Orders of the Day — Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Powers)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th March 1965.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ifor Davies.]

9.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I wish to draw attention to the powers of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I was ruled out of order by you, Mr. Speaker, when after 27 Questions to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on 21st December last year, and in a state of confusion at the Answers given, I did a revolutionary thing and transgressed against the rules of this House. Instead of saying that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I should endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment, I said: In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Answers to the last 27 Questions, I beg to give notice that I shall raise these matters again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 848.] Now that my chance of doing so has come I am not a great deal clearer about what are the powers of the Ministry, but I notice with pleasure the presence of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and that its power, or lack of power, has been delegated to the hon. Gentleman.

We first see the poetic scene where the Ministry has taken over Gwydor House—if I mispronounce the name I hope that I shall be forgiven—the former home of the Minister without Portfolio, which I think would be an apt title for the existing incumbent. When last I inquired there was no internal—telephone directory to the Department. I am not sure about the state of the lift. I understand that at the end of last year there was a staff of 100 civil servants in the Department. From further questioning we find that in the few months which have elapsed since then the staff has increased by 50 per cent., probably the greatest increase of any Civil Service Department known in this country and I at least can congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Freind on that.

We should like to know what these people are doing. I must be careful not to transgress the rules of order, having already taken some liberties with them on a previous occasion. We know that there is a Land Commission in the making. There are two Parliamentary Secretaries, both very distinguished, Lord Mitchison in another place and a Parliamentary Secretary in this House. So, for three Ministers we have a staff of 152. That means that there are even more Ministers per civil servant than there are admirals to vessels in the fleet. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House frequently talk about the admiral-vessel ratio. I should have thought that this could have been brought to their attention.

Various Questions have been asked both times when the Minister has answered at Question Time. On the question of land use, unless I misunderstood him, the Minister said on both occasions that a study about land use is in progress, but, as yet, there is nothing to report. One cannot necessarily complain about that. One wants to be reasonable. Land reclamation is also a problem. After all, we have a Minister, not of Cabinet rank, for whom a whole Department has been created, so one expects to ask the Minister for a progress report about how he is getting on with the study of land use and of land reclamation, particularly in view of another problem—that the Minister is in charge of waters, but not of rivers.

There is a water supply problem, which, I think, in 10 or 15 years, will be very much more acute than it is at present. I should have thought that he could consider control of barrages in the Severn and in other estuaries such as Morecambe, as well as the matter of land reclamation. I am aware that he is studying this difficult problem.

He should consider land reclamation in estuaries and land reclamation from industrial waste. I put a Question on this point on 21st December. I asked the Minister what powers he possessed and what action he was taking over the use of surplus railway land. We know that under the 1923 reorganisation scheme, many of the smaller lines were brought together in what we called the four regions. Under the 1947 Act these were turned into regions of British Railways rather than separate railways, so that instead of four railways, each with—I am sorry to see the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) laughing. This is a matter of very great importance. Much surplus property in the centre of these towns could be used to benefit the citizen and land could be released in the centre of towns for domestic as well as office purposes. This is something over which, I regret, the Minister has no powers. It is a matter of great importance and I have noticed that it is one for which the Minister of Housing has responsibility.

The right hon. Gentleman's title, which is difficult to understand, is Minister of Land and Natural Resources. What about the land? What about the natural resources? Questions were asked both yesterday and on 21st December about his rôle. First of all, he was asked about minerals. He made a statement on what he is doing about minerals, and then said that he was not in charge of the Geological Survey. We know, anyway, that he does not control the coal industry, because that is in the hands of the Ministry of Power. The gas industry is also in the hands of that Ministry.

Responsibility for the North Sea, I understand, is divided between the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Transport. Responsibility for sand and gravel is divided between the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Ministry of Housing. Responsibility for sewage, whoever may want it—it can be called a natural resource—is not easily defined. Sport and the National Environmental Council are matters for the Department of Education and Science. Planning comes under the Ministry of Housing. Land planning and regional planning are matters for the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs who, as far as I can recollect, has not come to the House to answer Questions both times that he has been first on the Order Paper to answer Questions.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) is here, for he is one of the hon. Members who asked Questions on this subject recently. Five of my hon. Friends from the South-West asked specifically what plans were being developed by the Minister in the South-West. When it comes to regional planning it is difficult to understand what powers, if any, this Minister possesses. I understand from questions asked of the Prime Minister that the Department possesses no powers in Scotland. I am a little uncertain what powers the Department has in Ulster and even more uncertain what powers it has in the Principality of Wales, let alone the Kingdom of Fife, which is ruled out because it comes within Scotland.

Probably the better title, if it is not to be Minister without Portfolio, which is by far the most apt title which could possibly be given to the Minister, is Minister of National Parks. The Minister was asked Questions on this subject yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson), my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), and these are reported in columns 1, 7 and 10 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Minister seemed to have very little to report to the House on what progress there had been.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I asked two Questions, and I was very well satisfied with the account given of a real progress which we have not had for a long time.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

The hon. Member is always a man—I should say a gentleman, because to call him a man may be an abuse of Parliamentary expression—who is very easy to please. His hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told him, I quite agree with my hon. Friend. The amenity and beauty aspects here are very much present in our minds.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 2.] If the hon. Member is satisfied with that assurance, he is very easy to please.

Now that there is a single Minister for Land and Natural Resources, we expect action from him. I think that it would be right to amend the National Parks Act, about which we are told there will be a statement in due course, and to acknowledge the fact that in respect of the Parks there should be a single planning authority. At present there is a division of opinion between two. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend are always placed in that most difficult and dangerous position in political life—that of being a conciliator and a co-ordinator. If one is in that position without powers, heaven help one. It is the most difficult situation which can arise.

I understand that a review has been instituted. I also understand, although we are not sure of the details, that financial assistance is to be provided. But I am not sure about the powers which the Minister possesses in respect of the National Trust. This is something which would commend itself to the House. Many of my hon. Friends and many hon. Members opposite take a great interest in old properties and old buildings of historic interest. Will the Minister tell me anything on this subject?

There is a reference in column 10 of the OFFICIAL REPORT to the development of forestry land. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West asked the Parliametary Secretary what was the acreage of forestry land to be planted this year. We have a brand new Ministry. We have been given figures for the hundred dynamic days. But the average number of acres planted over the last five years is 59,000. This year, in the great step forward, 53,000 acres are to be planted. We in the South-West are particularly interested to know what the Minister will do to help provide marketing outlets for the inferior wood which is produced. Not all the wood in the South-West is quality wood. We are interested in outlets for chipboard from the South-West. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro is particularly interested in this matter.

On the problem of minerals, Question No. 15 yesterday asked what survey was being made into mineral resources. We were told that there would be an economic survey but not a geological survey because the latter was not within the ambit of the Ministry concerned.

There is then the question of land reclamation and water. Although I do not see any here tonight, a number of hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies asked particularly about industrial waste land in Wales and what was being done about it. I appreciate that the problem of subsidence is one of great difficulty in the mining areas. I suggest to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that something could be done about this and that action could be taken in areas where it is worth doing something. I agree that we should not waste money, but I hope that he will consider this matter and I look forward to receiving a statement on land use very shortly.

While we are awaiting details of the Land Commission, will the supply of land dry up and is there likely to be a shortage of land for building purposes? I wish to keep within the rules of order and I know that to anticipate legislation would put me out of order. It is commonly known that the real reason for the establishment of the Department is the Land Commission and, in anticipation of it, I mention that in the Bristol region the supply of land is slowing, builders are less anxious to come forward with proposals for developing land and this is creating considerable difficulty.

I commend to the Minister that where local authorities have secured land in anticipation of their requirements—as a result of sound prudence; and many local authorities have been wise in doing this—he should give an undertaking that they will not be penalised for their foresight.

I was not sure how much time would be available for this debate tonight and how far this matter would be relevant to our discussion, but I press on the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the case which I raised with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health about the development and purchase of land in advance of use for a hospital in Weston-super-Mare. It is a matter of great constituency interest to me. I took a deputation from the hospital management committee to the Ministry last summer, under different auspices. I apologise for not having given the Joint Parliamentary Secretary sufficient notice about this but, as I said, I did not know whether I would have time to develop this theme. However, when I asked his right hon. Friend if he would meet a deputation from the local authority of Weston-super-Mare he declined to accept because, he said, he could find no useful purpose in doing so.

I appreciate that all hon. Members want more hospitals in their areas. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro is doing quite well in this respect in his constituency. We think in my constituency that we have a case. We got an assurance from the former Minister that we would have the right to purchase land in advance of use. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say that he will look into the matter and urge his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to be kind to Weston-super-Mare on this issue.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he recall that land was purchased by the Labour-controlled City Council of Bristol for the purpose of building a corporation housing estate but that when his hon. and right hon. Friends got into power a year or two later they sold it back to private enterprise?

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to develop that point. If he comes to Weston-super-Mare I will be glad to show him the property which is at stake. We have hospital problems. I hope that if he comes and sees these things he will be able to put some pressure on his right hon. Friend to help us solve these problems.

I come back to the fact that we have established by Questions that the Minister does not have the powers, but has the very difficult job of trying to conciliate and consult the various Departments—gas and coal, North Sea, sand and gravel, sports, national environment, land planning Scotland, Ulster and Wales. We know what happened when Neville Chamberlain was made Minister of National Service—[Interruption.]—I am being quite fair about this, and as no Liberal Members are present, none will be offended to know that Neville Chamberlain was appointed to be Minister of National Service by Lloyd George in 1916. He was not a Member of this House, but had to try to co-ordinate the various Departments of State. I am not sure whether he was in the Cabinet, but I am certain that he was not an elected Member of the House. His chances of successful co-ordination were nil, and after 18 months he resigned.

I am not pressing for the Minister's resignation—I am sure that he has done well at the job allocated to him, which is nil. I simply state that we know of no powers that he possesses, and I cannot see how a Minister who has no powers and is not a member of the Cabinet can have any authority in consultation between the various bodies, or where Cabinet Ministers are concerned. How will the Minister knock the heads of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales together? What about the Minister of Housing, and the Minister of Power?

When I came out last week from hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) moving an impassioned Prayer I went out of desperation to the Library to see what powers the Minister had. I looked in a book trough there, and saw "Education Today and Tomorrow", published and printed by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. It struck me as significant that on the cover was shown a black blank blackboard.

9.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I regret the rather tedious and slight tone of the comments of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), although I am very pleased that by initiating this debate he has given us an opportunity to discuss a very serious matter, and one of real importance in which I know many hon. Members take a real interest. I cannot honestly say, however, that it appeared from what he has said that he is one of those who has taken a particular interest in this subject up to now.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's requests for better treatment of Questions would be for him to attend at Question Time, when he might be able to get an Oral Answer. Some of us took that trouble on the last occasion, but we were disappointed because the hon. Member was not present—

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did attend Question Time on the last occasion, and I was prevented from doing so yesterday only by family reasons. The hon. Gentleman may remember that on the previous occasion I was so dissatisfied that I stated that because the Answers to 27 Questions were so unsatisfactory, I proposed to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

What the hon. Gentleman says displays his attitude to what we regard as quite an important matter. I might also say that several of his remarks during the course of an interesting but rather slight speech displayed a quite considerable ignorance of his subject. For example, he spoke of my right hon. Friend's responsibility towards the National Trust, but the National Trust is a private body.

As a member of the executive of the National Trust, I am very conscious of the fact that it is very anxious—no doubt, very properly—to insist upon its completely private nature, and separation from any kind of national interference. It has done a remarkable job and is undertaking very important work in future in connection with the protection of the coastline. It hopes, and I am sure that it is right in so hoping, that it is to have the support and encouragement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in its efforts to make further headway with the protection of our coastline.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

Perhaps this is a point where I might say that the National Trust has taken a great initiative in Cornwall in acquiring much of the coastline and securing covenants to prevent building or unnecessary development in other sections of the coast.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

As this has been mentioned, may I point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Sir G. Wills) raised this point yesterday and asked what steps are being taken. The answer was one which certainly has not satisfied us on this side of the House.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I can only repeat that, in future, if the hon. Member wishes to follow up his Questions in the House, there is the normal procedure of attending the Chamber, when no doubt he will have the same opportunity as some of us who took the chance on Monday had.

Another matter which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare raised and which, I feel, displays an ignorance which he shares with his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) and, therefore, is perhaps not to be blamed too much, is in connection with National Parks and their administration. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South at Question Time yesterday, and it was again mentioned in the Chamber tonight, that National Parks should be brought under a single planning authority, an attitude with which I thoroughly agree.

I welcome the hon. Member's interest in the subject. The Administration which I happened to be associated with in times past, in initially establishing some of the National Parks, insisted upon single authorities having power over National Parks. For example, the Peak District National Park, the first to be established, was established as a single planning authority. The next authority to come up for consideration was Snowdonia. Although there was strong pressure from Wales, the late Hugh Dalton nevertheless said that he wished there also to establish a single planning authority. But the Government of that day left office before the matter could be completed and the new Minister, from the Conservative Administration, altered the Order and agreed to what is called an advisory committee being established for Snowdonia.

That procedure has been followed in a number of cases since then, in particular, in the Yorkshire Dales. It was always made clear by the Labour Administration that this was not a procedure which we welcomed, although in certain emergency cases we envisaged it under extreme pressure.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

The hon. Member is fond of accusing everybody else of being ignorant. Perhaps I can explain to him some rather elementary facts. The Town and Country Planning Act, the only authority for this, empowers the Minister to require joint planning boards. I hope that the hon. Member, who is a liberal-minded man, will agree that where one has a park which stretches across county boundaries, and the county planning authorities make clear that a joint planning board of those authorities is not likely to work, there is at least a case for having something that will work rather than forcing things on those authorities.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

What I cannot understand, after that intervention, is why the hon. Gentleman should now be arguing that there ought to be a single planning authority when, as I have said, the Administration which he supported—I cannot remember whether he was in the House at the time—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Howie.]

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

The Administration which the hon. Gentleman supported insisted upon this advisory procedure being followed.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Yes, this is so. I was in the House at the time and I remember very well the disputes which took place and how long and difficult they were.

I also remember how many of us protested at the time about the Snowdonia Advisory Committee, the Yorkshire Dales Advisory Committee and the other advisory committees which were appointed, against the wishes of the National Parks Commission which, in each case, urged that this procedure be not used. However, the Commission's views were overriden by the Government at the time and the advisory committee procedure was established.

I am delighted that hon. Members opposite are now convinced that this was a wrong course to take and that a single planning authority should be established. I welcome this, and I hope that, when my right hon. Friend introduces legislation, we shall have the support of the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Division Lobby, should this be necessary, although I am sure that one would hope that this will not be a matter on which divisions need take place.

My purpose in speaking is mainly to call attention to certain matters on which I hope that my right hon. Friend will take action during the coming weeks and months because of their growing urgency. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, whose sole purpose in initiating these debates seems to be to make general fun of the whole scheme, I take the view that we have here some serious problems and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has been appointed to give special consideration to them.

First, I call attention to the need for a proper survey to be made into the use of land for recreational purposes. I happen to be chairing a study group which has been set up to examine this matter with some care and to report to a conference to be held this autumn on the whole subject of the countryside in the 1970s. In this study group we have come up against the difficulty of lack of knowledge of the demands which are being made, the likely trend of demand for recreational uses and the facilities available to meet them.

Apart from anything else, there is urgent need for a proper study of what statutory and common law powers there are for dealing with recreational facilities in the countryside. I have asked my right hon. Friend to investigate this matter, and I express my gratitude to him for arranging for one member of his staff to sit in with us on the study group so that we can keep in close touch on some of these questions.

This is a serious matter of growing importance. I refer hon. Members to the interesting study made by Michael Dower and printed in the Architect's Journal, a study entitled the "The Fourth Wave—The Challenge of Leisure", carried out on behalf of the Civic Trust, in which Mr. Dower makes clear how serious the whole problem of growing pressure on our land resources now is.

It is not a matter for laughter, but one of real importance, because, in the past, the planners have paid too little attention to the needs of recreation in their broad planning surveys and now we are beginning to realise that we need a great deal more information if the whole countryside is not to be overrun and if those who want to enjoy it are to have the opportunity to do so.

In the United States, very detailed studies have been carried out and a large, seven-volume report has been published for the President on the question of recreation and the countryside. We, of course, are not asking for a report of that character, but we do ask for the Ministry's support in helping us to get information on which effective planning can be carried out. Anyone who doubts the importance of this matter has only to turn to that report and see some of the astonishing figures of the way in which various open air pursuits are increasing over the years and have increased, in particular, during the last decade. Most important of all is the enormous increase in the use of water for recreation. That has advanced quite beyond almost any other recreational facility. This is a matter which deserves, quite rightly, our very close attention.

The other matter I want to call my hon. Friend's attention to is one I have already briefly touched upon—that of the National Parks. I do not want to anticipate future legislation, but rather to appeal to him to do what he can administratively. There are many forms of action that he could take administratively which would help us enormously in the interim. In particular, I hope that he will call the attention of local authorities with responsibility for National Parks to the need for staff appointed to take control of planning of the parks as their whole responsibility and to appoint, where required, additional staff. Sometimes it is possible for a joint appointment to be made with other National Park areas. Such appointments can include forestry officers. There is much in this way that could be done in preparation for the legislation amending the Act.

While I regret that the debate was opened in rather a trivial and lighthearted manner, I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that many of us are seriously concerned with the problems that he is responsible for and are glad that at last we have a Minister and Parliamentary Secretaries with responsibility for them.

10.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) has stressed that these are serious matters and, of course, they are. They are much too serious to be administered in a way we believe to be thoroughly ineffective and inefficient. He is very fond of accusing everybody else of ignorance. There is an old saying that that is the last resort of people with nothing else to say.

However that may be, I would put it to him that he was, in effect, saying that we were wrong, in dealing with joint planning boards and National Parks, to try to reach voluntary agreement between the various local planning authorities and that it is right to risk having an inefficient board running National Parks which cross county boundaries in order to reach the admittedly ideal situation of having a single planning board per park. It was noticeable yesterday at Question Time that although the Minister was careful to say that he would bear this in mind he did not say that he would legislate for it.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman has really had long enough.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether he thinks that local planning authorities who are not prepared to co-operate should be forced to do so, because that is the root of the matter.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that he does not believe in a single authority?

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

No. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen. My opportunity has been curtailed by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). The Parliamentary Secretary will have to blame him if he is left a little short of time, but I want to take the opportunity to refer to some of our debates on this subject.

When we debated the Transfer of Functions Order last week the Minister said that he would like to know where the Opposition stood on this matter. I will do my best to tell him. We recognise, as anybody must, that land is absolutely fundamental to our economy and to our way of life, but we also have the sense to realise that, simply because it is fundamental, the innumerable responsibilities for land cannot be divided neatly into one little packet and put under one Ministry. That is not possible. However the responsibilities are divided, there will always be overlaps.

This is significant to those of us who know a little about planning. I would be the last to ask the hon. Member for South Shields to read my speeches, because they bore me to tears, and I am sure that they would bore him, but if he will take the trouble to read them, he will see that I have said over and over again that the framework of planning basically is the pattern of communications and the location of industry.

If an attempt is made to devise a planning Ministry, or a land Ministry, to include all these matters and the many other things we can think of, we all know that one has an absolute monstrosity. There are bound to be these divisions and overlapping, but it is essential that, where there is this overlapping, at least the responsibility for the whole of each of the various but recognisable functions should be clear, understandable by the public, and efficient. This is where we attack the Government for this is a set-up which, in our view, cuts right across these basic principles.

When we discussed what was then the Machinery of Government Bill, we were told in specific terms that the right hon. Gentleman was to be responsible for preserving the beauty of the countryside. But when we came to the first Transfer of Function Order the item which was specifically excluded was responsibility for areas of outstanding national beauty outside the National Parks. When we came to the parks themselves, the few provisions which specifically dealt with planning and developments in the parks were excluded for another Ministry.

There is another Order, which we have not yet debated, which provides for water resources to come under the control of the right hon. Gentleman, so that the unfortunate river authorities, which were set up under an Act of a Session or two ago, an Act which was not controversial between the parties, will now have to deal not only with the Ministry of Agriculture on drainage matters, but with the Ministry of Housing on their water undertaking functions and, in addition, with the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry on matters of conservancy; and, if they are unfortunate enough to straddle the border between the Principality and England, they will also have to deal with the Secretary of State for Wales. In our view, this simply does not make for efficient administration.

There is the same sort of set-up in a number of other things. The other day we had the question of the right hon. Gentleman's responsibilities for minerals and we were told that he had responsibility for availability. However, when I asked a Question about the availability of minerals for the construction industries in the London area, I was told that this was a function of the Minister of Public Building and Works. When one of my hon. Friends asked a Question about the supply of minerals for road building, we were told that this was a responsibility of the Minister of Transport. We now learn from a new Order that, if the rock strata happen to cross the boundary between England and Wales, the Secretary of State for Wales will also be brought in.

The result is that in planning the immensely important supplies of sand and gravel and other aggregates for the construction industries there are the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the Ministry of Transport, the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, the Secretary of State for Wales, and, over all, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has to be asked for planning permission to dig the holes before the supplies can be worked. This must be nonsense.

In the speech of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the Committee stage of the then Machinery of Government Bill we were given a long list of things which are nothing more or less than land use planning. This is why—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will get this clear, although I made it clear the other night, I think—we oppose the setting up of this Ministry and what it is doing because it is not being given responsibilities over anything except the Forestry Commission, which is being transferred to it. The other night the right hon. Gentleman went as far as to say that I had said, in referring to planning, that I wished to take it out of the hands of local government simply because I said that if there was a case for transferring these land functions to him planning, too, should be transferred from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. This is absolute nonsense, and the Parliamentary Secretary knows that it is nonsense.

Probably the biggest function of local authorities, certainly in terms of finance, is education, but do we hold up our hands in horror because it is dealt with by the Department of Education and Science and not the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? Of course not. The same applies to highways, another major function of local authority work which come under the Ministry of Transport. It is nonsense for anybody who claims to be intelligent to say that by transferring planning from the hands of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government the position of local government is undermined.

When the Labour Party was in power, we had a Ministry of Town and Country Planning. But it had nothing to do with local government, which was administered by the Ministry of Health. Yet it was precisely at that time that the county councils and the county boroughs were made local planning authorities. I hope that we shall not have this sort of nonsense again.

I hope that I have made it clear that our objection to this Ministry is not necessarily its existence. I am prepared to admit that there is a case for rehashing the various land use and economic planning functions. One can make a case for that. But the Government have made the wrong case because they have divided what they call strategic planning, economic planning and land use planning and the availability of minerals from a very vague and non-understandable collection of duties which are part water, part mineral, part National Parks. Nothing is complete and therefore, in our view, nothing is likely to be efficient. It is our duty as an Opposition to draw the country's attention to something which is, if not a complete waste of the country's resources, a very inefficient use of them.

10.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

I should like to express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on having been successful in raising this matter, although I do not think I have any great cause to thank him for the subject matter of his speech. I am perhaps immodest enough also to have wished that I might have been able to detain the House for longer than the 10 or 11 minutes available to me, because I shall not be able to get through all that I should have liked to have said about the powers and functions of the new Ministry. However, I am sure that the House will understand that this is an occasion on which hon. Members have the first say, and I will try to supplement the debate as far as I can with as much information as possible in the limited time.

I am interested that both the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare and Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) seemed to be concerned as to whether the Ministry had sufficient powers. Indeed, one could say that they would like to see us have more powers. I hope very much that when we consider the various transfer of function Orders and any other proposed changes we shall get their support.

I think that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about this matter. This is nobody's fault, because this is one of the first opportunities we have had of discussing the functions of the Ministry. I should like to begin from what I consider to be a very basic point. With ever-increasing population pressure in parts of this heavily congested small island and with the obvious need to make the best use of all land and to prevent waste, historians of the future will probably be surprised that it was not until 1965 that there was a national organ for considering land use nationally and for considering all natural resources at a national level. Indeed, my melancholy reflection is how much better it would have been for our countryside and for our development, for the balance between town and country and the prevention of many of the blunders which we have seen in the last few years, had a Ministry of this kind been established even 10 or 20 years ago.

It is true that in 1947 the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, established a land planning Ministry and we took a great step forward, but with its extinction, with the abolition of compensation proposals which were tied up with the system of town planning and public purchase at that time, and with the repeal of large sections of Lord Silkin's Act, the nation appears to have given up purposeful planning at a national level.

What we have done is to leave the local planning authorities to bear a heavy burden largely unco-ordinated. This is one of the reasons why we have got into chaos with overspill, communications and in many other ways. Indeed, this was the very criticism that we made during the time of the last Administration, that there was not sufficient overall planning, certainly on a national level, since the days of the Silkin Act.

We therefore start from the point that it is a great pity that the problem was not solved before. One of the first responsibilities of my right hon. Friend is to deal with what I might describe—using a kind of mental shorthand, because it is not possible to go into all the details—as the long-term strategic planning which I believe to be essential for the future orderly development of the country and the preservation of the balance of town and country.

I want to refer, not for any vulgar partisan purposes, to two small sections in the public statement—the manifesto—that we put before the electors, because this shows the solution that we had in mind and how we have begun. I emphasise that this is only a beginning. We have been in office only three or four months, not 13 years. This is how we saw the problem. On page 11, dealing with regional planning, the manifesto stated: Regional planning is also necessary if we are to solve the problems of slum clearance and overcrowding in our major cities; to carry out a vigorous programme for new town and overspill development, including the proposed new town for Central Wales; to clear up the ugly, scarred face of industrial Britain; to save the countryside from needless despoliation. In a later section of the document—and this will be of particular interest to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop)—we said that a Labour Government would End the present parsimony in the supply of public funds for outdoor recreation; develop the national parks; preserve access to the coast and protect it from pollution and unplanned development. Those were the principles that we put before the electorate and this is the beginning of the implementation of those pledges.

I should like, first, to refer to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 26th November in connection with the setting up of my Ministry. My right hon. Friend said: My right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources will participate in the formulation of the national and regional plans for which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State has overall responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 214.] Therefore, the concept which I very much hope that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare will begin to comprehend—because from his speech tonight he does not appear to have comprehended it—is that within the regional framework which is being established by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Minister will have an extremely important part to play in reflecting national decisions about land policy—that is to say, new towns, industrial expansion, green belts and so on; and to see that the land is generally available for purposes needed by both public and private development, which would cover the kind of personal case to which the hon. Member referred. Although, obviously, I cannot deal with it tonight, I will be glad to have a talk with the hon. Member or to consider the matter further some other time. My right hon. Friend will have an important part to play also in working out in advance by special studies some of the basic factors which we do not know. This is a tremendously important part.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields referred to the need for some detailed studies about the use of recreation—

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

I cannot give way at this stage. I want to be as informative as I can.

As I was saying, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields referred to the need for a study of the amount and type of land that is needed for recreation, and the fact that more people have more leisure, and more opportunities for getting about. Certainly, we shall do what we can to provide this information, and I hope to be in touch with my hon. Friend about it.

In every aspect of this general regional and national problem that we have tackled, we have found a great absence of information. There has been no general mineral survey of this country since 1948. We simply do not know a great deal about our resources, and it is only when a particular concern thinks that there is a chance of profitable exploitation that we get a detailed study.

When we come to land use, we are driven back for most purposes to the Stamp survey made before the war, and there are similar difficulties facing us with regard to water collection and conservation. Not long ago I was sitting next to a distinguished water engineer. I shall not reveal the name of the town, because he gave me this information without expecting it to be made public. It shows that there is a complete lack of data. He told me that his city had been basing its withdrawal of water from the river on data gathered many years ago, which showed the flow of water to be 25 million gallons a day, whereas recently it was found to be only 15 million gallons.

Before one can do anything, one has to get some of the information and some of the facts. Within a regional framework my right hon. Friend is to create these studies. He is to designate land to see that it is available in advance for the development that has to take place. I think that this is an indispensable part of the future orderly development of our country as a whole, in order to deal with the drift from the North to the South, and to develop those parts of the countryside where development is most needed.

Reference has been made to the Land Commission. Obviously, I cannot anticipate the Bill and the White Paper which will be before the House for scrutiny very shortly. I am glad to inform hon. Members of this and to tell the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that this bears very much on the question of the land for a hospital which he wants.

We believe that the Land Commission and the powers to be given to my right hon. Friend as Land Minister are an indispensable instrument in the kind of development which I hope everybody wants to see. Furthermore, the Land Commission and the land powers which my right hon. Friend will secure from the Measure if the House gives it a Second Reading and passes it through its various stages, will, for the first time in a thousand years, bring an element of justice and fair play into the relationship between the owner of the land and those who have to live on it.

There will shortly be an Order before the House dealing with my right hon. Friend's responsibilities for water. I have already said something about the difficulties. My right hon. Friend will be responsible for research into conservation and augmentation of water resources, and indeed the Water Resources Board will report to him. He will appoint the Board, and pay for it. Such estimates as have so far been made of likely future water requirements show that this instrument of gathering the information is vitally necessary. The amount of water that is going to be consumed, not only by individuals but by industry, and indeed by horticulture and agriculture, is staggering, and this will mean national schemes and the mobilisation of various concerns which in the end will be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. This will be an important part of his work.

Under a proper scheme of management, we should have just about sufficient water to meet the forseeable needs, but we can do that only if there are proper links and proper arrangements for areas which have a surplus to supply those areas which have not, and I am afraid that these are fairly large areas indeed.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.