HL Deb 19 October 1981 vol 424 cc559-61

2.49 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take all necessary steps to prevent the sale of Land's End to non-British individuals or organisations; and whether they will consider providing financial aid to the National Trust to purchase Land's End on behalf of the British people.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Secretary of State for the Environment will consider any proposals which he may receive from the Countryside Commission or from the local authorities concerned, but there is little reason to regard a possible change of ownership as a threat in itself to the character or appearance of Land's End which I understand has been a matter of concern for some while. The land will, of course, remain subject to normal planning controls and I believe the local authorities, the commission and the National Trust will continue to direct their attention towards means of encouraging better environmental management so as to improve unsightly features and to avoid erosion of paths.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his very informative reply. May I ask him whether he is aware that the grave concern felt by people all over the country is now reaching the point of consternation? May I further ask him whether he would be prepared at some time to make a statement that rather than lose Land's End to any overseas interest the Government will be prepared to help the National Trust and the Countryside Commission financially, so that in the national interest Land's End can be saved?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord is jumping the gun because at the moment we do not know how much acreage there is for sale, or what is actually up for sale. It is an issue that we would expect in the first instance to be considered by the Countryside Commission, the National Trust and the Cornwall County Council, and I understand that discussions are now taking place between those bodies. May I add that there is no prerequisite for a prospective purchaser in this country of land or property to state his nationality and that many properties owned by people from various foreign countries all over the world are extremely well maintained.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the noble Earl scotch a rumour which seems to have got about, somehow, that if Land's End is purchased by a foreign purchaser they intend to cut it off and tow it away?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, that would indeed be very difficult. Might I add—of course I like to get a "plug" in whenever I can—that there will be a power under the Wildlife and Countryside Bill when it becomes law for local planning authorities to make a management agreement for the conservation of just this kind of landscape.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is not Land's End our country's most famous headland? Would not its sale to a non-British national be regarded as yet another mark of our national decline? What would Shakespeare say about it?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, of course, with my family name, I should like to quote Shakespeare back at the noble and learned Lord. To go back to his original question, with so many Scotsmen in the House I am not quite sure that one can say that Land's End is the most important.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, is not John o' Groat's being forgotten?

Lord Molloy

My Lords, while I am grateful to the noble Earl for his informative reply, I find it a little disturbing that Her Majesty's Government do not know precisely what is at stake. The noble Earl has just admitted it. Would it be possible for the noble Earl to obtain a few back copies of the Guardian and perhaps The Times newspapers which spell it out in detail so that Her Majesty's Government can be well informed and realise what a serious issue is at stake? We are not joking about towing this entire island away, or part of it. Ordinary people up and down the country recognise that something which they regard as part of their heritage is at risk. It is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to do something about it and to prevent it.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the information which we have at the moment does not show that it is at risk but that this land may be up for sale. Just to inform the noble Lord that we are in touch, I have in front of me The Times extracts about the sale and we are trying to follow it up, but nothing in this country has so far been published.

Lord Somers

My Lords, would not the sale of Land's End be the beginning of Britain's end?