Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman for one moment, I failed to say that I have not selected the Instruction on the Order Paper, but he may make reference to it in his speech.
I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest for raising no objection to this private Bill. I am also delighted that my hon. Friend will be taking part in the debate as his knowledge of the New Forest is much greater than my own. We both welcome the debate in the interests of all concerned, and as a way of bringing a long drawn-out saga of a bypass through the village of Lyndhurst nearer a conclusion.I hope that my past involvement in the matter over a number of years as a New Forest district councillor will be of assistance to hon. Members in deciding their views. The discussion about a bypass for the village of Lyndhurst is not new. There are references to a bypass being proposed as long ago as 1914. In that year it was suggested as a way of reducing unemployment in the village. The estimated cost was £320, and at least part of the route was similar to the route proposed today. It was estimated that the road would be completed in four weeks and that it would take 27 men to do the task. Things have changed a lot since then. Indeed, 50 years ago work actually started on a bypass, along a similar route to the one now proposed. The road was mentioned in the Baker report of 1949 which led to the New Forest Act 1949 which gave the verderers, the guardians of the New Forest, their present powers. Since then, a number of routes have been proposed. There have been two public inquiries and numerous public consultations. However, before explaining those routes, and more specifically the new route proposed by the county council and why it decided to puruse that route by way of a private Bill, I should like to explain why a bypass for the village of Lyndhurst is needed. Lyndhurst is a small village with a population of below 3,000. However, for many years it has been considered to be the capital of the New Forest, largely because it is a route centre — six roads converge upon Lyndhurst. A bypass is needed because of the traffic going into the New Forest which recently has progressively become a very important recreational area. I understand that last year 11 million people visited the New Forest, and forest traffic has increased each year. At the last census 61,000 vehicles passed in or out of the village during August, and 46,000 vehicles in or out of the village during October. Traffic congestion is enormous. For many summer weekends queues of four miles are not uncommon and the noise is horrifying.
Can the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) tell us whether those who were going in or out of the village were asked whether their destination was Lyndhurst and features within the village such as Bolton's Bench? How many were trying to get through the village? My evidence is that a large amount of the traffic comprised people trying to get to the village, not trying to get through it. Those people would not be using the bypass.
My evidence shows that a great many people would be using the bypass, as they wish to pass Lyndhurst and get to the New Forest. It is clear from those figures that almost everyone wants a bypass. My hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest is one of those people. The verderers, the guardians of the New Forest, want a bypass. To my knowledge, no environmental group has publicly come out against the principle of a bypass.However, it is one thing to agree a principle, it is quite another to find a route. Over the years two routes have been canvassed, at least initially. The outer route has the support of the county council, the New Forest district council, the parish council of Lyndhurst and indeed the residents' association. That is a good route for traffic, but it intrudes into the forest. For that reason the verderers have opposed it. That route was tested by public inquiry in the 1970s. It is not surprising that the verderers should oppose such a route as they have a statutory duty to protect the forest. Although verderers protect the forest, they do not protect the whole environment and there are plenty of beauty spots and open areas outside the statutory duty of the verderers but within the geographical area of the New Forest. I shall call the other route the village route because it is a relief road and not a proper bypass. That has the support of the verderers because it intrudes on the New Forest to only a small degree. Latterly, it has had the support of other environmental groups. However, the councils have opposed that route as have the people of Lyndhurst. That is not surprising because it cuts off part of the village. It cuts off the village green called Bolton's Bench, the cricket ground and 15 per cent. of the housing of the village from the remainder of the village and passes through a preservation area. Indeed, it will not get rid of much of the noise and air pollution which the villagers already suffer because of the lack of a proper bypass. In addition, it passes through paddock land and areas of ecological importance. Both routes are equally damaging to the environment, but in different ways. That is why there has been no agreement about which route should be selected, and why in the mid-1980s the county council decided upon a compromise and proposed a new route which this Bill seeks to promote. This route is closer to the village, it keeps the village intact, it does not pass through the preservation area or cut off the village green. It is less intrusive into the New Forest. It is not an ideal route for the villagers of Lyndhurst but they have agreed to it to the extent that more than half the population have signed a petition agreeing to that route. It has the support of the county council, the parish council and the residents' association. Indeed, it has the unanimous support of the Conservative and the Labour groups on the county council. That shows, if nothing else, that this is not a partisan matter and it has the support of different parties locally in Hampshire. That route and other routes were the subject of a second public inquiry, which was part of the more general inquiry on the forecast endowments village plan. That inquiry said that the village route was not the best, for the reasons I have given. It said that of the two outer routes, the compromise route was just better and that a further variation on the village route should be examined using the same criteria as were used for the village route. That was done by the county council. Unfortunately, the verderers were not prepared to go along with the compromise route. Planning permission was then obtained for the compromise route. The decision on planning permission was not called in by the Minister, so the planning processes have been exhausted. There is no doubt that the Bill does not intend to bypass those processes; it is in addition to those processes and is necessary because of the special nature of the New Forest.
I am advised that there has been no public inquiry under the town and country planning legislation within a reasonable period. If that is the case, it would seem to qualify the point made by the hon. Gentleman about public consultation.
There was a public inquiry into the forest and village towns local plan which started in 1983, because of the importance of the bypass around Lyndhurst. The inquiry was in two parts. The first related to the forest and the second related to the various routes which were considered for the bypass, so the planning procedures have been exhausted.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have made the point, and I must go on as I have quite a lot to say.What was the council to do next? Our suggestion was that it should go to the verderers and ask them again whether they would be prepared to go along with the compromise route. Section 17 of the New Forest Act 1949 relates to unfenced roads. The council took legal advice and was told that the section related only to unfenced roads. That view was supported by Lord Denning in another place, when he made it perfectly clear that the section could not be used by the county council or any other authority to ask permission for a road of the sort necessary to be built, because a bypass around Lyndhurst would have to be fenced in the same way as the roads to which it would join in the north and the south are fenced. The best legal advice was that the council could not proceed in that direction. It could well be argued that if the council had gone to the verderers and the arbitration procedures had been used, the verderers, even if they gave permission, could have been considered to have been acting outside their authority. If they had done that, the plan may have had to be tested in the courts. Notwithstanding that, it would have been necessary for a private Bill to provide for the road to be fenced. There are other good reasons for a private Bill. The decision taken on the bypass would be in the public domain and it would be open for all parties — environmental groups, residents' associations and others — to put their point of view. A private arrangement under section 17 of the New Forest Act between the county council and the verderers would not have allowed for the public consultation which has taken place. We have already had a Select Committee report from the other place, where the various route options have been considered in detail. The New Forest Act 1949 allows for financial compensation only if land is used for roads. It makes no allowance for compensation for an exchange of land. The verderers have said on many occasions that they would prefer an exchange of land to financial compensation. If the road is built, it will take 10·6 acres of forest land, but the county council has already purchased 18·8 acres to give back to the forest, so if the Bill goes through and the council is allowed to build a road, the New Forest will become bigger, not smaller.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us where the compensation land is and whether he is satisfied that the general public will have access to the compensation land and animals will be able to get to the compensation land as freely as they can to some of the land that will be lost?
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The compensation land is at Minstead and is in two portions. Part of the land is already owned by the council and the other land will be purchased from the manor of Minstead. The cattle and other animals will have access to that land.There are other reasons why a private Bill is a good procedure. It will allow people who will have to give up land for compulsory purchase to be dealt with in the same way as owners of forest land are dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture. It is fair to all land owners, compared with the procedure under the New Forest Act 1949, where the owners of private land would not have had the same rights. For many reasons it is not surprising that the legal advice given to the county council was to proceed by way of a private Bill, not by way of the New Forest Act. As the matter has come out into the public domain, it has been considered closely. I cannot see how anybody could suggest that the planning procedures are being circumvented, as the issue has been dealt with at great length. The bypass is only 1·7 miles long. There cannot be many other roads of that size that have been the subject of such detailed scrutiny as that road. Another argument put forward against the Bill is that it would create a precedent. I am not clear what the precedent is. Organisations have been bringing private Bills before the House and the other place for decades, if not centuries. The county council is not a commercial organisation that wants to do something for profit; it is an elected body. Support for the measure runs right across party lines at county and district levels.
It worries many of us that the House may create a precedent in laying down the law on the New Forest. My hon. Friend is trying to change the law with a private Bill, which is what we find difficult to take. He has to face this matter carefully. For me, and I believe for many of my hon. Friends, the New Forest is in exactly the same position as a national park, but under different legislation.
My hon. Friend is right to say that the New Forest is a very special place. I acknowledge that, as I did when I was a district councillor. Indeed, the district and county councils have a tremendous record in protecting the forest.It is significant that very recently the Council for the Protection of Rural England wrote a letter congratulating the county council on the way it was dealing with the roads policy in relation to all the other roads in the forest. That shows that the county council would never have taken this line if it thought that the route would damage the interests of the forest; indeed, quite the reverse. On the specific point about the private Bill, I do not see how it can be used as a precedent. The county council has made it quite clear that the Bill should not be regarded as a precedent for other interests to promote private Bills, such as commercial interests that might damage the New Forest.
Would I not be correct in saying that there has been a complete impasse on this issue for over 12 years, with the verderers and Hampshire county council unable to agree on any route? Six routes have been proposed. If this particular log jam had been allowed to continue, it was fairly obvious that, after 50 years of discussion, Lyndhurst district council would still not have come to an agreement with the verderers arid Hampshire county council on the route. The only course left for Hampshire county council was to bring forward a private Bill.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. He is absolutely right. Indeed, I can answer the point about precedent that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon). I have here a statement by the county council, which says:
This is a very special case. The road is needed, and has been needed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) says, for more than 50 years. I cannot think of another case in the forest that comes anywhere near it. Everybody, including the verderers, understands the need for some sort of relief road."If this Bill becomes an Act, it would not be regarded by the County Council as a precedent whereby private legislation was used to construct bypasses elsewhere in the Forest without the consent of the verderers."
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He will know that I and many of my hon. Friends are concerned about over development in the south of England. With the provision of bypasses around towns, especially historic and pleasant ones like Lyndhurst, we have seen that where a bypass goes very wide of a town that is an invitation, if not a demand, that the land between the bypass and the town shall be developed. It is very difficult in practice, however resolute one may be at the beginning, to resist the demand of developers. Can my hon. Friend comment on that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as I had missed out that point. Those of us who know about the forest and downlands village plan will understand how detailed it is. Indeed, only 26 more homes will be built in the four villages within the New Forest — Lyndhurst, Bramshaw, Brockenhurst and Burley — between now and 1997. I have here a letter dated 23 February from the principal planning officer of New Forest district council. He refers to several matters, and in the context of the matter I have just raised, he says:
We are talking about single plots of land, not a development encompassing the area between the proposed bypass route and the existing settlement."The idea of any development taking place between the proposed bypass and the village has little credibility."
I will give way in a moment.If one looks closely at the map one sees that there is a far greater chance of more infill if the proposed verderers' route is adopted. In that case, a small amount of land would lie between the relief road and the settlement. This bypass will protect the land, if anything, between the road and the settlement.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He has anticipated what I was about to say. There is a real danger, as I have seen for myself, that there will be infilling if a narrow slit is left, but where a wider sweep is taken there is less chance of infilling over the whole area.
Yes. I would add that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) took the trouble to come down and see for himself the problems associated with the village route and the proposed bypass, and how the latter route is better. Indeed, that invitation was open to every hon. Member. The county council is convinced that those who go to see for themselves what is at stake, without exception so far as I know, have all seen the sense of the county route and the problems associated with the verderers' preferred relief road through the village.The need for a bypass is manifest to everyone. The route proposed in the Bill is designed to minimise damage to the environment while bringing relief from traffic congestion in Lyndhurst, and at the same time keeping the village intact. A private Bill procedure would have been necessary for any route. I emphasise that it does not matter which route is selected, even the route selected by the verderers. Sooner or later, if the principle of a bypass is accepted, private legislation will be needed to achieve it. The arbitration procedure in section 17 of the New Forest Act could not be used simply because it relates only to unfenced roads. I ask that the Bill should be allowed to proceed to a Select Committee. I ask that those opposing the Bill allow their reasons for so doing to be examined by that Select Committee, as that is the fairest way of proceeding. Indeed, if there is an opportunity between this debate and the first Select Committee sitting, I hope that those in favour of the county council's route will get together with those groups who are worried about the route. I sincerely hope that will happen. In addition, to allay the fears of some hon. Members, the Select Committee will be able to analyse whether the method chosen by the county council in promoting the Bill is right. The Committee will be able to scrutinise the routes once again, as did the Select Committee in the other place, to assess whether the county council has the answer. I hope that the verderers and the county council will get together once again during the Select Committee proceedings to look for a further compromise, if that is possible within the terms of the Bill. Hon. Members should be in no doubt that if a bypass, relief road or any other scheme for getting traffic around Lyndhurst is to be built, the House must agree it by the method of a private Bill. Therefore, I urge all hon. Members to allow the measure to go forward to a Select Committee.
I have taken careful note of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). The House will not have failed to notice that the Bill has not been sponsored by an hon. Member representing a Hampshire constituency, and is being brought forward for a Second Reading against the stated advice of the chief executive of the promoting authority with supporting advice of parliamentary agents and counsel. I shall give details of that later.However persuasive the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, he does not have the unique responsibility that I have as the Member of Parliament representing the New Forest. Road schemes are, of course, very important to all of us, but the New Forest is unique and has been afforded special protection over many years by public Acts which have enabled us to beat off challenges of many sorts. My hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) and for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) have already pointed out that developers are currently looking for new territory, and to strip away such protection at this time would be a fatal mistake. It has been argued that the Bill represents the only way in which the road can be built. I hope to demonstrate that that is complete nonsense and that all the powers that are required exist in the New Forest Act 1949. It is clear from the outset that this is no ordinary works Bill. It raises matters of the most important principle that are relevant to every hon. Member. Those principles are important in deciding not merely where the road should go, but the route that should be taken by those who build it to ensure that, as near as possible, we stick to the agreed procedures that exist. The origins of the Bill do not lie in success, but in failure. There has been a failure to consult. As Member of Parliament for the area I was never consulted, but merely told that the Bill was to be published. There has been a failure to negotiate and a failure to agree. However, what is more worrying is that the county council has failed to recognise that it has a duty, as the responsible local authority, to protect the New Forest rather than tear that protection away by the Bill. People from the oil and gas industries are already looking enviously at the forest land. Indeed, in 1983 I had the opportunity to draw the Government's attention to the provisions of the New Forest Act 1877 which prevented Shell International Petroleum from drilling for oil in the Denny Inclosure. There was a public inquiry. I should mention, with great respect to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary who was not in office at that time, that the Government refused to recognise the validity of that Act. Of course, in the end, they had to, but a strange solution was reached—Shell's application was declared invalid after the inquiry had sat for nearly six months. The Bill represents a clumsy, ham-fisted, maladroit way in which to attempt to sweep away legislation that benefits us all, especially those who know and love the forest. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre has said that the county council has claimed that there is no alternative way in which the necessary powers can be granted. Shortly, I shall take him through some parts of the 1949 Act with which he may not be familiar. Indeed, should any Select Committee be formed, I doubt whether it would be altogether familiar with those parts of the Act. I wish to draw attention to the advice that was given to the county council as recently as 25 January at a special meeting of the policy and resources committee held at the castle in Winchester. That committee had been asked, specifically, to look at the future of the Lyndhurst bypass Bill. I shall quote from the minutes of that meeting, which illustrate the views of the chief executive of the county council and others. The chief executive said:
That was first-class advice from the chief executive. Indeed, that advice was supported by both the parliamentary agents and the parliamentary counsel. Yet here we are today discussing the Bill on Second Reading."We therefore feel that the Bill has no chance if it is submitted to decision at the present time — a view supported by all the local Members. Withdrawal of the Bill is in our opinion a much preferred alternative to submitting it to the test of debate on Second Reading in the House of Commons, unless the present forlorn prospects of its being passed by the House are altered. This is because withdrawal preserves at least the untarnished record of the Bill in Parliament, which its rejection on Second Reading in the Commons would undermine … We feel that the County Council should preserve untarnished the possible option of early introduction of the Bill if in the next say, two years those procedural doubts could be set at rest and Member support in the House of Commons established."
The debate involves a discussion of the merits of democracy in the decision-making process. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, when that advice was given to the policy and resources committee and the motion was proposed, the motion, on being put to the vote, was lost? The democratically elected councillors rejected that advice.
I would not cavil about that—the vote was 16–11. I was seeking to illustrate the advice given by the chief executive on that occasion rather than what the members felt.My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) is my next door neighbour in our part of Hampshire. On 29 December 1987 he wrote a letter to the Southern Evening Echo:
"I have been asked to sponsor the Hampshire Lyndhurst Bypass Bill in the House of Commons by the Hampshire County Council, but have declined to do so for the following reasons.
My hon. Friend seized on the point that I wish to establish, which is that the Bill could be of material danger to the New Forest and other parts of the country. Last month, at the annual meeting of the parish council of Brockenhurst, a nearby village, the chief executive of the New Forest district council — my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre has already said that that council is in favour of the Bill—was asked to comment on the Bill. The Lymington Times of Saturday 6 February 1988, reported:Firstly I believe that the Private Bill procedure being adopted by the County Council would establish an unwelcome precedent that would endanger the New Forest … I may not be brilliant at picking winners but I do know a loser when I see one, and this Bill is it."
Clearly the chief executive does not realise that filibustering is not a parliamentary term. The report went on:"'We are now pressing on with the Second Reading in the Commons. How far we get remains to be seen,' said Mr. Bassett, saying that if it received insufficient support, the Bill would be talked out by filibustering."
That fall back is set out in clause 17. Therefore, we are to go through the expenditure of ratepayers' money—this unhappy charade today— against the professional advice of those who told the county council what they believe to be the interests of that council and presumably the interests of the ratepayers of the county and the residents of Lyndhurst."'We will take it head on' adding that there was always the fall-back of arbitration."
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that there are people who believe that the advice given to the county council is correct. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that a county council must take the legal advice given to it and then assess it. Although I have the greatest respect for the chief executive of the New Forest district council, the fact is that other, more learned people such as Lord Denning think differently. Other legal information suggests that the course adopted by the county council is the correct one. Lord Denning is just one person who believes that to be the case.
The noble Lord has been referred to a number of times and I shall come to his remarks later. My hon. Friend is not correct in thinking that the chief executive of an important district council—one of the largest in the country — does not understand the legal niceties of the matter. He ended:
That is precisely the issue we are discussing—whether to allow the New Forest's protective powers to be bulldozed out of the way in Westminster, and to allow the private Bill procedure to he used instead of a public, general Act of Parliament. That lies at the heart of much of the dispute. The New Forest is central to our discussion. As hon. Members know, it is as old as the Palace of Westminster. It was laid down by William the Conqueror in 1079, and those of us who know the Palace well will recall that Westminster hall was built by William the Conqueror's son, who subsequently met his end in the New Forest when a stray arrow killed him. He was buried at Winchester. The New Forest is the largest area of natural vegetation in lowland Britain and one of the largest in Europe. It is a place of enormous ecological significance, and it is under increasing pressure from the various bodies that I mentioned earlier. At one stage the Army cast its eye lovingly over it. It clearly requires careful management. I want to establish my credentials for discussing the Bill. I explained at the outset that I represent the New Forest, and I am no stranger to it. My family have lived in and around Lyndhurst for many years; my father is buried in its cemetery. I learnt to ride in Lyndhurst in 1937, which dates me a bit. I know the village well. At one time or another we have lived on three of the four roads that are likely to be linked by the road scheme. I live on one of them now— the Lyndhurst to Beaulieu road. So I have some detailed knowledge of the traffic problems that occur in the village. If hon. Members went to Lyndhurst tomorrow they would find no traffic problem and would wonder what all the fuss is about. However, it is in the summer months when large numbers of visitors come—8 million in 1985—that the problem increases. I want to make it crystal clear that I have never opposed the idea of a bypass for Lyndhurst. Neither, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre pointed out, have the court of verderers or any of the other bodies concerned. The issue is how to go about it. Lyndhurst is not only a pretty village; it is also the administrative centre of the New Forest. It contains the headquarters of the Forestry Commission, the Verderers hall, where the court does its business, the headquarters of the New Forest district council and the Nature Conservancy Council — a statutory body — and it is where the parish council and the residents operate. It is therefore a village of real local significance. For simplicity's sake I shall say that the Forestry Commission looks after the trees and the verderers look after the common land, I am describing the management system in shorthand and obviously there are overlapping areas. Hon. Members can see that the administration and management of the forest are thus divided neatly into two separate sections. The management structure is supported by legislation. The Forestry Commission, being a statutory body, has a great deal of legislation to enable it to carry out its functions. The verderers rely on public Acts of Parliament which have, over the years, given them considerable power and authority. I mentioned the 1877 Act, but the idea of the protection for common land goes back to the 17th century. All the legislation charged the verderers with the responsibility for protecting this unique part of Britain. That unique shield against bricks and concrete has not sprung up without careful consideration. It has been built, brick on brick, to produce the legal basis on which the forest has been able to rely over the years, and on which I hope that it will be able to continue to rely in the future. It is interesting to note that the private Bill procedure was praised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre as being the ideal one to deal with the problem. However, I draw his attention to the evidence given to the Joint Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure, of which I have the honour to be chairman, by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Aberdare, who is the Lord Chairman of Committees. In his evidence on 2 November 1987, he said about Lyndhurst:"We have got to test ourselves about the future of the New Forest, and how we hand it on to the next generation".
This is the important point to which I draw the House's attention:"An example is provided by the Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill at present before Parliament. That is a Bill which authorises the making of a bypass around Lyndhurst by the local highway authority."
—that contradicts what my hon. Friend said. My right hon. and noble Friend went on to say—this is material to what I shall say later—"In general, the necessary powers already exist for that purpose"
I shall challenge that point in a moment and explain— with the greatest respect—that my right hon. and noble Friend has misunderstood one of the clauses of the 1949 Act. He added:"but certain aspects of the scheme (fencing the road and the acquisition and exchange of certain land) could not be achieved without specific legislation."
"A Bill was accordingly necessary and the opportunity has been taken to seek authority by Bill for the whole scheme.
—that is precisely my point.It can, of course, be argued that the practice that has developed in this regard is wrong in principle and that in cases of this kind it should only be permissible to seek authority by Bill for what cannot he effected without a Bill, leaving the rest of the scheme to be effected through the ordinary Public General Act procedures."
I hope that hon. Members will note those words—they are directly relevant."To the argument of principle there may be added the point that the effect of the practice can be to allow a small tail to wag a large dog and there may even be a temptation … for a Promoter to search for a tail for this purpose, if he is keen to avoid the Public General Act procedures."
Does my hon. Friend accept that, although the noble Lord said that the Select Committee of the House of Lords, in coming to its decision to allow the Bill to go through to Third Reading in another place, took another view and accepted that the county council was correct in bringing the fencing and the road together in one Bill?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I shall return to that matter in a moment.At present, there is legislation in place, which should be tested against the requirements of the scheme that the county council is so anxious to pursue. I draw the attention of the House to an important letter that was written by my noble Friend, the Official Verderer, Lord Manners, in The Times on 28 November 1987. He said:
The important point is:"Since 1877 Parliament has been concerned to protect the beauty of the New Forest. The New Forest Act 1949 made provision for roads to be built over the open forest, but only with the consent of the verderers, with a provision that the matter be referred to arbitration in the event of the verderers withholding their consent unreasonably."
I cannot quarrel with that; it is a first-class statement of the position."If Parliament considers that the protection of the open forest is no longer of importance, then it should declare this as its policy by way of public Act, amending the existing legislation affecting the New Forest, and not let the matter be dealt with on a piecemeal basis by private Acts."
If that happened, it would make matters much worse for places such as national parks and for the New Forest, which is being taken as a national park. By the private Bill method, one has an opportunity to examine each specific proposal in detail rather than give a general right in law. Therefore, surely that gives greater protection to the rights that I understand my hon. Friend wishes to protect.
I would entirely accept what my hon. Friend has said were it not for the fact that—as I hope to show—the powers necessary for the scheme are already available. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but the powers are already available.My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre mentioned the Select Committee report from the House of Lords after the Select Committee hearing of the Bill. That was not a complete departure from normal practice, but it showed that the other place considered that the Bill warranted serious consideration. I have looked at that report, but it is sadly deficient in a number of matters. It talks about—this point has been made on a number of occasions—one of the paragraphs in "Erskine May", which, as hon. Members will know, is a good guide to parliamentary procedure. Paragraph 22 says that the Committee noted "however, that Erskine May states at page 907 that 'No rule has been established which precludes the promoters of a private bill from seeking the repeal or amendment of public Acts.'" That is quite true and absolutely right. That is the point that my noble Friend, Lord Manners, made in his letter to The Times. Were we being asked to consider amendment or repeal of the 1944 Act, Parliament would be in a position to express a view; but it is not being so asked. If hon. Members look at the Bill to see how many times the Act is mentioned, they will discover that it is mentioned only once in order to point out a relevant clause, which says:
This is not a Bill to amend or repeal the New Forest Act 1949. It is a Bill to get round, to circumvent, to push to one side and to carry on as if the 1949 Act did not exist. I explained earlier that verderers are part of a delicately balanced management structure. They are a democratically elected body, the powers of which are enshrined in public Acts. They are responsible for common rights and their powers have been amended over the years. The 1877 Act was particularly important in that regard."'the New Forest' means lands within the Forest as defined…under section 12 of the New Forest Act 1949."
My hon. Friend obviously has great local knowledge. Will he describe how those democratic verderers are elected, for what period of time, how many of them there are, what qualifications they must have and where their end responsibility lies?
There are five elected verderers and four appointed verderers. They are appointed, in one case, by the Ministry of Agriculture, and that will become significant later in my remarks. They are elected by those who hold common rights. Common rights in the forest go with the land. The commoner—the person whom they are protecting—is responsible for their election. It is a fair and reasonable method of election.My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has often talked of the problems of the small farmer. I do not want to discuss the considerable problems of the commoner, but I should tell hon. Members that the verderers are elected by those whom they must serve and protect. That is why it is so important that we leave them with the necessary power to carry out that protection.
I have already mentioned the matter of democracy. Is it not the case that the verderers, split 50–50 between appointees and those who are elected, will always come down in favour of the non-elected because of the casting vote of the chairman? That is precisely how they were defined and described during the debates on the 1949 Act. Furthermore, will my hon. Friend agree that there is now only one family who, technically, are commoners and that all the beasts in the New Forest, apart from 10 who graze under commoners' rights, are grazing under licence and do not belong to those who, technically, have the 1 acre of land necessary to make them a commoner, which gives them the right to vote for the verderers?
I do not want to upset my hon. Friend, but I must tell him that I am a commoner and that I have run animals on the forest. I know of many people who are far without the description that my hon. Friend has given. Commoning is still a lively way in which some individuals with small farming interests continue to live. It is not becoming any easier, but commoning is not, as my hon. Friend tried to suggest, some sort of business enterprise done on licence. If he were to visit the forest I should he only too happy to introduce him to some commoners. He would then have an opportunity to discuss the matter with them.
I live only 300 yd from the forest.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be kind enough to ask me to visit his house.I want to consider how the 1949 Act came into being. It has already been referred to in great detail and it is the cornerstone of the protection that the forest enjoys. As the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) knows, the Act flows from the decision of the post-war Labour Government of 1946 to set up a committee of inquiry under Mr. Baker to look, with others, at the conditions of the New Forest and,
I do not often pay lavish tribute to the Labour party, but on that occasion it was right. That body reported in 1947 and its report has become known in shorthand as the Baker report. It went into great detail about the problems that would he likely to face the forest in the post-war years and ensured that the verderers' powers were modernised and brought up to date. The court was reconstituted as I described and the Official Verderer, the chairman of the court, is appointed by Her Majesty — by the Government of the day—and is the person ultimately responsible to the Crown. The court sits in open session every other month and allows any member of the community, be he commoner or otherwise, to make presentments that can be listened to and acted upon. That open court, which I regard as very democratic, is of great importance and significance to the area. The Lord Chancellor can indicate four members of the court to sit on an extension of the court—the court of Swainmote— which is a disciplinary court that has powers with which I shall not worry the House. The 1949 Act, which sprang out of the Baker report of 1947, is very specific, as is all legislation governing the New Forest, including, as I said, the 1877 Act. Let me draw the attention of the House to the two sections central to our debate. Section 17 has been referred to. I note from the Order Paper that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre has tabled an Instruction to the Committee to pay particular regard to the 1949 Act. I am only sorry that it has been such a long time coming. Why was an Instruction not tabled on Second Reading in another place? The 1949 Act had not been mentioned before; it had been brushed aside as being of no significance. The Instruction has been put here to keep this stuttering flame alive. If one is prepared to table an Instruction to the Committee to look at the 1949 Act, one might as well use the arbitration procedures under that Act."having due regard to the existing rights and interests, to recommend such measures as are necessary for adjusting to modern requirements."
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Instruction was rejected because it was felt to be superfluous as it was already in the instructions of the Select Committee of both Houses to look at this point?
I thank my hon. Friend.Section 17 is lengthy, and I shall not read the whole of it to the House, but a number of its provisions are material to our debate. Subsection (1) says:
The clause then describes that process. Clause 17(8) says:"Where a highway authority, other than the Secretary of State for Transport, require any land in the Forest for the purposes of any of their functions as a highway authority, they may apply to the verderers for their agreement to the transfer of the land to the highway authority."
Here we have a clear-cut arbitration machinery already established in a public Act. Why have we not used it? We have heard something of the promoters' case tonight. Apparently, they feel that the Act does not cover all the requirements. I shall come to fencing and the exchange of land in a moment. What the promoters hear is the word "reasonableness". If my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre is correct that the route being promoted by the county council is environmentally superior to that proposed by the verderers' court, why are the promoters not prepared to test that reasonableness? Do the promoters believe that because of the verderers' special responsibilities they would not win at arbitration, even though, as I pointed out, the chief executive to the New Forest district council suggested that"The verderers shall not unreasonably withhold their agreement on any application under this section by a highway authority and if any dispute arises as to whether their agreement has been unreasonably withheld the matter shall be referred to a single arbitrator agreed between the verderers and the authority or, failing agreement, appointed by the President of the Royal institution of Chartered Surveyors on an application made either by the verderers or by the authority after giving notice in writing to the other of them."
The machinery is there. It should have been used."there was always the fallback of arbitration"?
I fully agree with my hon. Friend that this goes to the heart of the matter. It really comes down to what one means by "reasonable". Does my hon. Friend not agree that the verderers are responsible for the forest and the forest alone and therefore cannot possibly be considered to be acting unreasonably if they are trying to protect the forest and not the whole environment? Does he agree that the routes are environmentally equally good and, if anything, the inner route may be slightly better? However, the fact remains that the verderers are not responsible for the environment along which the inner—the village—route would go.
I understand what my hon. Friend says. He now questions what it would be considered reasonable for the verderers to concede. He will, of course, know that the building of the A31 across the north of the forest used a vast amount of forest land and yet the verderers did riot withhold their permission. They were reasonable. I assure my hon. Friend that my noble Friend the Official Verderer is a reasonable man, as are the other members of his court. Therefore, why will the county council not allow the matter to be tested under what my hon. Friend acknowledges is arbitration machinery?My hon. Friend questioned whether other powers were available under the 1949 Act to cover fencing and land exchange. Much has been said about that. We have been told repeatedly that without a private Bill fencing and land exchange cannot he completed. I believe that that is complete fiction.
Am I not right in thinking that Hampshire county council has a representative on the court of verderers and is it not a fact that he opposes this way of proceeding?
He does, indeed. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the elected member of Hampshire county council appointed to the court of verderers was kept away from the meeting to which hon. Members were invited to be shown the route. Hon. Members were only allowed to hear one point of view, and the Hampshire county council representative who was a verderer was prevented from attending. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] It is absolutely true.I shall return to the Select Committee report, published after the Committee stage in the other place. Some hon. Members may not be familiar with that report. Under the heading "Exchange of Land" in paragraphs 24 and 25, it says:
The report discusses the criticism of the quality of the land and so on. What it does not do is to make any mention or take any note of section 19 of the New Forest Act 1949. We have heard much about section 17, but section 19 has never caught the public imagination. I shall bring it out of hiding so that hon. Members can see for themselves that it contains precisely the power that we are told can be provided only by private Act of Parliament. Section 19 is headed,"Under the provisions of the Bill the Promoters will transfer lands to the Verderers in exchange for the land taken from the open forest for the construction of a bypass."
and states:"Exchanges of land in the Forest."
Therefore, one can extinguish those rights, change the land and give it to somebody else. My noble Friend, the Official Verderer, wrote to me on 15 February this year referring specifically to section 19, stating:"The Minister may with the agreement of the verderers direct that any unenclosed land in the Forest which is vested in the Minister shall be held by him on behalf of the Crown in severalty and free from all rights of the commoners, and that in exchange for that land any land invested in the Minister and surrounded by or abutting on the Forest, but not forming part thereof, shall become part of the Forest and subject to the like rights of common."
There is the provision of land exchange and fencing. He went on to state:"Once the Minister has acquired land, receiving land in exchange, he can transfer it to the highway authority who would then be entitled to fence it."
"As the County Council are offering exchange land I can see no difficulty."
My hon. Friend seems unhappy, so before he intervenes, let me say that the Official Verderer also stated:
Therefore, that route is already well trodden. However, if one reads the Select Committee report, one will not find a mention anywhere of section 19."Incidentally the provisions of Section 19 are used fairly extensively when Forest land is required for various purposes."
Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether the arbitration procedures that are applied in section 17 and bear on matters of fencing are also available in the event of a dispute between a potential or an actual highway authority and the verderers in respect of section 19 and the exchange of lands to which he has just referred?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but section 17 deals with all land that would be affected by a plan by a highway authority to build a road, other than the Minister of Transport, who has special powers. Therefore, in this case, the two are separate issues.
My hon. Friend anticipated that I would rise on this point. I apologise for interrupting him yet again, but my constituency is contiguous with my hon. Friend's. The question of fencing is crucial because, as my hon. Friend will agree, a large and growing number of animals are killed on the roads each year in that area. The matter of fencing is not in dispute in relation to enclosed land. However, we must be absolutely clear on the question of fencing because it seems to me that section 17 is not accurate when it comes to the fencing of roads. Indeed, in the Second Reading debate of the New Forest Bill on 18 October 1949, the then Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, a certain Mr. George Brown, stated:
"Clause 17 relates to other public roads in the Forest for which the highway authority is not the Ministry but the Southampton County Council. They may need to be improved or widened from time to time, although the intention is, as I have said, that the main flow of through traffic should use the trunk road. This Clause contains no provision for fencing. —[Official Report, 18 October 1949; Vol. 468, c. 497.]
That is quite true—section 17 does not contain such provisions and I never suggested that it did. All that I am saying is that, when the land is exchanged and no longer has upon it common rights, it is without the responsibility of the verderers and can be fenced by the body which then has it in its possession.
On the point of specific exchange of land, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that section 17 is a specific section dealing with land exchange for roads. Section 19, to which he has referred, is a general section. It is a well-known legal precedent that one cannot override a specific section which does not mention a specific thing by a general section of an Act that does so. Therefore, despite the fact that section 19 mentions exchange of land, it cannot be used in the case of section 17.
It is, of course, a question of the test of the reasonableness of the case. I have made that clear; inevitably, that is what it is about. In fact, arbitration machinery exists to test whether the case is reasonable. It is that test to which I very much hope that the county council will eventually agree.I do not want to go on too much about the Select Committee report from the other place, save to draw the House's attention to its last paragraph, on page 9, section 47, which states:
I repeat that the Select Committee said that it was "an unusual procedure". I want to deal briefly with whether this is the best procedure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre suggested. Much reference has been made by him and by others in the past to wanting the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee, as if some mysterious coven of Members of Parliament would be able to make sense of nonsense. That is totally far-fetched. I call in aid the evidence given to the Joint Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure, to which I have already referred, by the Parliamentary Bar in evidence dated 23 April 1987 which states in general about Committee procedure:"The Committee conclude by drawing attention to the fact that in allowing the Bill to proceed, they have done so in the knowledge that the County Council, in promoting a private bill, have adopted an unusual procedure for the construction of a highway and one which avoids the veto of the Verderers which Parliament in 1949 regarded as an important safeguard for the New Forest."
We are not dealing with some carefully honed body of people who can bring a sensitive eye to these problems because, as hon. Members who know Standing Orders will appreciate, one can serve on one of those Select Committees only if one does not have an interest in the matter that is being discussed. Indeed, the evidence goes further. Section (ii) states:"The procedures under which the private bill committees operates are in some respects old fashioned, ill defined and unsophisticated. There is abundant scope for reforms".
Those who now suggest that the Bill—[Interruption.] This is serious criticism. The Bill is now to be committed to such a Committee. I shall question in a moment whether that is the best body to consider a matter that is so important to this part of England."It has become apparent in recent years that Members of the House of Commons find it increasingly difficult to take part continuously in the quasi-judicial work of the Committees; and thus there is a widening gulf in the quality of the decision making process between the two Houses."
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the promoters, and those who are petitioning against, have been looking at fitting in the time for such Committee proceedings? There is some discussion that three weeks might be needed in Committee. How many hon. Members now present in the Chamber could cross out of their diary at least three days a week for three weeks to sit in Committee to listen to the arguments? It is a major imposition on hon. Members if they are expected to find that sort of time.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important and valid point. A similar point was raised during the discussions on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. Indeed, when the Select Committee was constituted, at least one hon. Member, who was not aware of the length of the proceedings, had to absent herself from the Committee. When that happened, the Committee was without a quorum and therefore had to cease its proceedings. Corridors in this building were full of silks, counsel, petitioners and people who had travelled a long way, wasting money, but who were unable to get the satisfaction which my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre seems to feel can be derived only through the private Bill procedure. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Committee on Private Bill procedure is concerned about being able to keep those quasi-judicial bodies in being because of the inconvenience, the cost and the time involved if they are without a quorum. It is an important matter. They are like a jury in a court. However, the difference between a jury in a court and a Select Committee is that the jury has the benefit of guidance from the judge, whereas the Select Committee, with the greatest respect to all those who chair them, may not have the same expert knowledge of some of the controversial matters being discussed.I referred earlier to remarks in the public evidence given by Lord Aberdare. In conclusion he said:
He is absolutely right. The idea that somehow here in Parliament we shall satisfactorily resolve the problems of Lyndhurst's roads is fanciful. With great respect to all hon. Members, they cannot have the detailed knowledge that is necessary. In the end, the only way in which the matter will be resolved is by a joint committee of the verderers court and the highway authority. That is the way that we have to proceed if we want to protect the New Forest. Those who do not want to do that can come here and bring in amending legislation, but they should not attempt to get round the existing Act in the way that the Bill attempts to do. None of us can tell what will happen to the Bill, but we must ask ourselves — what of the future? One must recognise that, as the chief executive of the county council pointed out in the advice to which I referred earlier, if it is possible to overcome the procedural problems that lie at the heart of our debate, it will be far better than being saddled with this type of Act which may in time lead lo the establishment of a dangerous precedent. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre said about the assurances given by the Hampshire county council about road building. But he did not read out a letter from the chairman of Shell, Esso, Clyde Petroleum or British Gas. The chief executive of Hampshire county council cannot tie his successors hand and foot by any assurance. Therefore, one must treat that with the reservation that is expected. We know that Lyndhurst has a road problem. We know that the bodies concerned have no objection to the bypass. We also know that, even if the Bill were to go through all its stages as quickly as possible, the bypass would not be built this year, next year or the year after. The works described in the Bill are for the 1990s programme of Hampshire county council. What will happen to the villagers of Lyndhurst this summer? The Hampshire county council has an important statutory responsibility as a highway authority to look seriously at the alternative signposting of the routes that avoid Lyndhurst, and there are plenty. I know them, because I drive on them. I spend my working life at weekends travelling on those roads. I have a home on the Lyndhurst-Beaulieu road and a constituency office at Cadnam. It could be said that one has to go through Lyndhurst to get there, but I do not. Four roads lead to Beaulieu, Brockenhurst and Lymington but they are not signposted as alternatives. Therefore, I appeal to Hampshire county council to produce sensible alternative signposting. The Totton west bypass, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) knows so well, is almost complete and has already altered the area's traffic flow, relieving much of the pressure. I object to the Bill, but I would be happy to act as an honest broker to bring the various bodies together. If it is impossible for the court of verderers and the highway authority to sit down together, I shall be happy to find some way of bringing them together and help in the establishment of what I hope will be much better relations. Indeed, my noble Friend Lord Manners has already begun that job himself. Therefore, I give this admonition to the court of verderers. Whatever happens to the Bill tonight is not the end of the story. Lyndhurst still has problems which must be resolved, but they need to be resolved in their interests while recognising the importance of the forest. Recently, the Forestry Commission established the important New Forest review body, whose report has been published. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had letters about model aeroplane flying on Beaulieu aerodrome, so some are already aware that such a body exists. That review body included representatives of the Forestry Commission, Hampshire county council, the Countryside Commission, the New Forest district council, verderers, the Nature Conservancy Council, and so on. The review body said in the concluding recommendations of its report published on 6 October 1987:"Indeed, where works are at all extensive or controversial I can see force in the argument that Parliament is not the most suitable forum for determining whether they should be carried out. If, therefore, there is one area more than another in the Private Bill field where an alternative to Private Bill procedure could usually be explored it seems to me to be that covered by works provisions."
That is the spirit in which we should go forward. I have had many letters from local authorities complaining about the Department of the Environment inspectors overriding local planning decisions and allowing development where the planning authority has objected. The county council is at the moment preparing a great case against the establishment of a coal-fired power station at the mouth of Southampton water, Fawley B, and the establishment of a coal importing terminal. However, we shall not go into that. More ratepayers' money is to be spent on all that. I do not object, but surely it is bewildering, confused and confusing thinking for the county council to act in one way about the power station while in the same breath stripping away the protection from the New Forest. The county council must have a clear strategy on its desire to protect the environment. There is no problem here that cannot be resolved. If we work together we can genuinely recognise the changes that are necessary— as was hinted at in the Baker report in 1947—to take account of the requirements of a modern and different world. Provided we work together, we can make those changes our friends and allies rather than what we have here—a hostile and unwelcome intruder. I do not like the Bill."During the course of the Review we have come increasingly to realise that more than ever before the authorities responsible in their various ways for the New Forest, the authorities indeed who we represent, are the trustees for the nation."
In defending the New Forest, about which the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) spoke with such feeling, he made a powerful case based on his deep personal knowledge of the New Forest and the area surrounding Lyndhurst. I cannot pretend to have anything like his knowledge of the area or his qualifications for intervening in the debate, but, as he knows, I am a regular visitor to the New Forest and I have spent summer or Easter in each of the last eight years in the northern part of the forest.I owe a deeply personal debt to the New Forest because I have spent periods of great happiness and peace there. Anyone who is caught on the heath in the rain knows that it can be a rugged and bleak place, but those changing moods and scenery make the forest a living thing and give it its fascination. Nowhere else in lowland Britain can one find such an extensive tract of public land and, perhaps with the exception of Dartmoor, nowhere else does one find such an extensive tract where there is open access. It is one of the last places left to us where we can walk at will across a natural landscape. The sense of wonder that it inspires is due to the fact that it has remained largely unchanged. One can walk across a landscape that has remained since mediaeval times and still shares the same type of livestock and wildlife that roamed there in those times. The New Forest is one of the treasures of Britain. It is every bit as much our heritage as the mediaeval cathedral in the constituency of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), through which he would not dream of driving even a modest two-track bypass. I concede that I do not live in the New Forest and I must qualify my right to express a view. I neither reside nor work in the forest, and I can fully understand the impatience of those who live in the forest, particularly the residents of Lyndhurst who support the bypass, about the fact that the decision on the bypass should be taken by people who neither live nor work in their village.
The hon. Gentleman has got quite the wrong impression about what I am trying to say. No doubt he travels to the New Forest several times a year with his family and perhaps a caravan. However, he should be talking on behalf of the visitors who wish to go to the forest, to caravan parks and car parks, and then walk into the forest to see all its beauty.
I travel to the New Forest by car and I will comment on the traffic congestion in Lyndhurst, which I have seen as I have driven through the town.I wish to make a couple of points in defence of my right, as a visitor, to intervene in the debate. First, I do not seek to become involved in the decision. It was the decision of the county council to submit the matter to Parliament and to resolve the matter by private Bill. If the county council takes the view that this is the proper way of proceeding, it can hardly object to Members of Parliament exercising their judgment on the matter over which they are asked to preside. Secondly, those people who visit the forest are not entitled to have the same weight attached to their views as those who reside there. Nevertheless, our views are entitled to some weight. After all, there are 8 million of us, which is a population equivalent to that of Greater London. Moreover, we make an important contribution to the economy of the forest. Lyndhurst shows some ambivalence towards us. That is revealed in the comments on local plans, where Lyndhurst is described as the capital of the forest, and its tourist centre. That is a fair description of Lyndhurst. It has nine tea rooms and restaurants in the main street alone and it is studded with and ringed by hotels. There is a certain tension between the promotion of Lyndhurst as a tourist centre and the description of Lyndhurst as the capital of the forest and a tourist centre. It becomes even worse if that traffic problem is resolved at the expense of the very forest which attracts tourists to Lyndhurst in the first place. I wish to refer to a comment made by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in the other place, when this matter was debated. He described the ground over which the bypass will travel as unexceptional forest scrub, yet he makes a tidy sum out of the tourist industry there and out of that unexceptional forest scrub. In purely commercial terms, it would be wise for him to place a higher value on that scrub. As someone who is not a local Member of Parliament or resident, I do not apologise for expressing a view on this Bill. I do not criticise the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) for promoting this Bill, although he represents a constituency in Lancashire, as I am well aware of his strong local connections. The hon. Gentleman is not present at the moment, but I was surprised and sorry to see, in the Blackpool Gazette of 10 February, that the hon. Gentleman was quoted as saying:
I have no objection to the Fylde coast easterly bypass. It may be a perfectly acceptable proposal—I see that the hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber—but the New Forest deserves something better than being used as a dummy run for a bypass at the far end of England. If that comment is accurate, it casts a rather jaundiced light on the hon. Gentleman's comment that he does not regard the bypass as any sort of precedent, when plainly he does."the main reason for supporting the bill was to learn the parliamentary ropes in preparing to press the case for the Fylde Coast Easterly Bypass."
I was trying to explain that, as a new Member of the House, this would be a good opportunity to learn a little more about roads in general. The hon. Gentleman no doubt realises that one should not believe all that one reads in the newspapers.
I am happy that the hon. Gentleman has placed that correction on the record. All hon. Members are welcome to learn the ropes as best they can. Regrettably, I require no more learning processes on how to oppose business, as I have been doing that for the past eight years and will continue to do so for another three years. I oppose the Bill because I do not like it, not because of a learning curve.In considering the Bill, we must address three questions. First, is a bypass necessary? Secondly, does it have to be this bypass? Thirdly, is this the correct procedure by which to obtain authority for it? The first point need not detain us long. I have sat in a stationary car, marooned in a tail-back, five miles outside Lyndhurst, often enough to appreciate the case for road works there. The case has changed over the years. Originally, the case was for a bypass for east-west traffic, which was removed by the M27 and the A31. The case is now transferred to the need for a north-south bypass. Over the years, some of the pressure may again be changed by the creation of the Totton bypass. It is also possible to question the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Wyre when he presented the case. In its survey, the council discovered that 80 per cent. of the traffic approaching Lyndhurst was through traffic, but that 80 per cent. was defined by asking them their starting point and their destination, thus elminating those who were stopping in Lyndhurst for a meal, to purchase a postcard, or to visit the verderers court. Many of those 80 per cent. would wish to stop for that purpose and would not wish to be carried around the town by a bypass. Presumably, that is also the reason why some traders oppose the bypass. It would discourage people passing through the town from stopping and making their contribution to the local economy. Nevertheless, I accept that there is a case for a bypass, but that does not oblige us to accept this bypass. There are alternatives. The county council's presentation to hon. Members freely admitted that seven different routes have been examined over the past 10 years. Those seven routes fall broadly into two categories—the outer routes and the inner routes. In the outer routes, the southern section swings out into the forest over the passage between the Southampton road and the Beaulieu road. The hon. Member for Wyre described that proposal as a compromise, with the outer route originally proposed as route No. 1. Route No. 2 differs from route No. 1 in the northern section. It does not differ at all from route No. 1 in the southern section where it goes out into the forest to precisely the same extent as the original route. In that section, there is no compromise.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only reason it does not differ from the original route is that it is so close to the settlement pattern of Lyndhurst in the first place?
I shall come to the gap which will remain between it and the settlement pattern of Lyndhurst in a moment. In the meantime I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are 85 acres between it and the settlement of Lyndhurst. If he says that those 85 acres bring the road so close to the settlement pattern of Lyndhurst, I am afraid that he will underline the fear of many petitioners. If we enclose the 85 acres which are considered as being so close to the settlement pattern of Lyndhurst, those 85 acres may become settled upon.The other five routes are all variants of the inner route which travels to the west of Bolton's Bench. They go through the gap between the historic village and the modern suburb of Queen's Crescent. In his opening address, the hon. Member for Wyre attempted to pray in aid the report of the local inquiry into the forest and downlands villages local plan. What the inspector said in his report was:
that is, the southern sector to which I have just referred—"This sector of routes 1 and 5A"—
It is plain that, having considered all the different routes available to it at the time and having considered the debate on the outer and inner routes, the preference of the inspector was for an inner route. It is not possible for the promoters of the Bill to pray in aid the outcome of that planning inquiry, the only planning inquiry at which the route was ever presented. It is hardly surprising that those who identify their interests with the forest want to see as little intrusion as possible into the forest. Nor is it surprising that those who identify their interest with the village wish to shove the bypass as far out of the forest as they can get away with. The weight of representations against the outer route from those who are concerned with the forest is impressive. That opposition falls into three categories. First, there are those who are concerned with the management of the forest. It is interesting that every body charged with the management of the forest is opposed to this route. It includes the verderers, the commoners and the New Forest Association. It also includes the Forestry Commission which, as a public body, has not felt it right to petition against the Bill and did not do so in the other place However, when the matter was debated on Second Reading, the then Minister stated fairly the objections of the Forestry Commission to the route. I hope that when the Minister intervenes in the debate he will repeat to this House the same objections of the Forestry Commission on the grounds of noise and intrusion which such a route would bring to the forest. Those of us who are not locals can take heart from the fact that there is strong local opposition to the proposal. The second category of those who object covers the statutory bodies which are there to advise the Government on the environment. There are two, the Countryside Commission, which advises the Government on recreational and leisure use of the countryside, and the Nature Conservancy Council, which advises the Government on the scientific importance of the environment and threat to the environment. Both bodies are appointed by the Government to advise the Government and Parliament on how we should treat proposals for the countryside. This is the first time that those two bodies have petitioned against a private Bill. The fact that they have chosen this Bill to make their own precedent of petitioning against a private Bill demonstrates their strength of feeling and their concern about the unique character of the New Forest. The last category of those opposed to the Bill is composed of the voluntary bodies whom one might describe as representing the consumer interest, the people who use and appreciate the countryside, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society. It is, in short, striking that the Bill has united against it the whole countryside lobby. One need not look far for the reason why it has achieved that unanimity of view among groups concerned with the countryside and the environment. It is because of the special character of the New Forest. Here I want to return to the description by Lord Montagu of this tract of land as unexceptional forest scrub. I take his point openly. The stretch of land is no more and no less unexceptional than much of the rest of the New Forest. The strength of the New Forest and its unique character is precisely because it is an extensive tract of heath, very much similar throughout its area. I should like to quote to the House the evidence submitted by the Nature Conservancy Council in another place. This is the only lengthy quotation which I propose to read to the House; I hope the House will bear with me. The Nature Conservancy Council brought out the importance of the extensive nature of the heath very well:"in summary involves a fragmentation of open forest which should be avoided if a cost-effective route having an acceptable impact on the built up area can be devised on the west of Bolton's Bench."
"It is the scale and totality of The Forest which is so important, rather than the value which may be placed on individual localities within it. We do not know the precise requirements, e.g. of most insects, which inhabit The Forest, but the evidence strongly suggests that The Forest's rich insect fauna is associated with its scale, continuity and diversity. To dismember it or fragment it, in however limited a fashion, is to diminish its total value to science and to people."
Does not the hon. Member agree that the weakness of the petition of the Nature Conservancy Council to the House is that alone among the petitioners it makes no acknowledgement, unlike himself, of the need for a bypass? It takes no notice of the views of local people and it does not even mention the problem.
The Nature Conservancy Council very properly confined itself to those matters for which it has statutory responsibility, which is to advise on the scientific importance of the site and the threat to the environment of a proposal.
What about the Countryside Commission?
The Countryside Commission has a wider remit. Its remit is to advise on the use of the countryside by people. That naturally involves it in commenting on traffic movements as well. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read not simply the petition submitted to the House by the Nature Conservancy Council but the full text of its evidence in the other place. He will find that it conceded that there was a demand for a bypass at Lyndhurst, although it did not take a view on whether there was a need for a bypass.The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. I think it is also fair to say that the Nature Conservancy Council, as with the other petitioners, has made it clear that it would not petition against an inner route. I shall return to that point later. It is interesting that the promoters submit to the House a route which has united all the countryside interests, all of whom have said clearly that they would not oppose an inner route, were it chosen.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have left a bare hour and 12 minutes. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) will take a few minutes. Will it be possible for local Members to participate in the debate? The debate seems to be widening to include every hon. Member.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the fact that time is getting short. Many hon. Members still wish to speak.
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to restrain myself from giving way again.My concern is not merely with the 10 acres which are to be tarmacked for the road but with the 85 acres which are to be enclosed between the bypass and the town. There is an odd dichotomy in the representations of the supporters of the Bill. When the road swings out into the forest it is represented as a simple, two-track road which is not intrusive and will not fragment the forest. Indeed, the county surveyor in his evidence in the other place said:
Yet when an identical road of identical dimensions is shifted to the inner route, we suddenly discover that it will split the village and will deny access from residents on one side over this immense barrier to the recreational facilities at Bolton's Bench. The supporters of the route cannot have it both ways. If a road of such dimensions would split the village as an inner route, it will undeniably fragment the forest if it is an outer route. I have considerable sympathy with the petitioners' fears that, over a period, the 85 acres that will effectively be enclosed by the outer route would cease to have the character of open heath, and would become an urban park. There are two considerations. The first is that the animals are likely to graze less frequently on the inside of the bypass, because their only access to that tract of land will be by a single underpass. The commoners maintain that the animals are unlikely to use the underpass to the same extent as they would wander over an open heath. That is why the commoners oppose the Bill. If the animals do not graze those 85 acres, there will be a substantial effect on the vegetation and plant life of that tract. However, there is a more important reason for anxiety about the future of those 85 acres. If they were enclosed by the bypass, they would become regarded as part of the village and its amenities, rather than as a continuous tract of open forest with a division formed by a busy road fenced along its length with only two crossing points. I find the attitude of the promoters to Bolton's Bench constructive. They object to the inner route on the grounds that it would be visually intrusive from Bolton's Bench. It is undeniable that all inner routes would be in proximity to Bolton's Bench; equally, however, all inner routes would be on the town side of Bolton's Bench. Civic pride is a great thing, but I find it a curious assumption that all the townspeople who climb Bolton's Bench, and, more particularly, all the visitors, do so to look back at Lyndhurst. The most obvious thing that they will see, in the immediate future, will be the fire station. Some people who go up Bolton's Bench, particularly visitors, go not to see Lyndhurst and the fire station, but to look out on the forest. An outer route, if constructed along the lines suggested in the Bill, would be clearly visible. Across this section, half a mile of it will be an embankment, and one of the two crossings which are to be supplied will be an overhead bridge. It is plain that, psychologically, the villagers regard Bolton's Bench as part of their village, rather than as part of the forest. My anxiety is that, if the outer route is chosen, all those 85 acres will come to be regarded as part of the purlieu of the village rather than the forest, and there will be pressure to prettify and develop it. If the proposed route is objectionable, are the alternatives feasible? Certainly, an inner route is feasible, although I am not suggesting that it is necessarily ideal: it is difficult to find a proposed new road to which there are no objections. The promoters do not attempt to deny that, which is hardly surprising, as their own county bypass panel in 1983 concluded that the inner route would be more cost-effective and better value for money. This is what the panel said about the route that we are considering in the Bill:"People will barely notice the bypass as they walk over it."
the original outer route—"The panel here therefore looked at the possible alternate route put forward by the local members. It does however suffer from the same traffic and economic disadvantage as route 1" —
The reason that the panel concluded that an inner route would be better value for money is that it would be much shorter. The outer route is not only longer than the inner route, but much longer than the present route through the town, which would continue to be used by much through traffic unless measures were taken to close the high street. That would be inconvenient to residents and probably unpopular with traders. The objections to the inner route, as advanced by the promoters, effectively come down to the view that the inner route is not acceptable to residents of Lyndhurst. Let me refer to the report of the Select Committee in the other place, which concluded:"and is unlikely to be good value for money."
that is the route in the Bill—"If route 5A is not proceeded with"—
With the greatest respect to the noble Lords, I am bound to say that there is a strong element of tautology in that statement. If the residents of Lyndhurst want a bypass, they can have an inner route. Such a Bill would pass through the House almost on the nod, without any petitioners objecting. If they choose not to accept an inner route, they have a perfect right to do so: the choice is theirs. It is wholly unreasonable, however, for the promoters to produce local opposition to the inner route as though it were an obstacle to progress which those of us who oppose the outer route had somehow dreamt up. The third consideration is whether this is the correct way to seek authority for the construction of the road. Is it a prudent use of county council funds? I understand that the total cost of promoting this private Bill will be some £300,000, which, if we put it into perspective, is three times the entire footpaths budget of Hampshire county council. The promoters have said that it is necessary to have a private Bill because it is necessary to secure permission to fence the road. There is a reference in clause 4(2) to fencing the road. The remaining 24 clauses have nothing to do with fencing. In truth, no one seriously imagines that the Bill is presented in this form because of the requirement to fence the road. The real reason is to get around the opposition of the court of verderers. I find it surprising that the county should choose to resort to such a device without even going to the arbitration provided for in the 1949 Act. In fairness to the county, I will say that it is engagingly frank about why it has not proceeded to arbitration. As was stated candidly and with refreshing honesty by the hon. Member for Wyre, the reason is that the county admits that it is likely to lose if it goes to arbitration, and that any arbitrator is likely to uphold the opposition of the verderers as entirely reasonable. It is possible to criticise the constitution of the verderers, as did the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) in an earlier intervention. Some of the criticism is overstated. The verderers are not a feudal organisation; their current constitution dates from 1949. They are, if anything, rather more representative and diverse in their origins than most quangos, in that they are appointed not by one body but by several bodies representing the various interests in the New Forest. However, their constitution is certainly idiosyncratic, and one could argue for a change. An obvious change would be to make the New Forest a national park, and that was considered at the time that the national parks were designated. At that time, it was resolved not to designate the New Forest as a national park precisely because of the unique character of the verderers' court and the protection that they provided for the New Forest. Possibly, that decision was wrong. Possibly, the verderers should have been swept aside, and a national parks authority put in their place. I understand that at least one member of the Countryside Commission at that time now takes the view that an error was made. But Parliament chose not to designate the New Forest a national park because it was going to rely on the verderers. Parliament, therefore, cannot now readily lend itself to brushing aside the objections of the people that it charged with the task of protecting the New Forest. It has to give the full weight to the opinion of the verderers that it would attach to the view of a national parks authority if it was resisting a road going through its area."it is likely that the opposition of the residents of Lyndhurst to a route such as 6A as an inner route would mean that Lyndhurst would have no bypass for the foreseeable future."
The duties of the verderers are quite specific, and they are much narrower than the kinds of considerations now before Parliament. The duties that were given to them were essentially to protect the interests of the commoners. Nobody is suggesting that they would not be acting reasonably in rejecting this bypass, but the whole point is whether that should be the end of the matter.Let us suppose that they had gone to arbitration and, as they no doubt expected, had lost, and had spent a lot of money doing that, what would they then do? Would the hon. Gentleman then back their coming to the House and saying, "The county council has wider considerations; let us have the bypass"?
I find it rather curious that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that, if the county council had proceeded to arbitration and then lost, that should somehow commend this proposal to the House. The point that I was making is that arbitration has not even been advanced, and it has made it quite clear that it has not advanced arbitration, because it does not have any confidence that it would win.The hon. Gentleman did make a very important point about the narrow nature of the interest and the remit of the verderers. That in a sense goes to the heart of the point that I was developing, that possibly the remit of the verderers is too narrowly drawn. Perhaps they are not adequate as guardians of the full development and the full protection of the New Forest. Perhaps some other kind of constitutional mechanism — a national parks authority readily suggests itself as an obvious substitute — is required. The fact is that hitherto we have not chosen that course. Hitherto we have chosen to rely on the verderers for the protection of the New Forest. We cannot now breach those powers without taking on board the need to take the 1949 Act, dust it down and consider what we are going to replace it with. There is no point in pretending that, once we pass this Bill, if we choose to do so tonight, the powers of the verderers will somehow remain intact; that tonight we shall suspend them for the purposes of this Bill, but tomorrow we shall replace them for any future development. We cannot pretend that in passing this Bill we are not creating a precedent. One may wish to defend the precedent, but one cannot duck the fact that this would be a precedent. There are, as the hon. Member for New Forest said, other organisations, some of them commercial, which are watching the progress of this Bill and might be quite likely to attempt to follow this precedent. I made this point to the representative of Dyson Bell, who kindly called for a civilised exchange about this Bill last week. He demurred, and I then asked him if this meant that Dyson Bell would decline to act for any other promoter who chose to come before us to take advantage of this precedent. This was greeted with a very eloquent silence. The truth, of course, as we all know, is that if we create this precedent other people will choose to take advantage of it. They will find people who are willing to put forward their Bill and they will certainly find a willing parliamentary agent. In conclusion, my attitude to the Bill turns on the primacy I attach to preserving the integrity of the forest. I believe that that consideration should also be the most important consideration for the House. Here I have to say that I found the report of the Lords Select Committee most disappointing — indeed, even disturbing. The report admitted that the outer route would inevitably affect the open forest. It then went on to say that the Committee had reached its decision on the basis of what it regarded as being the most important evidence — namely, the immediate environmental benefits of route 5A to the village of Lyndhurst. That observation and conclusion is perfectly clear. The Lords Committee chose, quite deliberately and openly, to subordinate the interests of the forest to the environmental advantage of the village. That is the complete reverse of the conclusion of the inquiry into the local plan, which concluded that the environmental advantage to the village of the bypass was incidental, and that the first consideration should be the protection of the forest. That, of course, was a bald line inspector; it was a bald line, but I believe that it was the right line. The New Forest is a unique asset. If we chip away at it, we shall never be able to recreate it, any more than we would be capable of rebuilding those mediaeval cathedrals that date from the same time. The mass use of the motor car dates from only the last half-century. That is a small interval in the history of the New Forest, which was there centuries before the motor car. Our first duty should be to make sure that the New Forest is still there when the era of the internal combustion engine has faded, and that when that time comes the heath, the woodlands, the forest, will survive to give future generations the same joy in the open freedom of the forest, the same wonder at the beauty and the balance of the natural landscape. I believe that we would be failing in that duty if we allowed this Bill a Second Reading tonight.
It may be helpful if, at this point, I intervene briefly to restate the Government's view on the Bill. I am repeating what was said in another place.It is traditional on a private Bill that the Government take a neutral stance. It is for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are necessary and justified. The Government do not wish to take sides on this issue. Controversy has reigned for more than 50 years on the construction of a bypass for Lyndhurst. The need for a bypass is generally accepted. The route it should take has been the subject of considerable argument over many years. Alternative bypass routes have been canvassed. There have been two public inquiries and several other local consultations. The route now adopted, known as route 5A for which parliamentary authority is sought by Hampshire council in the Bill, is a compromise. It is the subject of controversy. It is right that any encroachment on the forest of the kind being debated this evening should be carefully considered. The Select Committee in the other place considered all the issues and allowed the Bill, endorsing route 5A, to proceed. In passing the Bill, that House accepted its Select Committee's view. The Government appreciate the strong feelings held by the promoters, the residents of Lyndhurst and those hon. Members who petitioned against the Bill about the proposed route 5A. There is detailed argument to be heard.
I shall follow the Minister by making it quite clear from the Front Bench where the Opposition stand. The Opposition are not constrained to remain neutral.I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on two things. Last week, for the first time since I was too young to remember, I had the pleasure of being in the New Forest. I thought that it was important to see Lyndhurst, and indeed the New Forest. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is among the most beautiful in the country. I also congratulate him on his powerful speech this evening, which went a considerable way towards resolving some of my doubts about the Bill. The issue is not simple. Inevitably there are competing and conflicting demands between the different interest groups. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) asked whether it was appropriate for hon. Members who do not live in the New Forest to take part in the debate. The debate has come to Parliament and it would be irresponsible for hon. Members who do not live in the New Forest to remain silent. However, I must point out that a relatively select and limited number of hon. Members are listening and taking part in the debate tonight. I shall embellish that point later. It is a problem of parliamentary procedure. The Bill is of general and national interest. It is a question of how the national interest is to remain secure. While hon. Members are entitled to talk about the needs of local communities in 1988, 1992, or 1995, there is a need to maintain the New Forest and to keep it intact, not only for five or 10 years, but for generations that lie ahead. Tonight we are entrusted with a difficult balance. My natural reaction would be that the New Forest should be maintained as intact as possible. That is a basic reflex response, but I recognise that the community of Lyndhurst has specific traffic problems. The difficulty of the debate centres around how to resolve those problems and, if it is possible, to satisfy all interest groups. It is impossible to find a definitive solution that would resolve all those issues. It would be churlish to say that the question is who should be disadvantaged in the most convenient way. The whole process of bringing a private Bill to Parliament inevitably creates a precedent. It would be foolish for anyone to argue that no precedent would be created. The New Forest Act 1949 dictates the future of the New Forest. If the private Bill were to deviate from that legislation, it would create a precedent and allow potential developers to look with considerable interest at the area. For those reasons, I am encouraged in my initial reaction.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that private Bills have sought to fence roads under the auspices of the New Forest Act 1949, so precedents are occurring all the time? This precedent should not concern hon. Members, because it does not relate to commercial interests.
I cannot accept that as a logical position, because the former Bills were confined to fencing roads. In this case we are talking about a different operation. We are talking not simply about fencing existing land but about the creation of an entirely new road on land which is part of the forest. To that extent it is qualitatively different.The argument, from which hon. Members may draw different conclusions, can be put that breaching forest land would create a precedent for developers, as it is recognised that a greedy eye has been cast on the New Forest by would-be developers of oil and gas deposits. No doubt Parliament would consider whether such a Bill should be accepted, but if we are to set a precedent we must consider whether the matter is sufficiently special to warrant it. I was interested in the view of the hon. Member for New Forest on how the process could have worked. There is a fundamental breach in the argument put forward in favour of the Bill. If an alternative exists—I have heard nothing to persuade me that that is not the case—that damages that argument, because, if we create a precedent in the New Forest, it must he under special circumstances, and those must include there being no other possibility of achieving the same objective, if the hon. Member for New Forest is accurate in his contention, I find it difficult to accept the Bill for those reasons. This week, another private Bill was before the House, the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill, which had been before a Select Committee. I do not invite the Minister to re-run the difficulties of three nights ago. When the Select Committee had sat for a considerable period, it came to certain conclusions which were not matters of party political disagreement. There was considerable agreement on those conclusions, because there is a principle that it is not up to Select Committees to reject arguments outright, but to examine the locus standi of the petitioners. The principle gives Select Committees a limited role, and it is then up to the promoters of the Bill to accept or reject the recommendations of the Committee. On Report on the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill, the recommendations of the Select Committee could have been given no significance. That is equally likely in relation to this Bill. The argument that the most thorough examination of petitioners' cases will be in a Select Committee is at best minimal. Hon. Members are becoming increasingly suspicious of the Select Committee process. Not long ago the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill was considered by a Select Committee, a procedure which caused much consternation on both sides of the House, although there might have been some different views. Certainly the Minister thought that it was a worthwhile exercise; but he would have to feel that was the case. The only time when I have enjoyed hearing about the spectacle of the private Bill process was when the hon. Member for New Forest described learned QCs lining the corridors of the House looking for something to do. That brought some satisfaction, as it would be perhaps the first time that members of the public struck back against the lawyers. The private Bill procedure is not satisfactory, as it does not command the full attention of the House. Debates are not well attended and we do not see real interest from all hon. Members. At the time of the debate on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, the Government put pressure on Conservative Back Benchers, rightly or wrongly, to support a closure motion. The truth is that hon. Members were present that night not because they felt passionately about Felixstowe but because they felt passionately about the interests of their political party and their own role in Government, and supported the Government in forcing through the Bill.
That is nonsense.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) says that is nonsense, but for all I know he may have been one of those hon. Members who were drinking champagne that night.
I am not interested in the hon. Gentleman going on for 10 minutes about the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill when many hon. Members and members of the public outside the Chamber are more interested in the Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill.
In saying that, the hon. Gentleman misses the point at issue, which is whether a Select Committee is the right way to discuss the matter. It is not a trivial point, or a matter to be cast aside. If the hon. Member for Salisbury cared about his own region he would do it far more service by making sure that matters concerning the New Forest are adequately discussed and that cases are taken on their merits, rather than leave them to be discussed in the House, where private Bills are handled very badly. The hon. Gentleman may debate that point, but I do not think that he can deny its validity in relation to the Bill.
The point that is regularly and properly made is that here is an opportunity, if the verderers' route was considered, to hold a public inquiry to which the people of Hampshire can contribute, and it is primarily their concern. The alternative procedure is for Parliament to amend the primary legislation, which allows the House to debate the future of the New Forest as one of this country's natural assets.Consideration of those two alternatives would be far more satisfactory than looking at just part of an issue here, where many of the people who are affected by the issue cannot take part, and when many who do participate do not understand and appreciate the full effects of the issues in any event.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has anticipated my thoughts. It will cause some satisfaction to the hon. Member for Salisbury that I intend to leave the private Bill process, although I insist that those remarks are relevant to whether the issue is best dealt with through a private Bill because of the way in which objections are taken.I have listened carefully to the submission of Hampshire county council and submissions put to me by other interested parties. One of the matters that weighed heavily with me was the contention of the county council that the matter had been adequately dealt with through a public inquiry process locally. The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) referred to the public inquiry into the local plan and said that at least part of that was devoted specifically to a roads inquiry. I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the inquiry was not properly constituted to consider the line of route of the Lyndhurst bypass. From documents made available to me I understand that, at the time of the inquiry, the inspector considering the forest and downlands villages local plan said of the present proposed route:
Therefore, the limited inquiry that has taken place has cast a considerble doubt upon the proposed route rather than justified it. I believe that a local public inquiry is the appropriate way to proceed."I consider Route 5A to be marginally less damaging overall than the route rejected in 1976".
Following the inquiry, planning permission was given and the Minister concerned decided not to call in that planning permission for further public inquiry. The planning procedures were followed to the letter and it has been made clear that the route with which we are concerned was examined by a Select Committee in the other place.
The fact that the Minister in another place took a certain view does not necessarily bind the House or the county council. Most of us have considerable experience of Ministers getting things wrong—no doubt Ministers consider that such mistakes occur less often than we believe. However, on this occasion there is a considerable body of opinion that says that the Minister got it wrong. I will not delay the House by listing all the organisations that support that view and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston referred.
The Secretary of State's failure to call in the original proposal is important. However, it should be noted that the Minister in the other place, who spoke rather more fully about the subject than the Minister tonight, made it clear that the fact that the Secretary of State chose not to call in the route for public inquiry did not imply approval of that route. He neither approved nor disapproved.
Perhaps it would help if I confirmed that nothing that I have said in any way contradicts what the Minister said in another place. The reason I was rather brief is that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was rather lengthy.
I am sure that hon. Members found both those interventions informative.I took the opportunity to visit Lyndhurst. I certainly would not claim that the dozen people to whom I spoke represented the unanimous view of the population. Certainly, some of them were strongly in favour of the road. The hon. Member for Wyre has sought to persuade me, with eloquence and vehemence, that the bypass is necessary to the community. However, other village residents have put forward the opposite view. They consider, for reasons already outlined, that it would be bad for the community and for the economy. I am aware that a petition exists and it is claimed that it represents the views of more than half of the population, but it certainly does not represent the unanimous view of the community. I have found it difficult to understand the traffic problems in the area. I asked local people how bad those problems were and the estimates of the worst traffic conditions varied considerably. Some people suggested that, at worst, the traffic delays lasted for 15 minutes. I find that difficult to comprehend as a major problem. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that I have an urban outlook and a delay of 15 minutes to cross my home city of Manchester would not be considered unreasonable. However, I accept that such delays may be a different matter in such a small community as Lyndhurst. Indeed, a 15-minute delay is not far off the estimate given by the county council and therefore it is important to take it into consideration. In fairness, I should say that another person told me that there were—at their worst—traffic delays of up to two hours, which was perhaps an extreme viewpoint. I merely report it as a matter of anecdote. It is precisely because such conflicts of opinion exist that the idea of a local inquiry into the route has considerable merit and is to be preferred to arguing anecdotally across the Chamber. It is far better that the issues should be put to a local inspector who could examine up-to-date traffic forecasts in detail. Unfortunately, the detailed figures given by the county council are nine years old, dating from 1979. The more up-to-date figures refer only to a percentage increase, which makes it difficult to understand their validity. The right way to examine these traffic matters would be through a proper public inquiry. People also mentioned the impact of the bypass on the village of Brockenhurst. I understand that the county council has no plans to introduce a bypass there, but some people are concerned that bringing a bypass to Lyndhurst will throw local traffic further down the road. I notice that the hon. Member for Wyre does not accept that—I raise it only because it was raised with me. It could have been adequately sorted out in the public inquiry. I am persuaded by the hon. Member for New Forest that, subject to information being made available by others, and given that the fallback of arbitration exists even now, the process could have been better handled in an alternative way. Local issues are far better dealt with locally and not in this House. As far as my recommendation has any sway with my hon. Friends and the House in general, I say that the Bill does not have sufficient merit and is not exceptional enough to warrant a Second Reading at this stage.
In the short time that is available to us I shall endeavour to uncover some fresh perspectives on the problem. I have no pleasure in opposing my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who is a close neighbour, politically and literally. I admire him greatly and have learnt much from him in the short time that I have represented Salisbury — compared with the long time that he has represented New Forest. There are always gainers and losers and if I had been the hon. Member for New Forest I might, in the circumstances, have chosen the path of my hon. Friend. He must ensure that every inch, every centimetre of the forest is protected, but I hope that he will not misunderstand me if I take a contrary view on this occasion.Lyndhurst must be seen from a national and international perspective. There is a fundamental issue of political approach here, too. To what extent will the market come to an acceptable solution? Should we engineer a solution in human terms by placing restrictions on car ownership? Can planning solve the problem? I recall that, in the 1960s, when I was still at school, Professor Buchanan produced his Norwich planning survey, which was going to solve Norwich's problems. A few weeks ago, I was in Norwich and it took 40 minutes to get out of the station in a bus, let alone go round the city. We must think ahead about Lyndhurst and the forest. Whatever we do, traffic will increase and so will congestion, pollution and environmental damage—the problems will only get worse if we delay. The environmental problems that all hon. Members experience in their constituencies are encapsulated in Lyndhurst. Typically, we find that demand for access to the countryside is increasing on all sides, from local people as well as from visitors. Demands from the military for training are also increasing. Demands for new houses are great in the rural areas—particularly from young people and those who cannot afford the sort of executive houses that are the only houses that can be built when land prices are high. Demands for light industry are growing; demands for out-of-town retailing facilities—which are great and controversial—are growing; demands on road transport are growing from private road users, who are becoming increasingly prosperous, and from heavy commercial traffic. At the same time, demands for the protection of our countryside have never been greater. All hon. Members have problems with bypasses in their constituencies. Bypasses are demanded and then the routes are fought over. I shall not be pro-bypass for my constituents in Salisbury but anti-bypass for the people of Lyndhurst. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his bypass plans. There has never been a period in our history when there have been more plans for bypasses or more bypasses being completed. They have given much relief, particularly to the small rural communities.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the issue is not whether there should be a bypass, but where it should go? There is no dispute that, in due time, Lyndhurst should have a bypass. The dispute is about where it should go and whether it should prejudice the entity of the New Forest.
Who decides where it should go? I shall address that question later.Most hon. Members are deeply committed to conservation. It is very unusual to find someone who is not. In my constituency, we experience enormous pressures on conservation. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is well aware of them and we enjoy sharing Salisbury with him. The pressure on the south of England in particular is intense. I have problems in my constituency that make those in Lyndhurst pale into insignificance. We have problems with Stonehenge, the Army, archaeology, road works, river plunderers, city excavation, treasure troves, the river Avon, water meadows, pollution, fish farms and canoeists. At the same time, the Nature Conservancy Council maintains Parsonage down, which is one of our most precious reserves, the Forestry Commission conserves Bentley wood, and I have the headquarters of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas in my constituency. Yet Lyndhurst is only six miles away from the edge of my constituency. We must face one or two facts whenever we consider these issues. First, there are those who believe that the New Forest should be a museum. As a friend of museums, I suggest that there is a revolution in museum theory and practice that believes in opening up history to the younger generation, improving access and encouraging mobility. In that regard, one has only to look at the Museum of London or the Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum to see that that is the case. If one believes that the New Forest is not a museum but is living and evolving, and if one does not believe that our countryside and rural communities are museums that are kept for the weekend enjoyment of townsfolk, how can we condemn Lyndhurst to a future locked into the inadequacies of a road system that strangles, suffocates and poisons residents and visitors alike? That was recognised in Government policy in the latest circular issued in January which said:
We must take care to balance our arguments along those lines. The constitutional position has been well explored by other hon. Members. I shall concentrate only on one or two aspects of it. There is no doubt that we are all fighting for the New Forest and for our environment. But who are we fighting for? Where are the vested interests? Are they the villages, the verderers, the tourists, the pressure groups, the public at large or the national, European or international public interests? When the Whips are docile, as they are tonight, we must use our judgment as well as our powers of advocacy. I have listened to the evidence that has been presented and I believe that, given the fact that the objection of the verderers is so central to the debate, it is crucial to be clear who those honourable people are and who they represent. I believe that King John would have turned in his grave and that the ghosts would have walked the Rufus Stone if they had seen the way in which the verderers were treated in 1949, the way in which their court was decimated and their influence diluted. I believe that on this occasion the verderers have been sent naked into battle. The predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre, said much about the court of verderers. He said that the court of verderers"Concentrating on conservation without concern for the rural economy would result in the death of communities and in dormitory settlements whose inhabitants had no involvement in the evolution of their rural setting."
The body fell into disuse from Queen Elizabeth's time until Pitt and the 1877 Act. Who wants the bypass? The county council, the district council, the parish council, the residents association, my noble Friend Lord Congleton, who piloted the Bill through another place and who lived in the Lyndhurst area for most of his life until he became a constituent of mine, all want it. Lord Denning, Lord Montagu, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and 3,000 residents who love the forest all want the bypass. Who opposes the bypass? It is crucial to consider the verderers among them. Lord Manners, who was appointed by the Crown, and the Countryside Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, a county councillor and five elected verderers oppose it. The verderers are elected by the commoners, who own at least 1 acre of land and get their living from the forest. Incidentally, until 1949, commoners had to own 75 acres of land or be entitled to a parliamentary vote. On paper, there are 877 commoners out of a population in the New Forest of about 140,000. None of the verderers lives in Lyndhurst. There is only one family of people who are technically real commoners and only 10 of the commoners graze beasts to support their livelihood. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest suggested that I had my figures wrong. I can only say that I got them from the assistant solicitor of Hampshire county council and I have no reason to doubt the truth of what he told me."stood impartially as an interpreter as to how far the Crown prerogative should go, but far more important as a local and immediate court, to which any local resident could come and appeal if he thought that the Crown had gone too far … That was the situation of the verderers in the time of William the Conqueror." —[Official Report; 1 November 1949; Vol. 469, c. 218.]
Apparently, the verderers have no salary, emolument or perk besides a fee buck and the fee doe annually, so they get little for their pains.
Indeed, the situation is wholly changed. All the other cattle and ponies in the New Forest belong to owners who do not have commoners' rights but are licensed by the agister.In their petition, the verderers accept the need for a bypass and crave leave to demonstrate that other schemes should be planned. That is an important point. I shall now discuss the petition of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Ramblers Association. As a supporter of many environmental groups in my county, I was disturbed by some of the evidence presented to hon. Members on which we are supposed to base our judgment. The Council for the Protection of Rural England got its history wrong. It gave no consideration to the people of Lyndhurst and blatantly misrepresented in print the position of Hampshire county council. In its colourful and emotional leaflet the CPRE included a photograph not of the route but of an attractive woodland scene in the forest. The CPRE did not illustrate on its map the route that it advocated, which rather detracted from its argument. It claimed that the Bill avoided a public inquiry when, as we have heard, there have been two. In any case, what could be more public than a debate in Parliament? The CPRE says that it has proposed a viable alternative scheme. It has not. It does not even accept the need for a bypass in the material that it presented to the House, although I accept what the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said about the other place. The promoters of the Bill are not blameless. I believe that they have misled us to some extent. On page 2 of their statement they say that the petitions of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Council for the Protection of Rural England and other bodies make no acknowledgement of the need for the bypass and complain of its alleged damaging effect. That is simply not true. When listening to the views of vested interests and pressure groups outside Parliament, we must be careful to use our own judgment, on the basis of personal experience. One could hardly imagine a more reputable body than the Countryside Commisson. In its petition it accepts the need to find a balance and says that the forest cannot be sacrosanct. That is a very realistic approach. However, one should not put one's trust in the Countryside Commission, because when there was a planning application in an area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency, which involved the building of a factory farm and piggery, the Countryside Commission refused to oppose the planning application and to come to the aid of myself, the village and the district council. However, the Countryside Commission was wrong and lost, and the factory farm was not built in that area of outstanding natural beauty. We should not necessarily always assume that such bodies are right. I say again that problems can sometimes rebound. Only a quarter of a mile from the New Forest, a constituent of mine is suffering. A family has, for generations, been grazing its animals outside the forest in winter and inside the forest in summer. The Nature Conservancy Council has said that it will turn that family's patch of grazing into a site of special scientific interest and that the family must stop using it for grazing land because it is not "according to nature". I suggest that that is absolute nonsense and that it is double standards in the Nature Conservancy Council. I make those long points because I believe that we must be careful about listening to outside interests. We must rely on our judgment in such affairs. Environmental pressure groups will proliferate enormously. Sometimes they do not appear to know who their friends are or they think that we are extremely naive. In coming years we must resist the temptation of seeing our role as advocates of particular pressure groups. If we do that, Parliament's role in deciding such issues will be enhanced. Far from tonight's situation — we have heard Opposition Members eloquently describe the Chamber being half empty and few people having sufficient time to devote three weeks to Committee discussions—we could enter a new era in which the judgment of Members of Parliament would become much more important on these issues. In coping with decisions such as the Lyndhurst question, what we need more than anything else is sound judgment and common sense. In that spirit, I shall vote for the Second Reading.
The issues that arise from our debate on this Bill echo back to the past because during the previous Parliament, as the House will remember, we had debates on the Okehampton bypass. The principal issue then was whether it was right, by a Bill, to cut into a national park. The main issue that the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who has the principal interest in tonight's debate, has made—many subsidiary issues have been raised—is that we as a House must decide whether we want to eat into the New Forest when it is not necessary to do so. That question would be much more difficult if nobody had worked out the problem and planned an alternative bypass route.However, even if that were the case, a procedure has been laid down. We are risking a trespass into the change of the presumptions that the legislation in the 1940s provided for specifically. It is a valid and important point because Parliament debated a Bill and enacted it specifically to safeguard one of the most important natural areas of our country and our heritage. That issue is no less important now—and arguably it is more important.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who has just spoken, appeared to misunderstand the nature of a pressure group and of a statutory body. The Nature Conservancy Council has a duty to advise Parliament and other statutory bodies about the impact of changes in important habitat, such as the New Forest, which contains many rare species of birds such as the Dartford warbler and the hobby, which are on schedule 1; sites of special scientific interest; flowers, moths, plants and mosses, which are extremely important and delicate parts of our habitat and must be protected. As an alternative route for the bypass could be considered, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission are absolutely right to put forward their points of view. They are not just pressure groups; they are doing their duty and doing it well.
I am not a Hampshire Member. I have two interests. I have often been to the New Forest. I have relatives there and I have stayed there as a child and subsequently. I have good friends in Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst. I am a summer visitor, but I also have a concern, like anybody in this country, for our environment, and in that context the New Forest is particularly important. It is not for hon. Members but for those who are accountable to Parliament to alert us to what is at stake, and they have made it their particular responsibility to tell the House and the country that we are taking too great a risk if we have a bypass on this route around this small village in the New Forest. The loss would be too great and the bypass should be resisted.
I am glad to hear about the hon. Gentleman's interest in the New Forest, but did he take the opportunity that was open to all hon. Members to visit the New Forest two weeks ago to see for himself exactly what the different routes would do to the environment and village?
On that day I was not available. I have been down within the past three weeks and I was down before Christmas. I have been there sufficiently often to be aware of the issues. I also have friends who are there all the time, to whom I have talked. Clearly, I do not have the hon. Gentleman's historic interest as a locally elected! councillor in that area. But since he makes a potential complaint against people such as me, who do not pretend to speak as Hampshire men, I must make a complaint in turn.The 1949 legislation established a system which, although antiquated, has historic traditions. The Court of Verderers was set up to allow people to make representations to it under a constitutional procedure. One can validly criticise the chief protagonists—I include the hon. Gentleman and his family, who clearly argued strongly in Hampshire for the bypass — for never availing themselves of the opportunity to go to the Court of Verderers to make a presentment, the technical word for their case. Since the 1940s, that court has clearly accepted arguments for roads in the area and other potential environmental disadvantages after such cases have been put to them. It is wrong constitutionally for people to come to the House to argue for short-circuiting that procedure when they have not properly tested the one that has been shown to work. Somebody reading or listening to this debate might think that the Court of Verderers was 300 or 400 years old, but the court, with its old name and tradition, was reconstituted in 1949 and given a role that was acceptable at a time when the country was legislating for national parks and the protection of the environment. Parliament did that conscientiously. It has never been challenged since. In a recent letter to the newspapers, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) accepted that we should, not bypass the proper public inquiry. Writing in relation to the Falmouth estuary a few weeks ago he said:
The same point of what is the right procedure arises. The hon. Gentleman was speaking perfectly properly as a Hampshire Member. That is a perfectly proper point and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is right that, when a constitutional procedure is laid down and so far not been found wanting, it should be tested. The hon. Gentleman, and those sharing his views on the issue—his father on the county council and others—should have gone to the Court of Verderers and made their case. If that had not succeeded, their case would have had some credibility. It is notable that the county council representative on that court, elected to represent the people of Hampshire, opposes the Bill. There is an important environmental point. There is also an important procedural point. We should use the accepted procedure which clearly has worked."Just to give some background, this private bill would have the effect of short-circuiting the normal planning process by way of public inquiry. Objectors are effectively deprived of making their voices heard".
The hon. Gentleman is giving a picture of the verderers' court as an amiable group to which the odd person in Lyndhurst goes to have a chat and put a case. The matter has been discussed for the past 12 years. I have said, in letters to people who have written to me, that the best solution would be to knock together the heads of people in Hampshire county council and the verderers' court so that they come up with a solution, rather than having to bring a private Bill to the House. The Bill is before the House tonight because those people have not been able to get it together. There has been no movement and this is the last possible way for the county council to obtain a decision on the bypass.
I understand that point, but the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the recent events that have led to the presentation of the Bill. Only about a month ago, it appeared that the county council was going to vote the other way. The chief executive, the officers and their parliamentary agent all said that this was not the appropriate way because it would be a long drawn-out procedure, unlikely to achieve the reasonable solution that the hon. Gentleman would have preferred.I understand why any community may want a bypass, but I am advised that the earliest date by which the bypass could be built, even if the Bill were passed, is 1992. There is no evidence that it would take longer by the other route, given that a public inquiry is immediately available. We must seek to redress the grievance of those people who suffer as a result of the traffic problems in Lyndhurst and the New Forest. However, the evidence is not sufficiently persuasive that this route is the better route and it was marginal whether the county council would take that route, albeit out of frustration and mystification, rather than through any belief that it was the right route.
The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) made a firm promise earlier that he was willing to act as an honest broker to bring the parties together. That would be a far better way rather than to try and push through the Bill, in view of the hon. Gentleman's opposition to it.
That is quite right. We all try to respect each other's constitutional position. The hon. Member for New Forest is in an ideal position to do that. He has the constitutional responsibility in this place for that part of our country.If we take the conventional route, laid down by parliamentary statute, the verderers' court can enable things to happen. That has been shown by, for example, the widening of the A31 and by the fact that it has allowed 1,000 acres of development in the New Forest.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way in a moment.In 1986, the verderers' court opposed an attempt to put a gas pipeline under the forest, but it then produced a better solution and the pipeline was still laid. The court appears to have done a sensible job. One of the things that troubles us all is that a body that works well is never criticised until somebody finds that it does not work to his advantage. Then it is thought to be unsuitable and outdated. When tested, the verderers have not been found wanting, whatever people may have presumed in the past.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about the A31 dual carriageway. Does he agree that that road was built not by using the New Forest Act 1949 but by using a new public act, the New Forest Act 1964? Therefore, no verderers were involved. The verderers did not put forward any views on that under their statutory duty in the 1949 Act.
I accept that there was a different procedure. I do not accept that the verderers had no role to play because I think that they still have the general role of guardianship of the New Forest. Therefore, they have a locus. But I accept that there was a technical and statutory difference.On the timetable point, I understand that a public inquiry could be held. I am happy to be challenged if I am wrong about this, but I want to put it on the record. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be bamboozled by wrong information. A public inquiry could test the information. I understand that a public inquiry could be held under the Highways Act 1980 to confirm classified road and side road orders. I understand that such orders would have been necessary but for the Bill and that Hampshire county council could revoke its planning permission, as it is allowed to do in exceptional circumstances, under section 45 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Lastly, the Secretary of State could call in the application for planning permission under section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act and precipitate an earlier decision. So I hope there is no strong argument that cannot be rebutted that the normal procedure could produce a solution as quickly as the procedure that the promoters of the Bill wish for in this place. The national environmental issue is important. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has addressed the alternative route. We have the procedural issues. We have to address also our duty as a House. I am conscious that the present allocation of time is limited. I have no idea whether the promoter will allow us to have further time. I ask him to do so. I do not wish to keep Hampshire Members from speaking. Clearly, their voice should be heard. But we have to ask ourselves what our role is. It seems to me that it is to test whether as individual Members, not whipped by party, we believe that it is right that we should take to ourselves this process which, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and others have pointed out, we do not carry out with great conviction, when alternatives are readily available with which the people of Hampshire would be just as happy.
Do we not have another responsibility? The Government have said that they are neutral on the issue. So that they can maintain a feeble and suspect form of neutrality, they have disregarded the fact that the public agencies which are charged with the duty of giving advice to the Government and Parliament are ignored.
That is true. The hon. Gentleman, whose commitment to the environment is well known, reminds us that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have the responsibility to make sure that Parliament is alerted to matters of concern. The question has been raised whether some of the information produced in the context of the debate is accurate. That is exactly the sort of argument that should be tested at a public inquiry. If the Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Commission is not accurately representing a view, it is the inspector's duty to check on that. No doubt all of us have taken part in public inquiries—
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.Question put, That the Question be now put:—The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 26
Division No. 195]
|Alexander, Richard||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Amess, David||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Amos, Alan||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Lightbown, David|
|Ashby, David||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Atkinson, David||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Maclean, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Mans, Keith|
|Boswell, Tim||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Mates, Michael|
|Bowis, John||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Moss, Malcolm|
|Burt, Alistair||Neubert, Michael|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Paice, James|
|Chope, Christopher||Patnick, Irvine|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Price, Sir David|
|Cope, John||Raffan, Keith|
|Cran, James||Redwood, John|
|Critchley, Julian||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Riddick, Graham|
|Curry, David||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Day, Stephen||Rowe, Andrew|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Ryder, Richard|
|Dunn, Bob||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Durant, Tony||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Shersby, Michael|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Forth, Eric||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stern, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Hannam, John||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Harris, David||Thorne, Neil|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Tredinnick, David|
|Hayward, Robert||Viggers, Peter|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Hill, James||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Holt, Richard||Waller, Gary|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Watts, John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Janman, Tim||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Wood, Timothy|
|Kilfedder, James||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Mr. Julian Brazier and|
|Knapman, Roger||Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Benyon, W.||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Cox, Tom||Pendry, Tom|
|Gow, Ian||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hardy, Peter||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Haynes, Frank||Ruddock, Joan|
|Home Robertson, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Kennedy, Charles||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Wallace, James|
|Livsey, Richard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Tellers for the Noes|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Mr. Elliot Morley and|
|McNamara, Kevin||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.|
Question accordingly agreed to.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the debate—
Order. I cannot take apoint of orer at this juncture.Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—The House divided: Ayes 96, Noes 28.
Division No. 196]
|Alexander, Richard||Knapman, Roger|
|Amess, David||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Amos, Alan||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Lightbown, David|
|Ashby, David||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Atkinson, David||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Maclean, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Mans, Keith|
|Boswell, Tim||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Bowis, John||Mates, Michael|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Burt, Alistair||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Carrington, Matthew||Neubert, Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Cope, John||Paice, James|
|Cran, James||Patnick, Irvine|
|Critchley, Julian||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Price, Sir David|
|Curry, David||Raffan, Keith|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Redwood, John|
|Day, Stephen||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Riddick, Graham|
|Dunn, Bob||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Durant, Tony||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Ryder, Richard|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Forth, Eric||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Shersby, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hannam, John||Stern, Michael|
|Harris, David||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Summerson, Hugo|
|Hayward, Robert||Tredinnick, David|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Viggers, Peter|
|Hill, James||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Holt, Richard||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Waller, Gary|
|Janman, Tim||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Kennedy, Charles||Wood, Timothy|
|Kilfedder, James||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Mr. Julian Brazier and|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Benyon, W.||Pendry, Tom|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Carttiss, Michael||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Cox, Tom||Ruddock, Joan|
|Gow, Ian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hardy, Peter||Spearing, Nigel|
|Haynes, Frank||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Home Robertson, John||Wallace, James|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Livsey, Richard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Mr. Elliot Morley and|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.|
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read a Second time and committed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just before 10 o'clock you may have heard me say that the Government were exhibiting a very strange form of neutrality. The Minister assured the House that the Government were distinctly neutral with regard to the Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill. I noticed that the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Minister to whom the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission report — those bodies are appointed by him—disregarded their advice and voted in the Aye Lobby with several other Ministers. It seems that vote has not followed voice.
The hon. Member knows full well that the way in which hon. Members and Ministers vote in the House has nothing whatsoever to do with the Chair.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you give the House a ruling tonight? I did not know that it was customary for an hon. Member not representing a particular constituency to move a private Bill relating to a constituency other than his own. Tonight that has happened. I wonder whether it will be in order from now on for any hon. Member to move a private Bill relating to any other hon. Member's constituency, regardless of what his or her constituency interests may be.
It is not for me to give a ruling on the matter, but I can tell the hon. Member that that is a frequent occurrence in the House.
Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the draft Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved. — [Mr. Stanley.]
May I say, after what has gone on earlier today, that on this occasion I am giving two and a half cheers to the Government.The Opposition welcome the fact that the Government, through the order, have taken the opportunity to update the provisions for the compensation of victims of criminal injury. We share the commitment expressed by the Secretary of State to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights about the provision of proper compensation to victims, and to support schemes that provide advice, assistance and emotional support to those who have suffered. The Secretary of State's reported promise to provide public funds in Northern Ireland to stimulate the development of victim support schemes is to be welcomed. On the specific changes to the 1977 order, we are pleased to see several changes, including the fact that the Government intend to provide for a standard bereavement award of £3,500 under articles 3(3) and 9(5). We welcome the extension of the definition of "relative" in article 2 to include common law spouses. We welcome, too, the provision in article 5(2) to allow compensation in certain circumstances to the victims of domestic violence. Society has for far too long looked with indifference on domestic violence generally. Just as we are of the view that those who assault should be prosecuted, whether it happens outside or inside the home, so it follows that victims of assault should receive compensation, whether the assaults occur inside or outside the home. We support the changes that will result in more equal treatment of the widows and widowers. The provision under article 9 of compensation of up to £5,000 for rape victims who, as a result, give birth to a child is welcome. However, there are some changes in the order with which we are far from happy and for which we seek further explanation. In some ways this may be regarded as a mean-minded piece of legislation that seems to have been designed to minimise the cost to the Exchequer of the compensation of victims of crime. While the maxima for discretionary payments to a spouse or a child under article 10(3) remain at the levels set out in the 1977 order —£10,000 and £1,000 respectively — the limit on claims under article 5(12) has been raised from £250 to £400. In addition, the proportion of income regarded as having been devoted to personal expenditure by a deceased victim is arbitrarily increased in article 7(3) from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent, of total income. Are we to assume, therefore, that the Government believe that breadwinners have become more selfish than they used to be and now spend more of their earnings down at the pub, the racecourse or playing canasta and that, somehow or other, they have increased their personal expenditure by 5 per cent, in the past 11 years? The net effect of the provisions will be a reduction, in real terms, of the level of compensation available to victims and, in many cases, to the dependants to an extent greater than the £3,500 provided in the bereavement grant. As well as reducing the level of payments in that way the Government propose to exclude from compensation a number of classes of victims in what may well be, in practice, an arbitrary and unfair fashion. Under article 5(15) police officers injured while attempting to arrest suspects and members of the public injured while performing their duty to assist the police will be excluded from compensation unless the risk they have taken is judged by the Secretary of State to have been an exceptional one. That provision would seem stupid anywhere, but in the context of Northern Ireland it smacks of lunacy. Why on earth are the Government seeking to discourage people from assisting in the apprehension of suspects? If the argument is that other forms of compensation may apply, at least in the case of police officers, why does the legislation not simply require that they be taken into account when assessing the level of compensation? The order, having punished people for doing their duty, then provides in article 6(1) for the potential recipient's "character and way of life" to be taken into account in assessing whether and what amount of compensation should be paid. If a hit-and-run driver breaks the legs of a pedestrian, and that pedestrian is a Minister of State, will he receive more than his PPS in similar circumstances? Will that mean that a secretary will receive more compensation than a tramp in the street? Should differences in lifestyle affect the decision that is made? Are payments to be based on moral judgments rather than objective criteria, such as the nature of the injury and the pain and suffering caused? Article 5(9) provides that no compensation shall be paid to any person who has, at any time, been a member of an unlawful association or engaged in acts of terrorism. Those who, in common with us, abhor all acts of violence in Northern Ireland may feel that there is justice in denying compensation to those who mete out death and destruction when they themselves become its victims. I do not expect anyone to disagree with that general proposition. However, what happens to a man or woman who was dragged into trouble some 15 years ago when feelings were first aroused? If someone was convicted in 1971 of membership of Saor Eire, but has nothing further to do with it—that organisation no longer exists—and, as a family man aged 34, is killed by a mugger on the streets of Belfast, will his wife and children be denied compensation? The same could be said of someone who was a young member of the Red Hand commandos. What about the statute of limitations? In such cases, should relatives have to rely on the whim of the Secretary of State's discretion, exercised under article 10(2)? We have further reservations about article 6(7) that provides for deductions for time spent in hospital, and article 5(12) which deals with mental impairment. In addition, we note the detailed and careful comments of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights regarding the legislation. We endorse many of the points that it has made, including its objection to the unequal treatment, in relation to appeals, of appellants and the Secretary of State. We note that on some issues, the Government have made changes in line with the commission's comments, but on many others they have not done so. We would welcome confirmation that the Secretary of State does intend that the statistical information on the operation of the order will be made available later this year. I have already made it clear that we have some reservations about the detail of the order. As we welcome the updating of the legislation that it offers and part of the broadening of its scope that it contains, we shall not divide the House on it, and I understand that my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party accept the main points that I have made and will not seek to detain the House by making further comments.
The explanatory notes on page 27 of the order tell us that
Article 5(2)(b) states:"The principal amendments are … to restrict the cases in which compensation is awarded for nervous shock".
Will the Minister clarify for us the matter of compensation that is paid to a family for nervous shock when it is found that the father of the home was a willing participant in an act of terrorism? Take, for example, a family which claims that it had been held at gunpoint. The father claims that IRA bombers came to him—a security man—and told him that they were holding his family at gunpoint, so that he would have to admit them with their bomb to carry out their wilful destruction and murder. Under the order, will the Government pay compensation for nervous shock to that family, if it is discovered that the father was part of the original plan to commit murder and bring destruction to other families, the UDR, members of the security forces, or innocent civilians? I have been informed of a serious case in which a person claimed to have been forced to admit IRA bombers to Castlecourt in Belfast. He alleged that his family was held at gunpoint at Turf Lodge. A short time ago he was tried, and acquitted on a technicality, for the La Mon murders. It would be a disgrace if a security man for the city of Belfast was suspected of having—indeed known to have —connections with IRA terrorism, and his family could get compensation from Her Majesty's Government and run laughing all the way to the bank. I hope that the Minister will look into the murder of two UDR men last night. The person in question was from Turf Lodge and was the man who was tried and acquitted on a technicality for the brutal murders of La Mon. He is called Brophy. Will the Minister look into this information, and confirm or deny its truth?"no person who is responsible for causing the injury will benefit from the compensation if it is paid."
I want to answer some of the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I shall write to him about those that I did not pick up quickly enough.The hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of victim support schemes. I entirely endorse that sentiment. We are conscious of the needs of victims—particularly of elderly victims, whose needs are not wholly met by financial compensation and who need other forms of support. They need practical support in the home, and moral support at what is often a traumatic time. I have been much impressed by the victim support work that is being done in the Province, but I also know that it lags somewhat behind the development of such schemes in England and Wales. We are in the process of rectifying that. I have already announced an additional allocation of £47,000 for grants to local schemes in Northern Ireland in the coming financial year. That brings the total for such provision to £70,000. That is a substantial percentage uplift and I am confident that the significant increase in funding will produce a material boost to victim support scheme activity in the Province. It is somewhat overdue, and I am sure the House will be glad to know that it is in hand. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North referred to the decisions that we have made in relation to discretionary payments. In article 10 of the order we have made some small but important changes in the provisions for making discretionary payments to a widow and her children. We have removed an anomaly that prevented a discretionary payment being made to a widower. We have increased the discretionary payment limit for a child from £1,000 to £1,300 to keep it broadly in line with inflation. Although no change has been made in the adult limit, we have ensured—this is the important point for the hon. Gentleman — by the introduction of a bereavement award of £3,500, that the total sum paid to a widow or widower as an expression of public sympathy has been restored, in real terms, to the value of the adult discretionary limit when it was last raised in 1982. The hon. Gentleman referred to the level of personal upkeep deduction. I am glad to tell him that the original proposal—the one that he mentioned in his speech—is one that, subsequently, we have decided not to pursue. Article 7(3) provides that where the victim has died, one fifth of his income shall be assumed to have been spent on his personal upkeep and will be deducted when calculating compensation. It had been proposed to increase that deduction to one quarter, but following representations, particularly from the Police Federation, we decided to retain the current deduction figure at one fifth. As to accidental injuries, the hon. Gentleman was right to refer to article 5(15), which eliminates from the scheme accidental injury sustained in the course of law enforcement unless the applicant can show that when the injury occurred he was taking a risk that was, for him, exceptional. Accidental injuries do not normally form part of a criminal injuries compensation scheme, but the 1977 order provides for compensation to be paid for injuries accidentally sustained when trying to uphold the law. Over recent years, however, case law has extended the interpretation of this provision so that now even a tenuous link between the injury and the act of arresting a criminal is enough to establish an entitlement to compensation. This new exceptional risk requirement had been a feature of the Great Britain scheme since 1979, when for the same reason it had become necessary to restore the original intention of the scheme. Although it is true that the restriction will mostly affect police officers, the number of such cases will undoubtedly be comparatively few, and those officers will be no worse off financially than any other policeman injured during the normal course of duty. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman has said, there are other benefits to which a police officer may be entitled, such as paid sick leave and industrial injuries benefit, and he can take civil action if necessary if another party has been negligent. In an extreme case, when an officer has had to retire early, there are the enhanced pension entitlements and gratuity entitlements which can be paid by the police authority. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North asked whether the introduction of the exceptional risk provision might deter ordinary citizens from helping the police to deal with a crime that they see being committed. We do not consider that that will be the case. The relevant provision of article 5(15) refers to a risk that was exceptional for a person to take at the time of his injury. Helping the police to arrest a criminal or to prevent a crime would not be a normal activity for a member of the public. In those circumstances, the risk taken would be regarded as exceptional in probably all cases, and compensation would be paid. The hon. Gentleman referred to the question of better statistical information in relation to the operation of this order. That is a matter on which I have focused. I think that there is a requirement for improved statistical information. That will be much aided when we have additional computer facilities, which will be made available to the Department. I share the hon. Gentleman's wish for improved statistical reporting on the operation of the criminal compensation scheme. We shall try to make progress with that as soon as the necessary computerisation of the records permits. In answer to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), paragraph 12 of article 5 makes two amendments to the provisions governing compensation for mental impairment. The first requires the injury to be a serious and disabling mental disorder. The medical reports will indicate whether an injury falls into that category and the courts will, in due course, define in case law the forms of mental impairment that will qualify for compensation. I stress that the 1977 order sought to achieve the same effect by imposing a minimum threshold of £1,000 for mental impairment. In practice, that measure alone did not stop compensation being awarded for relatively minor or transient psychiatric conditions. In this order, we seek to restore the original intention of the previous legislation. I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster that I shall examine the case to which he referred and I shall write to him on how the provisions in this order will affect that case.
At Question Time, the Prime Minister told me that there would be an investigation into the great tragedy in the centre of Belfast. Will the Minister ensure that the people making the inquiries inquire into the case described by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) because there is serious concern in Belfast that the security gates involved in the incident were manned by a person of Mr. Brophy's character and pedigree?
I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said and I shall take account of his comments.Question put and agreed to.Resolved, That the draft Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.
Statutory Instruments, &C
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Drug Trafficking Offences (Enforcement in England and Wales) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.
That the draft Statistics of Trade and Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 28th January, be approved. — [Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]
Question agreed to.
National Health Service
I seek leave to present a petition from patients, relatives, health care workers and friends of Guy's hospital in my constituency of Southwark and Bermondsey. The petition was brought here by nurses representing all the nurses' unions: the Royal College of Nursing — in a slightly different category—the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National Union of Public Employees. The 1,250 signatures have been collected over the past week. The petition is aimed at influencing the Government to be more supportive of the Health Service at this time of crisis. It ends with this prayer, which those who signed it feel strongly should be taken into account by the Government in the coming days and weeks: Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will do everything in its power to urge the Government to show its support for the proper provision of health care in this country by taking action to maintain the standard of provision of service by and to improve the level of staffing in the National Health Service.I hope that that will meet with a welcoming response from Ministers and that the concern expressed by my petitioners and many like them will be met by the Government sooner rather than later.To lie upon the Table.
Government Data Network
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the question of the Government data network. I begin by declaring an interest, as a consultant to the Electronic Engineering Association. It was through my work with that body that I became aware of the existence of the project, although I should add that I have no connection with any of the companies bidding for the contract. Indeed, I am sure that the EEA is strictly neutral and simply takes a benevolent interest in the project as a whole.Having become aware of the project, I was surprised to find that the reaction to it in certain parts of the House and the media was rather negative. When I understood the concept, it struck me as having exciting rather than frightening potential. It also appeared to be an example of how a Government decision could be directly beneficial to British industry. I take this opportunity to look at the matter in a more positive light. Obviously, I should like to examine with my right hon. Friend the Minister the doubts that have been expressed and to probe the Government's commitment to the project. I had better confess that I am not a technical expert, far less a computer wizard. I can only try to explain in lay language what I understand the Government's data network to be — that is, a new and advanced communications medium. I understand that one should try to imagine a system of pipework, perhaps reminiscent of some examples of modern architecture, through which information invisibly flows. Secondly, it is a medium that several Government Departments can share. I understand that the initial thinking is that four Departments would be involved—the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security. But the network would have the potential for others to be incorporated in due course. The third feature of the GDN is that it would be supplied and serviced by an independent contractor. Discussion and examination of the project has advanced to the point where there are three contenders. In no particular order, they are the Computer Sciences Company working with British Telecom, Racal-Scicon Ltd. and Cable and Wireless working with ICL. In simple broad terms, that is what GDN is all about. It is not somehow the apparatus of a police state, of which we should beware. It is plainly and simply an up-to-date means of conveying information. Nor is it an arrangement that poses an inherently greater threat to privacy, about which, naturally, we should have some regard. It is just as easy to pass a manilla file of information at the moment, and no greater ease is provided by going for a sophisticated electronic network of this kind. There are a number of important advantages in the Government contemplating this step. The first is that the GDN implies a large network with a considerable capacity. It could probably support, in the early stages, as many as 100,000 terminals. Such an installation would enable the Government to cater for their communications needs for some long way ahead. By the very nature of things, demand will inevitably rise. The GDN will give the Government the basics of a system capable of almost limitless expansion and with considerable built-in versatility. In the future, one simple connection point could serve all the communications needs of voice, computers, telex, facsimile machines and video conferencing. All the things which today require separate and therefore more costly and less flexible circuits will be linked to just one all-purpose communications medium. The second advantage of GDN is adaptability. The Government have already made a commitment to an international standard known as open systems interconnection, which offers the means of connecting a whole host of information technology equipment from different suppliers on to one single communications system. Therefore, GDN offers a unique opportunity to put this commitment into action. Thirdly, GDN offers the Government the prospect of considerable cost savings. The Government would be avoiding a huge capital outlay by utilising private sector investment in the implementation and operation of the network. They would be equipping themselves with a service which is expected to be cheaper to use. The Government are already heavily involved in using publicly available services for transfer of information. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General will probably be able to confirm that the costs to Government have been rising remorselessly as the volume of transactions has increased. It is probably difficult for an exact cost figure to be estimated at the present time, but I noticed that a figure of £300 million over 10 years was mentioned in a discussion on the "World at One" programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday. It is not really fair to apply that figure to the Government data network. I believe that the figure originates from a guesstimate by the Treasury's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency of what it might cost the four Departments that could be linked in a GDN, if they were to go about making their own individual provision. The essential point to remember in trying to understand the scale of cost is that the Government would be procuring a service rather than a system. The fourth advantage for the Government to proceed down that road is that there would be a saving in the problem of attracting skilled personnel into the Government service. The Government service would find it difficult to compete on salary scales with the private sector. The approach of a privately implemented GDN overcomes the significant skill shortage in Government, especially in telecommunications design and network management. Equally, I understand that the adoption of a GDN would not pose any significant threat to existing jobs in the Government service. Fifthly, there is a positive attraction to the Government in having private sector input. A major advantage, therefore, would be the fulfilment of one of the Government's prime objectives — to encourage private sector investment in public service. There would also be a competitive element, and not only now when the project is at the tendering stage; if it comes into being, there would still be a competitive element in operation because Government Departments would not be forced to use the service, if it did not yield a cost advantage over already publicly available alternatives. A less direct but none the less important benefit to flow from the Government's adoption of a GDN is that it would give a tremendous boost to the information technology industry in this country. We have some very good companies which would claim to have a leading edge in technology at the present time. We have some fine technical minds working in the information technology industry in this country, and it would be a great opportunity to exploit that fact at the present time. Therefore, it would be a significant uplift to the industry if the project were to go ahead. Allied to that would be the importance for export potential. I am given to understand that there is vast export potential for such technology. If the Government were to show their confidence in the system, that would be a demonstration to the rest of the world that Britain can make innovative use of advanced technology and much good could flow from that. Finally, in a more prosaic manner, it could be shown that the GDN would allow an all-round improved service. It means quicker access to information for those who operate the systems and are entitled to that information. If hon. Members took up a constituency case with the Department of Health and Social Security, they would not be told that there was a delay because the file would not be found as it travels between Newcastle upon Tyne or Blackpool and the Department in London. Such information could be retrieved much more quickly. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that the system would evolve to become even more customer-friendly by providing a better service in the delivery of benefits to members of the public. I referred to the fact that disadvantages have been perceived by some people in their examination of the project. There is a worry that what it really means is the transfer of data between Departments. This seems to be an abiding fear of the National Council for Civil Liberties. As I understand it, the information of each Department involved in the GDN would travel separately in the system, with electronic protection built in. I believe that the jargon is that each Department would be a closed user group. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that there should be worries about privacy. I hope that my hon. Friend can offer assurances about the relationship of the Data Protection Act 1984 to GDN and also say whether the Data Protection Registrar is satisfied that the GDN creates no new loopholes. As I have already mentioned, if there is a deliberate intention in some part of the Government service to transfer information, almost no method of data storage and transfer is proof against it. But taking information out of GDN in an unauthorised manner or passing a document would arguably be more difficult than anything else one could think of. Banks use data communication systems, and they have great regard for privacy. Security is the allied problem. It raises the wider question of whether people outside the Government service could tap into information. I believe that that risk can be countered by messages being scrambled within the system. However, I imagine that security forms a major part of the specification that the Government would insist that tenderers should meet before taking the project further. Then there is the question of a strike threat to the system. Again, I understand that, once the network has been created, it is difficult to pull the plug, so to speak. In any case, as the network does not hold information but is a means of transferring it, there would still be other ways of communication if for any reason something went wrong with the GDN. Looking at the balance of advantages and disadvantages, I believe that the Government should go ahead with the GDN when they are satisfied that adequate safeguards are in place. Generally speaking, the Government should take advantage of modern technology where they can, especially if they can back a significant portion of British industry at the same time. My impression of Government Departments over the years has been that they are often reluctant to embrace new technology and that they trail behind others in taking it on, when Government ought to be in the van, setting an example. The GDN seems to present a golden opportunity for the Government to place their internal data communications on an advanced footing. I am encouraged by the news that invitations to tender have been issued today, I understand. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm the Government's commitment and enthusiasm for the development of the project and promise an early decision when the tenders have been returned and examined. I believe that this is an opportunity which we should not throw away.
My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) has done the House a service in raising the subject of the Government data network tonight, and I am grateful to him for the opportunity to discuss what I shall henceforth call the GDN. It is a major and innovative project. If it goes ahead, it will bring widespread benefits both within Government and, I believe, in the private sector.Yet, regrettably, there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the project in the press and elsewhere. My hon. Friend is very well informed on the technical and policy aspects of the project and has given me the opportunity both to explain the project to the House and to set the record straight—a process to which he has made his own contribution. The GDN is an exciting project, and my hon. Friend's speech was a bullish one, full of enthusiasm. I share that enthusiasm, but it is also the lot of a Treasury Minister to point out hard realities. So, before we all get carried away with euphoria, I must make it absolutely clear that at this stage the GDN is a proposal, and no more. There is a clear need for data communications within Government, and I shall say more about this shortly. The GDN looks to be a good way of meeting this need. We now know that it is a technically feasible route. The four Departments—Customs and Excise, the Department of Health and Social Security, the Home Office and the Inland Revenue — and the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency have recently signed memoranda of agreement with the three potential suppliers, identified by my hon. Friend: Computer Sciences Company with British Telecom, Cable and Wireless with International Computers Ltd. and Racal-Scicon Ltd. This is basically an agreement that each supplier's offering meets at least the minimum requirements set out by the Government. But the acid test is financial. The Government have clearly stated that the final decision on whether the GDN goes ahead will be made on the basis of whether it offers better value for money, over the life of the project, than the alternatives. As my hon. Friend said, invitations have been issued to the three potential suppliers to tender for the GDN. All are well aware that if they are to succeed they must produce bids which are keenly priced, and which take full advantage of the growth potential of the GDN. They are also quite clear about the risks involved in bidding for a project that has yet to be approved. It is now up to them to ensure that the GDN moves from being an attractive technical proposition to being a commercial reality. Why do we need a GDN at all? To answer that question we need to look at what the future holds. Information technology is now being used to support a much wider range of tasks, and that will increase in the future. In 1987, the number of terminals in Departments was about 65,000. Their plans indicate a figure of 155,000 by 1992, with a likely growth to 240,000 by 1995. By the turn of the century, possibly 350,000 terminals could be in use on desks in Government Departments. This huge and sustained investment is directed to one purpose: improving the quality and efficiency of Government business. However, effective data communication is an essential part of achieving this progress. It provides the bridge between geographically dispersed offices—for example, in the Inland Revenue—and central processing sites. It also provides the means of communicating between the many different computer systems within each Department. Often, to do a job effectively, an individual will require access to data from a variety of different systems within the Department. Data communication makes it possible for that individual to access those systems from a single terminal on his or her desk, rather than having to peregrinate using a multitude of different pieces of hardware. That objective is clearly reflected in the IT strategies of Departments, particularly those, such as the DHSS, with large dispersed organisations dealing with members of the public. A GDN is one way of providing that data communications infrastructure. Its attractions are that, first, it makes the best use of scarce technical skills within Government; secondly, it shares circuits and switches to minimise capital costs and to make the best use of capacity; and, thirdly, by placing the implementation and operation of the network within a private sector supplier, it avoids distracting Departments from their mainstream objectives to the provision of services which, though essential, are incidental to the work of Government. The role of Government so far has been to set out their requirements, and to encourage suppliers to come forward to meet those requirements. I know that all three potential suppliers believe that the GDN makes sound business and commercial sense for Government. I think that they also have an eye to the wider commercial opportunities, both in this country and abroad, that successful implementation of a GDN would open up for them. That is why they have all invested so much time and effort in preparing to bid for the project. It is now up to them to translate the potential advantages of a GDN into bids that make convincing economic sense for Government. I mentioned a few moments ago the advantages of sharing circuits and switches. That brings me to an area that has caused much confusion and misunderstanding —that of security and privacy. My hon. Friend rightly spent much of his time on this, and invited me to deal with it in my reply. I am happy to do so. Let me make one point absolutely clear at the outset. The GDN project provides for the sharing of circuits and switches because this makes economic sense. It does not provide some huge computing facility for the whole of Government; and it does not provide open access by Departments to each other's data. I will return to this later. The importance of security for GDN was recognised at an early stage of the project. Consultations took place with the relevant bodies, such as the Data Protection Registrar, and with computer security experts within Government and from the IT industry. The security policy for the network, together with the implementation plan, has been established using specialist advice. Security of data transmitted over a network is basically concerned with three things: first, data must arrive where it is intended to arrive, and nowhere else; secondly, it must arrive as it was sent, and not be corrupted in transmission; and, thirdly, it must not be accessed in transit by unauthorised people. No system can be completely secure; absolute security would be both prohibitively expensive and impractical to use. The security planned to be built into the GDN is designed to provide adequate protection for the applications likely to use the network, but it is not designed to handle nationally classified data. The responsibility for determining whether security is adequate for any particular application rests with the owner of the data in the Department concerned. If a Department considers that the GDN does not offer sufficient security for a particularly sensitive application, it must consider additional security measures, such as encryption. Conversely, any Department connecting to the network must have in place adequate security measures of its own to ensure both the integrity of its own data and that it will not put at risk the data of other users. There will be clear guidelines about the level of security required of departmental systems before they are allowed to connect to the GDN. It will be a central responsibility to ensure that these are respected. Privacy is a related issue. It is about avoiding unauthorised access to data. This can occur through unauthorised access — commonly known as hacking —into the network and the systems using it; but it can also occur as a result of access to data by authorised users of the network who are, however, not entitled to have access to those particular data. The owners of data must ensure that all access to their data is properly authorised. As I have said, a GDN does not involve sharing of data between Departments. Nor does it affect the srrangements for controlling and authorising access laid down by statute or regulation or in the form of undertakings given to Parliament. In fact, it strengthens those arrangements in two ways. First, it will require Departments to write down clear rules on what authorisations may be given, who is empowered to give them, and the audit trails to record access to any particular data. One recent example, which my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary announced to the House in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. Mackay) on 27 October last year, was the compilation of access rules for the Inland Revenue's new computer system to modernise and improve tax collection, known as the BROCS project. Secondly, it will provide information on connections and traffic volumes and maintain control over who is allowed to connect to which computer. These two factors apply whether the access is to data within a Department or to that held by another Department. I can understand fears of the "big brother" syndrome, though I do not agree with them. For this syndrome to occur, there would have to be a wilful disregard of parliamentary control by users of the network, which I, my Government colleagues and, I believe, the civil servants who work in Departments would not be prepared to tolerate for one instant. This is true whether we have a GDN or not, or indeed whether we use computers or not. In designing the arrangements for security and privacy for the GDN project, we have drawn on the most appropriate technical expertise available in both Government and the private sector. We have also fully involved the Data Protection Registrar. I met him personally last year to discuss these issues, and have ensured that he is kept fully in touch with our plans, and is content with them. In this field, I believe that the GDN project is setting standards for other networks that we can be proud of. As my hon. Friend said, the GDN is an exciting project. I have been very impressed by the way in which the companies involved have come forward and addressed its technical and commercial challenges. On the technical side, the proof of this has been the signing of the memoranda of agreement on 11 January. The invitations to tender went to all three consortia today, as my hon. Friend said. The ground is now set for a good commercial competition. I look forward to the outcome, and hope that the results allow the GDN to go ahead by showing that it provides value for money in meeting the Government's data communication needs. Finally, I thank my hon. Friend for possibly having contributed to the creation of a parliamentary record by allowing me to speak. In the past three parliamentary days, all five Treasury Ministers have spoken from the Dispatch Box without taking part in a Committee and without answering oral questions as a Department. That might possibly be a record.Question put and agreed to.Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Eleven o'clock.