HC Deb 30 January 1979 vol 961 cc1251-371

Order for Second Reading read.

4.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

For 30 years, millions of people have enjoyed the finest and most beautiful countryside that this nation has to offer, for our national parks, which are principally the subject of this Bill, are the natural as well as the national heritage of the nation. We owe a great debt to those who created them and I hope that the House will not mind if I take one moment to mention the names of Lewis Silkin, who was Minister of Town and Country Planning when the original Bill was put through the House, and Hugh Dalton, who was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

I mention those former Members because they were supported in their turn by two hon. Members who will not be with us after the next election—of their own free will—but to whom I think a tribute should be paid in connection with this matter: my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who I do not think is with us, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who I am glad to see is with us and who, throughout all the years of his membership of the House, has attached tremendous importance to the development of the countryside and to the establishment of national parks. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend used to go with the late Hugh Dalton on walks around the national parks and along the Pennine Way, years ago, so they not only helped to establish the concept but practised very effectively the utilisation of our national parks.

In any case, in recent years increasing numbers of people have responded to the establishment of national parks for many reasons, but above all for the sheer enjoyment of the beauty to be found there, to study the delight in nature, to prosper the cause of nature conservation, for the opportunity to walk the hills and valleys and to take exercise, for the whole purpose of recreation—which I always think should be pronounced re-creation, which is its proper purpose—and some of them, as W. H. Davies once urged upon us, because: What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare? This has now become known as picnicking, and not the least of the problems I find when I go round the national parks is caused by the very success in attracting numbers of people simply to stand and stare, or to sit and enjoy a picnic, or to enjoy the therapeutic effect, for example, of gazing at wonderful stretches of water in the Lake District. The very numbers that are now attracted are thus probably the cause of our most pressing problems.

All these problems and possibilities, of course, have to be related to the question of public access and harmonised with the proper interests of those who work, live and farm in the parks, and inevitably this leads, from time to time, to tensions and conflicts. One of our duties—this is the purpose of the Bill—is to try to eliminate the conflicts and reconcile the various interests which have brought about those tensions.

It is not a new problem, as the House will appreciate. Lord Sandford recognised this problem when he was asked by a previous Administration to chair a committee on these matters. He said: We do not consider that it can be reasonable or a practical objective to freeze the pattern of agricultural use throughout the national parks … Nevertheless it is reasonable to ask the farming community in their quest for efficiency and productivity to have regard to the character of the landscape … I certainly endorse those sentiments.

Recently, the more strenuous conflicts and the greatest difficulties have occurred in respect of the Exmoor national park. They have been more acute there, perhaps, than in any of the other national parks. That is probably because the South of England has so little moorland that where it exists, such as on Exmoor, it is regarded as especially precious, and this causes all sorts of amenity groups and interests to come into conflict with the local authority and, in particular, the national park authority itself. Understandably—and I think we have to understand this—the Exmoor farmers want to increase their stocking capacity and to improve the moorland for their purpose, and that inevitably would change its character.

The size of the problem can be judged by the fact that in the 30 years since the last war 12,000 acres of moorland on Exmoor have been lost—2,500 acres to woodland and 9,500 acres to agricultural conversion— and that represents a 20 per cent. loss of moorland in the Exmoor national park since 1947.

In the last 10 years there have been one or two cases in particular which have given us cause for concern. I am not complaining that in either of those cases the farmers concerned did not honour the gentlemen's agreement which was in operation about notifying the national park authority of their desire to plough up the moorland. They did, but it was not possible to conic to management agreements in those cases, and the most that could have been done would be to hold up the conversion for about six months. The Secretary of State had no power to extend that beyond the initial period of six months. That kind of situation obviously could recur, and if it did we would have lost another piece of moorland on Exmoor.

For these reasons of continuing conflict and the need to get a policy that would be acceptable to all sections of the community I asked Lord Porchester, as the House will recall, if he would conduct an inquiry into this matter. I want immediately to express my appreciation—I am sure that I do so on behalf of both sides of the House—of the magnificent job that Lord Porchester did in conducting his inquiry.

I say, in parenthesis, that when I first asked Lord Porchester to undertake the inquiry he said that he would do so if it was a one-man inquiry. One-man inquries do not commend themselves to the House, but I think that in view of the success of Lord Porchester's inquiry it may be felt that they have rather more sense in them than some of us had hitherto believed. I remember saying, when I proposed this in the House on 6 April 1977, that Lord Porchester was a man whom everyone could talk to and who would weigh the various considerations with perception and balance. I think that that confidence has been amply justified.

I shall come back in a moment to his report, but one would have hoped, since his report has received such widespread support, that today this Bill, which is based almost exclusively on the recommendations of Sandford and Porchester—both of which, as I have said, have received a great deal of support—would have an unopposed Second Reading.

I was astonished by the Opposition amendment, which amounts to saying that there was no need for the Porchester inquiry and that no problems existed, in Exmoor or anywhere else, which could not have been dealt with by negotiation. I have already told the House that Porchester was established because the normal machinery in seeking to reach voluntary agreement had run itself into the ground. It was not possible, in Exmoor, to harmonise the conflicting interests. The amendment runs counter to all the recent history of the Exmoor national park and would abdicate our national interests in relation to national parks. I am sorry that the Opposition take that view.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I agree with the Minister on the principle of preserving moorland and of having management agreement, but why is it necessary to have so much legislation for a tiny number of farmers? How many farmers need this legislation?

Mr. Howell

The fact is that this legislation is necessary. Once a farmer has ploughed up moorland, which represents the great beauty of this country, the process is irreversible. That wonderful amenity has been lost for all time.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)


Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman may shout "Rubbish", but what I am saying is true. Once one has allowed a farmer to plough up the moorland, if other farmers follow suit one faces a serious problem. I very much hope that moorland conservation orders will not prove necessary. They are a fall-back. I hope that we shall encourage farmers to enter into annual management agreements. If that is possible and practicable, no doubt we shall all be delighted. Nevertheless, the Government, the Countryside Commission and the national parks must have a fall-back if the worst happens.

I was dealing with the various points of friction that arise. Since 1968 there has been a gentlemen's agreement between the national parks committee, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association by which members of those bodies undertake to notify the national parks committee of their intention to convert moorland. However, there is little the committee can do but seek to enter into management agreements if the original arrangement falls through.

The interesting fact is that, although since 1968 management agreements have been possible, by the time Lord Porchester reported in 1977 not one agreement had been made, although one was under negotiation. Therefore, the fact that we are now proposing management agreements has resulted from the appointment of the Porchester inquiry. This shows the great difficulty of reaching a voluntary arrangement without the backup of legislation.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

In my view, the Minister is giving the House of Commons a most misleading account. Is he aware that the only reason why management agreements were not entered into and practised on some scale was that the national park authorities were short of money? That is the only reason why there has been any difficulty.

Mr. Howell

The right hon. Gentleman is totally inaccurate. I met farmers and country landowners recently and assured them that there was no question of adequate funds not being made available to support management agreements. Since no agreements were made, the excuse that money was not available is surely not valid. If such agreements had been made and if no money had been forthcoming, the right hon. Gentleman would have had a case—but that is not the position.

The Opposition say that they support moorland conservation and claim that the existing provisions are adequate. That was not Lord Porchester's view. Although he acknowledged the merits of management agreements, he felt that they could not be relied on in present circumstances to implement the Exmoor park's policy of conserving moorland. He said: Their track record is against them". That was Lord Porchester's view, after a searching inquiry. Therefore, he recommended that the NPC should be given a new statutory power to make moorland conservation orders. This is precisely what the Bill does.

Lord Porchester went on to say: The idea of a Moorland Conservation Order stems from the belief that, whilst the objectives which most people look to management agreements to achieve are the right ones, any chance of their operating successfully will continue to be thwarted by the lack of any statutory ground rules". Therefore, the reason why there were no agreements did not flow from any lack of money; it flowed from the absence of statutory ground rules. One of the aims of the Bill is to provide those rules.

I wish to deal with the clauses. Clauses 2, 3 and 6 are at the heart of the Bill. Clause 6 creates the power for local planning authorities to make management agreements. It goes wider than the Sandford and Porchester recommendations, because it empowers other local authorities than national park authorities to make management agreements for this purpose. The purpose is set out in clause 6(1): A relevant authority may, for the purpose of preserving or enhancing the natural beauty of any land within their area or promoting its enjoyment by the public, make an agreement". I hope that that provision will be welcome to environmentalists, recreationalists and the farming community. In other words, the power can be extended even beyond the national parks in the interests of all concerned.

I regard clause 6 as perhaps the most vital clause in the Bill because, in a sense, it straddles both the Sandford and Porchester recommendations and goes wider. Its effect is to establish beyond doubt the power for the national park authorities and local planning authorities outside national parks to make agreements with landowners and occupiers for the purpose of preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside.

Agreements can contain both negative and positive provisions. A farmer can agree both to refrain from taking certain action—for example, ploughing up an area of moorland—and can undertake to take other steps—for example, to keep a footpath clear of undergrowth and to keep stiles in good repair. The agreement can contain financial provisions so that a farmer could be recompensed for either positive or negative acts which he took in the interests of conservation or public enjoyment of the countryside rather than for the efficient running of his holding. Such payments, to which the farming community attaches great importance, may be either in the form of a capital sum or on an annual basis. It will be for the parties to decide and there will be no compulsion.

An agreement is something into which both parties enter willingly. This is a most useful tool in all sorts of situations, not least in the urban fringes of our cities and conurbations where there is need to ensure that land is used more productively and that people in the cities are enabled to obtain more enjoyment from the countryside on their doorstep. The House will be aware that the Countryside Commission is currently giving this aspect of its policy of development the highest priority—the need to develop the countryside on the urban fringes.

What will be the effect of making such an order? Broadly speaking, it will enable the national parks committee, or Ministers, to make a moorland conservation order under clause 3 where it appears that the character or appearance of the area designated would be likely to be adversely affected by the carrying out of agricultural operations on moors or heath which has not been agricultural land at any time within the preceding 20 years.

There are a number of points to which I should like to draw attention. First, the land must be moor or heath. Agricultural land, apart from rough grazing land which is moor or heath, cannot have an order made on it. Secondly, an order can be made only to stop agricultural operations which are likely to affect adversely the character of the area. Lord Porchester said that he was convinced that the character of Exmoor can be endangered not only by too much farming but by too little. That was one of the wisest among the many wise things in his report. Certainly, the Government support that philosophy.

We know very well that it is on the farmers that the characteristic landscape of the national parks largely depends.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

Is the Minister aware that in Wales we have national parks where almost all the land is improvable? I have part of such a park in my constituency. The most improvable land in different parts of Britain is marginal land, and much marginal land will fall into the category of moorland or heath. We are, therefore, awaiting a statement by the Minister of Agriculture—we have been waiting for a long time—about marginal land so that we can ensure that more food comes from that land. Does not that conflict with the tremendous powers given to the Minister and local authorities in this Bill?

Mr. Howell

The Government are at present giving consideration to the question of marginal land. I think that the hon. Gentleman may know that. However, I shall have that point specifically looked into during the course of the day, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will be able to deal with that more to the hon. Member's satisfaction in his reply. In any event, I have no doubt that it is one of the matters of detail to which we should turn our attention during the Committee stage of the Bill.

I was referring to the importance of farmers for someone such as myself, with responsibility for recreation and access to the countryside; it is important that I should do so as opposed to anyone else. It is sometimes thought that there is a conflict between recreation and farming which is irreconcilable. That is not my view. It is absolutely imperative that we reconcile the interests of the people who live, work and farm in such areas with those who come from outside. That is the spirit in which I, at any rate, approach this Bill.

There are very considerable restraints on the ability of either the national parks committee or Ministers—and in this matter my two right hon. Friends act jointly—to make a moorland conservation order. Even where it would be possible to make an order within the terms of clause 1, I repeat my hope that normally it will be possible to deal with the situation by way of a management agreement.

There will be the cases where an MCO has to be made. What happens then? In the first place, the order puts a temporary stop on the proposed operations. That is essential, as I have already said to the House, because once a piece of moorland has been ploughed one cannot turn the clock back. But the order will be advertised and notice served on owners and occupiers. There will be a period for objections and if objections are made, obviously there will be an inquiry or hearing. Also, the order will not be of permanent effect unless and until it is confirmed by the two Ministers acting jointly. That is a very usual arrangement, and again it emphasises the importance we attach to this matter.

Clause 2 simply applies clause 3. The Bill provides the power to create the orders, but to understand how it works it is necessary to read clauses 2 and 3 together. The first point I make on clause 2 is, as I have already said, that the order must be made jointly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. There is the additional safeguard that the order is subject to negative resolution of the House, which I think is of importance. Where will the Minister seek to use these powers? Although the Bill is drafted in terms of all national parks—as it must be—I can say, quite categorically, that we have at present no intention of applying the terms to any national park other than Exmoor.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why, if he does not intend to apply the order to other parks, he does not confine it to Exmoor, which would allay any fears?

Mr. Howell

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, there are other national parks where at some time in the future it might be necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good hon. Members saying "Oh". One wishes either to preserve national parks or one does not. When hon. Members say "Oh", I begin to wonder what their motivation is. Surely it must be right to say that if, for example, we had this problem in the Peak District or the Yorkshire moors or dales, this Bill, which has been found necessary in Exmoor, would then have to be applied to that situation. The safeguard is that we should undertake, first of all, before we did anything, to consult all interested parties. I gave that undertaking categorically to the National Farmers' Union, which raised this point with me, as well as to the environmental organisations, the Ramblers' Association, and the Countryside Commission.

But there is a safeguard for this House, because no Minister could automatically apply such an order to any other national park unless he came back to the House.

Therefore, I do not know what the complaint is. The order could not be applied to any other national park unless the House had been satisfied that it was right so to do. That, I believe, removes much of the perhaps misconceived objections that may be raised in this respect. Even on Exmoor—never mind other national parks—I doubt whether we shall apply an order to the whole of the park. We shall be applying the order only to those parts of the whole park which are predominantly moor or heath—which follows from the nature of the problem.

Not the least of Lord Porchester's ingenious proposals in his report was the one which stated that two maps should be prepared by the Exmoor national park committee. Map 1 will be a catalogue of the area of moor or heath on Exmoor and map 2 will show the heathland and other areas of moor or heath of exceptional value which, in Lord Porchester's words, ought, if humanly possible, to be secured for all time". As I told the House on 21 March last, the Exmoor national park committee accepted those recommendations and immediately got to work drawing up the two maps.

I am informed that map 1 has now been prepared, in close liaison with the local committee of the NFU, the MAFF, the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and many other public and private bodies. The House might wish to know that the map has been published and some 10 organisations and 50 farmers and other individuals have already commented upon it. When map 1 is finalised, the national park committee will then proceed to prepare map 2. Lord Porchester did not recommend that either of these maps should be statutory, and that was the general view of those we consulted. I was specifically asked—by the NFU, I think, or perhaps it was the Country Landowners Association—whether I would undertake that we would not have statutory back-up for these two maps. I inquired into the matter. I am glad to report that I found that that was right and that there was no need to do this. The maps would be prepared and would be there for all to see, and there would be the absolutely essential basic information from which management agreements would proceed.

I do not want to say too much about clause 1, because I have already dealt with it. It replaces section 14 of the Countryside Act 1968. It gives us the power to hold up any proposal to plough up for a period of six months while the necessary orders are made.

I turn to the question of compensation, which is important to many of the people interested in the area. Clause 4 sets out the basis of compensation for those affected by an MCO. The provisions of this clause follow the general lines of the statutory compensation code and provide that anyone having an interest in an agricultural unit comprising land to which an order applies will receive compensation equivalent to the diminution in value of his interest resulting from the order. I emphasise that it is the effect on the value of his interest in the agricultural unit as a whole which is taken into account, not just the effect on the value of the interest in the land covered by the order, which is an important point. Compensation is payable also in respect of the cost of any work rendered abortive by the order, and for any loss or damage directly attributable to the making of the order. There is the usual provision for the reference of disputes on compensation to the Lands Tribunal.

I think that everyone accepts that compensation should be payable—the Government most certainly do—but there is more than one view about the basis of compensation. It has been represented that there should be an annual payment based on the farmer's loss of hoped-for profits. But this would be to introduce a new principle which at present finds no place in the statutory compensation code, and would have the effect of putting those receiving compensation under MCOs in a unique position. This is something that Porchester rejected, and the Government agree with him.

At present, in any negotiation for a management agreement designed to conserve moorland, the scales are not evenly balanced. In the last resort the NPC has to pay whatever the farmer asks more than the NPC will pay, and he may appear to be standing out in principle against the protection of the moorland for the nation. I do not believe that that is what most farmers would like or that it is the position in which they would wish to see themselves or one in which they ought to be placed. Therefore, we accept Lord Porchester's view on that matter.

There is another very important issue, which I know concerns farmers and landowners, to which Lord Porchester drew attention in his report—capital transfer tax.

Mr. Wiggin

I accept the Minister's contention that there is no allowance in the present code of compensation, but farmers are compensated for such inconveniences as electricity pylons and telegraph poles, and I believe that an annual, biennial or triennial compensation is the only fair way to deal with this problem.

Mr. Howell

That is not a view which has ever found its way on to our statutes under any previous Administration. I shall certainly look at the matter again if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so, but I have given a lot of attention to it and, obviously, I have discussed it with my Treasury colleagues.

Mr. Wiggin

That is the trouble.

Mr. Howell

It is not the trouble. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I could not possibly make proposals about tax without having done so. Had I not done so, he would rightly have censured me for failing to consult my Treasury colleagues.

I want to move on to the subject of capital transfer tax, because I have something more hopeful to say.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I think that the House is in some difficulty in assessing quite what the Government's intentions are with regard to clause 4 and compensation. I know that the Minister cannot be specific, but could he tell us within broad terms how much he is advised that the compensation might come to, both for landowners and for land itself, but especially, and more importantly, in terms of a tenant who is farming on an estate? That is of crucial importance. If we could have some figure or broad band of figures, it would help us enormously.

Mr. Howell

I shall think about that, but the House will understand that in these matters of valuation, which involve very complex issues, it would be very unwise of me, in answer to that sort of question at the Dispatch Box, to hazard any figures. The financial effects are not to be dealt with in that detailed way now. In any case, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to return to the matter, the best way of doing so would be to give the Bill a Second Reading and then we shall be able to deal with those detailed points in Committee—and gladly.

Capital transfer tax is another very important issue which has concerned farmers and landowners and to which Lord Porchester drew attention in his report. There is power under the Finance Act 1976 for the Treasury to give exemption from capital transfer tax subject to conditions. I can now advise the House that where Ministers, in their final decision on a moorland conservation order, decide that an area of land must be subject to such an order, their decision would be a prima facie indication that the land meets the standard for conditional exemption from CTT. The House will appreciate that this is an important statement of policy, which I believe meets the points put to me by the farming and landowning communities.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify one point on this subject? Am I to understand from what he has said that this provision is, at present at any rate, exclusive to areas that might be designated as moorland conservation areas and would not apply to other areas, and thus is an advantage so far as that is concerned?

Mr. Howell

I think that my hon. Friend is right in that assumption. Again, however, I shall look into that matter in detail. I think that it may be applied under certain other conditions, but I think that my hon. Friend is right. It is one of the attractions of having an MCO—if I judge correctly the point that he puts to me.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

Perhaps I may just pursue—

Mr. Howell

With great respect, I must get on. Many hon. Members will wish to speak. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the House wishes me to give way, I shall happily give way. I am only anxious not to take up hon. Members' time.

Mr. Benyon

Do I understand that under clause 6 one cannot have a moorland conservation order unless one has a management agreement? The clause says "any land". Does this mean that that also will be free of capital transfer tax?

Mr. Howell

No, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. In fact, in practice, one will have one or the other. One does not have both. If one has a management agreement, there is no need for an MCO.

While talking about financial matters, I should comment on how compensation and payments made under voluntary management agreements entered into instead of MCOs will be funded. National park expenditure generally is supported by the Exchequer by way of supplementary grant at the rate of 75 per cent. The Porchester report recommended that the Exchequer should support MCO compensation at a rate of 100 per cent. But I informed the House last year that the Government were not disposed to accept that the burden of compensation should fall entirely on Government funds.

We are, however, prepared to provide 90 per cent. support. I am glad to say that this level of support will also extend to payments made in respect of any moorland conservation provisions in a management agreement within an area designated under clause 2 and to compensation paid for its acquisition. I think that this is of specific interest to the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann).

The 90 per cent. grant is a recognition of the fact that Ministers will have applied the moorland conservation powers of clause 2 for reasons of more than local significance. The fact that the 90 per cent. grant will apply not only to MCOs but to management agreements and acquisition is a matter to which Ministers, and the farmers, too, attach the greatest importance. When I met the farmers and country landowners, that was put to me specifically. I am glad to be able to meet them and to assure them that a 90 per cent. grant will be available.

I repeat the assurance that I gave at the private meeting that there is no question of funds not being available to the Countryside Commission to meet all the demands that will be made upon it under moorland conservation orders and management agreements. I hope that that statement will go a long way to reassure people and to remove any doubts.

I shall deal as shortly as possible with some of the other powers that are provided for in the Bill, especially in clauses 7 and 10, by which we hope that the House will provide a useful extension of powers that will be of great importance in the improvement of amenity and for local communities.

In clause 7, there is power for national park committees to grant-aid projects exclusive to national park purposes. They will be able to help the projects of farmers, for example, and other private persons or public bodies where projects are beneficial to conservation or public enjoyment of natural beauty. That must be a new power that will be widely welcomed.

Clause 9 does not increase the Countryside Commission's power to carry out experiments. We all know the immense value of the Commission's experimental work. I have referred to its work in urban areas.

I was especially pleased to put clause 10 in the Bill. The clause gives national park authorities and local authorities outside the national parks power to appoint wardens to act in an advisory capacity only on land to which the public are allowed access although there is no formal access agreement or order. Often as I travel around the country I am told that the number of visitors has become a problem and that some help in wardening would be of great benefit. That is what the clause is intended to achieve. I am glad to see hon. Members on both sides of the House nodding in agreement. The clause will be welcomed by both ramblers and farmers.

We propose to amend clause 10 so that the power to appoint wardens will apply also to footpaths and bridleways in the countryside.

I have so far dealt entirely with the implementation of the Sandford and Porchester reports. I turn briefly to the vexed issue of bulls in fields. It was with great trepidation that I heard my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food suggesting that I should insert a clause to deal with that issue. I took a great deal of convincing that it would be right to do so. It is a problem that has been with us for a long time. If I may say so, I am a brave man to encompass it in the Bill. Other pieces of legislation that have tried to deal with the problem have foundered. For reasons that I shall explain, I do not believe that this attempt will founder.

If the issue is considered on the basis recent times, it goes back to 1973 when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asked the Advisory Council on Agriculture and Horticulture to examine it. Its main recommendations were that new model byelaws should be introduced enabling bulls to run with suckler herds in upland areas, but that in lowland areas they would prohibit bulls in fields crossed by public paths, except that farmers would be able to apply for the paths to be diverted temporarily for up to three months in any year in a five-year transitional period in which farmers would he expected to adjust their farming systems to allow for total prohibition.

The recommendations ran into tremendous opposition, especially from park users' organisations. Nevertheless, it is a problem that must be resolved at some time. That is why at the end of the day I thought it right to take it on board in the Bill.

In an attempt to solve what has been an intractable problem I sent for the general secretary of the Ramblers Association and told him that sooner or later his organisation had to come to some sensible agreement with the National Farmers' Union. I asked him to go away and to do that. To my astonishment and delight, he managed to achieve a sensible agreement.

I shall not spend much time talking about clause 11 as it is now drafted because I am glad to say that the amenity organisations, the Ramblers' Association, the farmers and the Country Landowners Association have reached a sensible compromise. I hope to be able to put it forward in Committee. In passing, it is right to pay tribute to the officials of those organisations for bringing about what is a tremendous achievement. If it can solve the problem, it augurs extremely well for the future. If we can get the ramblers, the recreationalists and the amenity organisations working harmoniously and constructively with farming interests and landowning interests, some of the problems that gave rise to our difficulties in Exmoor and the need for the Porchester inquiry may be problems of the past. There has been an encouraging piece of co-operation.

I know that there are some objections in detail to the Bill and the proposals that it contains. Those matters may be considered as the Bill passes through the House. On the whole, the principles that we are embracing are acceptable to almost all sections of the community that have interests in national parks.

I have read with interest the brief of the National Farmers' Union that has been sent to hon. Members. It understandably expresses concern over several matters to which I have referred and which may be considered in detail. I am glad that it does not recommend hon. Members to refuse the Bill a Second Reading. No doubt the House will draw the conclusion that the farmers' representatives find nothing fundamentally objectionable in the purpose of the Bill. That is the conclusion at which I arrived. I hope that when hon. Members consider whether to give the Bill a Second Reading, they will attach importance to the position adopted in the NFU's brief.

A general welcome was given to the Sandford and Porchester reports and I hope that that welcome will extend to the Bill, which provides a wonderful opportunity for differing interests to come together to harmonise their efforts for the benefit of the nation. I hope that Parliament will respond to the problems of today with the same enthusiasm and imagination as did our predecessors 30 years ago. If we do, I think that we shall be serving the nation as well as they did when they first created national parks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Before I call the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), I must tell the House that Mr. Speaker has instructed me to say that he has selected the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, whilst reaffirming its commitment to the principle and practice of protecting and conserving moorland in the National Parks, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which focuses attention on a limited area where existing provisions are adequate to deal with existing problems, but where legislation may damage existing relationships to the detriment of the national interest in the Parks. The Minister has spoken with enthusiasm about the natural beauty of the countryside that we are concerned with today and also about the Bill. We on this side of the House share his enthusiasm, without equivocation, for our beautiful moorland. We are not so enthusiastic about the Bill as a whole. Parts of the Bill—that for example, relating to management agreements, clause 6—are good. Other parts can be improved in Committee, and we note what the Minister has said about the "bull-fighting" clause.

One part of the Bill where we depart from the Government on a fundamental matter of principle is in respect of clauses 1 to 5 and the schedule, which provide for a formal and compulsory legal framework for regulating agricultural operations on moorland. In place of the existing informal and voluntary arrangements the Bill provides for orders, prohibitions, notifications, specifications, investigations and authorisations. It provides for everything short of incarceration for the farmer who fails to comply with the Bill. In a word, we are to have the whole gamut of bureaucratic, legalistic interventionism. Apparently, this is designed to be unleashed on a handful of farmers in a corner of Exmoor.

However, the Minister has failed to establish that the real threat to national park objectives in general stems from farmers. The threat does not come from farmers. Nor is it a fact that the Exmoor farmers are uniquely unresponsive to good sense and the informal, voluntary approach. So the Minister will see that we have profound misgivings about what I would describe as a heavy-handed approach in that area, and I do not believe that we are the only ones to have such misgivings.

Mr. Denis Howell

If the hon. Gentleman suddenly found, as we have found, that one morning there was grave danger of a farmer ploughing up a large area of moorland in a national park and he had no power to deal with the situation, would he be prepared to accept the desecration of that large area of national park? What alternative would he propose? When he woke up and found that such a thing was to happen and that officials had to be sent to the scene post-haste in order to find out by an on-the-spot survey what was happening, what would the hon. Gentleman do?

Mr. Alison

The Minister of State must not conjure up these pictures of himself waking up suddenly and flying around the country. It is too familiar. But let me answer his question specifically. It has come early in the debate and I am happy to try to answer it. I shall be advancing positive proposals as alternatives to these compulsory powers which I believe would be perfectly adequate. But even if the Minister's compulsory powers go through, is he saying, in the case that he has cited, that if there was a public inquiry and the inspector recommended that the moorland be ploughed up, invariably and inescapably and on every occasion the Minister would override his inspector? If that is what he is saying, then that bit of moorland might, on appeal again be made subject to the possibility of being ploughed up. The Minister therefore cannot get away with the concept of an inviolable piece of moorland, even in relation to the measures that he has brought forward, unless he is saying that inspectors in public inquiries will never be able to recommend, impartially and objectively, against retaining the moorland and in favour of ploughing up. We cannot escape this dilemma and we believe that we have better proposals. We on this side of the House are not the only ones who have profound misgivings about these matters.

Not surprisingly, the Minister of State quotes the NFU as being against the clauses dealing with compulsion. I under- stand that the Exmoor national park authority told the Porchester inquiry that it regarded its existing powers as adequate. The Association of County Councils is, apparently, not unequivocally in favour of the Bill since its national parks committee is still pondering the clauses on moorland conservation orders. The Country Landowners Association is against the Bill's sweeping powers.

Even the Minister's own Department, less than three years ago, was inclined to favour voluntary and informal arrangements. I quote from the Porchester report, paragraph 10(6): The Secretaries of State for the Environment and Wales in stating their conclusions on the Sandford Report indicated that they did not find the need for such a power, i.e. compulsion, to be fully substantiated. They intended to see how the new arrangements for land acquisition by agreement, and for management agreements, worked out before reconsidering the matter. I think the House will have noticed the Freudian slip—if I dare use that term in the presence of a member of the Liberal Party—in the Department's official handout on the Countryside Bill, and the Minister himself, started his exposition of the Bill by dealing with clause 6, which concerns management agreements. They feel that that is the essential approach. Rather shamefacedly, the handout then turns to the compulsory clauses as if these were inconsequential and superficial. They are the prime part of the Bill.

Mr. Denis Howell

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The Department and I, and Ministers, hoped very much that this would happen and that we would get voluntary management agreements. Where he is totally misconceived is perhaps in not believing that the situation I explained in my previous intervention did happen. We did wake up one day to find someone about to plough up moorland and found that we had no powers to deal with it. We had to appoint Porchester, and Porchester told us that, in spite of years of encouragement of voluntary management agreements, not one had been signed. Those are the facts which led to this Bill.

Mr. Alison

Again, the Minister fails to carry conviction, in my view, because although he says that Porchester became necessary he also failed to point out that since Porchester there has been a management agreement concluded on it.

Mr. Denis Howell

Since Porchester.

Mr. Alison

The question is whether the Minister has, since the DOE indicated its explicit preference for voluntary and informal arrangements, looked at the alternatives that might be available for bringing pressure to bear on farmers. I propose to expound some of those possibilities presently. I stress that the underlying issue is not, and emphatically is not, in this broad area of concern, a case of farmers versus the rest, or farmers versus the wider non-agricultural public seeking pleasure from, and the preservation of, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Nothing could be further from the truth than to depict Exmoor and other moorland farmers as a species of ruthless vandals pressing rapaciously forward with their ploughshares against beautiful virgin moorland for which they have neither value nor respect. That is the popular myth and it is conjured up by the line taken in this Bill. In this Bill there is the implicit view that the farmers cannot be trusted, that they really do not have the best interests of moorland and countryside at heart, and that they have to be dragooned by legislation.

It is to that extent a wholly negative approach. That is the trouble with the Bill and I want to try to restore the real perspective in regard to farmers. The first and fundamental fact is that efficient, productive agriculture is not hostile or inimical to the purposes for which the national parks were established. On the contrary, farming is literally indispensable for these purposes. Lord Sandford's report in 1974 said that it was hard to overstate the importance of farming to the national parks. The Dower Report of 1945, quoted by Lord Sandford, said: It was above all else to farming, both the extensive grazing of the higher open land and the more or less intensive grazing, mowing and cropping of the lower, fully enclosed land, that the landscapes of the national parks owed the man-made element in their character.". Positively, therefore, the unique charm and character of the national parks and not least Exmoor, to which the Minister fairly referred at the beginning of his speech, have materialised not in spite of but because of farming. If we allow a substantial reduction in farming in these areas, the natural beauty will not bloom but will be blemished. As Lord Sandford observed, the spread of bracken in some areas and the failure to maintain walls and fencing bear eloquent witness to the result of the loss of manpower in moorland agriculture. It is the national parks and their amenities which suffer in those circum stances.

Lord Porchester was even more emphatic and explicit about the direct connection between farming on Exmoor and the enhancement and preservation of its natural beauty when he said: The point to be emphasised is that attractive heather moors do not happen by chance; they are the product of management and can only be maintained by management". He said in this context: These operations —that is of vegetation control— need skill and judgment and point to the conclusion that farmers are the best managers of moorland of any type, if the objective is to maintain a stable vegetation typical of the area. He went on to illustrate how invading gorse and bracken, not invading farmers, were the real enemies of the natural beauty of heather moorland. He showed how the farmer, with his work of grazing and cutting, is essentially the defender and protector of this beauty. Yet the Government's response to this natural and creative relationship between farmer and moorland is to set up a false antithesis between them and then to bring forward punitive legislation against the farmer.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. Member is quite properly quoting from a report, but it is reports such as that that have recommended the type of reserve proposals which are being introduced.

Mr. Alison

It is not unprecedented for evidence to be considered fairly and openly and for wrong conclusions to be drawn from it.

Is this, then, the way to treat not only the Exmoor farmers, whom the Bill has in its sights, but moorland farmers in all the national parks in England and Wales? We should ponder this question with extreme care, because Exmoor farmers and other upland and moorland farmers in Britain are not the high earners and the rich men of the agriculture industry, if there be any such. On the contrary, they hang on to the moor as the basis of viable farming units by the skin of their teeth.

I am advised that the net income of farmers on the moor is lucky to hit £40 per acre per annum, which is about half the national average. Nothing could do more damage to Exmoor than an acceleration of rural depopulation and a progressive decline in employment opportunities. Yet that malignant process is much more likely to be stimulated than retarded by this kind of measure, essentially negative as it is, spelling out in clause after clause restrictions, regulations and penalties.

The Government clearly believe that circumstances on Exmoor at present are so urgent and so critical that these draconian measures are appropriate. The Minister gave a vivid picture of what he feels is slipping away from before his eyes. I do not believe that the Government's view can be sustained or substantiated. To begin with, the critical area of moorland at risk is, by common consent, tiny by any standard. Lord Porchester's report isolated some 42,000 acres of Exmoor moorland as what he dubbed the "critical amenity area". After further analysis, he concluded that no more than 12,800 acres of privately owned moorland within this area was "physically improvable", which means at risk from conversion to higher agricultural output. I understand that of this residual 12,800 acres the greater part is already safeguarded by acceptable voluntary undertakings, including a new management agreement.

The final minimal area at risk probably amounts to some 5,000 acres, comprising literally a handful of farmers. To dragoon this excellent but tiny cohort of men, the Government have brought forward a Bill bearing this grandiose title but which probably affects fewer men than Uncle Tom Cobbleigh would have had to gather round him to do justice to Widecombe moor. Yet the Bill is to go through all its stages in order to put our sights on this wretched group.

If the Minister is genuinely concerned for the countryside, why has no action been taken on some of the other problems that were highlighted by Lord Sandford in his report? I refer to traffic and park- ing problems, to problems concerning caravan access and intrusion. I refer to erosion by pedestrian traffic, to road widening, to quarrying and to the erection of power transmission lines—a whole catalogue of damaging features attacking the real value and amenity of the national parks. They were set out in the Sandford report, yet very few of them are tackled in the Bill. They are far more intrusive and damaging to the national parks than are this tiny handful of Exmoor farmers. The Government are doing nothing about these problems.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

While the hon. Gentleman is spelling out his impressive list of recommendations on national parks that have not been acted upon, would he care to remind the House of the Stevens committee on control and planning in national parks? That would have far more implications than this Bill.

Mr. Alison

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention, because we all know of the catastrophe that is created for national parks land by mineral extraction and other similar operations.

Lord Sandford made recommendations on that score, too, but there is nothing in the Bill which takes up the fundamental problem affecting the value and quality of the rural beauty of these areas.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

The hon. Member is complaining about certain matters not being covered by the Bill. Has he examined clause 9, which deals with experimental schemes? Many of the subjects such as traffic management, the question of caravans and so on, are areas for which it is difficult to find solutions. The Bill gives the Countryside Commission extra powers to develop experiments in these areas. Surely the hon. Member should be welcoming that. If he has no sympathy with the first five clauses, surely he agrees that from there on, in what is termed the "Miscellaneous" part of the Bill, there are certain very worthwhile provisions.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has pointed out a part of the Bill which is acceptable to us. But if he proposes simply to provide for experiments in these areas, it is worth recalling that the Sandford committee was meant to be an experiment, in a sense, to decide, by careful analysis, what the problems were. We are now to have only further experiment. Why are the Government not experimenting with punitive legislation against farmers instead of providing these draconian and wholesale measures? We would much rather have experiments in this area.

Instead of tackling the fundamental Sandford problems on a broad scale, the Government have deliberately, for reasons best known to themselves, majored on this tiny handful of farmers. They have provided for compulsory notification, in advance, by professional working farmers on moor and heath in all the English and Welsh national parks, of any agricultural operation, however normal or workaday it may be, that the Minister decides to specify in his order.

The Bill then takes powers, first, to designate selected areas and then, in respect of such designated areas, to make moorland conservation orders. This means in practice the power to limit or inhibit any agricultural operation that the Minister may specify as, in his view, affecting the character or appearance of the designated area.

All these ideas about the character and appearance likely to be adversely affected by the agricultural operation in question are covered by the Bill. Just think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the innumerable operations and activities carried out by other bodies which Lord Sandford considered and which would be likely to affect adversely the character and appearance of the designated area. They would do so in a far more drastic, sweeping, visual and damaging way than would a bit of ploughing up or improving by slag or lime. All this is left aside, and instead the Bill focuses on the poor farmer. How muddled or wrongheaded can even this Government get in their priorities if they can ignore some of the truly serious blemishes and concentrate on these farmers?

An essential part of our opposition to this aspect of the Bill is our deep conviction that simpler and better ways of achieving these aims already exist, or could readily be brought into existence without legislation. There is no evidence, for example, that the existing six months notification procedure stemming from section 44 of the 1968 Act, which will be repealed, will not work satisfactorily. Why, therefore, bring forward clause 1? The existing provisions are working perfectly satisfactorily, and the Minister of State has given no evidence to the contrary.

There is no evidence that voluntary management agreements, perhaps elaborated and reinforced by the powers in clause 6, which we support, would not serve perfectly adequately to protect moorland from ploughing or other conversion whilst reasonably compensating the farmer. As we all know, such voluntary agreements have already been reached and established on Exmoor.

We are agreed that the great and superior feature of management agreements is that, unlike these negative prohibitions, restrictions, limitations and penalties, they are positive, voluntary and informal undertakings, with positive agricultural objectives and features. Both the Secretary of State and the national park authorities have power to acquire land by agreement for national park purposes. Indeed, the authorities have already acquired 3,700 acres of national park land in this way, virtually equal to the whole of the 5,000 acres of Exmoor which are under dispute.

We already have adequate powers for acquisition of land. If the Government and the county authorities feel that they need some extra muscle or back-up, which is the Minister of State's contention, as part of the process of negotiating informal arrangements and management agreements with moorland farmers, a powerful and legitimate weapon lies readily to hand. I refer to the system of agricultural grants for modernisation and improvement, administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Hill and upland farmers are very dependent on grant. For the conversion and ploughing up schemes, the relevant grant at present is 50 per cent., and in some cases 60 per cent. That size of grant already applies to the kind of conversion schemes which might be unleashed on parts of Dartmoor. It is a powerful factor in this situation. An EEC grant is payable, subject to a farmer securing a United Kingdom grant as part of a basic programme of improvement.

It is feasible for the Minister of Agriculture to make the payment of grant depend upon the recipient being prepared to support national park purposes. I believe that there is a precedent for the withholding of grant in the North Yorkshire national park. If the United Kingdom ministerial grant is withheld, I understand that the EEC grant is also withheld. Denied grant at the rate of 50 per cent. or 60 per cent., moorland farmers would not find ploughing or conversion programmes feasible. This would be a perfectly effective instrument to use, and that is how it should be done. The method is informal, flexible and can be operated in the context of a management agreement.

Nothing divides the House over the desire to maintain nature and the beauty of areas of exceptional merit, worth and quality. It is indisputable that the farmer is the most important factor in maintaining and improving such critical land. I believe that farmers in Exmoor, and every other part of the country, will respond, as in the past, constructively and with good will, to informal approaches and to voluntary undertakings. They do a vast amount already vis-a-vis the public, on an informal and voluntary good will basis. Were it not for their good will, problems of access and problems arising from intrusion by the vast numbers who visit the national parks would be immeasurably greater.

But farmers do not work to rule. Their whole environment of activity in the West Country is one of voluntary informal arrangements. They will respond to management agreements, particularly if clause 6 is passed without the punitive element. They will respond more readily if grant may be withheld as a sanction should they not be prepared to co-operate. Fundamentally, it is the good will and the voluntary agreement that are necessary. The Minister should have taken this position first.

We attach great importance to Lord Porchester's report. It was an admirable report—clear, instructive and readable. I do not believe that his conclusions were right. That is why we have tabled the amendment. But the Minister is making an excessive virtue of having consulted only one person, Lord Porchester.

Did he consult, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who hopes to take part in the debate? If not, why not? Did he consult my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), another Member representing constituents with moorland interests? If he did not, why not? Did he consult the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), whose constituency is vitally involved? Apparently, he did not. Why not? Did he consult my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), a farmer with profound experience of Devonshire?

Why has not the Minister consulted people who know the moorland and who have responsibility for legislating in this House? Why did he consult only Lord Porchester? We are pleased that he has consulted Lord Porchester, but he might also have consulted a few other people—

Mr. Denis Howell

I have not consulted Lord Porchester. I asked him to conduct an inquiry, which is different from consulting him. I accepted his recommendations. As the inquiry was conducted in the West Country, I should have thought that all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen whom the Opposition spokesman claims to be experts would have informed Lord Porchester of what they wanted to say. He would have evaluated their comments before reporting to Ministers.

Mr. Alison

That will not do. The Minister could have saved himself a great deal of unnecessary opposition had he taken advice from parliamentarians intimately connected with the problems of moorland.

The Minister has brought forward an unsatisfactory Bill. We like parts of it, but we are profoundly opposed to the compulsion element and hope that the Government will follow the logic of their instinctual evaluation of the Bill by placing all the emphasis on clause 6 dealing with management agreements and turning it into clause 1. Perhaps the Minister of State will be prepared to consider that when he substitutes his new "bull-fighting" clause for clause 11.

We intend to vote in favour of the amendment. If that amendment is passed, we can, no doubt, quickly have another Bill without the compulsion element in it. If the amendment is not accepted, we shall have to wait and see what we do.

The Minister has not made a convincing case about the element of compulsion in the Bill. We have a better alternative of management agreements, using grants, if necessary, as a sanction. But we are opposed to punitive, detailed, legalistic prohibitions. That is why we shall vote in favour of the amendment.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I feel a profound depression after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). It is the kind of specious argument that I always hear from those who ostensibly pretend that they are in favour of a general project and damn it in every single particular. One of the great troubles about the development of the national park movement and access to the countryside is that it is relatively rare that people will announce their wholehearted opposition to a proposal. They insist on their sympathy and interest and their hearts bleed for all the needs of access. However, when the proposal is forthcoming, they are against it. This has happened in all the campaigning in which I have been involved over national parks.

I had hoped that by now, after all these years, Conservative Members would have learnt something and got up to date. But they still insist that they will vote by a reasoned amendment against this Bill, claiming that a lot of things could have been included. There are lots of things that I should like to see in the Bill. But it seems odd that Conservative Members should suggest that the Bill might have dealt with a whole host of other important issues concerning national parks, when often they are the main obstacle and the main stumbling block against progress.

Of course, one has to look at this issue, which above all affects Exmoor and the conservation of its special moorlands, in the context of a long period of years. This is no new issue. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash tried to give the impression that there had been a relatively brief period of concern and campaign. Far from it. I remember, even if the hon. Gentleman does not, the arguments related to the Countryside Act 1968, and the very modest provision made there for a six-month period of hold up and re-examination. That provision emerged not because those who promoted the Act thought that it would be adequate but because of opposition to any more vigorous proposals. It was finally agreed to on the assumption that there would be some time to examine how it worked before any further consideration was given to it. It was natural that the Department at the time gave that kind of answer.

But the hon. Gentleman seems to dig his head in the sand and pretend that there have been no arguments or trouble about it. If he or his hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the area do not know about the argument or discussion that took place in the past, so much the worse for them. Certainly, nearly everyone else in the country has known about it and has been very concerned about it. Pressure has been put on hon. Members throughout the House, and major, responsible bodies such as the National Trust have become involved in the argument.

Of course, one must try to hold a balance. I agree entirely that the farmer has created a great deal of the beauty that we want to preserve. Without the farmer and his co-operation and help, we should lose what we most love and enjoy in all kinds of areas. But for some reason in this case the provision in the Bill to have, as it were, a fallback situation is regarded as unacceptable, although it is accepted by almost every local authority in the country and by the great majority of people in all kinds of other circumstances. One of the most common provisions of our legislation is a fallback situation, not because the authority concerned wants to use that power but because it believes that without it there are dangers that the action will not be what we all desire.

In every group, not particularly farmers, there are those who naturally take a rather different view about priorities from their colleagues. That is perfectly understandable. There is nothing exceptional in that. No one wants to pick out the farmer as being particularly dangerous to our interests in this regard. It is simply true that among farmers there are those who take a stronger line than others in relation to a particular matter. That is perfectly understandable where a balance has to be held between different kinds of public interest. All that one is seeking to do is to achieve a balance which expresses the wider public interest in this area. That is what I believe we are seeking to do in the Bill.

Let me make it quite clear that many people wanted to go a great deal further than this provision and, indeed, to attack the Bill for being too modest and mealymouthed. They do not have much belief in the adequacy of the provisions that are made. There are those who take that view quite strongly. Therefore, let not Opposition Members imagine that this is some kind of extreme, harsh provision which has been cooked up out of the mind of the Government. Far from it. This is a modest, compromise decision which has been achieved after years of attempting to work the earlier provisions of the Countryside Act, and after the bulk of us were satisfied that those provisions were inadequate. I cannot understand Opposition Members who now seem to be pretending that they never heard any objection to the operation of that provision in the 1968 Act.

I think that this is a very modest proposal. It would be quite wrong to make any great declaratory claim for the Bill, but it offers some real way forward. Now we hear about management agreements being sought and entered into which were not being sought and entered into before these proposals came forward, and before Lord Porchester made his recommendations. It is not just Lord Porchester's recommendation, because in his much wider report Lord Sandford included this issue among others. So did the Expenditure Committee of this House. It examined this problem among many others and received evidence upon it. There is nothing new about it. It has been with us for some time.

I feel depressed at the kind of reaction that we have had from the Conservative Opposition, especially when it seems to me that this was an opportunity to seize hold of this proposal. It is certainly acceptable to make amendments in Committee. I gather that the National Farmers' Union feels that to be appropriate action. But apparently Conservative Members are so fixed in their view and so committed to their opposition to action of this sort that they have put down a reasoned amendment.

I very much hope that this modest measure will receive its Second Reading without an actual vote. I hope that it will not be necessary to introduce the detailed machinery because real voluntary agreements will be entered into by those who know that that is a more satisfactory answer than the use of compulsory clauses.

I should likes to refer to several other matters which, regrettably, are not included in the Bill, although I had hoped that they would be regarded as within the Bill's long title. I hope to have the enthusiastic support of Opposition Members who now find that there are many other things on which they would like to act. But I should point out that many of the things that they listed were administrative rather than legislative matters.

Last Friday, in regard to one very modest proposal, I tried to ensure access to commons. That was something that was recommended by a Royal Commission 20 years ago. It was recommended way back in time but still has not happened. We have access to urban commons but not rural commons. Rural commons often coincide with areas in national parks. It is of grave concern to many people that we are not allowed the access that we should have. Why can we not have access?

Right hon. and hon. Members opposite blocked my Bill on Friday. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friends gave it their support. Hon. Members opposite are keen for wonderful new opportunities in our national parks, but they did not give me support. I had sponsors from hon. Members opposite, but that did not stop the Front Bench preventing my Bill from going forward. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of examining my proposals to see whether some of them can be included in his Bill.

It is important to clarify the legal position of our commons, and this is a good opportunity to do so. There are other matters that should be dealt with at the same time. For example, the Peak District and Lake District national park authorities do not have many of the normal powers of planning authorities. They do not have grant-giving powers, and the powers under clause 7 of the Bill are not available to them. I hope that these parks, which we all regard as some of our most successful, will be able to operate the limited but useful powers in the Bill. We welcome the power on extension of warden facilities and rights. It is valuable, and that was an all-party agreement.

The Bill does not deal merely with the problems on Exmoor. Similar problems could arise in parts of the Yorkshire moors and even in my own county of Northumberland.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree also that, particularly in the southern parts of the Peak District national park, there is concern about possible agricultural development of moorland?

Mr. Blenkinsop

In conclusion, I hope that hon. Members opposite will think carefully before voting against the Bill. If they do so, they will be seen, especially by young people who are looking for new opportunities to go into the countryside, as seeking to prevent that health-giving, vital exercise and opportunity. They will be seen, as in the past, as trying to crib, confine and limit opportunities freely to enjoy the countryside. I hope that they will withdraw their intention to proceed with their reasoned amendment.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

The right lion. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) always speaks with sincerity for those causes that he has served with such distinction, both inside and outside the House, over a long time.

Mr. Blenkinsop

"Honourable", not "right honourable".

Mr. du Cann

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I have flattered him unduly. He will appreciate that it was sincerely meant.

The hon. Gentleman's reasoning was attractive. I agree that it is right and desirable that this House should make common cause between its two sides about matters that are of general interest—the preservation of our glorious heritage, our national countryside, and reasonable access to it. But I agree all the more strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) that the Bill is mainly about Exmoor, as he indicated in his excellent and constructive speech. In that respect the Bill is badly drafted, ill considered, negative and unnecessary. That is fact, not opinion. It is not the way forward for Exmoor. It is rather the way back.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England is a body that I strongly respect and which broadly is in sympathy with the Bill, but it moderately says that there is plenty of room for improvement. I agree. But worse than the aspects of the Bill that deal with Exmoor, the Minister's speech was as misleading as it was ill informed. From a man for whom I have a considerable liking it was a poor performance and not at all worthy of him.

I quarrel with the Minister's speech in one particular regard. It will do nothing to remove the present misunderstandings about Exmoor. If anything, it will reinforce them, and that is tragic. There are many good people whose motives I respect and who support the general idea of legislation on the countryside who are suffering from the misunderstandings on this subject. We read about the battle for Exmoor and other similar publicity. I am sorry that the Minister has added substantially to the catalogue of misleading publicity.

It is true that there could be a problem at present. But there is no problem at present. The Bill may potentially do more damage to Exmoor and good will on Exmoor than the plough has ever done. When one looks at the trivial scale of the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash so cogently demonstrated, one wonders about the Government's sense of priorities. I have no doubt that the country in general will question them.

I hope that the House will accept that I know what I am talking about. The greater part of Exmoor lies within my constituency. Much of the remainder lies within the constituency of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who has been present throughout this debate. He and I disagree about many matters, but one matter on which the whole House will agree is the right hon. Member's continued devotion to the interests of his constituents. I say quite clearly and deliberately that I am very pleased to see him here in the House today.

The rest of Exmoor is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who is unable to be here today because his duties require him to be in another part of the United Kingdom. He is a member of the Leader of the Opposition's consultative committee and must have been privy to the tabling of the reasoned amendment, which expresses my sentiments exactly. If I quarrel with it at all, it is that it is too moderate.

I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields that the sensible thing to do would be to take out the provisions on Exmoor and insert a number of good causes that he has been advocating. In that way we should have a real Country Bill. I should like to talk to the Minister of State in the same way as I should talk to a small child— "Take it away and do it again. It is not worthy of you."

Why was this Bill introduced with such stealth and such haste? It was published on the day that Parliament adjourned for the Christmas Recess. It is now presented for Second Reading before any of us have had an opportunity to read informed comment about it. Why has there been no consultation with local Members of Parliament? Why does the Minister think it inappropriate to have consultation? Why does he not do what many more distinguished men have done in this House in the past? Why does he not admit that this is a measure which dramatically affects the interests of our constituents? Why does he not call together the hon. Members representing those constituents and consult them on the best way to proceed? Why does he think that the traditional procedure is not appropriate in this case? What makes him think that his wisdom is so ereat that he need consult nobody—

Mr. Denis Howell

This rather impertinent speech is the most revealing that we have heard in the House for a long time. I shall not descend to the level of personal abuse that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has directed at me. Since he felt that this was so important and that there should have been consultation, why did he not ask me? In 10 years as a Member of Parliament I have never refused to see any Member of either House. I regard that as an absolute obligation on me as a Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, if he felt so strongly about this, should have asked to see me.

I remember that when I was charged with dealing with matters in the West Country, such as the drought and storms of last year, the right hon. Gentleman was the first man to write and demand that I see West Country Members. I join in the welcome to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). He was there then. I met West Country Members without hesitation. If the right hon. Member for Taunton felt that this matter was of equal importance, he should have asked to see me. I should gladly have offered consultations had I known.

Mr. du Cann

The Minister of State is right. When I asked him to meet West Country Members last year about the troubles and difficulties we had had, he agreed at once. He saw us and he was extremely helpful. I have already thanked him for that. But, on the other matter, it was he who published the Bill, not I. My suggestion is that in accordance with the best tradition of the House he should have asked to see local Members when he was proposing this Bill. If the Minister does not think so, then I am sorry, and if he wants me to be insulting to him I can be a great deal ruder than I have been.

I view this Bill with the utmost misgivings. It gives Ministers powers to apply the provisions to any national park. In the guidance issued by the Department when the Bill was published the phrase occurred: Ministers have no present intention of applying these provisions in any other national park than Exmoor. That is what the Minister said today. But why does he think that the Porchester report, which applied to Exmoor only, is relevant to every other national park in the United Kingdom? If he wants to legislate for all the other national parks, why do we not have an inquiry into this matter? If, on the other hand, this is only an Exmoor Bill, why does he not say so?

I am doubtful about the political motives behind the Bill and I am also doubtful about the motives of some of its most prominent supporters outside the House. It seems to me that this is a first step, very carefully and moderately taken, disguised with all sorts of other bits and pieces, towards the State direction of agriculture, and perhaps the acquisition of land on Exmoor on the cheap. Many people think that this Bill is merely the thin end of the wedge in relation to the Labour Party's proposal for land nationalisation, which is just the theft of land from farmers.

This Bill owes much more to emotion than to logic. I and those who object to this Bill love the countryside just as much as any rambler, holidaymaker or armchair conservationist. After all, I do live in my constituency, and that part of my constituency is first and foremost a working place. Exmoor is a gem. It was once a barren and dirty waste. Exmoor as it is today has been created and enhanced by the farming community. No one loves Exmoor more than those who live there throughout the year in difficult conditions, and not always earning a generous living.

The real and urgent task for Ministers is to encourage village life in remote places, and to do their best to arrest the drift to the towns and the decay and decline of the life of the English countryside. This Bill makes no practical contribution to solving that problem. That is why it is not the way forward. I wish it were. I should support it if it were. Instead, it is the way back.

The amount of cash that is provided for in the financial memorandum—which seems to be an underestimate—would be vastly better spent in my constituency in Exford, Winsford, Withypool and Dulverton in helping to keep open local village schools. The situation is continually painted in terms of exaggerated simplification. The Minister spoke of ploughing as a form of desecration. What a disgraceful statement. It is implied that if we do not pass this Bill all moorland will disappear under the plough. Of course that is not so. Many emotive phrases are being used. If it is true, I dare say that the House will regret it.

It was said that the British countryside was fast shrinking in its physical extent and that the criminals were the builders and the concreters. It is worrying that so much of the British countryside is disappearing in the present manner and at the present rate. The builder is the real criminal, not the local farmer who wants to plough up 50 or 100 acres of moorland.

Statistics were used selectively. The Minister did so. That is why I complain so much about his speech, which was neither fair nor correct.

The Minister quoted the Porchester report. I have not met Lord Porchester. I have no doubt that he included some valuable ideas in his report. All was well until we arrived at the conclusions. The Minister said that, between 1947 and 1976, 20 per cent. of moorland had been lost. What does he mean by the word "lost"? By implication, it almost means that it disappeared under the sea. But it means that it has been put to other uses. Who is to say whether those uses are worse or less attractive?

Anybody who knows anything about Exmoor—I am not sure that the Minister of States does—realises that much moorland was ploughed up immediately after the war, usually on the instructions of the former war executive committees. Indeed, the Minister of Agriculture even has an experimental farm at Liscombe, on Exmoor, but I should not expect the Minister of State to know that.

At page 31 of his report Lord Porchester said that over the past 10 years only 1,000 or 1,500 acres were lost to moorland in the critical area—that is to say, 100 acres a year were converted to agricultural uses over each of the past 10 years. That is one-quarter of 1 per cent. of the total. That was done—the Minister was careful not to say so—with the consent of the national parks committee. That is the trivial scale of this problem. The House of Commons is spending a day talking about a trivial problem.

For the past 10 years every voluntary agreement has been honoured. The Minister acknowledged that. We have a system that works. After the Porchester report there were three further agreements. There were five cases where management agreements broke down, but not as a result of any action by the farmers. That was not because the farmers did something outrageous. It was not because the farmers were rapacious, ruthless or determined to plough up land whatever the consequences. The breakdowns occurred for one reason: there were not sufficient funds at the disposal of the national parks authorities. There were insufficient funds with which to carry forward the agreements; or, if the Minister does not like my language, there was a decision not to spare the funds. The Minister nods his head, yet he contradicted me earlier.

I now refer to the last page of the study of management agreements. This was published by the Countryside Commissio. Its conclusion says that there were a number of difficulties, the first of which was inadequate financial resources. That is the truth. There is no other reason why management agreements have ever failed. Greater national funds have always been required to solve the problem. I use the term "national funds" advisedly.

The Minister says in a grand way that 90 per cent. of the funds required will be provided by the Exchequer. We know who will provide the other 10 per cent.—the wretched ratepayers. They are already facing substantial increases in rates as a result of the unfair policies of the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) says that rate increases in Somerset will be about 27 per cent.

Those arguments should convince the House that this Bill as it applies to Exmoor is an unnecessary measure. There is no demand on Exmoor for ploughing on any scale. The rate of reclamation is declining. The Minister was asked how many farmers were involved. He could not say. However, I say that a maximum of 25 are involved. Almost all of them do not want to plough moorland.

This Bill is unnecessary. The acreage it might involve is trivial. It is a bad Bill, apart from being unnecessary in other respects. Without doubt, it represents an unprecedented system of legal controls in peacetime on the farmer's traditional freedom to pursue his farming policies in accordance with his circumstances.

The compensation is undoubtedly inadequate. I thought that the Minister's vagueness was most unsatisfactory. I do not believe that it is right in any circumstances for the House to deprive a citizen of his rights without being able to tell him exactly what he will receive in exchange. The fact that the Minister is potentially willing to deprive citizens of their rights without telling them what he will give them in their stead is deplorable.

I now refer to the local schemes. One contemporary management agreement scheme, which is based, inter alia, on the price of land—it is a complex formula—brings the farmer in £20 per acre per year. Under the Bill, the fair-minded Minister is apparently striving to making a different arrangement. Under negotiations in a current case the farmer will be paid a once-and-for-all payment of £31.50 per acre. That sum is miserable and derisory. I hope that the Minister will do something about it.

The farmers feel that Ministers have not kept their word. The Minister said that the National Farmers' Union in general was not advising in its brief that the Bill should be voted against. Last Friday I was with the farmers in my constituency whose problem this is. I have spoken to them on the telephone more than once this week to discuss their views on the Bill. They are implacably opposed to what the Minister suggests. A trivial lump sum payment is no fair substitute for the extra annual income that a farmer may lose.

Perhaps the Minister of State will say how the system of valuation will work as described in clause 4. There have been no sales, and there are none at present. In those circumstances, how can market value be established? I should like the Minister to answer those points when he replies. My constituents want to know what is the position.

In the case that I have discussed, there is a difference of hundreds of pounds per acre by comparison with what the farmer's valuer and the local county council valuer suggest. How shall we reconcile that? Does the Minister think that the county valuer should be the sole arbiter of value? Apparently he is unwilling to answer. There should be an appeal machinery. I hope that the Minister will have something to say about that.

Mr. Denis Howell

There is such machinery.

Mr. du Cann

Oral assurances were given by the Minister, by his officials, and by agriculture Ministers and their officials, that the powers under the Bill would be used only as a back-up or long stop if voluntary agreements were not made. Nowhere does that statement appear in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill allows compulsory orders to be made without any prior attempt to negotiate. It seems to me that there is a minimum level of agreement in this Bill and a maximum level of compulsion. Why is there compulsion?

The National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association—the bodies which the Minister was pleased to quote in his speech—both argued for a procedure based on voluntary principles. So also did the national park authorities.

Why do we have compulsion? Why does not the Minister of State answer these questions? Perhaps his hon. Friend will do so when he replies.

Mr. Denis Howell

I hesitate to answer every inaccuracy in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He talked about there being no appeals procedure. Obviously he has not read or understood the Bill. Clause 4(10) makes quite clear the procedures of the Land Compensation Act 1961. Clause 4(9) makes quite clear that if an appeal is necessary it will be, as is usual in these matters, the Lands Tribunal which will decide the matter. That is the appeal machinery.

Mr. du Cann

Why should a local farmer be put to that cost and expense if he cannot get agreement? If the Minister says that there is an appeal procedure, I am very glad to have that clarification. That is the point of having these debates. My constituents generally do not believe that there is an appeal. If he has now made the matter clear, I am very pleased. But I notice that he has not answered my other question about why we have compulsion.

I do not think that the House of Commons has any business in any circumstances to impose compulsion on our fellow citizens if it can be shown that compulsion is not required and that a voluntary alternative exists. That is and should be the rule. In any case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash pointed out, subtler penalties exist to deal with the recalcitrant or the unco-operative, should they be necessary.

The powers in the Bill go beyond application of controls on moorland con- servation. Clause 2(6) refers to "any other agricultural operation" in designated areas. That is a gratuitous extension of regulation for which no one has ever argued. What is "any other agricultural operation" or occupation?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned clause 2(6). I am not sure that he is referring to the right clause.

Mr. du Calm

I am sorry; I meant clause 3(6). But the point is the same, whatever the reference may be. The fact is that the Minister is taking powers of regulation which go far beyond his declared and professed objectives. They go far beyond any recommendations that he may have accepted, as the fish accepted the hook.

What are these other agricultural operations that the Minister has in mind? We should all be glad to have some guidance. Is it spreading fertiliser? Is it spreading slag? Is it grazing a specific number of animals? There are much worse things than putting a bit of slag on moorland, such as putting on concrete, litter bins, caravans and ice cream kiosks. Those things should be controlled just as much as these operations of farmers, which give to those who do not have a very good livelihood the chance of a better one, and which have contributed so much to the beauty of that particularly lovely part of England.

The Government have it in their power to set the climate so that conservationists and practical people, if there are two sides in the matter—I do not believe that there are or that there should be—can co-operate in a spirit of good will in order to make the Exmoor national park a success. I am confident that the Bill will do the reverse. It will oblige those who try to serve Exmoor to make judgments which are invidious. It will undoubtedly bring ill will. That is why I oppose the Bill. The national parks do not need it. We have heard no justification for its being applied to the national parks in general. It is a Bill that Exmoor does not need or want. It would be better if the Minister left us alone. The farmers and the local people are the best managers of the Exmoor scene.

I deplore the constant interference of Government with the ordinary workaday lives of people. It is a silly impertinence to offer a Bill such as this for serious consideration by the House of Commons.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I welcome the Bill very strongly. I shall speak first about Exmoor and then about the national parks in general.

I am a West Countryman. I know Exmoor well. I have spent a great deal of time there from my childhood onwards. I even had the temerity to give evidence to Lord Porchester before he wrote his report. Exmoor, as we would all agree, is one of the most beautiful of our national parks. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) wants to destroy it by ploughing up most of the moorland there. He said that it was degrading to try to keep land under moorland instead of putting it under grass. My own view is that the present combination of grass fields and moorland on Exmoor is an ideal one. It is the right balance, on the whole, for Exmoor.

One of the biggest sources of revenue on Exmoor is holiday-making. The farmer's wife makes a large part of her income from the tourist who stays with her. If the beauty of Exmoor is destroyed, we shall destroy a great deal of the life of the countryside in Exmoor. It is important, therefore, to preserve Exmoor as a place of beauty, and part of that beauty is the moorland.

I am not talking about derelict land that has gone back. I agree that much of Exmoor was brought under cultivation, especially around Simonsbath, early in the last century when agriculture was profitable. Much of it went back out of cultivation during the times of bad farming. Much of it was ploughed up in the First World War and again in the Second World War. Few people realise how much of the area was ploughed up in the Second World War. Most of it was land which had previously been ploughed and has never gone back to proper moorland. It was full of gorse, bracken and reeds of one kind and another. That is not proper moorland and no one can object to that being ploughed up. It is the real heather moorland, which has never been under the plough, that is important. That is what we are talking about here.

Leaving Porlock and travelling on the road that goes right down to Lynmouth, one can see on the left an enormous stretch of heather moorland. If that were to be destroyed, Exmoor as a whole would be destroyed. In travelling along that road one can see that much land has already been ploughed up, especially on the Glenthorne estate. That is one of the places where there has been a great deal of trouble and difficulty because of the ploughing up of some of the area. Much of it ought not to have been ploughed up, but it has been in recent years.

The genesis of the Bill, and the campaign for the Bill, can be found in the encroachment which has taken place in recent years. The Bill is supported by the Exmoor Society, which consists of people living in the area who appreciate and enjoy it. Attention should be paid to their views. Indeed, they do not think that the Bill goes far enough in several ways.

The National Trust is one of the biggest preservers of the area. It, together with various public bodies, such as the Forestry Commission, owns about 20 per cent. of the area. It is quite a big area, and the National Trust estate consists partly of good farmland, partly of woodland—of which I shall say more later—and partly of open moorland, covering the Dunkery Beacon and the surrounding area. It is very well managed. The best interests of the farming areas and the open moorland areas are looked after. For open moorland has to be looked after and cared for. It has to be farmed as moorland. It has to be properly managed, and it has to be burnt. It cannot be left to manage itself.

There is one thing that I have to criticise at the present time about the Exmoor national park. That is the inadequate care, in many cases, of the woodland there. A certain amount of woodland is desirable, but one would not wish to see any large afforestation there. There is some very good woodland. There is a lot of woodland belonging to the National Trust, particularly in the Horner valley and in the Lyn valley. It is oak woodland, and much of it is scrub. Much of that would be improved by thinning.

It is important that woodland should be preserved as part of the scenery. Unless the sheep and deer are kept away, it can be preserved only by enclosing areas and replanting them from time to time. If it is left as it is now, it will ultimately perish. Therefore it is important to plan the care of this woodland.

The National Trust is doing some thinning, but a more comprehensive policy should be adopted on the woodland in that area. The national park has taken over the woodland from Culbone along the coast to Glenthorne. It has made a good job of thinning out that woodland, and part of the coast walk now goes through it, providing a feature of considerable beauty.

The criticism that I make of the national park authority is that it should examine the woodland in its area to ensure it is properly cared for and managed. An example of bad management is the top of Culbone Hill. Many generations ago the wrong kind of tree was planted there and it has now become derelict—the wood is not even suitable as firewood. The area should be replanted with suitable trees if it is to become a beauty spot in the future.

I believe that areas which were once under the plough and rotated for grass should be regrassed and weeded. The heather moorland that has not so far been ploughed should be preserved. I am in agreement with the proposals made by Lord Porchester that maps should be drawn up of the area with those parts to be preserved and the parts that can be reclaimed shown separately. None of this will work without reserve powers behind the Government to intervene and take action if necessary.

I turn to national parks in other parts of the country. What has happened to Exmoor, as my right hon. Friend has said, can happen in other areas of the country, for example, the High Peak in Derbyshire. In an area such as the Lake District there has to be positive planning. The National Trust owns about one-third of that area. It has deliberately set out to maintain sheep farming at considerable cost because that keeps the area as grass instead of its becoming scrub. This means that rents have had to be fixed to keep sheep farming as a viable occupation. There is also the tourist trade. The National Trust has done its best to adapt farmhouses to take guests. A great deal of money is also spent by the National Trust there in looking after deciduous woodland. It makes sure that the area remains a beauty spot and that where there have to be caravan sites they are sited in places which are not offensive to the eye, such as in woodland areas.

I speak as one keenly interested in forestry and I believe that it will be a great pity if, because there is a big planting programme—and I believe there should be one in the future to cut down our imports of raw materials for the wood-using industries—some of that planting has to be in the national parks. I do not believe there should be more planting in the Lake District or on Exmoor. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) is about to rise. I assure him that I take the view that Snowdonia has a fine combination of woodland and mountain scenery.

There are many areas that can never be planted, such as the coastland and anything above tree level. In Snowdonia, in the Betws-y-coed and Dolgellau areas there is an excellent combination of woodland and open scenery. I noted quite recently that at the very end of that national park there was a caravan site just outside the boundary. A few trees had been planted around it and it had not yet been hidden. However, in the national park every care was taken to disguise caravan and camping sites.

I believe that there is a case for more afforestation in many of the national parks, preferably to be spread around the country. When I was a young man and worked in Liverpool, I remember being told by horrified elderly people in the Lake District of the wonderful woodland that existed along the shores of Bassenthwaite but which had been cut down during the First World War. A year or two later the Forestry Commission bought the land and prepared to plant it up. There was an enormous outcry against that. Now that the area is mature it is due to be felled and there is a great outcry against this. Fortunately—and sensibly—the Forestry Commission, after consulting Dame Sylvia Crowe, has worked out an admirable plan for gradually felling parts of it and landscaping the whole of the area so that it will become even more beautiful than at present.

Much of the general objection to forestry is against the change of the use of the countryside. I believe that townspeople should take account of what people in the countryside think and feel. We should not try to dictate to those who have to earn their living in the countryside. It is important that sheep farming in the Lake District and the afforestation of other areas should be properly provided for, allowing for the possibility of change.

I realise that I have taken a strongly contrary view in the case of Exmoor. I take the view that there are some areas which can be improved agriculturally. It is important that townspeople who wish to go and enjoy the countryside should respect the feelings of country people and remember that they have to earn their living there throughout the year and not just in the holiday season.

When dealing with the problems of the national parks, we should allow room for development and change in a way that preserves their best and most beautiful features.

As a keen rambler, I believe that too much objection is taken by members of the anti-conifer brigade. They object to any kind of afforestation in most areas of the countryside. I believe that conifers can be beautiful if they are properly landscaped and looked after. A mature forest that contains trees of different ages provides a great source of wildlife—far more than open and bare moorland. There is far more bird and animal life in mature woodland of all ages, and it provides areas of great beauty.

One has only to take a path through the woods of Betws-y-coed or go to Tarn Hows in the Lake District to see that people appreciate mature woodland. No one likes to see blanketing—young trees covering everything—but woodland has to be built up and be well landscaped to become attractive and to be a source of income, thus cutting down on future timber imports. Also, at the same time, woodland should be beautiful, and it will then be appreciated by people as a whole.

I suggest that in managing the national parks that point of view should be taken, that afforestation should be provided for and not cut out altogether. Some people fail to recognise the fact that the country- side has been made by man and will go on being made by man. We should retain its best features and at the same time carry out changes to the advantage of our people.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has given us, not for the first time, an excellent lesson in the practical realities of forestry. I do not think that he can do it often enough, because it never fails to amaze me how many people seem to forget that trees, like every other living thing, have a life span and that sooner or later they are bound to die or rot away. Because of that, and as timber is of great value to the human race, it is sensible to cut mature trees and to replace them with young ones, despite the opposition to which that process often gives rise.

It is stating the obvious to say that this country is an overcrowded island. But because of that, and, furthermore, because about 84 per cent of the British people live in urban areas, it is all the more important from time to time to ensure a proper balance between the needs of those who work in the countryside and the recreational requirements of those in urban areas who wish to use the countryside for their off-work pleasure and entertainment. The question is whether the Bill will maintain or redress the balance between the varying interests of people or will do neither.

Like many hon. Members, I am a farmer. I also claim to be a conservationist. Therefore, I wish to make two introductory points to my fairly brief remarks. First, as a conservationist, I wish to ensure, and to continue to try to ensure, adequate protection for the British heritage, whether it be buildings works of art or our landscape.

Secondly, let us be in no doubt that the beauty and attraction of the British landscape—the patchwork quilt of the countryside—is largely man-made. That means that it has been made by farmers and landowners. Furthermore, any measure which is aimed at interfering with the freedom of action of farmers or landowners involves a sacrifice on their part, in the first instance, and on no one else's. Therefore, the interests of those farmers and landowners should be treated with great care and delicacy, and they should be generously compensated should it be decided that, on balance, their interests should be interfered with in any way.

That brings me to the first question that I wish to ask. I refer to the level of compensation. How is it to be assessed? The National Farmer's Union, in the brief which it provided to some hon. Members prior to the debate, made an extremely valid point. Among other things, it stated: However, with one notable exception these negotiations —in connection with the establishment of management agreements— have proved abortive, not because of failure to agree on the management aspects, but because the authority have been unwilling to accept the financial commitment involved. Therefore, one again asks: what is the basis of compensation, be it in respect of annual payments under clause 6, which is concerned with management agreements, or under clause 4 where a once-and-for-all payment is currently proposed for a moorland conservation order?

The Minister of State said that there was plenty of money. If there is plenty of money, and if agreement has not been reached in respect of the hoped-for management agreements, the form of assessment of the compensation must be inadequate to meet the judgment of farmers or landowners as to what they should receive in compensation. I hope that in winding up the debate the Under-Secretary of State will refer to that matter again.

Equally, the financial memorandum refers to £64,000 expenditure next year. On what is that figure based? What is the basis of the compensation? It is of great importance to the House to know more about the basis of compensation. Should the Bill receive a Second Reading, it will be of even greater importance to farmers and landowners. It will be on the basis of the assessment of compensation that they will have either confidence or no confidence in this measure, should it become an Act of Parliament. Therefore, we must know more about this subject.

I turn now to clause 4. I think that, as drafted, it is somewhat misleading. The relative merits of annual and once-and-for-all compensation payments have already been referred to, and they are very important. But, in reality, it seems that clause 4 refers not only to compensation where moorland conservation orders are made but, to be more precise, to compulsory purchase orders of rights to develop land for agricultural purposes. I think that the House should judge clause 4 on the basis that it is concerned with compulsory purchase orders.

As I see it, the objective of a moorland conservation order is that a farmer or landowner should lose a right in perpetuity in order to retain moorland in its natural state for the benefit of a wider public. I understand that moorland conservation orders will be permanent, not temporary. If my analysis is correct, I see an argument in favour of a once-and-for-all-time payment for an MCO.

On the other hand, cannot land on which there is or may be an MCO also be subject to annual compensation as a result of a management agreement later entered into under clause 6? Such a management agreement might, for example, be concerned with a temporary arrangement to be entered into about the numbers of sheep which a piece of land can support. It might be concerned with compensation to be given to a farmer in order that he may undertake the control of gorse or some other natural growth which the national parks committee considers undesirable. Perhaps, also, a management agreement might be concerned with the maintenance of drainage running through a piece of land.

The Minister of State seemed to deny the possibility that there could be a moorland conservation order followed by a maintenance agreement. Is he correct? The right hon. Gentleman referred to exemption from capital transfer tax, I think he said under the provisions of the Finance Act 1976, of land subject to moorland conservation orders, and I think he said "and management agreements", but may I have confirmation of that?

If it is the case that there will be exemption from capital transfer tax of land coming under both headings it will, as I understand it, do no more than bring such land into line with capital transfer tax remissions on other aspects of our national heritage, such as buildings and conservation areas. It is important that we know clearly precisely what the position is concerning capital transfer tax. If capital transfer tax exemption will be allowed under both these categories, it will be excellent.

If that is so, what the Minister of State said goes much further than the Porchester report, because the final sentence of paragraph 11.38 on page 60 says: This may involve the making of appropriate arrangements to avoid the possibility of double compensation being allowed where land designated as being exempt from capital transfer tax is also subject to a moorland conservation order. It would seem from that that Lord Porchester was not suggesting compensation for a moorland conservation order and capital transfer tax remission, and it would also seem from what the Minister of State said today that the Government have gone further. May that be clarified?

The Bill, as the House knows, originates from what some hon. Gentlemen believe to be an Exmoor problem, and what some of my hon. and right hon. Friends believe is not a problem. Certainly the question has to be asked, therefore: is the Bill necessary? Hon. Gentlemen who are better informed than I am about Exmoor will express, and have expressed, their own views, but from the point of view of the objective observer that I hope I am, a glance at the maps which were included in the Porchester report seems to show that there has been a considerable erosion of moorland since 1947.

Perhaps more important than that, I want to turn again to the question of the other national parks. The Minister of State said he had no intention, and that the Government had no intention, of acting in respect of other parks under the powers which would be provided by this Bill should it become an Act, and of course I accept that. But, that being so, I believe that the requirement in clause 2(2) should be for an affirmative order and not, as proposed, a negative one. I believe that this is of great importance indeed, because the Government should come back to the House for a further major debate such as could be provided under the procedure that I suggest if any other national park is to be subject to the provisions of the Bill.

If the Bill receives a Second Reading—this has become very obvious already—a number of points will have to be cleared up in Committee. But what is of great importance is that farmers and landowners should not feel threatened by conservation. If they do feel so threatened, there will be less and less co-operation, which will be to the advantage of no one. Above all, and I want to emphasise this again, the fear of Bills such as this can be met to a considerable extent by more generous compensation than there has been up to now. The success or failure of the national parks depends upon good will.

6.45 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I welcome the Bill and very much regret that the Opposition are not supporting it at this stage and are aiming to amend it in Committee. It seems to me that they have perhaps read carefully the first five clauses and decided that they do not like them and have never got round to looking at the good which they ought to have seen in the remainder of the Bill. I believe that this is a positive and useful measure, and that if it is sensible to criticise anything at all, it is that it does not go far enough rather than that it goes too far.

Having spent a great deal of time as a child living and working on farms, and now spending as much of my leisure as possible walking and climbing in the countryside, I am well aware of the conflicts that exist between farmers and those who work in the countryside and the people who want to use the countryside for their leisure. It is important that those who are pressing for the preservation of the countryside and for increasing the amenities of it should recognise the legitimate fears and concerns of farmers.

One way to see that is to start applying the farmers' thinking to some of the situations in urban areas. I have asked one or two of my constituents what they would think if, suddenly, people started walking through their gardens or back yards. What would any one of the factories in my constituency say if suddenly a party of people walked uninvited through the factory, stopped in the middle of a centre aisle, threw down a groundsheet and started to eat a picnic and, as unfortunately often happens, left behind bottles or cans? I suspect that there would very quickly be an uproar.

What would happen if in any one of the factories in my constituency there was suddenly a protest movement because the management had decided to rip out a 50-year-old lathe which blended into the scenery of that factory and put in a new modern piece of equipment? I do not think any protest movement would get very far in persuading the management not to carry that out.

There is a danger that we apply a double set of standards, and I think that many farmers feel, legitimately, that outsiders really have as little right to criticise their decisions and their attempts to modernise the landscape as they have to criticise the way the urban dweller keeps his garden or the way the factory develops.

It is worth pointing out that most farmers, I think rightly, consider that today farming is an industry, and a vital one. But, having recognised that, we have to say that people who use the countryside for leisure can point to a whole series of traditional rights of access to the countryside. Particularly if we go back much further in our history, before the enclosure Acts, it was easy for people in small towns and villages who were not landowners to have access to vast areas of the countryside without anyone asking any questions at all.

We also recognise that the problems of country users have increased greatly in recent years. The number of people who wish to go into the countryside for leisure purposes grows steadily each year, so that there is greater demand for countryside amenities. I refer to the number of people who not only want to walk or climb but who want to sit, to observe the birds, flowers and insects. Many of the most attractive scenic spots are extremely overcrowded and, as a consequence, the peace and tranquility sought by so many people are denied by the very people who want to enjoy them. Therefore, because of the pure pressure of numbers, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the countryside.

I recall that many of the walks I did as a teenager in the country lanes of Cheshire have now been completely ruined by the motor car. The walks in the old days took one along half a mile of made-up road, then across a lane that was not made up, then along a footpath, back on to another road, and so one continued on a varied journey. Nowadays, the sections that involve walking on a road have, because of the motor car, become completely unattractive. The countryside walks which combined the enjoyment of roads and footpaths have disappeared and we have seen a steady expansion of urbanisation out into the countryside. Many attractive walks around Manchester enjoyed by people in the 1920s and 1930s have disappeared under housing estates, sewerage works and factories.

There are strong arguments on both sides. I appreciate the feelings of the farmer who is threatened by those who want to come out from the towns to use his land for leisure. Equally, there is a strong argument that those in the towns have a right to get out into the countryside, to breathe its fresh air and to enjoy the scenery.

This conflict of interest goes back a long way. I was recently looking through some old books and I saw a reference to an event in 1583, when a Thomas Lawley of Much Wenlock sent off his land a funeral party with a corpse. It seemed amazing that a man should turn back a funeral party in that way. However, I discovered that it was the old tradition that if one took a corpse across land it created a right of way.

Much more recently, in the 1930s, there were nasty confrontations in the Peak District, particularly in areas such as Kinder Scout, between gamekeepers and walkers. Fortunately, most of those old battles have been resolved. However, when one hears the belligerent remarks of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), it appears that he would like to reopen that kind of armed confrontation between would-be country users and those who live in an area and those who want to prevent access by others. I should very much regret it if that sort of conflict were to return to the countryside. As a child, I can remember being ordered off Kinder Scout by a gamekeeper armed with a shotgun. That made a great impression on me.

Since 1947, following the creation of the national parks, and more recently in the setting up of the Countryside Commission, the Government have tried to intervene to resolve many of the conflicts of interest. In the Peak District national park, this intervention has helped farmers and the recreational interests. Many of the access agreements have been welcomed by farmers and country users alike. My only regret is that there has not been more use of access agreements in many of the other parks, since they bring benefit to both groups of people.

I suggest that too much of our legislation dealing with the countryside is an example of the worst aspect of British politics, namely, the kind of compromise that leaves everybody dissatisfied. That is a difficulty which must be borne in mind. My children were arguing the other day about which television channel they should watch. One wanted "Dr. Who" and the other "Wonder Woman". The simple solution in that situation is to take the view "Very well, you can have one minute of one channel, then one minute of the other channel". That is an example of the worst of all worlds. One must try to be constructive and try to persuade children to do something completely different. This is the kind of problem with which the Government must deal in the conflict between farmers and recreational users. One must seek to persuade them that they can benefit by what is available in the countryside. I believe that many elements of the Bill offer positive advantages to both groups of user.

It is perhaps a little regrettable that the Bill contains compulsory powers. However, if the problem in Exmoor is so small, as some Conservatives have suggested, could not agreement have been reached before the Minister found it necessary to introduce compulsory powers? If it is such a simple problem, those hon. Members who represent country constituencies should seek to persuade farmers voluntarily to enter into the agreements envisaged in clause 6. I much prefer these things to be carried out voluntarily. However, if one cannot persuade people to volunteer, it would appear that clause 6 will be worth while as a reserve power.

My right hon. Friend the Minister said that at present the Bill's provisions are intended to extend only to Exmoor. That is a reasonable view, but I hope that this power will be put on to the statute book so that, if the worst comes to the worst and he cannot obtain voluntary agreement in other national park areas or in other areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Minister will be able to bring in compulsory powers quickly by bringing an order before the House.

There was a great outcry in the North-West when it was proposed to bring intensive farming methods to the Ribble estuary, since it was said that that would destroy valuable bird sanctuaries. Fortunately, the Minister was able to intervene and use the existing powers. It was fortunate that he possessed those powers. They were not originally obtained with a view to dealing with the Ribble estuary but were general powers. Therefore, I believe that it is a good thing to have general powers which can be used for other national park areas.

I turn to the subject of the extent of orders made under the Bill. Will these provisions apply to forestry, particularly in Exmoor? Will they apply also to shelter belts which, although fairly small in terms of the number of trees planted, change the whole nature of the countryside? Will the Minister also say a few words about burning? That is not so much of a problem in Exmoor, but burning is a traditional form of moorland management. I should like to be clear whether burning is included within these provisions.

I should also like to ask the Minister about the period of 20 years. Why was such a period chosen? In many areas—not particularly in Exmoor—major ploughing up occurred during or just after the last war. Many areas still owe their appearance to the cultivation that took place during that period. If the ploughing up were done, say, once every 30 years, that could possibly be justified. But is a figure of 20 years the most logical period to select, and would not a slightly longer period be more reasonable?

On the subject of compensation—no doubt, this matter can be dealt with more adequately in Committee—I believe that grants given to farmers to carry out improvements in marginal areas are important. Farmers can often obtain 50 to 60 per cent. of the cost of carrying out such work. If a farmer has a cash flow problem, he can obtain a grant by carrying out improvements. A farmer in a marginal area, with no obvious piece of work to carry out for a certain period of time, may well find that it is worth undertaking an improvement in order to obtain the grant.

If by agreement or by compulsion the farmer is denied the opportunity to undertake development, can he obtain some compensation in respect of the money which he might have earned? It is a small point, but it is important that the Government are generous in their compensation provisions. In the effort to resolve the conflict about the use of the countryside, it is important for the Government to make the farmer enthusiastic about the national parks. It will reduce possible conflict if in the process the farmer is seen to obtain positive benefits.

I turn now to clauses 6 and 7, which refer to grants and loans. It seems to me that this is one area of the legislation where the Government could convince the farmer that there are positive advantages for him. Some interesting experimental schemes have been carried out in the Peak District and the Lake District where, either by using volunteers or, in some instances, by making payments, the national parks authority has carried out improvements which have considerably benefited both the farmer and the country user. I am thinking particularly of such matters as the repair and maintenance of walls and stiles, as well as the drainage system.

A large part of the countryside was carefully drained by farmers in the nineteenth century. A fantastic number of man hours must have gone into the building of such things as stone drains, which are now not very apparent in the countryside. Once these drains start to disappear the amount of marshland will increase, thereby causing the destruction of footpaths and agricultural land. The Government—and through the Government the national parks authority—could be more positive about repairing those old, traditional features of the countryside which are so important to its appearance. There is a danger that the modern farmer who has to make a living from his land will not see the importance of repairing many of those features. They are not as obvious to him as they are to the person who uses the countryside for leisure purposes.

I hope that the Government will make sure that money is available for loans and grants so that the national parks can play a positive role. The parks authorities ought to look at the viability of some of the marginal holdings and be prepared to say to some of the marginal farmers "We want you to continue farming, but we also want you to look at conservation measures. If you need a supplement to your farming income, instead of getting a job elsewhere and working your land only at weekends why not work at conserving the area for the national parks authority?" In that way farmers would supplement their income in terms of a management agreement.

I notice that there is a small power—I believe it is in clause 8—for a national park authority to extend its area. I know that this raises a lot of controversy, but if the national park authorities are successful in convincing farmers that they are being fair and giving them as many benefits as they are giving to the recreational user, we ought to reach a situation where farmers outside national parks are campaigning to have the boundaries extended. I can imagine areas where some farmers already believe that they receive more advantage by being in the scheme rather than out of it. The clause would therefore be very useful, and logical extensions can be made to the national parks.

There are one or two areas on the edges of national parks which, in my view, ought to have been included and which, perhaps because of their proximity to urban areas, are more used and suffer greater wear and tear from a large volume of visitors.

I particularly like the part of the Bill dealing with experiments, although I wish that the national park authorities would be a little more adventurous in their experiments with regard to traffic management.

We had from the Opposition From Bench a series of suggestions about matters which they would have liked to see in the Bill. I am a little sceptical whether they could have put into the Bill measures dealing with traffic management in national parks. Such matters are extremely controversial. Unless specific proposals could be made, I think that it would be very difficult for the Opposition. It is more worth while to continue with these as experiments. There are areas of our national parks where peace and quiet are destroyed by people from outside and by the volume of traffic using them at holiday weekends and during holiday periods. We need more experiments to deal with these problems.

I welcome again the clause dealing with wardens, although here I should like to see the national park authorities attempting to use one or two farmers as wardens. I notice the experiments which the NFU has been conducting by having farm open days. More effort in some of the national parks could be made to open more farms so that people might visit them to see exactly what is involved. That would enable the visitor to appreciate the countryside and take more care of it.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that there will be some resolution of the problem of bulls on footpaths. I hope that this materialises. There is something very disturbing after going for a long walk in the hills, in finding, on the way down, that in the last couple of fields between oneself and the road the public footpath is occupied by a bull. One has quite a bit of hesitation about deciding whether to trail back five or six miles or even further or to venture on to the footpath through the field. There are many people who go into the countryside who cannot tell the difference between a bull and a bullock. People complain that their route has been hindered by what they claim are bulls when they are nothing of the sort. This is a problem, and I hope that the compromise is one which will work and solve most of the problems.

It seems a pity that in the Bill the Minister has gone for a 90 per cent. Government grant and that 10 per cent. will come from the locality. I should have thought that the Government could go the whole way as regards finance. This is a national resource, and I should have thought that the Government could say that it was something that ought to be paid for nationally. It is one of those small points which niggle the local community when it is asked to pay for amenities which benefit the nation as a whole.

It is worth remembering that although tourism often brings to some people in the countryside a considerable income, often for other people living side by side it brings nothing but disadvantages. If we are to encourage people to use our countryside rather than to travel abroad, and if we are to attract visitors tram abroad, there are major advantages to the Exchequer, which ought to make generous enough grants of 100 per cent. rather than going for 90 per cent.

Finally, I am disappointed mat the Minister has not taken the opportunity to deal with the problem of dogs. It appals me when I see the number of people who go into the countryside and assume not only that they have a right to roam the countryside but that their dogs have the right to roam completely unchecked.

About nine months ago I received from the Minister some appalling figures of livestock which are either killed or damaged by stray dogs, or dogs accompanied by their owners, worrying sheep. Surely there could have been something about that in the Bill which would have been welcomed by the farmers.

I welcome the Bill. It could, if generously implemented, do a great deal to improve many of the national parks for recreational users. It could also do a great deal to allay the fears of farmers who feel that they are being taken advantage of and give them positive advantages so that in the years ahead they, as much as the users, will campaign to preserve and extend the powers of and the areas covered by the national park authorities.

7.8 pm

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on his interesting address to the House. I wrote down some of his words with which I entirely agree. He said that the "compromise leaves everyone dissatisfied." That, I think, is the exact reason for Lord Porchester coming to the conclusions that he did in his report. I shall come back to that in a moment.

I must declare an interest. I am an ex-farmer, a member of the National Farmers' Union, a supporter of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and father of two sons who are both agricultural workers, one of whom is a member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. I am also a conservationist.

I was relieved to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). At least that was a more considered approach to the Bill. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) was certainly overstating the case, though I realise that the NFU is a strong lobby. I can understand the view of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) because he has his constituents' interests to look after. I think that his words were pretty expansive, nevertheless. He knows his case, of course he does—far better than I—and he had a duty to put it here. But when one is trying to look at the Bill dispassionately, as hon. Members are supposed to do, I find some of the remarks made from the Conservative Opposition Benches quite extraordinary.

I congratulate Lord Porchester on his report. He is a distinguished former chairman of the Hampshire county council and a former vice-chairman of the Association of County Councils. His report is an extremely worthwhile effort. He has reached some sensible conclusions, which is the reason for the Bill. He states quite clearly why he reached those conclusions. His facts have been clearly reported. He shows quite adamantly and clearly that there is no other way than to come forward with the idea of these moorland conservation orders, as opposed to leaving things as they are, because leaving things as they are, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North said, is a compromise which will only leave everyone dissatisfied. That is because what happens is that one gets some sort of agreement whereby some land is not improved but other land is improved, and in the end the worst of both worlds results.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North mentioned the Ribble estuary. There is enormous pressure on our land at present. For a few years I managed an estate in the north of Scotland which was bought for under £1 an acre in the early 1960s. It changed hands about two years ago for more than 12 times that amount. In days gone by, farmers who sold well in the East of England or the Midlands could go down to Devon or Cornwall and buy farms at well under £100 an acre and there was always a very large supply on offer. Today it is a very different story.

We know that pressure is coming from the Continent, from Holland in particular, to buy up a number of estates. The attitudes of many of these buyers are rather different from those of the traditional landowners of the past. The niceties of the past, which have always obtained in the landlord and tenant system, and the general attitudes which have prevailed do not apply in these cases. We have seen quite a lot of the unrest that is occurring now, particularly in Scotland, where Dutch owners and others have come over and are trying to undertake developments which are contrary to what the local people expected and contrary to what is good for their own future well-being.

The traditional patterns in the countryside are changing rapidly. In my own constituency, the Isle of Wight, I never expected to see some of the developments that have taken place over the last three or four years. On our heavy clay land in the north of the island, we are now seeing huge fields. I never expected to see corn grown there, but now wheat is being grown on this land. Hedgerows are being torn out. Too much of some our rough land and downland is disappearing under the plough, to the detriment of our wildlife.

Parkland in my constituency has been destroyed beyond repair for the benefit of the massive machinery which is now being used in agriculture, which costs huge sums of money and which has to be put to good use. The cost of some of these machines is £30,000 or £40,000. One particular piece of parkland related to the Worsley family, at Wroxall on the Isle of Wight, was put down by Capability Brown, but over the last 10 years that has been progressively destroyed, and destroyed because of the compromises about which I have spoken. We have allowed certain trees to be felled and have not taken enough notice of others or have not put preservation orders on them. That parkland will never come back to what it was, even if we manage to get some agreement with the owner to do some replanting.

The balance has been tilted a little too much in favour of the agriculturists. With such large sums at stake, and with the money that is changing hands, it will be far more difficult to stop this trend in the future unless we have the sort of legislation that is now proposed.

Lord Porchester studiously avoided extending the compulsory purchase procedures, which always cause such heart-searching. I am told that the MCOs are likely to have application, apart from in Exmoor, only to the North Yorkshire moors. Someone has suggested that they might apply in South Wales, but I am not so sure about that. However, any extension is likely to be limited to North Yorkshire.

I question the alternative put forward by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash of withdrawing grant-aid, because someone must make that decision, and it will be a very argumentative decision, particularly among farmers. If Farmer Brown gets his 60 per cent. grant but that is withheld from Farmer Black, one can imagine what will happen. Therefore, I do not believe that that alternative is a proposition which we can fully accept.

I turn to the other aspect to which the Minister referred—the urban land lying idle, in many cases, on the fringes of our towns. I suggest, in general, that there are large tracts of cultivable land lying idle now, much of which is waiting, possibly, to be developed—land with hope value—or because of a quirk of the owner. Some very odd people have bought land in this country and some of it is just being left uncultivated.

I urge the Government to consider putting a site tax on that land. I hope that the Countryside Commission will come forward with that idea. It has already been promoted by the Civic Trust. Certainly, something must be done about it. As I come up to London every day from my constituency, I pass perfectly good pastureland which was an absolute dream to look at three or four years ago but is now completely overgrown. I believe that the agent was not even served with a notice requiring him to cut the thistles. He happens to be a member of the county council, so perhaps that is one of the reasons. However, I am desperately disappointed to see this happening. It certainly is not land that is likely to be the subject of any planning consent in the near future.

As regards compensation, I have acted for many farmers in the past. I have gone before the Lands Tribunal. I can honestly say that I do not know of a case —although no doubt there are some—in which the farmer has come off particularly badly when he has taken it to appeal and gone to the Lands Tribunal. Nearly always, district valuers in the first instance bend over backwards to give more than adequate compensation. Even ruts and such like have been included in claims, although made by tractors 20 years ago. Suddenly they were there only last week when the water main was laid and so they go into the claim. The land has to be ploughed, re-seeded and so on, and this all goes into the claim and multiplies the sum by 10. Farmers generally do pretty well out of compensation claims. Certainly those that go to the agricultural Lands Tribunal will, I am sure, be properly considered.

The hon. Member for Devizes raised some points to which we shall all want to know the answers in Committee. I personally doubt whether any farmers will lose very much by the Bill. I suggest that some will rather welcome the intention of putting in applications to cultivate moorland though not really wanting to get permission. This is what happened under the old Town and Country Planning Act 1947, when they all put in their claims and drew compensation, and much of that land has never been built on to this day. It was money for old rope. Some of the farmers in this case will probably be submitting an application, although not really wanting to cultivate the land, and drawing compensation. Therefore, it may be a nice little nest egg for someone whose bank manager is breathing down his neck.

I was very pleased to hear what the Minister said about footpaths. There are far too many footpaths in this country, even to this day. The whole process of trying to get them obliterated or trying to get divergencies for them is far too complicated. Although in this case we are talking only about bulls, I sincerely hope that the Government will finally make it a much simpler process.

One of my constituents was unfortunately labelled as having a bridle path through his farm. It was never a bridle path. It was designated purely through a wrong entry by the chairman of the parish council. It was a footpath. It took about three years to get that matter put right. That is terribly difficult to do once a path is on the definitive map.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North is just leaving the Chamber. Before he does so, perhaps I may give him a guide about bulls. I used to breed a fair number myself. If one is entering a field in which there happen to be some bulls, one should make sure that they are not black and white bulls or Jersey bulls. I think that most people agree that beef bulls are not really the cause of many problems. It is very rare to find a Hereford or a Lincoln Red which is rough with anyone.

I hope that the agreement which has been arrived at is a sensible one, because farmers must leave bulls in with their suckling herds. They have to be in with them for at least five or six months. It is very unfair on the bull to shut him up in a pen for most of the time. Why should he not be allowed to run out? He has as much right to the fields as the general public. Fortunately, in the Isle of Wight, we managed to get out of the local byelaws, and I used to run quite a lot of bulls on low land. People used to complain about it, but I had every right to put them there and there was never any problem.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is much concern, especially in upland areas, where walkers are involved in fairly lengthy walks and where their routes down to the main roads involve going through fields that contain bulls? Although I am prepared to walk through a field containing bulls of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has described, many of those with whom I have walked are not prepared to venture near a field that has a bull in it. That fear and worry is as much a problem as the presence of the bull.

Mr. Ross

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will undertake some educating. I consider it wrong that we put rings in the noses of our bulls. That is not done in Scotland. It is considered that there is no need to do it. In the Highlands one sometimes sees half a dozen bulls together grazing in a field. That is something that I have not dared to do with my bulls. When I see it I am amazed. It seems that some education is needed on the whole subject.

I hope that in Committee we can incorporate into the Bill the preservation of limestone pavements, especially those in North Yorkshire and Cumbria. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash said that we should insert in the Bill provisions for the preservation of pits and protection for mineral extraction.

There is much feeling about limestone pavements. I have a letter from the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lancaster, which states that limestone pavements are a striking topographical and important scientific feature of the Craven area of North Yorkshire (chiefly geological and botanical) of these pavements has long been appreciated and several are designated by the Nature Conservancy Council as Sites of Special Scientific Importance. However, whether scheduled or not, all sites are continually at risk from operators who remove the surface water-worn blocks to supply the lucrative demand for rockery stone. I know that there have been public inquiries. On each occasion those who have wanted to extract have lost. Planning permission should be obtained first, but they do not get it. They tend to go in and take, and it is often too late in the day when it is necessary to go through the process of a stop notice and the rest of the procedure. It would be a great step forward if we could incorporate in the Bill some protection for limestone pavements, 80 per cent. of which are in the North of England. These pavements are rapidly disappearing. If I am a member of the Committee that considers the Bill, I hope that I shall have a chance to go into the matter in greater detail. I hope that the Government will consider my efforts with some sympathy.

Most of my colleagues—that includes my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe)—will be supporting the Bill. We shall be voting against the amendment. I cannot say that that will be the attitude of all my colleagues. There are one or two who are rather blinkered and they may vote against the Bill. However, the majority of Liberal Members will support it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

In view of the lateness of the hour and the number of hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate, I appeal to hon. Members who are called by the Chair to reduce their countryside walks from 15 miles to 10 miles. Surely hon. Members will be able to proceed at a mile a minute. It will be helpful to other hon. Members if they do so.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I take note of your warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the length of my walk. I am not sure whether there is a special exemption for those of us who live and work within the areas of national parks.

In this debate Wales is in the realm of hypothetical legislation. I am detaining the House only because the Secretary of State for Wales is associated with the Bill. There has been the long-term potential threat that parts of the Bill may be invoked that will have an effect on agriculture in Wales.

The debate should demonstrate the vital need to move as rapidly as possible to regional devolution in England so that a legislative issue that affects Exmoor may be debated within an elected assembly representing the South-West of England. In that way it may be possible for decisions that are vital to those in the various regions to be made in the regions rather than have a primary legislative Bill for England and Wales to deal with, for example, the specific instance of Exmoor and hypothetically with the rest of England and Wales where there are national parks, though completely excluding Scotland.

The nature of agriculture and landscape in the Snowdonia park is entirely different from that in Exmoor. Therefore, it is a nonsense to extend the agricultural provisions of the Bill to the Snowdonia park and the other Welsh parks. That was recognised in the Sandford report. The report referred in paragraph 9.7 to the problems of Exmoor. It referred to the identification of critical amenity areas. It referred to appraisals being made of the North Yorkshire moors and to the monitoring of fencing and the conversion of open country in Dartmoor. Paragraph 9.8 states: The problems which have arisen in those three parks do not seem to occur to a similar extent in the other parks where conditions and circumstances differ considerably. The advice we have obtained suggests that the main change expected in the other parks is the introduction of controlled grazing, which will require additional fencing, both of land which is already enclosed and, gradually, of the better quality and more favourably situated land which is at present 'open country'. It seems unlikely, however, that any substantial proportion of the latter would be affected in these parks. Accordingly while developments should be kept under review comprehensive surveys would be premature and such proposals as may come farward may approprately be judged by their local impact. That is the Sandford committee expressing a view on the need to control agricultural activity in the national parks outside the three parks that are mentioned.

The considered view of the committee was that such limitation of agricultural activity within the other national parks was not required. The same view was taken by the Snowdonia national park authority when it published its response to the Sandford committee. It stated: Nid oes llawer o dir agored garw yn Eryri sy'n addas ar gyfer ei droi'n dir amaethyddol amgaeedig. Fel pob math arall o ffermio bydd rhaid i ffermio mynydd symud gyda'r oes. Digwyddodd hyn yn ystod yr 20 mlynedd diwethaf, a bydd yn parhau i ddigwydd. Byddai'n beryglus ceisio Ilesteirio cynnydd amaethyddol mewn Parciau Cenedlaethol."

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has wandered off the beaten track. It is my understanding that our proceedings are to be conducted in English.

Mr. Thomas

I was quoting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the official version of the response of the Snowdonia national park authority.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must obtain an English translation.

Mr. Thomas

A translation of the relevant sentence is that it would be dangerous to prevent the growth and expansion of agriculture in national parks. That is a rough translation of the reference to rough grazing in Snowdonia.

The dominant farming unit within Snowdonia is the hill farm. The hill farm divides itself into three sections. First, there is the bottom land. Secondly, there is the ffridd, which I shall not translate because that is a strict agricultural term that refers to enclosed mountain. Thirdly, there is the mountain itself, which is generally unenclosed.

The pattern of agriculture in the Snowdonia park is that some of the ffridd land has been improved because it is susceptible to improvement. However, that is the only type of land that can be improved. It is the loss of rough grazing to forestry and not the impact of other incursions that has affected agriculture in the Snowdonia park. About 12,500 acres have been lost to the park by afforestation over the past 30 years since the park was established.

Does moorland and heath mean ffridd? I assume that the Welsh Office was consulted when the Bill was being prepared. I do not see any Ministers or officials of the Welsh Office in attendance. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me whether ffridd land as defined within Snowdonia includes moorland and heathland. If there is not that inclusion, none of the provisions of the Bill will in reality be applicable to Snowdonia, although in theory within the Bill as drafted such land will be included if the hill land within the Snowdonia park is construed as being moorland and heathland. In that event, the legislation will be applicable and the legislation before us will become even more hypothetical than I suggested at the beginning of my remarks.

I am in difficulty when we talk about the meaning of "agricultural operations". This is defined in clause—

Mr. Denis Howell

May I tell the hon. Gentleman that I have taken advice, and I think that the firidd land that he talks about means "middle hill" and certainly this provision would not be applicable. The hon. Gentleman is right in his further assumption that the Snowdonia national park itself has, as far as I know, no moorland or heathland as defined in this Bill which would be capable of agricultural development. We can agree, therefore, that for all practical purposes this Bill will never be applied to Snowdonia. I hope that that is a great comfort to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Thomas

It is a great relief to me personally and will be to the hill farmers I represent. Having had that satisfaction, I shall draw my remarks to an even more rapid conclusion.

In respect of the other national parks I think that we need a more specific designation of what is an agricultural operation. I am advised, in view of the earlier discussions about bulls, that the case law includes artificial insemination as being an agricultural operation. In the context of national parks, drainage, fencing, the making or roads for farm machinery and the application of fertiliser are all agricultural operations, so presumably, like the removal of bracken, they will be classified as an agricultural operation. That therefore would come, in the other national parks if not in Snowdonia, within the Bill.

We do not have any definition of rough grazing within the Bill. I do not know whether some kind of botanical definition of rough grazing will emerge at a later stage, but how does one distinguish between rough grazing and open grazing? It is essential that in Committee we should define more clearly and precisely what we mean by the term "rough grazing" and "agricultural operation."

I move to the question of the increase in the powers of the Countryside Commission that feature in the Bill. These presumably can and may refer to Snowdonia and to the other Welsh parks either as the present situation obtains through the England and Wales Countryside Commission or, as I certainly have confidence in saying, the situation which will obtain after 1 March with the implementation of the Wales Act. Then we shall have a Countryside Commission for Wales as laid down within the Act. But I do not understand the need for the procedure which is set out in clause 8 of this Bill which provides that the orders designating national parks will be made by the Countryside Commission as well as by the Secretary of State.

My understanding of the clause is that the powers which Secretaries of State have in respect of the boundaries of national parks will remain with them and that the Countryside Commission will have an additional power to designate or to vary boundaries. Presumably because the power also lies with the Secretary of State, the Countryside Commission will have to refer back each change of designation to the Secretary of State. I think that that is unduly complicated and the position should remain as it is now whereby the Secretary of State has the power to vary by order.

I do not see the need for extending that power to the Countryside Commission. Nor do I see the need for the specific clause about experimental schemes. I understand the demand for improved schemes of traffic management, as we have recently seen with the Sherpa bus scheme in Snowdonia national park. Excellent work has been done through the Manpower Services Commission in the job creation programme in reconstructing paths to improve access and prevent erosion on mountains such as Cader Idris, under which I live.

The major demand, surely, is for effective funding. Although I understand the argument that it is within the overall national interests of England and Wales that there ought to be central funding of the national parks, I should have preferred to see that central funding handled through the rate support grant mechanism rather than the specific grant of the Countryside Commission as it operates at present.

The threat to conservation within the national parks, as far as those of us who live and work there see it, comes not from agriculture but very often from irresponsible recreational interests when they affect the national parks. We have a particular case in Snowdonia of the situation around Y Ddwy Aran and the setting up there of a protection society—Cymdeithas Amddiffyn y Ddwy Aran. It has been set up to protect the interests of the farming community around that mountain range. It was set up as a result of the irresponsible attitude of a certain climbing club which had been abusing its privileges in the area. It is this kind of conflict which the warden service of the national parks has sought to bring to an end. I am glad of the additional provision made in this Bill for the warden service.

On balance, however, I have to say that this Bill reflects the view that it is the centralist management of the town dweller that can best secure the needs of conservation in the countryside. In my view, that has never and never can be the case. In order to show the House that this is not just the opinion of a prejudiced Welshman who lives in the national park in Eryri, I shall quote from George Haines' book "Whose Countryside?" in which he stresses this point. He takes up the argument which we have heard in this debate, and which we always hear, which is what I like to call the pastoral theme in the Labour Party view of the countryside. It is the idea that the demands on the countryside for recreation arise from the fact that the environment of our towns is difficult to live in. The author says this: If the owners of farms had developed their land in the same thoughtless way as has been done in the towns thinking only of profit, they would not now be facing demands of those planning for recreation. It is because past and present country folk have cared for the countryside, the historic towns and villages, that they are now worth visiting and available for recreation. Our 'heritage of the countryside' is the creation of generations of country folk and is as man made as Euston station, the Bull Ring in Birmingham and the spoil heaps of Aberfan. The countryside retains its beauty because it is cared for by the countryfolk of today who sacrificed many things to live there, to accept lower income and inadequate transport services and a general lack of facilities. To suggest that the countryside which they have preserved should be freely open to those who live in towns is like requiring the wise virgins who saved their lamp oil to give it to their foolish sisters. This suggestion will arouse many protests but how many of those who protest would be willing to give up their present jobs and homes and go and work on a farm looking after cows in all weathers and driving a tractor in all seasons for a low basic wage? It is the people who live in the countryside who have the responsibility to conserve it, and I can assure the House that in Snowdonia it is the people who live there who will guarantee the landscape, and the language and the livelihood of that area.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

May I give a brief though sincere welcome to the Bill and say that it goes some way towards resolving the conflict between town and country about which we have heard this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) grossly exaggerated what case he has. I thought that he abused the Minister and the intent behind the Bill in a manner outside the spirit of the usual interchanges that take place in this House. It was very much a matter for regret that the even-tempered tenor of our interchanges was destroyed by his attitude, which I thought was quite unjustified.

In my view, this is a very gentle Bill. It certainly does not attempt anything terribly radical, but it has some useful ideas. Although my constituency is not in a national park—I shall come to that in a moment—it is fairly close to the Yorkshire Dales national park. I can imagine that several years ago clause 9, the experimental clause, and clause 7, which gives grants and loans to enhance the beauty of an area, would have been very much welcomed when the Yorkshire Dales national park established a Dales rail scheme with money raised locally which enabled the renovation of railway stations on the Settle to Carlisle railway to take place. The people who established that scheme now run a very successful railway service which enhances the beauty of the area because, instead of having to consider some extensive traffic management scheme, they take people along one of the most beautiful railway lines in the country. That line lost its passenger service in 1970. The present scheme gives people access to the countryside, thus obviating the damage that large number of motor cars frequently cause. The cost of undertaking this railway service was almost prohibitive, and the service very nearly did not get off the ground.

That, then, is a useful start. It is that sort of area that I imagine will be able to benefit from the Bill. Should similar circumstances arise in other national parks, that is the way that they will inevitably have to go. One recognises that there is a limit to the capacity of the parks to take motor cars and people. There will have to be traffic management schemes to resolve the problem created by the attraction of beautiful areas for town dwellers and the needs of agriculture. The Bill attempts to do that.

However, the notion that somehow, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), the urban dweller has no part in the countryside and does not understand it is the age-old Conservative cry, which I am surprised to hear from him. The hon. Member is not like that at all. The attitude is "We do not want the townies here." But we are talking not of a farming heritage but of a national heritage.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

May I give the hon. Member an analogy? I am a regular user of one of the parks in Eltham, where I now live. However, I do not, for that reason, demand to be a nominated member of the Greenwich council which looks after that park. That is the argument that I am deploying, that the people who live and work within Snowdonia should have the full and complete responsibility and authority for the maintenance and conservation of that park. We do not need the interference of the Countryside Commission from Cheltenham or even from Newtown to tell us how to run the park.

Mr. Cryer

I think that the hon. Member has a point. Of course, we are all concerned about local involvement, but there is also the question of syndicalism, under which a group of people are so isolated from the general national state of affairs that they take only a parochial view. So, again, there must be an attempt to resolve the conflict between those two valid points, and at least the Bill goes some way towards attempting to secure that. I am sure that it will not be completely successful, because this is an evolutionary process.

However, we are moving to a fuller and better recognition of the need for some resolution of that conflict and of the fact that millions of people genuinely obtain much benefit and pleasure from the countryside. When one thinks, for example, of the earnest endeavours of an organisation such as the Ramblers' Association in maintaining footpaths, opening up the countryside and in developing such great walks as the Pennine Way, one must accept that such bodies consist of people of integrity who have a concern for the countryside.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

May I take up this point about whether a national park should be the concern only of those in it? I should have thought that there was a strong argument for having representatives of people from outside—representing, if one likes, the users—particularly since I believe that the national parks should receive substantial national finance. Therefore, it is important to have contributions from people representing the users, and of resources, particularly money.

Mr. Cryer

That is right. We cannot roll time back. Our national heritage is treated as such by the vast majority of people. If only a local parochial view is taken of national parks projects, important experiments such as the Dales railway in the Yorkshire Dales national park would not be possible. That railway runs from one of the big towns—Leeds—through places of estimable worth in which over 50,000 people live—places such as Keighley. If one were to argue that only local interests should be represented, many people would regard that as unacceptable. It is up to us to resolve that conflict to the benefit of both parties. That is not impossible. The case that I have illustrated demonstrates the good will and concern of both parties in utilising the railway facilities.

I have to point out one or two defects in the Bill. The Bill relates only to the national parks, and I can see no reason why, if it is valid for the national parks, it cannot be valid for other areas. I cannot see why the Minister could not contemplate an extension of, say, the clause dealing with moorland conservation orders. There is a case for that provision to apply more widely.

My constituency is not part of a national park, but is contains many beautiful spots which are widely visited. It contains, for example, Howarth Moor, which contains Top Withens, from which millions of people firmly believe is derived Wuthering Heights in the Bronte novel. That ruin was falling down, until several years ago I drew the attention of the House to its plight. The owners, the Yorkshire water authority, fortunately decided that it should not be allowed to fall into desuetude and that it should be preserved in a better condition. It had, however, deteriorated up to then.

Unless we are prepared to take care of our moors and heaths, we can expect that sort of thing to develop. I am speaking of a moor that is visited with a specific object in mind, that is, with a view to looking at a scene of literary inspiration, by about half a million people a year. Yet over the years this place deteriorated to virtually little more than a pile of stones. Happily, now, due to the action of the Department of the Environment, a preservation order has been placed upon it. But it took the action of central Government to make sure that its importance was recognised and that it was preserved. Clearly, then, there is a national element in preserving parts of our heritage. I should be much concerned if, for example, at some stage the Yorkshire water authority started works on that moor which would result in the moor losing its character.

It still has the wild character, the feeling of menacing doom about which the Brontes wrote and which has captured the imaginative spirit of millions of people. That seems to be entirely compatible with clause 3. There is no reason, for example, why clause 10, which deals with the employment of wardens by local authorities, should not extend to areas such as that I have described so that the facilities that are needed to ensure the retention of character, such as the footpaths which are used by an enormous number of visitors, can be maintained and preserved.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that there is a bull between him and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), so I think that he should restrain himself.

Mr. Bennett

I simply wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend to clause 8. It permits the Countryside Commission to propose new areas for inclusion in or designation as national parks. My hon. Friend is making a strong case, which is widely supported, for examining most of the areas of the high Pennines, between the Peak District national park in the south and the Yorkshire Dales park in the north, with a view to including much of that upland area.

Mr. Cryer

Yes, that is right.

We want an extension of this sort of legislation into the areas between the national parks and the urban areas. I particularly like the idea of clause 7 as a possible source of assistance to the Yorkshire Dales national park, but the preservation or enhancement of natural beauty and the promotion of enjoyment cost money, and it seems to me entirely right and proper that the Government should be prepared to recognise that and to say that such items as dry stone walls, stiles, judicious tree planting and so on should be covered by some sort of expenditure.

The sort of aspect which this Bill covers is demonstrated by correspondence which I have received from two of my constituents. They are members of the Ramblers' Association and they have expressed concern about the proposed afforestation on South House Moor at Ingleborough. They are concerned that a private company will destroy the character of that moor by afforestation, and it seems that some sort of moorland conservation order would preserve an important area in the Yorkshire Dales national park which is visible from the Three Peaks walk—one of the most popular among strong and capable walkers—and also from the Pennine Way.

The Pennine Way was achieved only because of a great strength of purpose and a determination over many years to ensure access. It remains one of the most important areas of walking and access to the countryside. It has been followed by the development of similar walkways in other areas. It is important that the countryside through which these great walks pass should be preserved. The Ramblers' Association, a highly responsible body which is dedicated to the preservation of the countryside, has expressed the view that that sort of contingency could arise. I should have thought that the purpose behind this Bill was to deal with that position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) mentioned bulls in fields. This is a real issue, although I expect it will be the subject of a good deal of mirth outside the House. If people are on a walk, they may be confronted by what they regard as a fearsome creature. It may well be so. I do not entirely share the view of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that one can trust a general guide that certain types of bull are passive creatures. It is very embarrassing and difficult if, halfway across a field, one discovers that one is wrong.

There is a suspicion that farmers sometimes use the presence of bulls in fields to intimidate townies who dare to use a footpath across their fields. That is not true of many farmers, who welcome the integration of people wanting to see and take pleasure in the countryside, but there is no doubt that some farmers use every possible ruse to block footpaths. This is something which the Ramblers' Association has come up against. One of those ruses is to put bulls in fields. If there is an obligation to provide a diversion, I believe that the conflicting interests are satisfactorily resolved. Clause 11 will provide a useful safeguard to ensure that access is not denied.

With the proviso that I should like to see the Bill more widely applied and the preservation of facilities applied not only to the national parks but to valuable areas—such as Haworth Moor—which are of great literary and historical association, I believe that the measure represents a gentle attempt to resolve this conflict and to preserve our heritage, which is the people's heritage. It is not the heritage of a section or group of people, whether farmers or any other group, such as city gentlemen who have decided that agricultural land is a useful investment. It is the heritage of the whole of the people. The Bill goes a little way towards ensuring that that heritage will be preserved for all.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)

In this interesting and informative debate, there has been reference to many sectors of the community. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) pointed out that the Bill was in the interests of all sections of the community. I should like to refer to the riding community, which has not been mentioned. It is very much affected by the Bill. I share the objections made clear by my hon. Friends to some of the clauses.

I welcome those parts of the Bill which increase people's enjoyment of the land. We should all commend that. But I was disappointed that the Minister made no mention of any consultation with riding organisations about bridleways. I hope he will refer to that matter later.

I am concerned about access to land for riding. The British Horse Society estimates that each weekend about 2 million people are involved in riding activities, 40 per cent. of them in Greater London and the surrounding area. In 1971, 1972 and 1973, those activities increased by over 20 per cent. a year. The increase has now slowed to 10 per cent. a year. In the county of Hertfordshire, that has a substantial impact because of its relationship with the urban area stretching into the countryside.

I take part in the sport myself. I recognise that there exists a diversity of interests and views which sometimes are hard to reconcile. One of the consequences is that Hertfordshire is among the worst three counties for accidents involving horses and riders. That is highly unsatisfactory. The Countryside Act 1949 made further provision for the recording, creation, maintenance and improvement of public paths and for securing access to open country and to amend the law relating to rights of way. I have tried to indicate that riding is not a sport for the privileged few. It is a recreation for many. Young people are much involved in this outdoor sport, which involves an appreciation of the countryside. It is an activity we should encourage. All the remarks about this Bill have been in that direction.

A new development is long-distance riding, which has attracted people from all walks of life. The development of bridleways and bridlepaths is fundamental. There is a need to reconcile the farmers, the walkers, the ramblers and the riders. In Kent, there is one mile of bridleways to nine miles of footpaths. The Porchester report indicates that on Exmoor there are 260 miles of footpath and 290 miles of bridleway. We do not have that situation in Hertfordshire. That illustrates the problem of trying to establish bridleways in a way that can be recognised by all parties.

It is not my purpose simply to put the case for riders. I recognise that all must have a different point of view and that the intention is to get agreement on which powers can be utilised for different purposes.

The definitive maps aim to show footpaths, bridleways and other public rights of way. The review being carried out gives an opportunity to revise those maps and to make sure that inaccuracies are removed. A map of Hertfordshire compiled in 1954 was based on a survey carried out in 1952. Due to a lack of knowledge and information, people did not appreciate the effect of omissions from the map. Many paths were left out and many bridleways were classified as footpaths. Many of the ancient ways which had been used for travel to work, to church, for pilgrimage and during forays over the centuries were declassified or eliminated. There was a great inconsistency between one parish and another. In some instances, paths which were clearly continuous and strategic were classified as "rupp"—a road used as a public path in one place, a bridleway in another and a footpath in another. Yet it was all the same path. Sometimes they were cut off in the middle. It was clearly an unsatisfactory situation. We hope that a new review will be published in 1979.

The question arises whether some of the old bridleways can be reinstated in the new map. I understand that in some counties there may be a delay of over 60 years before the next review can take place. That is an unsatisfactory and astonishing situation. On 4 February 1978 a case was reported in The Times entitled Suffolk county council v. Mason. Following that case, riders were entitled to ride on a path shown as a footpath on a definitive map provided that they could prove in court, if challenged, the existence of bridleway rights. If they are not shown on the map, the bridleway rights may cease to exist and they cannot be reinstated until there is another review.

There is a real problem in this regard. The definitive map should not be treated as irrefutable, and I should like to congratulate the Hertfordshire county council on its progressive method of reviewing the definitive map. However, it would be extremely helpful if the Department were to issue a circular urging all authorities to carry out their statutory duties at the earliest possible moment. After all, this is something for the benefit of the national heritage and of a sport which provides enjoyment to millions of riders each weekend. The expenditure would be comparatively low.

I raised this matter with the Minister in a letter on 22 March 1978. He made it clear that under sections 27 and 28 of the Highways Act 1959 local authorities have the right to make creation agreements and, indeed, compulsory creation orders where they are satisfied that a new public footpath or bridleway is needed. He went on to say that the definitive map is conclusive evidence that the rights of way it shows existed at the relevant date of the survey, but it does not preclude the possibility that additional rights may also exist.

The problem is particularly acute in the areas adjacent to London. An interesting experiment took place in the Ashbridge park, in conjunction with the National Trust and the Ashbridge management college, in creating the use of existing bridleways with permissive paths, properly marked. There has been good discipline and control as a result. The problem is that we have attracted new people to utilise those areas, and this has created more horse-riding traffic.

Hertfordshire is not only a traffic filter for London but it also acts as a sort of leisure and play area for those living in the London area. The development of the M25 and the upgrading of roads such as the A405 have meant the diversion of many bridleways and a loss of some others. We must make the best use that we can of the existing facilities. That is why I am concerned about the question of the definitive map and the new procedures. I hope that the Minister will do everything he can, at relatively low cost, to ensure this addition to the riding benefits of the public at large.

The proposal in the Bill for the diversion of footpaths and bridleways may be in the interests of farming, but it must be reconciled with the interests of others. If it is right to divert a bridleway in connection with bulls, would not it also be correct, to divert bridleways in connection with stallions? In fact, similar considerations arise in each case. That is a matter to which the Minister might give consideration in due course.

I can see the objective of the proposal to close bridleways for periods of three months on an intermittent basis, but I am concerned in practical terms about how easy it is for people to understand that this is a period of three months out of 12. I believe that such a diversion must be clearly marked. It is not enough to say that it will take place. It must be marked in a way that is absolutely unmistakeable.

That is a quick canter through the countryside on the subject of bridleways. I hope that the information it contains will commend itself to the Minister and to the House.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

It is refreshing to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) who has made an important contribution on the Bill. We have heard so much from the ramblers. We always hear about the ramblers trying to the bridleways downgraded to footpaths because they object to people riding on them. It was most refreshing to hear my hon. Friend make such a valid plea on behalf of those who want to enjoy the countryside on horseback. I was glad that the West Somerset Riding Club gave evidence to the Porchester inquiry. Indeed, Porchester is extremely strong on this point.

I find myself almost differing from some of my other hon. Friends. I am a great supporter of the Porchester report on Exmoor. But I aso find myself in some difficulty because, in my heart of hearts, I feel that the Government have tried to cash in on this thoroughly good report on Exmoor by introducing a lot of quite unnecessary powers in relation to the countryside. That is why I shall certainly support the amendment and vote against the Second Reading.

When one reads this report, one must pay tribute to the way in which Lord Porchester and his advisers got the spirit and the feel of Exmoor. In particular, I refer to chapter 6 and the way in which the report summarised farming, forestry and life on Exmoor. It is quite excellent.

Mr. Denis Howell

The hon. Gentleman puzzles us. He says that his complaint about the Bill is that in some parts it goes beyond Porchester and does things for the general good of the countryside. Of course, the Conservative Party spokesman said that those were exactly the provisions which his party would support, while opposing those which the hon. Gentleman supports. This is really an extraordinary situation.

Mr. Kimball

That may be, but I should hate to see some of the provisions in the Bill applied to the Lincolnshire Wolds, which is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Mr. Denis Howell

I am trying to clear up the confusion, and I hope to get the hon. Gentleman to vote for the Bill. Can he tell us what exactly it is in the Bill that he thinks will upset Lincolnshire? As he knows, most of the Bill's provisions apply to the national parks, and so far as I know we do not have one in Lincolnshire.

Mr. Kimball

I quite agree. But there is no reason why at some stage the area of the Lincolnshire Wolds should not be scheduled by the Countryside Commission as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The Bill includes powers to amend the law relating to National Parks and the countryside. The area of the Porchester report about which I am not happy, in so far as it relates to Exmoor, is outlined in paragraph 14 of chapter 6, where Lord Porchester looked at the future of farming on Exmoor. He thought that the future of farming in that part of the world was in more winter housing, hardier breeds and greater fertility.

There is only one way to get greater fertility, and that is to follow the advice of the Ridsdale hill farming centre, and, to a certain degree, that of the experimental hill farm at Liscombe. What does that advice show? It shows that the only way to increase the fertility of one's livestock is to improve land—to reseed the hill. Anyone can take a large chunk of Exmoor, or a large chunk of moorland anywhere, and reseed it. That is not a very difficult operation. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) that farm grants are an essential element in this. I can think of many areas of hill land that have been reseeded and moorlands have been destroyed without the necessary 50 per cent. grants. In fact, I know of one area where the grant has been refused because the Ministry does not believe that the operation is itself economic.

Everyone has solved the problem of reseeding and destroying the moorland, but what no one has ever solved is the problem of maintaining those reseeds once they have been done. One of the most terrible things to do in this country, whether in the national parks or anywhere else, is to go around the moorland areas, particularly the inbye areas, and see the damage that was done by the Hill Farming Act and the failure of people to maintain those areas once they had reseeded them.

Reseeding must be fenced. There is a natural objection to fencing on Exmoor. The experimental hill farming centre at Ridsdale demonstrates clearly that the only economic answer is to reseed gradually out from one's inbye land, to fence that land and to be certain that one has permanent access so that one can continue to improve it and keep it in a high state of fertility.

Lord Porchester mentions the fragility of the moorland on Exmoor. Heather is extremely difficult to maintain. It is difficult to see that it is not grazed up. Too many cattle will kill it off more quickly than anything. Uncontrolled grazing will do it endless harm. The rotation may be seven, 12 or 14 years according to the area of the country and the type of ground on which the heather grows. But labour is required to maintain heather. One of the greatest difficulties today in hill farming and the maintenance of moorland is to get sufficient labour for the limited time when heather can be burnt.

The Bill is taking away the viability of many of the farmers' holdings or the way that they may be able to increase their viability. Yet we know that if Exmoor is to be maintained in the way that many people want to see it maintained we must have a prosperous farming community. We must allow the farmers to increase their stock, to fence and take in and improve the fertility of a certain amount of inbye land. To keep the out-ground and the hills and the moor as a heathering moor, the farmer must be allowed to have the labour in order to burn the land and manage it properly. The Bill will not help that problem.

Finally, we can do without clause 11. The Minister said that this had finally been agreed by the National Farmers' Union and the ramblers. My information from the National Farmers' Union is that it is not satisfied that the temporary diversions should be limited to five years. The temporary diversions are only for bulls. What about lambing ewes? Many people have well organised lambing fields, or there are certain parts of the farm that are not profitable and are always suitable for lambing. It would be useful always to be able to divert footpaths. What about fields of fresh fruit? Clause 11 has been rushed through because the Ramblers' Association does not want a delay because of the danger that the Bill may not get through before a general election. The whole question of temporary diversion of footpaths and bridleways has not been fully considered. If the Bill gets a Second Reading tonight, I hope that the Minister will agree to drop clause 11.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

The opening sentence of the explanatory memorandum reads: The Bill makes various amendments to the law relating to National Parks and the countryside. I am concerned about the last three words "and the countryside". That implies that there is no restriction on the geographical area in the United Kingdom, at any rate according to the explanatory memorandum. I am more concerned with areas adjacent to towns and cities, which possibly are the only parts of the countryside that many ordinary people are able to explore. In my constituency of Preston there are many fine walks on the moorland around Clitheroe up to the Trough of Bowland. In those areas for a long time there has been disquiet about the erosion of ramblers' rights. I hope that the Minister can give me some encouragement on that when the Bill is in its final form.

While applauding the notion of protecting the countryside and opening it up to the enjoyment of people, I believe it is a pity that there is not a Bill to protect our towns and cities against town planners who have wrought havoc in such places as Preston, Manchester and Liverpool. The demand for more and more motorways threatens towns and the countryside, and there are major financial interests involved in the promotion of motorways. The Bill gives us the opportunity to consider preserving parts of our countryside free from the threat of big business. But one wonders about the objections to the Bill by certain sections of the farming community and by Conservative Members. Conservation orders which take account of the landowner or farmer are envisaged in the Bill.

It is rather strange that in 1979 we should still be referring to land ownership in this context. I believe that all land should be in the hands of the people. As I understand it, the Labour Party has always supported the public ownership of land. The Bill does not propose that. If it did, it would explain the Tory Party's opposition to it.

Despite the absence of any reference to land ownership—and I accept that that is not relevant to the idea which motivates the Bill—I welcome the measure because it seeks to promote public enjoyment of the countryside even though there are certain limitations.

I take walks in the countryside at the drop of a hat. This pastime represents considerable relief from the strains of living in this metropolis during the week. I walk around the countryside along what are designated as public footpaths. All too often I have taken a path marked "public footpath" only to find after a few yards that it disappears. It is overgrown and often impassable. Clearly, it has been acquired by stealth by local farmers.

I had an unfortunate experience recently when I was walking with my wife along one such path in Lydiate, not far from Liverpool. The footpath suddenly became a wide lane, and on both sides there were buildings—a farmer's house, a barn and various other outhouses. Then we came to a gate. I admit that one could open the gate, but immediately one did so two Alsatian dogs advanced in such a way as to make one have second thoughts. I am not one to argue with two Alsatian dogs barking very loudly and snarling, even when I am on a public footpath. As a result of the barking the farmer subsequently came out and made it clear that that was his property and that we were not allowed on it. He claimed to have no knowledge about its being a public footpath.

Subsequent investigations through the local authority proved that the public footpath was clearly marked on the Ordnance maps, and there was obviously no ground for the farmer taking the opportunity of preventing people from using that footpath.

In this regard, and particularly in relation to clause 6, I raise this question. Clause 6 talks about regulating agricultural operations. Will it be possible, under clause 6, to take up with a county council such situations as I have just outlined? Would it be a part of "agricultural operations" to do away with that footpath because of lack of usage? Clearly, a footpath that was used regularly would not suffer. But what is "regular use" in this context? Obviously, most public footpaths are used most frequently in late spring and the summer than in the sort of winter that we are having now.

If clause 6 does not provide for the public to raise with local authorities the misuse of public footpaths by farmers in this context that will be a weakness, especially as the Bill states that we are seeking to improve the enjoyment of the countryside by the public. It may be argued by the Minister that it is not intended that this Bill should cover that situation. Why not? A change is necessary. The law seems somewhat vague in this regard. If we do not give protection of public footpaths to the users, as the Ramblers' Association has been asking for many years, that would be unfortunate, given the tact that we are taking the opportunity to introduce this Bill, which we claim will improve the enjoyment of the countryside.

I understand that the Ramblers' Association, too, is concerned about clause 11. I wonder whether the Minister is able to indicate whether in Committee a new set of words is likely to emerge for clause 11, or whether in consultation with the Council for National Parks and other bodies, a new clause 11 has been drawn up. No doubt the Minister will deal with that in his reply.

A finer aspect to the points that I have raised is whether county councils will have the resources to police the public footpaths that are being taken over by stealth by the local farmers. In the Bill reference is made to the appointment of wardens. I wonder whether, outside the national park areas and in the countryside of Lancashire, with which the Minister is familiar, it will be possible for wardens to be appointed. I recognise that there are geographical difficulties in that probably a large area would have to be covered by one warden to make his appointment a viable proposition. Perhaps the Minister will clear up that matter.

8.23 p.m.

Mr. John Fan (Harborough)

I welcome the Bill. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) when he said that the Bill would prove unacceptable to the Opposition. I accept, however reluctantly, what the Government have tried to do, because the work done by Lord Porchester—especially his report—is worthy of support from both sides of the House. I accept the point of view of my hon. Friend that possibly the mechanism to be established under the Bills is too cumbersome and heavy for the job in hand. On the other hand, what is the alternative?

The Porchester report makes interesting reading. I congratulate the author of the document. The report makes clear that the amount of moorland in Exmoor has been steadily eroded over the years. The figures are contained in the report. In 1947 about 59,000 acres of moorland existed. By 1976 that had declined to 47,000 acres. Of that decline of 12,000 acres, some 9,500 have gone to agricultural conversion or improvement and 2,500 to woodland. That is an average annual loss over the 13-year period of about 400 acres.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash asked whether a little bit of ploughing up each year really mattered. It is important to remember that in 30 years one-fifth of the moorland has been lost and that within another 30-year period up to half the moorland could vanish. Once the heather has been ploughed up, the moorland cannot be restored, however skillful a conservationist or farmer one may be. The moorland cannot be recreated, and it is gone for good. Faced with that sort of position, I cannot possibly join my colleagues in opposing the Bill.

I believe that the rather strong hand of the moorland conservation orders has to be incorporated in the measure in order to arrest what Lord Porchester describes as the alarming decline in the state of the moorland and heathland on Exmoor.

The moorland conservation orders, to which my hon. Friend took exception, have a framework which has been based on that in the recommendation of the Porchester report. The report recommends that the moorland conservation orders should be reduced and that, if possible, voluntary management agreements should first be introduced. But Lord Porchester feels, from his experience and from a study of the case, that moorland conservation orders are needed.

Clause 4 indicates that moorland conservation orders and the regulations relating to them will be laid by the Minister. I hope that before the Minister thinks of introducing a moorland conservation order he will do his best to obtain agreement on the basis of the voluntary co-operation of the farmers concerned. In this respect I support the view of the National Farmers' Union that moorland conservation orders should be issued only after management agreements on reasonable terms have been offered and refused.

As the NFU has said, there should be a form of independent arbitration to consider disputes. I do not think that it is adequate to leave it to the Lands Tribunal to arbitrate in these respects. Possibly a special type of tribunal should be set up, so that where a voluntary management agreement is offered and declined by a farmer or landowner because of the financial terms, before a moorland conservation order is issued an independent arbitration unit can decide whether the terms of the management agreement are reasonable and fair to the landowner or the occupier.

It is striking to note that the Porchester report points out that, as the Minister said, the track record for management agreements on Exmoor is bad. Indeed, the number of management agreements reached during the period when the report was being produced was nil. I believe that that must be because the terms upon which the management agreements were offered to occupiers were inadequate. I feel that it is essential for generous and more than adequate terms to be offered to secure voluntary management agreements before the heavy hand of moorland conservation orders is introduced.

If a moorland conservation order is issued, how can the losses of the owners and occupiers be assessed? Just as there should be a new and skilled arbitration service for management orders, so there should be a service for the new moorland conservation orders. Whether the moorland conservation compensation award is paid in a lump sum or annually in a sensible sum—I hope that the opportunity for one or the other is given to the people who are subject to the orders—I believe that new, skilled and independent arbitration machinery should be established.

As has been stressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is no use expecting the occupiers of Exmoor or any of the other national parks, who have lived in those areas for generations, to fall into line with a bludgeoning series of MCOs. Voluntary agreement should be reached first. I believe that no moorland scheme will be successful until those who live and make a living in the areas co-operate voluntarily and give their good will to the scheme.

I welcome what the Minister said about capital transfer tax. He clearly stated that it applied only to MCOs, although one of my hon. Friends thought that the CTT exemption also applied to management agreements. I call the attention of the House to Lord Porchester's report. In paragraph 10.14 referring to management agreements, he said: The track record is against them. Despite their having been a recommended tool of moorland conservation for some years now, there are none in operation on Exmoor. In fact, one has been agreed upon, and two or three are in an advanced state since the completion of the Porchester report.

If financial incentives for occupiers entering into the voluntary agreements can be improved, a good deal of the necessary skill that is required to keep Exmoor as a living and viable entity will be preserved. I believe that we should provide adequate financial arrangements in the Bill for management agreements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash mentioned the "little bit of ploughing which has been going on"—to use his words—on Exmoor. I, too, believe that that has become serious. I cannot see, and I do not believe that the author of the report can see, any other way than the new back-up powers in the Bill for moorland conservation orders if Exmoor is to be retained in a recognisable state for the next 10, 15 or 20 years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) referred to the need to have the affirmative rather than the negative resolution procedure provided in clause 4. I support him entirely. Over a number of years both he and I have been on the same side on that matter. The affirmative procedure gives the House of Commons a much better chance to control these matters than does the dead hand of the negative procedure.

I end my praise of the Bill by criticising clause 11, which relates to footpaths. I do not want to be seen to be praising the Bill as a whole too much in case I get confused with the attitude of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).

Clause 11, which relates to footpaths and temporary diversion orders, appears not to be of much use at all. It appears to be the kind of provision which is thrown in towards the fag end of a Parliament, possibly to appease some pressure lobby. It will not solve the problem. It will merely maintain the existing problem, which will have to be solved by creative legislation later.

I suggest that the new Parliament will have to make a fresh attempt to tackle the problem of footpaths in the countryside. Taxpayers and ratepayers are being put to fantastic expense because footpaths, which have not been used by ordinary individuals for three or four generations, have to be kept open on the insistance of pressure groups. Such groups, which organise parties of 15 or 20 people to use these footpaths once every three or four months, require local authorities to build massive bridges with double handrails over narrow little streams and ditches, however shallow they may be.

I could show the Minister bridges in my constituency which must have cost not less than £400 or £500 to build. Indeed, one footpath runs through fields where there are already two or three other footpaths. These paths have not been used by ordinary individuals for many generations. Therefore, I do not think that it would matter whether clause 11 were in the Bill.

I give the Bill a general welcome. I regret that such draconian powers are necessary, but I feel, as I think Lord Porchester felt, that the House has no alternative but to accept them.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The price of beauty is eternal vigilance. I am glad that the Department of the Environment is being vigilant on the issue of national parks.

My interest in national parks has been directed more immediately to the problems of the Peak District national park which borders Sheffield and is of enormous amenity value to that city, part of which I represent. The Peak District national park is also a great national asset. However, I am not unaware of the beauties of Exmoor. My family and I have spent many holidays in the West Country in the past 20 years, and we regard Exmoor as a great feature of that part of the United Kingdom.

The problem with the Peak District has been not agriculture or the ploughing up of moorland but quarries and industrial development. There have also been the related problems of enormous pressures generated by people who wish to use the park for caravans, motors and so forth. That has led to a collision between myself and others and my right hon. Friend about the Peak District national park structure plan, which I believe has not yet been resolved. My right hon. Friend's final views on that structure plan are still awaited. I hope that he will have modified his original views on the plan which was put forward by the Peak District national park planning board.

However, that is not immediately germane to the debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be glad to know that on this occasion the Council for National Parks is very much on his side. For those who are not aware of the nature of this body, may I say that it is composed of about 30 different bodies, including national organisations such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Trust, the Youth Hostels Association, and many more.

The threat to Exmoor has been put in very stark and plain terms by Lord Porchester, and I think that what he said ought to be quoted. Paragraph 12.14 of his report reads: In my opinion, the essential character of Exmoor can be conserved for all time, on terms fair to the owners and occupiers affected, for a sum which the nation should be prepared to pay. I should point out that failure to do so would result in continued erosion of moorland areas of exceptional value and the irreversible change of the Exmoor scene to a point where one of its major features is lost for all time. I find it irresponsible of the Opposition, in the face of that considered judgment by a man who has given time and thought to examining the problem, to reject this Bill, the central feature of which is the protection of precisely that moorland in a great national park which is under threat. The Council for National Parks says unequivocally: The provisions the Bill makes for Moorland Conservation Orders are necessary, long overdue and should be supported to the fullest extent possible. … The financial expenditure is not large by any standard: £64,000, at current prices, for the next year and the immediately following years. Given that millions of people enjoy Exmoor's characteristic landscape, that is surely value for money. As for the remainder of the Bill, the Council generally welcomes the 'Miscellaneous' Clauses of the Bill (with the exception of Clause 11 which deals with bulls on footpaths). These Clauses appear to us to be non-controversial, and can be described more as tidying up matters than as charting any new waters. They will allow for some improvements in the arrangements for promoting conservation and recreation in the countryside. That is the considered judgment of a body which has spent an enormous amount of time on this subject and which draws together a great many diverse organisations with the specific objective of advancing the cause of the national parks and seeing that the spirit and intent of their original creation are duly preserved.

The Exmoor Society, which I suppose has a more direct interest in the matter, suggests that the Bill does not go far enough. I have a letter from the chairman, who says: I am writing to suggest that this Bill should be strengthened considerably. Although it follows closely on the Porchester recommendations, it is unlikely in its present form to achieve the aim of protecting Exmoor. Possibly that is something, in terms of strengthening, that we can consider in Committee, although it is quite clear that the Exmoor Society, like the Council for National Parks, is wholly in favour of the general principle of the Bill and is anxious that Exmoor shall be preserved against this erosion which, as Lord Porchester has said, would be irreversible if not brought to a halt by the sort of powers that this Bill seeks to provide.

My only other comment, since I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, relates to clauses 7 and 8. Clause 7 talks about local planning authorities having power to make grants or loans for the preservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the national park. The financial provisions of the Bill do not seem to suggest that much money will be available for that purpose. In fact, the financial provisions seem to relate entirely to compensation in respect of moorland conservation orders. I am not entirely clear whether it is the intention under clause 7 that if the planning authorities make use of this power they have to raise the money entirely locally, or whether they will recoup some of it from the national Exchequer. Perhaps that could be made clear at some point.

I find clause 8 somewhat controversial. I am not altogether happy with a blanket power for the Countryside Commission to amend the areas of national parks. There is perhaps an underlying assumption that the amendment would be in favour of extending them, but I suppose in some cases it might come to the conclusion that it wanted to lop off a bit here or there. I am not at all sure that that is a power that I would want to give to the Countryside Commission, important and responsible though it is. If there were any question of changing the area, size, shape or whatever of a national park, I should have thought that that must be the responsibility only of the Secretary of State and subject to the agreement or approval of this House.

In general, I favour the Bill and welcome the Government's action in introducing it. I regret the Opposition's attitude, and I hope that minor matters of controversy will be tidied up in Committee.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I agree with my hon. Friends who have criticised what the Bill seeks to do. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) in his alarmist argument, when one appreciates that the total land at risk is only 12,000 acres out of a total of 170,000 acres of national park as a whole, with only 42,000 acres in the high amenity areas.

I did not intend to take part in the debate—until the Minister of State mentioned capital transfer tax. This is such an important aspect not only of this Bill but in the preservation of the countryside as a whole that I must tell the Minister he is wrong. He got the matter wrong in relation to the Finance Act 1976, under which only two items of land can be excluded by the Treasury. I refer to land which should in the opinion of the Treasury be taken by reason of its outstanding scenic historic or scientific interest", and land related to a building which itself has already been designated as being of exceptional character and which is required to protect the amenities of the building.

Furthermore—this matter is even more important—the Minister got the view of Lord Porchester wrong. In paragraph 11.38, which was quoted in part by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), Lord Porchester said: I would add here that, once Map 2 land has been identified, there appears to me to be every reason for the Countryside Commission to support applications to the Treasury for conditional exemption from Capital Transfer Tax (Section 77 Finance Act 1976) on the ground of the land's outstanding scenic and (sometimes) scientific interest. It is not only moorland conservation order land to which the noble Lord refers but the whole of Map 2 land. He makes the point later that land designated under a moorland conservation order will provide complications in relation to land which has already been given a reprieve from capital transfer tax.

Clause 6 specifies management agreements. In the existing legislation it specifies access agreements, and so on, outside the national parks. It seems to me that as a result of these various pieces of legislation the criteria for exemption have become clear. First, the land in question must be important. Does the Minister of State wish to intervene?

Mr. Denis Howell

Perhaps I may explain the position. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to what Lord Porchester said in his report, but that is not what we are saying in our proposals on capital transfer tax. We are saying that where a moorland conservation order is made and confirmed by a Minister the Treasury will accept that as prima facie evidence of the outstanding scenic qualification of the land to comply with that concession.

Mr. Benyon

Then it appears that the situation is much more complicated, because there will be land outside the moorland conservation areas within the high amenity areas which will not be accorded that automatic recommendation. I thought that that was the point made by Lord Porchester.

I hope that the Minister will consider this further. Once access to the public has been agreed, and once the importance of the land has been ascertained—and these judgments must be subjective—I believe that the various arrangements contained in the Bill and in the existing legislation should qualify the owner for exemption from capital transfer tax. That is the point that I wish to leave with the Minister.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)

I represent an area in Somerset not far from Exmoor national park. It is an area which is exceedingly beautiful on its own account. Therefore I and all my constituents have a very great interest inpreserving the beauty and amenities of the county of Somerset, which includes a large part of that national park. I am certain that when I say that I do so with the full support of all those who live in my constituency who have tried to do their best to preserve the best parts of our county. Indeed, I have done all that I can as a Member of Parliament to ensure that there is as little desecration as possible.

In the Mendip area—which is an area of outstanding beauty, in parts not dissimilar to Exmoor but without the heather—we have a district advisory committee, which I chair. We try to bring together all the possible conflicting interests, such as quarry owners, public authorities, local authorities and private individuals, in an attempt to iron out our difficulties. I am, therefore, second to none in trying to preserve the countryside in our area.

I have no great confidence in the way that public authorities preserve the beauty of the countryside. Much desecration is caused in my area by such bodies as the electricity board, the Ministry of Defence and, in particular, the Ministry of Transport. The terrible desecration which the Ministry of Transport creates in areas of outstanding beauty, with its roundabouts and quite unnecessary electric sodium lights and so on, despoils our countryside. Not the least of the bodies which cause this desecration is the Post Office broadcasting authority which put on top of Mendip Hill a television mast which dominates the city of Wells. That was a great tragedy, and had I been there at the time I should have done my best to oppose it.

The county council in Somerset has done an enormous amount to preserve the best features of the county. It has sought to deal with quarrying in our area by voluntary agreement. The code of practice which it has arranged by voluntary agreement with quarry owners to try to limit the worst effects of quarrying is a model for all other counties in the West of England where there is quarrying. The council has been a pioneer in what can be done to bring together the conflicting interests of agriculture, industry, amenities and conservation societies.

When the Department of the Environment comes along with a Bill which intends to use a sledgehammer with reserve powers in an attempt to preserve Exmoor national park, I am immediately alarmed. What it is trying to do could be achieved by voluntary agreements, which my county council would certainly be prepared to back to the full. It is only because proper financial compensation was not provided to those few farmers in the Exmoor national park that we have not had the necessary voluntary agreements.

I plead with the Minister to consider again the necessity for these reserve compulsory powers. What we want in the countryside is co-operation between the various conflicting interests. We do not want to hammer them with a sledgehammer, or the sight of it, if they do not obey. I do not accept the business about areas being ploughed up without notice and the Minister having no powers to stop that under the existing arrangements. If there were proper financial incentives, this matter could be decided by voluntary agreement.

In the short time available to me I should like to talk about the nonsense of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food providing substantial grants to farmers for ploughing up marginal land. Farmers will not use expensive machinery to plough up virgin land on Exmoor unless they are paid a substantial amount by the Ministry to do so. Surely, that is one of the ways of tackling this problem. There are powers in relation to such grants, as I understand it, to put some ties on what farmers do. Surely, that would be a more sensible way of proceeding than trying to introduce these reserve powers which, as I have said, will not give confidence to the people who are trying to preserve the amenities of which I have spoken.

Although there is much in the Bill that it is perfectly reasonable and sensible to bring about, it is the greatest pity that the Government have sought to impose on the countryside yet another example of legislation that we do not want or need. It is seldom understood by people who live in the towns how really drained of cash the countryside is at present. We have very few amenities in regard to buses, for instance, and we cannot get about with ease. We are carrying an enormous burden of rates in relation to what we get. The general level of incomes of the farming community and small businesses in an area such as mine is very low indeed, and the wages that are paid reflect that by being well below average. Mine is an area in which there is no great wealth.

Unfortunately, tourists do not bring great wealth into Somerset. It is a transitory trade, with people passing through on the way to Devon and Cornwall, where visitors stay for their holidays. They come to us just to see a few of the sights. Near where I live, Glastonbury Tor is suffering immensely from the erosion caused by too many tourists, and that is likely to continue, yet we do not have the funds to do much about it. That is the sort of thing for which help is needed for counties such as mine.

In the countryside, nothing deteriorates more than land which is not properly managed, be it by individuals or by public authorities. I live on the edge of land owned by the National Trust, which does not have the money or the facilities available to look after it properly. From time to time I have to complain about the disgraceful state of that land and I am told "We do not have the money to appoint a warden or to clear up the area after bank holiday weekends" and so on.

Therefore, in the Bill we are not trying to attack the proper targets. We are attacking a few targets in Exmoor, where, perhaps, farmers have not agreed to a management agreement, and we are using a sledgehammer to do that. But we are not attacking the real target, which is that more finance must be brought into the countryside if we are to preserve its beauty.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

As I have often done in the House previously, I must begin by declaring my interest as a farmer, although I make clear that I do not farm in a national park. I think that my interest in national parks is well enough known. I represent a large part of the Lake District national park. From the garden of my home, I can see the Yorkshire dales and the Yorkshire moors national park.

In spite of some of the rancour that has gone from side to side of the House, I hope that the debate has demonstrated that the Opposition have above all a desire to help preserve Britain's areas of great natural beauty. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to that.

I resented some of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). He has not been evident in the Chamber since his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough is one of many of my hon. Friends who feels much about the need to preserve the marvellous areas of our country. In many instances the hon. Member for South Shields and I co-operated in Committee and on Report when the 1968 Bill was passing through the House. That being so, it was not worthy of the hon. Gentleman to make such remarks. The fact that we intend to vote on our reasoned amendment does not mean that we are cooler than others in our desire to preserve our precious natural heritage.

We genuinely believe that the Government have it wrong in certain aspects of the Bill's proposals. Most of the speeches in the debate have been about the guts of the Bill—in general, clauses 1 to 5, with clause 6 on management agreements. The rest of the Bill is rather peripheral to the gut clauses.

Clause 7 allows grants and loans to be made to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of national parks. We approve of that. That could be a way to harness local private enterprise for the good of the community at large. We can think of many ways in which in the past the national park authorities have made grants and loans in that direction. It is good that more will be done.

Clause 9 must be a useful power to finance experiments. I am not sure whether it allows the Countryside Commission to carry out experiments to enhance the economic potential of the local community in national parks. I understood the Secretary of State to say that there was not to be an extension of the type of experiments carried out. Some of the experiments that have been carried out by the Lake District national park—I think especially of the upland management experiment, which has been of such signal success and which deserves to be emulated by many other national parks—we regard as being extremely useful, and it is to be hoped that the clause will permit such experiments to take place. I appreciate that that is a Committee matter. We shall wish to return to it at a later stage if the Bill receives a Second Reading.

We support clause 10. I can remember introducing amendments in Committee on the appointment of wardens when the 1968 Bill was passing through the House. A number of amendments were suggested to me by the Lake District national park authority. In that part of the country it has been found that the work of the wardens has been of great assistance to local residents, to those who earn their living in the national parks and to those who visit the national parks. We certainly would approve of measures to strengthen the service. In the Lake District especially, we have a band of voluntary wardens who do excellent work which is approved on almost every side.

Clause 11 has had a rather mixed reception. Some of my hon. Friends do not seem to think it has a place in the Bill. However, I can remember the dispute we had on the 1968 Act with regard to the difficult matter of the diversion of footpaths in fields where bulls were kept. I have heard something of the argument which is being thrashed out between the ramblers, on the one side, and other conservationist bodies together with the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association, on the other. I am not quite clear what will finally emerge. But I think that we can agree with the Minister of State that it is remarkable that these bodies can get together over such a controversial issue as fields and the footpaths that go through them. I am fairly sure that if these diverse bodies can come to an agreement we on this side of the House would not have the temerity to argue much about it.

I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who said that he thought it would be a good thing if we considered the possibility of similar provisions being made for fields with footpaths where ewes were kept at lambing time. That is a critical period for sheep when heavy losses can occur.

Clause 8 gives many of us serious misgivings. For the first time the Countryside Commission will be given the power to initiate changes in national park boundaries. I know that this was a recommendation in the Sandford report, but we are not immediately seized of the argument. We shall want to raise the matter in considerable detail in Committee, if and when we get to that stage.

I move, on this clause, to the first of the more controversial matters that I wish to raise. The point is—and it does no good to gloss over it—that few people who live and work on the fringes of national parks have a burning desire to have their village or their parish embraced by it. It may be said that it is a pity that that should be so, and what a wonderful thing it would be for the community if people were eager to take their parish into the embrace of a national park, but under the constitution of the Countryside Commission the provisions of this clause will, I think, cause even more trepidation to people who live on the outskirts of national parks. The fear is that the discretion of the Secretary of State is to be shared by the Countryside Commission. I think that this is a bad provision and one which we shall want to amend. I give the Minister of State warning about that now.

I now move to the guts of the Bill—and by that I mean clauses 1 to 6. Although clause 6 deals with management agreements, it goes wider than moorland conservation. It can be used in areas outside the national parks. But, in spite of that, and although the first five clauses are headed "Moorland conservation", we feel strongly that the provisions on management agreements should be either in clause 1 or in clause 2. If we are to move in the direction of moorland conservation, management agreements should be the fundamental base of such efforts.

The debate has stressed that a fundamental change in national parks is inherent in this Bill. For virtually the first time in our history the farmer is to be prevented from carrying out normal farming techniques.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said in his stirring speech, it is not clear what a farmer cannot do without notice under the Bill. We are told that he cannot take part in a "relevant operation". It is defined as any other agricultural operation carried out on a moor or heath. To take this to its absurd limits, I suppose that it would mean that, if a farmer had animals on rough grazing and had not previously been used to carrying out what many farmers would regard as standard health procedures by putting mineral licks on the ground to provide the animals with additional minerals and vitamins, it could be held that he could be prevented from doing that, and could be prosecuted if he did it without giving six months' notice. The wording of the Bill on this matter is therefore very woolly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said that the Bill was badly drafted. In many cases it is, and this is just one of them.

If powers like this have to be taken, it is tragic that they should be taken against farmers in the hill and marginal areas, those in our agricultural community who are least able to look after themselves. These farmers in the hill and marginal areas have much the hardest task in seeking to make a decent living. Lord Porchester drew attention in his report to the fact that this group on Exmoor derived no less than 56 per cent. of its income from subsidies. Therefore, to pick on them is to make their hard life even harder. Such action is hard and unjust in many ways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton have said. The farmers and the landowners in our history have played such a crucial role in creating this marvellous landscape. Without their efforts, the landscape would deteriorate alarmingly in a very short time.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I am following the hon. Member's argument about how hard life will be for these farmers under the Bill. However, I understood from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) that his solution was that the Ministry of Agriculture should withhold grant from some of these farmers as a sanction. Surely, that would make matters hard for them just the same. Surely, it is much better to go for the voluntary agreement, if that is possible, with compulsory back-up powers. Surely, it would be wrong to deny these farmers the grants that the hon. Member has shown that they need.

Mr. Jopling

If the hon. Member will permit me, I shall deal with these points in my own way as I come to them.

It is right, if the Government get their way, that any compensation should be generous. That is why I am so dismayed that we have had no guidance from the Government about what level of compensation is included in the Bill.

Clause 4 deals with the question of compensation. I interrupted the Minister of State and asked what guidance he would give about the level of compensation where moorland conservation orders were applied. We have heard various estimates. A story was going round that on Exmoor it might be £31.50 an acre. I have heard other estimates, one of £300 an acre. The National Farmers' Union says that it might be £450 an acre. I have heard another estimate from a highly responsible professional body of no less than £1,000 an acre. It is no use the Minister of State attempting to laugh off this important matter. We cannot assess the impact of this Bill unless we have an answer.

In drafting the Bill, Ministers must have consulted the Treasury. They must have made some estimate of compensation. They must have been thinking of specific figures in arriving at the provisions outlined in the financial memorandum. We must have some guidance from the Minister about what figures are involved in terms of compensation.

We must also know what is the position of the tenant. It is all very well for the landowner who is likely to get the most out of compensation, but the tenant is the person who has the most difficult life. He will be hardest hit when these moorland conservation orders are imposed.

As to the provisions of the Bill, we believe that it is not necessary to take such strict statutory powers to achieve the worthy aim of preserving beautiful areas. It is absolutely wrong to take powers any wider than those relating to Exmoor. Practically nothing has been said in the debate about the need to take powers anywhere else except in relation to Exmoor.

The Minister said in his opening speech that it may be necessary at some time to use these powers in other areas. I suspect that had the Bill been confined to Exmoor, which is what it is all about, he would have made it a Hybrid Bill, which would have been more complicated for the Government. If it has to be a Hybrid Bill to carry out what the Government want, let them take the more complicated course. Let them not embrace everywhere else in the country in order to get what they want in Exmoor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has demonstrated that the six months' voluntary notice of land improvement on Exmoor has succeeded. The Minister of State agreed with that. In his report Lord Porchester said that these voluntary notices have been widely observed. We cannot see why it should be necessary to enshrine this matter in law. Surely, it has been shown in the debate that the Government already have powers to deal with unwanted actions in these areas. The Ministry of Agriculture controls the purse strings through the farm capital grant schemes and the farm and horticultural development schemes which, in the less favoured areas, provide subsidies of as much as 70 per cent. We have been advised that the Government could withhold all of these grants under the provisions of section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968.

Again, we have been told—I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash mentioned this—that by use of article 4 directives under the general development order of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 it is possible to bring within planning control the fencing of land. No farmer would be foolish enough to embark upon a policy of upland improvement with these sanctions hanging over him. He could be prevented from fencing the land once he had improved it, and the Ministry of Agriculture could take away from him both the capital grant and the improvement in less favoured area subsidies which he would normally be able to draw after he had carried out the improvement. That really would make the farming totally uneconomic. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) agree with this point.

Further, the Bill covers only very small pieces of land. If one uses the figures that were used by the Minister, one can show that the trend of land improvement and the trend of agricultural encroachment into the natural heather and heath of Exmoor are slowing down. As I understood his figures, and to use the figures which appear in Porchester, it is clear that during the first 21 years after the war land was being taken for improvement at an average rate of about 375 acres a year. Yet, according to Porchester, in the last nine years the amount of land being taken has dropped to 150 acres a year. Therefore, it is a very small amount indeed.

We believe that the way forward lies in the creation of more management agreements. That is why we should like to see more emphasis put on clause 6. In his report, Porchester tended to play down the value of management agreements. For instance, he said that there was no history of successful ones on Exmoor. But, according to the most recent one in relation to the Glenthorne property, we know that this is no longer true.

Lord Porchester said that one of the problems of management agreements was that they were not binding on successors in title. But that is exactly what is set out in clause 6, and we support that part of the Bill. Lord Porchester also suggested that management agreements were difficult to operate because of the costs involved, but the Minister told us that the money will be available—that 90 per cent. of the cost of running management agreements will now be provided by the Government. Therefore, while one understands that Lord Porchester played down the importance of management agreements, events since have shown that things have changed and that management agreements can and should become the whole basis of efforts for preservation in the Exmoor area.

If the Bill proceeds, we shall be very anxious to see written into it an undertaking that no moorland conservation order would be applied until a reasonable and fair management agreement had been offered to a person with an interest in land and had been refused. I am most heartened to see the Minister of State nod his head. That is a helpful way forward. His speech earlier suggested this, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough supported it. It is something that we should like to see enshrined in the Bill. It must be better to have smaller sums of money paid annually through management agreements than lump sums in the once-and-for-all payments that were proposed by Porchester.

Above all, we feel that the Bill is the wrong approach to our upland and countryside problems. Our countryside in Britain is a rare amalgam of most of what is best in our nation. Few of the blots that afflict the nation as a whole are found in our countryside. The scene there retains its centuries-old pastoral beauty. Farming is progressive, modern and successful. The people are less dissatisfied, often in spite of lower levels of income and wealth. Standards are higher, crime is almost non-existent, and there is a pride in the environment and the work done. Surely, our task in this House should be to strengthen all these good aspects of our countryside.

When people go from towns to enjoy themselves in the countryside, they go not only to enjoy the beautiful natural environment; they go also to be among country people. All too often they find decay, depopulation and a lack of prosperity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our upland areas. Visitors find depopulation, fewer farms, houses deserted except at weekends or holidays, closed schools, and non-existent rural transport. These areas are crying out for economic rejuvenation. This can be done without harming the natural beauties of the areas, but it must be done in a concerted and co-ordinated manner.

Economic rejuvenation and preservation of natural beauty can and must go hand in hand. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and my hon. Friend the Member for Wells spoke of the need to keep together all those interested in the countryside, those who live and work there, those who visit there and those who are determined to see the preservation of its beauties.

I draw the attention of the House to a speech that was made three years ago by Professor Wibberley, who is a great authority on these matters. In a presidential address that he made to the Agricultural Economics Society of Great Britan he said: Yes, it will be quite easy to organise the British countryside into a pattern of single uses which are protected against other uses. In many ways, the structure of national government tends to support this division into single uses, because national government either ignores the countryside or allows it to be administered by separate government agencies concerned only with one use. But, if we allow this to happen, we shall hasten the changes in the landscape of this crowded country, and we shall create and foster in the countryside interest and pressure groups who will fight for their place in the scene, and who will move towards the exclusion of uses and of people rather than their harmonious involvement in the totality of the rural economy. I cannot imagine a paragraph that more perfectly sums up our attitude to the Bill and the fact that it is the wrong way to tackle the problems of the countryside. When we come to power, we intend to attempt to carry out that rejuvenation of our upland areas in a way that will co-ordinate existing efforts by conservationists, planners, farmers, leisure and tourist interests, the Development Commission and forestry interests. We believe that it can be done at modest cost without the creation of a great new bureaucracy. The Bill, unfortunately, goes in an opposite direction.

I ask my hon. Friends to join us in the Lobbies tonight to support our amendment, with the understanding that we believe in the preservation of the beauties of the countryside. We want to see a prosperous people living there. Our objectives must be achieved together and not in a piecemeal manner.

9.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

The debate has ranged widely over many points and I shall do my best to answer as many of them as I can.

The purpose of the Bill is to tackle a particular problem in our national parks, namely, the decline in acreage of heather moorlands. No one has denied that there has been and still is a problem, and our legislation will deal with it. The Bill deals particularly with Exmoor but the problem exists in North Yorkshire and other areas.

One of the tragedies about the loss of heather moorland is that it takes so long to revive once it has been ploughed up or burnt. I was in the North Yorkshire moors national park last year when a great acreage of that park was burnt. The first was not a deliberate act of agriculture. I was told by numerous teams of research people at it would be 40 years before that area was restored to heather moorland.

There can be no doubt that there is a problem. Hon. Members who have heard all the discussions that went on in the Exmoor national park committee must have realised the extent of the problem. This was the reason for Lord Porchester's inquiry. He came to certain conclusions. The Opposition have praised his report to the sky, except for its final conclusions. However, we accept those conclusions, and this legislation will bring them into being.

A number of useful clauses in the Bill have been mentioned by hon. Members tonight. Clause 11 has been mentioned. If the Second Reading is defeated, it will deprive the public, the national parks and the farmers of the benefits that can be gained by the increased assistance for the work that must be done. I note that the Opposition—and indeed the Conservative Opposition—are not united. In fact, the Conservatives are by no means united over their amendment.

I have visited all the national parks of England and I have talked to farmers, councillors, agricultural workers and visitors. I suspect that most of the opposition that we have had today is really about the financial arrangements. The principle that we have used for the lump sum payment of compensation has been generally accepted for a long time. The principle that compensation for loss of rights over land should be based on the current market value of the rights forgone was established by law in 1919. It is applied not only to dispossession but to deterioration in the value of an interest, as in the provisions of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. To deviate from it in present circumstances would cast doubt on its continuing validity over a wide area. The loss of profits is a material factor in assessing the reduction in market value.

The compensation payable to a tenant would fully reflect his security of tenure under the present legislation. I am reminded that the Opposition recently opposed an extension of the security of tenure of farming tenants. The adverse taxation effects would be avoided if lump sum compensation could be reinvested in the farm; for example, in buildings for over-wintering stock. There would be severe practical difficulties in operating a system of compensation by way of continuing annual payments based on loss of profits. Any estimate of the potential profitability of the land must, at best, be arbitrary. It would be based on speculation and conjecture, without the bedrock of market evidence. Further payments would continue in perpetuity and would need to be reviewed periodically.

That would be increasingly difficult with the passage of time. It would involve having to make assumptions on the state of the hypothetically improved land many years after the improvement had taken place. Involved negotiations and disputes would be inevitable. Once determined, the annual payment would be a secure, no-risk income until the next review date, with the prospect of it continuing in perpetuity. This could well result in a speculative market in improvable moorland.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) reaffirmed the commitment of the House to protect and conserve moorland in national parks. The Opposition, if they defy the House and vote against this measure, will vote against protecting moorland and against the other useful measures in the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's speech will have given offence to the Ramblers' Association and the caravanners' associations, which he attacked.

There are other dangers to the national parks. I saw on Exmoor the tremendous damage done by the large numbers of vehicles such as Land Rovers which follow the Exmoor hunt. Those vehicles were on an area which is at present under discussion for an agreement. There is also the question of the scrubland which often follows—and has followed—much of the wartime and immediate post-war ploughing-up of the heather moorland.

A number of other matters in the Bill were suggested by the Sandford committee. If I remember rightly, few, if any, of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman which he said we had done nothing about, called for legislative solution. He did not recommend new legislation on mineral extraction, roads or traffic in national parks. He recommended us to take administrative action. We have already done so as a result of our circulars of January 1976 and December 1977. It is significant that the Opposition appear to oppose clause 8, which the Sandford committee recommended. Many of the points suggested by the Sandford committee are covered by our administrative action, apart from the point that I mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman quoted the views of the Department of the Environment in 1976. The quotation referred to the views of the Secretary of State on the need for power for national park authorities to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of preserving or enhancing the natural growth. It is significant that Lord Porchester, knowing that and taking it into account, nevertheless recommended differently.

I was not sure about the hon. Gentleman's point on public inquiries in the case of appeals, especially on compensation matters, which I suspect most of them will concern. The matter would go to a Lands Tribunal.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned agricultural grants from the Ministry of Agriculture, which may apply conditions for payments of grants for agricultural reasons and not for purposes of conservation.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) rightly recalled the start of the national parks and the tremendous battles which took place at that time. In some cases they were physical battles. I was in my teens when the battles took place in the High Peak of Derbyshire, when we were attempting to get some access to the moorlands. I recall that at that time the great opposition to this access came not particularly from farmers but from the sporting interests, which have not had much mention today. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there were three or four years of conflict over this problem within the Exmoor national park committee. The Countryside Commission was unable to solve the problem, hence our decision to go for an inquiry. I echo the praise of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) for my hon. Friend in this battle.

Earlier I was reading the Second Reading debate on the 1949 Bill, when almost every speech was in favour of the measure. It went through without a dissenting vote, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who had been a keen supporter, said that she was only 90 per cent. in favour of it.

The right hon. Member for Taunton accused my right hon. Friend the Minister of State of an emotional reaction to a problem, but the right hon. Member made what seemed to me to be an extremely emotional speech in defence of ploughing up moorland. I am surprised, after what he said, that he supports even the amendment. His case was "Leave it to the farmer and the owner". His case was for more ploughing up of the moorland, without interference by Government, public or national parks. He talked of the poor ratepayers having to pay 10 per cent. towards future moorland conservation orders and to management schemes under the Bill. But, if the Bill is defeated, the ratepayers will have to pay, as they are doing now, 25 per cent. towards management schemes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) rightly called attention—

Mr. Wiggin

Will the Minister tell us on what basis he makes the judgment that when moorland has been ploughed up and planted to grassland, which is producing food and other things, this has changed the landscape?

Mr. Marks

It depends whether, after it has been ploughed up and converted to grassland, it gets the attention that it needs. Hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the weeds and other scrub which can grow in parts of Exmoor once an area has been ploughed up. They pointed out that it has been found not worth while to proceed further with it.

Mr. Parker

May I inform my hon. Friend that two years ago, when there was a drought, on crossing Exmoor one found that the recently ploughed fields were absolutely bone dry and that the sheep were having to go on the moorland to find anything to eat.

Mr. Marks

My hon. Friend rightly called attention to the need for retention of the existing heather moorland. As he said, it never goes back to the original state once it has been ploughed up. He mentioned afforestation. Moorland land conservation orders do not apply to afforestation.

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison)—I am not sure whether he intends to support the Bill or to support his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench—talked about the need for a proper balance between farming and recreation. Farming is only one of the industries in some national parks. There is the important factor of the retention of natural beauty, which is often the basic aim of the national park committees.

The national park committees—and particularly the Exmoor national park committee—have disagreed with farmers. There have not been agreements in some cases. This was not because the national parks lacked the money but because the committees did not agree with the farmers about the amount of compensation. This has been the cause in the past of management schemes not being produced. With the knowledge that there is a reserve power for moorland conservation orders, farmers might well be encouraged to go in for management schemes to a greater extent. There is some sacrifice on the farmers' part, and this is recognised in the compensation.

The hon. Member for Devizes mentioned extending an order to another national park, as well as Exmoor, and said that we should go for an affirmative order. The Bill provides for a negative order, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall examine this matter carefully in Committee. The Government appreciate the feelings of hon. Members. Perhaps there should be an automatic debate. There are difficulties, however, particularly if action is required at the start of the Summer Recess, depending on the length of the recess, but we undertake to examine that point in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the basis of compensation. I hope that the explanation that I have given is adequate.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) would like the Government to outline the compensation in all cases.

Mr. Jopling

Why not?

Mr. Marks

Because it would be nonsense for me or for him to try. I have said that the basis of compensation is the loss of market value as a result of the order.

Mr. Wiggin


Mr. Marks

That basis is decided not by Ministers or civil servants but by a valuation considered between the park and the farmer concerned. That should provide adequate protection for the park.

The hon. Member for Devizes also asked about the figure of £64,000. I must admit that I asked about that earlier. The figure is based on the necessarily tentative assumption that moorland conversion may have to be resisted on about 200 acres or 300 acres each year either by management agreements or by MCOs. That figure has been allocated, because there is no way of forecasting what it would be in a few years. It is the best estimate that can be given.

My right hon. Friend dealt with the question of exemption from capital transfer tax. I shall deal with some of the points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett).

Mr. Charles Morrison

The hon. Gentleman has dealt with other points that I raised. Perhaps he could deal with capital transfer tax.

Mr. Marks

I thought that I had dealt with that point. Perhaps I should do so again in detail.

Section 77 of the Finance Act 1976 provides for conditional exemption from capital transfer tax payable when land is sold or passes to successors on the grounds of the land's outstanding scenic or historic or scientific interest". Lord Porchester recommended that the Countryside Commission should support applications to the Treasury for conditional exemption from capital transfer tax in respect of land in the map 2 area—the area where there would be the strongest possible presumption against conversion. Applications are dealt with by the Treasury as they are made. The Treasury cannot give a categorical undertaking in advance that certain categories of land will be given conditional exemption. It would be difficult to give an undertaking in respect of map 2 land alone. Map 2 land is not a statutory definition under the Bill and it would not have the benefit of ministerial approval. However, as my right hon. Friend said, the Treasury has agreed that the Minister may say that the final decision to make a moorland conservation order is prima facie evidence that the land meets the standards for conditional exemption from capital transfer tax.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North talked about the Bill as well as moorland conservation orders. He recognised the need to study farmers' requirements and feelings. I think that he showed great understanding in applying urban standards of trespass should someone be allowed to walk over land.

Mr. Wiggin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marks

Not at the moment. I shall when I have finished what I want to say on this aspect.

Mr. Wiggin

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Marks

No. I have already given way about five times.

Mr. Wiggin


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)


Mr. Wiggin

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Marks


Mr. Wiggin


Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Cryer

Is there no end to this sedition?

Mr. Marks

The difference is—

Mr. Wiggin


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is quite clear that the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Marks

I said that many hon. Members had made various points. I have done my best so far to reply, and I hope to reply to all the points before I finish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North pointed out that for many years there was a traditional right of access to the countryside—a right temporarily lost until we brought in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. My hon. Friend asked why 20 years should be specified in clause 3. As I have already pointed out, heather takes a very long time to establish itself. That is one of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill. Once the heather is lost, it is lost for a very long time. If land which has been agricultural—that is, ploughed and reseeded within 20 years—has reverted, as some has, despite what Opposition Members have said, it is unlikely to be back to a state of full heather moor. In short, the objective is to conserve the long-established heather moor.

My hon. Friend also asked whether MCOs would apply to heather burning. The answer is "Yes". It is a form of agricultural improvement and would be included in the orders. He also asked whether it would apply to forestry. I think that I have already dealt with that point.

I was not present when the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) made his contribution. I apologise for my absence. He mentioned quarrying. I have some responsibility for mineral planning as well as for national parks. Therefore, I realise that this is an important matter to all national parks. There have been recent decisions on matters such as limestone in the Old Moor area of Derbyshire, potash in North Yorkshire, and so on.

Farming and changes in methods of farming can make considerable differences to the landscape, as we recognise, and as the Country Landowners Association and the NFU have in the past recognised in their publications on the changes of landscape, the losses of hedgerows and so on.

Mr. Stephen Ross

As the Minister was not present when I made my speech—I congratulate him on leaving at an opportune moment—may I point out that I was talking about limestone pavements? Their loss is the result of not farming but of contractors and others taking them away and selling them to gardeners. This is a matter of great concern in North Yorkshire and Cumbria. If this could be written into the Bill, it would be worth doing.

Mr. Marks

I shall certainly give some thought to that matter. I have looked at limestone pavements in Cumbria and North Lancashire. I have seen some of the areas from which builders have taken limestone and sold it to people to put in their front gardens. The Nature Conservancy Council is playing a great part in defending limestone pavements. Indeed, it has bought limestone pavements in some parts of the country.

Clause 11 has been the subject of some controversy. I must be careful when talking about bull, because, as a former Grenadier, I can be accused of knowing something about it. Since becoming a Member I have seen almost as much as I did then.

On clause 11, as my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate—I think some hon. Members now present were not here at the time—there are discussions going on between the Ramblers' Association and other amenity interests, the National Farmers' Union and others, and we hope that they will come forward with some acceptable alternative to the present clause 11, and that it will be an improvement. I am sure that what my right hon. Friend said about it being a delight to get such co-operation will be echoed by all hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) talked about the riding community and bridlepaths, which are not specifically part of this Bill. I felt that he was not a great supporter of the amendment, but I have taken note of what he said about the importance of footpaths and bridlepaths and of the creation of new ones. I know that there are great difficulties in some urban areas—my own area, for instance—regarding these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) asked whether moorland conservation orders could apply to areas other than national parks. The answer is not, not even areas of outstanding natural beauty. But I appreciate that areas of outstanding natural beauty will have an increasing part in the defence of our national heritage.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) obviously disagreed with his Front Bench about the amendment. He agreed with Lord Porchester. He did not want the Bill to apply to the Lincolnshire wolds. It certainly will not. He reminded me that farmers are not satisfied with clause 11. I am aware of that. Indeed, we are aware that almost everybody was not satisfied with clause 11 as it was.

I welcome the support given to the Bill by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and his acceptance of the figures quoted by Lord Porchester, which some of his hon. Friends seem disposed to decry. I agree with him that first we must try for voluntary agreement. Of course we must; we do not want to use moorland conservation orders if we can help it.

As to whether the expenditure on providing a new skilled arbitration service is possible, many of the people involved in the valuation bodies and the Lands Tribunal that would be responsible for appeals are themselves experts in making the necessary valuations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who I know has played a great part in the defence of, in particular, the Peak park, talked about the need for strengthening the Bill, which we must discuss at a later time.

The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) talked about desecration by authorities such as electricity boards, defence, transport, the broadcasting authorities, and so on. The national park areas get special protection in this sphere and it is

right that national parks should get such special protection, not only from those authorities but from other industries, including farming.

The hon. Member for Westmorland talked about all the other subjects we could be tackling—for instance, the village schools. I think it is a great pity that so many of those who defend the village schools do not send their children to them.

On transport, we have done a great deal to assist country people with transport, and one of the disappointments has been the failure of some shire authorities to take advantage of transport supplementary grants. We are at the moment doing a great deal to investigate the possibilities. We are not saying that the countryside as a whole is not prosperous, but there are patches of poverty in the countryside, just as there are in the cities, and we are examining ways of helping. It may be that we should do a great deal more than we are doing.

I read in the colour supplement to The Observer this week, as many others did, of the work that was done on Exmoor in the last century to bring moorland under the plough. What was good enough for the nineteenth century is not good enough for today. Therefore, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

One of the sad things about this debate—

Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 145, Noes 165.

Division No.55] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Alison, Micheal Bottomely, Peter Clegg, Walter
Arnold, Tom Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(Spelthorne) Brittan, Leon Cope, John
Atkinson, David (B' Mouth, East) Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Dean, Paul (N Somerset)
Beith, A.J Brooke Hon Peter Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Bendall, Vivian Brotherton, Micheal Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Benyon, W Bulmer, Esmond Drayson, Burnaby
Biffen, John Butler, Adam (Bosworth) du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Biggs-Davison, John Chalker, Mrs Lynda Dykes, Hugh
Body, Richard Churchill, W.S. Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Clark, William (Croydon S) Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lawrence, Ivan Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Lester, Jim (Beeston) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Loveridge, John Scott, Nicholas
Fookes, Miss Janet Macfarlane, Neil Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shepherd, Colin
Fox, Marcus Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Silvester, Fred
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mayhew, Patrick Sinclair, Sir George
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Meyer, Sir Anthony Skeet, T. H. H.
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Goodhew, Victor Mills, Peter Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Miscampbell, Norman Spence, John
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Gray, Hamish Monro, Hector Sproat, Iain
Grist, Ian Montgomery, Fergus Stainton, Keith
Grylls, Michael Morgan, Geraint Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Stanley, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mudd, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Hannam, John Nelson, Anthony Tebbit, Norman
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Neubert, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Hayhoe, Barney Newton, Tony Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Hicks, Robert Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hodgson, Robin Page, Richard (Workington) Townsend, Cyril D.
Holland, Philip Parkinson, Cecil Trotter. Neville
Hooson, Emlyn Pattie, Geoffrey Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Penhaligon, David Viggers, Peter
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Percival, Ian Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Peyton, Rt Hon John Walters, Dennis
James, David Pink, R. Bonner Weatherill, Bernard
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wells, John
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Price, David (Eastleigh) Wiggin, Jerry
Jopling, Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wigley, Dafydd
Kaberry, Sir Donald Raison, Timothy Younger, Hon George
Kilfedder, James Rathbone, Tim
Kimball, Marcus Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) TELLERS FOR THE AYES;
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Rhodes James, R. Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr. Michael Roberts.
Lament, Norman Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Allaun, Frank Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lamborn, Harry
Anderson, Donald Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Lamond, James
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Evans, John (Newton) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Armstrong, Ernest Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Ashley, Jack Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Ashton, Joe Flannery, Martin Loyden, Eddie
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Luard, Evan
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McCartney, Hugh
Bates, Alf Foot, Rt Hon Michael McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Ford, Ben McElhone, Frank
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Freud, Clement MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Boothroyd, Miss Betty George, Bruce Maclennan, Robert
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Golding, John Madden, Max
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Gould, Bryan Magee, Bryan
Buchan, Norman Graham, Ted Marks, Kenneth
Buchanan, Richard Grant, George (Morpeth) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & p) Grant, John (Islington C) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell, Ian Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Meacher, Michael
Canavan, Dennis Hart, Rt Hon Judith Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Carmichael, Neil Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Cartwright, John Healey, Rt Hon Denis Moonman, Eric
Clemitson, Ivor Heffer, Eric S. Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Home Robertson, John Morton, George
Cohen, Stanley Hooley, Frank Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Conlan, Bernard Horam, John Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Corbett, Robin Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Cowans, Harry Huckfield, Les Newens, Stanley
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Noble, Mike
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oakes, Gordon
Cryer, Bob Hunter, Adam Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Davidson, Arthur Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Palmer, Arthur
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Jeger, Mrs Lena Park, George
Deakins, Eric Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Parker, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) John, Brynmor Parry, Robert
Dempsey, James Johnson, James (Hull West) Pavitt, Laurie
Dewar, Donald Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Doig, Peter Jones, Barry (East Flint) Richardson, Miss Jo
Dormand, J. D. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Judd, Frank Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Duffy, A. E. P. Kerr, Russell Roderick, Caerwyn
Eadie, Alex Lambie, David Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Rooker, J.W Stoddart, David Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Stott, Roger Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Rowlands, Ted Strang, Gavin Ward, Micheal
Sedgemore, Brian Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Watkins, David
Sever, John Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) White James (Pollok)
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Whitlock, William
Silverman, Julius Tinn, James Woof, Robert
Skinner, Dennis Tomilinson, John Young, David (Bolton E)
Smith, Rt Hon John (Lanarkshire) Torney, Tom
Snape, Peter Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Spriggs, Leslie Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Mr. James Hamilton and
Steel, Rt Hon David Wainwright, Richard (Colne V) Mr. Donald Coleman.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).