HC Deb 11 December 1981 vol 14 cc1092-146 9.41 am
Mr. John Watson (Skipton)

I beg to move, That this House, being aware of the many statutory organisations involved with issues in National Park areas, notes that these organisations spend a great deal of money; further notes that many of the real issues of concern to those resident in the National Parks remain unsolved by their activities; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take such steps as may be necessary to reduce the duplication, conflict and lack of overall effectiveness which remain a problem in such areas. I am glad to have this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to the national parks and the Countryside Commission. It is several years since the national parks and the Countryside Commission were debated together in the House. Many references were made to them during the passage, earlier this year, of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and occasionally they are referred to at Question Time. However, I do not think that a debate has been specifically dedicated to the national parks and the Countryside Commission for five or six years.

Perhaps that is surprising. A large part of my constituency of Skipton takes in the Yorkshire Dales national park. I receive many letters from those who live within the national park area. Generally they are critical of the current national parks set-up. Whenever I attend a meeting in the national park some question arises about the administration of the national park authority, the Countryside Commission or about the difficulties of living and trying to run a business in a national park area. It would seem that I am not alone in my concern.

Due to the inspired initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), about two weeks ago Conservative Members who represent national park areas held a meeting in the House. We all seemed to share similar problems. Therefore, when I was sufficiently fortunate to win the ballot, it seemed most logical to table a debate on the national parks and the Countryside Commission.

It is now 9.45 am on a snowy London morning. About two or three hours ago a farmer somewhere in a national park must have drawn aside his bedroom curtains and looked out in the dark morning on one of his fields. It will have passed through his mind that perhaps he should once again consider some form of mild, constructive agricultural development on the field. However, if he decides to take that initiative further this morning and to proceed with some development on the field, what will happen? Almost certainly he will have to submit a proposal for planning consent to his local district council. The council will then pass it to the local national park authority, which will pass it back to the district council for consultation and will send copies to the parish council for further consultation.

The National Park Authority is technically a subcommittee of the local county council, but one-third of its members do not come from the county council and will have been appointed by the Secretary of State. They will have been appointed partly on the advice of the Countryside Commission and partly on the advice of the directorate of rural affairs. Once his application is in hand, it is quite possible that any one of the following organisations might wish to comment on it: the Nature Conservancy Council, the Ramblers Association, the Forestry Commission, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the local water authority, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the National Trust, the English Tourist Board and the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments.

Faced with that battery of organisations—18 bodies, of which four are voluntary and 14 are paid to be worried about that farmer's field—the farmer may well be forgiven for having drawn his curtains this morning and gone back to bed instead of proceeding with the development that first crossed his mind. I cannot help feeling that, given the many inevitable problems associated with national parks, we are dealing with the difficulties in such a way as to give ourselves an acute bout of over-organisation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I apologise for intervening so early in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but he has mentioned the number of those criticising the farmer's potential development. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on how many people were prepared to give British Leyland good advice about the way in which it should run its factory? I suspect that far more people who had nothing directly to do with BL offered advice to it than offer advice to the farmer.

Mr. Watson

I have considerable respect for the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity, since he has managed to bring British Leyland into a debate on national parks. However, in fairness, I did not say that those organisations were critical of the farmer's intentions. I merely said that such organisations felt themselves competent to comment on his application. I certainly do not want to extend the debate to British Leyland, because otherwise we shall be here until tea time.

Given all those organisations, it is almost inevitable that it is proving expensive to handle the problems in national park areas. Duplication is not too hard to find. Perhaps most crucially, there is considerable conflict between the various organisations that I have mentioned.

I fear that some of my hon. Friends may sometimes exaggerate the expense of the national parks and the Countryside Commission. I am anxious not to do that. According to this year's budgets, the national parks will cost us £8.3 million, while the Countryside Commission will cost £4.6 million. That makes a total of just under £13 million. To put the matter in context, I should mention that the borough of Lambeth alone will this year spend £103 million. Therefore, the total expediture of the national parks and Countryside Commission comes to no more than 13 per cent. of the expenditure of the London borough of Lambeth.

There are two problems about the cost. First, it has risen in real terms since the national parks essentially took on their present responsibilities in 1974. In 1974 the national parks cost us £2.3 million. They now cost £8.3 million—an increase of 260 per cent. Of course, the lion's share of that increase is accommodated by inflation, but not all of it. The real increase has been about 24 per cent.

The wealth-generating capacity of Britain since 1974 has not increased by 24 per cent. and so we are effectively dedicating an increased share of our national resources to the national parks. I do not necessarily criticise that, but that comment should be made.

The second slight anxiety is that a relatively large slice of expenditure by the national parks and the Countryside Commission goes under the heading "Salaries and Administration". Salaries and administration represent 46 per cent. of national parks expenditure and 30 per cent. of Countryside Commission spending. If I had included the Nature Conservancy Council in my speech, I would have been obliged to report that 75 per cent. of the expenditure of that body is devoted to salaries and administration.

When I did my homework at the beginning of the week, I started hunting for duplication and, in all honesty, it was not too difficult to find. The single example that I choose to mention to the House is the duplication that seems to exist between the Countryside Commission and the Department of Rural Affairs. One-third of the members of all national parks authorities are appointed by the Minister, on the advice partly of the Department of Rural Affairs and partly of the Countryside Commission.

I had a helpful meeting with the Countryside Commission earlier this week, when I raised the problem of duplication and I was unable to satisfy myself that it did not exist. I subsequently received an equally helpful letter from the director of the Countryside Commission—he obviously took my concern on board—who said: The Commission as well as many other organisations and individuals suggests candidates to the Secretary of State for consideration. Within his Department the Directorate of Rural Affairs is responsible for briefing the Secretary of State on potential appointments and the Secretary of State then consults the Commission on the candidates for any suitable nominations. You will see that the respective roles of the Directorate of Rural Affairs and the Countryside Commission are quite distinct, and I have recently met with officials of the Directorate of Rural Affairs to ensure that there is no overlap or duplication in this area. I respect the director. I like him and he clearly knows much more about the subject than I do. However, neither from my discussions with him nor from that paragraph is it clear to me that no duplication exists. I do not think that was necessarily clear or satisfactory to the director's predecessor, either, because, in the most recent report of the Countryside Commission, he said: Additionally, we believe it would be more effective if we were given the responsibility to appoint the one-third of the members who represent the national interest and charge to account for that trust. A simultaneous opinion was expressed last October by the Association of County Councils, which seemed to notice the same duplication, but wanted more Draconian changes than even I would have suggested. On the future of the Countryside Commission, it said: The Association do not believe that the nation can any longer afford duplication in administration. Money spent on this is inevitably at the expense of service to the public. The Association strongly doubts whether the continuance of the regional offices of the Commission in England can be justified and, indeed, the Commission should not have executive responsibilities in relation to local government and the national parks' committees and boards. If that is but one example of duplication, or apparent duplication—I confess that I am not an expert—how many others are there?

I have represented a substantial part of a national park area for two and a half years, spent a large part of this week researching the national parks and the Countryside Commission and I confess that I still do not completely understand what is going on. The lesson that I draw from that is that the subject is immensely complicated and I wonder how any Minister, with so many other responsibilities, can get on top of his countryside and national park responsibilities, even to understand what is going on, before beginning to see what possible changes might be made.

However, if it was not difficult to discover duplication, conflict between different organisations, which I submit is potentially more damaging, was virtually thrust on me. I shall draw the House's attention to three potential areas of conflict.

The first is the conflict between national park authorities and local tourist boards. For example, through the Yorkshire Dales national park runs a well-known footpath called the Pennine Way. The Yorkshire Dales national park authority and the Countryside Commission have noted with concern that the number of people using the Pennine Way, up Pen-y-Ghent in particular, has become so great that the hillside is being eroded—a sort of pedestrian erosion. Therefore, the authority is rightly devoting some resources to taking people away from that well-known footpath and on to others of equal charm and less erosive qualities. However, nobody seems to have told the Yorkshire and Humberside tourist authority about that because in all its literature it continues to spend taxpayers' cash on promoting the Pennine Way.

Similarly, the Yorkshire Dales national park authority is keen to ensure that when people go camping in the national parks they do so with a degree of responsibility ; they are told that they must get the farmer's permission, that there are certain recognised camp sites and so on. Yet the Yorkshire and Humberside tourist board states in its brochure: Camping in the dales is as easy as pitching a tent"— and show a tent duly pitched in the dales where, for all I know, it should not be.

A second conflict is between the national parks authorities and British Rail. In the Yorkshire Dales area the national park authority, in my view laudably, has introduced "The Dales rail service", which brings people from Bradford and Leeds up to the higher dales of Garsdale, Dentdale and so on. Such people are welcome and their cash provides a boost for the strained tourist economy of that part of my constituency. Yet British Rail seems in some ways intent on closing that line because of the apparent cost of the Ribblehead viaduct.

The third and perhaps most significant conflict exists between the national parks, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Treasury, and it concerns grants.

We have at least moved away from the situation where the national parks authorities and the Countryside Commission were spending taxpayers' money to preserve the rural environment while the Ministry of Agriculture was spending more of taxpayers' money to subsidise the sort of things that the national parks authorities were trying to stop. At least any application for a Ministry of Agriculture grant now has to be approved by the national parks authority, but it does not have the money to do the job properly.

Partly as a result of the Rayner proposals, the work that used to be done by the Ministry is now largely done by the national parks authority. If a national park authority wishes to restrict a farmer's plan to develop his field in a suitable agricultural way, it is effectively obliged to enter into a management agreement. The effect is that compensation is paid to a farmer for not proceeding with a profitable development that he wished to undertake.

I welcome that concept, but it is no good unless it is backed up by cash and, unless the money is available, I fear that local farmers in the dales will be told that they cannot apply for grant aid for a development because the local park authority does not want them to develop their land. The park authority may want to enter into a management agreement but, unfortunately, it cannot do so because it does not have the funds. The net effect will be that the farmers alone will have to bear the financial burden for preserving the countryside in the way that Parliament decided. Parliament decided that funds should be made available for that purpose, but so far as I know they have not yet been made available.

Another conflict exists over how agricultural grants are given when they coincide with some assistance given by the national parks authority. For example, in the Yorkshire Dales national park area, the authority decided that if some of its planning conditions seemed particularly onerous to a farmer, he should be given some assistance towards the planning requirements, the visual requirements and special stone requirements that may be insisted on. It has recognised that the cash involved can be considerable and it can contribute 50 per cent. of the extra cost that a farmer may incur. The trouble is that when the authority gives cash, say £500, a ruling of the Treasury means that it is deducted from the sum that becomes elegible for a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture. The net effect is that the farmer gets only £387 of the £500 and the other £113 goes back to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In drawing attention to the conflicts and duplications, I would not be so concerned if I were confident that the real problems of the countryside were being tackled by the plethora of organisations, but they are not. Anyone who has lived in a small village in a national park for most of the past 20 years has seen a disturbing social trend taking place that all the organisations have apparently been powerless to stop.

Rural wages are much lower than urban salaries. The buying power of people in the cities is greater than that of those living in villages, and city dwellers wish to buy many of the houses in our small villages. That creates a number of problems. First, the price of the houses goes beyond what locals can afford. Secondly, and in many ways the more serious, the houses are occupied not by permanent residents, but by people who are there only at weekends and in some cases only for some weekends or during the summer.

The number of children in a village declines and as the school population goes down the county council, watching its purse, says that the school is no longer economic and will have to close. The numbers using the local shop decline and therefore that has to close. The numbers using the local bus service decline and the bus company says "That route is no longer profitable. We shall have to stop going to that village." Often it says that just at the moment when pensioners in the village no longer have a local shop to which they can take their business.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

I share the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but does he not agree that the cure for all those ills is in the Government's hands?

Mr. Watson

I sometimes fear that all of us pretend to an omnicompetence that we do not possess. The Government have a major share of responsibility and I agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is saying that the Government should do more, but it is an exaggeration to pretend that the solution to all the problems lies in the House or in the Government's hands.

There seems to be no solution to the problems of the rural village coming from any of the many organisations that I have mentioned. Those problems, which are the true problems of people living in rural areas, remain largely unsolved.

I wish to make five specific suggestions. The first is that the two statutory obligations of a national park authority—to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of national park areas and to promote their enjoyment by the public—should be augmented by a third, the obligation to promote the social and economic well-being of national park areas. As far as I can see, that objective, which has already been extended to the Countryside Commission and local authorities, has not been extended to national park authorities. It is about time that it was.

Secondly, I hope that the Government will review the whole countryside organisation, though not by means of a major formal review with written submissions, because that would take donkey's years and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is to reply to the debate, would be snowed under by the written submissions. If my hon. Friend would cast his eye over the issues that I have been studying in the past week, he would find a number of areas of concern, conflict and duplication and it would be difficult to find a solution without removing from the scene at least one of the organisations that I have mentioned.

Thirdly, we need to sort out, particularly with the Treasury, the two complicated problems concerning grants. Fourthly, the one national park authority that has tried deliberately to tackle the problem of rural depopulation, the Lake District national park board, has come up with a scheme, which I know is not supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), under which, whenever it grants planning consent for a new development, it attaches the condition that the houses shall be sold only to people who work locally.

I have asked for evidence of whether the scheme is effective in keeping down the price of houses, which is its principal objective, but it is too early to say whether the evidence is conclusive. I hope that the Under-Secretary will allow the board to keep the scheme in being, at least until evidence is available one way or the other. I have listened with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale in the past and I know that I shall have the privilege of hearing him speak later, but, as an interested observer from another national park, I feel that it is too early to say that the Lake District scheme is against the interests of either the Government or local people.

Finally, I hope that when the Under-Secretary is faced with people telling him that a development must be stopped or an area must be preserved he will bear in mind that people have to live and earn a living in the national park areas. The natural beauty that surrounds them, which they deeply appreciate, can sometimes seem little more than a scant and rather ironic consolation for the bureaucracy that they have to suffer.

10.7 pm

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) and I am pleased that he has raised such an important matter. I agree with much that the hon. Gentleman said and I hope that the debate will go from strength to strength. I hope also that we shall hear from hon. Members on both sides of the House and that the Minister will consider what is said, so that we can improve the environment in the national parks.

In a recent circular the Government accepted as an object of policy the promotion of the social and economic well-being of national park areas. I take that to mean that they are committing themselves to safeguarding the interests of the communities that live in national parks as well as ensuring that all those who enjoy the countryside in their leisure time have full opportunity to do so.

There is a need for some national parks, but I believe that there are too many in Britain. The British people enjoy and appreciate the beautiful countryside that surrounds them. I understand that more people visit the small Peak District park on an August Sunday than visit the huge Yellowstone Park in the United States in a whole year.

I know from experience that hundreds of thousands visit Snowdonia and walk the Pembrokeshire coastal path every year. They visit the beautiful parts of Mid-Wales—Brecon, Radnor, Cardigan, Merioneth and Carmarthen—in their thousands and we welcome them. I hope that they will come back year after year to Mid-Wales and our coastal towns.

I do not wish to spoil the enjoyment of the annual visitors, but, as a farmer and a representative of a beautiful rural constituency, I ask the Government for an assurance that those who live and work in the parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty will have due consideration paid to their problems. The Liberal Party believes that conservation policies can be implemented only if adequate compensation is provided to local residents, and that conservation should be integral to development.

We have for a long time been preaching the necessity to provide more food from our resources, which means greater and more efficient use of land and the reclaiming of uncultivated areas. There has, however been a continuing loss of farm land to other purposes such as roads, industry and housing, which has put further pressure on the remaining precious acres to meet the production loss.

For centuries farmers have been the custodians of the countryside, and on the whole they have done the job well. I plead, therefore, that there should not be too much unreasonable interference from statutory bodies and conservation interests. There should be greater liaison between the various bodies and agriculture interests. It might be useful, as the hon. Member for Skipton suggested, to have better local representation on the national park authorities and a higher proportion of farmers on the national management committees.

We now have enough national parks, and we should concentrate resources on improving facilities in smaller areas to cope with the ever-expanding leisure market. For example, there should be more country parks within easy reach of a day's outing. There should be more picnic sites along country roads, with adequate facilities, and greater attention should be given to the renovation of derelict land in our cities and towns to turn them into recreation areas.

The Sandford committee recommended a review of the national parks. I am sorry that the Government have seen fit to ignore that recommendation. Bearing in mind the greater conflict of interests that is bound to arise, it is more important than ever that such a review should be carried out. I am sure that the hon. Member for Skipton will agree that the Government should carry out a review. We may talk here for hours and hours, but we shall not achieve anything unless we review the national parks.

Expenditure on the parks is not excessive when we compare it with the moneys that are made available, for example, for the Sports Council and the Arts Council, and when we take into account the millions who benefit from the expenditure on the parks. Indeed, there is a case for making more money available for possible compensation to farmers for refusal of planning permission.

I hope that after this debate the Government will adopt a constructive attitude and provide money for the national parks, which they require to serve the interests of the public. I hope that before the end of the debate—I apologise to the House because I shall have to leave before the debate concludes; it is snowing heavily in Mid-Wales and I want to try to go home before darkness falls—the Minister will give an assurance that he will carry out a review.

10.15 am
Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), who discussed the problems that we are debating in their widest sense. I agree that perhaps too many people in different areas have too-free access to our national parks and other areas of beauty. We welcome them, but we are not used to coping with the numbers who wish to see the more attractive parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman's suggestions for developing leisure areas nearer the towns that at present are not being properly developed should be given careful attention.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) raised these issues today. He did so constructively, and the debate will be of great value to the national parks, to all who visit them and especially to those who live in them. A large part of my constituency falls within the North York Moors national park. There are other country areas that can be helped in various ways, and an example that came to my notice last weekend is Knipe Point Wood near Cayton Bay. It is a privately owned wood that slopes down to the sea, and it could well have been in danger of disappearing. However, I am told by the owners that, with help from the Countryside Commission, the wood is now being made into an attractive and permanent adjunct to our coastal walks and coastal scenery. That is of value to everybody.

I shall address my remarks mainly to national park issues. If we did not already have national parks, I feel that we would have to invent them pretty quickly. As the hon. Member for Cardigan said, too many people are seeking to get into the countryside without there being suitable provisions and safeguards. We want the public to be able to visit the countryside, but we must make new provisions to cope with them. The national parks play an important role in local conservation and in the proper development of their distinctive characteristics. If it were not for the national parks, there is a real danger that in many instances those characteristics would be lost. Account must be taken of the interests of visitors and of those who live and work within their boundaries, the boundaries being determined by the natural limits of the parks. Therefore, it follows that the interests of a park can best be considered as a whole rather than piecemeal by the various local authorities that come within its boundaries.

There is a danger that a national park can be regarded too much as an unresponsive bureaucracy, even when the circumstances do not justify that criticism. I am sorry that from time to time the criticism is justified. I am glad that of the 27 members of the North York Moors national park—that is the committee that runs the park—no fewer than 12 are members of the North Yorkshire county council, while six are members of the district council, though not all of them live within national parks.

It is important that council members should keep closely in contact with local feeling within the park so that local residents can feel that there their interests are being safeguarded. I sometimes wonder whether that attitude is fully understood by council members. As the constituency Member of Parliament I am often telephoned first when members of the council should be contacted initially.

Farming interests are important, and they should be represented on the committee. Nearly every time that I meet the local representatives of the National Farmers Union, that issue is raised. Unless there is that representation, important local matters such as conservation and recreation can be over stressed at the expense of the needs of farmers and those who live in villages alongside the farms.

The complaints that I have had—there have not been many, but I gather that that experience is unusual when one listens to the affairs of some other national parks—are nearly always connected with planning. The problem of planning can often be resolved if only everyone concerned would get around the table and talk the problem out. Once papers begin to float to and fro and committees spend time considering them the issue gets bogged down. If people can be telephoned and brought together to talk out a problem, it suddenly disappears.

There must be strict scrutiny of plans, and there is, of course, the two-tier control function in the national parks to which my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton referred. That tends not only to push up the costs of any development, through the use of more expensive materials and so on, but to cause delays, which can lead to the increase of costs. However, having examined the figures I am bound to say that the North York Moors national park has a good record in this respect, because it deals more quickly with planning applications than is the case in most other areas. Credit for that must go to the local authorities, through which planning applications must pass in the first instance.

Perhaps the greatest irritation is that in certain cases planning permission must be paid for by those developing in a national park, whereas if the development is outside the national park no permission is needed and no costs are incurred. That should be looked at again with sympathy.

National parks are essentially areas of beautiful and relatively wild countryside that are preserved for the benefit of the nation. That objective is one that we all share and support. Many of my constituents live within a national park. As Members of Parliament we must never forget that the character of a national park largely depends on the people who live and work there and whose families have perhaps lived there for generations. We must pay special regard to their needs—in the village, in housing, in schools, on the farms and in the development of small industries in which their young folk can be employed when they leave school. Their rights must be safeguarded. The essential pattern of life in the parks must be maintained and allowed to grow. In no way should our country villages be contained and constrained into becoming little more than picturesque museums.

10.34 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on introducing a debate which I am sure will prove useful. The House spends nothing like enough time on these matters, when I believe that a constructive view can be put forward from both sides.

I wish to take up one or two of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. He said that many of his constituents criticised the administration of the national parks. I believe that that is unfair to most of the national parks. People criticise because they have not managed to do what they wanted. Their desires are frustrated, so they blame the administration rather than looking beyond it and recognising that the major problem in the national parks is the tremendous diversity of interests and the fact that most of those interests are in conflict with one another in some way. The administrators are therefore not to blame. People should recognise the many areas of conflict.

I have great sympathy for farmers working in the national parks who derive little or no benefit from the tourist trade. Indeed, often it is almost guaranteed to be entirely disadvantageous to them. People will occasionally park inconsiderately in gateways, making access to fields difficult. There will be litter and there will be nuisance. In almost every area, such farmers would prefer there to be no tourist trade. On the other hand, tourism may be the only thing that keeps the local shop going, so there is some indirect benefit. Moreover, some farmers may be able to let a couple of fields to campers and thus augment their income considerably.

People who have lived in the area throughout their lives and become pensioners find others retiring to the area. This may bring benefit to local pensioners in that certain services may be made viable, but in other ways the two groups compete for services. Clearly, for the community to live, there must also be some development of rural industries, but for those who retire there to find peace and quiet, and particularly those who have been used to farming there all their lives, the little local industry may become a nuisance.

Almost every aspect of the national parks can be shown to present a continual conflict between different groups, either because they are competing for resources or because people's peace and quiet is threatened. This applies not only to those who live and work in the parks but to those who wish to use them for recreation. One has only to consider the arguments in the Lake District about the use of the lakes for water sports and the conflict between those with noisy power boats and those who want peace and quiet for fishing and other activities.

I could continue at length, but I do not wish to take up too much time. The major problem is that administrators are criticised for trying to reconcile interests which are almost impossible to reconcile. The administration is not to blame. Even if we changed the administration, the conflicts would remain. It is almost impossible to design a system which would not leave some people dissatisfied and unhappy.

Many people living in the national parks make the criticism that there are too many representatives from outside on the national parks authorities. Yet many people who come in to use the parks feel that the boards are increasingly dominated by people living in the area.

Mr. Watson


Mr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman himself makes the point. Those who live in the national parks feel that they have insufficient representation, but those from outside believe that there are not enough outsiders on the boards. I believe that recreational users and, indeed, neutral people are not represented on the boards in anything like sufficient numbers. The boards are increasingly dominated by people who represent local interests. If a person is put on the board by the district council, it is difficult for him not continually to press for the interests of his electorate rather than trying to consider the park in a wider context.

Mr. Watson

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that in many areas next door to national parks there is similarly a great deal of natural beauty? In some cases they are areas of outstanding natural beauty but their planning consents are granted by committees which have 100 per cent. local representation. Many people visit those areas as well. I do not believe that in such areas the visual amenities have been diminished in any way because of the absence of outside representatives.

Mr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman is leading me on to a later part of my speech and to what I believe is a true comparison between the national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty. Some areas that should be designated national parks have not been so designated, and because of the administration that they are suffering at the moment their visual quality is deteriorating much more rapidly than in the national parks. Therefore, we should extend the safeguards of the national parks to much wider areas of Britain and create new national parks.

Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)

I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman calling for more of the same. Does he not concede that if the present structures and conflicts that have been referred to by my hon. Friends could be proven to be correct we would wish to have less of the same and perhaps more representation of local interests? The national parks were there long before they were designated as national parks, which has not happened by accident. It has happened because of good agriculture and farming and care for the land.

Mr. Bennett

We are one nation and it is as much a concern to the people of Stockport that the countryside is looked after as it is to the people of the countryside that an area such as Stockport continues to thrive and that industry develops. We must consider Britain as one nation and not have such conflict between town and countryside. If we are to have that one nation, those who live in the countryside must respect the fact that people who live in towns cherish and are concerned about the countryside. The concern must be realistic. There is a danger in saying that we should preserve something just for the sake of preserving it, but some of my constituents would argue about the process of listing buildings in towns. They believe that an architect who may live in the countryside will come into the town and say that a certain building is worth preserving, but he does not wish to live in it.

There are many problems, but there should be development of a spirit that the countryside is part of our national heritage, not just the heritage of the people who live there at a particular time.

The hon. Member for Skipton referred to the amount of money that is spent by the national parks and the Countryside Commission. I suggest that it is nowhere near enough. I do not believe that money can solve all the problems of the countryside, but by spending a little more money it would be much easier to resolve some conflicts. especially in those cases where someone from outside insists that certain things are not done. In such cases the nation has a duty to pay the price and to compensate those who are unable to carry out certain developments because it is considered to be in the national good that that area is preserved.

The hon. Member for Skipton was a little unfair about some of the organisations and the amount of their money that goes to pay staff. He mentioned the Nature Conservancy Council, where most of the staff are field workers. He should approve of what the council is doing and not criticise it for its admininstrative costs. The Nature Conservancy Council does not have enough resources to carry out the tasks set for it by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The hon. Member for Skipton went on to talk about duplication in Government, especially between the rural affairs division of the Department of the Environment and the Countryside Commission. I suspect that that is one of the side areas in which the Government decided to hive off most of their activities and instead set up the Countryside Commission, which is a good development. Then the Government began to believe that they had lost some control, so they set up a watchdog organisation. There may be some conflict there. The Department should leave the job to the Countryside Commission and not duplicate it.

The hon. Member for Skipton went on to talk about some of the conflict. He especially criticised the tourist boards and the national park authorities in their attitude to the Pennine Way. There are real problems in that case. The hon. Gentleman pointed out the erosion that is taking place in parts of Pen-y-Ghent. He also referred to Ingleborough, which is not on the Pennine Way, but where I accept that erosion is taking place. The Peak District national park authorities had to lay an area of plastic matting across the Peak moor further to the south to try to solve the erosion problem.

There is now a major need to try to persuade people not to congregate in the most famous beauty spots but to persuade them that there are attractions in other areas. I have spoken before in the House about the problems of the Snowdonia national park. If one wishes to go around the Snowdon horseshoe in summer' and avoid the numbers of people that one would normally find in the high street, one must get up very early to do so. It is very rewarding if one gets up early, but if one visits that attraction at around midday it is crowded.

If one goes out into the countryside for peace and quiet, as I do, one will not find it. Yet within three or four miles of Snowdon there are other mountains where one can walk almost all day and see no one at all. I stress that the tourist boards have a duty to promote diversification within the national parks and to encourage people to visit some less popular spots.

The hon. Member for Skipton suggested five points that he believed should be considered. The first is the duty of the national parks' administration to protect the local community. How far does the hon. Gentleman wish the national parks to take over the duties of the local authority'? There would be a danger if they developed in that way. At the moment we do not need a major review of the workings of the national parks. If there is to be a review, it should consider those areas of outstanding natural beauty and designated as such, or those areas that are not designated but which are accepted as attractive areas. They may benefit if they are declared national parks.

I realise that there has been much argument about whether the Norfolk Broads should be included. The water board and some farming interests in that area have pressed for more and more drainage, so one can see that an area which does not have the protection of national park designation has been eroded and spoilt. Perhaps within 30 years that attractive area will have disappeared. One can advance the same argument about the erosion that is taking place in the South Downs, because it has not been designated as a national park.

One problem is that most national park areas are upland areas. Most of those upland areas are a product of careful farming. They are attractive because they are still neatly farmed, but even more attractive is much of lowland England, which is a product of the careful farming system that has developed for 300 or 400 years. That area is far more under attack than the upland areas. Britain deserves to have some lowland national parks.

There are many other points that I could develop but I do not wish to be unfair to hon. Members who may wish to speak. A growing number of people in the towns are dissatisfied about opportunities for access to the countryside. They argue that we should do much more to encourage access to those parts of the countryside to which they are still denied entry. In the 1947 legislation, major advances were made, but walkers and others who wish to use the countryside have seen the areas of countryside that they can enjoy steadily reduced, mainly by the motor car. People used to be able to walk in country lanes, which are now extremely noisy and unpleasant for walkers. They wish to have a major extension of the areas to which easy access is possible.

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

If those of us who live in the country could appoint representatives to town councils and borough councils we would accept the sort of interference that the hon. Gentleman wishes us to accept from townspeople in country areas. However, we have no representation on Stockport borough council.

Mr. Bennett

People in the towns are asking for representation not on the council but on the national park authorities. People who do not live in local areas, especially the towns, participate in the listing process for buildings that must be protected. Therefore, the same principle applies to the parks, even if not on the same scale. Many of those who live in listed buildings in Stockport would be only too pleased if they were knocked down. An architect has made out a case, but he probably lives in one of the attractive areas surrounding Stockport, possibly even in the Peak District national park. Yet he says that the building must be preserved.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

In the Peak District national park, which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) represents and where I live, it is not always the local people who resist the depredations of those who wish to carry out mineral extraction. Opposition often comes from outsiders who are concerned with the natural beauty of the area.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that point. It is the right of everyone to be concerned. There are worthwhile institutions in our national parks. We should not spend so much time criticising them, but should recognise the advantages of them preserving our countryside. We must try to resolve the conflicts, and the fact that they should be extended to a larger part of our heritage.

10.41 am
Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, especially about some of the problems in our national parks. I freely admit that I receive few complaints about the running of the Dartmoor national park, which is in my area of West Devon. Dartmoor is a large chunk of my constituency. It is one of the most beautiful areas in the South-West, and long may it be preserved.

The differences between myself and some of those who live on Dartmoor and, indeed, some hon. Members, are about two matters. The first is the existence of the Army on Dartmoor and the second is the use of Dartmoor for storing water. No one is keener than I am to preserve the wildness and beauty of Dartmoor. I shall continue to play my part in preserving it. It was a great mistake that the Dartmoor Bill did not get through the House. It should return to the House, perhaps modified, because it would be helpful to the management of our national park. We need the Army for the defence of Britain, and most certainly for the economic life of the South-West, in which it plays a real role. While it can be a nuisance and can cause some damage on Dartmoor, it is nevertheless essential that it remains.

The siting of reservoirs on Dartmoor does not detract from the beauty of the area. Burrotor and Meldon are two of the most beautiful areas on Dartmoor, yet at the same time they provide water for surrounding towns and cities and facilities for fishing and recreation. Unfortunately, many people fall out with me about those two matters, but I stick to my guns. The Army has the right to be on Dartmoor and reservoirs should be placed on the moor instead of using good agricultural land elsewhere.

As has already been emphasised, it is important that those who live on Dartmoor and in the national park must have a say in the running of the area. Their problems and difficulties must be considered carefully. The many well-meaning people who live outside Dartmoor and who rightly have an interest in its future should remember the needs of those who live and earn their living on the moors. Dartmoor must live, not decay, which means that there must be a real spirit of compromise. We cannot be dogmatic. More attention must be paid to getting the balance right.

It is said that planning applications take time, and that delay means money. I wish to quote an encouraging letter from Mr. Ian Mercer of the Dartmoor national park. He says: the time taken for all applications in West Devon that is one of the district councils— has been reduced to 51 days, in Teignbridge to 67 days and in the South Hams to 66 days. The close liaison between all three Districts and this office is thus producing a steady improvement in time taken since the Secretary of State asked for particular attention to be paid to it. I pay tribute to Ian Mercer and the planning committee for the good way that they have responded. I hope that they can improve on that time scale. The figures have improved on previous years and those concerned are to be congratulated.

There is a problem with the needs of the residents of the national park, and the national park committee should have a special interest in them. It is obliged by the Government to have their social and economic welfare as an object of policy. There must be no weakening in that policy—indeed, it must be strengthened. It is difficult to obtain planning permission to build new houses in national parks, and especially on Dartmoor. I know that many of my hon. Friends have experienced that problem. The village of Drewsteignton is a good example, where neither private nor council house building is allowed. The plan now being carried out in the Lake District, which confines the building of new houses to those who live and work in the area, should be carefully explored. It would be a great help in halting the decay of some of the villages on the moors. That plan could be extended to other areas. I shall try to promote that plan on Dartmoor.

There is a problem about signposts giving directions to hotels, restaurants and rural centres. That especially applies to Dartmoor where it is difficult to set up a proper signposting system. The public must be directed to hotels, restaurants, craft centres and small industries, and much more needs to be done in that area. Of course, I appreciate that the signposts must meet a certain standard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) has dealt with the problem of agricultural grants. The problems of compensation and additional finance once compensation has been agreed need to be overcome. The procedure for approving the grants needs to be speeded up.

Another problem—which would, I think, have been overcome if we had had a Dartmoor national park—is that the park wardens on Dartmoor need further powers. Tourism is welcomed in the South-West, as elsewhere, but there is a need to control certain areas of Dartmoor, which are flooded with visitors. It becomes a serious problem. If the excellent park wardens on Dartmoor could be given more powers for controlling and dealing with these matters, that would be a great benefit.

It is extraordinary that millions of people who visit Dartmoor every year confine their visits to very few areas. That creates many problems. The wardens have a very useful role to play in dealing with the problems—not in a difficult way but by guiding and helping people, while having the reserve power to deal with matters if people overstep the mark.

This is an important debate. While it is difficult sometimes to reconcile the needs of all in a national park, that must be attempted. Good will and consultation are essential, and quick and fair decisions must be made. Many people accept a decision that goes against them as long as it is made fairly and quickly and they can make alternative plans.

I welcome this debate. I am sure that the Minister will note what has been said. I know that he has a particular interest in Dartmoor. I have to be very careful and respectful to him, because he has relatives living in my constituency and these days I would not like to lose one vote.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has asked me to give his apologies. He has a longstanding series of meetings in his constituency—though Heaven knows whether he will be able to reach them through the snow. He has told me that he represents 70 per cent. of Exmoor. In a letter to me, he makes this very important point: Only Exmoor people, i.e. those who live on Exmoor and get their living from Exmoor, really understand the area. They must not be disadvantaged in getting their living. Exmoor must not become a museum. Its attractiveness diminishes if it is not a place in which people live and are active. He goes on to say: No houses have been built in Exmoor villages for 20 years, because of the cost and difficulties. If we do not build these houses, young people will not remain there and the villages will die. So Exmoor has its problems, too. While I am not the Member for any of the Exmoor area, I must say that great progress has been made in regard to agriculture and the management agreements there. This is a great plus for those who want to conserve Exmoor and for farmers seeking to obtain a living there. Management agreements are beginning to work very well there, and it is a credit to all concerned.

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate.

10.55 am
Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). I endorse much of what he said. He struck notes which I think have been common throughout the debate. The first was a note of congratulation to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on introducing this subject and the way in which he did it. I apologise to the hon. Member for Skipton, in his absence, for missing the first five minutes of his speech because of the diabolical weather outside.

The second note was a phenomenon first identified, I think, in that remarkable book "The Social Limits to Growth" by Fred Hirsch, which set out the principle that if enough people enjoy a given amenity, there comes a point at which it is no longer enjoyable. I speak as the president of the Derbyshire Ramblers Association. We have to accept that amenities within our national parks are now gravely at risk simply because of the sheer physical number of those who seek to enjoy them.

I have lived all my life in the Peak District national park, in the same house and village. I have seen some pressures for social change in that time. I have to accept that the way in which the national park has been placed under pressure by the major conurbations that surround it has altered to some degree my perception of what is possible in the provision of amenities in the area.

I pay tribute to those in my national park—which was, I think, the first, and is still one of the only two unitary planning authorities—who have shaped it over the years. Alderman Gratton was for a very long period the chairman. My aide, John Beadle, is the present chairman. Others of all political persuasions have joined together inside and outside the park to see that it became an area that could be planned in the national as well as the local interest.

I say to those hon. Members who perhaps have come into the debate critical of the planning powers of the national parks and the extent to which, to some degree, these overbear and override the powers of district authorities, and much more to those who are critical of some outsiders, non-residents in the parks, being on the boards of the parks, that they must consider the balance of interest that has to be struck in the administration of the area. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) wish to intervene?

Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)


Mr. Whitehead

I always mistake excitement and dissent in the hon. Member for High Peak. Today is no exception.

There are other motions on the Order Paper, and many of us must leave, in this inclement weather, for our constituencies, so I make only two short points.

The first is the question of housing and amenity. I follow here what has been said by the hon. Member for Devon, West. The position of the resident of a national park who is working in the area is extremely difficult, strained and pressed, because of the rising cost of housing and the pressure that incomers, who want a holiday amenity rather than a working house, are able to exert. I suppose that those who take a different view, such as the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), will say "If we had always had this policy, I suppose that Coleridge and De Quincey would never have come to the Lakes. There is a point at which one must say `Yes, there must be some movement into and out of areas'."

In villages such as that in which I live, although to some degree we are protected because we are on one of the great landed estates and those who own the land tend not to sell it, we see all around us the pressure on local people that comes from the inexorable weight of richer and more mobile people from the cities who want, at best, a commuter home, and at worst a holiday shell which they will occupy for just a few weekends in the year.

That is intolerable if one has grown up in an area and simply cannot find anywhere to live and raise a family within it. I therefore make two suggestions. First, we must look again not merely at the scheme that has been introduced in the Lake District national park but at the whole basis of legislation, which now says that publicly built housing, constructed by local authorities, shall in certain circumstances be compulsorily put up for sale and that the national parks are not able, as they have not been able, to act in collaboration with the kind of housing enterprise which I should like to see most brought into the area—housing co-operatives.

There should be a scheme whereby national parks are able to link with co-operative housing agencies of the sort that have flourished in recent years, especially in the cities. The essential principle of the co-operatives is that the people who occupy the houses give an undertaking that they are not only resident and working in the national park, but that they will sell only to people who are resident and working there. That might provide more resilience to the housing market for local people. If the disposal of limited housing stock is left to market forces alone, prices will inevitably be forced up and local people forced out. This has happened all over Derbyshire. It is a social disaster for the people living in the small communities.

On the issue of amenity, I accept the extra principle raised by the hon. Member for Skipton concerning the economic and social welfare of the area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, the farmer sometimes gets no tangible benefit, as he sees it, from the amenities that so many people enjoy. The farmer regards himself as an unpaid and unregarded conservation volunteer. He has to go out and rebuild the dry stone walls that have been knocked down. He has to divert people away from areas through which it may not be safe for them to pass.

There should be more study of the question of conservation grants in order to recognise that a principal role of the hill farmer in some parts of our national parks is to maintain the balance of the environment. In that role, he is doing at least as much as a full-time ranger or warden in the employ of the national park. This would achieve a great deal for the balance of the community.

I should like to mention job creation in the national parks. The Peak District national park has sent me details of its proposals for further involvement with the Manpower Services Commission to bring volunteers, in addition to the present number of conservation volunteers, into the national park to work on labour-intensive schemes. In the great cities that surround the Peak District national park, there is severe and long-standing unemployment. The problem is less severe, of course, in the depopulated areas of the national park itself.

Many of the things that need to be done, including the maintenance of areas that have sometimes suffered wear and tear at the hands of ramblers and holidaymakers, are very labour-intensive. New proposals are being made by the Manpower Services Commission for what could be an overall and comprehensive scheme. Hon. Members will have their criticisms to make when the Secretary of State for Employment introduces the scheme next week. If, however, there is to be a comprehensive scheme, I should like to see links established between planning authorities, in this case the national parks, and the MSC to bring young volunteers into the countryside.

Many years have elapsed since I was taught the art of dry stone walling by my father. It is a very relaxing and satisfying occupation. Many of the walls in Derbyshire were last repaired by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars. There is a great deal of repair work to be done. In my own village, an old mill that had fallen into disuse after the family that ran it got into economic difficulties has just been converted and restored. We were able to bring in Manpower Services Commission volunteers to work on the project.

That experience has taught me a great deal over the last year about ways in which young people can be brought into a rural community, of which they know little, and can come to learn to cherish it and esteem it and so bring back employment and vitality to the community. It is a remarkable scheme—the sort of thing that I should like to see happen much more throughout our national parks.

I welcome the debate. I hope that the constructive views that have been put forward will assist the development of the parks and acknowledge some of the threats that are faced.

11.4 am

Sir Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) for introducing a debate on this subject. The fact that this has so far been a useful debate with very little disagreement—the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) was particularly helpful—shows that there was a need to discuss this problem. I believe that I can make the unusual claim that I am the only hon. Member who has two national parks within his constituency. I have done some research. I cannot find evidence to support any similar claim. They are the Yorkshire Dales national park, which also forms part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton, and the North Yorkshire moors national park.

I recognise the important role of national park boards and national park committees in preserving the beauty and attraction of these areas. I think I can honestly say that the two national parks in North Yorkshire are as lovely and as unspoilt as any part of the United Kingdom. The variety of scenery in Swaledale and Wensleydale and parts of Wharfedale and the beauty of the Cleveland hills and North Yorkshire moors make these areas among the most attractive in Britain. Many more people have come to know them recently through the films and television series on Herriot land.

Mr. Spence

Herriot country.

Sir Timothy Kitson

Herriot land. It is strange to recall that when I started farming Herriot was my vet. Most of his stories relate to the North Yorkshire moors national park, yet all the filming was done in the Yorkshire dales national park. It is amazing to consider the number of people, particularly Americans, who come to look at what they call Herriot country—if that is right—which is actually in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) and the base of the Cleveland hills. The visitors come to my constituency because Herriot, although that is not his real name but a nom-de-plume, lives in a village there. It is amazing how places such as Harrogate have leapt into the act, advertising in the United States: "Visit Herriot land" and then sending their visitors into Wharfedale, which has nothing to do with it.

For a variety of reasons, people who live in the national parks are beginning to feel increasingly the restrictions that are placed upon them. The only disagreement that might arise in the debate concerns representation on national park boards. I have to inform the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that there is no possibility that I could persuade my constituents that more outside members should sit on national park committees or boards. At the same time, I respect the need to keep a balance with those who visit the area.

The people who live in national parks will claim that they are short of representation. I do not believe that either side can be persuaded to take a different view. At any meeting that I hold in my constituency in a national park, I can guarantee that some of the problems of living in national parks will be raised. This is not because people who live, work and make a living in national park areas do not recognise the value of those areas. The problem relates to the cost and the restrictions that they have to bear. By its very name, a national park should be a national responsibility. The additional cost incurred through living within the area of a national park should not fall upon the shoulders of the inhabitants but should be met by some sort of national fund.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) talked about planning difficulties. Three aspects of planning in national parks cause problems. The first problem is caused by delays. Delays in planning permission are costly because at a time of inflation the longer the delay the more expense is incurred. One national park board attempts to make a decision within 28 days of an application. About 69 per cent. of planning applications in England are decided within eight weeks. After 13 weeks, 11 per cent. of planning applications are still without decision. Two national parks are situated in my constituency. In the North Yorkshire moors national park decisions on 82 per cent. of applications are taken within eight weeks, and 7 per cent. take over 13 weeks. That is not a bad performance. In the Yorkshire dales national park only 57 per cent. of the applications are dealt with within eight weeks and at the end of 13 weeks 21 per cent. of the applications are still being considered.

Hon. Members who represent national park areas will often have heard people ask why two rulings are required for one planning application. First, an application goes to the district council, which makes a decision, and then the application is referred to the parks planning committee. We should examine the timetables of planning committees because some are better than others. The national park planning committee should arrange to sit within a reasonable time after an application has been considered by the district council to avoid the possibility of a two or three months delay.

Applicants often have to have two inspections, one by the district council and one by the parks committee. People often ask why that duplication is necessary. My area contains two very good district councils. If they had advice from the national parks committee with a member of that committee sitting with them they would be capable of making decisions that would be acceptable to the national parks. I am not sure whether one can say that of distict councils which have only a small piece of national park in their areas. One might run into difficulties under those circumstances.

I hope that the Minister will consider the difficulties caused by delays. Delays create frustrations among people living in national parks because they believe that they are often messed about, perhaps over only a simple planning application.

I told my colleagues the other day about a man who wanted to change his garage door. He was told in no uncertain terms that on garage doors in his area all the wood had to be placed horizontally. He did not want horizontal wood on his garage door. He wanted the wood to be perpendicular. He went to look at the garage doors of three national park officers in the area and discovered that the wood on their garage doors ran the way in which he wanted the wood on his door to run. At the end of the day he got away with it. In a village community everybody hears about such incidents. We must try to avoid that type of frustration and irritation.

It is unfair that people living within a national park should have to pay for an application for a development when such an application is not necessary outside a national park. That is unreasonable. It has applied only since April this year. People who want to make only a small alteration question why they should have to pay when, if they lived outside the national park area, they would not even have to make an application. It is almost impossible to justify that. We must resolve it.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Is it not incredible that such charges have been introduced? Is not there a strong case for remitting the charge when the application is refused? Someone who is allowed to develop a project gains a clear advantage and perhaps should pay.

Sir Timothy Kitson

I believe that when an application is made which is not applicable outside a national park the applicant should not have to pay, whether it is refused or accepted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) talked about the problems of building costs in national parks. If a man has farmed all his life he might want to hand over his farm to his son and retire. He might decide to try to build a small bungalow, but then, faced with the additional costs caused by the need for stone facings or the type of windows or doors that he must have, he might decide that the cost was prohibitive.

A man in such a position has two choices. He can say "I cannot do it", and move to another area. Often he might have to go 20 or 30 miles outside the national park, where he can build a cheaper house. He will have to leave his family and the people with whom he has worked and lived all his life. He will have to start life afresh late in life. That is grossly unfair. Only because of the costs placed upon his shoulders does he have to move.

The alternative is to decide not to retire. I know a farmer who said that he was going to hand over his farm to his son because his son had reached the age of 55 and his father thought that it was time that he had some responsibility. The farmer was in his mid-80s and thought that young John was now capable of coping with the situation at home. The man looked at the cost of building a bungalow, decided that it was prohibitive and said "I am not sure John is ready to take over yet. I have decided to continue for a few years myself." The man was finding a way to justify continuing until he died while the son carried on as his assistant.

Guidelines should be produced to help people seeking planning permission. A person might go to a planning office and say "This is what I am thinking of doing." In some areas national parks officers are helpful but that is not always so. Some will say "We cannot have that." The applicant asks "What do you require?" The reply can be "It is not our responsibility to tell you. We say that your plan will not do. Come back when you have another idea." That creates delays.

We need some guidelines. In some areas, guidelines are beginning to appear, certainly in the Yorkshire Dales national park area, because I have asked the authorities there to produce them. I realise that what is acceptable for one part of a national park may not be acceptable for another part. For example, what is good for Wharfedale is not necessarily good for Swaledale or Wensleydale. The authorities in certain areas should say "This would be acceptable to us; this is the sort of thing that we require." That would save much time.

There is also the problem of council house development—old people's bungalows—in national park villages. In a number of villages in my constituency, a council house or one or two old-age pensioners' bungalows are urgently required. However, when the district council looks at the cost of building a council house of the type that is suitable for the village, it finds that the cost is almost prohibitive. Houses are needed in the whole district council area, and when the council considers the cost of building, say, two council houses in a pretty village such as West Burton, where no council houses have been built for a considerable time, it is clear that for the price of two houses it can probably build six houses five or six miles further down the dale outside the national park.

That brings me to what the hon. Member for Derby, North said, that in villages where there is no development there is the problem of incomers from Bradford, Teesside, Leeds and the West Riding who buy second homes there. The numbers of the community start to fall, the village school finds itself in difficulty, and often the village shop, too. It is sad that the village shops seems to be used by people with weekend cottages only when they have forgotten to buy something in the supermarket. If they forget to buy the marmalade for the weekend, they go to the village shop and buy it there. They buy everything in a cheap supermarket and bring it with them. They want the advantages of the village, but the only time that they use the village shop is when they have forgotten something. Regrettably, the village shop disappears, and the area starts to become a ghost area.

If we are to preserve national parks, we must preserve the communities that go with them. As has been said already this morning, the last thing that we want are empty villages with a depleting population. They become museums for the people of the towns and cities to visit.

I reiterate that, if we are to maintain the beauty of the national parks, we must maintain the communities within them. National parks should be a national responsibility, and the additional costs that fall on the shoulders of those who live within them should be borne by funds to preserve the beauty of the area, and not paid by the people who lived there many years before national parks were thought about.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to raise these matters this morning. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will assure us that at least some of these problems will be considered during the next few months. Many of us who represent national parks areas genuinely feel that we shall be forced to continue to bring the problems of our constituencies to the attention of the Department of the Environment. I hope that Conservative Members who feel strongly about the matter will continue to meet and discuss their problems, and I hope that we can produce useful and sensible suggestions that will make the lot of those who live in national parks more reasonable.

11.25 am
Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)

It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), who has paid careful attention to this subject for many years. He has brought to our attention the aspects of living within a national park. I feel proud, too, that at least 50 per cent. of hon. Members in the Chamber this morning come from or live within 10 miles of the Peak park. I look at the Benches opposite and at the Benches behind me and see that the Peak park is well represented. Of course, it would be much better represented in the Galleries if it were not for the fact that we are completely snowbound up there and there is no way of getting out or in.

In congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson), I am sure that he was right to mention all the various authorities which are involved in the scheme. He mentioned the Pennine Way. He may have forgotten that it starts in my constituency and that it is next door to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). We know the Pennine Way. Perhaps we do not walk up it as far as he does, but we know it very well.

I pay tribute to the late Lord Silkin, who raised the matter in 1945. Britain could never afford the type of national parks that exist in Australia, America or elsewhere. We have not bought the land from the people who live in national parks. They still own it.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) talked about representation. Perhaps he would care to look at this list which shows that two thirds of the members of the Peak Park planning board live outside the park, most of them 40 miles from it. So what the hon. Gentleman said does not make sense.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman says that they live 40 miles from the park, but if he looks at a map I suspect he will see that some of the people who live outside the park live closer to many parts of it than some of the people who live inside it. As he will know, the Peak district park runs north over most of the high ground, and people who live in Sheffield or Manchester are closer to much of the park than those who live in its southern parts.

Mr. Le Marchant

Equally, we must recognise that we now believe that 15 million people come to the Peak park every year. On a fine afternoon in summer, if we are lucky enough to get one, we have 100,000 cars. So we are conscious of our responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has not only lived in the park all his life, but he married into a family which has lived there for 200 years. So we must recognise, as Norman Wilson said, that 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of the people who live in the park in Derbyshire were born and bred there. What the hon. Member said about job creation was interesting. We not only have people coming in to work in our quarries, which he knows well, and in our market gardens, which he knows much better. We also have blue collar workers who move out of the area to find employment elsewhere. The point that the hon. Member made so well was that if we can create job opportunities within our area that would be much better for those of us who represent that area.

I do not agree with my noble Friend Lord Sandford who says that the acceptance of the philosophy of national parks must assume increasingly stringent control of development. If we do not allow certain forms of development we shall not get the jobs that the hon. Member wants in the area.

I also disagree with the Countryside Commission's assessment of what its job should be. I do not believe that the Countryside Commission has thought out carefully enough the problem of those who live in the area. The Lake District national park believes that it should allow only a limited number of private developments. That is not right. There should be more private developments. In that respect, I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Derby, North propose co-operative housing. That is an idea that should be thought out by those of us in the area. It has been done everywhere else so why not in our area?

I cannot entirely accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Kitson) said about the man who intends to retire at 85. Many of us arrange development planning permission for bungalows only to find that the person for whom one has obtained that permission moves into the bungalow and sells his farm for a great deal of money.

There must be more consultation between national parks and district councils. In the park we are working hard in that direction. For example, on the important matter of caravans, no fewer than 27 authorities and different associations were consulted. Moreover, in our structure plan for the park we have something going for us.

The national parks have done a superb job for Britain since 1945. Great credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton for introducing this debate and acknowledging the value of national parks. Looking back over the years since 1945, we need to recognise what has been done to get the maximum participation between the people who live there and the 15 million people who visit the area. Together, I am certain that we shall be able to do it.

We must also remember—this happens in every national park—that the people working in the parks are called out in every sort of emergency. They go down pot holes, they deliver babies and do everything in these remote areas. They deserve the greatest credit. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that we must look at this matter afresh.

11.35 am
Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) for not being present for the early part of the debate. My six-mile, two-hour journey this morning reminded me of visiting Exmoor national park one January day. If I needed any convincing that life for those who live and work in national parks is not all picnics and pleasant walks, that was it.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) and I have crossed swords before in the Chamber on the subject of national parks, but I was glad to hear him pay tribute to Lord Silkin, and I would have added a tribute to those who persuaded Lord Silkin that a national park in the Peak District was essential.

I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not support Lord Sandford on the need to continue and develop the work of Lord Silkin. The hon. Gentleman and I last debated together on an Adjournment debate, when he opposed the purchase of Kinder Scout by the Peak District national park. I should have thought that public ownership by the national park of one of the few wilderness areas left in England was appropriate.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the problem of jobs in rural areas, but this does not only apply to national parks. The national parks, because of the assistance that they give to the tourist industry and to the farmers who are in national parks, are in many ways better off then those areas in Eastern England that are becoming devoid of villages and people.

I must look carefully at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the majority of board members live over 40 miles from the national park. That does not correspond with my recollection of the situation, but I take his word for it. I shall also look at the census figures to see whether it is a fact that 80 to 90 per cent. of the people living in the park were born there. We have in the national park a problem of income, as it is called in various areas.

The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) made some useful points on planning. Some delays are inevitable in planning if the job is to be done properly, particularly in the national parks where, inevitably, the control must be tighter. His suggestion that national park authorities and district councils should adjust the timetabling of their planning committee meetings in order to be better able to cope is excellent. His suggestion that informal guidance by planning officers before an application is made is extremely useful. I hope that park planning officers will take note of that.

In the Lake and Peak Districts the national park is the unitary planning authority, and that makes for speed. Consultation does, of course, take place. In the Peak park, where six county councils are involved, such unitary authority is essential. Exmoor has a similar arrangement with its district councils, and although it is not strictly a legal one it has arranged with its two district councils to adopt a similar method to that of the High Peak.

I have visited all the national parks in England and talked to officials, to people who work there and to those who live there. I have referred to the build-up to Lord Silkin's legislation on the Peak District national park, and I admit to being present at the battles in the High Peak—what one might call extra parliamentary activity—when the people of Manchester and Sheffield demonstrated against the failure to give access to the land except for those who were going to shoot over it.

There are now 10 national parks. The motion mentions authorities spending a lot of money. However, the money spent on our parks amounts to very little when compared with the value that they provide in maintaining and improving the appearance of the areas involved, and in providing reasonable access to visitors, as well as providing information, car parking facilities, road improvements and generally working to help to keep relations smooth between those who live and work in the parks and those who only live in them. They are not always the same. Many of those who live in our national parks earn their livelihoods in the big cities and are, in a sense, incomers. In addition, there are many visitors.

National parks are a great asset to one of our biggest industries, the tourist industry. More and more people, particularly foreigners, are beginning to realise that Britain does not consist only of London, Stonehenge and Stratford-upon-Avon. The education given by the tourist authorities and the national park authorities is extremely helpful in spreading the load. However, that load must also be spread among the national parks. Northumberland national park does not consist only of Hadrian's wall. The more education and information given to our people and to foreigners, the better.

There must be a national input, not only in cash terms, but in terms of membership of boards and officials. There is a danger—which they may not always recognise—that when Secretaries of State make appointments to national park committees they may appoint people who are no different from those who are appointed to the national park committee from the local area. A farmer may be appointed who is just as likely to be appointed as a member of the county council. In some parks only one county council is involved. The Peak national park is the exception. There is a risk—as occurred in the Lake District after the local government reorganisation—that the council leader will regard the park committee as a sub-committee of the county council. That must not occur.

The hon. Member for Skipton mentioned "duplication" and "conflict" in the motion. There is potential conflict all the time. That is the great problem that faces Ministers, park authorities and officials. There is a conflict between farmers and visitors and between protecting the environment and meeting the needs of industry. That applies particularly to the Peak District and, to some extent, to Northumberland and the Yorkshire moors. Nowadays farming is an industry, but it is becoming more and more rare to find a farmer born in the locality who is carrying on the farm run by his father before him. Farming is now a question of big business. Indeed, we discussed that at length during the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill.

There is a conflict between those who live locally and those who live and work locally. When an application is made for new industry, the opposition comes not from those who live and work in the area, but from those who use it as a dormitory. There is also a conflict between visitors and the Army on Dartmoor and conflict between the water authorities. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) support the idea of reservoirs on Dartmoor. The South-West is always the first to be in trouble whenever there is a drought. If ever reservoirs are needed, they are needed in the South-West.

As the parks are so important to many people, there must be more than local concern about and intervention in planning, development and finance. In planning, a body that includes representatives of both local and national interests is the appropriate one to control development. That authority is the national park authority. No other body can give that essential balance. Even then, the appeals procedure can leave final decisions to one person, the Minister.

Under the Labour Government I had some responsibility for national parks and mineral planning, and I know something of the agonising over such decisions. With the exception of coal, I thought at one time that minerals were found only in the national parks. The Minister must consider the national interest, the national economic interest—in addition to benefits provided by visitors;—the need for minerals, the need for national parks for recreation and for the views that they offer, local interests and the need for jobs in an area.

The hon. Member for Skipton is probably worried about the day-to-day development—comparatively small—of buildings and extensions, as well as agricultural grant applications. Given the need for control, the delays involved in decisions about national parks are no greater than those involved outside. There must be tighter controls if we are to protect the landscape and to carry out the other functions involved.

I am surprised to note that none of the Conservative Members who have spoken were members of the Standing Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which took such a long time to consider the measure. We accepted increased district council representation on national park authorities, and I am sure that that was welcomed, particularly in the Lake District where there was considerable controversy. I hope that that legislation will have a chance to work itself through and that it will give district councils an opportunity to make their presence felt.

The fact that applicants have to pay for the vetting of planning applications is a sore point with many people, both inside and outside our national parks. For example, in national parks the area that can be built on without reference to the planning authority is smaller than the area that can be built on outside a national park. Where there is a difference, the applicant should not be required to pay additional costs.

There is great scope for more agreements between the park authorities—other than unitary authorities—and the district councils. I do not accept that too much money is being spent on national parks. I looked at the Government's public expenditure statement, which came out this week and which covers their spending plans for next year. National parks do not get even a mention. The rate requirement on counties varies between the one-hundredth of one penny that some of the Metropolitan councils give to the Peak national park and ½p—the highest—which comes from Gwynedd to pay for Snowdonia. That is not an enormous contribution. If the national parks did not exist, county councils would probably have to spend more money than they do at present.

I accept the national park philosophy. If that philosophy is accepted we must expect difficulties and conflicts and an increasing contribution from the national Exchequer. Every year the work becomes more difficult. I am sure that Lord Silkin did not foresee the invasion of cars that has taken place in the past 20 or 30 years. We need to consider again the financing of national parks and the Countryside Commission. National parks should not be subjected to the normal cuts. If we fail to spend the money now, the object that we are trying to defend will be lost for ever. We certainly do not want that.

11.48 am
Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)

The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) made many good points. I shall refer to two of them. He said that expenditure on national parks was small compared with the value that the public get. I very much agree with that, and I shall later point out some of the areas in which our national parks are departing from that good housekeeping principle. I deplore that departure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) referred to the valuable contribution that our national parks make to the tourist industry. In doing so, he stole a little of my thunder, as did the hon. Member for Gorton. Only today, I received a copy of a newspaper from the United States of America. It describes a large portion of my constituency as "Herriot's Yorkshire". It carries the address "Yorkshire, England" and I am sure that that is a very definable address. It is graced with a picture of Whitby Abbey taken from the Khyber Pass. How international and attractive can one get?

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) has done a wonderful service for the national parks and for the amenities which they provide. He spoke about rural villages and depopulation and said that the solution to such evils was not only for the Government. I go a long way with that, but I ask the Minister to recognise that the national park concept, which started in the post-war period and was put into legislative form by degrees in the late 1960s and early 1970s, came into being before Britain was a member of the European Economic Community. I began to discover, in the course of investigations elsewhere, that we must now commence the restructuring of the many agencies which lead to conflict in the national parks. For example, a number of bodies are interested in planning applications and many other organisations are interested in grants in the parks.

We must consider establishing a group to study the structure of the agencies operating in the parks to ensure that we get the maximum grants in the most efficient way from the EEC. I assure the Minister—I do not wish to develop this point because it is another subject—that there are certain grants that Britain has disqualified itself from having and others to which we are entitled but are not claiming. They are two serious points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) spoke about the unresponsive bureaucracy being developed. That could be a danger but, as in all matters affecting human organisations and activity, much depends on the quality, ability and political skill of the chairmen of individual park boards. The North Yorkshire moors national park has had the good fortune of having one man looking after the interests of the park for the past seven years, and I pay tribute to Michael Foster, the county councillor, for the excellent and valuable work that he has done.

The county councillor's chairmanship—which ended in April this year—held the balance between the objectives of the national parks—conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and amenity, the provision and improvement of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside—and the need to secure public access to the countryside for the purposes of open-air recreation. He held the balance well between those who live and work in the parks and those who wish to use them for enjoyment. The parks were created to conserve and shape the landscape, but we must not forget the part played by farmers and those who worked in them and provided the shaped and conserved landscape before national parks were established. They were there long before national parks were thought of.

Any further development of public access to the parks should be carefully considered in relation to the burdens on those who live and work in them. I am sure that the North Yorkshire moors national park will be well protected under the new chairmanship. The moors national park officer recently wrote to me: My committee and its officers have made strenuous efforts to co-ordinate the work of conserving the national park and promoting its enjoyment with the interests of the local farming community and the national park residents. I believe we have achieved a good deal within our limited resources and certainly I believe we have established good relationships. I confirm that from practical experience and I will not deal with it further. They have done their best and I give them full credit. However, there are certain areas where there is still room for improvement.

Reference has been made to the costs and expenses of the parks and to the limited resources available. The first cautionary note that I sound is that I do not believe that the ownership of land within a national park is necessary for an authority to fulfil its proper functions. It has all the planning authority it requires and the park committee, as planning authority, can do everything it needs to ensure conservation. It does not need any further powers and it certainly does not need ownership.

The North Yorkshire moors national park has deliberately played down that aspect to a low profile, but I begin to hear rumblings that, as the purchase of land by the park would be 70 per cent. financed by the Government, we should go for that. I would much deplore that and I hope that the Minister will consider the matter carefully because it is not necessary for a park authority to purchase land in order to fulfil the functions that I listed.

I have spoken in general terms but I must give the Minister a concrete case. Upper Farndale—a most beautiful valley famous for the daffodil round in the early spring, which I am sure many hon. Members have enjoyed—was formerly owned by the Hull corporation and it was intended to be used as a reservoir to supply water to Sheffield and Hull.

After many years of discussion and public inquiries before my time, my predecessor, Sir Robin Turton, who is now in another place but was once the Father of the House, said when I took over "You will need the papers on Farndale". I said "Certainly", and he said "I will send them along to you." It took two men from the Department of the Environment, with a trolley, to bring four large boxes of correspondence about that valley. Needless to say, I did not go through it all; the last letter was enough for me. The correspondence had gone on for a long time, but it has now been decided that there will not be a reservoir there.

Since 1974 the Hull corporation lost the title to the property and it passed to the Yorkshire water authority, which has not decided what to do with the land. There have been discussions but a decision has not yet been reached. One option being considered is that North Farndale should be purchased by the moors national park. That is absurd. Exercise of the option should not even be attempted.

The estate purchased was a whole estate, which existed long before the national parks were thought of. It contains some woodland. The section of the dale to the south is being sold at auction in the normal way. Incidentally, the local farmers are getting together, and I am assisting them over a loan from the European Bank, to purchase the area and divide it into their individual farms. There are complications and difficulties. There is also the opportunity to form a co-operative and raise the money privately. The north section of Farndale could be dealt with in the same way, but the last thing that we wish is for the Yorkshire water authority to behave in the worst possible speculative way by asset stripping—selling off the arable land to the farmers—and being left with the woodland which it cannot sell to the farmers because they do not want it. It would leave the authority with the worst type of management problems and with further expense.

That leads me to my next and final point, which concerns lack of sensitivity. As long as the national parks committees keep a low profile, getting their way quietly by reason and argument over many of the facilities that they provide, they will continue to enjoy the good will of those who live and work in the parks, but the minute that they adopt a higher profile and appear to be in competition with those living and working on the land at the root of the problem—land ownership—they are in for considerable trouble. Land ownership goes to the heart of the matter, particularly in our old areas which form the national parks. The committees would be ill advised to be insensitive and to ignore that fact.

I ask the Minister to look into the points that I have raised about the parks within the country and their relationship within the EEC and the grants and aid available which we are not getting. I have mentioned my concern about the ownership of land by the national parks. I ask him also to accept that it is not necessary or desirable for the authorities to adopt a high profile. They should achieve their objectives in a sensitive and considerate way.

12.2 pm

Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)

I, too, express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) for giving us the opportunity to have this useful debate on the national parks. We have heard a litany of problems, and all the national parks have many common problems.

Over 3,000 people live in the national park areas. To a degree they are penalised by the fact that Britain is guilty of maintaining her national parks on the cheap. We fail to make compensatory payments to residents in park areas where they are prevented from making developments that would be acceptable outside.

We have heard a great deal about the inconvenience to farmers when faced with the influx of tourists. I was struck by the fact that, for instance, in one weekend in the Lake District it is possible to have as many visitors as there are in a whole year at the Yellowstone national park. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) for that information.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) said that extra costs and restrictions peculiar to the national parks—we are talking about housing, small industrial development and agricultural development—should not fall on the residents. We should not evade the responsibility to pay compensation for demonstrable extra costs. We could do a great deal thereby to ease relations between the park authorities and residents.

There has been an improvement in the representation of local people. The statutory right of district councils to be represented on the national park authorities is a step in the right direction. In the Brecon Beacons area—my own area—22 of the 27 members of the authority live in or at the edge of the park. Only three live more than two miles away. In a number of areas there has been a good response to local interest. However, a great deal more could be done for public relations if there were clearer guidelines on planning requirements. There is great potential for tension here between the authorities and residents, and a great deal depends on the effectiveness of individual officers.

We should not be complacent and believe that there is always sufficient input from the members of the national parks. Sometimes people may live 40 or 50 miles from the area in which a subject is being studied, so there is a tendency for decisions to slide to the officials.

I am impressed by the progress made by the Brecon Beacons national park in avoiding delays. The average processing time for capital grant farm schemes, which is a new responsibility undertaken by the authority in the past year, is two weeks, which is a reasonable performance.

All national park authorities should bear in mind that they are bound by statute not only to conserve natural beauty and encourage recreation but to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic interests of rural areas. That provision is in section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968. The more they can show that they understand their responsibility to look after the people living in the areas, the more will the residents accept the rules and planning requirements.

12.7 pm

Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson), and I agree with much of what he says.

I am aware that our remarks will, rightly, be taken seriously by the national parks authorities. I have considerable sympathy with the Lake District special planning board, which is often used as a whipping horse in the area. I voice criticism of the national park, but not because I feel that it never does any good. Far from it. I am aware that it does many good things, but in local matters Members of Parliament tend to voice criticism because that is what their constituents bring to their attention. The result is that there appears to be a one-sided approach when these matters are discussed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on initiating the debate. We are discussing matters that should be debated more often in the House. The national parks are areas of national importance to everyone, and I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), who says that in these matters we must be one nation. These are matters of national importance and the local problems are of national importance also.

We in the Lake District are grateful for the provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which have made it possible for district councillors to have direct representation on the Lake District special planning board. That has been possible, for example, for the South Lakeland district council. These welcome provisions in the Act were referred to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). I enter the caveat that I expressed when the announcement was made. It is that one day we shall seek direct representation on the planning committee of the planning board, which is the area of tension.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North said that people in Stockport complain about architects who live in the countryside and place preservation orders on their property. There is a delicious irony. We in the Lake District national park complain about everything being run by outsiders for the benefit of outsiders. The hon. Gentleman in turn is finding that his constituents are complaining about architects who happen to live in the countryside, who perhaps have second homes in the Lake District national park.

I shall direct the greater part of my remaining remarks to what are known in my area as section 52 agreements. I do not suppose that you would recognise one if you met one, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think that they have yet been sighted in county Durham. The agreements have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton. They are planning agreements that are entered into to try to deal with the problem of the outsider who comes to the area. I recognise the problem that is created in areas such as the Lake District because of affluence and motorways, which was so well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton.

The agreements derive from section 52 of the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1951, whereby the Lake District special planning board grants planning permission for a new dwelling—for example, a barn conversion or a new house—in return for an agreement that the dwelling will be occupied for ever more only by locally employed persons. I am simplifying slightly, but not in a material sense.

A section 52 agreement is a shotgun marriage. The applicant does not get planning permission unless he agrees with the terms of the section. The phrase "employed locally" begs a definition. About 100 such agreements have been made, and "employed locally" has been defined on an ad hoc basis to suit local conditions, sometimes extremely narrowly and sometimes less so. The most narrow of the definitions has been to include an area that comprises a handful of parishes. A less narrow definition has been to include the area covered by two district councils.

I would welcome these procedures if I thought that they would work. I hope that I shall be able to demonstrate to the House that my strictures are not those of a raving parliamentary bigot. Further thought and analysis reveal one or two problems and difficulties. First, let us consider the lot of the hapless Member of Parliament. Is he locally employed in his constituency if he seeks to build a house there? That seemed a shining example—perhaps the best example—of the difficulty.

I asked the Lake District special planning board how it would deal with such a situation. The answer is that he is employed locally because that is common sense, and I am glad to know that. It is nice to know that one is a local in one's constituency, but the answer is not so simple. If I owned a section 52 house not in my constituency but just over the border in the Chief Whip's constituency, would still be local there, bearing in mind that he makes me spend all my time here? I am happy to say that I own a house near Lancaster to which I am much attached, so none of this applies to me, but let us consider some of those to whom it does apply.

Let us consider the business man who wishes to convert a barn in Coniston but whose business is 20 miles away in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). Coniston is in South Lakeland district, while Barrow is in Barrow district. That business man is surely a local man, so, if the board is to be fair and to do justice, "locally employed" must be defined in this case as including both areas.

Let us take the further example of a surgeon employed at the Royal Lancaster infirmary, which is in Lancashire and not Cumbria, who wishes to convert a barn in Lindale in the Lake District park, just over 20 miles away. Some of his patients in Lancaster will come from that very village, as they cross the county border to come to the hospital. Is he locally employed? Of course he is, so in that case the definition must include not just Cumbria but parts of Lancashire. We have now moved a long way from the clutch of small parishes within a small community to include a vast chunk of North-West Britain.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. He should look at the principle. People felt that in certain parts of the Lake District there were already too many dwellings and there was no space for new development. The argument was that there should be none at all. It was then argued that this was unfair to those who must live close to their work, and that it would be difficult to maintain a living community. Therefore, one must ask whether the person needs to live in the area to carry on his occupation. In almost all the instances so far cited the people involved could live somewhere else, just outside the Lake District, without any damage to themselves or to the area.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman merely reiterates the problem. I accept that there is a problem. If he listens a little longer, he will realise that it is not enough to say that those people should buy houses elsewhere. The injustice may fall not on them but on their successors in title if they have been granted the permission. If he will bear with me a little longer, he may appreciate that, although there is a fundamental problem, the solution is not so easy as may be imagined.

I have given two examples of local employment. I now take a slightly fanciful and more extreme example, but it is based upon fact. I know of a man who lives near Lancaster although not in the Lake District. He is very much a local man and his family live there. He drives to Manchester every Monday and flies to Brussels, where he is employed. That case illustrates the absurdity of the situation.

My fundamental criticism of the policy is that people who are clearly local are often employed not locally but elsewhere. The difficulty does not end there, as the provisions in the agreements apply for ever more. The man who runs the business in Barrow will not live in his house in Coniston for that long. If the business man dies, his family may wish to sell the house to the surgeon in Lindale, whose job is in Lancaster but who wishes to move to Coniston for his retirement years. The restrictions on the house in Coniston do not include Lancaster, so what will happen? Will the parties get the board's agreement to change the restrictions? Probably not, yet the surgeon has as much right to be a local in Coniston as he does in Lindale. We are therefore drawn to the conclusion that the supposed definition of "local" in these formal, legally binding agreements is not a definition, however widely or carefully it is drawn. It is merely an administrative guideline, which it is left to the benign discretion of the board officials to interpret. We are thus faced with the reality that the capacity of an owner to build or sell is limited by the administrative discretion of the board.

I have no evidence, nor indeed the remotest belief, of any impropriety. However, the existence of such a giant discretion required to interpret a legally binding document that has been agreed by solicitors of the consenting party, and ultimately might be determined by a High Court judge—binding not only on the consenting party but on his successors in title from here to eternity—is unacceptable. The idea, especially in its most extreme example in a handful of parishes, is based on the fallacy that small village communities are composed of farmers, blacksmiths and stonemasons as they were 100 years ago—people who never moved from the area. That is not the case.

The difficulties of the policy do not end merely with the definition. It is an obvious fact that houses subjected to such agreements are diminished in value. That must happen in the fullness of time. There are great difficulties, when one lives in such a house, if one changes jobs more than once and moves out of the restricted areas. Am I then considered to be a local, or will I be turned out of my house? I do not wish to elaborate, but those are the implications for the future that cause concern to many people now.

Injustice is caused not only to those who consent to the conditions but to those who do not believe that they would be wise to consent to such terrible conditions and therefore fail to get planning permission. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) said, we wish to have guidelines. It is almost impossible to have guidelines published on a policy that is to be interpreted on an ad hoc basis.

Another great difficulty is that the agreements are of very little benefit, when they work, but cause much public anguish. There have been only 100 in the Lake District so far. I do not know the total number of houses in the Lake District, but it is about 16,000, so it is a fleabite compared with the total housing stock. Therefore, the policy does not remotely meet the problem.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman should think about the problem of the houses that might have been built but for this procedure. If houses had continued to be built in those villages, without local people living in them, the character of the area would have been destroyed.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Once again the hon. Gentleman is identifying the problem. I agree with him, but to have those restrictions on 100 houses out of a total housing stock of 16,000 will do nothing to alleviate the problem. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a matter that is of great concern to me, because many people in Cumbria believe that the procedure is succeeding and is intended to meet the whole problem. However, one day—there is no evidence of it so far and I cannot believe that it is in the board's mind—a lunatic will say that we need more of the medicine, not just for new houses, but for the existing housing stock as well. The whole matter then becomes ridiculously unacceptable to a free society.

Some people say that it is all very well making these points, but we are discussing voluntary agreements. They are shotgun agreements. We know that even truly voluntary agreements must be scrutinised carefully if there are difficult implications. The overriding concern is that the difficulties of outsiders buying houses in the Lake District are not limited to the national parks. They exist throughout the whole of rural Britain. In some areas of Wales that are not in the national parks people are being convicted of arson. Therefore, the problem must be at least as acute there as it is in the Lake District. I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has published proposals to delete these powers from the board. Although I do not have the complete support of my right hon. and hon. Friends, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have my strenuous support if he carries out his intention.

My remarks may have appeared controversial, and I fear that what I am about to say will be a great deal more so. As I contemplate such an icy plunge I think of my secretary, because when I make such comments I receive an avalanche of correspondence. We are all creatures of fashion—even if the best of fashion. There is a terrible danger, in everything that we do, of confusing fashionable values with fundamental values. One powerful fashion today is our romantic nostalgia for the late nineteenth century. We see that in the historical romances on television, in ladies' fashions, in the revival of cottage industries, in the delight—of which I wholly approve—that people take in restoring canals and watermills and in the fashion for making every dwelling in the countryside look like a late nineteenth century cottage—even when it was once only the dog kennels.

I wholly approve of that fashion—indeed, I indulge in it—but it is not fundamental, and one day fashions will change and people will want modern buildings in the Lake District. They will say that they want new, substantial, solid, worthy buildings. Amazing though it may be to contemplate that now, people will say that within my lifetime. Their attitude to the landscape itself will also change. One interesting feature of the Lake District was that it was once covered by Scots pine trees. It is only as a result of 2,000 or 3,000 years of livestock and farming that it has become a wild, open space.

When this attitude changes, I believe that people will acknowledge that there are more potential sites for building on in the Lake District than they now accept is the case, and more potential sites for building on without destroying the very great beauty that is so very much a part of our heritage. When that change in attitude takes place, it will be in part—only in part—a solution to the problem.

12.30 pm
Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

I join my colleagues in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on being lucky enough to have been able to arrange this very useful debate. We have seen and heard, on the Government Back Benches, a Conservative Party of which sometimes we do not see and hear quite enough.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for sitting with us throughout the debate. We find him today, as always, sympathetic and ready to listen to the problems that those of us who have national parks in our constituencies encounter from time to time.

It was a particular pleasure to hear my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) speak. I do not think that he has spoken in the Chamber since the Whip's muzzle was taken off him. If he has done so, I have not heard him. It seems entirely appropriate, and not surprising, that his first speech, or one of his first speeches, should be on the subject of the Peak district national park, about which his concern and great knowledge are very well known in the High Peak, the Peak district and this House.

It is perhaps a defect of democracy that there is not much political mileage in saying that there are problems, that they will probably never go away, that many people are doing their best and doing some good; they will not solve the problems entirely, and there is not perhaps a great deal more that we can do. That is my conclusion after two and a half years as a Member of Parliament for a national park constituency.

When the news is bad, there is always the temptation to shoot the messenger. The problem is that the national parks legislation of 1949 was set up to do just some of those things to which our constituents object. Whereas we can take up particular cases in which we think that bad decisions have been made, it is no good our objecting to the whole spirit of that legislation. The spirit of that legislation was to take away from local control some of those aspects of planning which it was thought ought to be in central hands.

It may be said that local control has grown rather larger since the reorganisation of local government and may be more capable of taking an overview, but the fact remains that there are problems in our national parks, particularly in planning and development, which it is not right to leave entirely to the district councils.

Also, it is easy for the district councils to sound sympathetic and to sound as though they would be more helpful over planning matters when they know that if they pass some proposal, the planning board—the Peak park planning board in my case—is always there to turn it down. If the councils have to deal with the same problems, they might sometimes make decisions equally unpopular and similar to the decisions made by the planning boards.

We must distinguish between the overall policies of our national parks and the particular way in which they may implement them. As the Members of Parliament for our constituents, we must decide whether it is the overall policy to which we are objecting or just a particular decision. On overall policies, the national park of which I have experience, that of the Peak district, has things about right.

The Peak district national park is to the Midlands rather what Hyde Park is to London. The Peak district national park is surrounded by the large conurbations of Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield, and by Stoke, Leicester, Derby and Nottingham. Liverpool is only one and half hours travelling time away, and London is only two and a half hours away. For that reason, there is an almost infinite appetite for development and almost infinite potential for visitor pressure. If we had not had the national park, we would have had to invent it.

The Peak district national park is holding the line against potentially infinite demand. It is easy to forget, in holding the line and reaching the hard decisions that have to be made, the infinity of potential applicants who lie behind the line if ever it is allowed to break. I prefer, as the local Member of Parliament, to take up particular cases. Those cases are sometimes wrongly or badly decided. A problem exists for the planning board. If the planning board takes into account that an applicant wanting a bungalow is an old lady who has always lived in a village, and that she has difficulty walking and does not possess the funds to move elsewhere, and therefore grants her application because of special personal problems, it will be accused of being inconsistent. Other applications will arise that are not dissimilar, although the applicant is not quite so worthy, and a different decision will be taken. If, on the other hand, the board takes a rigidly consistent line and judges every case on overall criteria without regard to personal problems, the board will be described as heartless, unkind and unwilling to consider the particular problems of constituents.

I see the board's difficulties. There is a problem, however, in that some junior officials are sometimes a little high-handed and arrogant in their manner. They are sometimes unwilling to listen to the problems of constituents. I find that whenever I take these problems to senior levels of the board—I should like to pay a tribute to Mr. Theadore Burrell of the Peak park board—I have always received a sympathetic and sensible response. Whenever problems have been referred to the appointed members of the board, the board generally takes a fairly wise decision. The problem is that the board consists essentially of amateurs who are not paid, apart from receiving expenses. Many live far away and do not have the time——

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) are being unfair to members of the Peak board. Almost all the outside appointees live within 10 miles of the boundary of the park. The hon. Member for High Peak said it was about 40 miles. I admit that one member of the board has moved to Africa. The average is therefore doubtless greater than 10 miles. If, however, one knows the boundaries of the Peak District park, it will be found that most live within 10 miles.

Mr. Parris

I wish to deal with the question of the attendance record of members of the Peak park planning board. There are members appointed by the Secretary of State together with county and metropolitan district appointees. I have obtained the figures from the board. The attendance record of Secretary of State-appointed members is 69 per cent. The attendance record of the Derbyshire county appointees is 79 per cent. The attendance record of the non-Derbyshire appointed members is 38 per cent. That is not good. The board must have members who are prepared vigorously to monitor and control in some detail what their officers are doing. If that does not happen, officers will begin to build their own empires, as officers will and hon. Members always will. This brings me to a point I wish to put to the Minister about the membership of the boards and the attendance record.

I am not sure that the problem is solved by shuffling around constitutionally who appoints whom. I am glad that the Wildlife and Countryside Act now——

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that, in a rather thinly attended Chamber, hon. Members are not on the strongest ground in complaining about attendance at other representational bodies?

Mr. Parris

Yes, indeed. Given the subject, it is gratifying to see the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who normally shadows on transport matters, attending a debate on national parks. I shall have something to say about transport later.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) said about section 52 agreements. He said that he did not support them because they were impractical and that he might be prepared to support them if they were not. I do not support them because of their impracticality and on jurisprudential grounds. It is not practical to define a local person. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) lives in my constituency in the national park. He may be said to work in Derby, North where he certainly works very hard, but is he a local man or is he not? My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale has already outlined the problems.

It is unconscionable in terms of legal philosophy that such restrictions should be placed on contracts which people enter into with one another. Something is taken away from the equality of citizens before the law when it is said that some people can live in some parts of the country whereas others may not. There is something basically offensive to most people about an agreement which is made in perpetuity, although that is not possible in law. The Government are right to be doubtful about such agreements. I understand that an experiment is taking place and I am glad that it is not in my constituency.

Mr. Watson

If the experiment proves to be a success and if in 10 or 15 years it can be shown that the price of houses has been kept lower for local people in the Peak District, would my hon. Friend be prepared to bury the rather libertarian arguments that he has advanced?

Mr. Parris

The proof of the success of a policy involves not only the price of houses in a certain area but whether it is seen to work by local people and whether it is believed to be just and fair. If there is widespread support and if people think that the scheme is working after many years I might not bury my libertarian principles but I should re-examine them. I doubt whether that will happen.

There is no answer to the problem of trying to house local people at prices that they can afford. One can go a little way towards helping some of the hardest cases by council and co-operative housing. The hon. Member for Derby, North referred to co-operative housing. The West Derbyshire district council has always been a Conservative council. It has a fine record on council housing. Governments past and present have recognised West Derbyshire's special problems. I raised them in an Adjournment debate. There is a case for council housing in some of our villages for general need and particularly for first-time house seekers. I have always found my hon. Friend the Minister sympathetic about that.

We are glad that we shall have five, and possibly six, district council appointees to the national park under the new Act. There will be a problem in the Peak District in deciding which district councils appoint how many appointees. There are nine district councils in the area. West Derbyshire contributes the bulk of the population of the Peak District national park. West Derbyshire and the High Peak together contribute the bulk of the land area. Many of the other district councils make no more than a token contribution in either land or population. It is clear that West Derbyshire first, and High Peak second, have a high claim to council appointees. The Act provides that agreement should be reached among district councils about who should be appointed. It is likely that agreement will not be reached, and the Secretary of State will always have to adjudicate.

I tried to introduce an amendment to the measure to provide that when adjudicating the Secretary of State should take into account both the population and the land area which each district council contributes to a national park. I was not successful. I hope that the Secretary of State will have that consideration in mind when he adjudicates. It would be helpful if he said that he will so that when attempting to reach agreement district councils will know the way in which the Secretary of State's mind is likely to work. My hon. Friend has been kind enough to say that he will meet a group from my district council to talk about this. That being so, I do not expect him to reply in any detail to what I have just said.

I support what the hon. Member for Derby, North said about the youth opportunities programme idea of the Peak district park planning board. It is an excellent idea. It seems to have excited widespread approval. It is a matter for the Department of Employment, the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of the Environment, but I hope that it goes ahead because it will give youngsters not just something to do for a while but a genuine concern for and interest in the countryside. It will also give them real skills which are likely to be needed in the future when leisure and conservation become more important than perhaps they have been in the past.

It has been said more than once that the national parks are not enjoined to take to heart the interests of local communities. I have put this to our national park once or twice, and the response of its representatives, quite fairly, is that, although they may not be enjoined in the legislation to do so, because they are planning authorities and because of the ways in which planning decisions must be taken, they already do so. I think that they do and, given that they do, I see no harm in enshrining it in the legislation. In my view, it would help if that duty were added to the two which they have already.

I agree with what a number of my hon. Friends said about planning charges. We have these charges, and most of us voted for them, but where, in a national park, people have to make applications which they would not have to make were they not in a national park, the charges are seen as an unconscionable impost. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider withdrawing the charges just in those cases.

I come to the issue the anticipation of which must be what has brought the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness into the Chamber. I refer, of course, to heavy lorries. We have had a number of debates on the subject, and it is a topical issue at the moment, but any anxieties which have been expressed generally in the country about the national problem are especially acute in the national parks. The problems mentioned by my hon. Friends in their constituencies are multiplied tenfold in some of our national parks. We have narrow lanes. We have a policy of not building new trunk roads and motorways. We have drystone walls. In the Peak district national park we also have a lively quarrying industry which we must retain.

It is most important that we keep controls over the ways in which goods are transported, as they must be, by road in a constituency such as my own. All my constituents view with great concern the possible uprating of lorries from 32 tonnes to 40 tonnes for this reason. We know that it will not make the lorries very much bigger, but the 40-tonne articulated vehicle and possibly the 40-tonne articulated tipper vehicle will become a much more attractive one for quarry owners to run if it is allowed to carry 40 tonnes instead of the present 32 tonnes.

There is no doubt that we shall see a great many more of these heavier lorries on our roads carrying limestone and fluospar, and many fewer smaller ones. For West Derbyshire, it is not true that four small lorries are worse than two large ones. We would prefer four smaller ones which will not knock down the hedgerows and drystone walling, whereas large lorries cannot possibly negotiate our roads.

When I was elected to represent West Derbyshire in the House, I started out with a spirit which was hostile to the national park. I recall the election campaign and the unhappiness on the part of many of my constituents about the national park. I have changed since then. I still often criticise the decision made by those responsible for the national park, and I still think that there is a good deal of room for improvement, but I have become aware of how hard they have tried in recent years to make what they do acceptable to the local people who must live and work in the park. I congratulate the board of the Peak district national park on what has been a successful public relations effort. They have still a long way to go, and I shall continue urging them down that road. They have tried hard and, to some extent, they have succeeded.

That should be said, particularly now, when a little boy has been lost near Tideswell. Hon. Members may have read about the incident in the newspapers. He has been missing for many days. The Peak park rangers are out in force, together with local people and the police, searching for the little boy. It is on such occasions that we realise that the Peak park is for my constituents just as much as for the nation. Long may it continue to be so.

12.50 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I thank the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) for choosing this subject and allowing us to have this debate.

I sympathise with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) at the end of his speech. Many hon. Members have had doubts at times about national parks, but the more we examine the way in which they have operated and the way in which they try to accomodate the rapid changes that have taken place around them, the more most of us feel that we owe a debt of gratitude to the officers, past and present, of national parks and the members of national park boards. We in this House owe them a debt of gratitude.

I came here today expecting to have to defend national parks. I do not need to rally hon. Members to their defence. Constructive comments have been made by hon. Members on both sides. None of us would deny for a moment that there are problems. Of course there are. The national park authorities are not perfect, as we all know. On the other hand, if we take a positive attitude we can overcome many of the problems of the national parks that affect all our constituents. I shall return to the matter in a moment.

One of the greatest achievements of the Labour Government of 1945–50, when they caught the spirit of the post-war era, was the establishment of the national park authorities. Tribute has been paid to the late Lord Silkin for his work in that connection. I should like to pay tribute to Lord Sandford for the magnificent report that he produced in the early 1970s. My only regret is that Governments have not pursued some of that report's recommendations in a way that I should have liked them to do.

If I discerned a difference—only a slight difference—between the two sides of the House it related to the emphasis on "national". That is understandable. Virtually every Conservative Member who has spoken today represents a part of a national park. Naturally, those hon. Gentlemen are jealous and protective of their constituents' interests. I am sure that they accept that these national parks belong to the nation. They were established in an effort to protect our heritage and to encourage outdoor recreation.

I want to mention one issue that has been raised in the debate. National parks also have a statutory responsibility, under section 37 of the 1968 Act, to pay attention to the economic and social interests of rural areas". Some national parks are doing a great deal of work in pursuing that objective.

Mr. Watson

I may stand to be corrected, but I think that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will find that that stipulation applied to the Countryside Commission and local government. I do not believe that the third objective, which many of us have agreed today is crucial, applies to national parks themselves.

Dr. Clark

It is difficult to respond. My impression was that that section applied to national parks. I also thought that that was reinforced by circular 476, issued by the last Labour Government. I do not believe that it has been revoked.

The hon. Member for Skipton and I both agree that that responsibility should exist, and that is the main point. Although I represent a constituency that does not have a single green field in it, many of my constituents love the national parks just as dearly as those who live in them. I am one of those who believe that most of those who live in the national parks—the dales, the North Yorkshire moors or the Lake District—appreciate their areas and love them. Similarly, those who work on Tyneside, in the industrial towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire or who live in West Cumberland love the areas that they have traditionally visited.

That struck me forcibly a few days ago, when I considered a report commissioned by the Government in 1934, in the depths of the depression. It considered the unemployment problems of the North, Cumbria and the North-East. The then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave a lovely quote when he tried to explain to the Government why people were reluctant to move out of areas such as the industrial North. He wrote: Love of their hills, valleys and sea … these are the barriers to voluntary transference. That love of the national parks and of the countryside and that affinity existed long before the national parks were established. If I drive towards my constituency on a Friday evening, from the Lake District or the Northumberland park side, I find carloads of people who are escaping the drudgery of industrial Tyneside. They escape to the Lake District or to Northumberland to find moral and spiritual refreshment. I am sure that no hon. Member would deny that that is good.

I am pleased that we are beginning to recognise the importance of national parks. It is commendable that the chairman of the Lake District national park, Coun. Phizacklea lives in Barrow and is an industrial worker there, on the fringes of the national park. He represents those who do not live in the park, but who have traditionally used it. We should encourage them to use it. We view this debate from that philosophy and approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) has great experience as a result of his period as a Minister and his pre-parliamentary and, perhaps, extra-parliamentary activities. I do not know whether he will have any trouble being endorsed as a Labour candidate as a result. However, he spoke about his efforts when campaigning to get the Kinder Scout area opened to the public. Many people from different parties have campaigned for that. We all accept that there are conflicts. Who would have thought in 1949, when the House debated the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act, that the private ownership of motor cars would increase 10 or 12-fold? We could not have foreseen that, yet that is a source of conflict.

National parks were established because there were conflicts. When I prepared for the debate, I turned to Wordsworth's "Guide to the Lakes". It is interesting to note that in that book Wordsworth spoke of the conflicts that existed then. In the guide he writes: The author will be joined by persons of pure taste throughout the whole island, who, by their visits to the Lakes in the North of England, testify that they deem the district a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy. That was before Wordsworth became an old reactionary. He was expressing the spirit that led to the creation of the national parks. He saw that there were conflicts in the early nineteenth century and we still see those conflicts today. Our duty is to resolve conflict and we try to do that through the national park boards.

The hon. Member for Skipton made positive points about the wear and tear on the Pennine Way. The same problem exists in many other national parks throughout the country. We all agree that we should try to persuade people to move away from the pressure points. It is not difficult. I can go to the Lake District national park on a bank holiday and find complete solitude. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, it is possible to do that.

Why do we restrict access only to national parks? Why are we not adventurous? Why do not we concede access to all open land in England? That would be a terrific access to freedom for many people, and it would help to relieve the pressure on the national parks.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West referred to housing. I disagree with his view and I was impressed by the figures produced by the national park officer in the Lake District. He showed that between 1951 and 1974 the number of houses in his area increased from 11,000 to 17,000, but in the same period the population declined by 1.8 per cent.

My family and I and my wife and her family are part of that 1.8 per cent. We were not able to afford a house in the area in which we lived and had been brought up. We were forced out of the area. There is deep resentment among ordinary working people in the national parks that they are being forced out of those areas—perhaps not far, but into the surrounding urban areas where they can find a place to live.

I hope that the Government will allow the experiment in the Lake District to continue. I understand the arguments of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West, but when considering freedom and liberty we should understand that financial considerations are not the only aspects to be taken into account. The Lake District national park is trying to wrestle with the problem, but the Government's policies are not helping.

Wages in rural areas are generally lower than in cities and urban areas. If those in national parks who keep the roads clear, supply electricity and work in schools, hospitals and so on cannot get a tied house, there is nowhere for them to live. The Government made a great error, even within their political philosophy, by not excluding national parks from the legislation providing for the sale of council houses. The matter should be left to the local authorities. Representatives of the Allerdale council and many other Conservative and some Labour councils came to plead with the Minister not to force the sale of council houses in rural villages in the national parks. The Government have made life much more difficult for young people in many national parks. I am grateful to bodies, such as the National Trust, which are doing magnificent work, for example, in the Lake District, in acquiring homes and renting them to local people. Without them, such people would often have been forced out.

It is also sad to have a restriction on council house building in many national parks. Sometimes it is due to the council's attitude and sometimes to costs, but there should be more positive encouragement for small-scale council house building in the national park areas. I am enamoured of the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for co-operative ventures. It is the sort of positive contribution that we expect of him.

The quality of life of people living in the national parks also depends on transport. Lack of buses can be a major problem. Under the Transport Act 1980 the National Bus Company is likely to have to discontinue 60 million miles of bus services. Most of the cuts will be in rural areas and national parks, and the matter causes us great concern. It is the Government's responsibility, and they have made the situation much worse.

Under the agricultural and horticultural grant system the national parks have the right to be consulted and comment on schemes put forward by farmers, although they do not have the right to approve them. If they object, and if MAFF withholds the grant, the national park authority has to offer a management agreement and compensation. The matter was debated at length on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and is enshrined in the Act in section 50. It causes great worry in the national parks. I recently had a meeting with the chairman of Northumberland county council, who is gravely concerned and wonders whether the authority can afford to turn anything down or comment on a scheme. We need more information from the Government.

At the national parks conference in Norwich the Secretary of State stated: I haven't got a figure to announce to you; however, as Parliamentarians, we cannot legislate to make resources available in theory, without delivering in practice". Let us hear about the delivery note from the Minister.

What action are the Government taking over land owned by the Ministry of Defence? The Sandford committee report found that 22 per cent. of the land in Northumberland was held by the Ministry. Efforts are being made to open up access, but progress is held up because of lack of finances and manpower to clear the land, yet in my constituency one in four men are out of work and it is almost one in five throughout the North-Eastern region. The Minister should be devoting more attention to that along with the constructive approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North.

As chairman of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society, I am able to say that the society is jealous of common land rights. I am chairman of the oldest amenity society in Britain. The predecessors of the present membership can be given credit for the establishment of many open spaces and for a great deal of legislation. It was recommended in the Sandford report that if the ownership of finally registered common land in national parks could not be traced, the national park authority should be given ownership rights. If the Minister cannot respond on that issue when he replies, I hope that he will take it on board and communicate with me later.

I appreciate that planning is a contentious issue but the nation has reponsibilities in national parks. Those who live in national parks should not be penalised financially because of planning law. I hope that the Minister will consider exempting those who live in national parks from planning charges.

The Sandford committee discovered that there were differences or anomalies in agricultural planning law. for example, there is a requirement that Lake District farmers who apply for agricultural development should communicate their intentions to the relevant board. That applies even when farm buildings are within the 5,000 sq. ft. limit, which usually exempts any application for planning permission outside the national parks. I have in mind the Town and Country Planning (Landscape Areas Special Development Order) 1950.

I do not want to make life difficult for the farmer. It seems reasonable that if a national parks authority has not replied to a farmer within 14 days he should be able to go ahead regardless. Surely, 14 days is not too long to wait. The farmer has to make his living, but he is usually extremely conscious of the area in which he lives. Most farmers care deeply—certainly in upland areas—about the area in which they live. However, they sometimes think of their own ease. Sometimes an outside opinion will solve the problem while allowing them equal convenience, and without creating an eyesore.

Has the Minister any intention of extending the 1950 order to other national parks? It now applies to the Lake District, the northern part of the Peak Park and much of Snowdonia. I appreciate that there are amomalies. For example, the order applies to all the Lake District with the exception of the rural disrict of Wigton. That is an anomaly that should be rectified.

I can understand the vexation that is caused to many of those who live in national parks by planning procedure delay. I assure them that my constituents experince just as much frustation when they are caught up in planning matters, even though they do not have to go through this procedure.

I have been heartened by the speeches of a number of hon. Members including the hon. Members for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) and for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) who said that they did not have major problems with their constituents concerning national parks. The debate has been conducted in that spirit.

Labour Members are very much committed to national parks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North said, there is a strong case for creating new national parks. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) putting forward, I presume, official Liberal policy—I do not know whether it is Alliance policy—to the effect that there should be fewer national parks. I find that an amazing philosophy and a reactionary policy to put forward. I am saddened that that is the policy of the Liberal Party. It is certainly not the policy of the Labour Party. We stand by all the national parks and we would wish to examine the possibility of extending them.

I return to the subject of money. As the Secretary of State said at Norwich, Parliament imposes responsibilities on the national parks and that costs money. It is our responsibility and the Government's responsibility to provide that finance. National parks give us magnificent value for money. The Government announced only last week a £6 million increase in the budget of the Arts Council. I do not deny it that money for one minute. It deserves and needs that money. The £6 million increase is about equal to total Government expenditure on national parks. Even a 10 per cent. increase for national parks would be a magnificent help.

I hope that even the Government recognise that in the years ahead there will be an end to the recession. I hope that we can look forward to a society in which people work, but we must recognise that fewer hours will be worked. People will have a shorter working, week which, as leisure time increases, will create major problems for us all. We must cater for that in many ways. We must develop the country parks but encourage people to go to places other than the national parks. However, it will cost money. One of the most cost-effective ways of spending money and of increasing the happiness and leisure opportunities of our people would be to give more money to the Countryside Commission and more money to the national parks. I hope that the Minister will give us that message today.

1.19 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil MacFarlane)

I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and other hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on introducing this topic for debate today. As a relative newcomer to the affairs of national parks and related matters at the Department of the Environment, it has been beneficial to me to hear the opinions, views and anxieties that have been expressed today. I look forward to visiting our national parks over the next few months and having discussions with various representatives between now and the spring to discover the problems affecting people and to see how the new legislation is being implemented and, I hope, becoming effective.

The debate has been extremely constructive and helpful, despite the words in my hon. Friend's motion: to reduce the duplication, conflict and lack of overall effectiveness which remain a problem in such areas. I do not believe that that has been echoed in the debate, which has been most constructive, and I am grateful for all the contributions to it. As time is on the wing, I hope that if I cannot answer every question in half an hour or so hon. Members will allow me to answer any further points—I certainly intend to answer all of them—either by letter or in discussion. Equally, many hon. Members have had to leave early, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, I am not the Minister responsible for snow, but I appreciate that there are difficultiees.

The House has been greatly concerned with countryside matters in general over the past year. Indeed, the Labour Government in 1978 introduced a Countryside Bill, which fell as a result of the May 1979 general election. I took part in the latter stages of the recent Wildlife and Countryside Bill. It has been said that the passage of that legislation attracted more comment, and was certainly the subject of the tabling of more amendments—over 2,000 in all—than any comparable measure in recent times. This was a reflection of the widespread public interest that countryside issues increasingly arouse—which is, of course, much to be welcomed. I echo the sentiment of the hon. Member for South Shields that the national parks are an integral part of the quality of life in this country. They are not merely a matter of civic and national pride. They greatly enhance the quality of life.

I followed the progress of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill through Parliament with great interest and have read the Official Report of the debates closely. One point that particularly struck me was that much of the debate on part II, as it affected national parks, was on the one subject of moorland conservation. Today, we have ranged far more widely and the focus of attention has been different. The motion relates more directly to the basic purpose and organisational structure of our national parks.

From the speeches that have been made, I think that one fact stands out clearly—that a very wide variety of opinions are held on both sides about the parks. It is significant that the criticisms made come from two very different quarters—from those who, at one end of the spectrum, believe that the parks are extravagant and consume too much of the public sector resources available in these difficult times, and from those who believe the opposite, that the national park concept needs to be fostered and indeed extended. That, of course, does not apply to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), who thinks that we have too many. Like the hon. Member for South Shields, I am uncertain whether that is official party policy or whether the hon. Member for Cardigan was making a very brief speech to try to get home quickly, but I think that it indicates that the compromise that our national parks system represents is about right.

What has been the purpose and achievement of the national parks so far? I hope that hon. Members will feel that I am answering some of their points as I develop my theme. First and foremost, the national parks of England and Wales provide a formal acknowledgement of the outstanding natural beauty of some of our more remote and wild countryside. At the same time, we confirm the latter's role in offering magnificent opportunities for open air recreation and leisure. Indeed, regional councils for sport and recreation have become a feature of the regions, bringing together those concerned with sport and recreation as well as those from the national parks.

These aims have, over the years, been backed up by special arrangements for the administration of the parks which, through the system of ministerially appointed members to national park boards and committees, take due account of wider national interests but provide for local authorities to maintain their legitimate role as "majority shareholders".

Planning control in the parks is exercised consistently, at park level, by the park authority. As hon. Members have acknowledged, each park has its own national park officer and national park plan to ensure that its aims and objectives are fulfilled. The special national responsibilities of national parks are given practical acknowledgement by the financial assistance from the Government made over in the form of national parks supplementary grant. The parks therefore have the essentials to conduct their business effectively: a corporate identity and aim, and a range of management and financial aids.

At the same time, in a small island such as ours, there are undoubted problems. There are certainly great differences between our country and the United States or Africa. The Yellowstone Park was mentioned in the debate. As we know, national parks in those great continents are vast and are largely unpeopled wilderness areas where few problems of land use conflicts arise. The British national park is almost suburban by comparison and this characteristic often causes confusion.

I am told by one of my officials that a few years ago a North American visitor inquired anxiously about the precautions that he should take when confronting grizzly bears in our national parks. More recently, we were asked whether the parks were open during the winter. That is some illustration of the difficulties facing us.

The essence of the 10 national parks of England and Wales is, of course, that they are places in which people live and work. They are not as they are in the great continents. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and other hon. Members mentioned the problem of the surrounding conurbations of their national parks.

Within a 50-mile radius of the boundaries of the Peak park alone, 17 million people live in conurbations. If we reduce the size of the radius to 8, 10, 12, 15 or 20 miles we shall still find many millions of people, which is virtually one-third of the population. Ease of access by motorway means that people in surburbs regard the national parks as rightfully theirs.

The parks are farmed, mined and used for a variety of other employment and wealth-creating purposes. Of course, it cannot be any other way in our overcrowded island. Most important, the vast majority of land in the parks is in private ownership and the "national" designation is therefore not a wholly apt description of their status. As people have so often said, in the strict sense our national parks are neither "national" nor "parks".

In debating the subject, therefore, we must take all those factors into account. Although, on the one hand, I firmly believe in the parks' concept—the aim of preserving fine tracts of countryside and helping people to enjoy them is surely an aim with which none of us can disagree—equally it is important that we should not be unrealistically ambitious. First, the resources that we can devote to national parks are necessarily limited. Secondly, there is little practical scope for the creation of new national parks at present.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North touched on the question of lowland areas. Their recreational role would be clearly inconsistent with the presence of intensive farming.

My third note of caution is perhaps the most important of all. We cannot, nor should we, expect those who live in the parks to be peculiarly disadvantaged. It is not acceptable that we should in any sense create two classes of citizen—those who live in the national parks and those who do not—in our pursuit of excellence.

During the past 100 years there has been a steady migration from the rural areas of Britain. It has affected both Conservative and Labour Governments during the past 20 years, and Governments of all parties during the past 50 or 60 years. We know that with the shrinking pupil population in schools the problems of rural areas are enormous. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) made a thoughtful speech. I do not believe that he was contentious in his remarks, but he might find it a little difficult to get himself paired more frequently. The problems affect us all. There has been a steady removal from the rural areas to the cities and towns and it is a problem that faces many rural areas. My hon. Friends have touched on that matter during the debate today.

I know that some major criticisms of the national parks have been voiced. I wish now to look in more detail at those criticisms. The first objection is that national parks boards and committees are an undemocratic intrusion into local government and wield power without accountability. But the point to bear in mind here is that in eight of the 10 parks the national park authority is itself a committee of the local authority or authorities concerned, and is, therefore, an integral part of those authorities. There can be no question of that being in any sense an undemocratic arrangement.

The two planning boards—the Peak and Lake district—are in a slightly different position. For historical reasons they exist as independent planning authorities in their own right, but that is really by the by. The key fact is that the composition of the boards is identical with the structure of the national park committees. The majority of members—two-thirds—are appointees of the local authorities concerned and in virtually all cases are councillors who have been subject to the usual processes of democratic selection and election.

Is it considered objectionable that the remaining one-third of the membership should consist of appointees of the Secretary of State? Clearly, the arithmetic of representation enables local interests to prevail in all matters which are pressed to a vote. The role of the ministerial nominees is, in practice, therefore advisory—to ensure that the wide range of user interests have a voice in the shaping of decisions affecting the national parks, but not a voice that can override local opinion. Moreover, a large proportion of those ministerial appointees are themselves people who live, and in many cases work, within the parks concerned. That is important and it is certainly my intention to try to ensure that that should be so, whenever possible. I am more than happy to hold discussions with hon. Members about those points during the next few months.

In a similar vein, the point has been made that it is undesirable for the counties to appoint as their board or committee members councillors who represent wards lying outside the parks' boundaries. That was touched upon by my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) and Morecambe and Lonsdale. The appointment of local authority members is a matter wholly for the authorities concerned and, as in the case of the ministerial appointees, it is important that user interests—in this case those living in the nearby conurbations—should have appropriate representation on the national park authorities. It is a question of balance.

I share the view, clearly echoed in the debate, that, wherever possible, councillors who themselves live in the parks, and who are therefore personally aware of their special needs and problems, should, all things being equal, be chosen as board or committee members. I hope that the local authorities will do their best to work towards this aim and I shall certainly bring to their attention the comments made on that point in our debate today.

I am sure that if hon. Members are anxious about the reaction of the many bodies mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton, there is little doubt that the debate will be widely read. I shall come later to the five points that he raised. Those hon. Members who are anxious that their speeches should be read must ensure that sufficient copies of Hansard are distributed to the appropriate quarters. I am sure that the debate will be welcomed by the authorities that we fund, because there is much that needs to be done within the next few months.

In addition, we have taken a further important step in safeguarding local interests by the provision in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 that gives district councils, for the first time, a statutory right of representation on the various park authorities. I believe that it has been a drawback in the present system that such representation has been dependent on the initiative of the counties and at their discretion—but the fact that on the whole they have been generous in exercising that discretion is not at issue. The point is the incompleteness of the previous statutory arrangements. Now, however, the bipartite composition of park boards and committees will be replaced by a tripartite arrangement to include the districts. We plan to bring that change into effect following the district council elections next May.

Turning from constitutional aspects, I want to reply to the points that have been made on planning in the parks. That, after all, is the main area in which park status can directly impinge on the actions of local inhabitants. I know, for example, that some resentment is felt that district councils do not exercise the full planning functions that normally fall to that tier of government outside the parks. On that point I wish make two comments.

First, a national park authority has, of course, the full benefit of a district's advice in reaching its final decision—so there is no question of district views being bypassed. Secondly, there is the wider issue. It is vital that in these scenically sensitive and vulnerable parts of the countryside the planning function should be exercised consistently, by a single body with a single clearly defined policy. That is what the present system was meant to achieve and by and large I believe that it does so with a good deal of success.

I make the same answer to complaints about special conditions sometimes attached to planning permissions in the parks. If the park's individual character is worth preserving—and surely that objective is not in doubt—it is unavoidable that there should be more detailed controls of that type. I believe that most people living in the parks realise that and accept that there is a wider national interest at stake here—conserving the best of our countryside and its community—which legitimately goes beyond purely local concern. My hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks and for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) paid tribute to the speed at which planning applications are now being processed. I found the figures and percentages interesting and helpful, but that does not mean that we are satisfied. We shall want to consider the matter carefully during the next few months.

On the same basis, I would defend the more rigorous definition that applies in the national parks of permitted development under the general development order. this again reflects the fact that in such areas there are special planning considerations that need to be examined in the context of planning applications. It seems not unreasonable that a small fee should be charged in these circumstances to meet part of the administrative costs of processing the application.

I have taken note of the proposal that guidelines could usefully be prepared by the national park authorities to clarify the type of detail required in a planning application to them. This is essentially a matter for the individual parks to consider, but I shall certainly commend this suggestion to them.

I have also noted carefully the points made about policies restricting sale of homes within certain national parks, notably the Lake District, to prevent their occupation by people from outside the area. This was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, but he will forgive me if, on this occasion, I do not follow him down too many of those definitions and complexities. As this involves a proposed modification to the Cumbria structure plan, I cannot say any more at this stage.

Planning apart, what else is at issue? Outside the planning field there are, in fact, few formal restrictions that apply uniquely in the parks. Indeed, this lack of special regulations is a point on which the Government are sometimes criticised. Sometimes we are advised to give the parks more "teeth", but this simply demonstrates again that it is hard to satisfy all shades of opinion. I repeat my point that, if the Government are pressed by some people to give the parks more powers, and by others to make sure they have fewer, this tends to suggest that the present arrangements are about right—at least, I hope the House will think that is correct.

One special procedure applying in the parks did, however, catch the news recently and I should like to say a few words on this point. I refer to the notification requirement in respect of farm capital grants. Several hon. Members have touched on this. Since 1 October 1980, if a farmer in the parks wants to carry out a capital project and get Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food aid, he has first to notify and obtain the consent of the parks authority, which has the right to object on conservation or amenity grounds. Clearly this is an important restriction.

In the first year of operation national park authorities were consulted in about 2,500 schemes, and in only some 14 per cent. of cases had the authority any reservations at all. There were only 25 cases in which a formal meeting was necessary and 17 of these were settled amicably. This leaves only eight hard-core cases still outstanding. So it is clear that the authorities are exercising their new responsibilities with considerable discretion.

This is important because, under the new Act, if a park objects in this way, and if its objection is sustained by the Minister of Agriculture after—in England—consultation with the Secretary of State for the Environment, it will become a mandatory requirement that the park authority should offer the farmer concerned a management agreement on financial terms drawn up in accordance with guidance given by Ministers. The farmer will be able to require that the proposed award be submitted to an independent arbitrator, whose decision will be binding on the parties.

So this restriction has been set within a wider process designed to be fair all round; to safeguard the interests of farmers in the parks but at the same time helping ensure the preservation of the essential qualities of the traditional landscapes of these areas.

The practice of abating farm capital grants paid by the Ministry of Agriculture when a national park authority grant-aids a farmer to enable him to improve the appearance or design of a new farm building has been raised in the debate by the hon. Member for South Shields and others.

I am bound to say that in my view the present arrangements are entirely fair and reasonable. They are based on the principle that the same investment cannot be assisted twice from public funds, as would effectively be the case if both the Ministry and the national park authority contributed towards the same expenditure.

The revised MAFF grant arrangements introduced in October 1980 themselves have the effect that additional expenditure by a farmer for amenity reasons on an eligible item will in principle attract grant. This is a significant new feature of the grant procedures. Until last year aid for expenditure of this type could be allowed only in limited circumstances. But there remains the need to avoid duplication of assistance. For example, if a farmer spends, say, £10,000 on a new building, £2,000 of which is in respect of features provided at the behest of the NPA to improve the appearance, the MAFF is now prepared to pay grant on the full £10,000. If, however, the NPA itself grant-aids the £2,000 amenity element the MAFF may pay grant on the balance of £8,000. The individual farmer must, therefore, choose which type of grant to apply for.

I come now to finance. As both I and others have mentioned today, special Government assistance is available to the national parks in the form of national park supplementary grant. Once more this is a matter where different critics tend to accuse us of totally opposite failings; on the one hand, that the Government give the national parks too much money; on the other, that we give them too little—and this, human nature being what it is, is the more common complaint.

Because the Government believe that the role played by the parks is important, we shall continue to make available to them as much help to perform that role as may be compatible with the constraints that limit public and local government expenditure in general. Those constraints have inevitably meant some reduction in Government aid to the parks during the recent past—some 5 per cent. in the current financial year in real terms—and I draw this last fact to the attention of those hon. Members who have expressed concern at the extent of parks' spending.

Moreover, as in all other spheres of Government activity and the economy generally, we shall continue to monitor that the money provided to the parks is effectively utilised.

Mr. Watson

As the national park authorities are now under an obligation to enter into management agreements with farmers in the event that they do not wish to approve any of the proposed developments for Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food grant purposes, can my hon. Friend give any guidance on whether the authorities will get adequate finance from the Treasury, under the support grant, to enable them to carry that responsibility to its logical conclusion?

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand the anxiety that my hon. Friend has raised, as have others during this debate and at Question Times. Discussions are still going on with the Countryside Commission and the other bodies concerned. I am not able yet to make any pronouncement on it. We are discussing and finding out their likely requirements. We shall have further meetings—either myself or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—to find out a few more facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton made five recommendations. He wants to add a duty to promote economic well-being. I cannot undertake to create a new statutory duty in that respect, but I accept that the NPA should always bear the interests of the local community in mind in all its activities.

I was asked by several hon. Members to conduct a quick personal review. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about this matter. We do not see ourselves having a detailed review in 1981. However, I am anxious to make certain that all the points raised in the debate and all hon. Members' anxieties are fully acknowledged by myself and by the representatives of the bodies that undertake so much of the work. I want to do that quickly, because, as my hon. Friend said, if we set up a full review body and formalise it, it will sit for years. I am most anxious to find out at first hand how we can best pursue the matter.

My hon. Friend also urged me to let the Lake District pursue the policy of restricting new houses to locals. I note that request, but, as I have said, I obviously cannot become involved in the matter, which is not exactly sub judice, but is very nearly so. Therefore, I do not want to comment on it today.

I have mentioned the question of review grant difficulties with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and with the Treasury.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked me always to recognise that people live and work in the parks. I think that I have acknowledged that. I entirely agree that it is essential that this be kept in the forefront of our minds in developing national parks policy.

A number of other points were raised, and I am anxious that hon. Members should not think that I am ignoring them now. It is my intention to write to them on specific matters.

The hon. Member for South Shields was, I thought, somewhat acrimonious towards the National Bus Company. The hon. Gentleman, I believe mentioned a figure of 60 million miles that would be reduced as a result of the Transport Act 1980. He suggested that the National Bus Company would have to withdraw 60 million passenger miles of services. The hon. Gentleman should remember—he conveniently chooses to forget it—that the main effect of the Act is to permit greater freedom and to permit other operators to provide bus services. If the National Bus Company decides to withdraw services, there is now much greater expectation that a private operator will step in to fill the breach. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's figures are accurate.

Dr. David Clark

I wish to correct a point the Minister made. I hope that I was not acrimonious towards the National Bus Company. I was being acrimonious towards the Government, who have put obligations on the National Bus Company and have also opened up the bus transport industry. The effect is that private enterprise has entered into the lucrative inter-city services. It was partly from those profitable routes that the National Bus Company was able to help to subsidise rural bus services. Previously many local authorities felt able to subsidise local bus services. However, due to the financial stringency of the Government towards local government, the local authorities are not able to do that. The Government have acted badly towards the rural bus user.

Mr. MacFarlane

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's observations. I believe that the National Bus Company will be able to operate and private operators will also be able to provide an effective service.

I turn to the anxiety expressed by hon. Members about the number of statutory organisations. The only grant aid to the many bodies that my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton mentioned and also to the local authorities is through the NPSG. We have identified as many as 20 statutory organisations involved with issues in each national park. They spend a great deal of money, although it is impossible to say how much because their accounts are not drawn up in such a way as to identify expenditure in the national park areas, apart from the national park boards and committees themselves. Even the Countryside Commission does not separate its total expenditure in national parks from that elsewhere.

I have examined the list of statutory organisations with great care. I am satisfied that there is no significant element of overlap between their activities. Back in 1976, the Countryside Review Committee published a most interesting discussion paper called "The Countryside—Problems and Policies". I have no doubt that hon. Members have read the document. Annex C of the policy document included a list of potential policy conflicts. I have read it, but try as we might, those policy conflicts will be difficult to resolve. I hope that this debate will assist in the quest for solutions.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the lack of overall effectiveness. I am not certain what was the real target of my hon. Friend. His was an eminent speech. I have heard no evidence to suggest that any statutory organisations are less efficient in conducting their business in national parks than elsewhere. If my hon. Friend has any points about which he wishes to write to me, I shall take them up.

My hon. Friend also referred to the work of the directorate of rural affairs. I am certain that much action has already been taken. The problem of duplication arises because of the statutory position. In the case of appointments under paragraph 11 of schedule 17 to the Local Government Act 1972, the Secretary of State is required to consult the commission before making his appointments. In the case of the NPSG, there is a similar statutory obligation under section 7 of the Local Government Act 1974.

It is therefore essential that officials, both in my Department and in the commission, spend some of their time dealing with these matters. I am satisfied that there is no duplication between their functions. If my hon. Friend is interested in the amount of staff effort involved in these two fields of activity, it is probably about one man-year in total for the Department and the commmission combined. This has to be viewed against the current numbers of staff in post of 57 in the directorate of rural affairs and 103 in the Countryside Commission. That will be reduced to 93 next year. One man-year out of a total of 160 is not too extravagant to deal with the most important function of national parks appointments.

I wish to say a few words in general on the future of the Countryside Commission. It was founded in 1949 as the National Parks Commission and received a wider task and a new name in 1968, since when it has been the State agency responsible for conservation of landscape and the promotion of public enjoyment of natural beauty. The commission is a body for experimentation and research; a national advisory agency and the source of grant aid for worthwhile countryside and recreation projects in both the public and private sectors.

My Department reviewed the commission's functions and constitution last year and took several important decisions. First, we appointed a new chairman, Mr. Derek Barber, who took over on 1 January 1981. Under this guidance, and led by its new director, the commission has made a far-reaching review of its work priorities during the coming decade. There will be changes of emphasis and style, with which we are broadly in agreement.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act the commission will change its status next April to that of a grant-in-aid body. It will, for the first time, have its own staff and accompanying financial responsibilities. There are likely to be changes in the commission's internal organisation. In approving its "Programme for the Eighties" we have decided that the commission should work with fewer people. We have asked it to aim at a staff level of 93 by the end of 1983, compared with 103 at present. The details of the changes are being worked out.

We are also currently examining the commission's future level of resources. Each year we have to consider what it needs and what can be afforded, as we must with all the agencies. A main feature in the case of the commission has been its increasing success in supporting conservation by grant aid especially for tree planting but also for many other things such as country parks. It has been possible since 1974 to increase the resources available to the commission, commensurate with the growing public recognition of the needs of our countryside.

The outlook for next year is difficult, and there may be calls for grant aid arising from the new Wildlife and Countryside Act. We accept that. We are aware of it and our intention is to do the best that we can to support the implications of the legislation.

I wish the commission well in working in future under its new status as a grant-in-aid body, and I am sure that we can count on the chairman, the commissioners, the director and all the staff to steer the commission forward as an even more tightly knit, effective and nationally and internationally respected body than hitherto.

We have had a full debate and I shall conclude my remarks. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Skipton who introduced the debate and to other hon. Members who have made contributions. The debate has been constructive. I pay tribute, as did the Opposition spokesman, to all people who work in national parks administration—from the chairman and members of the park authorities and their officers, to the wardens and rangers who act as a main point of contact between parks and public. I am a part-time resident of Dartmoor and I know something of the important work that they all do.

The debate has been constructive. I am sure that hon. Member's comments will be widely read outside the House. The debate has been important, and I am grateful for it. I hope that hon. Members will receive detailed responses to their many important questions within the next fortnight.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House, being aware of the many statutory organisations involved with issues in National Park areas, notes that these organisations spend a great deal of money; further notes that many of the real issues of concern to those resident in the National Parks remain unsolved by their activities; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take such steps as may be necessary to reduce the duplication, conflict and lack of overall effectiveness which remain a problem in such areas.