§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Graham.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to readjust the times for the debates today because we have spent three-quarters of an hour of the Adjournment time on other matters. Before I call the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) for the first debate I should inform the House that the debate should finish at 12.35 p.m., and I shall readjust the other times accordingly.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)
I am grateful for this opportunity to bring to your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House a matter that I consider to be of the greatest urgency. Over many years we have considered the question of our heritage, our National Parks. They have been in existence for nearly 25 years, but I shall try to show that we have not managed to legislate sufficiently to allow these parks, which are our heritage and that of our children and grandchildren, to work efficiently.
The urgency exists because relationships between people are deteriorating. The Minister appears to be dissenting from what I have said. I informed you, Mr. Speaker, and your office informed the Department, that as Kinder Scout has been sold to a private person we were widening the scope of the debate, and I received your ruling that that could be done. I also informed the Minister's private office of the points that I would raise today, so as to give the Minister the fullest possible opportunity of answering them.
785 As I was saying, relationships are deteriorating between people who live in the areas of National Parks and the boards, and between National Parks authorities and local authorities. Indeed, I would say that it is extremely difficult for Members of Parliament who have a park in their area to explain to the Department of the Environment the real problems that exist there.
In 1974 there was an excellent report by Lord Sandford, whose name will go down, as will Lord Silkin's, as one of the great benefactors of the National Parks. Although that report was issued in 1974, it was not until 1976, I think on 12th January, that the Government introduced their circular on it. I say that we have had enough. I say that the time has now come to legislate. It is no longer any good talking about giving detailed guidance as soon as possible, as is mentioned in the circular. It is no use referring to the preparation of the necessary legislation as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits. I say that the time has now come to take action—in fact, it is overdue.
The board with which I am particularly concerned is looking after all those who visit its area, but the question is whether, for different reasons, it is able to look after those who live there—a matter that should be the board's prime consideration. Boards should look after those who live in these areas of great natural beauty. I am not saying that the boards are not trying to look after the people who live in their areas but I should like to know whether what is happening is the result of our fault in not legislating, or is the fault of the boards. I hold that it is our fault, because if we were to see that the necessary legislation went through the boards would know exactly where they stood. It is that matter to which I am asking the Minister to put his mind and ensure that the necessary legislation is passed as soon as possible.
The debate that we were originally to have was on the acquisition of land in National Parks. I know that in the guidelines issued by the Government they say, on page 5 at paragraph 22 that the boards should pursue a far more active purchasing policy, but I believe that to be entirely wrong at a time of great national strin- 786 gency. Let me give one example. One village in my constituency, Hayfield, desperately needs a bypass and a new school, yet these projects have been put back for the past five years. How can the people who live in Hayfield understand that they cannot have a bypass and a school when a public authority is prepared to offer £237,000 of public money for a bit of moorland which will not ensure access to even one more member of the public than is provided for under private ownership?
It is no good suggesting that it is not right to acquire land if we do not have an alternative. I believe the alternative to be access management agreements. I know that another hon. Member will join in this debate in a few moments to point out how difficult and expensive they can be. However, management agreements and access orders can conserve our national money for more useful purposes and yet achieve the same result for the public. I refer the Minister to the financial expenditure shown in paragraph 7 of page 2 of the Report of the National Park Policies Review Committee, where it is clearly laid down that boards must use the maximum amount of caution in spending their public money. This is why we should legislate in respect of management agreements and access orders.
I would refer briefly to mineral rights, and the extracting of minerals from National Parks. In a debate in 1948 the late Lord Silkin said we ought to take minerals out of National Parks. Lord Molson, who was the Member for my constituency at the time, said "Do not do it". We in this Chamber have a responsibility to give guidelines to the boards and to the local authorities. We now have the Stevens Report, but every week, for the past year, we have been promised the Verney Report. Will the Minister tell us when that report is coming? We want it, and we need the Government to legislate on this matter.
I believe that this question relates to how much we are paying for a sack of cement. We shall have to take limestone out of certain areas. I do not believe that the boundaries of the parks should be so clearly laid down as not to allow this because the limestone is a few yards on the wrong side. If the extraction of limestone from just within the boundary is not 787 allowed it will have to be extracted from somewhere just as beautiful a few yards outside.
We should also legislate to help farmers and other people to conserve the beauty of our National Parks. At the moment they have to build to a far higher standard to conform with park regulations. This is causing a great deal of ill will between people who are trying to make their living in the park as farmers, and others farming a few yards outside who do not have to conform. At this time of high unemployment, we must also think of supporting light engineering projects in the parks.
Finally, I refer to housing, which is a real problem. People not just driven out of National Parks because they are beautiful. The problem is that when a house comes up for sale in a place of great beauty people will go into that area to live, to the disadvantage of the local people, who cannot afford to buy the house. We should make more facilities available to housing associations, and use other such methods, to help the local community. I do not like to see local workers leaving National Parks to work in big cities while workers come in from outside to live there.
We must keep the community alive within our National Parks.
We must also try to help the boards as much as we can. For instance, the Institute of Geological Science is working hard at the moment, but how much of what it is doing is passed back to the boards and the local authorities so that those bodies can study the problem themselves? I would like to see Government legislation brought in quickly. I regard management agreements as urgent, particularly in respect of agriculture. We have a wonderful example in Derbyshire, at Monsal Dale. These things are quite possible, but they must be done through this Chamber. There is no other way of dealing with them.
I also want to see the boards acting with far less secrecy. I want them to co-operate with local authorities, which they are not doing at the moment. They are too secretive and are not communicating. That brings me to the question whether we are using the right method of appointing people to the boards. I 788 am not certain that we are. I do not think many of the people appointed to the boards are close enough to the grass roots. I do not think they are sufficiently experienced in respect of local affairs. This must be looked at by the Secretary of State.
I want to see my local authority, the park board and myself working in harmony. It does not help when one authority is fighting against the other. I ask the Minister to do everything in his power to solve this problem. It could be solved by legislation, and by means of the Sandford Report and Circular 4/76 which the Department issued on 12th January.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I welcome the opportunity of intervening in this brief debate. I am glad that it has proved possible to have it in spite of other pressures on the House. Although not living in the area of the Peak, I have been there a great deal at one time or another. I welcome any pressure that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) and others can bring to bear in order to bring forward legislation as rapidly as possible to assist in respect of the matters raised in the Sandford Report. There is nothing between us on that matter.
I am speaking after a recent review of the National Parks which a Select Committee of this House has just undertaken. Its report is not yet available, and I cannot comment on what it said. The Committee had the opportunity of a brief look at the Peak National Park, as well as other National Parks, and I think that its experience, as a result of that visit and many other visits in the past, is that the Peak authority is probably one of the most effective of all the National Park authorities.
It has been the common view of the people who have looked into this matter, both in this country and abroad, that it is the broad structure that has enabled this lively body to do work of such enormous benefit both to those who live in the park and to those outside. We have to remember that it is a National Park, and is for the benefit of others besides the local residents.
Enormous pressures are put upon the Peak by the huge population living immediately outside. The work undertaken 789 by the board to control and restrict movement in the park is just as much for the benefit of the people who live there as of those outside. Without such restriction, life for the people who live in the park would be intolerable.
I do not discount the possibility of more management agreements. The improvement of facilities for management agreements would be a valuable contribution, but management agreements cannot wholly replace the land purchase policy. The two methods have to be held in balance. For example, one of the great successes in the Peak National Park is the planting of trees in small areas and the maintenance of small copses. The board has been able to buy these small areas which no one wants, maintain them, and improve the amenity. That is a remarkable and oustanding achievement. There is a small woodland unit for this purpose, and its work is enormously to the benefit of local residents.
From my experience of the board, and as a member of the executive of the National Trust, I find that the expenses of controlling and managing management agreements can be very high. I put in that warning note. The compensation awarded may run to a substantial figure. Sometimes it may be more economical to buy a relatively small area of land rather than undertake the continual expenditure and control involved in a management agreement.
§ Mr. Le Marchant
I was talking about the £237,000 of public money that is being spent without producing any extra rights of access for people who visit the area.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That project has not gone forward. I regret that it has not. It depends on who becomes the owner. None of us knows the owner of the Kinder. None of us can be sure that access will be as fully guaranteed as we would like, but that is another matter. I dare say that on that matter there is a division of opinion in the Peak National Park Board.
I am talking about the wider policy of access. I think it will be agreed that the Peak board has done excellent work in bringing its policies to the knowledge of all who live in the area as well as to the people who live outside. It has been responsible for the distribution of popu- 790 lar editions of the grass structure plan and for stimulating discussion in local schools. I wish that other authorities did as much as the Peak board has done.
The Select Committee's Report will have some useful comments to make on this area. I hope that we can go forward with early legislation and that it will be recognised that the Peak board is doing an excellent job.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Sir Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) for introducing the subject of National Parks. I am the only Member of the House who has a constituency within which are parts of two National Parks—the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales—although mine is the largest constituency in England and a large part of it is outside the National Parks.
Few people realise that there is great and growing anxiety amongst those who live within the National Parks because of the pressures that are put upon them. Their interests inevitably conflict with the interests of those who think of National Parks only as areas of recreation. National Parks tend to be found in parts of the country that are comparatively poor by national standards, and the local people fear that enthusiastic visitors will, as a recent leader in The Times stated,condemn them to picturesque stagnation.It is essential to reconcile these conflicts. One of the expressions of deep concern from those who live within National Parks areas is a call for better representation on National Park bodies and a reduction in the number of ministerial appointees to the committees. Often those who are appointed by the Minister, though they are fewer in number, make the running on decisions within the committees. Regularly at meetings in my constituency there is a call for local views to be heard more loudly and clearly at National Park meetings.
In January this year a motion from the North Riding and South Durham National Farmers' Union, at its annual meeting in London—a motion moved by Mr. Brown, one of my constituents—called for a revision of the constitution of 791 National Parks committees and for more local representation of the people who work and live in the parks.
That frustration is felt by farmers and by those who work in the parks areas—shopkeepers and garage owners—who all contribute to the amenities provided for those who visit the parks. There is a strong feeling among many who live in National Parks that they are penalised by having to spend their own money to conform to the standards laid down by National Park committees. It is essential to retain all the beauty of the National Parks areas but, with the additional cost of house building and farm improvements, because of the standards rightly laid down by the committees, the additional financial burden placed on the shoulders of those living within the parks areas is unfair.
The time has come when it is necessary for a new approach to be made to assist the community living within the National Parks areas to expand and develop their businesses. Surely, a much greater effort should be made, and additional funds provided, so that when the beauty and amenity value of the area is to be retained a fund should be there to help to meet some of those additional costs.
For instance, if a man wishes to improve his farm buildings or his garage, provided that the proposals he puts forward are acceptable within areas outside the National Parks, if he is requested to use a special design, special building materials, special roofing and so on, the difference in cost between what would normally be accepted and what is demanded by the National Parks planning committee should be met out of a central fund. If that happened the term "National Park" would make a good deal more sense, and instead of falling on the shoulders of someone living within the National Park the extra burden would be borne by national funds. I do not believe that it would be difficult for the Government to draw up a criterion so that this course could be followed.
In recent years my attention has been drawn to a number of cases in which a farmer, wishing to retire and make way for his family, has found that because of the cost of the building materials, special stone or roofing, the cost of 792 building a small house or bungalow to retire into has escalated, so that the operation for him and his family is put out of their price range. He then has to decide whether to retire and leave the district in which he was born and bred, in which he has lived and worked, and where all his friends live, and move into another area, or whether it is better to struggle on.
If he decides to stay, the younger members of the family may say "We do not see our opportunity coming" and move out of the district to look for other employment. Often they set up in another part of the country. Then, when the farmer dies his farm becomes vacant. Often in those circumstances the farm is amalgamated, and the homestead may well become somebody's second home.
This sort of thing, which happens all too often, is one of the reasons for depopulation within the National Parks areas. People quite rightly ask "Why should we be penalised?" Unless we can find some way of helping them to conform to the expensive standards laid down by the National Parks Committee, I believe that many of them will leave and the population will be substantially reduced. Thus the whole object of the National Parks being a viable and well-populated area in the years ahead will be defeated. Rather than the National Parks boards and committees buying large tracts of land, I would prefer them to help those people who live in the area. In this way I believe that we could preserve these areas of national beauty and arrest the depopulation within them. The drift from these areas has many disadvantages, which we shall regret in the future.
I hope that the Minister will consider these points and that the Government will find time to introduce the necessary legislation to ensure that those living within the National Parks areas have the same rights and advantages as those who visit them.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)
I congratulate the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) on having secured this debate. I have listened to his remarks with interest.
May I make a declaration of personal interest, as one of the millions of people 793 who live in the great conurbations of Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and the Midlands. We have long regarded the High Peak as a lung. I am old enough to remember the battles in 1932 and at other times in connection with these areas, and I can say that one did not need to go to school to learn how to spell long words such as "trespassers" and "prosecuted" in my area. Nevertheless the idea of National Parks, which was welcomed on both sides of the House in 1949, is that there has to be some balance of the various interests. People in the cities need the benefit of the fresh air which is so freely available in these areas. Indeed, if I were not replying to this debate and to another debate later this afternoon, I would have been in the Peak District National Park this afternoon. There are the claims of the residents and of industry as well. A predecessor of the hon. Member for High Peak replied to the debate in 1949, and he mentioned that 3,000 industrial workers were greatly concerned. It is significant that no mention has been made in this debate of the sporting interests which played such a great part in past debates.
The Peak District National Park was the first National Park designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The designation confirmed that the landscape was of national importance and that it should be protected by a National Park Authority for the purposes laid down in Section 5 of the Act—the preservation and enhancement of "the natural beauty" and the promotion of "enjoyment by the public".
The hon. Gentleman has demanded early legislation. He must know of the very severe demands on legislative time, especially in the present situation in the House. In my own Department there are many urgent Bills of importance to the public to which we would like to give greater priority. I believe that legislation which the hon. Gentleman has in mind would be controversial. I do not think it would go through its various stages without opposition. For example, the matter of land acquisition would require a debate of considerable length.
This magnificent area is hemmed in by some of the most heavily populated parts of the country. People from the towns and cities have for years sought the peace 794 and tranquility of the Pennine moorlands which are fortunately so close to the towns. Increasing car ownership in those areas has created special difficulties for residents. Kinder Scout, at the highest point, is notable as the scene in the 1930s of a historic encounter for the future of the National Park movement. The question then was whether ordinary people wanting to roam over the moorland could hope for a right to do so. At last, in the 1949 Act, machinery for creating access rights formally as well as informally was provided. The Peak Park Joint Planning Board has since made a great deal of use of such arrangements. What was so much desired but seemed so difficult to obtain in the 1930s is now widely available and appreciated by the people who go there.
I must deal with the point of the possible purchase of the land, which was the original reason for this debate. An area of land, mainly upland grazing country, on Kinder Scout itself came on to the market recently. According to my information, the Peak Park Board has not purchased it, but we do not know who has. It is a matter of worry to those of us concerned with the park as to who has bought it. One would like to think that it has been purchased for £300,000 so that some great benefactor can hand it over to the nation, but there is doubt about that. There is concern lest the farms and uplands may be parcelled out, which would make access agreements more difficult than they were before. There has been no question of buying under compulsory powers. Nor has there been any question of buying the land for any purpose other than the functions of the Peak Board laid down in the Act of 1949—to protect and care for the beauty and to help people enjoy it.
Nor, I understand, has there been any question of any great alteration in the present agricultural use of the land should it have been purchased by the board. The Peak Park Board saw some advantage, where the opportunity arose, in making an offer to purchase. It is always a delicate decision for a park authority, whether it is better to pay each year under an access agreement or to embark on a capital purchase, if the land happens to be on offer, and I believe that in this case the board had hopes of a comprehensive management system for the whole 795 area in conjunction with the Nature time, but what we are asking is that the Conservancy Council. Much of the land Department shall recognise the true is n an area designated as a site of special scientific interest.
The Government's position is well known. The progress and future development of the National Parks in the face of the mounting recreational and other pressures were reviewed two years ago for the first time in their 25 years of existence, by the Sandford Committee. The Conclusions of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales on that report were announced in the circular to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Secretaries of State have paid tribute to the great value of the committee's work. In their conclusions they have set out what they think should be the broad lines of long-term policy for the National Parks authorities to follow in their administration of one of the country's most important national assets.
Among these conclusions the Secretaries of State have made certain points which are particularly relevant to this debate. They have said that they share the committee's view about the importance of access to open country. The Secretaries of State also say that a number of steps will be taken to facilitate the acquisition of land for National Park purpose where acquisition is the desirable course. On one aspect of this, they have agreed in principle that limited special arrangements for "opportunity purchases" should be available if evidence from the National Park authorities demonstrates the need. We are now looking into that, though we have not been able to provide any extra money and I very much doubt whether we shall be able to do so for some time to come.
Hon Members asked for additional funds for instance, to assist people living within the park with improvements and so on, but I have to say that the likielihood of any increase in expenditure of that kind—or, indeed, any other in the parks—is inevitable remote. We have to consider very carefully the demands which are made for cuts in public expenditure, on the one hand, and demands for assistance to resident, for new bypasses and so forth, on the other.
§ Sir T. Kitson
Naturally, one recongnises what must be the inevitable response to 796 request for more public funds at this time, but what we are asking is that the Department shall recognise the true nature of the problem for those who live within these areas and give and assurance that, at such time as it is possible to make additional funds available, consideration will be given to channeling those funds in this direction rather than other possible directions. We feel strongly about that.
§ Mr. Marks
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that it will be considered. I am aware of the problem generally, and especially in t he Peak area. But it would need legislation, as hon. Members have already recognised.
Our broad conclusions on this matter are not designed in any may to usurp or undermine the responsibility laid on local government under the 1949 Act and the Local Government Act 1972 to administer the park areas in accordance with the purpose of the National parks. The administration of the Parks through local government is subject at present, like all other local government activities, to the restraints on expenditure generally. As the circular explained,the overriding duty of National Park Authorities over the next few years will necessarily be to ensure that limited resources are deployed with discrimination and in the most cost-effective way possible. This will call for difficult—and often unpalatable—decisions.for those authorities which have areas within the parks. But there can be no question of our trying to tell the park authorities in detail how they should lay out the resources which they have available. It is for them to choose. There is representation of local authorities within the parks and of local authorities outside, apart from the appointed members, to go into that.
The expenditure of local government on the National Parks is supported within the rate support grant system by the National Park supplementary block grant. This is cast at 75 per cent. of so much of the parks' estimates as my right hon. Friend sees fit to take into account. The amount of grant each year implies that a certain level of expenditure on the National Parks would, in the Government's view, seem satisfactory. The inference is usually drawn that a total expenditure of £100 by a park authority means £75 of grant from the Government. 797 The position varies from park to park. After the overall grant has been decided for the 10 National Parks, the grant has to be divided up, with the needs which each park has itself estimated borne in mind.
In the current year 1976–77, however, taking the 10 parks together, the overall grant of £3.1 million in terms of 1975 prices represents approximately a standstill on National Park expenditure on the 75 per cent. convention, if implied expenditure continues at the same level as the estimated out-turn of expenditure for the year before. This is well in line with the general restraints which we have put on local government, on which we issued a further circular only this week.
In the case of the Peak Park itself, the grant for this year at £802,000—the Government recognise that the Peak Park has, perhaps, far more problems than most of the other National Parks—implies a standstill on that park's expenditure, too. It cannot be said, therefore, that we have encouraged the parks in undue expenditure.
Naturally, the course of expenditure during a year may vary in practice from what was estimated by any park. Most of the expenditure going towards the ordinary continuing functions of the park will probably turn out much as planned, but there has to be allowance for less predictable items. Some kinds of project will go more slowly than expected, and some anticipated opportunities to enhance beauty or provide facilities may not materialise at all. One cannot be sure at the time the estimates are produced before the year starts.
Thus, it may be that a park—and the Peak Park, in particular, since its scale of operations is rather greater and its annual budget of about £1 million is larger than the smaller budgets of other parks—will find itself with some resources in hand available towards an unexpected opportunity in place of some other things for which it has budgeted in the past. I think that this has been the case with the Kinder Scout situation. Such a situation is not common among the parks, and I do not think that it gives rise to any general issue of National Park policy.
As our conclusions on the Sandford Report showed, we are very conscious that the parks, with their very limited budgets, may face a dilemma when oppor- 798 tunities to purchase occur. Their objectives are long-term, and when a rare chance does appear to take some step which will help to enhance the beauty of the place or provide recreational opportunities, they can only seize it or pass it by. In this case, the authority did not have the opportunity to seize it.
In view of the park authorities' statutory responsibilities on behalf of the nation, this is a difficult choice to have to make. The disproportion which can arise between a budget—usually of only £200,000 or £300,000 a year for park purposes, apart from commitments already entered into—and the environmental responsibility to this and future generations was made quite clear in the Sandford Report. That is why we have said that we shall look at the evidence of the need for some kind of special arrangement.
I see no ground for criticism, however, if a National Park, within its resources, finds itself able even at present to undertake a new project or make an offer for the purchase of a property. The park authorities do this fairly often on a small scale, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) pointed out, although occasionally something bigger and far more important crops up.
There is no question of the authorities trying to "buy the parks". Our National Parks are not parks bought by the nation, with a fence put round and all the rest. As I have said, we regard them as a joint enterprise between the nation as a whole, the visitors, industry and so on. Most of the land is and will continue to be in normal agricultural use, and very sizeable areas are owned by authorities or bodies such as the Forestry Commission or the National Trust.
§ Mr. Le Marchant
Will the Minister agree that secrecy is highly undesirable and that we must have maximum consultation to build up a good relationship? If it is decided that it is desirable to buy something, let us have consultation between the local authorities and the park boards. Let us have done with all the secrecy. That is what causes the ill feeling.
§ Mr. Marks
My experience of the Peak Park authority in particular has been that it maintains good relations with the 799 public and a great openness in its work. Moreover, it has done fine educational work. As a former teacher, I know of the valuable effort it has undertaken in publicising what the park is, what is spent on it, and so on. But in the purchase of land, as hon. Members opposite may well know better than I do, there can be special problems, and it is often not wise for the Government, a local authority or even the park board —in this case, the Peak Park Board—to say exactly what it is doing on those lines.
Very little land is owned by the National Park authorities. They have other means, as hon. Members know, through management agreements for conservation and access agreements, which are all valuable tools. But we believe that on occasion even a considerably larger area may present the possibility of purchase.
I should have liked to speak on several other matters, but I see that my time is running out. I assure hon. Members that the points raised in the debate will be considered by my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Wales. National Park plans which will be the subject of wide consultation and participation will indicate the lines for the development of the parks in future, and we hope that these will have regard to what is possible in the shorter term, while expenditure must be under restraint, as well as to the satisfactory development of the parks in the longer term.
It seems hard to disagree with the opinion expressed by Lord Sandford that the National Parks wil ultimately deserve more than the very small resources which it has been possible to devote to them so far. Our National Parks are a truly irreplaceable asset for ourselves and coming generations. I know that they—and especially the Peak Park—face rapidly mounting pressures.
I am aware of the tensions, to which both hon. Members referred, which are almost inevitably involved in the administration of the parks. I do not propose now to add to the conclusion which the Secretaries of State have already reached, that the new system of strengthend administration which we have had now for two years should be allowed to show 800 its paces and get on with the job, although it may be right in, say five years from now to use the experience we thus gain to review these matters and see whether any alterations would be beneficial.
I am aware that there have in the past been some feelings about the amount of the Peak Park's precept on its constituent county councils. We are encouraged by Press reports that the board this year have had the standstill objective in mind. But the precept by the Peak, and the Lake District Board which is also in the same position, is a matter for settlement at local government, not central Government, level. It is not one on which I have any intention of commenting further.
As the House will realise, whatever arrangements we have for administering those special areas of our more dramatic countryside—that description applies particularly to the Peak which is not pretty in that sense—which we call National Parks, because the landscape and enjoyment of it is of importance on a national as well as local scale—it is important to people from far and wide—there is little chance of getting anywhere except by the good sense and good will of all branches of local government involved in the task. The guidance which central Government exercise should be constructive but strategic and should not be involved too much in the small disputes that take place.
If we value the National Parks, as successive Governments have made it clear that they do, our attention should be directed to the strategic management plans for the future which they are now preparing for the first time in their history. We sincerely hope that in this challenging task they will have the co-operation of all concerned. I know that the park administrations will be doing all they can to seek this by consultation and through the public participation programmes which they are arranging. If some disagree with any of their intentions, that will be the time for telling them so.
Never before has there been this opportunity for everyone who cares about the park area, or has responsibility for some aspect of it, to put forward constructive ideas about its future as a National Park. Such people include residents or visitors. Many residents are people who have 801 moved there because it is a lovely place and not because they are natives of the area.
To sum up this part of the debate, I would put the Government position very simply. The Government make a certain sum of money available for National Park purposes. The National Parks have a range of choices as to how they spend the money. How they decide to make their choices is a matter for them. As far as I can see, the purchase of Kinder Scout would have been a perfectly legitimate choice for the Peak Board to make, provided that it could find the money within its existing resources. It would have meant inevitably that other choices would have had to be forgone. But that was their decision and one they were perfectly entitled to make. The last thing I want to do is to encourage, or even to be thought to encourage, extravagance by local authorities. We are determined that they must exercise the utmost restraint. But equally I do not want to interfere in anything which is essentially their business.
The infrequency with which the Peak Park Board uses its powers to buy land is shown by the fact that it owns only about 2,000 acres of land in the park—about three square miles or half of 1 per cent. of the 542 square miles which comprise the park. I understand that the purchase of the Hayfield estate is about the only sizeable "opportunity purchase" which it has seriously gone for in its history.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the publication of the Verney Report. It will be published next Thursday and I understand that copies will be available to the House.