of sewage disposal, whose appointment was announced in October. First, has it got down to work yet? Secondly, when is it likely to report? This seems to be a matter of some urgency.

The Government, I am sure, are aware of the risk to health and life inherent in the growing concentration of atmospheric pollution in the neighbourhood of our cities from carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, fumes and grit. I hope they take seriously the fears of those scientists who are concerned about the maintenance of sufficient oxygen in the air that we all breathe. I am told that scientists are agreed that the oxygen content of air necessary to sustain human life is largely manufactured by plant life on the earth; and from this it follows that the removal of large quantities of oxygen, or the substitution for it of carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide in significant amounts, is automatically a danger. I am told, also, that some scientists are seriously arguing that each supersonic flight across the Atlantic at high altitudes will cause the capture, into organic substances, of important quantities of oxygen, which in time will be serious. I do not know whether there is anything in this hypothesis or not; but if the Government do not know either, then I am certain they ought to find out.

Pollution naturally leads one on to ecology—the balance of Nature—with which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was rightly concerned. I do not want to say anything about the important subject of the ecology of rivers and water, because I think he dealt adequately with that. As to the ecology of the countryside, about which the noble Lord also spoke, although I should think it is now well realised and widely realised that there is risk inherent in the wholesale use of pesticides, for example, I personally think there is still too much grubbing up of hedges in the interests of more intensive farming. This is bound to upset the balance of bird and insect life.

As to the environment as revealed by sight, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about urban and rural renewal. I am one of those people who think that, with certain notable exceptions, the standard of modern architecture is rather poor, and has been for about forty years. But tastes change, as I said earlier, and future generations may appreciate our glass boxes just as I now appreciate much Victorian building and Victoriana, which I certainly did not do in my youth. Victoriana are back in fashion, largely I suspect because the Victorians made things to last. We do not do that nowadays; there is no demand for it, so widespread is the belief, especially among the young, that any new variant of something will automatically be an improvement on the one before. As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, emphasised by implication, much of the outlet of the environment is due to our ever-expanding population and the ever-growing demand for houses. It seems to me inevitable that building techniques must, therefore, become more and more mechanised, producing less and less variety in forms of architecture and a lowering of æsthetic standards.

But this is no new phenomenon in our history. I should like for a moment to take your Lordships back to the middle of the 17th century. When, in the year 1658, the great English clockmaker, Ahasuerus Fromanteel, started to make pendulum regulated clocks (the first clocks ever to keep accurate time) he plated the chapter rings of his dials with real silver, which was very beautiful—and, alas! there are very few examples that remain. But the word quickly got round that at last there were clocks that kept time, and everyone who could afford it wanted one. So Fromanteel and his contemporaries stopped using real silver and resorted to the water silvering process which has survived until the present day. This, my Lords, is a classic example of the pressure of demand lowering standards.

I should like to pay a tribute to the magnificent inspiration and leadership given by the organisation known as "The Countryside in 1970". It has inspired county councils to be conscious of their environments and to think about, and consult about, the preservation of beauty. In the forefront have been my own county of Hampshire, Lindsey and Lancashire, of which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, may tell us later on. I sometimes wonder whether it would be helpful (I just throw this out, so to speak, en passant) if every Prime Minister were to issue an instruction to departmental Ministers that whenever any proposed development plan required the consent of colleagues, the sponsor's submission should include a separate note on the amenity considerations involved.

I do not think there can be any doubt that many people care very much about the way of life in their home towns or villages. This is an instance where the demand for more participation really means something. The Government have, I think, recognised this by appointing the Skeffington Committee to study public participation in planning. I am one of many, I suspect, who hope for great things from it. This leads me to commend to your Lordships a penetrating article entitled "People and Planning" by Professor Bernard Crick and Mr. Geoffrey Green, published in New Society on September 5 last year. The gist of their argument is that increased participation does not necessarily mean more communication and more consultation, since Members of Parliament and local councillors are prone to believe that because they are elected they intuitively know what people want. Greater knowledge of what ordinary people want, and a greater publicity of it, are in the opinion of these two experts the only worthwhile meaning of popular participation in planning. But they are most likely to be neglected because it is so convenient for an authority to consult so-called representatives of different interests, even though they may be pressure groups who are not representative of the genuine self-interest of all those affected by plans.

Crick and Green make a powerfully impressive plea that no major plan should be launched without the people affected being surveyed on a scientific basis as to their attitudes and wants, and that the result of the surveys should be published. My Lords, I am sure that there is a great deal in this. In particular, much of what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has described as thoughtless urban and rural renewal might have been prevented if such surveys had been standard practice. There is, I think, reason to believe that much wholesale demolition need not have occurred if it had been ascertained how many people would have preferred to go on living in their old house or their old area, provided, of course, that certain improvements were made.

My Lords, I end by suggesting that we should not be too critical of the environment in which we live. When one looks around the world I think it is probably the best environment there is. At any rate, I am thankful to have seen the improvements I have. Nature is wonderfully adaptable so long as we do not deliberately frustrate Nature's intentions. Your Lordships may think this unwarrantably optimistic, perhaps even whimsical, but I do not believe that we shall ever allow ourselves or our environment to be destroyed, because it is not in our nature to do so. Yet of course, as with liberty, so with amenity, the price is vigilance. I am indebted to the Daily Telegraph for this aphorism: Man wait long time with mouth open before roast duck fly in.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, it is possible to calculate, by extrapolating the present growth rate of the population of the world, the date at which exercise will have to be rationed because the temperature of the atmosphere would otherwise go up so much as to make life impossible; the date at which mankind as a whole will not be able to lie down because there will not be room; the date at which mankind, or some of it, will have to stand on the shoulders of his fellows because there will not be room to stand on the earth; and the date at which the population of this earth will be expanding outwards away from it at the speed of light. The fact that these dates are calculable is of course of very much greater interest than the mere question when we shall reach each of these stages in the absence of change in the present curve.

This country happens to be one where the growth rate is rather slow compared with that of others and where the economic growth rate and the increase in the affluence of each of its people are rather great compared with that of others; and this determines all the solutions which we have to seek to the problem of how to handle our own environment. We have a great deal more money than many other people and we have a slower population growth rate. Therefore, we are very well placed to take sensible decisions. The question should be asked publicly, and discussed publicly, to a much greater extent than it is: Is there an optimum population for these islands? The population now is about 54 million in England and Wales. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that it might be 70 million by the end of the century. It is easy to trace our own growth curves. There is no panic about this; we have plenty of time to think. But I, for one, should personally welcome a great widening of the debate on our own population, a great intensification of it, so that public attitudes could be better informed and more clearly formed. That could be done after we had considered the questions, "Is there an optimum level beyond which we do not want to go? What should we do to ensure that we do not go beyond it?"—because when we come on to that debate we shall have an even greater need of sound knowledge for public debate and for tolerance of differing viewpoints in determining what ought to be done to ensure that. Of course, it is a long time yet from the moment when any Government would be right to take up any position on these matters.

I have been surprised that nobody in this debate has yet mentioned the nearest and most intimate bit of every man's, woman's and child's environment, closest to them, the thing which they see first in the morning when they open their eyes and last thing at night when they shut them—their house. This determines a man's life perhaps more than any other thing in his physical surroundings, especially in cold weather. Before I come on to the matters which I think perhaps interest this House even more—matters of the countryside and æsthetics—I would ask it to bear in mind that the first thing you have to do for people, even before you provide them with a nice countryside and pretty views, is to find them a decent house.

This House is no stranger to the fact that over recent years the number of houses built, both for letting and for buying, in this country has been a record annually. We are getting used to this. During the 1950's the average number of houses built yearly was 297,000. Last year it was 414,000. Every one of those provides a better environment for somebody. Since 1964 the number of houses built in the country is equivalent to all the houses in Southampton, Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester. That is the number of houses built in four years. The excess in the number of houses built in the last four years over the number of houses built in the preceding four years is equivalent to all the houses in Leeds and Bristol. But quantity is not everything; quality is just as much, and we have now come to the point where all the houses in the public sector, at least, are built to Parker Morris standards, with the set minimum of space and heating requirements and all that that means in environment for somebody.

I am myself very interested to see every year the recommendations for the design prizes which my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing makes annually—awards for good design. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that design had not improved very much over the last forty years. I think he was wrong. In about the last ten years it has begun to improve by leaps and bounds. Our problem is no longer to improve the best design in this country; it is to ensure that the average and the worst come up to the best as soon as possible. I do not know how many of your Lordships have been to the New Town of Peterlee. Far from London, it is perhaps not on the usual beat of noble Lords. There is one housing area there which is known for short as the Pasmore area, and the management of this New Town is rather interesting. Those concerned with it said, "Here we have a New Town which is very good in many respects but perhaps it might be prettier. How does one make things look prettier?" They conceived the idea of getting an eminent painter, Mr. Victor Pasmore, to see whether he could not lay out a housing area for them. At first there was some question in their minds whether architects would agree to work under the guidance of a painter; but they did. I give your Lordships my personal judgment in saying that it is one of the most beautiful quarters of any town of any age that I have seen anywhere on the Continent of Europe.

A very interesting factor about it is that the rate of vandalism in the Pasmore area is one-third below that in the rest of Peterlee New Town. A stern materialist would attribute that to the superiority of the materials used and to the fact that they did not have to plant any small, young trees because mature ones were standing there. For myself, I should be reluctant to write it all down to material considerations. I think good design causes content, and content causes peaceful conduct.

But if we were to limit our attention to the environment simply to building every four years a number of houses equal to the number in many industrial cities, this would by no means be all that should be done. The very fact that so many houses are built makes it all the more important to preserve the countryside. This House so recently passed the Countryside Act that it is perhaps not necessary to remind your Lordships of what was in it.

I should like, however, to give the House news of "areas of outstanding natural beauty". This is the form of designation and protection for "pretty bits" of England and Wales which comes one less than the National Parks: it is not quite so tough a provision as the National Parks. Since 1964, eight areas of outstanding natural beauty have been designated and confirmed by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. They are in the Chilterns, the Sussex Downs, the Cotswolds, in Anglesey, the South Hampshire coast, the Norfolk coast and the Kent towns. Their total area is 1,924 square miles. In the four years leading up to 1964, five such areas were confirmed, their total area being 666 square miles. Three more are coming along in the pipeline—those which have been suggested and are under consideration at Dedham Vale, on the Suffolk coast and heaths, and in the Wessex Downs.

It matters also what one allows to be put in the countryside, and I am glad to be able to report to the House that shortly there will appear a booklet on the design of farm buildings which has been some time in preparation and which has been extremely difficult to prepare. That booklet carries the assent both of the Council of Industrial Design and of the National Farmers' Union—no mean marriage, my Lords!—and is published with the backing of my right honourable friend and of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

With regard to the things that we put in the countryside, this is a point that has not yet been mentioned, but I am sure that it will be shortly. With regard to overhead wires there is the feeling, "Why don't we bury them?" The answer is partly that it would cost too much, and partly that we do. I should like to give the House some rather more detailed information than we have recently heard about this. We all know that it costs more to bury a power line than to run it overhead on masts. How much more? The answer is that for the most powerful lines, the super-Grid—at 400 kilovolts—it costs about 15 times as much to bury it, and for the smallest ones, at 33 kilovolts, it costs about seven times as much to bury it; and the figures are corresponding in between.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is in fact the cost of burying the power line or whether it is trying to get over the heat problem? Research might help in that connection.


My Lords, it is the cost of burying the line and of getting over the heat problems if such problems arise because of burying it. Research is going on into this but unfortunately it has not yet come up with an answer which will bring those costs down. That is really why it costs more as one goes towards the big kilovoltages. In spite of that the Minister of Power and the Minister of Housing and Local Government have thought it worth while to bury cables at various places recently: one is the crossing of the River Thames at Goring; others are the crossing of the Wye at Goodrich Castle; at the Severn in the Vale of Berkeley; and at the Vale of Heathfield in Sussex. So it is done in the places which matter most, but it cannot often be done because of the enormous increase in expense.

Your Lordships will remember also the news that I was able to give recently about radio masts. This problem has been examined, and we sent a circular to local authorities in June of last year saying that the onus of explaining why a radio mast was needed was squarely on the applicant, and that local authorities could properly insist on being absolutely clear whether it was needed, and if so why. In cases of systems which crossed local authority boundaries—in other words, if one radio mast was demanded and the local authority thought that as a result the applicant would have to ask for another one in the next county—the Minister should be informed, in order to allow him to call in the applications for the whole system, and treat it as a whole.

I turn now to the question of pollution, which has already loomed larger in this debate. If an industrial process produces 10 per cent. more waste products every year, the amount of waste produced in 100 years will have increased by 14,000 times. That is the scale of the problem. Of course, not all industrial processes do produce a 10 per cent. annual increase in waste but with the increase in population and industrialisation more and more industrial processes are being undertaken on a larger scale. For a reason which I shall mention in a moment, this is very much an international problem. There is now hardly an international organisation with competence in this field or neighbouring fields which is not fully seized of it. It is going forward at all levels—continental, sub-continental and world-wide, in the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred to the UNESCO Conference last autumn on the problem of pollution, and this Conference produced numerous lengthy and extremely well-thought-out recommendations which have now been received in member countries. There is the United Nations Conference on Man's Environment which is to take place in 1972, and thought is now being given as to what sort of conference it is to be and where the boundaries should be drawn.

My Lords, I have said that this is a matter for international arrangement, and it is so for the following reason. There are few polluting substances, whether of water or air, of sea or soil, the reduction and the avoidance of which cannot be achieved. There are very few substances that we do not know how to get rid of. The problem is that it costs money to reduce the pollution. If the money is to be paid to reduce the pollution in the way we all want to see, it can be paid only by one of three means, or by a combination of them. It can be paid by the taxpayer; it can be paid by the ratepayer, or it can be paid by the manufacturer himself whose waste products are in question. So far, by general consent it seems to be in rough justice and experience the most convenient way to see that the producer incurs the expenditure necessary to control and reduce the pollution. If he does this he naturally puts up his price. If Parliament and Government say to industrialists, "You must reduce the amount of pollution," they reply, "We will willingly do anything you say, but note that such-and-such a measure will put up the price of our product by such-and-such a percentage. Note also that there may be a competitor abroad who is not taking such a measure; so the price of his product will not go up by such a percentage, and we shall therefore be unable to sell our product and we shall be throwing men out of work, and reducing the wealth of this country. Do you want that to happen?" This is why it is an international problem.

The solution to so much of this depends on getting international standards set which will ensure that expenditure incurred by industrial producers is roughly equally incurred by different countries, so that the price of the product increases (if there is an increase) roughly equally and that no country is penalised by the increase in its industrial production, its sales and its exports. It is hardly necessary to say that this is a problem of appalling complexity and variety as between industry and industry, as between process and process, and as between country and country. Her Majesty's Government are working on it in common with the Governments of other countries.

I turn to the question of water pollution, and I will go through it by subjects. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned the River Thames. The Thames is famous by now, in that it is cleaner than it was. There is even a much spoken of salmon which was seen swimming up near the Palace of Westminster some time ago—I do not know whether it has been followed by others. With regard to the River Trent, it is not yet very clean, or much cleaner than it was, but the Trent River Authority is carrying out a large study, the largest and most forward-looking study that has yet been made, into the best way in which the river can be cleaned up. The aim is to find out the cheapest and most effective way of cleaning up the entire length of the river, from the West Midlands industrial settlement down to its mouth at the Humber. Should it be by making lagoons to allow the sludge to settle and bringing the clean water back into it; or by what means or what combination of means should it be done?

My Lords, the difficulty in determining how the pollution of rivers shall be controlled is the following. There is no such thing as the right standard of industrial effluent the discharge of which into a river may be permitted. The permitted standard must vary according to where the effluent goes into the river. If one firm is discharging a dirty effluent at point X, another firm cannot be allowed to discharge a dirty effluent quite a long way downstream until that is cleared up by natural means. Supposing another firm wants to do so, is it right to say to the new firm "You must have a cleaner effluent than the one upstream because he has been pumping out the dirty stuff for the last sixty years and it has not cleaned up by the time it reaches your point"? What is justice in these matters? It is a difficult affair indeed, and it is on decisions tike this that progress in cleaning up our rivers depends. If you can imagine trying to relate decisions which are themselves very complicated, river by river, in our country, to decisions which are equally complicated, river by river, in another country, and then try to compare the situation in the two different countries, and the burden which will be borne by industry in the two different countries, in order to reach a just solution, you will see the task we are facing.

Both noble Lords have commended the Government on the appointment of the Jeger Committee, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, asked for news of it. Although its existence was announced last October, the appointments to it, the names for it, were not made final until a week or two ago. Mrs. Jeger hopes to hold her first meeting in the first week of March, and she has already said that she intends to work fast and hard rather than slow and leisurely, and it is perhaps reasonable to hope that the Committee will report by the end of this year or soon after. The noble Lord also asked for news of the inter-departmental Committee on Solid and Semi-Solid Toxic Wastes. It is hoped that this Committee will also report by the end of this year. Just a correction of detail: the Jeger Committee is not by its terms of reference bound to consider water use and water conservation as those are usually understood, but the question of sewage and effluents is so much bound up with this that its findings will, of course, be of the very greatest use in these related matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned Thurrock as one of the great exemplars of air pollution. Captain Delargy in the House of Commons mentioned Thurrock as an exemplar in moving the Motion for the humble Address in reply to the Queen's Speech a couple of Sessions ago. As a result of this, I went with him to Thurrock, not once but twice, and have on my shelf in the office a bag of special Thurrock dust taken from the piles that householders had collected. They have indeed a very great deal to put up with in Thurrock, and this is natural because they have what is perhaps the biggest concentration of cement industry in Europe, possibly in the world, on their doorsteps. The interesting thing there is to see the improvement which is achieved year by year in the new plant which is put there, because it is a cement industry which has been there for sixty years and each factory renews its plants on a normal rhythm. The newest kilns, with the most modern electrostatic precipitators, achieve a very good standard of dust fallout, whereas those which were put up even 12 years ago in the late 'fifties are by comparison pretty "ribby". The design standards get better every year, and also the ability of a given plant to hold to its design standards over a life improves year by year.

It is still true, of course, that the greater part of air pollution in the country comes from the domestic hearth. This is a matter under the control of the local authorities, and the advance of the smokeless zone, which has already had such melodramatic impact on London, is still going well in the North. The House will remember giving my right honourable friend power only a few months ago to compel local authorities to bring smokeless zones into operation when they have made no move to do so. The Government do not judge that it is right at the moment to use these powers in the present period of financial stringency, especially on local authority spending, but the powers are there and will of course be brought into effect as soon as that stringency is past.

Industrial air pollution, as the House knows, is controlled by the alkali inspectors, who are appointed by my right honourable friend but who report direct to Parliament. They began in a very small way about 100 years ago and have now developed into an organisation of the most enormous industrial skill, controlling in effect all industrial emissions in the country, except the very simplest, which are still in the hands of the local authorities. I would remind the House that it is only ten years since the whole country was in a state of justified agitation about a form of air pollution which is now virtually forgotten, Strontium 90. I think we may look back on the partial test ban as the first of what I hope will be a run of great international measures of public health in the field of air pollution.

My Lords, there is so much more to say. On the question of traffic, Lord Byers made the point that because buses are unpunctual people buy second-hand cars. Then, of course, they drive the second-hand cars which makes the buses even more unpunctual. The problem is so to sort out the cars and the buses that the buses can compete in terms of punctuality. There are many ways of doing this which are being investigated at the moment: traffic control systems of one sort or another, bus lanes, the possibility of using smaller buses so that they can run on more routes, a more capillary system throughout the city. All this is very much under examination. There is some hope of an electric car within a decade. Who can tell? It is too early to say, but this is a good priority for research. There is some hope in road pricing. Research into this is continuing quite well, to see whether a scheme could be developed in practical terms. After that it will remain a political decision whether such a scheme should be adopted.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned the Los Angeles smog. I think it might be worth while making quite clear to the House and to public opinion that this is a separate phenomenon which we do not have in this country. It is a photo-chemical smog. Because of the prolonged hot sunlight and the totally still air, the actual chemicals which come out of the car exhaust are left standing there, hour after hour, on a long summer's day; they then undergo an actual chemical change into another compound, on the action of the sunlight. And it is the derivative compound, not what actually comes out of the exhaust, that is harmful to health. In this country, of course, with our pretty regular winds and our low hours of sunlight, this simply does not happen. I think it has never been reported, even on the hottest and stillest days, and obviously it is not likely to happen. So we should be wrong to base our control of air pollution from motor cars on the extremely tough measures which the Americans have found necessary to introduce, especially in California.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that diesel exhaust is not very dissimilar, and in an enclosed space can be equally bad?


My Lords, this whole question of air pollution from vehicles, whether from diesel or petrol engines, is something that is being researched into pretty hard; and the research comes to the Clean Air Council, in which I take the chair in the stead of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing, and we look at this problem every three months. There is no sign at all at the moment of any health hazard from any form of vehicle exhaust. This does not mean that there will never be a sign. It has not been proven innocent, but there is no sign yet that it is guilty. This is not to say, of course, that this exhaust pollution does not stink, and that it is not beastly and horrible: it is. But it is an amenity problem, not a health problem, and it is being and should be tackled with the urgency which is due to an amenity problem, which is a little less than that which is due to a health problem.

On the question of noise, the House will have noted that two successful prosecutions, the first two, have been brought against motor vehicle drivers under the new traffic noise limits. They were brought by the Ministry of Transport in the neighbourhood of Southend, and I very much hope that the police forces of the country will take note of the fact that these prosecutions succeeded and that there is one place, at least, in which people should take the trouble to observe the regulations. I hope that other prosecutions will ensue elsewhere in the country. This, too, like everything else, is an international problem. Cars can be made quieter, they can be made with cleaner exhausts. They cost more to make that way, so if it is to be done there must be international agreement on standards to be observed, or somebody else will "swipe" the market. This, too, is under discussion in the relevant international organisations.

The House will thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for raising this wide matter and for covering it with such grace and skill, as did also the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I differ very little from what he said. We have only one environment, so we had better look after it. There is this extremely rapid increase of population throughout the world. At the same time there is the extremely rapid increase of industry. Two things must keep up with those increases: the first is research into the new substances that are coming and how they can be controlled; the second is the translation of those research results into education and into Government controlled mechanisms. I think we may count ourselves lucky in this country in having good researchers who are doing it—we are in the forefront in all these matters—and having also an educational system, a Government and an administrative machine which, by common consent, are among the most adaptable in Europe to new circumstances, and which I have every confidence will adapt themselves to meeting the problems of the new Industrial Revolution, the population explosion and the pollution menace combined, over the rest of this century.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating a debate on a subject of such consequence and importance for the future as the increasing threats to man's environment and the quality of life. Our present preoccupation with economic survival and prosperity, while necessary in itself, may easily blind us to the fact that life is more than economic survival, and, indeed, that economic prosperity is but a means and not an end. It is the sine qua non of life, but life itself is not measured in terms of economic values but in qualities which are influenced in many ways by environment. Faced with the alternative of a cordon bleu cuisine within the confines of a prison cell, and sausages and mash—albeit, sausages of inferior quality—in a free environment, there is little doubt which of them we would choose.

In this country the main threats to the future quality of our environment arise from an ever-increasing population within the relatively limited area of our islands, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, stated in the beginning part of his speech. There is, therefore, much to be said for those who would begin their long-term thinking with the question of population growth. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that we must ask whether there is not an optimum, or at least a maximum number which our islands can support, not simply in terms of economics but in terms of environmental requirements.

Be that as it may, the consequences of our present population growth—or, if you would, call it population explosion—are serious enough, and I would single out four consequences in particular. First, more and more land is required for housing and urban amenities. This, in turn, affects water supplies, drainage and sewage, all of which are a potential source of water pollution. Secondly, sociological and economic factors require a more even distribution of the population and the decentralising of industry and commerce. But the creation of new towns and new cities affects far more of the countryside than the actual sites chosen. The provision of adequate communications, of supplies of water, gas, and electricity, affect the amenities of a wide surrounding region, and each new centre of population presents problems of disposal of industrial waste products and domestic sewage.

Thirdly, industrial developments present particular problems. I am told, for example, that Fawley, under certain wind conditions, affects the atmosphere of the New Forest, and in other wind conditions affects the atmosphere of Gosport and the Isle of Wight. There is quite natural concern in the area round Bacton on the Norfolk coast about the effect of sulphur fumes from the natural gas plant which has been established there. Of a different kind, we are all well aware that the damming of the upper Tees has seriously affected rare and irreplaceable flora.

Fourthly, a further consequence of the increasing population is the need to exploit our natural resources to the utmost. The stability of our economy depends on maximum agricultural output on the one hand, and maximum industrial activity on the other, in order to compensate in industrial exports for the foodstuffs and other essentials which must be imported. Our maximum agricultural productivity necessarily involves the use of pesticides and fertilisers, while industrial activity produces chemical waste products on the ground and in the air, all of which may poison the soil, pollute rivers, destroy wild life and generally disturb the balance of nature, unless large sums of money are expended.

I have outlined what appear to me to be the brute facts of our situation: the necessary economic and sociological factors inherent in supporting an ever-increasing population, and some of the potential dangers to our environment consequent upon these factors. But since man does not live by bread alone, we must also consider what man requires of his environment in non-economic terms. Man himself is essentially part and parcel of nature, and the quality of his life depends in no small degree on his relationship to nature. That he has authority and power over nature is indisputable, but just as he is able to make demands upon nature, so nature makes demands upon him. His authority over nature must, therefore, be tempered by responsibility; his power over life by reverence for life. This point was referred to in one of the speeches of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, and here I quote: The whole world is now dominated by the works of man. This isn't an arrogant claim of human power, it is a simple practical fact. This is no denial of the authority of the Almighty—it's simply an admission that man's activities, for better or worse, are dominating everything that happens on this earth. This places a special responsibility on us to maintain by deliberate action the balance between species and within environments which up till now has been maintained by nature. My Lords, the natural environment of man provides for basic needs which cannot be provided for in any other way; needs which are æsthetic, emotional and spiritual. The hills and dales; the cliffs, beaches and seas; the mountains and moors; the rivers and streams, provide for some of our deepest needs. Without them life would be impoverished and man would be dehumanised. Economic prosperity within an environmental desert would be no life at all. The great majority of our population live in large urban areas, and we are all subject to the dehumanising pressures of an industrial, technological and heavily commercialised civilisation. It is essential that we should at times be able to get away from it all; to get back to nature and the recreative, recuperative and humanising therapy which man's natural environment provides.

I would draw attention in this respect to the special importance of preserving large tracts of wild and remote country which we still possess. These provide something quite special for those who can and do experience them. They are of particular value to those whose daily work involves them often in intractable human problems and who are constantly subject to emotional tensions. They are equally valuable and invigorating to young people. To be able to wander at will over trackless wilds, with every chance of meeting nothing but the occasional sheep, is for some people a constitutional necessity, and certainly something which we should not wish to deny to our children or to our children's children. In this connection one of our most delightful natural assets is becoming progressively spoiled, namely, our coastline. It is a fact of considerable significance that as the environment in which most of us have to live and work becomes increasingly artificial, it is to nature that we turn for our recreation, as witness the increasing popularity of climbing, fell-walking, golf, angling, sailing, canoeing, ski-ing and other outdoor sports. It was good to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, telling us of the areas of outstanding natural beauty which have been designated and that more are likely to be designated soon.

On the one hand, we have the economic needs of our growing population, with all the dangers implicit in the ex- ploitation of nature. On the other hand, we have our responsibility to nature itself, and a human interest in the conservation, protection and purifying of as much as possible of our natural environment. These conflicting needs must be held in balance. I am aware that much responsible thought has been given to the dangers of over-exploitation and of pollution of both air and water, and that much useful legislation has been passed. But one cannot help suspecting that all too often economic factors are given an absolute priority, and that the principle of immediate economic expediency takes the place of long-term and responsible planning. Already one sees æsthetic considerations, which are essential to the quality of our environment, being sacrificed on the altar of economic expediency. One needs only recall the vast networks of pylons (the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was quite right when he anticipated mention of this) and overhead power cables which sprawl across miles of otherwise beautiful and unspoilt countryside. It was encouraging to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, say that careful thought and consideration is being given to this matter.

Equally, one finds moral considerations, which affect our social environment, being sacrificed to the same end. Here I would instance the development of factory farming. Whatever one believes about the effects of such methods on animals (and this matter is debatable), there is no doubt that this development represents a radical change in our relationship with the animal world. Reverence for life is an important principle. Our attitude to nature, and especially to the animal kingdom, either reflects, or comes to be reflected in, our human values and our attitudes one towards another. Is it not true that the same principles which led us to outlaw cock-fighting and bear-baiting would require us to look more seriously into the implications of factory farming?

I am arguing that we are in grave danger of buying economic prosperity at the cost of environmental impoverishment. The first essential is that we should maintain a proper balance between the demands of our economy and those of our environment. This is a phenomenal task and one of great complexity. It is not a problem which can be resolved piecemeal by different Government Departments or by local authorities acting automonously. At present the inland waterways are the responsibility of the local river boards, and I understand that there are 29 of them. The river outlets and the sea are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This same Ministry has responsibility for the effect of water pollution on fish, but the responsibility for research into water pollution lies with the Ministry of Technology. The only Government Department which appears to have any kind of overall responsibility for our environment is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, but it would appear that its brief is too restricted for it to serve as an overall environmental planning agency.

At the local level the situation appears to be even more complex. I am told of one industrial company which had to deal not only with the Board of Trade and the county authorities, but also—and separately—with the Crown Estate Commissioners, the internal drainage board, the navigation authority, the sea fisheries committee, the district council, the river board, the Water Board and the Ministry of Transport—old uncle Tom Cobley and all! Another had, in addition, to deal with the Forestry Commission, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the National Parks Planning Board, and other bodies concerned with the natural environment. Clearly, all these represent proper interests and need to be consulted, but it is equally evident that their number is embarrassing to the industrialist and an invitation to the unscrupulous to take evasive action. In any long-term plan it is essential to provide, so far as possible, for a central authority in each region or county in which all these interests have already been taken into account. Unless some such authority exists, the multiplicity of bodies each concerned with one aspect of the use of land and water defeats the object of each of them and erodes the sense of responsibility of all concerned.

Any such centralised regional authorities would have to be related to a central national authority, for this is essentially a national problem. What is required is an overall national plan for the proper utilisation and conservation of our environment, and I understand that this was the main point for which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was asking. In an age of easy and rapid mobility it is not enough for local regions to establish a balance between land utilisation and conservation. In the national interest some regions should be essentially industrial and other whole regions might be designnated as natural and wild-life areas. The situation needs to be looked at not only from a local point of view, but from a national one.

A step in the right direction was taken in 1965 with the setting up of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Unfortunately, that body lasted for only two years, for the simple reason that it had no power over the many interests involved. It failed because it had no teeth. The National Environment Research Council has taken its place and is doing most valuable work, but here again it acts only in an advisory capacity. What we urgently require is the development of a long-term national master plan which would cover every aspect of our environmental needs. This would involve the setting up of an authority with the capacity first to amass all the relevant information and results of research; secondly to organise this information; thirdly to frame a policy, and fourthly to implement the policy. It would therefore need to have effective executive authority. Clearly, such a body would require an almost infinite degree of patience and sensitivity to the competing interests with which it would have to deal, both nationally and locally, and which must ultimately be reconciled.

My Lords, the problem is complex enough in all conscience, but I submit that it is essential that it should be tackled. This, I understand, is the main purpose of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I, for one, most heartily agree with him. I should like to ask the Government whether any such long-term overall planning is envisaged, and, if so, to what body this responsibility is to be assigned. If it is not envisaged, I ask the Government to consider such a master plan as a matter of the greatest urgency and as one which is of vital importance to the quality of human social life in fruitful relationship with the natural environment.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on giving us a Motion to debate which allows a rather splendid hodgepodge of subjects to be discussed all at once. I think it is important when we are considering it to distinguish between his lovely phrase, "the quality of life", and man's physical environment. I think there is a great difference between these two things, and if I may say so with respect, I think the noble Lord is a little pessimistic about the quality of life.

There can be no possible question but that for the majority of the people of this country the quality of life is getting better, has been getting better and will continue to gel better. This is due partly to man's conscience. We have only to go back thirty years and think of the conditions in the distressed areas in the 'thirties, to realise how different the quality of life for the majority of people is now from what it was then. But this is due not only to man's conscience. I believe it is due to the careful advocacy and practice by the Labour Movement of social and economic discipline. So that the quality of life now, though of course it could be very much better, owes a very great deal to our political institutions and to our political education.

Leaving for a moment the purely political side, I should like to say a word about the quality of life for women. The greatest possible social revolution that has taken place has been in the quality of life of women. Our health is no longer undermined by too constant childbearing. We can follow useful pursuits while bringing up our families. We can take our part in the civic life of the country. This is due not merely to the social climate, but also to the advance of technology. I do not know how many of your Lordships assist in the affairs of your households, but can you imagine washing up without detergents? Can you imagine what it must have been like for your wives, washing your shirts and ironing them before the marvellous invention of drip-dry fabrics? This is all due to the advance of technology, and it has meant a social revolution for women—though, admittedly, we had to fight for it. That is one side of the coin.

When it comes to man's physical environment, I am sure that the same discipline and education is necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, gave us a very moving description of his ginger pop. We should not like to think of him having his pop without his gin, but we are sure he will agree that he will need a little self-discipline about the amount of the gin. This is what matters in the organisation of our social lives. We must have planning, we must have management, we must have control.

I thought my noble friend Lord Kennet gave a very moving account of all the controls that this Government and previous Governments have given us, on which we can now base our approach towards physical environment. I was wondering a little, when he talked about initiating a debate on the increase in population, whether he would be able to answer it himself, as I understand that we have warmly to congratulate him on the birth of a sixth child. Nevertheless, there is no——


My Lords, I had in mind more of a public debate in the country than a Parliamentary debate, which might land me in trouble here.


My Lords, in any case we welcome any more Kennets. The point about the countryside and the green belts and all the things which the Government have done extremely well, protecting the smaller towns and cities and the remoter countryside, is that we have powers to regulate our environment. But the real difficulty comes with the expansion of the great metropolitan areas. This is of course an international phenomenon. It is not confined to us. You have it in Japan, in France, in Germany, in South America and in the United States of America. It is where the metropolitan centres expand that you get the pressures on the whole of the rest of life. I think we have a record here about which we should be tremendously proud, and about which we are not always very clear.

For instance, it is prophesied that in 25 years everyone in America will be living in one of three cities. They are called Boswash, Chipitts, and Sansan. Bogwash is the whole of the Eastern seaboard—Boston, New York, Washington. Chipitts is Chicago, the Lake cities, through to Pittsburgh. Sansan is San Francisco, right down through Los Angeles to San Diego. This may be a joke, but it is almost a reality. It is precisely this kind of antisocial sprawl which our planning laws, we hope—if properly administered—are going to prevent.

There is another very interesting point about the development of American cities, which I think is not as well known as it might be here, and which we ought to consider very seriously. The centres of American cities are now economic deserts. The well-to-do, whether they are well-to-do working people or well-to-do professional people, have moved out to the suburbs. There they have their separate schools, their separate police forces, their separate health organisations. The centres of the cities are occupied by—I was going to say the dispossessed—the racial minorities, by the poor, by the unemployed. Because of of this, the taxation that can be got from these poorer people is not sufficient to give the centres of the great cities of America proper provision for public safety, for adequate schooling, even for refuse collection. This is an anarchic situation.

Such is the vitality of the Americans that they are beginning to see what is happening, and of course are now trying to do something about it. But I think this country should be proud of the fact that they look to us, they look to our town planning, to our laws, to see how to deal with the problem. But I think it is very important that we do not remain complacent, because that kind of fate can overtake any country. What matters about this situation is that you have to take conscious political decisions. What matters is the allocation of resources.

The motor car has begun to be thought of as a kind of social evil. But, in fact, it represents for most of the people of this country a tremendous break-through to freedom. With a motor car you can choose your leisure more adequately, you can choose where to shop and, up to a point, you can choose where to send your children to school. This is a social freedom, and people will choose freedom of mobility even if it entails pollution of the atmosphere, congestion of the city centres and all the rest of it; and it is for conscious political decision what we do with the marvellous technological advances that have been given to us.

There is, on the other hand, another side to this which I should like to look at for just a moment. I think your Lordships on every side of the House will agree that we must have planning of some sort, but there is a tiny danger of what The Times has called "a planning blight". In a time of economic stress such as we are in at the moment, there is a danger that you designate an area or subject for planning and, in the meantime, progress is held up. If I may make one tiny diversion and refer to the Todd Commission, I can explain what I mean. As your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Todd, proposed some simply splendid and far-reaching reforms in medical education. It was a magnificent Report. Unfortunately, because of various proposals about the grouping of teaching hospitals the immediate effect of it was that hospitals could not plan their future. They could not even carry on their day-to-day expansion properly, because everything had to wait for Todd. This is the kind of difficulty into which planning brings us. I should like to pay a tribute to the Ministry of Health, in that they have already seen this danger. But it is something which affects all of us every day, and I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Kennet to represent to his right honourable friend that this kind of "planning blight" does not apply in his own particular sphere. Of course it is very difficult: we know that.

I believe that the moral of all this, if I may say so, is that we accept advanced technology. It is no use burying our heads in the sand and thinking that it will go away. It will not; it is here with us. It can be for our endless benefit, but we have to harness it, we have to use it, we have to control it, we have to manage it and we have to put it to the use of the greater good of all.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think it entirely relevant to our discussion on the quality and environment of life—and I hope that other Members of the House will feel the same—if I speak quite shortly about one aspect of it, perhaps in some ways the most important aspect of it; namely, the future of our young people. For them, my Lords, we should indeed have long-term plans; and I feel that it is not an unfitting occasion to hark back to the debate on youth initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, last year and to the proposal which I presumed at that time to lay before your Lordships—a proposal for national and at the same time voluntary service for youth. In this context I think, and I thought at that time particularly, of building hospitals and destroying slums—things which surely have a direct connection with the environment of life. Perhaps I may also follow on with an account of certain developments which have taken place since that time and which are at this moment being urgently considered.

Your Lordships may remember that in our previous debate approval and support for the proposal were given by the noble Load, Lord Feversham—a young man; by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who has given me leave to say that I still have his support; and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich who has already spoken to-day, and to such great effect. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, himself, who was answering for the Government, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21/2/ 68, col. 549]: I am not merely stalling on what I know he hopes will prove to be something vast, for if it comes out right I hope it will be something vast, too". He went on to say: I hope the movement may get bigger and bigger. I hope it may turn out in time to be something like the noble Earl envisaged". The noble Lord ended up by saying: … provided that it is voluntary, let us try it out and hope that it goes in the right direction". My Lords, at that time, and ever since, I found the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, deeply encouraging; and on the strength of them I asked the Editor of the Daily Mail whether he would consider initiating a National Opinion Poll to find out what the young people themselves thought about the idea. As some of your Lordships may have seen, the results were truly staggering: 74 per cent. of the 15 to 20-year-olds thought that young people could do a lot more to solve Britain's social problems; 67 per cent. thought that young people should be encouraged to do community social work; and 50 per cent., alas!, thought that the reason why young people did not do more was because the opportunities were not there.

I confess that I was not in the least surprised by these results. I had expected them. I have always maintained that we have a more decent youth to-day than ever in my lifetime, at any rate. Indeed, I earnestly believe that young people develop social consciences earlier than we older ones did. Hence, if you like, these wild, haphazard but, on the whole, well-intentioned marches—and in this National Opinion Poll there is surely clear proof of this. It seems to me that, despite the many and noble voluntary organisations which already exist, there remains a vast and untapped streak of good will, and that some sort of machinery, be it governmental or otherwise, needs to be set up in order that this good will shall be canalised. Indeed, it was suggested to me recently by a professor of social sciences at Manchester University that, in the end, in the future, the last period of a boy's or girl's education should be dedicated to serving the community, as part of our normal way of life. I would not disagree with that.

I am well aware that attempts are already being made, though on a small scale, to bring these things about; and, in particular, something called the Y.V.F.—the Young Volunteer Force—is most concerned. But as the director of that organisation wrote to me, and on his own initiative: How can a national campaign to involve young people in voluntary service be attempted on a Government grant of £100,000 spread over three years? How indeed, my Lords? With great respect, £100,000 is, if I may use the phrase, "chicken feed", and Mr. Steen, the director, added: We have been trying to get voluntary societies to co-ordinate themselves into one movement under our direction and support, but I am increasingly of the opinion that they do not really want to have their efforts co-ordinated, and that each society is very much boasting its own wares". That is a grim condemnation, my Lords, even though in fact nothing in the proposed service need interfere in the slightest degree with the sovereignty of the existing organisations. But such words can only emphasise my belief that some more authoritative effort should be made. I would ask the Government to shed their reluctance, as it were, to interfere. After all, there are some fields in which only Governments can have effect.

My Lords, I promised to speak briefly. I shall do so. I will only add that other bodies such as the Scottish Church House under the Scottish Church Council, the kirk, are also deeply concerned and hope to convene a conference later this year. I have touched only the fringes of these matters. This is not really the right occasion on which to argue the advantages and difficulties—and how immense are the difficulties! All I would ask today is that the Government consider giving time, later on this Session, for a full-scale debate in this House on a matter which is not merely "pie in the sky" but something that vitally concerns the whole community and the quality of our nation's life, now and in the future.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, when I first saw the Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on the Order Paper I wondered whether he was not attempting to ride a vast omnibus on to which anyone could jump with any number of ideas. I wondered in what direction he was to go and what was his destination. I am now much clearer as to what he intended and, in common with other noble Lords, I am grateful to him for having brought this subject to our attention for urbane discussion on the part of members of all Parties. I say that—and I am sure he will not be disturbed by this—because I could not help contrasting his approach to-day with the approach of some of his political ancestors years ago who fervently advocated and practised laissezfaire. In those days it was assumed by some that there should be no interference with economic processes and that any suggestion of legislative or other interference with these processes, either by the passing of laws which imposed certain restrictions or by the greater strength of the trade unions, should be thrust to one side as being interference with natural law.

My Lords, we have come a long way since then. I am personally heartened—as I am sure are all noble Lords, and particularly those on this side of the House—by the now general acceptance that it is the responsibility of Govern- ments to interfere with these economic forces. Particularly am I impressed by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, emphasised again and again, explicity and implicitly, that human values must be the criteria by which to judge the necessity or significance of our economic life. This has been underlined by others, and again, this is a great advance. It is very different from what was said many years ago in this House and in the other place. The second fact which heartened me was the recognition, now general, that although voluntary action can do a great deal in this particular sphere, it needs State action as well; otherwise the voluntary action will only just touch the fringes.

The third fact which I personally extracted from the remarks made by the noble Lord and others is that the stress on the preservation and encouragement of the amenities of life now affects, for the most part, the common man. In bygone days, in the industrial era of the last century, those who were offended by obnoxious odours, by noise and by ugliness could and did escape. Either they built for themselves massive mansions in the countryside, far from the madding crowd and the tumult of the industrial world, or they moved out to the suburbs. When we go to some of the industrial areas in the Midlands and the North we still see evidence of the disposition of those sufficiently well-off to do so to move as far as they could away from the industrial centre; leaving their workers to accept the grubbiness, the ugliness, the noise, the filth and the disease of that particular centre of environment.

So my Lords, in three respects we have made great advances. Those who are sometimes tempted to cynicism or to depression because there are still so many things that menace the quality of life should take encouragement from the fact that over a period of time, say fifty or a hundred years, there has been this extraordinary, almost revolutionary advance in the sense of our responsibility for others. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, in her most moving speech, naturally we on this side of the House believe that we have contributed to that end. I am not so Pharisaical or self-righteous as to assume that we were in the past the exclusive stewards of this movement to awaken social responsibility. The whole of society has been suffused with this idea and to-day we have an awakened conscience. Those in the past were just blind bats not knowing exactly what would happen.

My Lords, I notice that in the noble Lord's Motion he speaks of: threats to the environment and quality of life". Were he now present (though he will possibly hear this indirectly) I would ask him what exactly is meant by that phrase. His Motion speaks of: plans to deal with the increasing threats to the environment and quality of life I ask the question because there are some cases where our natural environment should be threatened. For our natural environment is not necessarily intrinsically beneficent and benevolent. Often it is quite the reverse. The Lucullan assumption of the splendid, primitive savage is as false as the axiom that man was born free and that everywhere he is now in chains. Although Marx partly translated that in emphasising the economic chains that entangled the feet of the masses, I would say that, on the contrary, man himself was born in chains and is everlastingly struggling to be free.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, is but one of those who to-day has given us a glimpse of the future to which we can struggle, though in so doing we shall inevitably impose increasing interference upon all those forces of acquisition and acquisitiveness that until comparatively recent times were held to be sacred. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that it is the quality of life that counts—the quality of life judged not merely by the few but by the many. We have therefore to address ourselves increasingly to the question: what can we do to secure for the ordinary man, the common man and woman, those qualities and that graciousness of life which until comparatively recent years have been withheld from them? Reference was made to a certain very exalted Royal personage in a way in which I entirely approve. But, on the other hand, he himself on a certain occasion (I think very foolishly) made reference to the increasing interference with our daily lives, to too many laws interfering with our lives. I beg to disagree.

It is true that we can overdo interference; we can be too inquisitive; we can lose our sense of balance or propor- tion. But to-day life is more gracious for the great majority precisely because we have built up a body of laws that interfere with those instinctive and impulsive desires of individuals and sections to gain what they can for themselves irrespective of the plight of the great majority. I agree with what other noble Lords have said: that there is a certain natural and social ecology. We can interfere with it. But on the other hand, we learn by experience. This institution which we sometimes call the Palace of Westminster was, I believe, originally erected on a swamp, a most unpropitious and unsuitable place for a palace and an assembly of the legislators of this country. From time to time since then, even when the Palace was rebuilt in 1834 onwards, I believe there were very serious complaints about the noxious fumes from the river and elsewhere and the prevalence of disease caused by the type of land on which the Palace was settled. We learn by experience to overcome these things in other directions as well. We have learned steadily how to cope with some of the natural difficulties.

Take the instance of coal. The wresting of coal from the bowels of the earth was a gross interference with nature, yet it led to great benefits for mankind. It enabled the great industrial development to get under way in the last century by means of generating steam power. It meant that where before it was cold in winter time many homes could now have warmth through this other kinds of fuel. Equally coal brought great disadvantages. The great slag heaps in our mining areas still remind us of the recklessness and irresponsibility of those who produced the coal in bygone days without any concern for the welfare of the people living in the area. We know that coal fires emitted into the atmosphere that which in the end polluted it. But gradually we came to realise, as more and more we had a sense of human values being preeminent, and as more and more we had a sense of social responsibility, that we must find means by which slag heaps may be removed or avoided, and ways in which we can avoid air pollution. So again we have this interference by legislation. In every district where the provisions of the clean air legislation have been operated they have been of enormous benefit to the people. It is so in my own district.

My Lords I remember visits to Pittsburgh in America. On my first visit many years ago a great blanket of thick smoke hung over the whole town. The last time I went there that smoke had disappeared and you could see buildings which previously had been shrouded in dirt. That has also happened in this country. Our buildings do not get so filthy as they used to do. They still, of course, need a certain amount of cleansing from time to time, but it takes longer before that becomes imperative. We do not have the "pea-soup" fogs that we had years ago. The diminution in the incidence of asthma and similar complaints is due to the more purified air of to-day. I say that this is all to the good. It is an interference with natural economic forces and processes and a claim on the part of some people to please themselves how they shall live—but all to the social good.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for drawing attention to the housing of the people of this country. Great advances have been made regarding accommodation of ordinary people. Ebenezer Howard was one who led the way in this respect. He was a man obscure and unknown in his day and probably he has now been forgotten. I remember reading his book Garden Cities for All when I was quite young. He led the way in the assumption that it was possible to have industry, necessary as it is, together with the preservation of the amenities of a district, and he laid the foundation of the first Garden City, Letchworth, from which others have followed. Later on we had the great New Towns with a million people living in them. They have also followed along the same pathway and are another reminder to us of how in very small ways society is permeated by ideas and imagination on the part of those who perhaps sometimes sow their seed and wonder whether it will ever yield a harvest.

To-day, not only have we these New Towns, but we have even made efforts to make the old conurbations not merely places where people live domitory-wise or work in the factories, but places where they can also enjoy life. That is so in the great urban areas of all the cities, including the Metropolis of London. Efforts have been made to see that all towns are rejuvenated and recreated; and it can be done, for the assumption that people should all try to live away from where they work is, I think, a false one. We want to live near where we work, but at the same time enjoy our environment; and much has been done in that direction.

We owe a debt to pioneers like the Cadbury family who, years ago, started Bourneville, another garden suburb attached to the works. There are, of course, dangers in this. There is the danger of paternalism and the over-integrating of people living in the same place and performing the same tasks. But that does not detract from the fact that these people were pioneers in the way of building cities where now we work and produce the wealth we need but which at the same time preserve the greater wealth of the spirit.

I wish to put in one or two other brief pleas for what we should do, or try to do, in order that we may all preserve the quality of life. Reference has been made to advertising, although only in passing. I want to emphasise that although much has been done to restrict ugly and shrieking advertisements, much more could be done. The assumption that suppliers of goods and commodities are entitled to shriek their wares on every occasion we know to be utterly false. I plead that much more should be done to restrict advertising. It is not that I do not appreciate that advertising has a certain value. It helps to create production which in the course of time produces many amenities, including television. At the same time, at certain periods advertising can be excessive in its interference with the quality of life.

I would also plead that more should be done regarding the suppression of unnecessary noise. In particular, I cannot for the life of me understand why certain sections of our younger generation seem sometimes to wallow in noise and cannot apparently live without it. In one or two homes that I have gone into in bygone days I have found the television or the radio turned on full strength, and it was in those circumstances that schoolchildren were some times expected to do their homework. When we go to the countryside or the seaside someone may come along with a transistor radio set emitting those strange barbaric noises which seem to fascinate some people but which to me are an abomination.

I would also mention the incidence of traffic. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Byers, that there are serious defects with regard to the density of traffic in this country and serious burdens imposed on the community. Nevertheless, the motor car in particular has brought to thousands of people a means of escape into the countryside. One can go along the new urban roads of our towns and cities, as one can do in my area, and find a car in front of nearly every working-class house. Although the vehicles may not always be in use, they provide a means of escape to other areas. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who suggested, or implied, that one of the reasons why we have so many cars on the road is due to the poverty or inefficiency of public transport. I think it is the other way round. It is because of the multiplication of cars on the road that we have a poorer public service. One may see thousands of cars in the rush hours, morning and night, with only one or two people travelling in each car. But the vehicles take up space which is denied to public transport. I suggest, therefore, that it is more likely that the multiplicity of motor cars has caused a decline in the number of people using the public transport service. This is one of the problems that confronts any Minister of Transport and any authority dealing with transport.

Several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Byers and Lord Newton, said that Members of Parliament and public people should not assume that they always know best, that they know what is good for the public. But, equally, the public do not know what is best for them. Often we find that they "couldn't care less". If a referendum had been taken a few years ago to approve the steady and progressive suppression of coal fires and the introduction of electric and other forms of heating, I think that the majority of people, having romantic ideas about gathering round the home fire at night, would have voted against it. I am certain that most of them now realise that it has been a great boon. It has been so to me, because years ago one of my domestic functions was to rake out the ashes in the morning and rekindle the fire, if I could, and there was nothing I abominated more. Now I just touch a switch. Almost like the authority in the Bible, I say, "Let there be light", and there is light, and heat as well. I believe that illustrates the fact that many people do not know what they want. Therefore, it is our task, not to impose our ideas on them, but to try to educate them. Again I would say that I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and to other noble Lords who have spoken, for what they have done to-day in helping to educate the public to putting human values first. May all the rest of our social life serve that end.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that the subject of this debate is of such paramount importance, and the need for decision—and action to implement decision—so urgent, that I am indeed happy to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who think likewise. And I thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for his most timely action in introducing this debate to-day, with the thoroughness and forcefulness which, if I may say so, we customarily expect from him. He said so much with which I was in very close agreement.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that man must now master science and the machine, or science and the machine will master man. At present it seems to me that the scales are over-weighted against man and increasingly so with every passing year. We have reached a stage in our own crowded environment where the individual feels helpless in face of forces which seem so overwhelming that his own voice, if raised in protest, is drowned by the clamour of either the machine itself, in all its various forms, or the vested interests of the company developer, or by the steamroller of departmental procedure with its occasional indifference to some of our basic social needs. This is the time when all those who would rebel against this unguided onslaught of the science juggernaut must do so. We need a clear and unequivocal clarion blast against all those things which are depriving us and our children, and certainly our children's children, of almost everything that is worth living for and working for.

It seems to me that in our congested, polluted and deafening cities, in which daily the quality of life for both inhabitant and worker deteriorates, all citizens should now rise and proclaim that they will no longer tolerate the traffic that chokes our streets, the stench of diesel and petrol fumes, the ear-splitting racket which makes rational thought and work so uncongenial without soundproofed walls and windows; that no longer should urban sprawl be disfigured by shoddy and characterless housing, often ill-designed for the needs of satisfactory family life, and the towering blocks of flats, cutting out from those who live below what little sun we receive in these islands in which the prospect of rearing successfully the coming generations seems to me quite appalling. These things, my Lords, and many more, must be changed and with a firmness of intent which will brook no further indecision or shuffling of responsibility until it really is too late.

My views are simple, perhaps too simple; but I find it easier to over-simplify these complex issues so that some clear perspective can be reached. The quality of life in our cities has become so debased that those who can live outside and commute into work each day are doing so, and in rapidly increasing numbers, so straining our communications beyond their capacity and giving rise to the same serious problems in the countryside around the perimeter of our towns and cities. This situation, of course, is not unique in Britain. Such conditions are carried to an even greater extent in many other cities of the Western World, and indeed of the East. But in our own limited land mass, surrounded by sea, in which over 55 million people live, one-half of whom are in the southern third of England, we are not able to permit further laissez-faire, if England is to retain any way of living which is worth having.

The remedies which I would look to, in the hope of saving something of worthwhile life in our major towns and cities, are drastic but, I believe, inescapable. First, I would propose that all main shopping centres should be progressively banned to traffic, and the delivery and discharge of goods should be effected by means of silent-running delivery belts to designated points of collection. I believe that the resulting freedom of movement for the shopper and ordinary pedestrian would have a great effect on individual and public attitudes. Much can be learned from the experience of the city of Norwich, whose recent experiment has had such good results—not least, incidentally, to the trading community. I would hope that many of our market towns could also devise similar plans for making their centres a pleasure to shop in and that in the result the greater peace and relaxation of tension would bring its own rewards, both financial and social.

Secondly, I consider that all traffic within specified urban areas, particularly those of a high-density residential nature, should be limited to vehicles which are operated electrically, to cut out both the noise and fumes of the petrol and diesel engine, and that these vehicles should be subject to a maximum permitted size. This will also necessarily limit the use in urban areas of private cars which, if not conforming to such urban by-laws, would have to be kept in garages on the outskirts of the city. It should also redirect road programmes towards constructing by-passes to keep these vehicles clear of urban centres.

I am sure that great objections to the practicality of such steps will come from any people, and not least from the oil companies. But this is all a matter of emphasis. If it is known that the civic authorities, backed by Parliament and Governmental approval, will be introducing such measures in the near future, commercial interests will be directed to supplying what is needed. Sufficient attention and research will be focused on developing the sort of batteries and equipment which an electric car will need in the Britain of to-morrow, and they will be perfected if pressures are strong enough. All that is needed is the vigorous expression by those who live in this country that these sort of measures must be introduced. Impossible? No. Practical? I think so. Desirable? Certainly. Incidentally, my Lords, I wonder how great will be the enhanced value of property in those areas which are so limited. I think eventually that property prices would speak for themselves.

Not only, in my view, must we clamp down on the petrol vehicle, because of its noise, fumes and congestion; we must also clamp down on all other forms of mechanical noise, whether on the ground or in the air. I refer now specifically to the aeroplane. Perhaps I should say here that I am not against the development of science and technology: very far from it. Like everyone else, I enjoy the fruits of scientific research in my home, in my work and travels, and in recreation. But there is a balance in all things, and one thing that I cannot see as necessary is the further development of faster and noisier aircraft. That the modern aeroplane is a triumph of the research laboratory and of the aircraft manufacturer needs no underlining or questioning, but I can see no reason why the objectives of laboratory and workshop should not now be directed towards the elimination of all those features which are disadvantageous to the inhabitants of whatever land these aircraft will be passing over. Ultimately, I am sure, the future of aircraft lies with the vertical-take-off machine, the advantages of which must be obvious to us all: smaller airfields and less wastage of land space; limitation of noise and airspace in the channels of approach.

I am personally quite opposed to Concorde for all these reasons, and I hope that the project will be knocked on the head, as I believe does the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I have not the slightest desire to get to New York or Sydney an hour or so faster than we already can do to-day; and I do not believe that old story about the busy businessman saving his valuable time, and making more expert conquests as a result. We all know what rulings some firms place on their executives during these air trips. A week ago I flew into Heathrow having travelled in comfort a great distance in a very short time—considerably less time than it took me from the plane to my house, in not so distant Hampshire, by public transport in the maximum of discomfort and inconvenience. The money spent on Concorde, in my view (and although there will be many who will strongly disagree with me, there are also, I believe, many who agree) could have been spent to greater public benefit on improving our own internal lines of communication than in this grandiose national scheme, the benefit of which to science may be considerable but which has well-known disadvantages to the unfortunate citizen, who will not only have to pay for its development cost in even higher air fares, but at the same time have to listen to its sonic boom blasting our ear drums and window panes and shattering the fabric of our ancient buildings.

Here is something, my Lords, that I believe the people of Britain should refuse to put up with. Let us tell those who control our air programmes that, so far as we are concerned, they can cut out air noise and fit suppressors—and we will gladly pay for that: no more expensive prestige machines, which the travelling public do not want and do not need; and far greater research into our convenience, both as passengers and as the civilian occupants of a small country. This could apply also to some aircraft used by the Armed Forces, particularly those remarkably versatile and internally noisy helicopters. Amidst the din of present urban life these may be less noticeable. But sitting in one's garden on those all too few summer days, enjoying a little peace, sun and tranquillity—after all, a necessary part of our existence—it can suddenly seem akin to a battlefield, from which the only escape is to dive indoors and shut the windows while a flight of these helicopters passes slowly overhead, making a racket enough to frighten even the most intrepid, and undeniably having adverse effects on both blood pressure and mental processes.

One noble Lord has already mentioned that it has been established in some medical circles that the long-term effects of such noise irritation can have pronounced influence on the human nervous system. Without sidestepping into a subject on which other noble Lords will have more authority to speak than myself, I would say that it is at least pertinent to this debate for me to say that here is another aspect of the quality of our life which has already as serious implications as any other.

So my views are: spend our taxpayers' money on suppressing air noise, improve our transit facilities to, in and from airports, and the quality of our lives, whether as passengers in the air or just remaining on the ground, will be much improved. And, as a not too irrelevant aside, may I add that I should like to see our air experts develop a space station nicely sited above the clouds, where we could enjoy a long week-end in the sunshine. I believe that there are opportunities for Butlin's and holiday promoters at 30,000 or 40,000 feet up.

There are many trends to the quality of our lives and its environment, but in my own remarks I shall stick to things that I believe come first; and one that seems of even greater importance than those I have mentioned is the type and quality of our housing. Here I was in close accord with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whose speech I thought was both hopeful and most constructive. I listened to him with much pleasure. Before, however, launching on the theme of housing, I should like to associate myself warmly with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about not belittling the efforts of those who are working so successfully to improve the quality of our environment, and in anything that I say I would not wish to detract from those who have both vision and vigour. Although I do not know the Peterlee Estate development mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I was glad to hear of it, and I hope that this experiment, which has been so successful, will be well publicised.

I accept that to-day's families, on average, are housed much better than those of previous generations, and that there are greater facilities for cooking, washing and sanitation. Nevertheless, there is something immensely forbidding and soul-destroying about those long rows of council houses—all the same, all built to the old stereotyped patterns and to the lowest tender, with little imagination, and the product of closed minds. Look at the alternatives of the multi-storeyed flats rising out of the ground in endless matchbox profusion—what Sir Albert Richardson used to call the "breeding boxes"—and surrounded by concrete open spaces and tarmac death-traps. How on earth—or indeed in the heavens, for that matter—are we as a nation to produce more intelligent, well-balanced and thinking children in these sort of surroundings.

My opinion on housing is that we need a revolution in the design and planning of estates, whether they are in private hands or those of local government bodies. The needs of young families require more understanding than the purely financial considerations of the planning committee, where so often everything new or out of the ordinary is suspect and likely to meet a quick death. In my view, multi-storeyed flats are quite unsuited to the needs of family life, and should be either for the single person, for the newly-weds with one small baby, or for those who have no family, or have already reared one and no longer have any such responsibilities. The growing child needs to be on the ground, with access to open spaces, free of traffic hazard; even just a bit of mud in the back yard, and a chance every now and again to escape from his purely urban surroundings to see the countryside—a countryside that must of course be heavily protected against the encroachment and pollution of the city.

My Lords, if we cannot control the noise and congestion and barrenness of our cities they will die from the centre outwards. There is ample evidence for this contention here and in the United States. The strain will grow on the dwindling countryside with a greater probability of breakdown in our communications network. If our urban population is to remain in the cities and lead a tolerable existence it needs immediate protection by the enlightened opinion and firm action from both Whitehall and town hall. The heart of our problem is in our towns and cities, and it is there that the decisions must be taken.

I do not expect that, even if what I suggest were accepted and acted upon, everything could be put right in any foreseen period of time. It can only take many years to see real improvement in the character of our urban environment. But, my Lords, if we do not reach decisions on these matters very soon and approximately along the lines of which I have spoken, then we shall lose the battle of man against the machine, and the era of the robot and man's real martyrdom will be with us. I urge Her Majesty's Government and those of all Party political creeds to stand firm against further laissez-faire and the inevitability of urban decay and collapse.

Bold decisions are needed and, despite obvious criticisms, they must be taken now. The rights of man to live at peace in his own environment are actually and visibly in peril. Now is the time for us all to speak loud and clear to the policy-makers and to the decision-takers that our urban life must be improved through immediate action; and if those who have the power and responsibility will not act, then my hope is that the citizens of Britain will rise in their wrath and demand that their representatives pay attention or give way to those who will.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, most of your Lordships who have spoken already have dealt with major matters that present a danger to the life, the health or at least the sanity of a great number of people in this country. I hope your Lordships, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Byers, will forgive me if I deal with two relatively minor matters and two distinct matters. They have this in common. They are both essential to the countryside; they are both matters that can be put right at very little expense, and both of them must be put right soon or it will be too late.

The first of these two matters that I should like to mention is the fact that there is now a threat to the long-established and essential character of the country village, especially the small village. This is a very great pity because in villages there is more community spirit and less of the more unpleasant aspects of class consciousness than anywhere else. This happens mainly because in the big towns houses have tended to be grouped in districts according to the incomes of the occupiers. There are areas in towns where mostly poor people live, and areas that are regarded as very smart, and all sorts of grades in between; whereas in villages there are houses of all kinds grouped about, and this has led to a much better community spirit than can be found in the towns.

This situation is in danger of changing, and to a large extent because old cottages, especially old stone cottages, need a very great deal of money spending on them. Previously what happened when a house became virtually beyond repair was that it was pulled down and a new one, possibly not in character with the rest of the village, was built. This presented a threat to the character of the village, but to the looks of the village rather than to its essential community spirit.

Nowadays there is a new threat to village life and this is the cult of the week- end cottage. Many people who live in towns quite rightly and quite understandably want to go out of town for the weekend and therefore buy a village cottage in the country. This is having a fairly disastrous effect in villages. It means that the prices of these cottages go up to such an extent that the sons and daughters of the people who live in the villages can no longer afford to do so. It means that to a large extent the villages become dead during the week and revitalised only at week-ends when the inhabitants are there. The third point, and the most important of all, is this. It means that, while the centres of the villages, with the old houses, are occupied by one set of people, the rather richer people who can afford to keep up an old house, the farm labourers and the normal inhabitants of the villages tend to congregate in the council houses outside. Therefore, there is not one community, with a community spirit, but there are two communities.

Oddly enough, this trend is exactly the reverse of that in towns. Whereas in villages now the better off and the poor are tending to drift apart, in towns houses of æsthetic merit in areas that used to be regarded as poor areas are being bought up by the better-to-do. This means that in towns there is much more of a mixture of all income groups of the community. It is a very great pity that this improvement in the town is matched by a retrograde step in the villages.

Old houses of merit can now be saved comparatively cheaply by modern damp-proofing systems. Rising damp makes a house into a hovel. If the rising damp is cured it becomes a "liveable-in" house again. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider more grants for improving old houses and old cottages of merit with particular respect to inserting damp-proof courses. Secondly, if local councils can b encouraged where possible to buy up old houses, particularly houses of merit, and making them really habitable according spend a certain amount of money on to modern standards, this may take slightly more money to do than putting up a new house from scratch, but in the long term there will be a house which will last very much longer, be more in character with the countryside and preserve the amenities of the village.

The next point I should like to mention is the very regrettable and increasing disappearance of trees and hedges throughout the countryside. My noble friend Lord Newton touched on the disappearance of hedges. Trees are becoming fewer and fewer. This results from a number of different reasons. The first is that the trees planted by Capability Brown and the great landscape gardeners at the end of the 18th century are, many of them, now dying or dead. The second reason is that a large number of trees are cut down to pay for death duties and to avoid the necessity of selling the land on which they stand. Another reason is that large institutions are apt to buy up land as an investment, and very often they obtain a little bit of side benefit by cutting down all the decent timber trees on that land. Another reason is that improvement of roads, straightening and widening them and building new roads, leads to more trees being felled. Many of your Lordships may have seen the photograph in The Times on Monday of the Oak Avenue at Levens Park in Westmorland, which is thought to be the finest oak avenue in the country and which is now threatened with having a motorway built across it at its focal point.

Perhaps the most disastrous threat to trees and hedges in the country is the changeover in farming practice which is largely happening, from pasture land to arable. This has three effects on the countryside. The first is that when there are beasts in a field it is useful to have trees within the field to provide shelter in the winter and shade in the summer, but when a field is ploughed up the tree is a nuisance for the tractor to get round, so trees within the fields tend to be cut down. Secondly, with arable fields it is more economic for the farmer to have larger enclosures, so he is inclined to put two or more fields into one, down comes the hedge in the middle and down come all the trees. Thirdly, there are the mechanical hedge trimmers that are now used. In the first place they make the farmer cut down the big trees because those trees are a nuisance in getting a clear sweep with his hedge trimmer. So the new saplings that are coming up and which would make the trees of the future get their heads chopped off.

This absence of trees and hedges and the fact that the countryside is gradually changing from what we have been accustomed to into a vast plain, has several effects. The first has been spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and is the dangers of erosion. How much effect this will have in later years no one quite knows at the moment, but there is certainly the possibility that it might have a serious effect on farming in the future. The second definite effect which we can see at the moment is in snow. Driving along the roads these last few days it has been easy to see that where hedges have been cut down there are huge drifts across the road.

However, I would particularly emphasise to your Lordships the æsthetic aspect of the matter. Can we afford to lose the countryside that we all value, looking as it does at the moment? How often nowadays does one see the type of hedge which in some parts of the country is called a "cut and laid" and in other parts is known as a "stake and bound"? "Cutting and laying" a hedge is a dying art. There are very few people who can do it these days; but what a great pleasure it is to see one well done! This flattening out of the countryside is not at the moment being discouraged officially by the Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or local authorities. It is even being encouraged. There are still grants for grubbing out hedges. I think I am right in saying that if you want to knock two fields into one you get a 30 per cent. grant. If you want to grub out a hedge in order to improve the drainage you get a 50 per cent. grant.

There are certain things that could be done without a great deal of expense to stop this trend. The first thing I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government is this. We save works of art leaving the country by permitting them to be made over to the country against death duties; would it not be possible for really lovely trees to be made over in the same way against death duties, in order to save those trees from being cut down? Secondly, would it not be possible to limit the grants that are made for grubbing out hedges, possibly by having no grants for grubbing out hedges by the roadside and no grants for enlarging a field to more than 50 acres?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I am going to speak later, but not on this point. Is the noble Lord aware that farmers take out hedges to save money and therefore it would be only fair to give the farmer a subsidy for retaining the hedge?


My Lords, I know a big farmer——




My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, that it saves the farmer money; but then why do we have to give him a grant for it, too?


My Lords, I am agreeing with the noble Lord.


My Lords, all I am suggesting is that grants should be limited to cases where the grubbing out of hedges is absolutely necessary, and as much encouragement as possible should be given for keeping hedges. The third possibility is, as the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, suggested, that for a really well kept hedge it might be possible to have a grant—a hedge by the roadside, possibly, that is necessary for the amenities of the general public. Also it might be possible to replace trees which are cut down when hedges are grubbed out by replanting trees in other hedges which are retained.

The Automobile Association has produced a scheme of which many of your Lordships will have heard and no doubt many of your Lordships will have taken part in, called "Drive to plant a tree Day". This is a scheme that had the blessing of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and which came out in the A.A. magazine. Members of the A.A. are being encouraged to contribute one pound each for planting a tree by the roadside to replace those that have gone. This scheme has had an absolutely marvellous response. I believe that 7,000 people have subscribed to it already. That is the sort of thing that could be done, and when this particular scheme is finished the idea could be taken over by the local authorities. Local authorities have a great deal of call on the money which they have to spend on amenities, but I feel sure that if local authorities would run schemes of their own, many people living in the area would find the money to replant some of the trees that are being lost.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I, in reply to——


No, the noble Lord cannot.


But surely I can, my Lords.



5.39 p.m.


My Lords, may I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on introducing this subject. I spoke on part of this issue on November 27 last and I do not intend to say much now because I want to speak on the third part of this subject next Wednesday. It was refreshing to hear the noble Lord, Lord Denham, talking about the wide open spaces and the hedges and the trees, and very evocative it was about a time when one could get all the environment one wanted—very good indeed, if one had the money to pay for it. The majority of people to-day have the same idea: that if only they could get a bit more money they could have a little more amenity, a little better environment all along the line. The difficulty with modern Governments is that when they make promises to the constituencies about what they will be able to do in the coming years, the promises are never accompanied by the other side of the balance sheet—that is to say, the responsibilities of the citizen to the country. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, was "bang on" with most of his points; he was really first-class. But the kind of evocation of the 18th century to me, listening this afternoon, is the fact that the 12-year-old children who were billeted on me during the war had never seen a cow.

I see it like this. I think that over the last 160 years there have been three great waves breaking over Britain. The first one has been enunciated and mentioned and elaborated on by various speakers, the mushroom-like growth of the dark industrial towns and cities. That was number one. Number two was the urgent and vigorous movement of people, property, goods and factories. and so on. on the heel of the thousands of railway lines that were built in the middle of the last century. And the next one was the urban sprawl, based on the motor car. And now to-day we have a fourth which is, in my opinion, the most important of the lot, the most urgent, and is going to be the most violent in its repercussions. That is the necessity for leisure. At one time money could buy all the wonderful amenities for some, but they were denied to others because they could not afford them. That day has gradually gone. The benefits that an estate could have in the old days, whether it was a carriage and pair or a horse, or whatever it was, are gone. To-day the owner of an estate turns out on to a public turnpike and is no better than anybody else; he has to be in the queue waiting to get past that particular cross-roads. We are all in the same boat.

The elements that go towards this leisure—and this is important—are these: number one, population; number two, the incomes that people are getting, the increased incomes; number three, the mobility that people have with the motor car and all the rest of it; number four, the education that people are getting, being able to see what other people have enjoyed and wanting a bit more for themselves; the retiring age up till now settled in most of our industries and professions, and also the free time. This is an element which is of the future. But if you went to Oldham to-day and put to the people there an academic proposition as to the benefits of planning for some time in the future, they would turn on their heels and say "Pie in the sky, lad. We want something now". And they deserve something now, because they have borne the brunt, the lion's share if you like, of the renovation and the urban renewal of the worst of the industrial towns, with the worst of the industrial slums.

In Lancashire—and I speak on this as often as I can—we occupy one-thirtieth of the area of Great Britain yet we have one-eighth of the population. We have a concentration of population there in some of the oldest industrial towns, and we want to know what is going to be done about that now, because it is impossible for old towns to bear this burden themselves. We, in our wisdom, have made development areas, probably owing to political pressure, or perhaps through some false notion of lack of prosperity, like the old employment register, which I believe is on a false proposition; those who are not able to be employed, and those who cannot and will not work any more, should be off the employment register and on another one to be dealt with by the Social Security people.

Poor environment is our trouble; we have 10,000 acres of dereliction, and we want to be put on the same basis, where-ever that dereliction is, with those areas that are having the benefit of development area status. In Lancashire and the North-West only a fraction of the areas are on the 85 per cent. grant for dealing with dereliction. There is another point here. We thought in the past that all that was needed to do was to supply new houses and move people to them, and that suddenly there would be a new way of enjoying life which would be appreciated by everybody. This is not so at all.

I can take your Lordships to a place within a few miles of where I live where a large housing estate is being put up under the ægis of three authorities, one a city, one a municipal borough and one a county council. This is where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in that the planning that should be taking place now is in the organisations of local government, the Report on which, we hope, will give us an idea as to how we are going to fill this bill in a few months' time. But in the place of which I am speaking the inhabitants are irreconcilable with the people who live in the area and are for ever trekking back to the place they came from. You can have a community in a slum: you do not make communities by putting up new houses and leaving it at that. There must be something more to it. There must be the human aspect. There must be the services which go towards making and creating a community.

My Lords, it is a very complex problem, and I do not think that it has been understood. If there had been long-term planning a long time ago to cope with the present, we should be a lot happier. But there is much that we could do for ourselves. Somebody was talking about going to a Butlin's camp 12,000 or 40,000 ft. above the clouds. Well, all you need to do is to take a plane out of Manchester, Blackpool, or Liverpool and go up to 10,000 ft. to see what the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood; means. There is a film of smog all the way from the North Wales hills to the Lake District which is filtering 15 per cent. of sunlight from those below and imprisoning them with a 10 per cent. of humidity. Below, we are firing up as hard as we can so that we can make more smog and burn more coal. That is what is happening.

There are 88 authorities in the North-West which have never made any statutory orders at all; and many of these are in black areas. And this has had a persuasive influence on other people, the people on the seaboard who should also be putting into operation statutory powers. We want some mandatory powers from the Government. We have heard for years that we cannot afford it; that it would cost too much for the manufacturers to cope with, and that they would not be able to compete. We have heard this for too long.

Pollution of water has been mentioned. I think the long-term plans which need to be made about leisure have a focus here in the question of water. We cannot wait for the pollution to be stopped; to have fine arguments about the degree of effluent at one part of the stream or another. It should be stopped absolutely forthwith, because this is a cancer on the body politic. Nine years ago I built a house by a stream. All the local inhabitants said, "He is barmy; it will stink him out." They said, "He is bound to lose the battle". One of the late residents of where I live, who was a Minister of State in the other House, said to me: "If you get that river cleaned they ought to make you the Duke of Delph." Do you know, it is a matter of sticking to it. By degrees that river has been made clean. There was the rallying of public opinion; pressure on the people higher up who were tipping stuff out into the river, until last summer, when I was doing a bit of gardening at the end of the lawn, I saw a boy fishing. I said to him, "Hey lad, if I were you, I would go a bit higher up. You won't catch anything there." Well, I had the most laconic and fitting reply, because all he did was to lift his basket lid up and pull out a most beautiful trout, just about a pound in weight and about eleven inches long.

Now they are good citizens. They are not the people who are going around committing acts of vandalism; they are the people we want to encourage. These are the things people can do locally for themselves. It is the same with smoke. If there was enough feeling, enough, protest on the lines the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, was suggesting, we would get what we want. We could do all this if everybody would really believe that this was part of their lives and they wanted it for themselves, because then they would pay more attention to how to secure it.

I hope that this debate will continue not only in this House but everywhere in the country, because if it does not we shall certainly lose what we have gained during the last few years; the years when we have realised that things can be improved, that the social lot of poorer people can be made better. It would be a great pity if at this juncture the education, the information, the desire, and the will to do it were not there. I pray to God that they will be there.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, this is quite a difficult moment to enter your Lordships' debate, as such a variety of thoughts have been expressed of very different types. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, very deeply indeed, as others have, for introducing this subject with his usual excellence and consciousness.

I should like to stick very briefly to the fact that from nearly all of our speeches it has been plain that we are obsessed with the whole town and country issue and its relation to the quality of life, and, for that matter, to the quality of consciousness as such. I have thought very deeply about the town and country issue ever since, just before the war, I was on a farm in New Zealand and realised that a country of even one-seventh as large a land area as our own Island had then only 1,600,000 people. Invercargill was the fifth city, with 27,000 people. Then one thinks, for instance, of 250,000 European Rhodesians; one thinks also of our already 55 millions, or whatever the number is, and the possibility of the increase seems terrifying; but one may so easily be wrong. I remember several years ago passionately arguing in your Lordships' House against commercial television. In fact, I do not think commercial television has corrupted our consciousness in any particular way, but I cannot help feeling there will come a point—and we may realise it too late—when it will become obvious that you cannot have 50 million people on a medium-sized island.

If one sticks to the idea that nature is the vicar of God, which I think is right, it is not a question of whether more and more of us can get out into the country in cars, but it is a question of what sort of country we reach when we do so. How few of us have, in fact, ever properly intuited the mood of nature in a really wild place without being interrupted at some point by other people! I admire the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, for reminding us that the site of your Lordships' House was once a swamp, because the more we are physically aware of things, whether in the cities or in the country, the better. I think the more physical awareness and physical bearings we have, the happier we shall be. In fact, the sense of its sheer hugeness, the fact of its being a whole province and a world in itself, makes London perhaps the one forgive-able city.

I do not have any specific suggestions to make except on this population point. I do not see how with the present number of our population we can possibly get a true contact with nature over the coming years and so maintain a sort of uncorrupt consciousness. Perhaps we are living in an age of loss and have to get used to, and be content with, what is possible. Finally, I again should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and to say how valuable this debate has been. I will leave your Lordships with a single thought. Perhaps we ought to consider, however difficult it might be, running London Transport with half the population of London, or running the country with half the present population. In the next twenty years we might, not only for æsthetic reasons but also for commercial reasons, think very seriously about that matter.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I used to have a pamphlet, which was written at the end of the First World War, called The Minor Horrors of War. I have lost the pamphlet and I cannot exactly remember what were all the minor horrors of war. Chiefly I think it was about fleas, and also lice. I have forgotten the precise list, but I imagine that it included cold, lack of sleep, dirt, not enough food and bad food at that. The implications of the pamphlet, to me, were that in some part the minor horrors of war added up to a state of affairs which was worse than the major horrors of war—wounds, death, and so on. I think that in some measure this now applies to ourselves. The major horrors of life, which were once the lot of all men—poverty, pain, disease, want and insecurity—we have, I will not say cured, because obviously we have not, but we have gone some way towards doing so. But the minor horrors of life—noise, overcrowding, traffic congestion, and needless ugliness—are the sort of things which we have not cured. In fact, in some measure the more we go towards curing the major horrors, the more the minor horrors afflict us. These minor horrors are in some ways so frustrating as to turn us slightly neurotic.

There is a great deal to be said for the proposition that a good deal of the malaise from which we now suffer, the violence and the unrest, is due to poor environment. I was particularly interested in a small point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the Passmore area of the Peterlee housing estate, which was so well designed and good to look at that things like vandalism were infinitely less than in other parts of even the same housing estate. We have now almost within our grasp an embarras des richesses. We are richer materially than we have ever been before, yet somehow or other it has all turned sour because of the poor quality of our life.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, was slightly confused when she spoke about the quality of life having so much improved. I contend that material conditions have improved immeasurably, but the quality of life has not; it has gone down. We have to bear this matter very much in mind. Material progress keeps on getting better, and there is no doubt that everybody in the Western World has a standard of life which nobody except the very rich could ever have had before. The side effects of this material progress somehow or other have caused life to be less good than it ought to have been. May I give a small example, so small that in this context it might be thought to be trivial. The noble Lord, Lord Holford, in a speech to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said that it was all very well for everybody in their suburban gardens to have a mowing machine, but if everybody uses their mowing machine on Sunday afternoon and makes that Sunday afternoon damnable for everybody else, what on earth is the point of having a mowing machine? This is a very small point, but it illustrates to me the fact that the side-effects of our material civilisation are in some ways diminishing the quality of our life, and not enhancing it; and that we are in grave danger of destroying our environment by reckless misuse of material progress. We must remember that a great many of the things which we misuse are not limitless. I need not go again over ground which has already been covered this afternoon with regard to those aspects of our material world which are not limitless. Let us take the example of land. We know that soon, if we are not careful, we shall be in the position in which there is not enough land in which to enjoy ourselves, quite apart from whether there is enough land to grow the sort of food that we want.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, apropos of motor transport, said that one of the reasons that people buy second-hand cars in profusion is that public transport is so inadequate. I am not sure that this is the real reason. A great many people buy second-hand transport to try to get that long distance away which they must get to be able to enjoy the little bit of land which is left to us. I remember that some ten years ago I wanted to give my children a bit of seaside life, because I lived inland. I and my wife drove systematically all the way from Cumberland to Aberystwyth to try to find an area of coast where we could stay for a week, an area which was not entirely composed of houses and where the sea water was not entirely sewage. We could not find it, and this is a terrible thing. The noble Lord said that our coasts are dilute sewage. In regard to trying to save the coast, we have among the bodies which have been set up to examine these matters "Enterprise Neptune". But is it not already too late? The same applies to rivers. There is not now enough river for all the purposes we want. Anglers compete against canoeists, and both compete against water needs. If we do not start thinking about this matter soon—and we are beginning to think about it—we shall find ourselves in a pickle.

The same is true of air pollution. It was suggested that the smell of diesel fumes was really an amenity problem and not a health problem. But the two are the same. I contend that part of the reason why we as a generation are in a slightly neurotic state—and I think we are—is that amenities are so intolerable that our mental health suffers. Already considerable efforts are being made, and various noble Lords have touched upon them. The matter of environmental studies is probably the most important of all. As a sociological problem it is interesting that there is no body of received doctrine. In economic matters we have, of course, had our Keynes, and there is now a whole body of received doctrine on financial matters, but there is still no corpus of doctrine of received ideas on sociological problems. I hope that one of the things which may emerge from our increased use of bodies like the environmental studies is that we may throw up a Keynes on the sociological aspects of environment.

There is the European Conservation Year, and throughout this debate we have been talking about planning and about how to devise an effective plan which is at the same time fair. This is one of the great problems of our planning. We always pay lip service to planning, even the most conservative-minded, with a small "c"; even the most liberal-minded, with a Manchester liberal "1". Nevertheless, it so often breaks down. It is all very well to say that one man's land shall be a green belt and that another man's land shall be zoned for planning. Although you make some mitigation by taking 40 per cent. of the unearned income from one man, the problem still remains, and in the eyes of men the situation is not fair. So one has to try to devise a system of planning which is seen to be fair and thought to be fair, and which is at the same time effective.

But however much you devise a better system of planning, you must still change the whole attitude of mind with regard to conservation. I remember the debate on Cow Green, and that is the sort of matter on which I should like to see people's minds changed. Your Lordships may remember that Cow Green involved a reservoir and meant the destruction of a complex of plants. The area was irreplaceable, in the sense that it provided a sort of laboratory to study certain genetic aspects of life which are now no more. Those genetic aspects cannot always be studied in a laboratory. This was a natural laboratory, and in order to save on the cost of water—which is of course a very laudable object—we agreed to the Cow Green Scheme. But I think it was a great mistake. It was the same sort of mistake as the Russians may be about to make with regard to Mars. It is possible that by sending their probe to Mars, yet not sterilising everything which should be sterilised, simply because it is too expensive, they will make impossible the exploration of scientific facts which can never come to us in any other way. This is another attitude of mind which we must also change.

The same argument applies in regard to Stansted. Stansted may or not be the right place for an airport, but it seems to me that in the first place it was chosen at too narrow a level. It was chosen entirely from the point of view of aircraft usefulness, but it embraces problems far greater than that. It embraces problems of where one is to put a big town—because there will be a big town of 250,000 people—where to put the roads, and so on. These problems were not studied in great enough detail, and I hope that such mistakes will be put right by the Roskill Commission. I am not sure whether he is an American, but Thomas Macdonald said that you pay for good roads whether you have them or not, and if you do not have them you pay more than if you do have them. What he meant was that by taking a short cut, or by adopting the cheapest "catchpenny" solution, you may end up by paying a great deal more in the long run. This is an attitude of mind which it is absolutely vital we should change.

Another eminent figure, Professor Fogg, said there is a great danger that our generation will be considered by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren the most selfish and the most reckless that there ever was. There is an aspect of change of ideas which comes under the heading of trusteeship. In the past, a great many people devoted their lives to "gathering gear" (in the words of Robert Burns) to pass on to their children and grandchildren. I have six children and, already, two grandchildren, but I do not imagine that, even if I spent the rest of my life being quite effective at "gathering gear", I should be very much help to all of them, because I hope—in fact it is mathematically certain—that the number of descendants will have increased to a very large number. However, what I can do from the point of view of trusteeship is to think not how many material possessions I can leave my children, but how much of a decent sort of life I can leave them. If we of our generation use up those resources which are not limitless, then we shall be failing as trustees.

As I said, we have improved immeasurably the material side of our life, and for almost everybody it is a vastly happier and more comfortable life than it has ever been before. But the side effects are so great as to be rather like the minor horrors of war, and there is a real danger that in the future they will become more intolerable than even the major horrors. I wonder whether enough money is being spent on trying to mitigate such nuisances as noise, petrol fumes and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, made rather a good point when he said that some people like noise. I quite agree that noise in its right place and at the right time is absolutely marvellous. Who has not felt that at a Grand Prix? But that is not to say that I want my ordinary living conditions made damnable by noise.

What I am saying, my Lords, is that we must pay a great deal more attention to conservation in its widest sense. But when I say, "conservation", I want to assure people like the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, and others who have said the same thing, that I am not thinking of private conservation for our own purposes, such as a nice park for me and "to hell with the rest!" That is not what "conservation" means, and I hope that what I have said will be accepted. Conservation means not only the right siting of towns and parks: it means also the right siting and preservation and conservation of those reservoirs of wild life which still exist at our roadsides, in our hedges, so that we preserve those small animals, those small bits of wild life, which not only are of value to man in a scientific and material sense, but without which life is very much the poorer. I think that most of the evils of failure to conserve properly have been covered—and not only the more obvious material evils but even some of the evils of appearance which, again, are a kind of waste. So I do not want to repeat what I think are the worst and most damaging consequences of failure to conserve.

I want to end by saying this, which follows on what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said about a master plan, and also on what Sir David Renton told my noble friend this afternoon. I am not sure what Sir David Renton is trying to do, but it boils down to paying more attention to making a master plan. Can we not, somehow or other, devise machinery to plan so that we conserve rather than waste, and enhance the quality of life rather than diminish it, in such a way as to be effective, fair and tolerable? If we cannot do that, we shall find ourselves having a cordon bleu cuisine in a prison cell, as the right reverend Prelate said—rather like being a well-fed bird in a battery cage. That is not what life is about. However good our material situation is—and it can be virtually perfect—if the quality that goes with it is damnable then life is not worth living.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships do not suffer from too great a sense of shock on seeing me get to my feet at this moment. It was last week that I put my name down to speak, but inadvertently it was left off the list. I might have saved myself speaking if the points that I wish to raise had already been made, but I feel there are still one or two points that I can usefully make. My congratulations to Lord Byers on his Motion are coupled with admiration that he managed to pack so much into such a short speech: because although this is a subject on which most sensitive people are becoming increasingly worried, this is the first time it has been debated, at any rate so compendiously, in your Lordships' House.

I myself am doubtful of the value of long-term planning of the science fiction kind which looks twenty, thirty or fifty years ahead. We must plan for practical things like water supplies, although even here there is no knowing that our prognostications will be right. But, On the whole, it is best to be safe. We live our own lives ad hoc, and it is only exceptional people who can plan their own lives so far ahead as twenty or fifty years, let alone trying to plan other people's—and we keep being surprised by new ideas and inventions. Who would have foreseen, twenty years ago, the changes and influences which the motor vehicle is now having upon us? Who, if he had foreseen them, would have chosen the right solution? And if, by chance, it had been the right solution, would it have seemed justifiable to impose it at the time? I think the answer is probably "No", and therefore what we ought to mean by long-term planning, in many contexts, at any rate, is much the same as I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, meant by it, which is trying to avoid doing things which we have discovered to be wrong.

My Lords, if this seems to be a negative approach I think it should be remembered that we have suffered very much from enthusiastic and thoughtless innovation. In my speech I want to give just two examples of the sort of thing I mean. Twenty years ago tall bocks of flats like Ronan Point were going to be the planned environmental solution to the land and housing shortage. Now they are found to be not so good after all, and many people, like me, would like to see the rug pulled right away from under every one of them, because I believe them to be inhumane: three other doors to a floor belonging to people you never seem to meet; nowhere for children to play except a long way downstairs where one cannot keep an eye on them; lifts which are often out of service; heights which frighten people away from windows. Finally, they are not cheap to build, nor do they save land—in other words, they were a great mistake, and one that I hope and believe will be avoided in the future.

Up to a point, I disagree with my noble friend Lord Sorensen. I think that planners and architects could avoid many mistakes if, instead of imagining how they think people ought to like to live, they first studied how they actually do like to live. Because the planner, I think, too easily forgets that he is imposing his ideas on us, and it is not until afterwards that we who live in the environment he has designed have the opportunity to discover what life is going to be like. He has, therefore, a tremendous responsibility. After the town is laid out, the road is made or the edifice is built, people have to "like it or lump it". Planners and architects get gripped with as many fashions and trends as any other designing profession, but with this difference: unlike the artist or the couturier, to whose creations one can raise one eyebrow, and then pass by on the other side, or, having bought them, discard them, not only has the public architect the responsibility for spending a great deal of public money but what he makes is so very—and sometimes so horribly—permanent.

We cannot afford to spend money on schemes which, although they may look attractive on the drawing board, turn out to be uncomfortable. If the environment is to be a pleasant one and the money well spent, the latest fashion does not necessarily produce the right plan. I live in a house where all the principal rooms face North, where all the staircases and lavatories are on the South side and where dark pine trees were planted to curtain out the sun. The idea was lifted from Italy, of course; but so strong was the influence of fashion at the time that it overrode the practical consideration of the difference in climate. I cannot throw the house away like a pair of old "Oxford bags". I am stuck with it, and I have to make the best of it. It is terribly permanent, and would be very expensive to replace.

If I am right in saying that the main ingredient in long-term planning is avoiding mistakes by looking to what people already find agreeable, then I suggest that town planners should build more of what at present they seem to despise—terraced houses. It is surely remarkable that both the wealthy and the poor live in terraced houses. It will be said, of course, that the poor cannot afford anything else. But the rich certainly can. I agree that richer people can go out of town at week-ends, but many of them do not. They do not like the country, and I do not see why they should. Anyhow, they do not know what to do when they get there. Terraced houses have what one might call a doorstep culture, where people can sit, or stand, and look at life going on round them, watch the children take messages and parcels to the neighbours and get to know them if they wish. Not for them the great monolithic blocks and the windblown open spaces. I do not know what the reason is, but perhaps it is the comfortable sense of crowding up together, or something to do with human nature, that explains why, until recently (perhaps under imported influences—I do not know), our towns have developed in the way they have. After all, if it is solitude you want, you can shut yourself in a room. But not many people, except hermits, do that for long.

If it is thought that people do not like crowding up together, I can point out (and I think I have the figure right) that the population density of Chelsea, which is perhaps at the moment the smartest area of London, is over twice as great as that which is allowed by the G.L.C. on its new housing estates. I have not seen the Passmore area which my noble friend Lord Kennet mentioned, but there is clearly a difference of opinion between the inhabitants of Chelsea and the G.L.C. Planning Department as to which density produces the best quality of life. I back the inhabitants of Chelsea and Kensington every time to know what is best. I think this is a good example of how planners, or some planners—this is not a blanket condemnation—give people what they think they ought to want, rather than observing how they actually prefer to live.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Does he not appreciate that in this vast metropolis of London the reason why the tower blocks are erected is because there is no space for the terraced houses?


I may be wrong in this, my Lords, but I think a tower block requires as much space per person, or per housing unit, as a terraced house, because of considerations like those of ancient lights, and what-not.

My Lords, there is only one more matter about which I wish to speak, and that is the effect of the motor vehicle on these densely populated areas in which people so like to live. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood. I think that, on the whole, people do not mind traffic; in fact, I think they rather like it. What they do not like is heavy, noisy, smelly vehicles—the commercial vehicles, because of their bulk; and they do not like fast-moving traffic. You cannot get easily or safely across a fast-moving traffic stream. I live near the King's Road, and it is noticeable that people like driving up and down the King's Road, and pedestrians like the movements of the cars. They like looking inside them and seeing who is about. Remove the cars from the road, and it would become rather a dull place, I think. I believe that half the life would go out of it. It is a matter of opinion.

However, one has only to speed up the traffic in a road for it to become intolerable to the residents and pedestrians, and the road then becomes a barrier. If the King's Road were widened, instead of uniting the two halves of Chelsea, as it does at the moment, it would divide them. Park Lane which, with the East Carriageway Drive (I think that is what it is called) has now been widened to ten lanes, completely cuts off Mayfair from Hyde Park. Pedestrians have to use a couple of inconvenient, "grotty" underpasses. Why should they? Grosvenor Place is the same. These are only two instances where the needs of the locality have been sacrificed to the convenience of passers-by. Kensington Gore has become another urban race track. Someone told me the other day that the safest way to get into Hyde Park from S.W.7 was to get into his car. Here are these densely-populated areas with lovely parks next door—the ideal environment you would think; but the inhabitants are prevented or inconvenienced from getting there by the speed and volume of the traffic in between.

When one comes to the urban motorways which at the moment are proposed for London and other cities, one realises that they will have to be very carefully made if they are not to do more harm than good. For a start, it means pulling down good or replaceable houses and building what are, in effect, giant walls across the cities, cutting the community in two. Every motorway interchange takes an area of 35 or 40 acres and turns it into a rather unattractive confec- tion of concrete spaghetti. Nearby residential streets become clogged and shaken by the extra traffic which is inevitably generated. Residents near the line of the proposed or present motorways may be forgiven for wondering whether the price of the effect of increasing traffic has not become too high.

It is not only those residents; it is all of us, I think, who are, or should be, concerned; because as motor traffic is making, or threatening to make, large areas of our towns unpleasant or inconvenient to live in, we should ask ourselves whether that traffic is paying as much back to the community as it is taking out. I believe that we must avoid what has happened in many American cities, as was clearly outlined by my noble friend, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, where the population has been split up and dispersed by urban motorways and where this has spoiled the old towns and produced yet more traffic.


My Lords, may I interrupt? Do I understand from what the noble Lord is saying that he is now agreeing with me that traffic is spoiling the quality of our life; that less traffic and a few areas free of traffic might be a good thing?


My Lords, I said that people like a little traffic; they rather like it going about the place, which is dull without it; but when it becomes too heavy—and there is a point at which it becomes too heavy—then they do not like it. I think it is difficult to obtain the right balance. The old towns in America have been spoiled and the urban motorways have produced yet more traffic. In the United States, towns have ceased to be towns any more and have become commuting areas. If we are to avoid this—and I think we should avoid it—and if we are to learn by mistakes already made, it looks as if, in spite of the outcry there will be, we shall have to make more fiscal and legal restrictions on the use of motor vehicles to try to ensure that they remain a boon and do not become a nuisance.

Where urban motorways are considered to be essential and not merely, as I suspect that they may be in some cases, a matter of civic pride (and I do not know by what criteria one decides whether an urban motorway becomes a necessity; this has never been explained) they should be put where London, and now Manchester, have decided to put their cross-town trains—that is, underground, either in bored tunnels or, where buildings are replaceable, by "cut and cover". This is the way in which through traffic will least inconvenience residents. It is very expensive, I know; but surely it is better to ponder and to look at the mistakes that other people have already made and resolve not to repeat them, although it may be costly in money not to repeat them. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that we have a responsibility to future generations and that we do not want them to say to us, "You saw elsewhere the results of doing this; and yet you did not learn. Now we are stuck with the mess that you made. Why did you not think more carefully?".

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, may I make just one comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and one addition to that of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan? The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that he feared the future of too much planning in the hands of the Government or the local authorities. Did the noble Lord not say that?


My Lords, I do not want to enter into a long argument. What I said was—and I gave reasons for saying it—that I did not want the future environment in which we have all got to live planned for me by Governments or local authorities or special committees, except in certain limited respects which I then went on to outline.


My Lords, I think I have taken the noble Lord's point; but the question is: if it is not so planned, by whom will it be planned? It will be planned by Mr. Clore and his development companies. It is, indeed, those development companies which have made a far more profound imprint on the planning of London than any public authority in our own time. They have been in the recent past our major planners.

My Lords, the point I want to elaborate in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, is his reference to Hyde Park which, as he said, is now cut off by these speeding motorways from the surround- ing residential areas. But supposing you get into Hyde Park——


You cannot get out.


My Lords, you may want to get out in the future. But if you look at the skyline of Hyde Park, what do you see? You find the park is growing subjectively smaller and smaller as tower blocks rise all round it, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. First came the Hilton—I think that is Mr. Clore. Then came the Lancaster Hotel—I think that is the Rank Organisation, Mr. John Davis. Now there is rising at Knightsbridge Barracks what appears to be the largest banausic tower block of all, a most obscene excrescence which, I gather, is the War Office's plan. And so it will go on and on if we do not plan intelligently.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps the House will forgive my intervening for two or three moments. I feel that one has to be of my generation before one really understands how the quality of life has deteriorated. The quality of life is not standard. The quality of life is something that is found desirable, once you have satisfied what are considered to-day to be basic needs. I can understand people who, perhaps, would much prefer to see some open land used for building houses rather than to enjoy the greenery from their slums; because there are many people to-day who have no time to think of the quality of life because all their time is taken up with living. I remember some fifty years ago living in a little village on the South Downs called Waterlooville. As boys we used to go along the fields of daffodils, hyacinths, violets and marguerites. One came across foxes and badgers and, occasionally, one would see the mask of an otter. But that is all gone. Five years ago when I was there it had all gone. Houses were built there. But when all these flowers bloomed every spring, hordes of small boys, and not so small boys, came up from Portsmouth to pick them, because, as I discovered later, of the circumstances of those days. They picked the flowers and made them up into bunches and sold them for a few coppers, to eke out their low income. So we have to understand that what very often appears to be deliberate desecration is sometimes forced on people.

I believe, too, that while civilisation, as we care to call it, progresses, and we get better houses and so on, it will perhaps intrude a little on what some of us who have not to worry so much about a standard of life consider to be the quality of life, which varies from man to man. What I regret very much is that there is so much that we could do which does not get done. I do not know how to improve the quality of life in London. My advice would be to get out as quickly as you can and get up to the Derbyshire hills or the Lake District, which is what I do. In the area in which I live I can think of one little valley, with a stream running through it, as it was twenty years ago. Now it is filled with old mattresses and bedsteads and has been completely violated, due to the fact that the local council refuses to take away old bedsteads and mattresses. People can ask the council to collect the bedsteads and mattresses, for which they will charge 10s. or £1. People cannot afford to pay, so they sneak out at night and dump the things in the fields. Of course, some of them learn, though not all, and recognise that it is wrong to do this. There are many other instances such as this.

I want to emphasise that the quality of life is not only concerned with having better buildings. If you have better buildings and more of them, the probability is that you are detracting from some other quality of life. We should concentrate so far as possible on the things that can be done and things which are not too hard to do, such as arranging that old motor cars, instead of being pushed over the Great Orme at Llandudno, may be carted away by the local council; and to see that old mattresses and bedsteads are not deposited in fields. Arrangements should be made to get rid of them.

The same thing applies in respect of smog. I think we could improve the quality of life by ensuring that there are clean air areas. About twenty years ago I was in Pittsburgh and you could hardly see from one end of a street to the other. You may go there now and find the air is as pure and clean as in a seaside town in this country. These things we can do, and in some cases they are being done. These are the things that make for quality of life in that context. I do not think it matters much whether you live in a semi-detached or a terraced house; that is not highly important.

There are two things in respect of quality of life which I should like to think can be done. I agree with conservation of the countryside so far as possible, but it is difficult because there are so many demands. I can imagine workers in a certain area preferring that a factory should be built on an adjoining field so as to ensure that they are employed, rather than that there should be some beautiful greensward to gaze at. There are so many things which could be done by boroughs and not necessarily by Government, and which ought to be done. In the area where I live I have always pressed that greater care should be taken by the local councillors and borough councillors to ensure that debris is not scattered around the countryside. It pains me more than anything else to see old motor cars, bedsteads and so on scattered about. It is not difficult to prevent this; but what we are apt to do when discussing a subject of this nature is to hive off into some esoteric theory of architecture, about which I know nothing (I like to see good design but I do not worry unduly about it) rather than worry about the things that are not done.

A man once said to me, "People do not worry about things being dirty and grubby, but they do worry if things are dirtier and grubbier than they need to be". I think that our towns, and our countryside, are dirtier and grubbier than they need be. If we ensure that they are only as grubby and dirty as circumstances almost compel us to accept, it will not be too bad. I believe that local authorities could do a tremendous amount to improve the quality of life overall, and I very much hope that they will do so.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that this is not the kind of debate which one can sum up. It has been more like a conversation, and none the worse for that. But there are one or two points I should like to take up. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked why do we not have an overall planner? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich asked something of the same sort: why do we not have a national plan? I take it that they both meant a land use plan; not an economic plan but an actual geographical plan of how you would use this piece of land as opposed to that piece. The idea is, of course, infinitely seductive. There should be an overall national land use plan and a staff under the control of a given Minister to administer it. But, my Lords, it cuts against the historical grain of English society to imagine any such thing.

The Minister of Town and Country Planning is not a plan-making authority in himself. He is the instance of last recourse who regulates the plans of a whole host of local plan-making authorities. Plans start from counties and county boroughs and so on; the Minister controls the machine at the centre but he initiates nothing. This was the idea adopted by Parliament in 1947 and not mitigated—rather the reverse; it was reinforced—in the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, where more power and more freedoms were devolved towards local, initiating, plan-making authorities and less reserved to the Minister. That is the way we are going. But that is not to say that I think the reverse may never happen. I can see that in another generation we may put it all into reverse and have a more centralised plan-making authority and really carve up the country with a national land use plan, as the two noble Lords suggested. But I think that is not for our generation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, spoke eloquently of how much the quality of our life to-day has improved over what it used to be, due to our Party political institutions and our constitutional institutions. I would only say that I agree with her on both points. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, gave me an insight into how things really work in the big world. He said that it was on the strength of my word that he went to the Daily Mail and asked them to carry out an opinion survey about a voluntary national youth service. I can picture him going and saying, "Lord Kennet says that it is a good thing; you have just got to plug this."


My Lords, the noble Lord does me an injustice——


Who am I doing an injustice to?


Yes, my Lords, indeed it is an injustice. It is simply that I was so enthused by what the noble Lord said on the last occasion that I presumed to go to the Editor. I do not run the N.O.P. or the Daily Mail. I only suggested that it might be a good idea if we investigated further, and he thought the same thing.


My Lords, I look forward to long years of collaboration with the noble Earl in controlling the editorial policy of the Daily Mail. But in the meantime, I will draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Education and Science, whose responsibility these things are, the remarks which the noble Earl has made this afternoon.

I should like to take up one point in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood. He drew a picture of an unfortunate populace listening to sonic booms blasting their ear-drums and shattering all our historic buildings. I have recently been to see the research which is being carried out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough into the effect of sonic booms on historic buildings. The research is not finished. It will be a month or two more before they get their results, so I cannot say what they will be, but at the stage in which I saw the research there is no suggestion that sonic booms are going to shatter our historic buildings by any means.


My Lords, is it not correct that some months ago when those responsible for the Concorde were discussing experimental flights in various parts of the country, the Ministry of Works, on application from the City of York, withdrew permission for a flight near that city, thereby indicating, I should say, that they felt there was something in the danger of supersonic flight to historic buildings?


My Lords, I do not think that that was quite the story. The flying tests were laid out in 1967 in a particularly cautious way from the beginning onwards. The point is that at the moment the Royal Aircraft Establishment are surveying the effect on cathedrals of existing loud noises. That seems to be a sensible way of doing it. Of course, the greatest noise that a cathedral has to put up with is the noise of its own bells. So the Establishment are making very detailed measurements of how much damage, if any, their own bells do to the fabric of cathedrals and they can extrapolate from this what sonic booms would do to it.

I will bring the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, about damage to trees and hedgerows, to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who looks after hedgerow grants and related matters. The noble Lord asked whether the Government would consider more grants to keep old houses in order. I shall shortly be introducing into this House a Bill now before another place which will increase by 250 per cent. the grants available for the improvement of old houses. My noble friend Lord Rhodes invited us to stop the debate on where to allow industrial and other effluent in rivers and simply say that rivers shall be purified. He was asking, I think, for a return to a peasant economy, because that is the only way it could be done; and while that would be possible, I doubt if it would find favour for other reasons. The alternative way of doing it would be instantly to engage in an expenditure of several thousand million pounds on capital plant, which would instantly put British industry totally out of action and thus achieve the same effect by going the other way round.

I should like to take the noble Lord, Lord Henley, up on one point. He said that this House had agreed to the Cow Green Bill and he thought that that was a mistake because it involved the destruction of a certain complex of plants. I would remind him of what was said at that time, that it does not involve the destruction of any plants but probably involves a slight modification of the layout of that complex of plants. My noble friend, Lord Raglan, to whom the House listened with great attention, not only because he was the sponsor of the Clean Air Act 1968 but also for other reasons, spoke about terrace houses. I think he was less of a voice crying in the wilderness than perhaps he imagined. I think it was extremely fashionable, because this is exactly what the "in-people" think in that world at the moment. I shall say no more. I was entranced by his picture of the inhabitants of Chelsea peering in through the windows of cars to see who was there. Perhaps they will shortly come to the procedure adopted by the traffic policemen in Rome, who, when they see a pretty girl driving a car, get down off their little pedestals and let the traffic "rip", knock on the window and when she winds it down, say to her "How beautiful you are. I do congratulate you on your good driving," and then get back up on their pedestals again.

We have not touched on one important bit of environment and its possible pollution—that is, beaches. It is interesting to remember that two years ago we were all "steamed up" about this, after the "Torrey Canyon", incident, but nothing very bad has happened since then. The way to stop this is to stop tankers getting wrecked and stop tankers leaking and from blowing oil all over the sea. Immediately after the "Torrey Canyon" incident a meeting of the I.M.C.O. was called at the request of Her Majesty's Government. The International Maritime Consultative Organisation is a Specialist Agency of the United Nations and is deeply concerned with problems of oil pollution caused by shipping. As a result of this meeting, comprehensive studies on the technical and legal issues involved were begun, and good progress has been made in the technical field, especially on traffic routing schemes for shipping near our coasts. Later this year a diplomatic conference is being held to agree international Conventions on the rights of coastal States threatened with oil pollution and to apportion liability to compensation. The Government hope shortly to sign an agreement for co-operation between States bordering the North Sea, for co-operation and mutual aid in dealing with oil pollution when it happens.

My Lords, I think we have had a useful debate in the conversational style. Many things have been said, with most of which I agree and with which I know the Government agree, some of which I had not thought about before and all of which I will either consider myself, if they fall to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, or undertake to convey to the right quarters, if they fall to other Departments. Let me conclude by again felicitating the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on behalf of the House in general for having raised a most interesting debate.


My Lords, I wonder whether I could repeat the question which I asked earlier in the debate. Would Her Majesty's Government consider giving time for a debate on the question of a national youth service, because this is a matter which I think the Minister himself considers to be of considerable importance.


My Lords, that is something which the noble Earl could no doubt take up through the usual channels.


My Lords, I am sure that that suggestion can be taken up through the usual channels, but what answer will be at the end of the usual channels I do not know. I should like to express my gratitude to all noble Lords, to the noble Baroness and to the right reverend Prelate who have taken part in this varied, sometimes controversial but always stimulating debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the way in which he handled it, for his illuminating speech at the beginning and for the care he has taken in winding up. I would say only two things to him. I think that this idea of a national land use plan will have to come. It will not be imposed from the top but will have to be agreed with the people in the regions, and then we shall have something before us as a guide line as to how we are going in various parts of the country. The noble Lord may be right in saying that it will not come in this generation but eventually it will come.

The only thing on which I would take issue with the noble Lord is when he talks of the need for international agreement, virtually to protect British producers against those overseas. I am all in favour of getting international agreement if we can, but in many cases the cost of anti-pollution devices are only a relatively small factor in the whole costing system. In a large installation it might be nothing more than 1 per cent. in the difference in the rate of interest. Companies can get loans at 4 or 5 per cent. in one part of the world and British companies have to pay 8 per cent. here. If an enterprise has to borrow £20 million for an installation that means a much bigger figure than required for putting in an anti-pollution device. I am not saying that we do not want to get international agreement, but I am pleading that this should not be used as an excuse for holding up the production of anti-pollution devices, where we know what the device should be and where very costly research is not involved.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him, because this is an important point? Where the solution to a pollution problem is known and is cheap, it is already enforced. Where it is known and it is expensive there is a problem about enforcing it, if foreign competitors are not enforcing the same solution.


I accept that. But let us be careful (I speak from the point of view of industry, too) that we take care about our involvement, and do not allow this to become an excuse for not doing something here when we know we could do it, and should do it, for the next generation.

I was very moved by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies. She referred to the great social revolution, or the domestic revolution, that women have undergone as a result of the detergent in washing-up. I can only tell her that this has led to the emancipation of many husbands, too. I shall not seek to press this Motion to a Division. Knowing that there must be at least nine Ministers and Departments involved, I certainly should not like to have their Papers on the subject. I therefore, beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.