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Camp Site, Welsh Coast

Volume 398: debated on Tuesday 28 March 1944

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. A. S. L. Young.]l

On 24th February I put a Question to the Minister of Health to inquire whether his Department had been consulted about the siting of a camp that has become known as Butlin's Camp for the Welsh coast, and if it was within his knowledge whether any of the local authorities concerned had been consulted in the matter. The Minister replied that his Department had not been consulted, and it was not within his knowledge that any of the local authorities had been consulted. The re- sult was that I gave notice to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I note that the Minister of Health is not here. I ought to make it clear that I notified him in time, but I heard from him that he is leaving the reply to the Admiralty, and I see my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord is here. May I make one or two things clear at the beginning? I do not raise this matter because of any hostility or antagonism to Mr. Butlin. I do not know him, and there is nothing personal of any kind in the matter. I do not raise it with any kind of hostility to the project of establishing holiday camps. I have endeavoured, in circumstances and on sites that are suitable and in conditions that are the best, to establish holiday camps. Indeed, for several months I have been upon a Committee to advise the Government upon reconstruction in Wales, and our report will be available to the public in a few days.

We have given very close attention to this question of making adequate provision for the health and recreation of our people when the war comes to an end. We have formed the conclusion that if that is to be done in a way that will be worthy of our people, in view of the opportunity we shall have at the end of the war when the whole scheme of holidays with pay for workers will come into full effect, it is essential that it should be planned in a big way. When the Report is read it will be discovered that we have ideas as to how this matter is to be dealt with. We have made recommendations to the Government as to how holiday camps for holidaymakers shall be provided in Wales. In particular, we say that due regard must be paid to the preservation of the beauty of the countryside and of areas like Snowdonia which are not—I say it as a Welshman—even the possession of Wales, because they are the possession of the world.

What I want to raise principles of vital importance. The first is that the camp has been built by the Admiralty. It was commenced during the war and completed during the war. It is occupied by the Admiralty for their own purposes. It was, therefore, not built by Mr. Butlin but by the Government and paid for out of public money. It is, therefore, public property. During the war, we have gladly given unanimously to the Government full powers, enabling them to choose sites for camps or works or any project or building, without having to consult the normal authorities. We have not given that power to anybody else. We have not given the power to Mr. Butlin or to any other individuals to build camps, works or factories where they like without consultation. We have given it to the Government for specific purposes involved in the war.

Here is a site chosen for a camp. We are told that there is an arrangement. What it is we do not know, but I hope the Minister will be able to clear up the mystery. There is a lot of mystification and counter-suggestion as to what has been arranged. It is decided, so we are told, between the Admiralty and Mr. Butlin, that at the end of the war this camp is to be handed back, or sold back, to him for the purpose of a camp. If that is the case, the Admiralty will have used their special powers to establish a camp for their own purposes and will have arranged to sell it to a private individual, and they will have done all that without the necessity of consulting any of the authorities concerned. That is a matter of very great importance. I am glad to see present a representative of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, as this matter greatly concerns them. I hope we shall hear from him whether his Ministry was consulted about this matter and, if not, why not. That is my first point. It is that a Government Department has no right or authority to pledge the future without the full consent of all concerned.

The second principle I want to raise is not only of very great importance but is far wider than that of Mr. Butlin's camp: Is a Government Department entitled to sell national property without the consent of this House? This is a matter of very great importance. Here it is a question of a camp. But there are all over this country literally scores, nay hundreds, of Government establishments built for varying kinds of purposes. We know there are a number in Wales. There are large numbers in this country. Are we to understand that if the Admiralty claim the right to sell this camp to a private individual the Ministry of Supply, for example, have the right to sell a factory to an individual without the consent of this House? That is another matter which came within the purview on the Committee on which I serve. We make defi- nite recommendations as to what should happen to national establishments at the end of this war. We all know that at the end of the last war they were sold as scrap. We all know that a lot was done that shoud not have been done. We make recommendations that this time we are definitely of the opinion that these establishments built by the Government for war production which are now national property and which have cost tens of millions of pounds, ought not to be disposed of, but used by the nation to provide the work which will be essential at the end of the war.

Therefore I raise the point. Under what authority did the Admiralty contract to sell national property to a private individual or anyone else without the consent of this House? Here is a practice beginning. This is a major issue. I raise this because it is the first example that has come to my notice of this being done. I therefore ask under whose authority was it done? I want to add my own protest, and I am sure that I am protesting for many Members in this House as well as myself, against the practice of selling, apparently secretly, quietly, without any auction, national property to a private individual.

The last point I want to put is this. Questions have been asked of the Admiralty as to what were the terms and conditions under which this property has been disposed of. I understand that the Admiralty have refused to reply. I want to ask why. Surely we are entitled to know. In this House we have to vote Supply, including the money to build this camp. The money is provided by Parliament, the money is provided by the nation, the money is provided out of public funds. Surely we have a right to ask what are the terms. I would put this if I may to my hon. and gallant Friend who is to reply, that the refusal of the Admiralty to disclose the terms has led to a great deal of suspicion about the whole matter. If you refuse to say what are the conditions, quite frankly people say that there is something very funny, something very fishy, and in the interests of the Government the Minister ought to make a plain statement as to what are the conditions.

I would put my case into these questions. Could we be told what this camp has cost? Secondly, could we be told what is the agreement, if any, between the Admiralty and Mr. Butlin? Is there a signed contract that this camp is to be sold to him to be used as a holiday camp at the end of the war? If so, on what terms and on what conditions? These are principles of great importance which I think justify me in raising the matter on the Adjournment. I hope we shall have a reply which will satisfy us on the questions I have raised.

I am sure that the House agrees with me that we are greatly indebted to the hon. Member for raising this very important subject. I would like to say a few words to impress on the Government how very important this question of holiday camps is, and is going to be when the war finishes. For many years I have been a propagandist for holiday camps for our school children. Having listened to the hon. Member submitting his case to this House to-day, I have become more than ever impressed with the fact that the opportunity is coming to us when this war is finished to implement the expressed feelings of many educationists throughout this country and to establish this principle for our schoolchildren. It has been said that this camp is being sold, but I trust it has not been sold. Otherwise, I can see no opportunity arising for holiday-makers to enjoy the freedom of the countryside and of the seaside. I appeal to the Government to consider not only this particular case, but the whole question of camps throughout the country. They will do good service to the people of this country if they keep those camps for the use of those who are deserving of them when the war is finished.

The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has put certain specific questions, which perhaps. I can best answer if I set out the actual course of events which led up to the building of this camp. It started in 1940. Then, the Admiralty were in very great need of more accommodation. They wanted a camp in that part of Wales. We made inquiries, and discovered that Messrs. Butlin had already completed negotiations for buying a particular site on the North Welsh coast. There was no secrecy at all about the purpose for which Messrs. Butlin wanted that site—it was for a holiday camp. That was in March; in the following April or May, the Admiralty started negotiations with Messrs. Butlin with a view to securing this site and putting there the camp which we wanted.

What was the stage of the Butlin negotiations when the Admiralty intervened? Was the contract signed? Had the property passed?

The negotiations between Mr. Butlin and the owners of the land had been completed. Whether the contract was signed or not, I do not know.

Wait a moment. That is what happened at that time. The agreement which the Admiralty made with Messrs. Butlin at that time was that Messrs. Butlin, who had their plans ready for this camp, should proceed with the building, at the Admiralty's expense, and we bought the site from them for this camp. The agreement which was ultimately signed with Messrs. Butlin made a contract that the Admiralty would sell back this camp to Messrs. Butlin one year after the armistice with Germany. Building started in June, 1940, and was completed in March, 1941; and the extension was completed by October, 1941. I understand that Mr. Butlin was in continual discussion with the local authorities concerned between August, 1940, and January, 1941. In that last month he deposited his full plans with the local authority. I was asked when the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was informed of the arrangement. As my hon. Friend knows, the Ministry was not in existence at that time. We had not got as far as post-war planning then, but the Ministry of Health were informed of our arrangement in August, 1940. That was after we had made the arrangement, and I want to describe how that came about. If we had been buying the land ourselves, from whoever happened to own it, in order to build this camp, we should, of course, have done what we always do and consulted the Ministry of Health—now it would have been the Ministry of Town and Country Planning—but, in actual fact, we were not buying this land for the specific purpose from outside people. What we were doing was coming to an arrangement with somebody who had already bought the land for that specific purpose.

For building the holiday camp. In those circumstances, there was no onus upon the Admiralty to consult the Ministry of Health at that time. The effect was that, as far as the Admiralty was concerned, we got the camp rather more quickly than, otherwise we should have done and we got it on an economic basis. That is what happened in the past. There is no mystification.

The Minister says we got it on an economic basis. What does he mean by that? understood the hon. Member to say that this was done at Government expense. Let us have the actual figures.

I can explain what I mean by a more economic basis by saying that we spent x money on building a camp and coming to an agreement with Butlins that they should buy the camp back from us at the end of the war, so that the total cost to the taxpayer would be far less than if it had been built out of public money and the camp had then remained derelict on our hands.

The Minister has used the phrase "x money." What is preventing us being told the amount? Is there any reason whatever why the hon. and gallant Gentleman should not say that Butlins transferred this land to the Admiralty for a sum of, say, £I, and is it not a fact that, compared with other contractors at that particular time, Messrs. Butlin put up this camp at half the cost that the ordinary contractor would have exacted from the Admiralty, because this particular firm of Butlin had got the equipment and everything else ready for the purpose and had been building camps of similar character?

That is rather a discourse. We should only have one speech from a Member on the Adjournment. I conclude that that is a long question.

The first point I was asked was what was meant by economic basis, and I tried to explain that by using x as a symbol. I only meant that, from the national point of view, it was on an economic basis. The other question was what was the actual cost of the camp. An hon. Member put a Question down on that some time ago, and he was informed that it is not the recognised practice of the Government to say what is the cost in such a transaction as this. That is a thing which has been accepted by the House, and there was nothing new about it. It is not that there is anything to hide or anything like that. The Committee on Public Accounts can look into it, and it is the recognised practice. If we did it in one case we should have to do it in others.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman says if they did it in one case they would have to do it in others. So far as I know, this is the only case in which a Government Department has contracted to sell Government property at the end of the war. There is no other case; this is the first.

No, I do not think so. I think there are other cases concerning firms other than Butlins. The point I am making is that it has never been the practice to say in public what is the sum agreed to between two contracting parties. I was asked whether, in fact, an agreement had actually been signed with Messrs. Butlin, and that can be looked at by those best qualified to look into it.

We are referred to an actual document in possession of the Government and ought not that to be laid upon the Table of the House?

When they are transactions in which public money is involved, surely, it is the rule of the House that the documents should be laid before the House.

If they are quoted from. I do not think that this document was quoted from.

On a point of Order. Could you, Sir, tell us what action a Member of Parliament can take to try to find out the terms of the agreement from a Government Department?

Is it not a fact that this document has been referred to because we have already been told that one of the terms contained in it is that for the re-sale to Messrs. Butlin of the land now taken over? That is a reference to the terms of the document itself, and I submit, Sir, upon your own Ruling, that document should be produced.

My Ruling on the question is that reference to a document is not a quotation.

I must be careful not, to refer further to the contract. I have stated what the position of the contract is, and I will go on from that. I have told how the present position came about, and I now want to deal with the present and the future. This is not the opportunity to enter into any argument as to the desirability or otherwise of these holiday camps in any particular place. Opinion locally is very much divided, as hon. Members know, and this is not the place to argue either one way or the other about it. For the general future, I think I can say that what ultimate decision is reached regarding this camp depends on the scheme which is put forward by the local planning authority, and on whether or not that plan is accepted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning.

We come to a legal point there, but the final and ultimate decision depends upon whether or not my right hon. Friend approves of the town planning scheme put forward by the authority for these parts. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning are fully alive not only to what has happened in this business but to all the arguments on both sides, and I suggest that that is the position at which the House should be willing to leave it.

This is a most unsatisfactory state of things. Apparently the Admiralty desired a plot of land for a purpose of their own. This House, in an Act which was passed on 22nd May, 1940, gave them full power over all property and over all persons. Presumably under that Act, or under some other power that has been given to them, when they desired this land they entered into negotiations with a gentleman who had, for his own purposes, for his own private profit, already made some arrangements by which he had acquired that land. Then the Admiralty, instead of exercising their power under the Act, enter into some peculiar negotiation with him, the terms of which we do not know. I have heard some reference to a pound note or something like from my hon. Friend. If it is a pound note what right have we to accept that charity or anything like that? None. All the property was put within the power of the Government for the purposes of the war. Then they enter into an agreement with him by which he builds, and we are now told that that is an agreement which was economic to the Government. The hon. and gallant Gentleman nods his head. It was his duty as a citizen of this country to do what was economic for the Govern-men. If that was the cheapest way of doing it the Government ought to have employed it. There is no credit to him. Of course it should.

Do not let us hear any nonsense of how kind he was, or that it was of economic benefit to the country. He did it for his own purpose. It is all very well for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to shake his head. He must have done so.

This man entered into an agreement with the Government by which he gets this land back on terms which are suitable to him, otherwise he would not have accepted it.

If you transfer land, you transfer all that is on it. Of course you do. That, in itself, disturbs us as Members of this House, but there is a much deeper question than that which concerns us here. The hon. Member has already referred to possible other transactions that have taken place. This concerns us particularly in reference to Wales and, as the hon. Member for Llanelly said, in reference particularly to Snowdonia. We are entitled to make the fullest inquiry as to the future use of this property. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that when it comes to the question of the future, the Minister of Town and Country Planning will have something to say. The extent of what he has to say will depend in some degree upon the agreement which has already been made with another Department. If he suffers what he considers to be an injustice, he will bring pressure to bear and say "Well, look at what the Admiralty agreed. Surely it is not in your power now to interfere with that? I was dealing with the Government, thinking that they were transferring this property over to me so that I could act in the way I desire and now—".

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 25th November.