§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I announced that I have not selected the Amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson)—That this House, while acknowledging the need to improve the facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside in the countries of Great Britain, declines to give a second reading to a Bill which fails to provide for a separate Countryside Commission for Wales, of whose area 27.5 per cent. is included in national packs as compared with 7 per cent. of England.May I observe again that there are many hon. Members wishing to speak in this debate. If speeches are reasonably brief, I shall be able to satisfy more hon. Members.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that there is considerable support in the House for the Amendment, that it is supported by my learned Friend, Mr. Emlyn Hooson—
I apologise to the House—by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), by Liberal Members generally, and by a number of hon. Members on the Government benches? There is great feeling on this matter in the country of Wales.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that Mr. Speaker is aware of all the considerations that he mentions and, indeed, many more. Mr. Speaker has the power to select what Amendments can be taken. The point of view which the hon. Gentleman holds, however, and which is expressed in the Amendment, will be almost certainly expressed during the debate, and the point of view expressed in the Amendment can be signified by dividing and by voting against the Second Reading for the reasons given in the Amendment.
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Niall MacDermot)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
1415 This is a comprehensive Bill designed to help us tackle the problems of the countryside, problems which are increasing—and increasing at an increasing pace. It seeks to provide better opportunities for people to enjoy the countryside, both those of us who live there and those of us who come pouring out from the towns for the quiet enjoyment of nature, or for open air sport and recreation. It seeks also to provide for better conservation, better protection of the beauties of nature, and better protection of nature itself, the wild life, the flowers, and the woodlands.
It would be idle to pretend that there is no conflict between these twin aims of recreation and conservation of the countryside.Each man kills the thing he loves"—said Oscar Wilde. I offer it as a countryman's view of the townsman, with a polite scepticism at times of the depth of his love. And for the townsman's view of the country, I offer in return Hazlitt:—There is nothing good to be had in the country, or, if there be, they will not let you have it.The conflict between town and country is [...] old as civilisation and will never cease. And nor should it. But from time to time the conflict can be resolved in practice by thought and care and well directed action.
I said at the outset that the problems of the countryside are increasing. This is due partly to our growing population but much more to our improving standard of living bringing with it a much greater awareness, particularly among young people, of the possibilities of open air recreation. To take a few examples, there are now half a million dinghy sailors in this country, at least three million anglers and over 100,000 naturalists. The increases are exceptional in all water sports, climbing, caving and bird-watching. Camping and caravanning continue to grow every year.
What makes all this possible, and at the same time in itself constitutes a threat to the countryside, is the growth of the motor car—over 12 million vehicles today, 18 million in 1970, and 25 million by 1980 without looking further than that. This explosion of demand is creating a host of new problems.
1416 I do not pretend that all the problems have yet been properly identified, let alone that we have found the right solutions to them. That is why the first thing which we propose under this Bill is to set up a Countryside Commission, responsible to my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales, and empowered and equipped to organise the necessary research.
I regard Clause 2(7) as one of the most important provisions of this Bill:The Commission shall carry out, or commission the carrying out of, such inquiries, investigations or researches, either on their own account or jointly with other persons, as the Commission may deem necessary or expedient for the purposes of any of their functions.We have had a comprehensive system of town and country planning in this country for 20 years. It is hideous to think where we would have been without it. But in its positive aspect, positive planning as opposed to mere restriction and control, the lion's share has gone to the towns. We have seen a lot more town planning than country planning. What we need is more town and country planning.
I had the pleasure of opening the other day a one-day conference convened by the Town Planning Institute to take stock of what research has been done and is being done in countryside matters. So far as I know, this is the first time that this has been attempted in this country and I am sure it will prove to have been a useful conference.
But now, if this Bill commends itself to the House, we shall have for the first time a body, the Countryside Commission, charged comprehensively with the duty of keeping… under review all matters relating to—and charged with the duty of consulting
- (a) the provision, development and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside,
- (b) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, and
- (c) the need to secure public access to the countryside for purposes of open air recreation",such local planning authorities and other bodies as appear to the Commission to have an interest in those matters.The draftsman's words are clear and I cannot improve upon them.
1417 We are not starting afresh. We are building on firm foundations. We are taking as our starting point the National Parks Commission and the framework of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. The achievements of the National Parks Commission deserve praise and have, I think, received it. The Commission has now to its credit 10 national parks in England and Wales and 21 areas of outstanding natural beauty. But the pressure of demand upon these parks and areas is such that in some cases the very survival is threatened of that which they are intended to preserve.
The Friends of the Lake District Park, commenting in 1964 on the growth of traffic there, called itthe potential destroyer of the Lake District.To help control the invasion of the motor vehicle we propose in Clause 25 to regulate traffic in these and other areas so as to serve the needs of amenity and conservation. But this in itself cannot provide a sufficient solution. We have to find ways of relieving the pressure on these over-congested areas of the countryside by providing new means forthe quiet enjoyment of the countryside by the publicif I can borrow again the draftsman's phrase.
This means that we must find out and establish what are the real needs to be satisfied, and how they can be satisfied without threatening the interests of agriculture, which surely has a first claim upon the countryside, and the interests of conservation and natural beauty.
So we return again to the need for increasing research and study and experimentation. The Countryside Commission, when it rises from the ashes of the National Parks Commission, will have the advantage of the assistance of the Committee set up by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I should say here that any credit for this Bill is due primarily to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who I hope will wind up the debate, who have been the real authors of this Bill which I have been very proud to inherit.
1418 The Committee that I was referring to was the Wibberley Committee whose terms of reference wereto study the problems arising from the use of rural land in England and Wales for leisure and recreation.The Commission will have the powers we propose in Clause 3 itself to undertake experimental projects or schemes subject to the approval of the Minister in England or of the Secretary of State in Wales.
There are some proposals which we are putting forward for immediate action, the need for which we think is clearly established and for which we think the responsibility should be placed fair and square on the local authorities, guided and assisted by the Commission and aided by the Exchequer. The most important of these are country parks.
The idea of a country park is that of a piece of countryside to be kept as a piece of real countryside where the public, townsmen mostly but not exclusively, can go for quiet enjoyment and recreation. There may be some facilities there for organised games, but this is not the primary purpose. The primary purpose is to let people enjoy the ordinary country pursuits of walking, riding, swimming, sailing, rowing, fishing and so on. Many such parks already exist, provided mostly and very well by the National Trust, in some cases by local authorities and in others on a commercial basis by "with-it" dukes and marquises. But they are not nearly enough.
I think most of us have shuddered at times at the limited experience of the country of those who drive out of our towns on a sunny summer day, imbibing the fumes of an incessant stream of motor cars and motor bicycles, stopping on a grass verge or lay-by to drink a cup of tea from a Thermos flask and read the Sunday papers to the accompaniment of a transistor radio, only to plod their weary way home in a slow crawl at the end of the day. We can and must offer them something better, and we think that part of the solution lies in country parks. These will vary greatly in size and in the facilities offered. All of them, I imagine, will have car parks and toilets. Others may have something more elaborate such as a restaurant or a boating lake or a river with slipways and moorings.
1419 In the usual case country parks will be provided by county councils, but they may be provided by county districts or even by urban authorities, with the consent of the county in which the park is located, or, if the Minister thinks this consent is unreasonably withheld, then by the direction of the Minister. They can also be provided by national park joint planning boards. In any event, all authorities can contribute to the cost of these parks outside their boundaries where this would be for the benefit of their rate payers.
I should make clear that the grant provisions may apply to any new facilities provided by local authorities in already existing parks. They will also apply to country park facilities provided on common lands to which the public have access. Local authorities will be required to make available the services provided under the Bill to visitors as well as to local inhabitants, and it is for this reason that they will be entitled to up to 75 per cent. grant from the Exchequer.
The Commission will have power under Clause 4, with the consent of the Minister, to come to an agreement with any private person or body, including for this purpose the National Trust, to pay up to 75 per cent. grant for any project which is conducive to the purposes of the Measure. Local authorities will be able to provide country parks on land in other ownerships by coming to agreements with land owners, and grant will be payable on these arrangements.
Ministers will consult the Commission about all applications for grant, whether under the Bill or the 1949 Act. It is obvious, therefore, that the Commission will have a key rôle to play. Subject to Ministerial direction, the Commission will be the central body and clearing house on countryside matters. The Government reposes great confidence in the ability of Lady Wootton, her colleagues and their officers and staff to carry the heavy burden which is being placed on them.
These proposals will require the staff of the Commission to be almost doubled, so I hope that all hon. Members, beginning with the Leader of the Opposition, who cannot tolerate the growing army of bureaucrats, will have the courage of their convictions and vote against the 1420 Bill. If the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends want us to preserve the sea, sand, cliffs and the countryside, they will have to put up with a few more civil servants.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I find cheap this constant sniping and criticism against civil servants by hon. Gentlemen opposite who are continually pressing for further measures which they know will require an increased number of civil servants.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a great many of my hon. Friends found the Prime Minister's remarks on this topic in the second day of the debate on the Gracious Speech very cheap indeed? Is he aware that we will get on far better in our consideration of the Bill if he avoids these cheap asides, particularly when hon. Members are trying to consider this subject on a bipartisan basis?
§ Mr. MacDermot
The hon. Gentleman is unduly sensitive when counter-attacked.
In exercising their functions, the Commissioners will act in close co-operation with the Sports Council and its regional bodies. Their activities will be complementary and they should work together. It is, perhaps, easier to recognise than to define the division of responsibilities. The recreational use of waterways may illustrate it. The Commission would be more concerned with ensuring that the public has access to the waterway while the Sports Council would be concerned with the sporting activities that take place on them.
Waterways are, of course, vital focal points in any provision for recreation in the countryside, and this is why we are proposing, in Clause 16 to empower water undertakers to provide recreational facilities on reservoirs and other waters owned or managed by them. The kind of facilities we have in mind are access roads, boat landing slips, moorings, hides for bird watchers and so on.
Another clearly established need which we propose the local authorities should be able to meet is that of camping and picnic sites. Picnic sites will be smaller sites than country parks where motorists and others can pull off the road to rest and enjoy the fresh air, the view, take a 1421 picnic and, if they wish, read their Sunday newspapers. Camping sites are required particularly for overnight stay by holiday-makers with tents, and these sites qualify for grant, as well as overnight caravan parks. The idea is to give these holiday-makers a place where they can stay overnight en route without having to stop on roadside verges and laybys. Most Continental countries are way ahead of us in sites of this kind with hard standings and toilet facilities.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
Clause 27(2) refers to the provision of Government help for these sites. Can my hon. and learned Friend say whether the payment of a subsidy for longer-stay sites, including holiday sites, is excluded?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I believe that there are other provisions for that. Certainly that does not come under the Bill. The reason why we have made provision here for camping sites is to supplement the provisions that already exist for caravan sites.
So far, I have been dealing mainly with the recreation provisions in the Bill. I come to the conservation and amenity side and the provisions for greater access to the open country.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
When we listened to remarks about future Government policy for camping and caravanning we were assured—certainly earlier this year by the Minister of State to the Board of Trade, who, I understand, had some direct interest in consultations with the Minister on these matters—that the Bill would cover the position of not merely tenting but of caravanning proper. We were also given to understand that some permanent buildings would be erected in areas of great beauty so that the public could enjoy them. Is the provision of such buildings, which are sometimes needed in these areas, outside the scope of the Bill?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I am not sure of the reference the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but the functions he described seem to be outside the scope of the Bill. They are dealt with under the relevant caravans legislation. We are here concerned with the provision of something which is not provided commercially and which is not apparently commercially 1422 worth while; namely, these overnight camping and caravanning facilities.
Clause 9, the conservation Clause, states:In the exercise of their functions relating to land under any enactment, every Minister, Government Department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.If the world could be reformed by strokes of the pen or the stamp of printer's ink, this Clause would do the trick, but, speaking as a lawyer, I have my doubts. However, the Clause is not to be dismissed or even underestimated. I know that the Commission and many conservationists attach very great importance to it, including the 1970 Countryside Conference, which recommended it in its Report two years ago, as it did many of the other provisions in the Bill. It is right to do so.
This Clause establishes an important and fundamental principle and gives it universal application. It will be a useful stick to apply to the back of any public authorities which want to trample mulishly over the interests of natural beauty and amenity.
An important provision is Clause 11, for the better protection of sites of special scientific interest. These are sites identified by the Natural Environment Research Council as being of special interest by reason of their flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features, but not of such high interest as to warrant the creation of a national nature reserve. There are some 2,200 of these in the United Kingdom at present. As hon. Members will know, when they have been notified by the N.E.R.C. to local planning authorities, no action to develop them can be taken until the N.E.R.C. has had an opportunity to make representations or to suggest ways of reconciling development with maintenance of scientific interest.
Sometimes, of course, other considerations may override its representations or suggestions. But the provisions have not proved sufficient. Agricultural improvements and forestry do not require planning permission, and it is often agricultural activities such as ploughing up or draining or forestry that have damaged these special scientific sites in 1423 the past. The Bill therefore provides for agreements to be made between the N.E.R.C. and landowners whereby the Council would make payments to landowners in consideration for their carrying out, or refraining from carrying out, certain operations.
Agreements under this Clause will be entered into voluntarily by the owner and occupier of the land, and it is difficult to imagine that having done so, either of them would knowingly carry out work which contravened the agreement, and seek to obtain an agricultural grant for it. But in case such a situation should arise, my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will take steps to see that approval is not given to payment of an agricultural grant where the work in question would conflict with the terms of an agreement under the Clause.
I come to the subject of access. In order to increase the areas accessible to the public, we are proposing to expand the definition of open country in the 1949 Act so as to include woodlands, rivers and canals and their banks—insofar as these are not vested in the British Waterways Board. Arrangements for them were announced last September in the White Paper, "British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity".
Grant for the arrangement of access to open country, which has hitherto been restricted to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, will in future be available throughout the countryside. We also propose to ensure that public access to land shall not be automatically denied by reason of agricultural or forestry operations. In future such operations can only be undertaken on land subject to an access order when the Minister is satisfied, if need be, after a local inquiry, that the prejudicial effect to the land outweighs the benefit to the public of access. In this, as in other matters having an agricultural interest, my right hon. Friend will consult with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food before reaching a decision.
The Bill also contains a number of amendments to the intricate legislation relating to public rights of way on footpaths and bridleways. For many of these 1424 we are indebted to the interim recommendations of the Footpaths Committee set up by my right hon. Friend. The Committee is meanwhile continuing its labours. If it has further important suggestions which require legislation I hope that it will be able to bring them forward at an early date so that we may be able to consider them at a later stage of the Bill.
Of what is already included, I shall mention now only the provisions for sign-posting footpaths and bridleways, the duty placed on owners to keep stiles and gates on them in safe and working order, and the duty to keep bulls out of fields containing public footpaths. This is a ploy of respectable antiquity for denying access to public footpaths. Legislation against it was first recommended by the Hobhouse Committee in 1947, but such were the vested interests involved that it has taken 20 years to carry out the recommendations. I shall leave further elaboration of these fascinating topics to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who has an expertise which I lack in such matters.
My hon. Friend will also want to deal more fully with the provisions dealing with woodlands. I should like to pay tribute to the tremendous work he has done during the three years he has held his present office in awakening people—above all, local authorities—to use their powers for tree preservation and planting. Anyone who has visited my hon. Friend in his room in the Ministry will know that it is like entering one of the hothouses at Kew. It is also a hothouse of ideas. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has many thousands of trees to his credit up and down the country.
All that I shall say at this stage about the woodlands provisions is that trees planted by local authorities anywhere in the countryside not only those in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, will now attract grant. The Forestry Commission is also to be empowered to acquire and plant land for amenity purposes, and to provide recreational and other facilities on forestry land. Many State forests at the appropriate stages of their tree-growing cycles are magnificent places to visit and explore, and they would be made even more attractive by the provision of some basic facilities. The great risk is fire. All who 1425 visit woodlands must be made aware of the risk and the way to safeguard against it.
Arrangements are also proposed for the payment of compensation in certain cases to woodland owners who are obliged by the terms of a direction made by a local planning authority under a tree preservation order to replant in a manner which is conducive to amenity rather than to sound commercial forestry. The arrangements proposed differ from those set out in paragraph 53 of the White Paper, where it was said that a woodland owner adversely affected in this way would be able to require the authority to purchase the wood. Instead, we now propose that if the Forestry Commission should decide that the replanting does not constitute reasonable commercial forestry, and accordingly refuse a planting grant, compensation will be payable by the local planning authority.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman's right hon. Fiend propose to produce and display a set of standard rules to remind and re-educate the general public about what to do? Is he considering a strict code of behaviour about litter, gates, damage to trees and fires? It is very important that that should be added to this very useful Bill.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I should like to look further at that suggestion. I think that there is an existing code. We shall certainly consider what further can be done to publicise it. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that there will be considerable byelaw powers under the Bill, and I hope that they will be another way of bringing these matters home to people who use the countryside.
I should like to say a few words finally about the financial Clauses. I have already said that grant will be payable on up to 75 per cent. of the approved expenditure, whether made by the Commission to non-public bodies or by the Ministry or the Welsh Office to local authorities. The purposes for which grant is payable are set out in Clauses 26 and 27. They include one I have not so far mentioned, the removal of eyesores. I hope that this may lead to the preparation of some useful schemes—again in the draftsman's words—… for the removal of things disfiguring the countryside …".1426 This does not apply to land rendered derelict by industrial processes, which is a special problem for which we already have arrangements. I am talking now of tumbledown shacks, dumps of abandoned cars, and other bits of old ironmongery.
We may look for help here from the voluntary societies, among whom the ever-watchful Civic Trust is already active. Expenditure is expected to rise to £2 million in a full year, and the House may care to hear what may be expected for that order of amount. In the current year the cost of the National Parks Commission amounts to just under £150,000, and expenditure on grants under the 1949 Act amounts to about £250,000. Next year, if this Bill is enacted, the staff and cost of the Commission will increase, and expenditure under the Act of 1949 will also increase. This will leave about £1.35 million for new Exchequer grants.
It is difficult to estimate at this date how the £1.35 million would be shared among the various heads. The task of allocation will be one for the Commission in the first instance: it will prepare, for submission to my right hon. Friends, a scheme of distribution of the resources available, having regard to the estimates made by local authorities and the projects they put forward. I am confident that with the level of expenditure contemplated in the Financial Memorandum we can look forward to the provision of a useful number of country parks, camping and picnic sites, soon after the Bill is enacted. I have reason to believe that a number of local authorities are only waiting for the signal to be given.
I have spoken about the Bill in very general terms. There is a great deal of detail that will occupy the Committee with which I have not attempted to deal. If there are points which I have not covered and on which the House would like further information today my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate will, as always, do his best to oblige.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
We have had only a few days to consider the Bill. Whom has the hon. and learned Gentleman already consulted? Has he consulted people like the British Travel Association, which is obviously very much concerned? I understand not. What about 1427 the Civic Trust and other similar bodies? This is a non-controversial Measure. Has there been any real consultation—
§ Mr. MacDermot
There has been a great deal of consultation. I do not know whether the bodies to which the hon. Gentleman refers have been consulted, but we have the advantage, as background to the Bill, of a great deal of work, including that of the 1970 Conference on the Countryside, which includes the representation of the British Travel Association. We are very much alive to the importance of all these matters from the travel point of view.
§ Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)
Could the hon. and learned Gentleman amplify his remarks on Clause 25? Is it the intention to regulate the numbers of vehicles in a particular area, or their type?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I think that the traffic regulation orders deal with such matters as one-way traffic, what is called tidal flow—operating one way for part of the day and in the opposite direction for another part, clearways, parking restrictions and so on. There has been a suggestion for trying rationing by numbers, but we have not got to that and I hope that we shall not. That was not provided for under the present traffic regulation Orders.
Hon. Members will be relieved to learn that I have now completed my exposition of the Bill. I commend it to the House as one which itself contains a number of useful measures to make immediate provision for better access to and enjoyment of the countryside. It also provides for better planning and deeper research into the uses of the countryside. One of the things for which my party stands is trying to make available to all what has hitherto been the privilege of the few. But when the privilege itself has depended to some extent on exclusion, the task is not easy. It is impossible to stop the tide, impossible to prevent the pressures flowing into the countryside in an affluent, motorised society. It is a tremendous undertaking to see that the reasonable demands for access and enjoyment are satisfied and that in the 1428 process those who enjoy them do not destroy the things we all love. That is the task facing the Countryside Commission, and I hope that the House will unite in giving it all the help it can.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I think that the whole House will welcome most of the remarks by the Minister of State, perhaps with a few exceptions in the middle, as well as a sentence or two at the end. I think that we can say that we are all in agreement with the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, which saysThe main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public in England and Wales.If I might say a word about Wales, there is an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) which is not to be discussed, I understand.
§ Mr. Channon
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. So it is not to be moved. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), when winding up the debate, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will specifically deal with any points that the hon. Member and his colleagues may wish to put about that matter.
My right hon. and hon. Friends are only too anxious that facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public should be increased and should exist in good numbers. For many years, we have been pledged in successive Measures to take action along these lines. During our period of office such Measures were passed as the Control of Advertising Regulations—which were generally welcomed—and the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), while Minister of Housing and Local Government, had a very interesting and important Circular to local authorities about the planning and preserving of the amenities of the coast. As long ago as the General Election of 1964 we pledged ourselves to the creation of a Countryside Commission.
1429 However, all hon. Members must recognise, as did the Minister of State, that there are dangers as well as improvements that can easily arise in these Measures. We could risk destroying the very beauty of the countryside that excites the interest of those who see it. All over Europe we can see the effects of mass tourism. How wonderful it must have been a hundred years ago to have had the opportunity of seeing the Bay of Naples, or the south coast of France, though the French, I am sorry to say, are continuing to press ahead with ruining it on an even greater scale than previously. These are the risks that have not been altogether avoided in this country and ones that we must try to avoid.
Today is not the day for discussing, as we have done on other Bills, the unsightliness that so often clutters up our historic scenes—traffic signs, T.V. aerials and the cars themselves. Today we should devote ourselves to the countryside, where there are just as many dangers to its preservation and the preservation of its beauty—pylons, power stations and perhaps in particular the risk of uncontrolled development spreading into the countryside.
Prince Philip, when he opened the second Countryside Conference said:It is certainly possible to build more cities, roads, factories, power stations and zoological gardens, but it is not possible to increase the land area of these islands. We are a small crowded island, and the problems as a result are all the more acute.Thank goodness that, although only one in five people can be said to live in the countryside, the cities take up only one-tenth, or just over, of the land mass of the British Isles. In recent years one of the welcome features has been the great increase in interest in the countryside and the great increase in membership of the organised societies and clubs which take such a part in country recreational sports. The Minister of State referred to 3 million fishermen, and also to sailing clubs. In a 10-year period, the number of affiliated clubs has more than trebled. Twelve times as many sailing dinghies exist today as 10 years ago. There has been an enormous expansion of riding schools, and at least 50 new ones are opened each year. Climbers, potholers, mountaineers—vast numbers of people are more interested in these sports.
1430 More than 16 million people go to the seaside each year. I am glad to say that a large proportion of them go to Southend, though I would wish that some of them would stay a little longer than one day. It is a terrifying fact, as the Civic Trust has pointed out, that if we all went to the coast on one particular day there would be exactly 3½ inches for each of us on the coastline.
One and a half million people take camping holidays. Caravanning has boomed. Swimming clubs have increased. Water skiing is a new sport which raises particularly grave difficulties, and no doubt we shall want to discuss it during the coming stages of the Bill.
The great thing about the members of these clubs, particularly including the camping clubs, is that they are welcome guests in the countryside because they have rules of behaviour and follow them. But, alas, there is still need for more education perhaps in the schools and in many other ways for the small number of people who still behave appallingly badly in the countryside and ruin everyone else's pleasure as a result, the people who still leave refuse and those who still play transistor radios and ruin the peace of others.
In my opinion, the penalties for leaving litter are inadequate at the moment. I am surprised that when the Government are proposing a Bill to give more access to the countryside they have not also tackled the problem of penalties. I would ask the Minister of State or the Parliamentary Secretary to have consultations with the Secretary of State for Home Affairs to see whether we cannot tackle penalties in the Bill as well. If we cannot do that, I must warn hon. Members opposite that we shall return to this subject during the Committee stage.
Not only do we have the increasing wish of people to go to the countryside. We have the appalling problem of increasing population. I have just read the South-east Planning Council's Report. By the year 2001 in the South-East alone we shall have to face an increase in population of 6 million people. This is terrifying. The population of London at the moment is 9 million. We have to face two-thirds of the population of London again in the South-East. It is 1431 estimated that in the rest of Great Britain there may well be another 13 million people by the end of the century. Huge problems will exist as a result in housing, employment, water and agriculture, and this Bill dealing with the countryside must be seen in that context.
I turn for a few moments—I must not take up too much time in view of what you said earlier, Mr. Speaker—to the proposals in the Bill. The most imporant thing is that the Countryside Commission is being created to replace the National Parks Commission. I am sure that every hon. Member would wish to join with what the Minister of State said about the valuable work that has been done during the past years by the National Parks Commission and those who have served it. There is now a need for a national body to be responsible for the preservation of the natural amenities of the countryside and their enjoyment by the general public. I welcome the creation of the Countryside Commission.
I recommend to the House one of the best pamphlets on the topic, by Mr. Christopher Chataway, dealing with proposals for a countryside commission, which was published a few years ago. He suggested that it should be given power to clear derelict land. I am sorry that the Minister of State does not wish it to go that far, although I welcome what he said about dealing with tumbledown property, and his proposal that the Commission should have power to deal with that.
There are a number of issues which we must discuss, either now or in Committee. Last year, the National Parks Commission wrote to the then Minister of Land and Natural Resources, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) giving its comments on the White Paper published last year on Leisure in the Countryside. The National Parks Commission said that, in its view, it… should be a central body able to hold land, particularly in National Parks, but sometimes outside them, too, and to secure its management for the public benefit.The Government prefer a different approach. They prefer that the Commission should be advisory rather than executive and, broadly speaking, I think we agree that the initiative should be 1432 left to local authorities. These are important issues, and we shall want to discuss the rôle of the National Parks Commission in more detail. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say a few words on the thinking behind the decision to set up the Commission in this way.
Although I welcome the Bill, I consider that the administration of these important topics is unwieldy. Tourism comes under the Board of Trade, sport comes under the Ministry of Education, the Minister of Housing has stolen historic buildings, which come under him from the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Royal Parks still come under the Ministry of Public Building and Works, and the Treasury has the final word in practically all these matters. Surely these threads should be brought together in some way at official level, and I hope some thought is being given to it.
The Bill needs very close study. Many of its provisions could be improved. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that, if it had come a little later in the Session, we might have been able to solve some of the problems.
I would not have referred to the Prime Minister's remarks on the opening day of the debate on the Humble Address in reply to the Gracious Speech if it had not been for the attack by the Minister of State on the speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition at Brighton. I shall try not to again, but the Bill will work only if there is a partnership and co-operation between all those concerned. It will not work by compulsion or if we fling round charges about the attitudes of landowners or farmers. If the Bill is administered sensibly, it will be of great value to both city and country dwellers. So far, we have bipartisan harmony about the principles of the Bill, and the organisations which I have been able to consult have welcomed it in principle, although they have said that there are points of detail.
I want now to make one or two points about the Commission's powers to conduct experimental schemes, which is an excellent idea. There might be an experimental scheme with temporary access agreements being made between people for a limited period. It might 1433 be found, at the end of the day, that a different solution would be more suitable. Normally, the Countryside Commission has no compulsory purchase powers, and I think that that is right. But, by their very nature, the experiments will be temporary affairs, yet the Commission is given permanent compulsory purchase powers. I should like an explanation of how these will work. It seems a little strange that the Commission should be given permanent compulsory purchase powers in respect of schemes which are only temporary.
I come now to one point of criticism of the Treasury and of the Financial Secretary in particular. It is unfortunate that the Money Resolution has been worded in the way that it has. It means that we shall not have an opportunity to debate in Committee the important issue of whether grants under the Bill should be limited in all cases to 75 per cent. of the expenditure incurred. Hon Members will know that the National Parks Commission has argued that if the Treasury was to reimburse national park authorities the addtional administrative expenses due to their activities in the national parks and the necessity of employing special staff, leaving it to bear its ordinary costs, it would he of tremendous help to the Commission in helping with the national parks.
As I read the Bill and the Money Resolution, I think that we are debarred from debating the matter in Committee because it would be out of order to move Amendments to increase the amount which could be granted by the Crown. That is unfortunate, and I take the opportunity to say now that there is a great deal in what the National Parks Commission says about the point. I hope that the Government's mind is not finally closed.
We shall also be debarred from dealing with the valid point of the National Farmers' Union about compensation for any malicious damage done by visitors to the countryside, especially when increased access is given. These matters will depend on good will, and it is unfortunate that in the Standing Committee we shall not be able to discuss compensation for malicious damage.
It will be interesting to hear why there are different terms of reference for the proposed Countryside Commission in 1434 Scotland from those for the Commission in England. Referring to the Scottish Commission, Section 1(2) of the Countryside (Scotland) Act says:In the exercise of their functions the Commission shall have due regard to the need for the development of recreational and tourist facilities and for the balanced economic and social development of the countryside.The Countryside Commission in England has no such terms of reference, and I think that that provision should be written in. In these matters, it is vital not only that there should be access agreements, but that the economic and social aspects of life in the countryside should be safeguarded.
I come on particularly to a topical point. We all know and are very disturbed about the recent serious outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. What will be the position about the new rights of access under the Bill? It would be criminal folly if, as a result of the Bill becoming law, there were any change in the law making the spread of foot-and-mouth disease more likely at times like this. Will farmers be able to refuse access at times when there is foot-and-mouth disease in the vicinity? How will these matters work?
The most unsatisfactory provisions of all are those dealing with footways and bridle paths. The explanatory Memorandum is misleading when it says that Clauses 20 to 24 provide for minor amendments in existing legislation. The Minister of State reminded us that the Gosling Committee is sitting at the moment and dealing with the law on public rights of way. It is ridiculous to be tinkering with the problem in the Bill, when we shall be receiving an authoritative report in a short time. When will that Committee report, and shall we be able to incorporate amendments in the Bill dealing with points made by the Committee before it receives the Royal Assent? I do not wish to hold up the Bill before publication of the report, of course, but it would be helpful to us to know that. The law at the moment is obscure. The Bill makes it worse, and I think that we ought to have the report of the Committee. In particular, Clause 21 is most unsatisfactory, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at it again.
Owners of land will be compelled by law to maintain stiles and gates across 1435 footpaths and bridle ways, and they will be responsible entirely for their upkeep. The highway authorities are given power to make contributions, but they are not compelled to. This is an unfair provision which will cause a great deal of illwill, and I hope that it will be possible in Committee to make a change in the arrangement so that highway authorities will contribute to the cost of keeping stiles and gates across footpaths. This one improvement would have a great effect and be widly welcomed in the countryside.
I want to say a word about water. The Bill widens the original definition of open countryside, as the Minister said, to rivers or canals, but it does not apply to the undertakings of the British Waterways Board. The Minister of State referred to the Government White Paper on the British Waterways Board. The Board must be subject in the Bill to the same rights of access in respect of its canals and waterways as apply to those of other owners. We shall have a farcical situation if it is only land which is publicly owned which the public will not have access to. I ask the Government, during the consideration of the Bill, to tie up its provisions with those in the Government White Paper on waterways and to provide rights of access to canals and waterways owned by the British Waterways Board.
No one disputes that the first duty of water undertakers is to carry on the excellent work that they have done in making sure that the purity of our water remains as high as ever, and that the health of the public does not suffer. I ask the Minister to consider a possible conflict between local authority byelaws and those that may be produced by water undertakings and, perhaps, the Association of River Authorities, under the terms of the Bill.
What is the Government's policy about the provision of water in the future? Clause 9, which we all welcome, imposes a duty to have regard to natural beauty and amenity. How will its provisions affect water undertakings? Very often there is a difficult conflict between the water needs of the population and the need to conserve areas of natural beauty. The Clause seems to make it impossible for water supplies to come from areas 1436 of great natural beauty in future. We all want to preserve our areas of beauty, but we also want to safeguard the provision of water for the vastly increasing population in the future. I hope that the Government will tell us something of their thinking on this difficult point.
All hon. Members will generally favour the new scheme of country parks, which will be in the interests of both town and country dwellers. We welcome the fact that local authorities will have power to provide camping and picnic sites, but my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) was on a sound point when he intervened to mention caravans, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the point. As the Minister has said, it may be covered by the Caravans Act, but there is some confusion on the matter. I understand that caravanning authorities have not been consulted about the terms of the Bill and that they would like some assurance. I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us some information.
A worrying feature about the Bill—I hope that it will turn out to be an unjustified worry—is the vastly increased power of compulsory purchase. I understand that ever since 1949 only one access order has been made—I believe in Cornwall. If the Bill is to be administered in that way our fears about compulsory purchase can be removed, but any extension of compulsory purchase is a very serious matter, especially, as I understand it, local authorities have the power compulsorily to purchase land for one purpose, but subsequently to use it for another, if they so wish. I ask the Minister to have some safeguards written into the Bill in this respect in order to make sure that no land will be compulsorily purchased for one purpose and subsequently used for another.
I see that the Minister of Housing is present. I hope that he is confident that nothing in the Bill will conflict with the increasing need for land to build on, which presents many local authorities with a great problem.
We look upon the Bill with good will and welcome it in general terms, although we have a number of Committee points to raise. We look upon the Bill with good will because we believe it to be 1437 in the interests of both town and country dwellers. The aims of both should be the same. I resent the attacks made by the Minister of State, who implied that access has been especially limited in the past. There is a great deal of access to the countryside at the moment. The figures that I have given about the activities that take place in the countryside prove this. I approve of greater access, but it must not cause damage to the amenities of the countryside or to our vital need for food production.
Never has there been a time when this country has been in a worse economic state. Nothing should be done by any Bill produced by the Government to interfere with food production. Within that framework, and provided we can be satisfied about the points that I have raised, my hon. and right hon. Friends will support the Bill. We wish it success and will support it on its way to the Statute Book.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
As one who has campaigned for the extension of national parks and their facilities for many years, I greatly welcome the Bill. Another reason for my interest is that I introduced an amending Bill nine years ago which was promptly slapped down by the then Minister. Governments of all complexions have promised action on this matter for many years—almost ever since the first Act was introduced—and I am delighted that at last we have this Bill, which tackles the problem constructively.
Over the years there has been a great change in the situation. At one time we used to assume that the only hope for town dwellers was to escape from the horrors they had committed in the towns by going into reserves preserved for their enjoyment in the countryside. This extraordinary attitude was very real in those days. Today we reject that attitude and realise that there are great possibilities, if we use them, to recreate beauty in our towns and in their surrounding areas, which in the past we have allowed to be destroyed. We can create new beauty and a new sense of understanding of the country not only in the more isolated and wilder parts of the national parks but far more widely throughout 1438 the country. This is the new positive approach which the Bill helps to emphasise.
There are many matters on which there will be disagreement, and many points of detail in respect of which one would hope for some improvements. Not all of the suggestions that I put forward in what I regard—perhaps nobody else does—as a valuable report that I did for Manchester University some years ago on this precise subject are being carried out in the Bill. I hope that in another 20 years the rest of them will be carried out.
Nevertheless, it is important to realise that if, as some people desperately wish, we are to preserve some of the sense of beauty and, in some of the wilder areas, solitude and peace, our only hope is to do far more to meet the quite fair demands of many who want to see something of the beauty of the countryside.
I am sorry that we have not taken the opportunity of doing something to create a more logical administrative structure in our national parks. It is odd that Governments of all types have said that this needed to be tackled. The 1949 Act provided for joint planning boards where a national park covered more than one county. But we have the administrative abortion of advisory committees which have been established in some of these areas. The result is a great multitude of committees meeting to discuss over and over again exactly the same problems. This is a matter which I hoped that we would tackle. We can only hope that it will be clarified when the Royal Commission on Local Government reports.
I should have liked to see the inclusion in the Bill of some reference to wilderness areas. It may be that one of the experiments which the Countryside Commission will be able to carry out is to encourage the reservation of certain areas as wilderness areas where vehicular traffic is completely prohibited and where some sense of solitude and quiet, which becomes more and more vital in our modern age, is preserved. Speaking as a member of the executive of the National Trust, perhaps the National Trust could do the same.
I am glad that there is special provision for the National Trust in the Bill. There are one or two matters which we may wish to raise in Committee on its 1439 behalf. However, on the question of the possible declaration of wilderness areas, the Trust might be invited to undertake certain experiments in areas which it owns. It might be able to undertake experiments in connection with country parks in certain areas which are suitable of course in consultation with the Countryside Commission. Here the Trust could have an important and valuable part to play.
I am glad that at long last some element, although it is still a relatively modest element, of executive authority is given to the Countryside Commission. This has been one of the most disturbing features of the National Parks Commission. It was set up on paper with a whole range of things in which it had to interest itself but it was given hardly any real powers. It was almost exclusively an advisory body. This undoubtedly led to a good deal of weakness in contrast with some of the bodies set up to deal with the problem of conservation to which more executive authority was granted.
It is absolutely right that the Countryside Commission should have these powers in dealing with experiments, and I hope that it will use them. It is clear that we need to undertake a wide range of schemes to find out the kind of country parks that we want and how they should operate. I hope that these powers will not be a dead letter but that they will be used. I hope that the Commission will be able to acquire land, certainly by agreement wherever possible, but when necessary by the use of compulsory powers. I have found when discussing this matter with the National Parks Authority, and certainly with their planning officers, that this was a power which they needed in order to get ahead with their work. Not only am I glad that these powers are to be given to the Commission, but I hope that in proper circumstances it will be willing to use them.
I am glad to see the declaratory Clause, Clause 9. I welcome it, although I realise its limitations. There are bound to be limitations in a Clause of this sort. It is interesting that the President of the United States made a declaration calling the attention of all his Ministers and senior officials to his desire that full attention should be paid in legislation to 1440 the question of amenity value and conservation. It would be valuable if the Clause were reinforced by a vigorous statement from senior Ministers that this was to be regarded not as merely something on paper but as something to which all Ministries were expected to pay full attention.
I am still a little unhappy about the question of finance. I have always argued—and this was the burden of the valuable reforming Measure which was slapped down so vigorously by a Conservative Minister—that increased expenditure by park planning authorities, whether local authority or joint boards, should be met at least to the extent of 75 per cent. if not more and that there should be room to make larger grants if possible in order that they could get ahead with their important work. To some extent, this point is met in the Bill. It is true that administrative expenditure related to specific projects can be included within expenditure and there can be a grant of up to 75 per cent. That is an improvement.
I am concerned, however, with the more general administrative work. A great deal depends, particularly in our national parks and in special areas of the countryside, upon giving more administrative time to trying to establish higher standards. This takes time and staff, and naturally planning authorities are unwilling to appoint extra staff for a duty which is not purely their own concern without some assurance of Government financial support. Therefore, in spite of what has been said about the terms of the Money Resolution, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this matter and see whether the Clause can be interpreted more widely so that planning authorities concerned with national parks are encouraged to appoint specific staff for this purpose. It is no use talking about conservation unless we have people who are willing to spend time to ensure that it is carried out.
I was encouraged to hear what my right hon. Friend said about staff. More staff at the Commission are essential if its expanded and vital job is to be done. More staff of a specialist kind will be needed in some national parks to achieve the higher standards which we desire.
I wish to comment about the Clause dealing with traffic regulations. This is 1441 a subject on which I have argued for some considerable time. If we accept, as I hope we do, the concept of isolating some areas as being sacrosanct and as areas not only of extreme beauty but whose value rests in their silence and challenge, we must ensure that there are adequate powers to prohibit vehicular movement in them and that there are proper rights of regulation of traffic moving in other areas, both in the national parks and other parts of the countryside.
Size of vehicles is a very pertinent matter, and, of course, traffic flow is important. It is clear that there are some routes on which there should be only one line of traffic at certain times of the day. There is a need to improve road facilities, possibly even to develop, where suitable, scenic routes or parkways for those who want to drive, to stop, and to look at the countryside, with easy access to camping sites round the perimeter of national park areas. There is, on the other hand, a need to provide access for limited types of vehicles into more beautiful and more remote parts and to provide for the complete exclusion of vehicles in other parts.
If this provision is to be used for this purpose, we must be clear that it gives the necessary authority. Clauses have been written into Road Traffic Bills and into the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1959, which have hardly been used for this purpose. We must be certain this time that this provision will be usable and that the Commission will have the authority to use it.
I welcome the extension of the question of access. I am not quite sure whether we are giving sufficiently wide powers for the establishment of warden services, which at present are tied strictly to areas where byelaw powers can operate. Warden services can be of great value purely as advisory bodies as well as in areas where they can enforce specific byelaws. In areas where voluntary wardens have been established, it has been possible to work a very effective scheme.
On behalf of many colleagues and friends, I express my delight that the Bill has been introduced. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on having had the opportunity to bring it forward. I join my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State in expressing thanks 1442 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, both of whom have played a large part in ensuring that the Bill was introduced. I wish the Bill every good will, and hope that in Committee we can make it even better.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
On the whole, this is a very civilised Bill, but it is a striking example of the ham-fisted way in which the Government deal with Wales. Wales has between one-quarter and one-third of her total area in national parks, as compared with England's less than one-fourteenth. Yet we are not even to have a countryside commission for Wales.
This land in Wales is Welsh land. It is land which has been sanctified by the lives of scores of generations of Welshmen. It is land of unsurpassed beauty. It is our heritage as Welshmen, and a very valuable and important heritage it is. Yet we are denied even our own countryside commission. For thousands of years the Welsh people have lived there. When first the Romans came to Rye our ancestors were there. Our only land border is almost exactly the same today as it was in those distant days. Our people may have lost territory elsewhere, but not this:Eu tir a gollant, and gwyllt Walia.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that for the benefit of the House the hon. Gentleman will translate what he has just said.
§ Mr. Evans
I will, Sir. It is a very well-known statement—an ancient prophecy, in fact—"Their land they will lose, except wild Wales." Yet the Government cannot bring themselves to concede to Wales as much as our own countryside commission. The Government's line seems to be that this land of Wales shall be administered by almost anybody in these countries of Britain, but certainly not by the Welsh alone, not even for recreational purposes.
It may be that the Government will argue that this is denied to us for our own good, just as I suppose an elected council is denied to us for our own good, and just as an economic development plan is denied to us for our own good. The Government may even argue that work is denied to the Welsh people for their own good.
1443 There are obvious advantages to people the other side of Offa's Dyke in the proposed arrangement. It is possibly easier when there is one Countryside Commission in which Wales is incorporated with England. That is our constitutional position. It is obviously more easy to plunder our resources in this way, as our water resources have been plundered for years. It is obviously easier for towns in England to take lands in Wales to establish their own parks.
The Minister of State said that the Commission was to be given compulsory powers to do this. If the Welsh authorities are reluctant, they can be brought to heel and can be forced to allow English towns to establish their parks in Wales.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The question of sanction would require the consent of the Secretary of State for Wales. What that provision would do would be to provide assistance, if that unhappy situation arose, for Welsh boroughs and urban authorities.
§ Mr. Evans
I think the Minister of State implied that towns outside Wales would have these powers. We are learning in Wales what compulsory powers mean in regard to land and in regard to our resources. If the Government were really thinking of Wales first, as they should be, because they are the only Government we have—I do not know that the Government have ever thought of Wales first; I cannot think of an example of the Government formulating any policy in which they put Wales first —what could have been more natural than that Wales should have her own countryside commission? Welsh national parks are part of the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. The proposed new nominated Council for Wales, that comic opera department which the Government are about to inflict upon us, is apparently also to keep an eye on the Welsh national parks. The sensible thing would be to bring these bodies together on a Welsh level in a Welsh countryside commission.
This is what is demanded by those who know most about it. For instance, General Lewis Pugh, the former Secretary of the Council for the Preservation 1444 of Rural Wales, spoke strongly on this matter at the annual meeting of the C.P.R.W. this year and was given very strong support for his demand for a Welsh countryside commission. There is an obvious need for it. The land of the people cannot be separated from the community. Wales has a different community. This community has its own language. This language should be seen right through the national parks and right through Wales.
I am told that considerable misunderstanding, even enmity, is developing in the Snowdonia National Park between farmers and tourists and climbers, and between those who want to see the development of industry there, and the unemployed there and those who come in from outside to enjoy the land. Only a Welsh body can possibly win the trust of the farmers and the unemployed people in Wales; only a Welsh body can create the consciousness among the people of Wales that their heritage is being safeguarded and that their country is not being sacrificed for the pleasure of people outside. And there is need, too, to create a little work in Wales.
A Welsh commission office could be situated in one of the national parks in Wales—for instance, at Dolgellau in the middle of Merioneth. It is one of those towns which, apparently, if the proposals of the Government for local government reorganisation go through, will lose their county offices and will cease to be the administrative centres of a county. I maintain that it would be a good thing to establish this kind of office in such a place.
This kind of need is seen in Scotland, where there is to be a Scottish Countryside Commission, and our case is very similar indeed. After Hamilton one will need much more than a Countryside Commission to keep the Scots docile.
If the Government were to regard this State as a multi-nation State instead of as a nation-State, as they do regard it, Wales would be administered as an entity for all purposes, and if the needs of Wales were fully considered by the Government then we would have not just a Countryside Commission concerned with recreation, we would have a Countryside Commission in Wales which would also have regard to the social and cultural life of the people who live in the 1445 areas concerned. They are closely interrelated. From the viewpoint of the life of the people who live on the land and in the community this is a matter of first importance. We would have a countryside commission, therefore, which would be concerned to foster and nurture their social and cultural life, which is, after all, being terribly eroded and even destroyed by the powerful techniques of our time. We would have a bwrdd cefn gwlad, a Welsh countryside commission, which would realise that the people in our society and the land on which they live are woven into a seamless web.
When the Government really want to change our pattern of life they arrogate to themselves enormous powers, as they do with the rural development boards. Why not give powers to the Welsh people themselves to develop their own traditional way of life? In all spheres, including this one, the Welsh people must be allowed to act for themselves.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
We have in this island some of the finest countryside in the world, which is and should be enjoyed not only by ourselves but by people who come to this country as tourists. They come to enjoy the countryside, as the Tourist Association says, an it is one of the main things they want to see. They like first to see London and to enjoy the pleasures of London, but they then like to see our countryside.
I agree with what has been said about the need to preserve wildernesses, but I would point out that many of the beauties of our countryside are man made. If we go back to 1700, probably no village or habitable area had any large trees anywhere near it. Over the years all the timber near the centres of habitation was cut down for building, and the smaller timber was used for firewood. It was only when people consciously began to plant avenues and to enclose parks and woodlands and plant hedges that we began to see the English countryside covered with trees, which are one of its most important features. One has to try to retain that beauty as far as possible.
A few years ago I had occasion to be in Newfoundland when we were considering how far it would be possible to persuade Newfoundland to join the 1446 Canadian Union, and I found a similar situation there as probably existed here in 1700, in that there were no trees of any size near any inhabited centres, though, of course, there were forests miles away from the habitations. We represented to the Newfoundland Government that they should take active steps to try to plant trees and enclose areas of timber to beautify both their villages and their countryside.
Changes are bound to happen in the countryside here, and much of the hedgerow timber is disappearing. I think that with good modern farming that is bound to happen to some extent, particularly in arable areas, I would have thought that one of the jobs which the Countryside Commission ought to have in mind is to plant shelter belts and groups of trees, as in such circumstances more extensively than is being done by many farmers at present. I would take a strong plea that special attention should be paid to this.
This means two things. I was pleased to see that my right hon. Friend visited the Chilterns on one occasion, and, more recently, the Weald, to discuss with the local people how the traditional woodlands could be preserved and developed. That ought to be continued, but one has also to bear in mind that there are some areas, particularly in Wales, which have not been forestry areas and where there is scope for some scientific forestry such as can improve the amenities if the Forestry Commission pays proper attention to this, as it is now doing, although it did not in its early days. If Wales has, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) said, such large areas of national parks it will get a good deal of money under the Bill, more proportionately than England, because there are more areas there worth preserving. We would all welcome that. It is quite likely that a great deal more of Wales will become national parks than already and I hope that that may be so.
I would make the point that inside the national parks it is desirable there should be more forestry than in the past. There are some areas, such as Snowdonia, where trees cannot grow on the windward side and on areas of high moorland and rock, but there are sheltered areas, on the hillsides away from the prevailing winds, where, notably in Wales, there is lush 1447 vegetation, and they would be admirable areas for commercial forestry which is also an amenity. I would have thought that there could be made admirable contrasts between the high wild areas and the forest areas away from the wind. Moreover, the planting and maintenance of the woodlands would provide work for the people of those areas. I hope there will be more active forestry planting in Wales and particularly in national park areas, and that there should not be an exclusion of more forestry, even commercial forestry.
I should like to pay a tribute to the amenity work which the Forestry Commission is already doing. It is making picnic sites, and doing its very best to encourage visitors to enjoy the forests, not only in Wales, but, of course, right through this island. I think we should welcome the fact that more powers are to be given to the Commission to plant and maintain reasonable amenities in the future, but I hope that if the Forestry Commission does this it will not be at the expense of the money allocated to the Commission for commercial planting at the present time, and I hope that appropriate extra grants may be given to it.
Another point which is important in developing and preserving the countryside is that we should have regard to the buildings in the countryside. During the last Session, with support from both sides, we passed the useful Civic Amenities Act. A great feature in the beauty of our countryside is the attractive villages, many of the country houses and some of the small towns. It is important, in preserving the countryside, to take an active forward policy in preserving villages and small towns. People do not want just to drive through, admiring the trees and scenery. They like to see the historic houses and the pretty villages. These are becoming a mecca for motorists tired of merely going to the seaside. They like the sea but enjoy the countryside as well.
I hope that the Government will also consider whether more grants can not be made available to the Historic Buildings Council to enable more money to be spent on ordinary village streets and houses and not just on the more outstanding historic buildings. I understand that, at present, 1448 we spend £450,000 a year on grants for historic buildings.
Several years ago, a deputation representing both sides of the House discussed this matter with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and an increase of £50,000 was given by the Government. That increase has now been swallowed up by the rise in building costs and a somewhat higher grant should be made if we are to preserve the beauties of our countryside and if, in buildings of character and beauty, human habitation is to be continued.
I am pleased to see that grants can be given by the Countryside Commission to rehabilitate buildings such as old farms, which may be used for useful purposes under this Bill. I hope that this will be done as well as the building of new places to accommodate those who want to visit and enjoy the countryside.
One important aspect is the use of water. I am pleased to see that it is proposed that local authorities should be encouraged to see that reservoirs can be made full use of for sailing and other activities. In Germany a few years ago, I was surprised to see the great pleasure people were getting from bathing, sailing and other water sports in reservoirs. The local authorities owning these reservoirs took the view that the water was going to be filtered and treated anyway and were thus prepared to allow these facilities to the public.
I hope that that will happen here. Too often, our local authorities will not permit the use of our reservoirs for any public activities but if the water is going to be properly treated and filtered anyway there is no reason why they should not do so. Some time ago I was walking on the Brecon Beacons above one of the Welsh valleys and I stayed at a small farm. The farmer was a most delightful and hospitable person. He told me that Newport had bought the valley and were flooding it. The council had made him take all the roofs off his barns since no cattle were to be allowed nearby, and his own house would also have to go. Only a few sheep were to be permitted to remain in the neighbourhood.
That sort of attitude is quite wrong. We should have normal activities in the hills around the reservoirs and make full use of the reservoirs for tourists and for 1449 local people—given the necessity, of course, of seeing that the water is properly treated before it is used for domestic purposes. I hope that the Government will push ahead to see that more use is made of reservoirs.
Then there is the question of the Broads. Many of us have time and again stressed the desirability of creating a national park of the Broads. It has been rejected partly by local people who were not keen to have such a body but largely because of the amount of money required to develop the Broads very much further.
On the question of local people running these things completely, I disagree with my hon. Friend. I think that the consumer should also be represented on the various countryside bodies that may be set up for the national parks and so on. Not only people from local councils but people who actually use the facilities should be represented.
That is particularly true of the Broads. The use of the Broads has so developed that it has reached a point where sewage disposal has become a serious problem and sooner or later there will have to be a restriction on the number of licences issued for boats, otherwise the Broads will become overcrowded. The area of the Broads which can be enjoyed could certainly be greatly increased. Many old waterways are silted up—to North Walsham, Aylgham and Bungay, for example. The river board has opened up a number of waterways but a national park commission representing both local people and consumers could be a driving force, co-ordinating all the activities for developing the Broads.
It is necessary, for example, to landscape with trees not immediately adjoining the Broads, which would cut off the wind, but in the background, diversifying the scenery. I hope that there will be no obstacle to setting up more national parks and, with more money becoming available, I hope that the Broads in particular will be considered again.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the extremely good scheme that is evolving in the Broads whereby a commission has been set up by the two local county councils, with the help of the Sports Council and various other bodies, in 1450 order to develop and ensure that the maximum use can be made of this very valuable area?
§ Mr. Parker
I did not know that and I am pleased to hear it. I make one caveat, however. I think that the users should also be represented in the person of someone nominated by the Government. That should be the case with all the national parks because the users as well as the local residents have an interest in the full development of such facilities. I hope that the creation of more national parks will be seriously considered and that the necessary money will be made available. I welcome the Bill and hope that it has a successful passage.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the House will forgive me if I upset the balance for a moment. I will put it right immediately after the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) has spoken, Mr. Johnson.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but in many respects it seems to me that it does not go far enough to meet the real needs of the moment. It will require a great deal of strengthening and improving in Committee. On this I think that there was some substance in the interjection of the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).
There are very many outside bodies and organisations vitally interested in the content of legislation affecting our countryside and they have had little time since the Bill was presented in which to make their views known. All this leads me to think that, during the Committee stage, the Minister will be faced with a large number of Amendments which will be put forward in a helpful and constructive way and I hope that he will be cooperative in accepting at least some of them.
The Bill deals with the problems of the countryside which Lord Strang, based no doubt on his long experience as Chairman of the National Parks Commission, referred to as an "environment of conflict". In considering the Bill, we must understand and appreciate this factor. On the one hand, we have the wide range 1451 of people—the walkers, the motorists, the cyclists, the boatmen, the fishermen and those lazy people like myself who are content to be contemplative viewers of nature. All these, in these days of increased leisure and greater sectional affluence, are making greater and greater demands upon the countryside for rest and recreation, thereby impinging upon those who work and gain their living from the land.
We have to remember, too, that there have been material changes on that side. Modern methods of farming have led to more and more marginal land being cultivated, and the merger of fields has often reduced field margins and the hedgerows which used to be such a prominent feature of our countryside. To those who actually work on the land, the large numbers of visitors can sometimes be a nuisance. We must seek to cope with this problem, and some suggestions are made in the Bill.
Before leaving that point, I should point out that there are some types of land use which are compatible with recreational pursuits. In this connection I am sure that general support will be given to Clause 17, to which the Minister of State did not refer but to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) did refer. That gives increased powers to the Forestry Commission,… to provide facilities for recreation and to buy land for amenity.This immediately raises the question of finance and the basis on which it is to be provided. I believe that there is a general Treasury rule that capital use by the Forestry Commission, like other public bodies, has to show a 10 per cent. return, and this has made a material difference to its recent planning programmes.
Turning to the Countryside Commission, I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion made by the National Parks Commission that this should be referred to as the National Parks and Countryside Commission. It seems to me to maintain continuity and to keep prominent the significance and importance of national parks.
One of the functions of this Commission is to keep under review the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.
1452 That is apparently strengthened by the provision in Clause 9,… every Minister, Government Department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.This is said to be a declaration of intent. I had always understood that this was the intent of the Government and its predecessors. Indeed, the language used seemed to have a familiar ring, so I looked up a statement made as long ago as 14th July, 1952, by Mr. Harold Macmillan, who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, in which he expressly stated,… in those areas which are designated as National Parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position.Then later on he said.… the amenity considerations have the prior authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1931–2.]I would have thought that might have the same effect as the proposal now contained in Clause 9. On this point Lord Strang, based on his own experience, said:Where a Government Department has had plans for erecting large installations of one kind or another in a national park, I can remember no case where it has been diverted from its purpose by anything the Commission might say about the intentions of Parliament as embodied in the National Parks Act.That means that we must look very closely indeed at this particular provision to see that in future the idea behind it has a more binding effect not only upon Government Departments, but also upon public authorities.
The new Countryside Commission is to take over the functions of the National Parks Commission. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply he will deal with the criticisms which were made by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and others that the Government appears to have neglected completely the recommendations which have been made over a number of years and embodied in a number of the reports of the National Parks Commission based on its experience that material changes are necessary not only relating to the financing of the National Parks Commission, but also its powers as a supervisory body.
There is the further point, which has not hitherto been mentioned, that the 1453 Hobhouse Committee recommended that the National Parks Committees should include 50 per cent. of national representatives. The failure to have a proper balance on these authorities has often meant inevitably that national interests have been subjected to narrower local considerations. I do not wish to pursue this point, because of the time factor, but I think that in Committee we should pursue these matters very closely indeed.
We are all grateful to the Minister of State for the information he gave us about the character of country parks, because hitherto there has been little information as to exactly what they are and how they will function. There is one special query which arises. I am not sure whether it was disposed of by the Minister of State, but, as I understand it, the definition of a local authority in the Bill includes National Parks Joint Planning Boards—that is, the Peak District and the Lake District—but excludes all other parks committees. This would appear to mean that except in those two cases the National Parks Planning Authority, or the Countryside Commission now, will have no power to act on the question of the desirability of creating country parks. The Minister used language which seemed to imply that this was not the intention, but if he looks at the wording again he will find that the position is not quite so clear.
§ Mr. MacDermot
Perhaps I might clear that up. In the case of the National Parks Committees, which are not joint authorities, there is no need to give them special powers, because they are in effect sub-committees of the planning authorities which have the powers.
§ Mr. Johnson
That relates back to the point I was making earlier that very often they are overridden by the superior authority and they have not in practice the same power as the Peak authority or the Lake District.
I turn now to the provisions which deal with footpaths, which are a very important aspect of this Measure. The ploughing of footpaths and the pasturing of bulls are perhaps two of the matters which cause most conflict between the visitor and the farmer. It is gratifying to find that the Bill deals with this, but it seems to go rather far when it empowers a highway authority to close as well as 1454 to divert a path temporarily. There may well be a case for diverting a path temporarily while a field is being ploughed or a bull is being kept there, but I hope that the Minister will have second thoughts about giving the power to eliminate a footpath completely.
An opportunity should be taken in the course of this Bill to deal with the problem of the creation of new paths. It is true that powers of creation are given to county councils as well as district councils, but it is difficult to see, in the light of past experience, whether much will emerge as a result of this. Looking at past figures, for instance, in the year 1966 there were 400 closing orders and 800 orders diverting paths, but only seven orders creating new paths. If we are to encourage people to make greater use of country paths some special effort must be made to increase the number of paths.
I have no time to deal with the even more important question of the provision of long distance footpaths. That is a very unhappy story. The high hopes which were held out as a result of the 1949 Act have not materialised. In the case of the Pennine Way, the best known of them, it took about 14 years.
Another point of criticism is the slow motion exercise of the survey on rights of way. This has become something of a farce. The Second Schedule to the Bill makes some procedural changes which, it is hoped, will result in a speeding up of the survey, but there is nothing in the Bill giving the Minister power to direct a county council to expedite the survey. This is a matter to which he should give close attention.
It is obvious that the countryside will become more and more precious as the years go by and the demands upon it increase. That it has not suffered more is due to a great extent to all those organisations and bodies which have done their best to protect our heritage. The Bill extends protection under the aegis of the new Countryside Commission and it behoves us all to see that people as a whole are made aware of their right to enjoy and their duty to protect. It seems to me that under the Bill the countryside will become, in the words of Wordsworth.a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) too far into the question of footpaths, because that is a topic to which a number of us will wish to return at later stages of the Bill and, I hope, debate exhaustively. I would only say that from a scant acquaintance with this question, it seems to me that the footpath situation could well do with being sorted out. In a sense, I regret that what is proposed in the Bill in connection with footpaths may be premature and may be yet another example of a piecemeal approach to a problem which is ripe for more comprehensive treatment.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, South began his remarks by stressing the conservation aspects of the Bill and, as it is to that theme that I should like to address most of what I have to say, I will not follow the hon. Member more in detail. The Minister of State gave a clear exposition of the problem with which the Bill seeks to deal. Incidentally, I had not realised that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not still at the Treasury. I am very glad that he is now where he is and that we shall be seeing something of him in the course of these proceedings. He set out the problems and explained the Bill clearly. To the extent that the Bill makes a move towards a solution of the problem which is sensible and will be acceptable as regards the countryside and those who live there, I accept it.
It has been pointed out, and we must realise, that the Bill will mean extra work and trouble and, if it remains as it stands, in some cases extra expense for those who live in the countryside. These are points to which we shall wish to return at later stages of the Bill but it seems to me that the main lines of the Bill are in the direction of a solution which is a necessity from the viewpoint of the townsman if the quality of his life is to be improved and also, it is fair to say, for the countryman if the country environment as he knows it is to be preserved in the face of the expanding demand from the towns for the use of the countryside for leisure.
The White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside aptly summed up what I see as being the basic problem when it 1456 said that the problem is to enable townspeopleto enjoy this leisure without harm to those who live and work in the country, and without spoiling what they go to the countryside to seek.That approach to the problem strikes exactly the right balance. I listened carefully to the Minister's speech to see whether, in his presentation of the Bill to the House, he would uphold that balance, and I was encouraged by what he said.
It seems to me that this is a Bill with a twofold purpose: the expanding and facilitating of access and, secondly and of parallel importance, the conservation of existing environment. It is a Bill about both. If it is to be acceptable and its solution workable, the balance has to be correctly struck between the needs of both.
If the Minister has not found it already, I think that as these proceedings unfold and the import of the Bill becomes clear to various interests in town and country, he will find as much pressure from townspeople as from country people for conservation. He will find a great weight of pressure not only for access but also—and the weight in this direction will be heavier—for the preservation of the natural environment to which that access is sought.
We had a small example in my constituency during the summer, when we held a yearly festival of the arts and sciences. This year the theme of the scientific side was, appropriately, "nature and man", which is really the subject of the Bill. An extensive exhibition was widely supported both by those who put on displays and by the general public. It was an urban exhibition supported by an urban public on the theme of conservation. It was supported from local universities downwards through naturalist clubs, rambling clubs and all the interests who increasingly resort to the countryside for the purposes mentioned by the Minister of State in his speech. This is a pressure which is strong and which, I hope, will be reflected in the conservation provisions of the Bill as it eventually leaves this House.
My second point is that if the Bill is to work and to achieve its object in the 1457 only possible way—by consent rather than by compulsion—the Minister, and even more the Countryside Commission, will have to command the confidence of those who already run things and make them work in the country, from the county councils downwards. In that connection, the House will be interested in anything that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary has to say about their ideas for representation on the Commission, obviously not in detail, but something about the kind of balance of interests and the kind of representation that the Minister envisages on the Commission when it gets going.
If in what it seeks to do the Commission can command the confidence of existing authorities—I am sure that it will and that it will find them prepared to work with it—it will find itself to a great extent pushing at an open door. It is worth saying at this stage that already enormous numbers of people get all the access they want for serious and responsible purposes to even the remotest parts of the countryside.
I was totting up in my head the other day a list of various bodies which, within a radius of about five miles of where I live in a remote part of Yorkshire, have within the last 12 months been able to go into the country and do whatever they wanted to do. The length and variety of the list is remarkable. It ranges from organised parties of members of caravan clubs, 50 at a time, down through naturalists to watch badgers, beekeepers going on to the moors to put out their hives for the heather honey, bird watchers and fishermen. One could prolong the list endlessly.
None of these people is charged anything. They are welcomed because it is a point of honour with them that they behave sensibly when they get there. They command the confidence of residents in the countryside who are only too pleased that they should go there to pursue their scientific interests. It is these people, who have already staked their claim, who will be anxious that the environment upon which they depend for their interests is preserved for the future.
I was interested in what the Minister said about country parks. It seems to me that possibly the concept of the country park may be valuable in the direction of conversation, in that it may 1458 canalise the activities of a number of people who want to go into the countryside but who do not seek any more distant or adventurous environment than that of the country park—in other words, who want to go in for bird watching of the non-ornithological variety, if one may put it like that. I know this is a thought which has occurred to the Civic Trust and is a subject on which it has done a good deal of work. I hope that the fruits of its work will be embodied in any new project which the Minister brings forward.
There are other points which I should like to raise but which can be more appropriately dealt with in Committee. I say once again that the success of this Bill will depend on consent and cooperation, and I am sure that if the Government maintain in Committee the attitude which they have shown today, they will receive that consent and co-operation.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I am very glad to join my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) in his welcome for this Bill. I welcome it indeed, coming as I do from a constituency which includes a very large proportion of the Lake District National Park. That is perhaps the most famous and—in spite of what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) said—certainly the most beautiful of all our stretches of countryside. Perhaps I should add that I give the Bill a qualified welcome, and I will come to the qualifications in a few minutes.
There has been this fantastic growth, which has been referred to by both Front Benches, of the desire of people to go out and actively enjoy their past-times in the countryside. As this happens mostly in the summer months, I think that the decline in cricket match attendances can be attributed to the increased desires of people to engage in more active pursuits. Countrymen in general, I think, are glad to welcome the increased numbers of people who go to enjoy the countryside, particularly at weekends.
I have some reservations about the Bill. I think I can sum them up by asking the Government to what extent they are assured that in formulating this Bill they have thought enough about the interests of those people who live in the 1459 countryside and particularly those who live in our national parks, who have to live there all the year round and have to put up with the abuses of the very small minority of people who go there. Remarks have been made already about lack of urban education about the countryside, and I should like to stress this.
One matter which concerns me and which I should like to see dealt with is the name "national park". I should like to see in the Bill a provision to abandon that name. I know that that is a rather sweeping statement, but I should like to explain why I think the provisions in the Bill will make the problem even more difficult. Many of my constituents living in the Lake District National Park have come to me with complaints. I remember one case rather vividly. A man said to me, "I woke up one Sunday morning and was lying in bed listening to the birds singing. All of a sudden I became aware of a smell coming through the window, of fried bacon. When I went to investigate I found a family with a tent pitched on my front lawn, and there they were sitting round a primus stove cooking their breakfast. When I asked 'Would you mind not doing that in my garden?' I was told Oh, this is a park. We can do exactly what we like.'"
I commend to the Minister and the Department that they should go to the Lake District and talk to many of the people who have had similar experiences. Certainly that is the most bizarre that I have heard. There is this very strong feeling in the Lake District, and I am sure that it goes for other national parks as well, among people who have had to suffer from those who think that a national park is the same sort of thing as a park to which they are accustomed in a town. This is a shortcoming of us all in not educating townspeople rather better than we do.
This situation is likely to be made worse by the provisions of this Bill for the country parks, which I welcome. I understand from the Government White Paper "Leisure in the Countryside" that some of these new areas would be small while others would extend to hundreds of acres. This is comparatively 1460 small by the standards of the national parks and not excessively large by the standards of town parks. Paragraph 231 of the White Paper says that local authorities administering country parks will usually have to own the land or hold a lease on it. So we shall find that the country and urban parks will be very much the same thing. There will be access all over them, and policing will be made fairly easy. But this is not the case with the national parks where private property exists. People might be tempted, being accustomed to the other type of park, to think that they can do more or less what they want to do in the national parks.
I disagree very strongly with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) who said that he was sorry that the Government had not taken up the recommendation of the National Parks Commission and designated the new organisation the National Parks and Countryside Commission. I welcome what the Government have done and that they intend to call the new organisation the Countryside Commission. It is a much better name, for I feel that "national park" is an unfortunate name. If I should be on the Standing Committee, as I hope I shall be, I shall be interested if somebody can suggest a better name than "national park". I should be very happy to move an Amendment if a better name can be found.
I turn now to the attitudes of the other groups of people who live in the country, particularly the farmers. One should remember something which many people in the towns tend to forget—only a small minority, of course—that the countryside is the farmer's workshop. We should always remember this. As the National Farmers' Union has said in its memorandum, food production remains the paramount use of the rural areas. I was glad to hear the Minister of State this morning underline the prime importance of agriculture in the countryside.
I have noticed some rather dangerous trends lately. For instance, I have noticed the attempt by Somerset County Council, on behalf of the Exmoor National Park authority, to curtail ploughing and fencing on parts of Exmoor. This might be reasonable in certain limited areas, but as a general rule I am opposed to this. One should not contain agriculture in this 1461 way. Although some may disagree, the beauties which we enjoy in the countryside are largely man made. I therefore agree with the N.F.U.'s suggestion on this point. The White Paper "Leisure in the Countryside" also stated in paragraph (3):Equally, the task of the farmers in producing food more efficiently from less land must not be made more difficult by failure to tackle the problem caused by the increasing numbers of visitors to the countryside.I hope that we will remember that and that their task will not be made more difficult. The Government should do everything in their power—perhaps by inserting a proviso in the Bill, similar to that contained in Clause 9—to enhance the importance of the priority of agriculture and food production in the countryside.
The keeping of bulls has presented difficulties to a number of farmers for many years. When I was a member of the Council of the N.F.U., I heard of farmers who wished to keep bulls but whose fields were criss-crossed with footpaths. It may be difficult, under the Bill as drafted, for a highway authority to grant a change in the line of a footpath for a farmer in this position.
Farmers keep bulls for a variety of reasons and where their fields are crisscrossed with paths we should do our best to prevent life from becoming impossible for them. Many farmers will find it difficult to keep bulls and comply with the provisions of Clause 21, which states that owners of land must maintain stiles and gates and be liable for accidents that may befall people. This provision may present a serious problem to some farmers.
I can envisage a situation in which farmers may have to employ men to go round their property every Monday to see that stiles and gates are maintained. A gate might have been damaged maliciously over the weekend, or somebody might have been hurt. This could be an extremely expensive business for some farmers. In some areas there are far too many footpaths and I regret that the Government have missed an opportunity to rationalise the position.
I hope that I will not be accused of being too carping about the Bill. I wel- 1462 come it and hope that it will get a fair wind.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
As an unregenerate town dweller who, like the majority of unregenerate town dwellers, has long harboured romantic dreams of becoming a farmer, I express my appreciation not only for the introduction of the Bill but for the obviously sincere welcome it is being given by that one group of people who have always expressed the greatest suspicion about people like myself. I refer to the farmers. This augurs well for the future of the Bill and, as one whose access to the countryside is restricted more by time than by lack of adequate roads, this offers me and many thousands like me new opportunities and vistas.
I wish to direct my attention to the part of the Bill which deals with camping sites and camping generally. As hon. Members may have recognised, there has come into being in Parliament in the last couple of years an all-party camping and caravan group. I would not say that it is the biggest or noisiest group in the House. However, I do claim, first, that it reflects the growth of these activities outside the House and, secondly, that the fact that hon. Members of all parties and in both Houses can display this interest in the future of this important outdoor activity helps that activity in both a physical and moral way by making it rather more respectable than it used to be in the days immediately before and after the war.
We have moved from the time when camping consisted of rolling oneself in two blankets, lying down on the hard green sward and hoping that sleep would come, and not a herd of cows. Nowadays we camp in near luxury and those of us who go abroad—and we do so in increasingly large numbers—on motor camping holidays have seen some of the effects about which we are talking—the effects of the growth of travel into hitherto remote spots.
I wish to relate two experiences of mine abroad. Two splendid camp sites had taken my eye. One was in Austria, a delightful spot with tents scattered through a large part of delightful 1463 country at the edge of a mountain river. Although we had not intended to stay there for more than one or two nights, we ended up by spending our holiday there. We revisited the spot two years later. The place was so cluttered and the ground so churned up by the wheels of motorcars that we spent only one night there.
A similar experience befell us at an equally beautiful and attractive spot in Northern Yugoslavia, near Lake Bled. The first time we went there we were taken with the whole beautiful vista. It was a pleasant camp and although there were lots of tents already there, it was extremely pleasant and beautiful. When we revisited the spot some time later the amenities were overcrowded and the whole appearance of the place was spoilt.
This has a great deal of meaning for this part of the Bill. We must recognise that one of the values—I do not want to exaggerate it—of the Bill is that, by giving better opportunities for people to enjoy this growing outdoor occupation, we will be doing something to encourage people to remain in Britain for their holidays.
At the same time, we will be catering for those numbers of continental campers —as well as campers from the United States and Canada—who come to this country hopeful of enjoying camping facilities. Let us not forget that Britain was the pioneer of camping as an outdoor recreation. We must not allow these campers to find themselves deprived of adequate facilities and so unable to enjoy their holidays.
Nowhere is this more true than in the London area, where the grave lack of a metropolitan camping site has, as everybody in the business knows, been one of the greatest obstacles to the development of tourism in the London area. I hope that this will be remedied, but I fear that the applicability of the Bill will not solve all the problems concerned with the provision of a London camping site.
Certainly camping is on the increase. For example, in Greece the number of camp sites has gone up by 20 per cent. in the last couple of years. In Italy it went up by 17 per cent. in 1966. We have no knowledge of what camping 1464 means for Britain. I had a Question down for Written Answer yesterday, but the information which I sought was not available. People do not know the extent to which camping is contributing to our invisible earnings, not to mention the contribution of our camping trades to exports. Nevertheless, it is suprising to note that the United Kingdom disposes of the largest number of camp sites of any country reporting to O.E.C.D. on tourism and maintains the second largest number of camping places. We have about 3,000 camp sites in Britain and about 280,000 camping places.
At the moment there are estimated to be about 2 million campers. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) referred to misbehaviour by one of them. I can only say that the 100,000 campers who form the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland impose on themselves a very high standard of behaviour. As a member of the Club, I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) for his kind reference to the high standard of behaviour which campers generally seek to impose on themselves. This is a matter of great importance which has been referred to several times in the debate. We should not overlook the contributions made by such organisations as the Club.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those local authorities which have not waited for the Bill to see the future that lies in better provision for camping sites. I do not want to be too selective, but I shall give Folkestone as an example because I know it reasonably well. The provision of the camping site on its cliffs has been a great success, partly because it has shown that the local authority, although hotel interests are well represented on it, has the farsightedness to see how camping can supplement its tourist earnings and provide pleasant amenities for people seeking that type of holiday.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) mentioned the work of the Forestry Commission in providing picnic sites, but he forgot to mention its excellent contribution in providing camping sites up and down the country. I hope that the Bill will encourage not only the Forestry Commission and local 1465 authorities but other interested organisations and possibly private individuals to provide more of this much-needed facility.
Unfortunately, most of our camping sites are privately-owned at present. I say "unfortunately" not in a doctrinaire Socialist spirit but because the capitalisation required for the provision of adequate amenities on camp sites is so high that it is unlikely that any private developer would achieve a return on his money that could not be exceeded by some other form of investment. Therefore, we increasingly face the need for local authorities to undertake such site provision. There is the additional advantage that if local authorities do so there is a greater likelihood that the facilities they supply will be of a high order, with such things as hot and cold showers and adequate sanitation, which are axiomatic, and that there will be provision of sheltered recreation halls, cooking facilities and, particularly, a camp shop. Those are the kind of things which are virtually a sine qua non on the Continent and which, broadly, we do not achieve in our camping sites.
However, the facilities are only one side of the problem of camping. Amenities are the other. My own experience leads me to have the greatest sympathy with country dwellers who fear the establishment of a camping site. This fear is not restricted to country dwellers; people living around Battersea Park swamp me with letters when I dare to suggest that it would be a suitable place for establishing a camping site in London. But country dwellers have a genuine and justified fear that the amenities of their district would face destruction if camping became too popular there.
I have said that campers behave very well on the whole, but we must be straightforward about this. Only 100,000 of the 2 million campers subscribe to the Camping Club. I wish that more did so. A degree of negligence and carelessness is to be foreseen among the large numbers who are increasingly turning to that kind of holiday, and therefore we require some means of preserving amenity.
When we talk about the provision of camping sites the House should not think of such provision as being of itself destructive of amenity. Those of us who have been to camping sites—and I hope 1466 that more hon. Members will seek the opportunity to inspect some—know that well-ordered, well-designed sites in suitable surroundings can enhance the appearance of an area and are certainly not axiomatically destructive of it.
We have the growing practice of canal camping which has been referred to today, and it will become increasingly popular. The camper who goes in a camping punt must have some facility on the banks of the canal or river where he can moor for the night and put up a tent.
There is a certain superficiality about the way the Bill talks of transit camps and holiday camps, as though they were two entirely different kinds of facilities. In fact, there is a whole range of provisions between picnicking, which is a very short-term camping—what might be called micro-camping—and the kind of holidays people can spend in well-ordered and well-established camp sites.
Many people who adopt camping as a form of tourism, in the sense that they go from one place to another, seek as much, and perhaps more, for camp sites in or very close to towns rather than in the depths of the country. I hope that the Bill will prove to be equally applicable to the establishment of municipal camp sites within municipalities, and above all that the Ministry will not be content with the passage of the Bill. It is clear that permissive legislation in this context needs a little more to make it a reality. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend the Minister should take powers to intervene, but I hope that a very encouraging circular will be addressed to local authorities to encourage all of them—not only the recognised tourist resorts, but also some of our great conurbations which lie close to tourist centres—to take advantage of the powers the Bill will bestow on them and set up badly needed camp sites in their area.
Finally, I want to make a special plea about camping. First, it is the quintessential of outdoor family activity. I can think of no other outdoor recreation which comprehends the whole family, and for that reason it has a particular appeal to us all in Britain. Second, it makes people more aware of the value of the countryside, and more conscientious in their treatment of it. Third, camping 1467 is an addition to, not a subtraction from, countryside amenities. If the Bill has a tiny factor which might be overlooked it is that it is educational. It is an encouragement to people not only to make more use of the countryside but to be more responsible in their use of it.
I look forward to a speedy passage of the Bill through both Houses, and above all to a very early implementation of the opportunities it offers.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
In contrast to the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), I am an unregenerate countryman and therefore he will not be surprised that I cannot share his view that the quintessential of family life in the countryside is camping.
I find myself in a dilemma over this Bill. On the one hand, I fully support its general purposes. There is a great deal to be said for a Bill of this kind, for there is enormous scope for making the amenities of the countryside more available to the population at large and preserving and developing those amenities. On the other hand, a basic objection to the Bill from my point of view is the fact that Wales has not been given a separate Countryside Commission.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans)—though I do not share all his political views by a long way, and some of his sentiments sometimes have sent a cold shiver down my spine—was right when he said that the Bill illustrated in this respect the Government's ham-fisted approach to Welsh matters. Indeed, the Government will pay for it, as they are undoubtedly paying for it already in Scotland. The ham-fisted approach that we see here is unnecessary. If one took a cross-section of opinion in Wales, from the extreme Conservative to the extreme Nationalist, one would find that the vast majority would want a separate commission for Wales on a matter of this kind. Why the Government have not learned their lesson in this regard, I do not know. Perhaps the Minister of State, who in another sphere has great persuasive powers, may persuade his colleagues to be a little more sensitive and sensible with regard to this matter.
1468 Scotland has a Countryside Act of its own passed last Session. People in Wales cannot understand why Scotland has a separate Commission and Wales is denied one when the total area of land in Wales in national parks is much greater proportionally than that in Scotland and also in England. Why is this disparity preserved? It is a constant source of irritation. Many people in Wales would be completely opposed to my proposal for a domestic parliament for Wales or the hon. Member for Carmarthen's proposals for an independent Wales or even to proposals for an elected council for Wales, but they would be completely in support of a proposal for a Countryside Commission for Wales. I trust that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) will refer to this point in his speech at the end of the debate because I believe that he will present another point of view which is different from my own on this matter.
The Government do not seem to understand that the cultural and social life of the Welsh nation is closely tied to life in the countryside. In the towns and cities great efforts are being made to preserve the Welsh language in connection with Welsh schools, and there is Government backing, though not enough, for Welsh cultural institutions. But basically the preservation of the Welsh way of life depends on the development of the countryside. It is in the small villages and country towns and in the farms and farm cottages that the Welsh life has been preserved.
When it is realised that more than 25 per cent. of the Welsh land surface is in national parks and that such a great deal depends upon the way the areas are developed, the Government ought to be able to understand the pressing need for a separate Commission for Wales. It is not that we wish to exclude from Wales people from over the Border. Naturally, apart from aything else tourism is a very important facet in the Welsh economy. But it is felt that Welsh members of the Commission may be completely outvoted by people who may have a considerable degree of good will but not the intimate knowledge of matters that are deemed to be important to Wales and might not be able to appreciate their importance to Wales. One can understand the resentment in Wales 1469 at being continually lumped with England for this and many other purposes.
We had an hon. Member representing an Essex constituency referring to what we should do with Snowdonia. We are always having advice about what we should do with Wales. I never try to tell people in Essex how they should run Essex.
§ Mr. Hooson
I take great care to avoid Essex matters. We are continually getting well-intentioned directions as to how Wales should be run and controlled when the people on the spot are quite able to decide this for themselves.
One thinks of the people who ought perhaps to be represented on a Welsh Commission. I think of the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales, the Welsh League of Youth, the National Farmers' Union in Wales, the Farmers' Union of Wales and so on. One would have thought that all such bodies could have been represented on a Countryside Commission for Wales as well as representatives of the town and city areas.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to state why Wales is not given a separate countryside commission. The functions of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in Wales are exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales just as his functions in Scotland are exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland. There will be considerable resentment because Wales is not to have a separate Commission. By their action the Government are creating yet another abrasive factor in the deteriorating relationship between the central Government and Wales.
Turning to other aspects of the Bill, there is very great scope for developing the countryside. It is partly a question of educating city dwellers to enjoy the amenities of the countryside, but certain city dwellers are able to educate country dwellers on how to enjoy the countryside more. I was taken by the idea of having a countryside code. There is no doubt that there ought to be far greater education on matters of enjoyment of the countryside. A few weeks ago I was taken to see a beautiful row of trees in my constituency which had been very 1470 badly hacked by people who had come into the area with knives. The bark had been greatly damaged. It takes over 100 years normally to grow a decent hardwood tree, and yet such trees can be very greatly damaged in a few minutes. Often one finds that damage in the countryside is caused by a minority. Sometimes it is caused through ignorance. It may also be caused by a certain minority who become bored when taken to the countryside, and simply as a reaction to their boredom they indulge in some of these destructive tendencies. I certainly hope that there may be a countryside code on the lines perhaps of the Highway Code, and that children in schools may be persuaded to read it and absorb it.
I would also refer to the prevalent habit of bringing transistor radios into remote and beautiful country areas. One goes to certain forest areas and is greeted by music coming from transistor radios, sometimes several of them on different programmes, and one becomes infuriated. I hope that model byelaws will be published to ban transistor radios and other types of radio from many of these areas and certainly from some of the nicer picnic spots.
I hope that great encouragement will be given to provide for long-run country paths and pony treks. I envisage that in the long term there may be pony treks through all the forest areas of Wales so that one can start in the North and trek right through the country. There is great scope here. Pony trekking has increased enormously in the Principality in the last few years, and many small towns and villages have developed their own pony trekking associations. With people becoming more skilful at pony riding, the logical development is long run pony treks throughout Wales, and in this matter the Forestry Commission could help a great deal.
I want also to refer to a matter which has been raised already, and that is the presence of bulls in fields through which public pathways run. In his opening statement, the Minister of State referred to the ancient ploy of putting a bull in a field to keep out the general public. That is not normally possible on more sophisticated farms with enclosed fields, because the putting of an artificial insemination test tube in a field may not have 1471 the same effect! However, this problem is of great importance in areas such as mine, where single suckling herds are grazing extensive hill areas and where it is essential that a bull should run with a herd. This form of agriculture is impossible unless a bull runs with the herd. It is a special problem. I appreciate that the exceptionally wicked farmer must not be allowed to put a bull in a field simply to prevent public access to it. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture understands the problem, which is different in different areas. In my kind of area, Montgomeryshire, where there may well be considerable access to countryside walks, special provisions must be made to ensure that farmers are not penalised and that the extensive grazing form of agriculture, which is greatly encouraged by the Ministry, should not be handicapped.
I agree entirely with the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) about compulsory purchase powers. It will be necessary to look more closely at them in Committee to see if greater safeguards cannot be built in. When compulsory purchase powers are provided, there is immediately the clash of public and private interests, and it is necessary to ensure that there is no possibility of any injustice being done under the cloak of a Measure of this kind when safeguards can be built in easily.
The Government have missed another opportunity here. They would have had the fullest co-operation from Wales if they had decided to set up a separate commission for Wales. This action is another example of their hamfisted approach, and I hope that the Minister of State will confer with his colleagues in the Ministry and with the Secretary of State for Wales to see if it is not possible to introduce, as it certainly is, a separate commission for Wales. It will win for the Government far greater good will than if they persist in putting through the Bill in its present shape. I regret that the reasoned Amendment was not called. Not only was I a signatory of it, but certainly I would have sought to divide the House on it.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (High Peak)
I hope that the hon. and learned 1472 Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) will not mind if I do not follow him in his line of argument. Coming from an Englishman, he would probably regard it as an impertinence.
I welcome the Bill and consider it to be a valuable contribution to the protection and enjoyment of our countryside. I am particularly pleased that it is a Measure which, like the 1949 Act setting up our national parks, was brought in by a Labour Government. I am aware that many hon. Members opposite are as sensitive and conscious of their importance as we on this side, though, looking at the empty benches behind me, I should have difficulty in sustaining that. Nevertheless, I am aware that, during their 13 years in office, they took no opportunity to provide a similar planning framework for Scotland as set up for England under the 1949 Act. It is much to the credit of the Government that, in their first Session after the General Election, they brought in an excellent Bill setting up a Countryside Commission for Scotland.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I crossed to the other side of the House, would it improve my chances of catching your eye today?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
There is something hypothetical about that question, but I would not like to give any categorical answer.
§ Mr. Jackson
The Bill has to be seen against certain basic facts which have already been touched upon but which cannot be emphasised enough.
The first one is that, by the year 2000, it is estimated that the population of this country will be about 70 million, which represents an increase of about 18 million. I look forward to living to this age, but it presents a frightening problem.
The second fact which has already been touched upon springs from what might be called the "democratisation" of the motor car. It is estimated that, by the year 1985, we can expect 20,500,000 private cars on our roads, compared with a mere five million today. As a result, Clause 25 of the Bill, which deals with traffic, is one of the most important parts of it.
1473 It is a truism that the motorcar increases mobility, but it is a proposition which allows of certain important qualifications. In this connection, I want to refer to two pieces of research which have been conducted into leisure in the countryside, with special reference to the effects of motorcars.
The first is a survey undertaken recently on the usage of Berkhamsted Common. It revealed that something like 80 per cent. of those who visit the area were engaged in activities connected with the motorcar, including picnicking short distances from cars or sitting in cars.
The second piece of research which is of significance was undertaken by G. P. Wibberley and T. L. Burton, revealing that something like 45 per cent. of those who owned motor cars travelled a radius of no more than 25 miles from their homes. Both studies were of weekend usage.
It is a situation which presents real problems for constituencies such as mine which are adjacent to large conurbations. I represent the High Peak of Derbyshire. To the east, I have the Sheffield and the South Yorkshire conurbations. To the west, I have the conurbations of Manchester, Stockport and Salford. To the south, I have the conurbations round Derby and Nottingham. I know from studies undertaken by the Peak District Planning Board that the Peak Park has one of the highest uses of any of our national parks. Traffic presents an obvious problem to us, and it is the subject of cars in national parks which I wish to consider today.
I must endorse what has been said from the Government Front Bench that to allow an unlimited invasion of motor cars is completely destructive of the whole concept of national parks. Unlike national parks in other countries, we do not have wilderness areas. They have areas with no roads, but, generally speaking, our parks are inhabited and have existing road systems which are used both by visitors and by local residents. Clearly it would not be feasible to place a complete ban on all traffic within these areas.
Having said that, it is proper to go on to say that motor traffic should not be encouraged within our parks, and it is not unreasonable to expect that motorists should accept some restriction on the use of cars. No one would think 1474 it proper for people to play bingo in the British Museum. Those of us who wish to enjoy the countryside quietly would not expect to walk on a motorway. It is not unreasonable that motorists should expect some restriction.
The problem of traffic in our national parks has already been dealt with, written about and commented on at considerable length following the Report of the Lake District National Park Authority. I want briefly to quote from a Guardian report of last year. It said:Motorways are bringing so much traffic to the Lake District National Park that tourists may have to leave their cars and continue in an official minibus.It went on to speculate that by 1980 there might have to be a complete restriction on vehicular traffic within the park and that only essential local traffic would be allowed to use these roads.
I have already said that I feel that road development is destructive of the character of a national park. I am afraid that in the Peak District there are examples of this. The roads have been straightened and widened, and one can only regard it as a piece of townscape slapped down in the middle of the countryside. It is completely out of character to allow this kind of road development. People do not go into the country for this; they expect delightful country lanes, and in various parts of the Peak District National Park they are not finding them. If the local authorities of Sheffield and Manchester get their way there will be even fewer of these lanes.
When the Minister writes his circular to local authorities following the passage of the Bill I suggest that he should emphasise that only limited road improvements should take place within the country. We have seen other examples of road improvements and it is right that I should mention them. In the Lake District, Buttermere and Eskdale, at one time remote dales, have been completely spoilt by the provision of through routes. The pressure for these road improvements should be resisted.
The other pressure which should be resisted is that which was brought to bear by one of the local district councils in North Yorkshire to surface a rather delightful road called Mastiles Lane. There was an immediate outcry on the part of amenity bodies and local people, 1475 and I am glad to say that the county council resisted this pressure. That was another example of a district council acting in a completely irresponsible manner. This evidence supports my contention that we should not depute planning control to district councils. There are other examples of their behaving in this irresponsible way.
The motor car is more disastrous when it goes off the road, and many are now doing so. Motorists, like walkers and cyclists, seek solitude, and many people drive off the roads in their motor cars. This point was put very well by Lady Sayer at a recent conference on the national parks. She said:Motor vehicles scattered widely over open landscape dominate and denature the whole scene. With their shiny surfaces and glittering windscreens they impose all the associations of urban life on scenes which should be free, natural and wild. Even the solitary car or motor cycle perched high on a ridge or tor, or parked in a remote valley can destroy the whole essence and inspiration of wild landscape. And they often leave disfiguring track marks and deposits of litter, some of it dangerous to children and cattle and all of it unnecessary and disgusting.The Minister may tell me that this illegal parking of motor cars was covered by the Road Traffic Act, 1960 or that under Section 93 of the 1949 Act, local planning authorities were given power to regulate traffic in national parks. I suggest that very little use has been made of these powers, and that they should be transferred from local authorities to county authorities.
My second point concerns the use of national parks by motor and cycle rallies. This is another matter which is statutorily controlled, but I feel that the powers vested in local authorities are not used adequately. When the Minister writes his circular I hope that he will indicate to planning authorities that they should be very parsimonious in the permissions they give to motor and motor cycle clubs, and make it quite clear that under no circumstances should bridle paths and green lanes be used for rallies. This has happened in the Peak District, and it may have happened elsewhere. I would like to amend the Road Traffic Act, 1956, so that there is an express exclusion of bridle paths or green lanes for motor rallies.
1476 I want to take this opportunity to criticise mildly the permissions given by the Forestry Commission for the use of Forestry Commission roads. The Commission is not tough enough. Far too many motor rallies go through its forests, and I do not believe that adequate compensation is paid to the Commission for damage done by cars.
I want to put forward a dozen guide lines on the question of traffic in the national parks. Some are obvious, but some are detailed, and they may have escaped the Minister's attention. First, our national parks should be serviced with good approach roads and good perimeter roads to allow for through traffic. Secondly, in the summer, local planning authorities should have power, to divert certain heavy vehicles which cut down the traffic flow and act as an irritant.
Thirdly—and this suggestion is subject to qualifications, but it is a guide line—wherever possible no additional road improvements should be allowed. Where such road improvements take place the planning authority should insist on high quality landscaping. Hedgerows should be replanted, and we should not allow the erection of ugly fences. If walls are reconstructed they should be built of local materials. The wretched and squalid prefabricated building blocks which have been used in some parts of the Peak District should not be allowed.
Fifthly, there should be no making up of green lanes. Sixthly, power should be given to restrict the use of coaches on narrow country roads. I gather that on the Continent there are restrictions on the width of vehicles, but in this country the restriction is only on the height of the vehicle. I should like to take hon. Members to a delightful loop road in my constituency, between Hope and Edale, on which there is a narrow section served by a bridge. It is on an "S" bend, and on many Sundays I have seen coaches having to go through ten movements to get past this bridge. I have taken up the question as have other people, with the Peak Park Planning Board, but it tells me that it is powerless. I should very much like the board and the traffic authority to have powers in these matters.
My ninth point concerns the enforcement of existing traffic Acts. From conversations which I have had with the national parks authorities, I know that 1477 very few prosecutions have been brought. I should like to see existing legislation used to much more effect. Obviously, we cannot have policemen patrolling the countryside, but we can have wardens, as we do in the Peak District, patrolling the countryside. I should like to see them given additional powers in controlling traffic.
My tenth guideline—and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) is not present; he would probably take issue with me on this point—concerns the restrictions which I feel should be placed on the siting and parking of caravans within the national parks. I may be regarded as an extremist when I say that I regard cars as a disfigurement of the countryside. However, I regard caravans as an abomination. I hope that the Minister will resist the pressures which will undoubtedly be brought to bear by the caravan lobby and will arm planning authorities with power to restrict the indiscriminate siting of caravans. If we are to have caravans in our national parks—and I very much regret that we must have them—they should be hidden and screened by trees. They should not be allowed to be parked indiscriminately in the countryside.
The eleventh guideline concerns traffic management. I am told by the Chairman of the Peak Park Planning Board that the Board is powerless in certain respects. It is not the traffic authority and it cannot impose the high planning standards which it would otherwise impose on the areas between the edge of the road and the boundary wall. For example, it has no control over advertising. I was appalled to find only last summer that 50 double crown advertisements were sited on the approaches to Chatsworth, and the Peak Planning Board could do nothing about it because the advertisements were not within the park but were sited on the kerb. I should like the Planning Board to be given powers to control advertisements on the kerb.
I should now like briefly to turn to the question of trees. The 75 per cent. grant has been mentioned. I hope very much that the Minister will not resist amendments which will be tabled to allow the grant to be paid for the maintenance and manage rent of woodlands.
1478 During the Committee stage of the Civic Amenities Bill, I raised the question of tree work. A lot of trees can be and are being butchered, and this is quite unnecessary. I attempted to write into the Bill a provision that all trees protected by tree preservation orders should have tree work carried out on them in conformity with the new British Standard of 1966, 3998. This was resisted by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, but he assured me that the matter would be brought to the attention of local authorities, "not in a passive but in an active way".
Therefore, I turned with considerable interest to the Circular which the Minister sent out following the passage of that Bill. I can only say that I am disgusted by the terms in which it is written. It states:Tree maintenance is an important part of tree preservation although not subject to or suitable for statutory control in detail.This suggests to local authorities that this is something which they should not take as seriously as they might. It does not represent the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that he would bring this new standard to the attention of local authorities not only passively but actively. I hope that when the next Circular is sent out it will contain something which is more in keeping with the promise made by the Under-Secretary of State.
I conclude by saying how very much I welcome—I am sure that there will be dissent here—that the sentiments in paragraph 47 of the White Paper on the rationalisation of footpaths do not appear in the legislation. I know that there is a Committee considering this matter, and it may well be that during subsequent stages of the Bill various Amendments will be introduced. I support what other hon. Members have said in asking the Minister for some commitment as to when he expects the Committee to report. Will it report in time for the Report stage of the Bill, or are we to take it that the Minister's intentions are contained solely in the Bill and that changes which are deemed necessary will be introduced in subsequent legislation?
I apologise for confining myself to one or, perhaps, two topics. I very much welcome the Bill. Its implementation 1479 will obviously depend on the sums available. Power to the elbow of the Minister in his negotiations with the Treasury.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
I am happy to follow the final sentences of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) by dealing straight away with public rights of way. I know that more than a dozen of my hon. Friends are anxious to catch your eye, Sir Eric, and I will, therefore, deal with them very briefly.
The National Farmers' Union recently made a survey of the farmers who have rights of way on their farms and came to the conclusion that more than half the farmers have one or more rights of way going over their land. I should say at once that I am one of the farmers who have not only one but several rights of way. I had a look at a farm, which is perhaps typical of my constituency, which has 40 fields, 18 of which have rights of way in them and five of which have up to three rights of way. Of those, only eight are regularly used by anybody and four are regularly used by people in places where there are no rights of way.
My first question to the Minister of State, who is no longer with us, is: what is happening about the Footpaths Advisory Committee? He said that the Bill is drafted on its interim recommendations. I do not know whether those recommendations are available only at the Ministry, but I have not seen them. It will be essential to see them before we get far in Committee.
Paragraph 47 of the White Paper on the countryside stated:… a more radical reform may well be needed, to provide a legislative framework which would permit the development of a system of footpaths and bridle ways … which would be more suited to modern needs".The farm which I looked at has a large number of rights of way which are not used, and it has other areas which are used but which are not rights of way. I should have thought that the time had come when it would do no harm to consider the problem afresh.
Clause 20 of the Bill provides that at every point there should be erected and maintained a signpost—that is, at 1480 every point where the right of way comes out on to the road. It is clear to me from that, and, indeed, from what the Minister of State said, that what he has in mind is a national park. It is not necessary in a village to have a sign at every point where a right of way comes out on to the road. If there is a sign, the only result will be that the people using the rights of way will be what the Minister of State called the "affluent motorised society". I shall return to that presently in dealing with the responsibility for maintenance.
If there are to be such signs, the result must be that on a great many farms there will be some of the people who are not quite as disciplined as those referred to by, for example, the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), who come from the towns and who will create some of the difficulties about which farmers sometimes complain. I know a number of farmers who go out of their way to try to get people from the towns to come to the country, show them their problems, and hope that they will understand and support the work which they do.
There are other farmers, however, who are always finding rubbish of all sorts distributed over their farms. Glass seems to be something which almost grows in fields where rights of way exist. It not only injures animals—and I have seen many badly injured animals as a result of glass which has been found in fields —but it also has dramatic results on agricultural tractor tyres, and on trailers and most implements, which are an expensive item. Many farmers find that at weekends they and their men have a happy time rounding up their cattle which have been let out by gates left open by those using rights of way.
Fires are sometimes started. I had a field of about 10 acres of barley burnt not so long ago adjacent to a right of way. It could not have been started from any other cause. This year, some obvious efforts had been made to ignite straw bales which had been put together in a stack in a field of mine, but because of the rather damp summer the bales were so wet that they did not make much of a fire.
I found a number of young gentlemen who had put themselves in a field and were playing football. I asked whether 1481 they knew where they were, and they replied, "Oh, yes. There is a right of way at the other end of the field, so we are entitled to come up here." I asked whether they knew what they were playing football on and they thought that it was grass. I explained that it was a field of spring barley which had only just come through and which was not designed for a number of young gentlemen to kick footballs. On one occasion, members of a youth club appeared in what I would call extended formation. About 40 of them proceeded over three fields, none of which had a right of way. They had seen a notice at one end of the farm, and they thought that they were entitled to go wherever they liked. Therefore, when the Bill states that signs shall be put at every point, that may be necessary in a national park but I very much doubt whether it is necessary or desirable in a country village.
Clause 21 states clearly thatAny stile, gate or any other structure across a footpath or bridleway shall be maintained by the owner of the land".Either that is wrong or the Explanatory Memorandum is wrong in stating that the Bill puts forward only "minor amendments".
I would like to refer the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the position as I see in law. Section 47(1) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, provides thatSubject to the following provisions of this Part of this Act, the rule of law whereby a highway is repairable by the inhabitants at large shall apply to all public paths".That was set out in an Act passed by the Government's predecessors in 1949. It is suggested that only a slight amendment to that is being made, whereas it seems to me completely to repeal the original arrangements and to place a much heavier liability on the landowner.
If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to look at the eleventh volume of Halsbury's Laws of England, he will see at page 179 concerning rights of ways thatA customary right of way, not being a public right of way, is prima facie repairable by the class or body of persons in whose favour the right exists.'That, again, is entirely inconsistent with the provisions of Clause 20 of the Bill.
1482 In volume 12 of Halsbury's Laws of England, one reads at page 579 thatAs a general rule the owner of the servient tenement is under no liability to repair the way over which a right of way has been granted … nor is it even a legal obligation incumbent on the grantee. The person entitled to the uses of the way must do such repairs as he requires".There is a little book, the only one I know which deals with rights of way, which is written by William Marshall Freeman and A. W. Nicholls. Page 19 of the third edition states thatDuring recent years, a general practice has been established by which parish councils are the proper authority to repair gates and stiles. The practice has arisen out of a decision given in 1898 ".It sets out the basis of that decision, with which I need not trouble the House. Following that, three more cases are set out of people having been injured by going over stiles which were not properly repaired, and it was held that although the landowner had repaired the stile he was not liable for the damage which had been caused.
When, therefore, the Bill states categorically in Clause 21 thatAny stile … shall be maintained by the owner of the land",that seems to me to be quite inconsistent with the Explanatory Memorandum, which states that only minor changes are being introduced. For once I hope that the Explanatory Memorandum will be correct and that Clause 21 will be duly amended to comply with it.
Next, a word about ploughing. Clause 22 imposes a duty to make good within six weeks of the date of giving the notice. There are occasions, certainly in Sussex in weald clay, when, if one has the good fortune to get back, it may be nearer six months than six weeks after the land was ploughed up. Nobody would want to leave it as long as six weeks, if at all possible, but there are occasions when it simply cannot be done earlier.
In passing, I might refer to subsection (6), which states that where the footpath or bridleway follows the headland, there is no need to make good. I have some experience of footpaths which follow headlands, and I have tried to leave the headland so the people using the footpath can walk on the headland. What happens is that grass grows on the headland and unless it is used fairly regularly, people find it much more agreeable to 1483 walk on the field which has been cultivated and over the corn which is growing alongside.
Clause 23 deals with the pasturing of bulls. We have already heard what happens in some parts of North Wales. It certainly happens in other parts of the country as well. If one has a single suckle herd and the bull has to be with them, and if one has a farm such as that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) where rights of way are found in nearly every field, almost insuperable problems will be created unless Clause 23 is amended. It states that a path may be stopped up for a period not exceeding three months. I suggest to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that that could be altered to a period not exceeding three months in any year.
It goes on to say that having stopped it up for three months one can stop it up for a further three months after three months more have elapsed. The practical result of grazing cattle is that the grass will probably last only for two weeks or so—possibly three weeks —and then the cattle will have to go away while the grass grows again, and one could then put the cattle into the field for two or three weeks while the second crop of grass is available. But under this Clause one would not be able to have them back there again for another three months. I would have thought that some way could perhaps be devised whereby a total of three months in one year would be the limit that the right of way should be stopped for various purposes during the grazing season when it is necessary to have the cattle there.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I welcome the Countryside Bill designed to secure, enhance and restore the beauty of our countryside and to provide facilities for its enjoyment. The pressures of population, which have already been referred to, are predicted substantially to increase in the years ahead and particular reference has been made to the extended use of motor cars. The grimness of many of the old industrial areas and the despoilation of vast tracts of countryside necessary to provide materials for our construction and other industries is an additional substantial factor.
1484 I very much welcome the descriptive Title of this Bill, Countryside Bill. I think it is a very happy choice of phrase. I recognise the tremendous achievements of the national parks organisation, but I think it would be unfortunate to lose the very happy Title which we now have, and which, to my mind, conjures up the delight which lies in wait for those who explore the unrivalled scene and circumstance throughout England and Wales. Our colleagues from the Principality are no longer here. I hope they will forgive me when I say that the Title of this Bill conjures up for me Percy Grainger's delightful musical piece, "An English Country Garden".
Properly, the Bill is concerned with conservation. Clause 9, not quite the shortest in length, but the focal point of the whole Measure, places a clear obligation on every Minister, Government Department and public body tohave regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.I hope that it is intended that the application of the Bill will not be limited to conservation but extended to include restoration as well. I know that, in the terms of the Bill, there are some doubts in this respect, but I very much wish to emphasise the importance of the prevention of further decay of amenity and our physical environment. I am encouraged by Clause 26 (1,e) dealing with grants to local authorities in the exercise of their powers under Section 28 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, "Discontinuance of or modification of uses of land and alteration or removal of buildings". I hope this has got a wider emphasis than just the removal of obsolete buildings and the removal of outdated constructions to permit emphasis on restoration, and I hope I am right in assuming that the grants referred to in the Bill are in addition to those provided under Section 9 of the Local Government Act which we passed last year, arising in respect of expenditure incurred by authorities in or in connection with acquisition at any time of land being derelict, neglected or unsightly, requiring reclamation or improvement.
A good deal of derelict land lies near to large centres of population. There are a number of estimates of the acreage of derelict land in England and Wales. In 1954 there was the Ministry of Housing 1485 and Local Government Survey which indicated that there were 127,000 acres. In 1960 the British Association gave a figure of 250,000 acres composed of a half truly derelict, the remainder being dug up or tipped upon. The survey by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1963 indicated a figure of 99,000 acres composed of soil heaps, abandoned buildings, holes in the ground and miscellaneous dereliction—a wide description of what happened in many parts of the country, and it further defined land as so damaged by industrial use as to be incapable of further use without treatment. Of this figure, 59,000 acres were regarded as unlikely to be dealt with in the foreseeable future. That is the so-called hard core element justifying treatment.
I hope that within the terms of this Bill the restoration of such land for country parks will not be excluded. Mention has been made by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) of the problems with which he is familiar. Ought not we to be thinking in terms of carrying country parks into urban areas and in this way restoring and returning the countryside to the people? I have in mind dereliction arising from colliery tips, areas of subsidence, stone quarries, sand and gravel works, clay pits, and I think there are many examples of disused railway routes which could be incorporated and absorbed into the countryside. The success of the rehabilitation of ironstone workings, with which I am familiar in Northamptonshire, is an example of what can be done if restoration is on a sound basis. There are improvements in planning legislation by way of requirements for restoration funds which would be invaluable to this subject and the growing necessity for a positive policy—and, I think, justifiable on a national basis—for preservation and restoration.
There is a wide variety of problems both in physical terms and in the variety of fauna and flora involved which emphasises the magnitude of the task and its implications. I welcome the new functions of the Commission referred to in Clause 2, particularly in subsection (5), to which the Minister of State referred particularly in his speech this morning, and where reference is made to the special problems requiring certain professional or technical skill, while paragraph (b) requires the Commission to place the 1486 services of officers or consultants at the disposal of the local planning authority or other body. I also welcome subsection (7) which authorises inquiries, investigation and research.
Great areas of knowledge and experience require to be utilised. I am indebted to a recent publication of the British Ecological Society which gave details of research being undertaken in addition to the work of research scientists in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission who have pioneered techniques in the reclamation of derelict land. This paper refers to the pioneer work on crops on pulverised fuel ash by Birmingham University, the work of Leeds University on the growth of woody plants on ash, the work of Glasgow on the physical properties of ash in relation to soil mechanics, and Swansea's work on reclamation of smeltland and the work which the Universities of Newcastle and York and Edinburgh have done in landscape restoration advice.
It is, nevertheless, clear from the increasing volume of inquiries to these bodies, and in particular over the more unconventional problems to the Nature Conservancy, that the research potential is not adequate to deal with these mounting inquiries, and I think we should be looking for greater co-ordination of effort across the field of research and its practical application. It is, indeed, in the context of the practical application of this Bill that it will be tested. To turn ideals such as are outlined into reality will call for purposive and unremitting effort, the harnessing to effective administration of the enthusiasm and widespread support that I am confident the aims of the Bill will command.
I will summarise the two points I have made. First, will the hon. Gentleman find ways and means to ensure a content of restoration in the Bill and in this way carry parks into urban areas? A specific reference to the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority is the type of thing I had in mind. Secondly, will he have regard to the necessity of co-ordinating research to provide the knowledge and its application to ensure the optimum use of land in our countryside?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a fair wind and good sailing with this Bill, and will ensure in due course that the Countryside Commission is well 1487 manned under a competent helmsman of sound and experienced judgment.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am sorry that it has not been possible for me to be present throughout the debate, but I plead in extenuation that I listened with great care to the speeches of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and to some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). I am, therefore, not wholly unaware of the trend of the argument.
I regarded the creation of the national parks as the most civilised act of the great Labour Administration of 1945–51, and this Bill in a sense takes up the theme again. The Bill is strongly positive in content in giving wider powers and creating new opportunities for the enjoyment of the countryside in so far as it is possible to do so by legislation and by the creation of additional machinery and the making available of additional money, and I welcome entirely its positive aspects.
My only query is whether the Bill contains or does not contain any powers which will enable the new Commission to object strongly enough when actions are proposed or contemplated which would clearly ruin or damage what it had been able to accomplish. It would, in a sense, be pointless to have created a country park or to have enhanced the amenities of a particular area and then to be powerless to prevent some statutory undertaker from indulging in a particularly objectionable form of development which would render negatory what had been achieved. There is the notorious case of the gas holder at Abingdon, and I understand that the use and development of natural gas will add another hazard to the countryside because of the series of electronic beacons, or something of the kind, which will be required to check and control the flow of the gas throughout the country.
This is an additional hazard which will be very serious, and if the new Commission is to be entirely powerless to make representations or lend authority or weight against these happenings, then some of the expenditure it is empowered 1488 to make or assist with may be rendered nugatory. It would be unfortunate if a positive achievement of the Commission could be cancelled out by actions by other bodies.
There are only two other points I wish to put. I understand that the Forestry Commission has come under serious criticism in some quarters for the planting of very large tracts of conifers to the exclusion of other types of timber. No doubt in purely economic terms such planting is sensible and proper, but it has been represented quite strongly that this, so far from enhancing some stretches of landscape, renders them monotonous and comparatively unattractive.
Would it be possible in some way for the new Commission to discuss with the Forestry Commission the possibility of having a percentage of planting in the form of deciduous hard wood trees? No doubt there are complicated technical problems and problems of expense, but the strength of the representations on this point are such that it should be looked into, and perhaps some sensible modus vivendi could be arrived at with the Forestry Commission which would not seriously diminish the economic advantage of the work and enhance the countryside where it is engaged in this kind of operation.
Secondly, there is the question of access. I wonder whether there would be any argument for what one might call "seasonal access", for having in some parts of the countryside a close season when the landowner and the authorities would be entitled to bar access.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
In the Peak District National Park there is a close season when access is denied during shooting. I understand that this is also the case elsewhere.
§ Mr. Hooley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would like to see this principle operated, however, not only for the destruction of fauna but also for the preservation of flora and fauna, because I gather that damage to trees, shrubs, heaths and so on could be more serious at certain times of the year than at other times. One would not wish to restrict access to the countryside at times when it is most attractive, but there may be a case for limiting access at certain times 1489 in the interests of the better conservation of the countryside.
I approach this matter as a layman without technical knowledge of the problems involved in the Bill, but I speak as one who has lived for many years on the fringe of one of the national parks and who regards the creation of national parks as one of the great civil achievements of the country, and I look forward to the use of this Bill in extending greatly the enjoyment which all reasonable men and women gain from the countryside.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Many more hon. Members have sat throughout the debate hoping to speak. I hope that those I call will be reasonably brief.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)
The House may think that I represent rather an urbanised constituency to take part in a debate on the countryside but this is a subject which has taken up a large part of my life. I have been on the various committees of the National Trust for over 15 years, was Chairman of its General Purposes Committee for four year, and on various other bodies. This Bill does things, for example in relation to overnight camping places, which I have urged for years. Therefore, I can put my hand on my heart and welcome it, although it needs considerable amendment in Committee.
But I must say that, if asked to put my hand on my head, a rather different picture emerges. We raised Bank Rate yesterday to a crisis level and the very next morning we are asked to debate a Bill which spends still more public money. If we must spend more public money at this point in our fortunes, it would be better, disargeeable as it is to say so, spent on retrieving our position in the world, rather than spent on ourselves, however worthy the object appears.
Having said that, I do also see great possible dangers to the countryside in the proposed spending. The amount of £2 million may not look much, but most of this will no doubt be spent in the form of the 25 per cent. grant mentioned in the Bill, so that the total spending released by the Bill might rise to nearly £8 million a year.
§ Mr. Smith
Then the sum which we are discussing might be of the order of £3 million.
The National Trust, which has between 100 and 200 historic buildings, some very large, and near 500,000 acres of land, contrives to look after every aspect of all that, including administration, publicity and maintenance—all running expenses—for just £2 million a year. Therefore, this sum of money, if spent on additional items all over the countryside, could be very visible indeed.
Clauses 3, 6, 8 and 17 read together are rather daunting. They talk about viewpoint stances, shops, and businesses and undertakings. There would seem to be a risk that the countryside may become subject to a somewhat municipal approach, which could be very dangerous.
What most people want for the countryside is that it should be unspoilt, to use a somewhat unpleasant word. What the countryside very often needs is a little wholesome neglect. Indeed, the Englishman's love of the countryside has nearly always proved fatal to it. I hope that a lot of this money will be spent on things like the re-roofing of buildings in suitable materials, helping to place cables underground, and the removal of eyesores. I hope that the Commission will distinguish between an eyesore and a piece of industrial archaeology. In the past it has been difficult for some people to distinguish between romantic ruins and dangerous structures. There is a danger now that all industrial archaeology will be swept away under the label of eyesores.
I also hope that the Commission will keep in mind the distinction between enjoyment and entertainment. In my view, the success of the Commission will be judged by how little we can actually see that it has done.
I hope that country parks will not all be regimented; that is to say, I hope that in not all of them will there be a car park where a car has to be left. The country park with which I have been most concerned, Clumber Park in the Midlands, covers an area of about 4,000 acres and is one of the few places actually bought by the National Trust. It is on suitable soil and anyone can take his car anywhere he can get it. Sometimes 1491 in the course of a weekend a million people enjoy Clumber Park, and they are people to whom a car is not only an extension of home but an absolutely essential base. I know this myself, having five small children, all of whom behave like U.F.O.s. If the car cannot be kept fairly near the children then an outing for them is impossible.
I feel that the Bill is rather autocratic in parts. Hon. Members have mentioned the subject of bulls. I think there is a principle here. Different local authorities have different byelaws on this subject. All these are to be swept away. Surely it is rather autocratic to cancel other people's byelaws? Moreover, how can we talk seriously about regional government if all the bulls are to be run from Whitehall? I believe that local people know best how to deal with their own kind of bull, just as we do here.
I also think that the rights of entry of wardens are much too sweeping, and fall into the same category.
I sat for three painful years on a Government Committee concerned with Inland Waterways. As the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) mentioned, Clause 12 includes canals within the definition of "open country", but excludes the nationalised canals. No doubt there is an explanation, but, on the face of it, this is extraordinary. For example, even Crown land is brought within the ambit of this Bill, although in rather a Delphic manner.
During the debate on the Queen's Speech we heard how the proposed extension of nationalisation of transport was an extension of democracy, to use the Minister of Technology's phrase. If that is so, this provision about canals reminds me of a notice that I saw in Leningrad many years ago on my first visit to Russia, which has summed up Communism for me ever since. The notice said "Keep off the grass. It is yours."
This provision about canals is undesirable on other grounds. The two main problems with canals, so far as the public is concerned, are vandalism and drowning. They are both caused by too few people being about. Therefore, I hope that the Clause will either be explained or amended.
1492 Signposts can be very ugly. They do not stay the way they are. They tilt, sag, snap, and people write lucky sayings on them. Moreover they destroy for many people exactly what they go to the country to seek. For example, I do not suppose that Sir Francis Chichester would have made his journey if the route had been buoyed. I hope, therefore, that the Commission will use its powers relating to publicity to see that as much as possible of the information which people need in the countryside is in maps and books in their pockets and not in ugly notices spoiling what they go to see.
All these points can no doubt be dealt with in Committee, but I would like finally to reiterate what I feel must be the cardinal and general principle for the Commission, that the less we can actually see of what it has done, the better it will have done it.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
Like the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I was a member of the Study Conference on the Countryside in 1970. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) mentioned the 12 points. I had hoped that he would give us all the points that the Legislative Committee recommended. I had hoped that we should hear him say that farm buildings in national parks should be subject to planning permission, which was one of our recommendations.
I cannot accept the contention that the Bill has been introduced without proper consultation. Nearly all the organisations concerned were represented on the Study Conference and the Bill closely follows the lines of the White Paper. This is one of the criticisms I have of the Bill, because the White Paper dealt entirely with leisure in the countryside and with facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside. I cannot find in the Bill any indication that an attempt will be made to instil into members of the public their individual responsibility for the conservation of the countryside. I know the Minister will argue that this marvellous conservation Clause—Clause 9—will apply to Government Departments and that, when it is strengthened with Clause 38(3), it is a powerful weapon.
In view of the five pressures upon the countryside today, I do not think that the 1493 Bill is sufficiently strong. We must deal with reshaping the land. We must deal with cropping the land, mining the land, construction on the land, and those who wish to let the land alone. The Bill deals only with the fifth pressure on the land, namely, activities which will take place on the land. It is a little disappointing, to say the least, that a Bill which has been the subject of so much work and thought deals with only one-fifth of the problem.
I am not one of those who say that we cannot have electricity power lines, aerodromes, industry or modern farming operations in the countryside. We must tackle the problem of reconciling those demands much more carefully with the demands for recreation, sport, leisure, and, above all, nature conservation.
I want to deal in particular with the problem of nature conservation. I have tried twice to introduce a Bill to deal with the subject of sites of special scientific interest. I am pleased that Clause 11 deals with this point, but it does not go far enough. It does not bring sites of special scientific interest under planning control, which is what the Study Conference recommended. The Minister said that there are 2,300 such sites, so it is an incredible problem. The Nature Conservancy says that half of those who own these sites do not know that they own them. This is one of the great difficulties we face in caring for these sites.
One of the points I welcome is that power will be granted to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to refuse a grant for a site of special scientific interest. In the past, even if the Nature Conservancy said that a site was of special scientific interest and should be left in its existing state, if the farmer wanted to plough it up the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had no power not to give him a grant to destroy what one Government Department was endeavouring to preserve. This is an important point which must be cleared up.
I am glad that the Government have decided that if they tell a farmer, "We shall restrict your use of this land, because we want to retain it in a certain state", they will make a payment to the farmer for that restriction. I should like to see this principle extended beyond S.S.I.s, because modern economic circum- 1494 stances of farming must be fully considered. If farmers are to be told, "You must manage with ten-acre fields. You must not bulldoze down all the hedgerows", they should be compensated for that. If such restrictions are to be imposed on the farming community, proper payments must be made. Modern economic circumstances mean that today the farming community has great difficulty in facing up to its obligation as a preserver of the countryside. I do not think that farmers want in any way to desecrate their countryside, but they are forced into many activities, such as concreting over green lanes and all the things which the Nature Conservancy and others would like to stop, by the present economic circumstances.
On the question of nature conservation, the Bill has not faced up to the absolute kernel of the problem, which is that man is the most important animal to be dealt with in the countryside. Man is the only animal in the countryside that has power to change his own environment, and, worse still, to change the environment of everything else. It is not sufficient to protect wild animals and wild plants in certain areas. We must be certain that we do not also let them suffer because the environment round about them has been changed. I do not think that at the moment we understand sufficient about the interdependence of nature. We do not understand the effect of cropping the valuable resources of animal and plant life or the effect on them of interrupting this environment by the change of land use, particularly by building on the land.
It is regrettable that the Bill contains no provision for the protection of wild flowers. Many hon. Members will know that the wild flowers round the perimeter of London are literally picked out nowadays. In Committee I shall endeavour to write into the Bill some proper protection for wild flowers.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
In the few minutes left to me I am afraid that I shall introduce a rather discordant note into this debate. I think it is tragic that so little is to be done by this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) mentioned several matters which have been recommended previously and which he felt should be 1495 implemented. The way in which the whole thing has been handled shows a lack of realisation of the problem which we in the United Kingdom will be facing in the next two or three decades.
We are about to have what Michael Dower called the "fourth wave". We have had the three waves—the growth of dark industrial towns over the country, the railways thrusting out over the country, the sprawl of the car-based suburbs, and now we have the sprawl and the blight, as it could become, of leisure. We are going to have more and more people getting out of the towns and thrusting out over the country. We have got to deal with this problem intensively and on a co-ordinated basis.
It does not seem to me that a Measure like this, though I realise this is a helpful step, is anything like adequate to deal with the whole problem which needs to be completely co-ordinated over the whole spectrum of planning life in the community. I believe there are about 14 different Government and semi-Government Departments which are nibbling at this problem. I had some experience on one of the sports councils when I had the honour to serve as chairman for a while, and I know how frustrating it was there because the Government had set up this particular body without considering the full implications of co-ordination that were necessary. This Bill regrettably falls into the same category. If I have the luck to be selected to serve on the Standing Committee, I shall do everything I can to see that a greater co-ordinating rôle is worked into this Bill.
The sort of sphere where co-ordination is already necessary is in water sports. I know that the Minister of State pointed out that it is difficult to define where the responsibilities of one Department stop and where the responsibilities of the Countryside Commission begin. But the problem is even greater. We are to have activities such as water sports and swimming controlled by the Department of Education through the Sports Council, controlled by a Government-sponsored organisation like the C.C.P.R., by a Government-encouraged organisation like the National Playing Fields Association, and then coming under the Ministry of 1496 Housing and Local Government through this Bill.
America has very much more than the 3½ inches of coastline per person and much more in the acreage per person than we have in the United Kingdom, but already America is dealing with leisure and recreation as a major problem that has to be co-ordinated. It is very disappointing that in this Bill we have missed the opportunity of doing something to co-ordinate recreation and leisure, the use of the countryside and the resources available there, and the provision of other facilities, so that people do not necessarily have to clog up the roads—in other words, by providing facilities nearer home.
I very much regret that this Bill does not go further than it appears to go. I hope it may be possible to raise this subject in Committee, because unless we provide urban recreation and go still further in co-ordinating the efforts of the different bodies which are to deal with this problem, we may find that we shall have no countryside and that the people are not able to enjoy what at present exists.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I must ask for the indulgence of the House because I am going to put forward a case which I fear may not, superficially, be entirely in tune with the mood of hon. Members today. However, it is a case that should be heard and I am making it in the interests of many thousands of my constituents or their parents and on behalf of the British Motorcyclists' Federation.
There has been in the past an unfairness which, I hope, we may take the opportunity of the Committee stage of this Measure to remedy. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, established access to, and rights of way in, the countryside for the walker and horse rider. However, the spread of the car and motorcycle in the last 20 years has made it desirable that provision should now be made for establishing the legal rights of, and defining desirable restrictions upon, the car owner and motor cyclist. The present situation as it affects motor cyclists and car owners is chaotic and probably unfair.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I submit that since rights of way are fundamental to the Bill, rights of way for different types of user come within the scope of the Measure, including access by footpaths and so on; but I am in your hands, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I hope to put this case forward in Committee, but I suggest that it is right that I should adumbrate it at this stage.
The 1949 Act made provision for proper consideration to be given to horse riders and walkers, but not to motor cycle and motor car owners. For example, the motoring organisations are not represented on the National Parks Planning Board; and the National Parks Commission has been distinctly unhelpful in dealing with the British Motor Cyclists' Federation. The Federation's protests to the Chairman of the Commission have met with no more than bare acknowledgment, which, it is felt, was contemptuous, arrogant and discourteous.
Although the 1949 Act, the Highways Act, 1950, and the Road Traffic Act, 1960 all made provision for closing old tracks and green roads to motor vehicles, there is no provision whereby ways can be made accessible to them now. The British Motor Cyclists' Federation's experience is that closures under both Section 180 of the 1950 Act and Section 26 of the 1960 Act have been made in an arbitrary and high-handed manner and against the general interests of motor car owners and motor cyclists. Claims by the Federation for the retention of rights, and appeals against closure orders, have hardly ever been successful.
Although it is not for me here to discuss the merits of the individual decisions that have been made, in the opinion of the Federation the attitude of the National Parks authorities has been particularly hostile to motor cyclists and the Federation has the impression that it does not get a square deal from those concerned—that is, even from such neutral authorities as chief constables who, it has been felt, have often supported road closure orders ostensibly on grounds of safety, while 1498 really being motivated by their unsympathetic attitude towards motor cyclists.
Some local authorities—for example, East Sussex County Council—have not been properly receptive to genuine and perfectly respectable representations made to them by the British Motor Cyclists' Federation. The County Councils Association itself actually refuses to deal with the accredited rights of way agent of the Federation. The Federation has been refused representation on the semi-official Rights of Way Committee. And it may well be that much of this obstructionism stems from the conventional amenity societies' insistence on absolute primacy in matters of access to the countryside.
It would not be right for me to take sides on any particular issue, but I am on the side of maintaining fairness in the difficult task of reconciling conflicting interests, even when one interest may be unpopular in the minds of the established authorities. The British Motor Cylists' Federation recognises that restrictions are clearly necessary to "vehicular access"—if I may use those appalling words. However, the Federation's best hopes and desires would impinge on scarcely 10 per cent. of unsurfaced tracks and paths.
Those hopes may be summarised as follows: first, that the Bill should establish a national survey for vehicular rights of way and access, which for speed and convenience could be based on the 1949 survey of horse and foot rights; second, that in the meantime what are termed "roads used as public paths" should be declared to enjoy full vehicular rights, since the present position is obscure and contradictory even in official declarations; third, that methods of road closure and the down-grading of road rights from vehicular to horse or foot rights should be telescoped into one, allowing proper scope for consultation with motoring organisations and a fair appeals procedure; fourth, that motoring and motor cycling organisations should be given fair representation on the appropriate official bodies concerned with the disposal of rights of way, and on other countryside planning bodies.
The British Motor Cyclists' Federation is just about the only organisation actively campaigning for vehicular rights of way and access to the countryside, 1499 although these measures concern some 16 million driving licence holders and their families. The Federation does not want to take away one yard of right of way or a single representation enjoyed by any other society or group. But it asks—and the House should be prepared to consider its plea—for its grievances and point of view to be given a fair measure of consideration. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will indicate now that at the Committee stage he will at least receive representations and Amendments with good will and an open mind.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am grateful to front- and back-benchers for responding to my appeal for brief speeches, and I am especially grateful to Members on the Front Benches for what they have done today.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
There has been a great number of speeches in the debate, which shows how many facets there are of the problem with which the Bill tries to deal, and also some of the facets which hon. Members would like to have seen in it. As you said, Mr. Speaker, it is clear from the number of hon. Members who have attended today, a Friday, how important the matter is to many parts of the country.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) will forgive me if I do not become his pillion rider and follow him down the highways and green lanes to the scramble or whatever he wishes to get to. But I congratulate him on having his plugs in extremely good order.
The Bill has received a great deal of general support from all parties. I am sure that this will continue through the Committee stage, and we ask the Government for the same sort of give-and-take as we shall provide in Committee.
The main object of the Bill is to provide more enjoyment for individuals and to promote a closer understanding both by those who live in the towns and those who live in the country of each other's leisure and work problems. It is the purpose of the Bill to promote the quiet enjoyment of the countryside by the general population. The point was made very well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Rams- 1500 den) when he referred to the whole question of human environment and its effect on human health.
It will be for the Government to watch carefully the question of who is nominated to serve on the Countryside Commission. I will not say more than that. I merely state that it is important that these people should be carefully chosen.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) raised the subject of a commission for Wales. We favour this proposal. If one examines all the important functions carried out by various other commissions, such as the Forestry Commission, the Historic Buildings Council and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, they have their counterparts in Wales. The Government, after all, have a large measure, at present, of support from a great many Welsh constituencies, and we think that they should seriously consider this matter when we raise it in Committee. We think it would be to the benefit of the work of the Commission and very much to the benefit of those who are trying to sell the idea in that part of the world.
Many of those who live in our great cities need a respite from the noise, smell and nervous tension with which they have to live for most of the year. For that reason, and to an increasing degree, country folk have been offering improved tourist and sporting facilities. The Minister touched on this. I thought that he was inclined to refer only to the work done by dukes. I am all in favour of large parks, but a great deal of important minor work is done by other people.
The first and most fundamental principle behind the Bill must be recognition by all our people that the prime function of land is to produce food, and in a world where populations are growing at a staggering speed and where land is being taken over for various reasons at the rate of 100,000 acres a year, it is clear that this priceless natural resource has to be properly used. Furthermore, it has to be understood that those who actually live by the land get their living and find their work upon it. Therefore, we shall speak out against anything in the Bill which, in our opinion is not in the interests of farming, and I hope that this will be understood by every one in Committee.
1501 Another aspect which should not be overlooked is the effect that any very large-scale opening up of the countryside to the general public could have upon those living in the countryside. It has rightly been pointed out that if the opportunities for the general public to go to certain places in the country can be better organised it can have a better effect upon the countryside as a whole. The Government ought to take much stronger action in the Bill to deal with litter. One must not minimise the problem which this causes all over the country. As a country, we are mighty indisciplined compared with other countries in dealing with it. In Moscow, Spain and the United States, if one throws a cigarette packet on the ground one does not do it twice because one is not there to do it, and one is certainly fined. There is a great responsibility upon the Government and local authorities to ensure that provision is made for the collection of litter. This is done most inadequately by certain local authorities, particularly those in the countryside. The Government should do a great deal more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said, with regard to education. That is vitally important, because we cannot put up with a situation in our society where litter is left about to the extent that it is and where unnecessary vandalism is so frequent.
If the provisions of the Bill are carried out in an orderly way, as I am sure is the intention of the Government, naturally we hope that they will give full and lasting recognition to the work which individual interests are themselves doing already. This point was made time and time again in the debate. There are so many different interests. Fishermen have been mentioned. Today, there are several million of them, and fishing of all sorts has become the sport of the masses and not of the hundreds that it used to be.
Then there is another point which concerns the people who look after certain rare birds. There are parts of the country, especially in Wales, where a vast influx of people from the cities and from abroad would result in the virtual extinction of certain rare birds. Earlier in the debate, an hon. Member suggested closing access for a short period during the year, and that might be considered in the nesting season. These special interest groups must be catered for by the 1502 authorities, and they have done much themselves.
I note that it is the intention of Clause 12 to include in the definition of "open country" any river or canal, with its banks. The point has been made already that we should welcome a decent answer about why the British Waterways Board has to be treated like a sacred cow. It is not quite as easy as the Bill makes out. It would be a great mistake if the present powers of river authorities were to be taken over by the Commission. A great deal of work has been done since the war, and the functions of river authorities have changed. By virtue of the fact that they are organised and administered locally, they work pretty well in the interests of most people.
Reverting for a moment to farming problems, much has been said about public footpaths, stiles and gates. Certainly we shall ask the Government to look at the financial responsibility for maintaining them.
To be frank, the present position is that a great number of our footpaths simply do not function. It is clear from what we have heard from the Government today that it is their intention to open them all. Some years ago, there was a reconsideration of our footpaths, and some which had been on the map since time immemorial, when people did not have motor cars and many did not have horses, quite rightly were closed. In many instances it is right to close footpaths. But the vast number of them which will now be treated as footpaths and signed accordingly will throw an additional burden upon farmers. It must not be overlooked that many farmers are short of men. It would be an extra burden upon them if they had to use their labour in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) spoke a great deal about rights of way from his own farming experience in Sussex. He also referred to the question of accidents on footpaths and the liability of farmers who were sued by members of the public who hurt themselves.
Any hon. Member who comes from Herefordshire must take an interest in the question of bulls. There, as in other places, where there is a beef herd the bull runs out with the cow, and providing that the bull is with the cow he is not dangerous. Only when he is alone 1503 is he dangerous. This may be true of other animals, too. The Government should examine this question. If it is their intention to bar all bulls from fields across which footpaths run, that will not be acceptable to us. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will have something to say about this. The present byelaws vary in different counties, and it might be better if local authorities were left with the decision.
I am also interested in the Government's attitude with regard to dogs which are taken into the countryside by visiting members of the public, and the question whether they should be on leashes. No mention of this point is made in the Bill, and nothing was said about it by the Minister. It is a matter of extreme importance to those who have sheep or smaller animals, which might be in danger. This matter should receive attention in Committee.
Much has been said about the provision of car parks in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) was quite right in referring to the necessity for making these car parks virtually invisible. We can do a tremendous amount in the provision of car parks and picnic places. The standard in this country is very low, but other countries spend a great deal of money on these facilities, and they provide a way in which the general public can obtain a great deal of enjoyment in the countryside. But these car parks and picnic places must be properly looked after, or each one of them could become a virtual desert. It is as well to realise that it is a question not only of the capital cost but the cost of maintenance.
In the area of my constituency which borders on South Worcestershire, the Malvern Hills Conservators have had four private Acts of Parliament since 1884 in order to preserve the hills where Sir Edward Elgar, as a small boy, used to ride his pony. They have been spending great sums of money and have kept the Malvern Hills beautiful. They would have been completely spoiled by quarrying had not the Conservators bought out the West of England Quarry Company for £24,000—which was a lot of money in those days—for which they had a grant of £5,000 from the Pilgrim Trust and 1504 levied a 3½d. rate in the Malvern and Colwall areas. They are spending £16,000 a year to keep these hills beautiful.
They employ a part-time clerk, a part-time finance officer and six other men full-time. They also employ a number of parking collectors and two wardens. They have four tractors, two sets of spraying tackle, mowers and Allen scythes—with which they mow 70 miles of paths every year, a van, a chain saw and a workshop. They have a number of other projects which they wish to start on but unfortunately the money has not been forthcoming up to now. It is clear from the example of the Malvern Hills Conservators that these country parks will need a good deal of Ministerial money every year and also a good deal of local administration to keep them going.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) referred to restoration. Coming from South Wales, as I do, I say that it is a pity that there is not more in the Bill about restoration. I know that it is a big subject. I can imagine the amount of money which would be necessary to tackle the industrial waste which there still is in that part of the world. I regret that there is not much reference to restoration in the Bill. I agree that more research needs to be done in this respect.
I return to a theme which I played earlier. Those people in the countryside who will have to work the Bill and who will be affected by it can be the hosts and the visitors will be those who come from the towns or from overseas as tourists. It is important that the interests of the people who live in the countryside should be looked after during the passage of the Bill. When the holiday season is over, when the last leaf of autumn has fallen and the noise of the last motor car has departed back to the city, the villagers, farmers, roadmen and the whole of the rural community will be left to tackle what is left behind. It is important that what is left behind should be acceptable and easily removable before the next season.
During the debate we have referred to a vast number of individual matters which we shall raise in Committee. The question of compulsory purchase has 1505 been raised. There has been reference to a Welsh Commission. There was the question of restoration. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough referred to places of scientific interest. Conservation, car parks, national parks, footpaths, bulls, dogs, rivers, canals have been mentioned. There has been reference to forestry and what the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners can do to further the objects of the Bill.
Those are some of the points which we shall raise in Committee. We have a great deal of good will for the Bill, and we look forward very much to the Committee stage.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
I begin by expressing regret that some hon. Members have sat here throughout the day and have not been called. I am sorry, in a way, that I have to inflict myself on the House, but it is right, courteous and proper that I should reply to some of the questions which have been raised. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of hearing in Committee those Members who have shown such great interest in the Bill and have not been called.
It is a very happy task for me to reply to the debate. It is easy in one sense because many kind, helpful and constructive things have been said about the Bill. In another sense, however, it is difficult because there are many points which I should refer to but may not have the time to do so. I do not think that even the Opposition would be glad if I went on for so long that I talked the Bill out, since I think that both sides of the House agree with it. However, I will try to meet some of the important points which have been made.
This is a happy occasion because so many hon. Members can feel that they have made some contribution towards the Bill. The Government have the satisfaction of having introduced it. Many hon. Members, such as those concerned with the 1970 Conference, members of the National. Trust and those who have done research, have all helped to prepare public opinion for the White Paper and for the Bill. I thank, in particular, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), 1506 the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), who opened for the Opposition, and my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson). Incidentally, they and a number of other hon. Members regret that owing to constituency engagements they have to be elsewhere. It is right that I should put their interest on record and say how much we appreciate their contributions.
The hon. Member for Southend, West began his interesting speech by referring to the magnitudes of the pressures upon our land space. It is right that they should have been stated because it is within that framework that we have to try to devise a system which keeps a balance between town and country and preserves what we want and yet provides others with the opportunity to enjoy it.
I must add one other statistic. I put it rather inelegantly the other day when I said that we had in Britain today the third most dense population in Europe. I did not at that point have in mind certain recent by-elections but was referring to the fact that we now have 581 people per square mile. When it is realised that a good deal of the land is inaccessible, no matter how wise we are in our future town and country planning tremendous pressures are bound to be created upon the land, particularly as a great proportion of our people are becoming more mobile. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, in his comprehensive opening speech, referred to the growth in the number of motor cars and the expected numbers of motor vehicles.
It is in that context that we must think of all these elements concerning the provision of footpaths.
I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), but I think he was ignoring those tremendous pressures and the fact that we have to provide new control and methods of access for the ever-increasing numbers of people who want to go to the countryside for refreshment.
The first question which I was asked was why we were making the Commission 1507 advisory rather than executive. We considered this matter for a long time. I am sure that all of us who have at some stage desired to get something done where there is an indifferent local authority have felt how nice it would be if we could say that we could step in and do the job. There are, however, dangers and difficulties. There is the broad philosophical difficulty that if one believes in and wants local democracy, then if too much is done from the centre, we cannot have effective and adequate local democracy. There is the even more practical consideration that if we had a Commission with executive powers able to step in and do the work, the very reluctant authorities which one wants to push forward, would leave it all to the Commission. Those arguments influenced us in reaching our decision and explain why we reached it.
The hon. Member for Southend, West asked several questions about the Commission: first, why the terms of reference for the English Commission were different from those for the Scottish Commission. Scotland, perhaps, has only in the last few months been fortunate as we have. There was no National Parks Commission for Scotland. That was why, starting afresh with all the land outside the urban areas, it had wide terms of reference.
The English and Welsh Commission takes from the 1949 Act the terms of reference thatIt shall be the duty of the Commission to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry".Those terms of reference are inherited. They are in different form because the history is different, and there are other reasons in the English and Welsh setup for taking only part of the terms of reference of the Scottish Commission.
The compulsory powers of the Commission are contained in Clause 3, subsection (3) which empowers the Commission to acquire land compulsorily for the carrying out of an experimental project. The first point which should be made on the questions arising out of this is that one always hopes that development of this kind will be done by agreement, because in those circumstances one gets the best spirit on both sides. Indeed, a tremendous fund of good will is available to be used. That 1508 is a point which was made by the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) and one on which we all agree. Therefore, it is only in the last resort, if when a compulsory purchase order of that kind is presented to him the Minister feels that the whole purpose of the experiment would otherwise be frustrated, that a compulsory purchase order would be likely to issue.
Then the hon. Gentleman asked what happens to the land when an experiment finishes. It may continue, I suppose, and become a permanent feature, in which case it would be handed over to the local authority. Alternatively, if the experiment finishes, there is power under Clause 3(4) for the land to be handed back either to the owner or to the local authority—or the Commission would dispose of it. It has power to dispose of land which it acquires in that way.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about caravans, and this was a subject raised by other hon. Members. It should be remembered by the House—and I am sure it will be if hon. Members reflect—that powers to provide caravan sites are already available to local authorities under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960. I understand the powers to be adequate. I have not heard any general proposition to the contrary. What the Bill does is to provide that further grants should be payable to local planning authorities to provide sites for holiday makers. A local authority might say, "We do not see why we should do this at our expense" and so provision is made for a 75 per cent. grant from the Commission. Indeed, the site could be in an inconvenient place from the point of view of the local authority, and the accommodation could be by way of tented space; again, the local authority in a rural area might have only little finance. That is why these powers in the Bill are provided. Many of the caravan sites would be commercially provided, but they can be provided by the local authorities. It is true that some sites are in areas of the National Parks Commission and are called long-term sites. They are not permanent in the sense that people are expected to be there for ever, but they may stay a long time—for the whole of the summer. These are general examples of the powers we are providing in this Bill.
1509 A good deal has been said about the footpaths provisions—by the hon. Member for Southend, West, the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) and others. Indeed, had I been able to ride a hobbyhorse of mine I should have liked to have spent a lot of my time on this matter, but I do not think I should now. There are two main points. One is that the provisions in the Bill have been put in only after very wide consultation. They are based on an agreed interim recommendation by the Gosling Committee. All the interests represented upon the Gosling Committee have made their recommendations, and they have been incorporated in these provisions. I think the only difference which the Government have made on one point is whether grant should be paid in relation to a local authority's contribution, but apart from that these were agreed recommendations.
§ Mr. Ramsden
In the relationship between the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. the Gosling Committee has agreed the recommendation?
§ Mr. Skeffington
There were certainly representatives of all the interests upon the Committee, and I understand that, so far, these were agreed recommendations. I do not think there was any disagreement over these recommendations which came forward. If I am wrong about that I will certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think I am. This may not be the final recommendations. That brings me—
§ Mr. Channon
I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at some of these proposals. I have reason to think that there are some organisations, such as the N.F.U., which are really disturbed by some of the things in this Clause.
§ Mr. Skeffington
Like the hon. Gentleman, I have had a memorandum from the N.F.U. and others. How far the representatives on the Committee were speaking for those organisations I do not know. I will certainly correct this if I am wrong, but I understand that the Committee's recommendations are so far unanimous, but it may be that the members of the Committee were speaking as members of that Committee and not representing their organisations. That may be the explanation of that. But this was a Committee with wide representation, and it was 1510 asked to let us have its recommendations. It did so, and they have been included in the Bill—from an interim Report.
I was asked whether there would be any further recommendations. We think that there may be. We cannot say now how far they are likely to require legislative action, however. They may be more in the nature of rules and guidance for local authorities and advice to bodies. But should they require statutory form we hope that they will be received in time, if not for this House to consider during the passage of the Bill then in another place when, of course, we should have the opportunity to consider them as Lords Amendments. There is still time. I cannot commit the Committee to a specific date. It was appointed in the summer and is working with great speed. We expect the final report early in the new year.
The hon. Member for Southend, West, raised an important point about a possible conflict, between byelaws made by local authorities and those enforced by river authorities, concerning access by the public to land held by water and river authorities in certain circumstances. It should be possible now, so our scientific advisers tell us—and this is accepted by the industry—to provide water and allow access without danger in many cases. Certain precautions can be taken.
Some time ago I had meetings with the water authorities asking them further to co-operate and, although they had certain fears which they wanted to safeguard, their response was not negative. On the specific point of conflict between the byelaws of river authorities and local authorities, Clause 31(3) provides that Local Planning Authorities' byelaws… shall not interfere … with any authority having under any enactment functions relating to the land or waterway to which the byelaws apply.We hope therefore that we have provided for the prevention of a conflict there.
Another important point was raised in connection with access and with footpaths in circumstances such as the present unfortunate outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Under Section 60(3) of the 1949 Act it is possible to incorporate in any agreement a provision for temporary suspension of access when this sort of thing arises. As for footpaths during such outbreaks, under the Foot and 1511 Mouth Disease (Infected Areas Restrictions) Order, 1938, there is power to prohibit—… the entry of any person into any field, shed or other place in an infected area …I understand that this power can be and is sometimes used in such cases. I think this covers both points but we would like to look at it again to see whether these provisions need strengthening and whether we can do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, who has apologised for his absence, hoped that many voluntary bodies would be able to play a part under the various objectives of the Bill. I see no reason why certain voluntary bodies should not provide country parks, and provided they satisfy the criteria the Commission may be able to help financially and otherwise.
He and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South and the hon. Member for Southend, West, raised the question of the position of vehicles in areas which, for some reason, one would like to protect from the worst ravages of the motor car. Here they were speaking in a different sense from that put by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger). Someone has to make a decision on the balance of advantage to the community and all the criteria will be balanced in making the order. But the traffic regulation orders applied by these Clauses are orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967. Some hon. Members have quoted another Act.
The powers under the Act are wide. The orders can be made, amongst other purposes, for reasons of safety, the avoidance of damage to roads and buildings, the aiding of traffic movement, and preventing the use of roads by unsuitable traffic having regard to the character of the roads concerned. That point covers charabancs—the case mentioned by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson). The Act also covers the preservation of the character of roads suitable for horse riding and it controls parking. I gather that in the Traffic Bill now being drafted there may be a Regulation of a more general kind solely related to amenities. This will come before the House and will have to be adjudicated upon by the House in due course.
1512 These provisions are wide and they have to be administered with care. There are areas where one has to think very carefully about allowing excessive access, or even if, in certain cases, one should allow vehicles at all. This is a power which ought to be very sparingly used, but I think that sometimes, in the interests of the countryside, it should be used.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) raised the question: why not a Welsh Commission? That was also supported from the Front Bench opposite. I can understand the hon. Member for Montgomery raising this point and, indeed, being supported by others, but I must make the general point that I do not think anyone can say that under either Administration Wales has been neglected. This is an Administration which has just purchased the tallest mountain in the country, Snowdon, and presented it to the people of the country. A very considerable part of Snowdon has been purchased. The first area to be designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty was the Gower Peninsula. Already Wales has a far higher proportion of its countryside as national park than has England.
One understands the desire for Welsh participation, but under the Bill Wales will get it. Grants will be paid by the Welsh Office, they will be approved by the Welsh Minister, and they will be administered by Welsh local authorities. Therefore, it is difficult to paint a picture of some inscrutable official in Whitehall dealing with this problem.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I thought that the answer I had given showed that Wales has done well, and will probably do even better. It has done very well out of the existing arrangement already. There were two Welsh Members of the Committee, Dr. Elwyn Davies and Mr. W. E. E. Jones. That is two out of nine, and the population of England and Wales is 1 to 17. From the point of view of practical administration, this is being done by a Welsh Minister through Welsh authorities, and it will be the Welsh Office which will pay the grants. So, I would have 1513 thought that Wales was getting a good deal from this Administration.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) mentioned the particular characteristics of the English countryside, which is also true of Wales, with its trees and woodlands, and the part which has been played in the past and can be played under this Bill by the Forestry Commission. In the few moments that remain to me I should like to pay great tribute to the work of the Forestry Commission. It worked very closely with me when I was at the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I would like to congratulate the chairman, Mr. Jenkins, on the way in which the Commission, although it is a commercial undertaking, is paying attention to amenities. It has one of the best landscape artists advising it, Miss Sylvia Crowe. It will be doing even more amenity work in the future and will be more represented at all woodland conferences, and the powers given to it under the Bill will give it fresh opportunities which will be welcomed by everybody.
This is perhaps a modest Measure, but I think, as the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said, it reflects to some extent the enthusiasm of the people of our country for the country. I hope that we shall, in the words of Cowper, provide for more opportunities of "reinvigorating the soul and giving a spur to sluggish nature by passing the Bill."
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).