Orders of the Day — Surrey County Council Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th February 1931.

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Photo of Mr Oswald Lewis Mr Oswald Lewis , Colchester

The Bill to which we are asked to give a Second Reading contains no fewer than 161 Clauses and some four Schedules. It is obvious that one cannot draw up a Bill with all those Clauses without introducing some item that would be objected to by different Members or different sections of this House. But those who object to this Bill have to show rather more than a justifiable criticism of certain items. That is a matter for the Committee stage, and no doubt a Bill of this length will receive, if it gets to Committee, very careful consideration at that stage.

But the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) goes a great deal further than that, because, if it is proceeded with, it is tantamount to a rejection of this Bill, and I submit that, to justify that, the supporters of that Amendment have to show not detailed criticism of certain parts, but reasonable objection to the main principles of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford referred on more than one occasion to the fact that, no matter how important a local authority might be, regional planning should be more properly a matter of national concern, and he seemed afraid to throw further responsibility on even an important local authority. But we have so much business before us in this House—and that business tends to increase from year to year—that surely it is obvious that more important functions will have to be entrusted to local authorities in the future than in the past. That does not seem to me to be a valid objection to this Bill.

As to the interesting nature of the principles which this Bill sets out to achieve, the promoters of the Bill, influenced no doubt by the fact that it is such a long measure, have sent us all a copy of a statement in support of the Second Reading in which they summarise the principles of the Bill. Obviously, there are two considerations on that. The first is, does that summary fairly represent the contents of the Bill? I think those hon. Members who have looked through the Bill will agree with me that, on the whole, the summary is a very fair statement of the main provisions of the Bill. The second point is: Are they principles which can reasonably be commended to the consideration of this House in order that the Bill may have a Second Reading? I will not read the whole statement, though it is not a very long one, but I will just draw the attention of the House to the general nature of the provisions, that are therein set out. For example, we have: Powers with respect to the Norbury Park Estate bought by the Council in order to save it from ruin by undesirable building operations.The prevention of indiscriminate dumping of caravans and other movable structures.The prevention of ribbon development along county roads.The preservation of woodlands. I think that those objects might fairly be summarised as an endeavour to preserve the amenities of the county for the benefit of the general public, and to preserve them from the wilful or careless damage of a few. At any rate those hon. Members who agree with that description of the objects of the Bill, will agree that the Bill is worthy of a Second Reading. If there are any who think that that description is not a fair one, I suggest for their consideration the fact that, though only a few of us may live in Surrey, everyone in this House visits Surrey at some time or other, and I defy any Member who visits the county, even only occasionally, to deny that the amenities of the county are being rapidly spoiled. It may be urged that the powers required to preserve these amenities are powers that ought not to be required. I am inclined to agree with that view. The trouble of course is the terrible badness of public manners in this respect. The remedy for this kind of thing is an enlightened public opinion, informed by education. But that is a slow business and this is a very urgent problem.

If public opinion in years to come is more enlightened than that of to-day, so that the necessity for such measures would no longer be so great, it would then be impossible to put back the beauties that had been destroyed in the meantime. Therefore, however those of us who are inclined to dislike any extension of public control over the individual may consider carefully the provisions of the Bill in Committee, on the general question of control versus public opinion, we must on this occasion vote for control on the ground of urgency, if on that ground alone. To sum up: The beauty of our countryside is in some sense a national possession. It is a possession of very great value. When a measure is laid before us designed to preserve beauty, we ought at least to see that such a measure is carefully examined, and in order that a measure of this kind may have careful and detailed examination it is necessary that it should have a Second Reading. I therefore hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) will not insist upon his. Amendment. If he does insist upon it, I shall vote against it.