HL Deb 15 February 1972 vol 328 cc114-44

8.12 p.m.

LORD HENLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: On what grounds they have rejected the recommendation of Sir Jack Longland that there should be a special authority for each national park with the sole responsibility for administering the park, employing its own staff for the purpose and meeting its expenses by precept. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper which is about the control of national parks. It may be that I should have posed my Question so as to ask why the Government have indicated, at least informally, that they would be unwilling to accept Sir Jack Longland's recommendations. It may be that in fact they have not rejected all the formidable arguments he has put forward.

The recommendations, which broadly speaking are set out in my Question on the Order Paper, were made on behalf of the Countryside Commission und submitted by them in response to the Government's White Paper on The Future of Local Government. They set forth what is I think the classic position which was originally proposed by Sir Arthur Hobhouse in 1947, that the national park planning boards should be autonomous. The recommendation, which, as I say, followed that classical position, was in line with what exists in the case of the Peak Park Planning Board to-day and has been such a success. It is also in line with most of the views that have been expressed up to now by people who are most concerned with national parks. It was in line with what Redcliffe-Maud said in 1969, and it was also in line with what the last Government said in their White Paper in 1970. And, of course, it is also in line with what all the national societies concerned with the environment have been saying all along But it has not been in line with county council opinion, which did not like what it considered derogation from counry councils' powers. Unfortunately, the view of the county councils has been the one that has prevailed, and after the Peak Park Board was set up originally, which was modified Hobhouse, a system was devised for the other parks which no one now thinks was a very good one, and which I think everybody would like to see changed.

When Sir Jack Longland put up his proposal on behalf of the Countryside Commission it came to be believed that it would not be acceptable to the Government; and, of course, as I have said, it had never been acceptable in county council circles, and the classical position had always been one that they regarded with suspicion. I think they felt that autonomous bodies of this kind would make for what Mr.Hicks, who is a county councillor of the Cumberland County Council. calls "a hole in the heart of local government". Meanwhile, the County Councils Association came up with its own proposals, which I think were possibly an improvement in some respects on what had gone before, but which were still not acceptable to the Countryside Commission.

The two sides, therefore, the Countryside Commission and the County Councils Association, got together and hammered out an agreement which it was said was satisfactory to both bodies. This agreement makes the future national park authority a main committee of the county council with full delegated powers. It invests the park planning officer with, it is suggested, a statutorily defined position, and it also requires that there should be a national park plan which should be drawn up within three years. That plan would be a local plan within the development plan system which would be drawn up in consultation with the Countryside Commission, and not, of course, infringing the structure plan, though the structure plan has in any case to go before the Countryside Commission for their comments. Unless the fullest powers are delegated to this committee, it will merely repeat the shortcomings of the present administrative arrangements—that is, outside the park planning board and the Lake District—and many people are very worried that this may well be so.

First of all, can these powers, the powers that are asked for in this compromise agreement, really be fully delegated from the county council to its committee? Everything of importance, as your Lordships know, costs money, and control immediately then passes back from the committee, however important a committee it is, to the county council. Secondly, if one takes an example from highways, will this committee be itself a highway authority? If not, it makes a nonsense of the whole thing, because at once matters connected with highways will be taken away from this committee and go back again to the council. Lastly, when Private Bills come up, who is to oppose them? Will it be this committee or will the responsibility again go back to the county council itself It seems to me that any kind of autonomy is going to be extremely limited.

I want to know whether Her Majesty's Government can give me specific assurances that these powers, which are now agreed between the County Councils Association and the Countryside Commission, will mean the full delegation of planning and management powers, including all development control powers, so long as they are not contrary to the overall development plan. Will they be fully delegated? Can they be fully delegated? Can I be assured also that the appointment of a park planning officer will be a statutory requirement? I think this is one of the suggestions that have been put forward in the agreement. But if the park planning officer is not statutorily defined as to his duties and exactly what he can do, one suspects that he may fall back into the position of being some other official of the county council in his spare time. If this agreement between the County Councils Association and the Countryside Commission is in any way watered down, or if in any way it does not in fact really mean what one hopes it means, then we shall be going back to where we were, and in fact where we are, with national parks being run by an unimportant and uninfluential sub-committee of the local authority. It is this fear which prompts many people who care for national parks to think that Sir Jack Longland's recommendation was the right one. I want to know, before I feel satisfied that this compromise agreement was a good one, that the Government can give me an answer which will show me that these delegated powers are in fact going to be delegated, that they can be delegated, and that the position will be defined by Statute so that there is no possibility of these powers being whittled away by either side in this compromise.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House is very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for asking this Question. It certainly does need asking. I am going to go further than he has; I am not going to be satisfied even if the Government can satisfy the House that these powers are going to be delegated. I am going to ask the Government to think again and to adopt the Longland proposals. I am going to argue that it was a mistake to reject them.

It is extremely difficult to remember what is the present administration of the national parks; it is hideously complicated. There are ten. Four of them lie in more than one county; namely, Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, Snowdonia, and the Yorkshire Dales. Those four are administered by separate planning committees of each of the county councils concerned; that is to say, there is one national park which is not administered by one committee but by two or three committees, each of which is a subsidiary committee of a county council. Above these groups of committees is situated a powerless advisory committee, which does not help much. Four more of the national parks lie wholly within a single county. They are Dartmoor, Northumberland, the North Yorkshire moors, and the Pembrokeshire coast, and they are administered by a committee of that single county wherein they lie. Two of them, on the other hand—and these are the two which interest anybody who knows anything about this matter—have proper, full-fledged planning authorities of their own which are independent of the county councils. They are the Peak National Park and the Lake District National Park. On all these planning authorities—whether they are committees of several councils working together or single committees of one council, or proper independent planning authorities—two-thirds of the members are appointed by the county councils concerned and the other one-third by the central Government. There is no proposal to change that situation, I am glad to see.

We now come to the heart of the matter, that it is only the two successful ones, the Peak and the Lake District, which have financial independence. It is only they who are allowed, under the control of central Government of course, to precept on the county rate to secure the funds they want in accordance with their own decisions. It is noticeable also that the Peak National Park has virtually untrammelled powers to do this, whereas the Lake District National Park may precept only within narrowly circumscribed limits. Of all the national park committees, only one, the Peak, employs its own full-time staff. The others are staffed, as and when needed, by secondment of part-time county officials, and sometimes from two or three counties simultaneously.

It is not as though this were a new matter. The national parks were set up in 1949, and at that time the intention of Parliament was that they should be administered by joint boards; that is, by single, fully-fledged planning authorities, as the Peak National Park alone now is administered. The Act of 1949 said that they should be administered in this way by a single board unless the Minister was satisfied that, by reason of any special circumstances, it was expedient for securing the efficient administration of the park that another arrangement should be made. Other arrangements were made with a vengeance, my Lords! This section was invoked in the case of Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, and the Yorkshire Dales, in order to have joint advisory committees, instead of joint planning boards with proper statutory planning powers; and no special circumstances have ever been shown to Parliament why this should be done. I think there might even be a case for arguing that the Act has been quite simply ignored by successive Governments.

The situation went wrong immediately after 1949, and it is still wrong. Ever since then the present system of administering the parks (the muddle of the three different systems which apply), has been under consistent fire from the Countryside Commission, formerly the National Parks Commission. It has been under fire from all the national amenity societies and their local branches concerned; and that is still the situation. It is still under fire by those who work in this field and who, rightly or wrongly, believe that they are charged with obtaining the best arrangement they can get from the Government.

Several major examinations have been made. Not to go too far back, let us start with the Royal Commission on Local Government in 1969, which reported to the Government of which I was a member, the Redcliffe-Maud Report. The Redcliffe-Maud Report said that for each national park there should be a special authority with the sole responsibility for administering the park and employing its own staff for the purpose. The authority for a national park should meet its expenditure by precepting on the main authorities with territories inside the park. This recommendation was accepted by the last Government, so that in their White Paper of February, 1970, The Reform of Local Government in England, they said that it was here only (and by "here only" the White Paper meant in the national parks) that, because of the unique character of the task, the Royal Commission had recommended ad hoc authorities, which one could present as making a hole in the heart of local government, although I do not think that this is a fair way to put it.

Now we have the recent events. The last full-scale analysis of the matter was the Longland Report. Sir Jack Longland went into it in a wealth of detail which I do not think has been equalled by any of the inquiries since the original one in the 1940s. It has not been equalled in the Government's statement of their reasons for refusing the Longland proposals. He said that there should be exactly what Parliament originally intended, exactly what Radcliffe-Maud proposed, and exactly what the last Government intended—single planning authorities, with one for each national park, with power to precept. The Government would not have it, and I am sorry to say that the Countryside Commission, who of course are the statutory advisers of the Government, accepted the Government's refusal of this proposal and came to an agreement with the County Councils Association, who naturally want things to stay roughly as they are on the compromise which the Government have provisionally—though it is not yet before Parliament—accepted.

Let us look for a moment at this compromise. It is lengthy and carefully thought out. It is a County Councils Association document which bears the stamp of county council thinking at every level—and I have nothing against that. The county councils should put their own case, and they have done so; but I submit to the House that the Government should not accept it. I would draw attention to one clause only in this compromise document; that is the appendix on "National Park Administration" at B2 where it says:

The county councils should delegate to the National Park Committee"— that is the low-level national park committee that they want— in respect of the whole area of the Park full powers of decision within agreed estimates"— that is to say, the county council keeps an absolute hand on the purse strings— with the exceptions of the management powers under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968"— These the county councils wish to keep themselves in main council, even if there are three of them in the national park, and here comes the point— and such other management functions as the councils may deem appropiate. This means that the county councils should delegate only what they feel like delegating, and that in each place it should be entirely according to the decision—I will not say the whim—of the local county council, or county councils, what powers the National Parks Board has. This will not do. These are national parks. To a great extent they have been county council parks ever since they were set up. While the present proposals do not increase the powers of the county councils, and do not make the present situation worse—I should be the first to admit that; indeed, in certain small respects they make it better—with the Bill to reform local government we are missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to return these parks to the status that Parliament originally intended, of truly national parks each having its own real planning authority with its own real powers and its own real finance.

It is only necessary to look at the record of the parks which have been on the ground now for twenty years to see the force of this. The one which has done best in all respects, by all standards that one can measure, is the Peak District National Park. That is the only one which has a single proper planning authority with its own financial powers. Everything which has been done to the good in any national park was done first in the Peak National Park. They have spent far more on it than has been spent on any other national park. They are streets ahead, and have spent about twice as much as the next. The Lake District National Park comes along in an honourable second place, as one would expect, because it is autonomous, with its own planning powers and its own finance, though its financial autonomy is not so great. The rest, the ones that are mere appendages of county councils, lag far behind by any index one can conceive.

It is sometimes said, "Ah, but the parks which are in the multiple control of several county councils happen to be under the control of councils which are much weaker in rateable value than the Peak District National Park, which has the wealth of the industrial North Midlands and the Manchester conurbation on its doorstep, and can call on that." That is not a valid argument, because the Yorkshire Moors National Park is certainly in a wealthy local authority district and has plenty of industrial rateable value at its back. They have not found it possible to spend the money they should have spent in that national park, in spite of their wealth.

Again, it is sometimes said that the national parks differ from each other very much in the extent to which they are under pressure from public use, and that expenditure goes with pressure from public use. You need it to build car parks, to hide them, to build information centres, to regulate public use, to get access agreements and so on. One argument goes that the ones who have spent less tend not to spend much because they are far away from centres of population and there is no pressure on them. That was true until recently, and up to now that has been a tenable argument, but I do not think it is true any longer, because with the development and completion of the motorway systems there are going to be 19,000,000 people within a three-hour drive of their nearest national park. Even Exmoor, which hitherto has been about the most remote, except possibly for the Pembrokeshire coast one, is going to have a population of many millions. All the Midlands conurbation is going to be able to drive for the day to Exmoor. Therefore, the pressure is going to be roughly equal on all the national parks, and soon that argument will not hold.

In conclusion, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to tell us to-day that the Government are still openminded on this matter. There is not one national amenity society—there are eight in number and it would be a string of initials to name them—which does not vigorously attack the compromise now backed by the Government. Together, they are acting to promote a public campaign. There is to be a National Parks Day the week after next, with simultaneous meetings in I do not know how many cities. All voluntary opinion is dead against this compromise. The Countryside Commission themselves were dead against it, until the Government told them that they would not accept their point of view. Sir Jock Long-land, who, I repeat, has carried out the fullest and most fundamental examination of it in this age, is dead against it. I do not know anybody who is for it, except the Government and the County Councils Association.

I shall not speculate on the Government's motives, but it is common knowledge that they are not doing what the county councils want in another sphere. They are proposing to pass planning powers from the county councils downwards to district councils. In my view, this is very wrong; it should not be done. The planning powers should stay where they are, with the top-tier authorities. On this our whole environment depends. The national park powers should stay higher still in national park boards which are independent of and, in a sense, above the county councils. The Government have slipped downwards in their delegation of powers. I hope it is not too late for them to winch the whole thing upwards again, to keep normal planning powers with the top-tier planning authorities, the county councils and the conurbation authorities, as they should be, and to give national park powers to the centres of autonomous power that Parliament wanted to have them and that all informed opinion still wants to have them.

8.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is with very considerable diffidence that I rise to speak on this Question this evening, not only because of the lateness of the hour but because I feel that I come to it as a "townee" treading on the hallowed ground of a national park. I really do so because, like many people in local government, I am very concerned at the continual disappearance of functions and powers from local government to ad hoc boards. If I may reply to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I would say that people in major cities, as well as those in county councils, are concerned about this disappearance. I speak now for the Association of Municipal Corporations, who have expressed general support for the views of the County Councils Association.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government are right in not accepting the Report of Sir Jack Longland and in saying, both in the White Paper on Local Government Reform and in the Local Government Bill, that the planning of national parks should remain with local government. Indeed, I believe that the Government have indicated general support for the joint proposal of the County Councils Association and the Countryside Commission, There are many reasons why I support the Government in this view. Both major Parties are committed to the reform of local government, and the whole emphasis of the present Bill, and I believe the intention of those who support reform, is that local government must have a responsible and effective job to do. Local government administration must be intelligible to the public whom it is designed to serve and responsive to public need. Already, local government has lost to outside boards the police in 1966; it will lose the local authority health services in 1975; there are the proposed water boards and the passenger transport authorities; and now there is the proposal that national parks should be administered by ad hoc boards.

There are many weaknesses in ad hoc boards such as the one that is proposed, for they create divided responsibility within one geographical area. It is often difficult for the public to find out who are the members of such a board. Indeed, we do not know how the Government nominees are to be appointed, nor do we know to whom a board will be answerable; and, after all, a board would have powers to precept. To the public it means another separate board with separate powers. The local government principle that committees are answerable to the county council or to the city council, which in turn is answerable to the electorate, is broken.

I recognise, on reading the Report of the Countryside Commission, that there are many criticisms of the administration of national parks over the last twenty years, but under the Local Government Bill the new counties will be both larger and different in composition. They will include members from the towns within their areas, as well as the country, and therefore their committees could well have members of the "park users" as well as of the "park providers". Furthermore, these committees will have power to co-opt and could, if they so wished, co-opt members from the towns outside their counties. I believe that once the users of the parks became members of the committees, those committees could be more effective and responsive to the needs of the public. Some of the difficulties have been indicated in the Report of the Countryside Commission in paragraph 5.22, page 43.

If the proposal for ad hoc boards was agreed to, then in two new counties, Gwynedd and Cumbria, the planning for a large proportion of the geographical area of the county would be outside county administration. In all counties with national parks planning functions would be divided: national parks outside county planning committees; country parks under county planning committees. This does not seem to be a very sensible administrative arrangement. Again, it is divided responsibility, and is certainly unintelligible to the public; and the committee cannot take into account the planning needs of the county as a whole. I accept that there are many great advantages in having the appointment of a planning officer with specific responsibility for each national park, but this proposal seems to me to be completely compatible with a planning committee under the county council.

In conclusion, I should like to say just two things about precepts. I recognise that it is a long-established practice that one local authority precepts on another, but there are disadvantages to this system, especially when an ad hoc board has power to precept on someone else. It can well be argued that this is a completely undemocratic system, for it is, of course, taxation without representation, and there is no public democratic accountability, as in a county council or a city council. The only accountability is by audit, and there are many people who feel that this is not really the right way to raise taxation.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would recognise that the National Parks Planning Board as proposed by Sir Jack Longland would consist of a majority of persons nominated by the county councils, and that in their powers to precept they would be analogous to those very water boards and river authorities the disappearance of which the noble Baroness was lamenting a moment ago.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, very much for that. I entirely accept what he says, but I do not think that it invalidates my argument. The point is that even if two-thirds of the members are nominated by the counties and one-third by the Minister, the board itself is not answerable to the public, as at a county council meeting or anything like that. It has the power to raise money, but the members of the board are not themselves directly subject to election and answerable in the sense that they would be if they were members of a planning committee. I accept that my argument applies just as much to water boards and all sorts of other organisations which I feel I must not enlarge on because they are not really to the point in this particular discussion.

The second point I wanted to make about precepts will, I am afraid, disturb noble Lords even more, but it is something of concern to local government. Over the last five years or so most local authorities have undergone tremendous internal management reorganisation. There have been many reasons for these reforms; and most major local authorities have created some kind of policy finance committee, differing in name in each authority. One of the purposes of this committee is to try to resolve the priorities within the authority. Financial priorities are some of the most difficult matters to resolve, and, of course, unless one has some kind of a committee system for doing it, it is very difficult to achieve a sensible decision at all. To have an ad hoc board from outside with power to precept means immediately, as Lord Kennet has quite rightly said, that someone from outside is going to get money regardless of any other priorities of the county, even if the total amount of precept is limited, as it is in many cases. In this way the whole structure of the internal reforms of local government can be distorted because some outside authority has this power of taxation.

In conclusion, my Lords, I believe that one of the most compelling reasons for local government reform is the need to improve planning in this complex society in which we live. But to take an important service and planning function away from local government at the moment when a Bill is being considered seems not only to undermine one of the basic reasons for reform but to undermine those who believe that, despite all its failings, representative democracy is still the best form of government at local and national levels.

8.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Henley has raised this subject to-night because in ally event it is time, that we reviewed the workings of the 1949 Act, and it is extra important that we should do it now in the light of local government changes ahead of us such as have been referred to by my noble friend. I would submit that whatever decisions we take this year, or which the Government take this year and we approve, are likely to stand for a long time, and that if we make the wrong decisions it is not just going to call a halt to progress within the national parks; it could mean doing them irretrievable damage.

I am not so convinced as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that we should accept Longland in toto or nearly so, but I am convinced of several things—just as convinced as my noble friend is of certain other things. The first is that we must find a way—and here I think she will agree with me—to give reasonable powers and independence to national parks authorities, maybe going beyond planning powers and such as would enable them to command the respect not just of Parliament, the Department of the Environment and visitors to the park, but also of the local inhabitants and of the county councils or new main authorities, whatever their name may be; and that is not happening now. One reason is that there is no proper interlocking, and I would suggest that one simple reason why the present planning boards have not carried the weight they should have done is that they have tended to draw volunteers from the county councils in their area when surely the county councils should have made a point of sending a proportion of very responsible councillors to serve on these boards, such as the chairman or vice-chairman of their planning committee—in fact, members who really share responsibility for county council policy. Then each party would know the policy and the thinking of the other, which I do not think to date has always been the case.

I am equally convinced from experience that it would be a very grave error to put responsibility for planning in national parks in the hands of any special committee of a county council, such as that for which the County Councils Association has been pressing. For reasons of geography, as has been mentioned, this seems an attractive outcome where a park such as the Lake District National Park falls inside one local authority area. It seems absurd that the authority responsible for the centre should be separate from the authority responsible for the edge. Yet it would not serve the purpose to delegate powers for planning in the centre to a committee of the main local authority. Some other solution must be sought.

My Lords, I do not want to appear parochial, talking too much about one area, but I do know intimately one of the two areas which now have planning boards, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows it, too. I have represented Westmorland in another place; I live in Cumberland, but just outside the national park, and I think that in this debate, late though it is, experience is valuable. Further, I was a member of the Select Committee of another place which considered the 1949 Act. One thing of which I am quite certain is that the principal difficulty under the present arrangements has arisen from the division of responsibility between the authority responsible for highways and the authority responsible for planning. Within the Lake District the situation is absurd. The three county highway authorities have each been responsible for highways in their area of the park; there has been one planning authority which is the planning board but served by the three planning officers of the three counties, each primarily responsible for the detail of planning in the area of his own county. One need say no more beyond drawing attention to the mammoth public inquiry which is taking place in Penrith, now entering its fourth week and nowhere near the end. It is no more and no less than civil war between the highways and the planning authorities—both parts of the public sector. This should never be allowed to happen again.

My Lords, perhaps I might say just this to illustrate the difficulties that we are in—and this situation is not as easy as those who try to simplify the problem would make out. Of the three counties concerned with the Lake District National Park, I should like to refer quite briefly to the attitude of two of them—each is entirely different—because it throws light on the problem. Westmorland, the smaller county, sees advantage in a separate board. A large proportion of its leading citizens live in the park. There is a tradition in the county of small-scale, high-standard industry both in and out of the national parks, and there is great reliance on the tourist industry. It is all very like Switzerland. Cumberland, which is the larger county with a more urban electorate, has fewer of its (shall I say?) county establishment figures living in the park; and I speak in particular of the county councillors. It has a county council with a reputation with its smaller neighbours of empire building. Its chairman is a very able man, a personal friend of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and of mine; and I hope he will not mind my saying that he has never shown any special feeling for the national park. He is a leader in the County Councils Association of the policy to bring planning in the national parks under the county councils. Further, the county council, with all its influence, so far as I can see, has never tried to check the opinion getting around that the Lake District Planning Board is out of touch, undemocratic and an obstacle in the way of an economic revival of the West Cumberland industrial belt. On the other side, the Lake District Planning Board has been slow in combating these views and slow in themselves to explain their statutory duties to the people and to make much closer contact with local people, which I believe it would have been possible for them to do. That is not really a very happy state.

At the time of the debates on the 1949 Act I was apprehensive about the division of responsibility and I thought we might see too negative, too restrictive, a policy developing in the national parks. I made speeches to that effect and, I think, distressed the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who was then Chairman of the National Parks Commission. But I now admit that I was largely mistaken and I have come to the firm conclusion—and I am not alone in this—that if planning powers in the Lake District (and no doubt it applies equally to other districts) were returned to the county council, or to the successors to the county councils, there would soon be no national parks as we now know them. I am glad to see noble Lords nodding in assent. The interest is not there. "By their deeds shall ye know them." Where a conflict arises between the interests of a national park as laid down by Parliament and the supposed economic interests of other areas, particularly the urban areas of an authority outside the national park, the votes in support of the latter are more likely to win every time. This is not being critical of individual councillors or individual councils. The pressures that they would be under would be difficult to resist and by giving way on many occasions it would not be long before the erosion which resulted would do irreparable damage.

Noble Lords would do well to remember the words of the late Lord Birkett in this House when speaking in the debate about 17 years ago on the threats to Ullswater and Windermere from the Manchester Corporation. He then described the Lake District as "so small, so beautiful and so vulnerable". His words apply equally to many other areas in this land.

8.54 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot entirely share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, although I recognise the force of the arguments that he has made. I speak as a member of the North York Moors National Park Planning Committee. I started as an elected member a county councillor, for some time; but more recently I have been a Minister's nominee. The North York Moors is not quite as rich as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, described it to us. I think he was referring to the Yorkshire Dales.


Yes, my Lords, I was.


We are a single county park run by a committee of the county council in a proportion of two-thirds elected councillors and one-third Minister's nominees. There a certain amount of local feeling against the whole idea of a national park and for this reason I think that close connection with a county council is valuable. If we had a different planning officer for the national park, as proposed by Sir Jack Longland, and he was a different man from the planning officer for the rest of the North Riding, it might lead to difficulties. I cannot think of an occasion when we wanted to spend some money—at least, not to my knowledge—when we have been vetoed by the county council. But I feel that we ought to be playing a more positive role than we are.

I think that the composition of the committee has something to do with this. I feel that our committee could be strengthened. We do not have an active hill farmer on the Committee. By an active hill farmer, I am thinking of somebody who not only has to wrest a living from the hills, but who can also take the wider view and look at some of the problems connected with other land users in the park. I am thinking of forestry, recreation and tourism. Nor have we an active hill farmer's wife on our committee. This is a lack, too, in the sense that the people closest to the problems of life in the hills are perhaps the wives. Nor have we an active forester on our committee. If we are going to make any impression in the future on the drift away from the hills, forestry must play an increasingly important part. The Ministry of Agriculture, of course, plays a large part in the hills through the grants it gives to the hill farmers. I wonder whether our committee would not be strengthened if we had a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture on it.

Then there were some useful grants which the late-lamented Northern Pennines Rural Development Board was able to give to farmers and foresters who wanted to convert accommodation for the benefit of tourists and for various other purposes. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, almost a year ago, suggested that these grants might equally well be administered by the Tourist Board. This suggestion was well received at the time by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, speaking on behalf of the Government. I wonder what has happened to those grants. Furthermore, the rural development board was able to give useful grants toward rural bus services, enabling them to make up their income to a figure at which the county council could come in and support them. I should like to know, too, what has happened to that power.

Finally, I believe that one of the most valuable things that the rural development board did was to act as a forum for public discussion of the issues involved in living in the hills. Now that we have no rural development board, I think that this is something which the national park committee ought to do.

9.0 p.m.


My Lords, I put my name down to speak, but due to some mishap it did not find its way on to the list. I share the anxieties expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord Kennet and Lord Inglewood, on this matter. What strikes one with most force when reading through Sir Jack Longland's Report is the extraordinary unanimity with which everybody who has looked at this problem—from the Hobhouse Committee and John Dewar in the 1940s, down to Sir Jack Longland himself, and the Royal Commission more recently—have agreed that all national parks can be satisfactorily run only by independent boards with their own planning officers, a state of affairs which at present exists only in the Peak Park. Surely "the proof of the pudding is in the eating": the Peak Park is by universal consent streets ahead of any other park in its success. This must weigh very heavily.

Looking ahead to the end of the century, only 25 years or so, I believe it is inevitable that national parks will become much more national in character. This was a point partially made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, when he talked about the motorways spreading out to all corners of the Island. With a 20 per cent. increase in our population, an apparently endless expansion of the economy and 50.000 acres of agricultural land being lost every year to industry and urban development, the pressures on the countryside will be getting greater all the time. As the concrete gradually takes over, the national parks will begin to stand out as the only green oases in an otherwise hideous urban development. This surely makes it all the more important that the parks should be regarded as national rather than local assets; and if they are to be regarded as national assets, they must not be administered by local authorities but by authorities specifically enjoined to preserve them against non-amenity interests.

I do not think the issue could be better stated than it is in paragraph 3.47 of Sir Jack's report, quoting Mr. Harold Macmillan in 1952: While the county councils have a general duty to do what they can to keep the balance between industrial needs and the development of material resources, on the one hand, and amenity interests, on the other, in those areas which are designated as national parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position. That really is the difference. It is just that which distinguishes the national parks from the general functions of county councils over the rest of the country. My noble friend Lady Young talked about the importance of retaining the powers of the local authorities; but, of course, we are talking about the national parks, and are looking at what is a national park interest here. Surely what is in the interest of the national park must come first. It is imperative that these parks should have their own effective administrative offices and director and chief executive, responsible to the whole park as one environmental entity, and not having a bias to one or more constituent counties. Any attempt to weaken the park authority's own planning control where that exists would, I think, be disastrous. The need for uniform standards is obvious.

In conclusion, my Lords, may I just say that I happen to live on the edge of the Peak National Park, and I have seen something at first hand of the excellent work which they do, and for which they have been commended on all sides. One cannot fail to be impressed not only by their achievement, but also by the devotion and the tremendous enthusiasm of all the independent planning staff whom they employ. Would it not be better for the Secretary of State to build the future structure of the national parks on this outstanding success story rather than to open the door once again to the much slower, more cumbrous and less effective administration by one or more local authorities?

9.4 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers; quite honestly, I did not think there would be anything left for me to say. However, there is one point on which I should like to touch. I agree wholeheartedly with the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Kennet, and by my noble friends on these Benches, for the reason that in the national parks there are certain things which can only be dealt with by those who are experts in particular subjects: for instance, the preservation of woodlands, of wild life and so on. Those matters of course could not be dealt with by a county council. Furthermore, one must remember that there are always conflicting pressures, like roadbuilding and so on, which naturally all have to be considered. A county council would not have any particular pressure one way or the other, but a committee of a national park would naturally be out to defend its own particular interests and would have the expertise with which to do so. I think that when one comes to sum them up, those are strong reasons why national parks should be individual organisations and not under the legislation of the county council.

9.7 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to intervene before the Minister replies. It had not been my intention to intervene in this debate, but there are one or two things that I should like to say. First, I wish to make what may be a rather peculiar request to the noble Lord who is going to answer this Question, and that is that he should not give us an answer. I mean by that that I am anxious lest the Government should commit themselves to a rigid position on this business at this early stage. We are going to be arguing about this question as the Local Government Bill passes through its stages in this House and in the other place, and I am particularly anxious that the Government should not take up a firm and unalterable position at this stage in the debate.

May I say that I am a member of the Dartmoor National Park Committee. I have not the advantage, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, has, of having any democratic connections. I am a purely appointed person and have never had any democratic credentials, but I have had about ten years' experience of serving on the Dartmoor National Park Committee. The significance of that in this debate is that the Dartmoor Park Committee is the prototype being recommended under the Government's proposals for all future national parks, with of course the exclusion of the Peak and the Lake Districts. It appears to me that the weakness of this kind of park committee is that it is wholly subordinate, and indeed the creature of the county council. Theoretically, of course, park committees of this kind are, in a planning sense, autonomous bodies. But that is really an illusion, because when you come down to all matters of importance it is the county council which has the last say.

If I may give just three illustrations of what I am trying to say, I have to-day come up from a meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Committee. We had before us the consideration of an attempt to stop up a bridleway so as to prevent vehicles from using it. We were considering whether we might be able to promote an Order under an Act concerning traffic regulation and ask the Minister to confirm the Order that this bridleway should not he used by vehicles. Now it appears that if we should attempt to promote such a law we should need to go not directly to the Minister but first of all to the highway committee—because the park committee are not the highway authority, and therefore we have to go cap in hand to the highway committee and ask them to suggest an Order to the Minister. Therefore we are entirely dependent upon the county council, as such.

May I give another illustration of the way in which we are dependent on the county council, the local authority? Some time ago the Dartmoor Park Committee attempted to oppose, and did indeed oppose, the proposal to establish a reservoir on Dartmoor at Swincombe. We were resolutely opposed to this idea, but as a park committee we were not entitled to appear before this House or the other House to oppose a Private Bill promoted by Plymouth. We had to go to the county council and say, "We want to oppose it but you are the only people who can, and you are the people who have to put up the money". Our Park Committee was entirely dependent upon the decision of the Devon County Council as to whether or not the Swincombe proposal by Plymouth was going to be opposed. Therefore on any financial question, whenever money is involved, park committees are wholly dependent upon the decision of the local planning authority, in fact the county council.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I have sympathy with his argument, but is it not a reasonable proposition that the building of a reservoir in the park should be considered in its broader social implications, and that the county council might be the appropriate authority so to do?


My Lords, I do not think that I would dissent from that proposition at all. But the point I am trying to make is that when you are considering this proposition as to whether the park committee ought to be allowed to oppose a proposal of that kind, why should they be thwarted, as they may be, by the local authority when they are supposed to represent not only the local interest but also the national interest? If I may address these remarks to the noble Baroness, she was saying that it is right and democratic that the final decision ought to rest with the local people. I do not dissent for one moment from the suggestion that local people ought to be concerned with the matter. They are concerned and involved with the matter because on our Park Committee we have twelve representatives of the local authority and only six appointed people. What I object to is that the final decision in these matters should rest entirely with the local authority when what we are talking about is national parks, and that the national interests should be submerged in the decisions of the local people.

I am not sure that this intervention is of particular use, but may I conclude as I began by asking the Minister when he replies not to take up too rigid a position about this subject, because there are a great number of people, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was saying just now—in fact every amenity society in the country—who believe the Government, in the provisional decisions at which they have arrived, have made a serious error. I hope that this matter is going to remain one which is open to debate.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, may I hasten to say that all interventions in this debate have been of the greatest value. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for raising this important but complex issue. I agree with the noble Lord who made the point that it is unavoidably complex. However, I should first of all like to congratulate, to thank and to encourage all those—and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is certainly among them—who have done so much to stimulate public interest in national parks in recent months and to bring so many minds to bear upon them. I wish them well in the rallies they propose to hold up and down the country later this month.

As some of your Lordships will know, I am currently Chairman of a Committee set up to review the National Parks. I have the great benefit of two Countryside Commissioners, one of whom is Sir Jack Longland, on my Committee. Having taken a lot of written evidence, we have begun a series of two to three day visits to each of the ten parks in England and Wales where, among other things we hold a series of public meetings. To judge from these meetings there is no lack of interest in the future of the parks—not so much interest in the administration, which is what we are concerned with now, as in all the different manners in which the reconciliation of the potentially conflicting interests that need to be accommodated in the parks can be achieved. We are learning much that I hope will be of valuable application when the new authorities start work in two years' time.

By way of another preliminary, I should just like to correct quite a serious error in the leaflet produced for the Campaign for National Parks. This says that the Countryside Commission were told that Sir Jack Longland's proposals for the administration reform of the parks were unacceptable. That is not so. The Chairman of the Countryside Commission has refuted allegations that my right honourable friend expressed such a view or sought to persuade the Corn-mission to reach agreement with the County Councils Association. Mr. Cripps wrote to my right honourable friend thus on November 15, just before the Second Reading of the Local Government Reform Bill in the other place: I see that it is being alleged in reports of speeches and in letters to the Press that you sought to persuade the Countryside Commission to reach agreement with the County Councils Association on proposals for the future administration of national parks. This is, of course, quite contrary to the facts. At no time did you or any member of the Government request or suggest that we should have discussions with the County Councils Association on this matter. I wanted to get that corrected and on the record.


My Lords, could the noble Lord be so helpful as to tell the House in what terms the Countryside Commission forwarded Sir Jack Long-land's recommendations to the Government and with what comment? Did they endorse them, or did they say, "Here is an interesting idea held by one of our members"?


I cannot recall the exact words, but I can look them up and let the noble Lord know. I was not dealing with that point: I was dealing with the allegation that we had expressed those views, or given the Countryside Commission those directions, which we had not done.


I fully understood that the noble Lord was clarifying the situation about why the Countryside Commission appeared to change its mind. In order fully to understand this, one would need to know two things: first, what the Countryside Commission said about the Longland Report. Did it endorse it or did it send it in a neutral frame of mind? Assuming the former to have been the case, that it endorsed the Report, what caused the Countryside Commission to change its mind?


My Lords, that is for the Countryside Commission to say, not for me, but I will let the noble Lord know the terms in which the Report was forwarded. I am afraid I cannot do that off the cuff.


The noble Lord is prepared to quote the Countryside Commission on the latter point. He could have said that it is for the Countryside Commission to say what they had said about that. But no, he told the House what they said. I hope he will tell the House what the Countryside Commission said about the former point, too.


My Lords, I cannot recall it and I have no note of the terms in which they sent us Sir Jack Longland's Report. They are not on record, so far as I know, as to what persuaded them to change, or as a result of what processes they charged, their minds. I cannot give the noble Lord any assurance about that because I have nothing I can turn up.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Is it a fact that there was a covering letter at the beginning of the Longland Report from the Countryside Commission saying that the recommendations which were set out in detail are unanimously approved by the Countryside Commission?


My Lords, that may be so, but I should not like to endorse it or confirm it without being able to check it. Nevertheless, I am glad of this campaign because it has concentrated minds on this problem and among other things has enabled me to write to over 100 Members of another place explaining our proposal in detail and answering their queries. That is what I must now do to your Lordships.

Last October my right honourable friend called together the Countryside Commission, the County Councils Association and the voluntary amenity bodies. Shortly before that meeting, the Countryside Commission and the County Councils Association agreed a joint statement, which has already been referred to, putting forward a new solution in regard to administration of the parks. This was an arrangement entered into voluntarily by the Countryside Commission, and my right honourable friend considered it very carefully, bearing in mind the weight of responsible opinion there was behind it. He was, of course, well aware of the counter arguments for independent boards with precepting powers. But he was convinced, and I hope your Lordships will be, too, when I have finished, that the new solution advocated by the Countryside Commission and the County Councils Association will bring considerable improvements upon the present system. Those who are campaigning for independent boards do not yet appreciate the full significance of our proposals. When they do, I am sure that they will recognise that they represent a very real advance. That is why I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for this chance of setting them out in some detail.

In the first place, we intend generally to leave the administration of the national parks with the elected bodies. While not denying the achievements of the independent boards—we propose to retain the two existing boards in the Peaks and the Lakes Parks—there is the criticism that the independent boards are not sufficiently answerable to the electors. We are in the process of planning a reorganised and strengthened local government structure and we see no reason why the administration of national parks, if carefully and properly devised, should not find its place within this system. It is highly desirable that it should do so, if only because no less than a quarter of a million people live in the parks and deserve to have their affairs dealt with by people who are answerable to them.

I should like to explain briefly but in outline what we propose to do and then to go on and show how it will benefit particular parks and their administration. These are in outline our proposals. First, we put an end once and for all to the fragmented responsibility in the administration of the national parks; we provide for a single statutory body to be concerned with the administration, the management and the planning of each park. Secondly, we provide, again by Statute, that there shall be appointed for each park a single national park officer who will be of senior status, furnished with staff and specialists and supplied with the wherewithal to devote himself and his colleagues, free from other distractions, to the management of each national park. I hope that those two points answer two of the specific questions which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me. Thirdly, we require, again by Statute—


My Lords, that does not quite answer me. What I said was that a statement of good intention is not enough. What I want to know is whether in fact it is possible to delegate the powers. I know that the agreement between the two bodies is that there shall be a statutory definition of the delegated powers, but I also asked the noble Lord whether in his opinion this was possible at all.


Yes, my Lords; I have not quite finished. I will come on to that point in a moment. Thirdly, we are going to require, again by Statute, that that park authority shall produce with all due despatch a single comprehensive plan of their policies and a programme for action for the national park in their care; and that will certainly include development control powers. I would rather not go into further detail now, but this will all be provided for by amendment in another place to the Local Government Reform Bill.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a very short question? Would that include any responsibility for highways? I did mention this.


My Lords, I was just coming on to highways. No park authority, board or committee has so far been a highways authority, and we do not intend or propose that they should be.

The fourth main proposal which we intend to enact is to ensure that the lion's share, the greater part, of all that is needed to carry out that plan and that action is furnished by the nation as a whole, through the Exchequer, for the enjoyment of the nation as a whole in the parks; and I will elaborate a little on the financial aspects. The first three of those four proposals will be secured in full and in detail by means of Amendments to the Local Government Reform Bill which is now before another place. The last one will be enacted in legislation on local government finance.

Now let me go on to illustrate how these proposals will benefit the national parks as they now are. The introduction of a single statutory body will completely remove the present fragmented committee structure, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, outlined to us and which everybody admits is a serious weakness. For instance, responsibility for the Yorkshire Dales National Park is gravely split now between the West Riding and the North Riding, each of whom has a separate planning committee for their area of the park, not to mention the joint advisory committee for the whole of the park. Boundary changes under the Local Government Reform Bill will put most of the park in the North Riding, and the provisions relating to national parks in that Bill will secure that the small part lying outside will be treated as part of the whole park by the same authority. With Exmoor, for instance, we would expect to see the separate committees of the Devon and of the Somerset County Councils replaced by a single authority, probably a committee of Somerset County Council with representatives of Devon County Council on it. Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons Park, each split between three county councils, will also benefit in a similar way.

The appointment of a statutory national parks officer for each park will bring together, under him and under his staff, the management of several functions now divided between different departments of different authorities. The Peak Park, as many noble Lords have already said, has the advantage—and it is the only park that does—of having a single officer who can co-ordinate management and other activities within that park. We intend that this advantage—which has undoubtedly produced great benefits for the Peak Park—will be secured by Statute for all the other parks. This will ensure a greater concentration of thought and effort, particularly on day-to-day management, because he will not be distracted by any other duties. Adequate planning and management staff will be provided to enable the single authority to carry out all its particular functions, and the specialist services and the support of other council staff will be made available to the authority as they are required, as is done at the moment in the Peak Park.

The need for comprehensive plans and programmes derived from them for the national parks is evident. Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons, for instance, need to develop policies to cater for the changes and the increases in pressure on those parks brought by the M4, the M5 and the M6. Although the Yorkshire Dales Park, for instance, is large and expansive, it is subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet said, to immense and increasing pressures from the Yorkshire conurbation that can only be satisfied by planning and management on a substantial and comprehensive scale In the Brecon Beacons a comprehensive plan will be drawn up which will cover the whole park and yet have proper regard to the diverse characters of its separate parts as one moves from East to West, and the variation in pressure on those parts.

The Government's proposals on finance are particularly important. We do not intend to rely on precepting powers. I should have set out the reasons for this if my noble friend Lady Young had not already done so. We recognise that the responsibility of the nation as a whole for providing adequate and substantial assistance to the national parks is through the Exchequer, and at this stage we cannot say precisely in what way this assistance will be given because a radical review is now being undertaken of the whole question. But I can give this assurance. Whatever system emerges as a result of this review, it will take fully into account the demand on certain counties (I have in mind particularly the Pembroke Coastal Park and the Northumberland Park) on behalf of the nation as a whole to incur expenditure on national parks, including staff cost. We have not so far sufficiently recognised the administrative costs of national park authorities in considering the proper scale of Exchequer assistance to them. There have been specific grants, but those are all for particular projects. We propose in the future to shoulder on the Exchequer the major part of the burden of the overall cost of administering the parks.

In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, I would confirm that of course the other specific grants will continue—the agricultural grant, the tourist grant, transport grants, development grants and so on. I am sure that this will be a considerable help in getting the plans and policies for the national parks prepared and then implemented. Without substantial Exchequer assistance, Somerset, for instance, would be hard put to provide all that will be needed in Exmoor in the near future. With large parts of two national parks within its area—the Moors and the Dales—the new North Yorkshire County Council must be assured of substantial Exchequer support towards the overall cost of administering these two extensive parks. Many of the counties with responsibility for the national parks are, as it happens, among the least well endowed, and the case for the Exchequer giving the major part of support is one we are determined to meet effectively. But I am sure everyone would agree that expenditure, important as it is, is not all. Careful and sensitive control of management, sustained and patient reconciliation of the many diverse interests in each national park, will always be needed We believe that under the proposals we are about to put forward the new statutory authorities and their officers and staff will all be far better equipped and furnished to provide this care and attention that the great heritage that we call the national parks needs.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could answer one question. He has very persuasively described the advantages of doing it the Government's way. If all that is so perfect, why do the Government propose to leave the Peak District Park Committee and the Lake District Park Board as they are?


My Lords, broadly speaking, because they have worked well and because they have developed a number of devices which in practice ensure that they do operate within local government. For instance, in the Peak Park Board the Clerk of the Board is the Clerk of the Derbyshire County Council. In the Lakes Board the planning advice comes from the three county planning officers, acting jointly, and the Clerk of the Lakes Park Board is the Clerk of the Westmorland County Council. The setting of the Boards within local government has been secured by a series of sensible and practical devices.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will be so patient, may I ask why he does not avoid all this horrible national fuss and do the whole thing that way?


My Lords, because we think the way we have described is better, for the reasons I have set out.

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