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Commons Chamber

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 30 January 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Busines

Tyne And Wear Passenger Transport Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Aberf An Disaster Fund Bill

The sole object of the Bill is the creation of a charge on public funds. I am advised that such a Bill can proceed only as a Public Bill and not as a Private Bill.

Order for Second Reading read and discharged.

Bill withdrawn.

BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 2) BILL

CITY OF LONDON (VARIOUS POWERS) BILL

FELIXSTOWE DOCK AND RAILWAY BILL

GREATER LONDON COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Ipswich Port Authority Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

London Transport Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Scottish Equitable Life Assurance Society Bill

Read a second time and referred to Examiners.

Severn-Trent Water Authority Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Yorkshire Woolien District Transport Bill

Read a Second time and referred to Examiners.

CHESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL BILL [Lords] (By Order)

COUNTY OF MERSEYSIDE BILL [Lords] (By Order)

EAST KILBRIDE DISTRICT COUNCIL BILL (By Order)

WEST MIDLANDS COUNTY COUNCIL BILL [Lords] (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Inverclyde District Council Order Onfirmation Bill

Solicitors In The Supreme Courts Of Scotland (Amendment) Order Confirmation Bill

Orders for consideration read.

To be considered upon Thursday.

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Services

National Health Service (Industrial Relations)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the National Union of public Employees to discuss industrial relations in the National Health Service.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the National Union of Public Employees to discuss industrial relations in the National Health Service.

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to meet the health services trade unions.

Last Thursday I met representatives of the management and staff sides of the Whitley councils for both ambulance men and ancillary staffs. The staff sides included representatives of NUPE. Following that meeting urgent discussions between the two sides have taken place, and are continuing, with a view to finding a framework within which a settlement of the claims could be reached.

What specific proposals does the Minister intend to incorporate into his promised patients' charter which will ensure that patients do not suffer from the activities of certain members of the National Union of Public Employees, such as those about whom we read daily?

I have never promised a patients' charter. That would be a very rash thing to do. I have had discussions with both the unions and the professions. It is extremely difficult to draw a clear line between urgent and emergency cases and those where delays will be harmless. I believe that everyone working in the Health Service recognises that. The unions have come out strongly in favour of support for the emergency ser- vices and it is essential that we ensure that they are able to see that their members respect that in different parts of the country.

Is the Minister aware that the call for the Prime Minister to intervene arises from the fact that many people consider? Is that right hon. Gentleman aware that today NUPE has called out all 483 members at the Westminster hospital and that more than 200 hospitals are closed or partially closed? Will he, for the first time, tell the House what action he intends to take to deal with this appalling situation?

We must get our facts right. It is not true that 200 hospitals, or anything like that number, have closed. It is true that a significant number of them are dealing only with emergency cases, and I am very worried about that. The effect of industrial action in the Health Service is extremely serious. Between a third and a half of our hospitals are now reduced to emergency admissions, and over most of the country the ambulance services are giving emergency cover only.

As I said in answer to a previous question, the trade unions have told their members to maintain emergency services, but there are some situations—I believe that Westminster is one of them—which cause me very great concern. The threat to patients' safety and well-being is now, in some areas, so great that I have asked the general secretaries of COHSE and NUPE to meet me. I intend to impress upon them the seriousness of the position and the importance of redoubling their efforts to ensure that industrial action is kept under control.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the need to admit anyone to hospital is an urgent issue of some character, but that the official policy of COHSE, right from the beginning, has been to see that proper and effective emergency cover is provided in all those cases which COHSE and the medical profession recognise as being emergencies?

As nurses now have a special claim waiting to be examined, and acknowledging that they did not get all that was recommended by Halsbury, what progress is being made on that claim?

The position of COHSE is absolutely right. It has sought to limit action to non-emergency cases. As I have said, however, it is very difficult to draw a line. Each individual's case is for him an urgent or emergency case. For elderly people and long-stay, high-dependency people in long-stay hospitals, it is urgent that they should be properly looked after. It is not just a question of admissions.

I know that senior officials of the unions involved are concerned about this matter. I understand that they have been giving urgent consideration to it and that they are preparing detailed guidance for their members on the importance of preserving essential services.

The Government are giving serious consideration to the nurses' pay claim. I think my hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister received the staff side of the nursing Whitley council only a few days ago, and I met the chairman of the management side only a few days ago.

Will the Minister consider the situation at a hospital much nearer to his own constituency, to wit, the St. Andrew's hospital at Thorpe, Norwich, which is now in great trouble and is, I understand, taking in no more patients?

Yes, I am aware of the situation in the Thorpe hospital. This is one of many situations across the country in which management is having to deal with action that has been taken, and is having to deal with it in the best way that it can. One cannot get away from the fact that where this sort of action is taken, inevitably there are consequences for patients, both those in hospitals and those waiting for admission. One cannot escape from that.

My right hon. Friend points to the difficulties, but does he realise that in establishing a code for picketing there were difficulties there, and that it is even more imperative that, where human life is at risk we establish with the unions a code of conduct to avoid the distressing circumstances that have occurred over the last two or three weeks?

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said. I have said that these are matters which I shall raise when I meet the general secretaries of COHSE and NUPE. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Very soon. It will not be easy to draw up a code of conduct, because the circumstances of every case are different, but I think that we shall determine it. For instance, there are some severe problems with the laundries. Hospitals cannot function without clean linen, sterile dressings and equipment, so the strike action in laundries and sterile supply units imposes a serious threat to the safety of patients. Those are the sorts of issues that I shall raise with the union general secretaries.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the actions of quite small numbers of laundry workers are resulting in large numbers of beds being closed, such as in Exeter, where 300 out of 1,000 beds have been closed? Will he now authorise the use of voluntary labour to keep these ancillary hospital services going?

There are certain circumstances in which, even in emergencies, staff may not have been prepared to fulfil their duties, and those are the sorts of circumstances under which volunteers can help. There are other ways in which volunteers can help. But we must be very careful in handling these industrial disputes to ensure that we do not take action that will make them worse and provoke a greater response. We have to avoid that.

On some of the particular cases that have been raised—the hon. Gentleman has just raised one—we have set up a hot line between my Department and the trade unions at national level to deal with cases in which action has gone beyond the level approved by the unions. In many cases we have been able to bring about an improvement in the situation.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that so long as this industrial problem continues the Tories will have a field day blaming the Government and condemning the strikers, seeming to speak on behalf of those who want the hospitals to flourish properly and giving the impression that they are in favour of lots more money for the strikers and for the hospitals? Will my right hon. Friend be guided by the experience of the lorry drivers' strike, which is now drawing to an end, and understand that if we are to resolve this problem that will be achieved not by standing up to strikers and Labour supporters but by getting a settlement, and that that settlement will have to be well over the percentage terms that have already been offered to the unions?

There are two parts to that question. On the latter one, I agree that it is urgent that we should get a settlement. Where we are dealing, as we are with some of these cases, with low-pay situations about which people have strong feelings, the Government are not inflexible. The Prime Minister has taken two initiatives which I believe point the way to settlement. These are the sorts of things which are now being considered by the staff and management sides.

On the first part of the question, I am afraid that it is true that whenever there is a situation such as this right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition will always exploit it to the maximum degree. They will overstate the case to their own advantage. At the same time they preach the case of free collective bargaining, which has never been in the interests of the low-paid.

Benefits (Industrial Disputes)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the total sum paid in supplementary benefit to the families of those on strike during 1978.

£3·1 million up to 28 November 1978, the latest date to which figures are available.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a gross waste of public money? Does he agree also that strikes should be financed by trade unions and not by the taxpayer? Does he think it is time that the law was changed?

No, Sir. This money was paid to the families of strikers. Last year, only £5,000 was paid directly to strikers, and that was in exceptional circumstances. This money has gone to families, and the Government are not prepared to change the policy on this matter.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that we very much welcome that firm reassurance from the Government that dependants of strikers, particularly children, will not suffer because people are taking industrial action?

I thank my hon. Friend for that statement. I remind the House that if we were to stop payment and if, for instance, families were thereby broken up and children were put into care, the cost per child for residential care would be £81 a week. That ought to be taken into account.

If that remains the policy for the dependants of strikers, what does the right hon. Gentleman plan for those who depend upon those who take strike action for the work which they would do if they were not on strike?

That has nothing to do with the question. The question is concerned with benefits for strikers' families. I have given a clear answer. All but £4 of any tax refund and strike pay is taken into account in deciding a family's entitlement to supplementary benefit.

Apart from the cost implications, does my right hon. Friend agree that any policy change would create greater bitterness and unrest in industry? Does he agree that any policy change would not be supported by the Tory trade union organisation?

I noted with interest that the Conservative Trade Union Association came out firmly in favour of the Government continuing to pay benefits to strikers' families. The present industrial difficulties could be much worse if we did not act in a civilised manner, and we shall continue to do so.

Nurses (Mental Hospitals)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.

Information on the annual average earnings of this particular group of staff is not available. The pay of a State registered nurse working in a psychiatric hospital who also has a qualification in psychiatric nursing is on the scale £2,941 to £3,550. This includes an allowance of £165 for working in a psychiatric hospital.

What is the right hon. Gentleman's view about the pay of these nurses being increased in line with that of lorry drivers?

The hon. Gentleman knows that nurses and midwives have submitted a claim to be treated as a special case. The Government are giving serious consideration to that claim. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already received a deputation from them. Discussions are proceeding and the Government will make an announcement as soon as a decision has been taken.

The whole House would wish that those who cannot look after themselves properly should be looked after properly. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that proper staffing of a proper quality can be maintained at the present level of earnings?

There is no doubt that if there were higher levels of earnings there would be faster recruitment. It is true that there are shortages of nurses in some areas where recruitment is difficult, partly for geographical reasons and partly, perhaps, for pay reasons. However, there has recently been an improvement in the numbers coming forward for training. We continue to see a steady increase in the number of nurses working in the National Health Service.

Is my right hon. Friend seized of the importance of danger money in psychiatric nursing? Is he aware that if a qualified mental nurse is in a locked ward it is his skill and his knowledge that enables him to ensure not only his own safety but that of his patients? When he is considering these matters, will he bear in mind the need to recruit nurses and the needs of this specialty? Will he take special cognisance of these matters in his negotiations on pay with the nurses?

I shall bear that in mind. It is important to have enough nurses in our psychiatric hospitals. It is because there have been difficulties in recruiting that we have made the special additional payment available to those who work in psychiatric hospitals. I am sure that that is right.

In his discussions with the leaders of the nursing profession, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in these days of enormous wage claims the country as a whole is especially worried about differentials? Does he agree that in the nursing profession there is a need to give extra reward to those who have obtained higher qualifications and that the present state of affairs in the profession is far from satisfactory?

I know that arguments will be advanced in favour of special assistance for those at the lower end of the scale, the low paid, and in favour of those at the higher end of the scale. That is always a problem. If we deal with a low pay problem by awarding a substantial increase the differentials are extended but there is still a group at the bottom of the list whose members are called the low-paid. I agree that there is a great deal of feeling among nurses on this issue. There is a great deal of public support for nurses because of the nature of their work. That is why the Government are giving serious consideration to the claims that they have submitted.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we on the Labour Benches want to see nurses properly paid? Will he take the opportunity to remind the Opposition that private expenditure by nurses and others in the public sector depends on there being an adequate level of public expenditure in the first place?

That is true. It was in 1970 that the Labour Government made a major advance in the level of nurses' pay. They picked them up virtually off the floor. It was in 1974, at the time of the Halsbury award, that a Labour Government made a sizeable increase in the level of nurses' pay. It ill becomes Opposition Members to criticise our performance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he and his predecessors have been in charge of these matters for five years? Does he realise that the nurses submitted their claim for special treatment in the middle of last year? How much longer will they have to wait for an answer? Does he recognise that the anger that a number of us faced in Central Hall a few days ago—a meeting that no Minister attended—was due as much as anything to the fact that they have been kept waiting month after month for an answer? When will the Government give them the answer?

The claim was submitted very early because it was the nurses' hope, and their case, that they would receive some additional payment over and above the 10 per cent. that they received in the present pay year, which ends in April 1979. On behalf of the Government I had to say that the guideline for that pay year applied as much to the nurses as it did to any other group in society.

We are considering the claim that they have made for a settlement from 1 April 1979. I realise that nurses are anxious and impatient. However, there is some time to go and they should not conclude that the Government have forgotten their case. We are considering it carefully.

Benefits

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the increase in sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and the death grant, at constant and at current prices, since each of the following years, 1948, 1958, 1968 and 1978.

The standard weekly rate of sickness and unemployment benefit was £1·30 in 1948 and £15·75 in 1978. At current prices these rates would be £8·44 and £15·88. The death grant was £20 when it was first paid in 1949 and £30 in 1978. Current price equivalents would be £125·86 and £30·25.

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those figures show that the death grant has remained unchanged since it was fixed in 1967 at £30? Does he realise that the average cost of a funeral at that time, consisting of a hearse, coffin, three taxis and opening a burial ground, was £47? Does he agree that since then the cost of the average funeral has increased to £180, which is a 391 per cent. increase, which was confirmed yesterday by Scottish undertakers? Will he bear in mind that the death grant in 1967 represented 63 per cent. of the cost of a funeral, whereas today it represents only 16 per cent.? Is there not an overwhelming need for an immediate substantial increase in the death grant in view of the prodigious increase in burial and commission expenses—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). However, if I did not, it would be the end of Question Time. This is an extremely long question.

Will the Minister take action, in view of the prodigious cost of burial and cremation expenses?

I concede that my hon. Friend has made a first-class case on this problem. I remind the House that the Government are aware of the gap to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, but this is a matter of resources. We have made a priority of tackling poverty and helping in the struggle against inflation, both with pensions and with child benefit. We have to take account of the needs of the disabled and the blind, and we must bear in mind the recipients of maternity benefits and the long-term unemployed. We have to weigh up all these priorities.

Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated how much it would cost to bring the death grant up to the level advocated by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)? Do the Government plan to bring this matter into the list of priorities, since it clearly has not been there for the last 10 years?

It is in the list of priorities. We considered this matter very seriously. It would cost £96 million a year to bring the benefit up to the level requested by my hon. Friend. That considerable amount of public expenditure must be set against other priorities.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that a number of social security benefits have declined in real value over the years? In this International Year of the Child, will he pay particular attention to uprating the maternity benefits, which have fallen way behind other benefits? Does he accept that that would make a major contribution to the quality of infant care in this country?

There is another question on the Order Paper dealing with this matter. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to another priority. As a result of the amendments made to the Social Security Bill, the Government are committed to looking at these benefits each year.

In view of the Minister's remarks about the Social Security Bill, and since the Government did not seek to remove the clause requiring this matter to be reviewed in the present tax year, may we take it not only that the review is being carried out, but that its conclusions will be published?

The review is being carried out. I shall consider the hon. Member's latter point.

Following is the information:

SICKNESS AND UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT (£)
19481·30(8·44)
19582·50(10·48)
19684·50(13·91)
197815·75(15·88)

DEATH GRANT (£)
194920(125·86)
195825(104·78)
196830(92·73)
197830(30·25)

NOTES:

Current price equivalents are given in brackets.

Death grant was introduced in 1949.

Essential Supplies (Hardship Cases)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied that his Department was able to deal satisfactorily with any hardship cases, especially affecting elderly people, caused by the disruption of essential supplies of food and fuel, in respect of recipients of supplementary benefit assistance.

Yes, Sir, but if the hon. Member has any particular case in mind and will let me have details, I shall look into the matter.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I shall pass the details to him. Now that old people have had five to six weeks of very cold weather, will the hon. Gentleman consider embarking upon extra publicity, through the normal media, to make sure that those who are perhaps too proud to apply for this kind of help will do so if they need it?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point. We have to stick to a budget, and advertising in some elements of the media is an extremely expensive proposition, particularly on the short-term basis that the hon. Gentleman has recommended. There is, of course, the good neighbour scheme and a number of other arrangements by which we can get information to elderly people about the facilities that are available through the supplementary benefit system. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

What steps is the Minister taking to bring to the knowledge of ordinary pensioners the availability of social security payments when the lack of paper interferes with the payment of their normal pensions, as has happened to many pensioners in my constituency?

I was unaware of the difficulty described by the hon. Member. If he will give me the details, I undertake to look into the matter immediately.

Will my hon. Friend indicate the method of advertising employed? Recently, one or two cases have been brought to my attention concerning people who have been receiving pensions, but not supplementary or other benefits. Although there is an extensive advertising campaign, would not matters be simplified by putting a slip in the pension book to ask pensioners whether they are receiving the full benefits, in addition to pensions, to which they are entitled?

I understand that on the back cover of the pension book there is a reference to further assistance that might be available. If pensioners were to read that—of course, not all of them would want to—they would obtain the information. I do not see that putting anything else into the pension book would assist greatly, but I shall examine the other suggestions that have been made.

Will the Minister consider using local radio to help some elderly people? They listen to local radio, and I am sure that a number of the companies would be only too willing to help the elderly at this difficult time.

A lot would depend on the advertising rates being charged by the various elements of the media. If the hon. Lady is referring to editorial matter, that is something that we can look into very quickly.

Foster Children

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about his discussions on boarding-out allowances for foster children with the local authorities.

Following meetings with my Department, the local authority associations have issued circulars to local authorities recommending common age bands and age relativities for boarding-out allowances. I am arranging to send my hon. Friend copies of these circulars.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information, but does he recall that last year he published in the Official Report the boarding-out scales for all local authorities in England and Wales? Will he consider republishing that, possibly in April or May, so that we can make a comparison to see whether his efforts to persuade local authorities to improve boarding-out allowances have met with success?

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion about timing, but I do not want to encourage his optimism about the dates that he put forward. We shall probably want to do this exercise again subject to resources and by a timing which would allow a reasonable period for local authority action to be taken on the first list.

What positive steps is the Minister taking to encourage local authorities to increase the number of children in foster care and so reduce the number of children in institutional care?

We are continuing to promote as vigorously as possible the idea of boarding out and foster care in all the guidelines that we issue to local authorities. I am happy to see that the numbers boarding out are rising.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the table showing comparative figures will probably show that the highest cost areas do not necessarily give the biggest boarding-out allowances? The differences in cost have often been given as justification for a variation in rates. Is it not time that my right hon. Friend took powers to ensure that boarding-out allowances are uniform throughout the country?

The table certainly revealed wide discrepancies between the rates of the various local authorities. We have no powers to insist on local authorities adhering to a specific scale. They are entitled to fix their own scales, but they did not feel able to take positive action on this matter, other than to make recommendations, because of the substantial regional and local variations in costs.

Hospital Waiting Lists (Birmingham)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the waiting lists for surgery in the Birmingham area.

Waiting lists and times are much longer than I would wish. The Birmingham area health authority (teaching) is opening a new eye department of 30 beds at East Birmingham hospital and is extending the existing eye department at Selly Oak hospital from 18 to 30 beds. It is proposed to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards at Good Hope hospital to relieve orthpaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose and throat beds will be provided in Selly Oak hospital.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the already disgracefully long period that my constituents have to wait for surgery will be made even worse by the NUPE dispute? Bearing that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the remarks of the Secretary of State last Thursday when, in this House, he condemned the director of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth hospital who had said that patients were being sent home and were not being allowed surgery, and that lives were at risk? Is he aware that the following day more than 100 nurses and doctors at that hospital backed the director and disagreed with the Secretary of State? Does he agree that they know best whether people's lives are at risk?

I am only too happy to take every opportunity of associating myself with remarks made by my right hon. Friend, and I rely on the area health authority to give me a feel as to what is happening in Birmingham. It dissociated itself from the consultant to whom the hon. Member referred. There is now an agreement between the management and the shop stewards at the hospital, and that is being operated.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that general practitioners in Birmingham have adequate information on the waiting lists of various consultants so that they can avoid using the prima donnas all the time? This causes extensive waiting lists, which are not necessary.

This is a matter in which the National Health Service has been traditionally inadequate. We have done our best in recent years to make sure that details about waiting lists are circulated to GPs so that they can take rational decisions.

Is the Minister aware that greatly lengthened waiting lists for orthopaedic surgery in Birmingham cause painful distress to those affected? Will he look especially at that issue, and also at the waiting list affecting Selly Oak hospital?

The area health authority has taken action to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards of the Good Hope hospital to relieve orthopaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose, and throat beds are to be opened at the Selly Oak hospital.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear that, sad as it is that there should be waiting lists for surgical conditions, these are for non-urgent conditions, and that every emergency and every urgent surgical condition receives immediate treatment?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is provision to make sure that urgent cases are dealt with within a month, throughout most of the country. I agree also that waiting lists are a crude indication of the facilities available. Many factors are involved besides a shortage of facilities, though this does occur from time to time.

Reverting to the Minister's remarks about the director of radiology, is it not regrettable that he cannot recognise that the Government cast an unjustifiable slur on a very distinguished man? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the view that that doctor expressed was shared by all his colleagues in the hospital and by the hospital administration, and that his patients accounted for only about one-third of those who had to be sent home because of the interruption of supplies? Will he recognise that justice requires a retraction of what was said on Thursday?

I should not wish to retract anything that my right hon. Friend said on that occasion. It was a justified description of the real situation at the hospital, and the area health authority was clear that my right hon. Friend had accurately described what was going on.

Birmingham

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute an inquiry into the running of Birmingham social services department.

I am currently considering a request for such an inquiry, but before making a decision I have agreed to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend.

To help my right hon. Friend in his consideration, will he take cognisance of the report by the Birmingham children's defence committee on the savage attacks by the Tory local authority on day nursery facilities and the cut-backs and closing down of working children's hostels, which give a taste to Birmingham people of what the Opposition and the right hon. Lady might be offering? Will he take cognisance of that report and agree to meet the delegation next week?

I shall certainly meet the delegation as soon as I can fit it into my programme. The report to which my hon. Friend refers is important and lengthy. It is being considered by myself and my advisers. I am not yet in a position to comment on its contents, other than to say that I shall take it into account when considering requests for an inquiry.

Will the Minister study the New Society article of 11 January, which refers to the shift in emphasis which the Birmingham social services wish to give from institutional care to community care? Will he therefore take a balanced and objective view, unlike the campaign run by some hon. Members in this House and by The Guardian in recent weeks?

I always take a balanced and objective view of everything. If that is the intention of the Birmingham city council, it is woefuly failing in the case of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, where the number of places available for various forms of personal social services provision is still below the numbers in the English metropolitan areas as a whole.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that among the large urban areas of the country, the social services provided by the Conservative council of the city of Birmingham are among the most backward and inadequate? Will he confirm that the level of facilities for the care of the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill in Birmingham is worse than in any other urban area in Britain?

Yes. That is the burden of the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). As to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, Birmingham's services are not at the level prevailing in English metropolitan areas generally.

Will the Miniister take an informed and responsible view of the situation affecting the citizens of Birmingham, with its enormous responsibilities and limited resources? Does he realise, from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, that the situation will be made very much worse shortly?

I am grateful to have the support of the hon. Gentleman for directing more resources from the public purse towards social services, particularly in Birmingham. But I take it that he would not want Birmingham to be treated exceptionally in these matters.

Tuc

Q1.

I met the general council of the Trades Union Congress yesterday.

I welcome that fact, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he received any response to his repeated requests for advice on how to contain inflation in this pay round? Did he discuss these problems with regard to the next pay round? Did he receive any indication from the member unions about whether they were considering following the lead of the TGWU in issuing a code of conduct which would turn picketing into something more like a rapier and less like a blunderbuss?

We discussed both those issues yesterday. On the economic front, we discussed how to keep inflation down and I expressed some views on the aims that the country might set itself when the present burst of wage claims has run its course, as I dare say it will, although I hope that it does not do too much damage to the country in the process. We decided, therefore, to have fresh discussions on this matter. A small group of Ministers will be meeting the TUC to discuss this.

On the question of industrial action during disputes, which has caused a great deal of justifiable concern in the country, as well as in the House, it was agreed that a small group of Ministers, led by the Secretary of State for Employment, should meet representatives of the TUC to draw up, I hope quickly, a justifiable code of practice during such disputes that would protect essential services and prevent individuals from being harassed as they went about their daily work. I explained to the TUC my strong conviction that it was necessary that these issues should be brought to a conclusion very quickly.

Will the Prime Minister say whether the speech of the Secretary of State for Transport in his constituency at the weekend represents Government policy?

My right hon. Friend was explaining that past history shows the consequence of unbridled wage settlements. They have led in the past to a wage freeze, and that could be the conclusion now. But the Government have no intention of introducing a wage freeze, certainly not at this stage of the wages round. On the other hand, it is our determination to try to ensure that we get settlements as close as possible to the Government's acknowledged view that 5 per cent. is right, a figure at which many people have already settled. The closer we get to that, the less will be the prospect of inflation.

The Secretary of State for Transport's speech on a pay and prices freeze was specific. Will the Prime Minister be equally specific and say whether or not he agreed with it?

Had the right hon. Lady not been so anxious to get in a second supplementary question, she might have listened to my answer. Shall I repeat it for her? The Government have no intention of introducing a wage freeze at this stage of the wages round.

The answer therefore is "No'. What has happened to the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility?

Individual Ministers are entitled, certainly in circumstances like this, to put forward considerations which will lead, instruct, guide and inform public opinion. I have defined collective Cabinet responsibility on many occasions, and that definition remains the same.

How can the Prime Minister go on saying that the Government's guidelines is 5 per cent. when, for example, there has just been a 21 per cent. settlement in the lorry drivers' dispute in the West Country? In the light of that, has he yet received any proposal from any of the union leaders along the lines of the philosophy that, at the end of the day, if there is no voluntary agreement, Parliament must lay down the framework within which wage as well as price increases can be allowed?

I go on saying that this is a guideline, because that is precisely what it is. The Government are not involved in negotiations between trade unions and their employers. What we can do—as we have done and have spelt out on innumerable occasions—is to suggest the best settlement for the conquering of inflation in this country. Let me repeat it once again. If everyone's increase averages 15 per cent., he will be no better off than if the increase averaged 5 per cent. That is a simple fact. But we live in a democracy. Statutory policies of the sort espoused by the right hon. Gentleman have had their place in the past, but they have been shown to be no more successful than periods of free collective bargaining. The plain truth is that neither solution is acceptable. Therefore, we in this country must practise a little self-discipline.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the TUC the role and motives of the media, not least the BBC, in creating the image of a crisis situation which has had nothing in common with what was really happening in the country? Will he consider suggesting to the BBC and ITV that when their interviewers interview those on strike they should themselves disclose their own total incomes?

I think that the opinion of the country is clear. That is why the high tide of hysteria, which was demonstrated in some parts of the media, is now receding. But that is not to disguise the fact that in relation to exports, orders and lost production the country has had a most serious setback as a result of the disputes over the last few weeks. In no sense has it been the kind of hysterical situation which, I am afraid, has been fomented in some quarters. However, that is not to disguise the seriousness of it.

Does the Prime Minister accept that in relation to industrial unrest no one in this House wishes the Government to be guilty of provocation? Nor does anyone wish them to be guilty of political cowardice. But the line between the two is very thin. In so far as the Government hesitate to enforce the law, and do not enforce the right of citizens to go about their daily business without fear, it is on the second charge that they are likely to be guilty.

Of course, we stand that risk. As I have said many times—the hon. Gentleman states it correctly—the line between provocation, where one makes the situation worse, and cowardice, where one does not carry out one's duty, is very thin. Governments must be the best judge of that. I can only leave it to the citizens of this country to determine whether or not we are drawing the line correctly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not expect the Conservative Opposition to think so, but that is what they are there for. As to enforcing the law, the hon. Gentleman perhaps wanted to say that it is for the police to enforce the law. Certainly, the Government do not stand in the way of the police carrying out their duty. They are encouraged to carry out their duty where they think that it would be appropriate to intervene.

European Assembly (Members' Salaries)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister what suggestions he made at the European summit in December 1978 in relation to the salaries of European Members of Parliament.

It was agreed at the meeting of the European Council on 4 and 5 December that the emoluments of Members of the European Assembly should be based on those of Members of national Parliaments, and should be subject to national taxation. I supported this approach.

How does the Prime Minister square reducing the salaries of our elected representatives in Europe to the level of hon. Members of this House while apparently being satisfied that British commissioners and British civil servants in Brussels should receive the much higher European rates? Is not that to discriminate against the politicians in favour of the bureaucrats?

Fortunately, it is not my responsibility to have to reconcile these two things—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—It is not the Government's responsibility to fix the salaries of civil servants in Brussels. It is the responsibility of Parliament only to fix the salaries of Members from this country who attend the European Assembly. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is failing in his usual, logical approach to these matters.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in European News that discrimination in this respect would be overcome by increasing the expenses of European Members—rent allowances and every other expense? Will he ensure that this does not happen with regard to our representatives?

I have not seen that report, but I shall certainly take it into account if any proposals have to be made to Parliament in due course.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 January.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. I also spoke at the lunch given by the Evening Standard for the winners of its drama awards—and a very agreeable occasion it was. I must say that I enjoyed the company there much better than I sometimes enjoy it here. It was much more receptive and appreciative than are the Conservative Opposition. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's obviously impossible position in dealing with the present situation in this country, will he turn his attention for a moment to Scotland? Because of the hurdles placed in the way of the coming referendum, largely by the Conservative Opposition and by some of his own rogue elephant colleagues, and because of the possibility of bad weather, will he look sympathetically at the possibility of holding the referendum over two days rather than just one?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. But I think we should perhaps proceed in the way that we have already decided, have the referendum on one day and hope that God will smile on Scotland and Wales on that day. As to the hon. Gentleman's sympathy with me about what he called the impossible task that I have today, a little historical perspective enables one to regard this with a certain detached philosophy and a great belief in the British people will enable us to come through.

Will my right hon. Friend today find time to explain his earlier remarks about the demand by the Secretary of State for Transport for a statutory wage freeze? Does he agree that such a policy would attack the living standards of the lower paid and cause almost as much damage to trade union relations as some of the more irresponsible statements of the Leader of the Opposition? If collective responsibility is a good enough doctrine to silence or sack a Parliamentary Private Secretary, why is the Secretary of State for Transport still in the Cabinet?

On that basis, I sometimes think that I would govern alone, perhaps with one or two exceptions—and how much worse it would all be then. But seriously, I have nothing to add to what I have already said, which should satisfy my hon. Friend.

Will the Prime Minister be a little more specific about the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), when he said that he did not intend to introduce a wage freeze "at this time in the wage round"? Does he intend to introduce a wage freeze at a later time in the wage round? Does he recognise that if there is to be a wage freeze at all to save us from inflation, it had better be sooner rather than later, otherwise the going rate will be 20 per cent.? However, he can save the day now by introducing it now.

I said "not at this stage in the wage round" on the ground that a number of settlements have already gone through, and therefore it would be extremely unfair to say that, for example, local authority workers should have no increase at all. That was the significance of the words "at this stage". An offer has been made to local government workers of an increase—a substantial improvement in their low pay and a study of comparability, which they do not all understand. I agree that it is a little extraordinary that people should repudiate the idea of a norm when we have a new definition of "norm", which is the going rate. That is what the Government must set their mind against. I cannot explain in detail what the hon. Gentleman asks. I cannot be pinned down in this way.

If the House will permit me a little licence, it rather reminds me of what someone said would have happened if Sir Winston Churchill had made his speech on television about fighting on the beaches, and the interviewer had asked "Exactly which beach do you intend to fight on, Sir Winston?"

Has the Prime Minister studied the Attorney-General's statement that the present law on picketing permits what he describes as "lawful intimidation"? If the Attorney-General is correct, is this not overwhelming evidence that the present law on picketing needs changing?

I have studied the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend. Although that statement aroused a certain amount of laughter, I could think of a perfect illustration of lawful intimidation. When the Leader of the Opposition threatened the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) that he would lose his post if he did not walk through the Lobby, that was lawful intimidation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is a condition of employment to be regarded as lawful intimidation?

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that we covered only eight meagre questions on social services? Can you do something to ensure that we get more succinct and shorter answers from the Government Front Bench?

The hon. Member is not quite correct. We covered 11 questions. A number were bracketed together and I called the hon. Members concerned. Also, the issues raised were of such a nature that there was a widespread interest in the House. Every time I moved on, there were still at least a dozen Members on their feet.

First Scottish Standing Committee

Order. Normally I take points of order after statements. However, I have already taken one. If the hon. Member is seeking to raise with me the question of what happened in the First Scottish Standing Committee this morning I must indicate that that is not a matter on which he has any right to appeal to me. It is a custom, established over 100 years, that hon. Members cannot raise by way of complaint in the House what happens in a Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept what you have said, but it might be helpful if you could indicate the way in which the matter could be raised. It will be many weeks before that Committee reports and it is a matter of extreme importance and general interest. Perhaps, for the benefit of those hon. Members who do not know what it is, I could explain very briefly—

Order. It has been indicated to me that certain hon. Members wish to raise this matter concerning the events in the First Scottish Standing Committee today. The custom of this House is clearly established, and has been for more than a century, that hon. Members may not appeal to the Speaker about matters in a Standing Committee where, in any case, he was not present. Hon. Members have been here long enough to know that there are other ways open to them to pursue the matter. The Bill will eventually come back to the House.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I would welcome advice from you as to what other methods are open to us. Irrespective of what happened this morning, I should like to know how one could have such a matter referred to a Select Committee on procedure to examine the position in which a Chairman makes a decision on an important matter which is not in line with the normal "status quo" convention, and on which the House is extremely evenly divided. It seems to me that the general proposition of the conduct and perhaps the choice of the Chairman should be looked at.

I hope that the House will listen and accept my advice. I am quite unable to rule on what happened this morning in Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has been here long enough—(HON. MEMBERS: "Too long.") Not as long as I have. He knows the ways that are open to him. I shall take one more point of order as long as it is a point of order.

Will you give us guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the question whether the method by which the Chairmen of Standing Committees are chosen takes account of the long-standing convention that the Chairmen of such Committees are to be impartial in their views—

Order. The hon. Member is getting very near to arguing the merits of this morning's case. The Chairmen of Standing Committees are selected by myself. I do not wish to say anything further on that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for Members of this House who happen not to like the decision of the Committee—

Order. I knew that I was well advised in the beginning to say that I would take no more points of order.

Westminster Hospitals (Industrial Action)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the extension of the NUPE strike at Westminster hospital to Westminster children's hospital."
I am conscious that this is the second successive day on which I have sought such leave concerning a matter in my constituency. I fear that what in current jargon might be called the high profile of my constituency makes it a natural target in such a sequence of events.

The NUPE strike which broke out at the Westminster hospital yesterday is the origin of my application, but that in itself would not warrant such an application. However, it was made clear yesterday that the strike might be extended today to the Westminster children's hospital. Mr. Morris, of NUPE, with whom I personally have very satisfactory relations in a constituency capacity, has indicated that if the strike were extended to the children's hospital he was entirely clear about the implications. He is quoted as having said:
"You cannot discriminate. I know that people will be angry. But where do you draw the line at sanctions?"
The strike has since been extended. Today the medical staff appealed to the Prime Minister.

I believe that the majority in this land would draw the line at sanctions against sick children. In a democracy, a majority deserves to be listened to. Historically we have regarded ourselves as a Christian country, and one where the quality of life compensated us all for the performance of our economy and our consequent earnings. If curing the latter sectionally takes the brutalising form of the present and other strikes, the quality of our life must suffer. That makes this strike's extension an urgent matter.

I doubt whether any hon. Member present has not at some stage been moved by the verse in the Gospel of St. Matthew:
"But who so shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

The hon. Member gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the extension of the NUPE strike at Westminster hospital to the Westminster children's hospital".
The hon. Member raised an undoubtedly serious matter. However, he knows—as the House knows—that I do not decide whether this matter is to be debated; I merely decide whether it should be debated tonight or tomorrow.

After very careful consideration I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Housing (Shorthold Tenancies)

3.43 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the letting of properties on fixed terms; and for purposes connected therewith.
Once again I seek the leave of the House to introduce my Bill, which the House has allowed me to introduce in previous Sessions.

In the part of London which I represent, there are tens of thousands of empty properties which would be perfectly suitable for letting if the owners could be confident that they would in due course obtain vacant possession of those properties when they wanted them. There are also tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in central London who are looking for just the type of accommodation that could be made available if Parliament were prepared to make a minor adjustment in the Rent Acts. I hope that something will be done as a matter of urgency so that these properties—many of which are deteriorating as they are vacant—may be brought into general use.

The reason why I am coining the word "shorthold" is that I do not want my proposal to be confused with the idea simply of reversal to the old form of short lease, which obviously gave rise to problems which Parliament does not wish to countenance.

I fully accept the value of the principle of security of tenure. Therefore, in using the word "shorthold" I am trying to devise a new form of tenure in which every possible protection is afforded to the tenant against any kind of exploitation or abuse.

What I envisage is a lease of perhaps one to three years. A longer period would certainly be possible. Both parties should understand from the start the nature of the arrangement into which they are entering. In the previous Session's Bill I provided a number of safeguards. I should like to list them briefly within the context of a speech under the Ten Minutes Rule.

First, the landlord must let the tenant know, not less than 90 days before the end of the arrangement, whether it is his intention to seek repossession or to offer the sitting tenant the opportunity to continue in the property. The landlord must offer renewal to the sitting shortholder or withdraw the property from this type of letting for a period of not less than six months.

I suggest that the properties should be let at the fair rent as determined according to the normal procedure under the Rent Act 1968. I provided in my Bill in the previous Session, and would be willing to do so again, a maximum limit on the deposit that the landlord might ask and the amount of payments in advance.

As to the quality of the premises, I am not in the least interested in bringing on to the market rat-holes or stagnant basements without proper ventilation or facilities. I say that no letting should be approved by the rent officer unless he is satisfied that it is a self-contained property, that it is provided with all the standard amenities, and that it is up to a sufficient standard to qualify for an improvement grant. Here we are not considering properties which just scrape past the health and safety byelaws; we are considering properties which provide a thoroughly decent home under an arrangement of the kind that both parties seek to reach if permitted to so under the law.

I have specified that the tenant's responsibilities as to maintenance should be only for the interior decoration, repairs and maintenance. The tenant would not be exposed to sudden horrifying bills when the structure of the property was found to be unsound. Moreover, I have specified that the rent officer should be satisfied, before approving a lease, that both parties are aware of their rights and obligations under this form of tenure.

If any hon. Member would like to suggest any other safeguards which should be included in a Bill empowering landlords and tenants to enter into shorthold tenancies, I should be glad to give them favourable consideration. We want to establish a workable and satisfactory form of tenure which will become a commonplace feature and bring back into use tens of thousands of vacant properties.

I know that the Minister has severe reservations about the shorthold idea. They arise partly from the fact that he does not appear to have studied my proposals in detail. For instance, in a letter which he wrote on 18 December 1978 to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), he said:
"The problem about shorthold, which its advocates have not really faced, is—what is to happen to the many tenants who do not want to leave when their fixed term expires? Experience shows that they will either stay on, facing exploitative rents, or be evicted."
I have shown that it would not be possible for them to be confronted with exploitative rent demands because they would be in the same position as any other tenant within the protection of the Rent Acts.

If the arrangement came to an end at the conclusion of the period agreed at the start, I do not think that the word "eviction" would be appropriate. Should the owner of the property want vacant possession at the end, after giving the 90 days' notice, the tenant would find no difficulty, if a law on the lines I propose were enacted, in moving into similar premises elsewhere offering much the same kind of facilities.

I am sure—as many experts have said lately—that there would be a surplus of accommodation, certainly in central London and in many other parts of the country too, if only these empty properties could be brought back into use. The tenant would be the party in the strong position. The landlord would be scraping round to find a suitable tenant and would not be in a position to dictate.

The other objection which I know the Minister has is that the principle of short-hold is in conflict with the principle of security of tenure. I emphasise that not everybody seeking accommodation, certainly in central London—and, I believe, in many other parts of the country as well—wants life-long, permanent security of tenure. In Kensington there are many people who are in London for a time, such as students or people in the early stages of their careers, who want a reasonable place in which to live but who are not satisfied with the available landlady accommodation, which does not give them the same security as I would like them to have under the shorthold system. They would like decent small flats.

The same applies to young married people who have not yet enough income to start house purchase and who do not want to apply for council accommodation, perhaps, because in due course they mean to move from London and make their careers elsewhere. They deserve to have the right to make reasonable agreements to cover their need for accommodation while they are living in London without resorting to squatting, which is what all too many of them have to do. They take the law into their own hands because Parliament has failed them.

Concerning the principle of security of tenure, I remind the Minister that he has also said that he is ready to consider exempting lettings of flats over shops and similar categories of accommodation from full Rent Act security, so that even here we are not facing a conflict of principle between the parties. All that we seem to be facing is some kind of obstinacy on the Minister's part, because he is not prepared to contemplate any significant change in the provisions of the Rent Act 1974.

When that Act was passed, I said that there were many things in it which were necessary and right, and they are not now matters of controversy. The problem is that it has created a very large number of empty properties which are decaying but which could be brought into use. This needs Parliament's attention, and it should be tackled on an all-party basis. If a provision such as I am seeking to make is to succeed, obviously the owners of the properties would have to be confident that, in the event of a change of Government, there would not suddenly again be a change in the law which would result in the contracts being broken retrospectively and the owners being unable, in the end, to get repossession, although at the start of the tenancy they confidently expected that the law would allow them to do so.

I hope that I have said enough to recommend the proposal to the House. I trust that, in the name of common sense and, indeed, of humanity, the House will give me leave to reintroduce my Bill.

Is the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) seeking to oppose the Bill?

3.52 p.m.

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I oppose the Bill because it would be used by the big property companies to circumvent the security of tenure granted by the Rent Acts. That, I readily grant, is not the intention of the mover, the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). He is a sincere, upright and honourable Member. I do not doubt his goood intentions. But there are—I am sure that he will admit it—wily and unscrupulous property boys who would use this as the thin end of a very thick wedge. These landlords would quickly put all their flats on this sort of shorthold basis as soon as they became vacant; in fact, they would have their tenants by the shortholds. These gentlemen would soon find loopholes in the hon. Gentleman's safeguard. His safeguard is that if the landlord proposes to offer the property again for a further period of shorthold tenancy, he must give first refusal to the sitting shortholder.

This restriction indicates that the hon. Gentleman himself sees certain dangers from the "dirty tricks departments" of large property companies. What would they do? When the first period of short-hold terminated, they would remove their property from the market. Then, as soon as it suited their purpose, they would get round the safeguard for the previous tenant by letting to a new one. This evasion would be extremely difficult to check and control. Therefore security of tenure, already evaded by various devices, would be eroded on a growing scale.

I refer, for example, to the so-called holiday lettings in Manchester, Hackney, Hornsey, Camden, Kentish Town and other popular resorts, not to mention non-exclusive occupation agreements following the notorius Somma v. Hazelhurst case—which needs to be put right very quickly—or provision of board in the form of a weekly delivery of cornflakes.

In no clause does the Bill provide that its provisions would be confined to owner-occupiers. It is wide open to the big property companies. Consider the case of an owner-occupier, not a commercial landlord, who, on account of his job, has to move to another town or country for, say, 12 months. He may fear that if he lets he will be unable to repossess his house when he wants to do so. That is a mistaken fear. Today, under the consolidating measure—the Rent Act 1977—if the house is his main residence, whether furnished or unfurnished, he can ensure repossession by making a fixed-term agreement with the new tenant. That is the law today. The owner-occupier can let on a short-term agreement and, at the end of the period, resecure possession through the court, if necessary, if he requires it for his own use. Indeed, schedule 15 to the Act lists 18 different cases in which the owner can repossess. It can be obtained earlier than the 90 days mentioned in the Bill.

Those landlords owning accommodation in which they do not live have no case for evicting their tenants—provided, of course, that the latter pay the rent, respect the property and behave reasonably to neighbours.

I take this opportunity of pointing out that it is untrue, certainly in London, to say that there is more housing property vacant following the introduction of the Rent Act 1974. The figures that I am about to give have not so far appeared in the press. They are taken from the GLC abstract of statistics. The number of privately owned empty houses in the Greater London area in 1975 was 34,846. By last year, far from increasing, the number had fallen to 25,117. In Kensington and Chelsea, with which the hon. Gentleman is well acquainted, the figure had fallen by half, from 2,640 to 1,343.

Division NO.54]

AYES

[3.58 p.m.

Adley, RobertClark, Alan(Plymouth, Sutton)Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Aitken, JonathanClark, William (Croydon S)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)
Alison, MichaelClegg, WalterGilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianCooke, Robert (Bristol W)Glyn, Dr Alan
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(speclthorne)Cope, JohnGoodhew, Victor
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Cormack, PatrickGow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Beith, A.J.Costain, A.P.Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Bendall, VivianDean, paul (N Somerset)Gray, Hamish
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Dodsworth, GeoffreyGrimond, Rt Hon J.
Benyon, WDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JmaesGrist, Ian
Berry, Hon AnthonyDrayson, BurnabyGrylls, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Johndu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)
Boscawen, Hon RobertDurant, TonyHamilton, Micheal (Salisbury)
Bottomely, PeterDykes, HughHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHaselhurst, Alan
Braine, Sir BernardEdwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Haselhurst, Stephen
Brittan, LeonElliott, Sir WilliamHayhoe, Barney
Brooke, Hon PeterEyre, ReginaldHicks, Robert
Brotherton, MichaelFairbairn, NicholasHodgson, Robin
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Fairgrieve, RussellHolland, Philip
Buchanan-Smith, AlickFarr, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Buck, AntonyFinsberg, GeoffreyHutchison, Michael Clark
Budgen, NickFookes, Miss JanetIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Bulmer, EsmondFormer, NigelJames, David
Burden, F.A.Fowler, Norman (Sutton, C'f'd)Jenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wanst' d&W'df'd)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Fraser, Rt Hon H.(Stafford & St)Jopling, Michael
Chalker, Mrs LyndaFreud, ClementKilfedder, James
Churchill, W.SGardiner, George (Reigate)Kimball, Marcus

An ending by building societies of their reluctance to lend on older, cheaper houses would be far more valuable in reducing vacancies than is the hon. Gentleman's shorthold proposal. The effect of the Bill would eventually be that a few landlords would let on protected tenancies and freedom from eviction at present provided by the consolidated Rent Act 1977.

There are 800,000 empty properties today, if we include Scotland, and that is a scandal. This is mostly because the owners are holding out for higher selling prices or higher rents. Labour Members want to make such accommodation available. The way to deal with property—other than that of owner-occupiers—which is empty without good reason is to impose full rates or, where empty for more than six months, to permit acquisition or requisition by the local authority for letting to applicants on the list. As long as the housing shortage exists, we must retain full security of tenure and rent control.

I ask the House to reject the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 160.

Knox, DavidPage, Richard (Workington)Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnPardoe, JohnSpeed, Keith
Lawson, NigelParkinson, CecilSpence, John
Le Marchant, SpencerPattie, GeoffreySproat, Iain
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Percival, IanStanley, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Peyton, Rt Hon JohnSteel, Rt Hon David
Luce, RichardPrice, David (Eastleigh)Stradling Thomas, J.
Macfarlane, NeilPym, Rt Hon FrancisTebbit, Norman
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.(Farnham)Rathbone, TimTemple-Morris, Peter
McNair-Wilson, M.(Newbury)Renton, Rt Hon Sir D.(Hunts)Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
McNair-Wilson, P.(New Forest)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Marten, NeilRhodes James, R.Townsend, Cyril D.
Mates, MichaelRidley, Hon NicholasViggers, Peter
Mather, CarolRifkind, MalcolmWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Walker-smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Mayhew, PatrickRoss, Stephen (Isle of Weight)Walters, Dennis
Mills, PeterRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)Weatherill, Bernard
Molyneaux, JamesSainsbury, TimWells, John
Monro, HectorSt. John-Stevas, NormanWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Montgomery, FergusShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Whitney, Raymond
Morgan, GeraintShaw, Michael (Scarborough)Wiggin, Jerry
Morris, Michael (Northampton S)Shaw, William (Stratham)Winterton, Nicholas
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Shepherd, ColinYoung, Sir G.(Ealing, Action)
Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Shersby, MichaelYounger, Hon George
Mudd, DavidSilvester, Fred
Nelson, AnthonySims, RogerTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Neubert, MichaelSkeet, T.H.H.Sir Brandon Rhys William and
Newton, TonySmith, Dudley (Warwick)Mr. Kenneth Baker.
Page, Rt Hon, R. Graham (Crosby)

NOES

Allaun, FrankGarrett, John (Norwich S)Mikardo, Ian
Armstrong, ErnestGeorge, BruceMillan, Rt Hon, Bruce
Ashley, JackGould, BryanMiller, Dr M.S (E Kilbride)
Ashton, JoeGraham, TedMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Atkins, Ronald, (Preston N)Grant, George (Morpeth)Morton, George
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Grant, John (Islington C)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Newens, Stanley
Bales, AlfHamilton, W.W.(Central Fife)Nobel, Mike
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHarrison, Rt Hon WalterOrbach, Maurice
Bidwell, SydneyHattersley, Rt Hon RoyOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Blenkinsop, ArthurHeffer, Eric S.Ovenden, John
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHome Robertson, JohnOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurHoram, JohnPalmer, Arthur
Bradley, TomHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Park, George
Brown, Hugh D.(Provan)Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Parker, John
Buchan, NormanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Parry, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Pavitt, Laurie
Campbell, IanHunter, AdamPendry, Tom
Cant, R.B.Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPerry, Ernest
Cartwright, JohnJeger, Mrs LenaPrice, C.(Lewisham W)
Clemitson, IvorJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)John, BrynmorRichardson, Miss Jo
Cohen, StanleyJohnson, James (Hull West)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Coleman, DonaldJones, Alec (Rhondda)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenJones, Barry (East Flint)Roderick, Caerwyn
Conlan, BernardJones, Dan (Burnley)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Corbett, RobinJudd, FrankRooker, J.W
Cowans, HarryKerr, RussellSedgemore, Brian
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lambie, DavidSever, John
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lamborn, HarryShaw, Arnold, (Ilford, south)
Cryer, BobLamond, JamesShore, Rt Hon Peter
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Leadbitter, TedSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Deakins, EricLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Silverman, Julius
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Skinner, Dennis
Dempsey, JamesLitterick, TomSpriggs, Leslie
Dewar, DonaldLofthouse, GeoffreyStoddart, David
Dormand, J.DLoyden, EddieStrang, Gavin
Douglass-Mann, BruceLyon, Alexander (York)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)McCartney, HughThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
English, MichaelMcDonald, Dr OonaghThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)McElhone, FrankThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, John (Newton)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Tinn, James
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Maclennan, RobertTomlinson, John
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.McMillan, Tom, (Glasgow C)Tuck, Raphael
Flannery, MartinMadden, MaxWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Marks, KennethWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Ward, Michael
Forrester, JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)Watkins, David
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Mason, Rt Hon RoyWhite, James (Pollok)

Wigley, DafyddWlse, Mrs Audrey
Willey, Rt Hon FrederickWoodall, AlecTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)Wrigglesworth, IanMr. Andrew F. Bennett and
Wilson, William (Coventry SE)Young, David (Bolton E)Mr. Canavan Dennis

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, Mr. Kenneth Baker, Mr. Peter Brooke, Mr. Tony Durant, Mr. Reginald, Mr. Geoffrey, Finsberg, Mr. David Knox, Mr. Stephen Ross, Mr. Michael Shersby and Mr. Cyril D. Townsend.

Housing (Shorthold Tenancies)

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for the letting of properties on fixed terms; and for purposes connected therewith; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday and to be printed. [Bill 65.]

Orders Of The Day

Countryside Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.10 p.m.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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—

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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—

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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