HC Deb 16 February 1972 vol 831 cc398-400
11. Mr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for improving the administration and performance of the national parks.

Mr. Graham Page

My right hon. Friend proposes a series of measures, including an improved committee structure for administering national parks and the appointment of a national park officer and the preparation of comprehensive policies for each park. Ways of increasing the expenditure on national parks are also being considered.

Mr. Clark

I welcome the Minister's comments about improved financial help from the Exchequer. Does he envisage the senior officer of the national parks having chief officer status? If, because of their efficiency, the Peak and Lake District planning boards are to continue, why not reform the whole system along those lines?

Mr. Page

This is a reform in that it will replace the present fragmented committee structure with a single and effective executive committee. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question about the status of the officer, I while not being clear about his grade can say that he will be an important officer able to co-ordinate planning and management activities with the aim of ensuring a greater concentration of effort on national park matters.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the hon. Gentleman give special attention to the need for the increased financial independence of the Countryside Commission? Does he intend to propose an amendment to the Local Government Bill to ensure that the improvements which he wants to see are brought about?

Mr. Page

We had better wait until that stage is reached in Committee on the Bill.

Mr. Crosland

While not being unsympathetic to the objects which I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind, may I ask whether he is aware that there is considerable anxiety in the local government world that, for example, water and sewage activities and parts of the National Health Service are moving out- side the sphere of local government and that local democracy is being taken over by ad hoc regional committees? Am I right in believing that that will be the consequence of the Ministers policy for the national parks?

Mr. Page

Certainly not. The two boards for the Peak District and the Lakes will remain but elsewhere the present structure of two committees—one for each local authority in a multi-county park and then an advisory committee on top of that—will go. An executive committee with two-thirds of the members appointed by the local authorities will take their place and, to that extent, it will be a local authority-controlled committee.