HC Deb 15 May 1981 vol 4 cc1038-43
Mr. Peter Fraser

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 3, leave out lines 9 to 12 and insert— '5. After section 48 of the Act of 1967 there shall be inserted the following section— 48A. A regional park is a park, set in the countryside, extensive in size in which the dominant land use in selected parts is public recreation and which is so located as to be accessible to a substantial number of the public.".'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall discuss the following amendments: Government amendment No. 16.

No. 17, in page 3, line 9, leave out 'park is a park' and insert 'management area'.

No. 21, in page 3, line 15, leave out 'parks' and insert `management areas'.

No. 22, in page 3, line 17, leave out 'park' and insert `area'.

No. 23, in page 3, line 20, leave out 'park' and insert `management area'.

No. 24, in page 4, line 14, leave out 'park' and insert `management area'.

Mr. Fraser

One of the Bill's major provisions is to give statutory backing to regional parks throughout Scotland, if that is the wish of local authorities and if it secures the support of the Secretary of State, who has the ultimate decision. The proposal originated in a document entitled "A Park System for Scotland" by the Countryside Commission for Scotland. The idea is novel. It is unlike the national parks system in England because it does not involve the setting up of a new authority with planning roles; nor does it necessarily involve the acquisition of land.

A regional park already exists at Clyde/Muirshiel. Hon. Members might be surprised that I, a Conservative Member from the east coast of Scotland, should pay a compliment to the Labour-controlled Strathclyde council for the support that it has given to that park. It is an illustration of what we seek to set up throughout Scotland. The park contains a loch for water recreation. A number of paths link concentrated areas of activity in the park.

In Committee we discussed whether the Bill contained a proper definition of a regional park. The definition proposed in amendment No. 15 is a result of what the Countryside Commission for Scotland said in its document. Page 22 states: We see these regional parks, where recreation is the dominant form of land use in selected parts only, as larger and more diverse in character and owernership than a country park and so less suited to a unified management programme. Regional parks are intended to provide a comprehensive system of public access to countryside, ranging from areas of nil or low recreational use to site, used intensively, including picnic sites and possibly one or more country parks, and linked by footpaths or wider areas over which access agreements could be negotiated. Because of the diversity of land use and their size, such parks cannot be regarded as being merely large country parks. My definition encapsulates everything that organisations interested in the countryside want to be established in Scotland. We must make it clear to people with countryside interests, such as farmers, that the establishment of a regional park will not cause concern or upset the traditional countryside activities. We must ensure that regional parks do not spring up all over Scotland in large numbers. That is why the definition says that a regional park should be so located as to be accessible to a substantial number of the public. That is why it would at this stage be inappropriate to set up a regional park in Assynt, which has been the subject of much debate.

Regional parks should be established around Scotland's great cities where the public have a legitimate right of recreation. Regional parks would ensure that people can exercise that right and at the same time ensure that traditional countryside activities and industries are not unduly disturbed.

My definition is longer and fuller than that proposed by the Minister. There is some force in his more limited definition. We have not yet fixed what regional parks are. I do not want to restrict this novel and developing idea by definition. Whatever definition is chosen I hope that we will do nothing to restrict their development.

Mr. David Myles (Banff)

I wish to speak to amendment No. 17. I should have appreciated it if the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) had been in the Chamber because he supported me in Committee on this issue. I am amazed that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who also supported me, is not attending this important debate.

I welcome the Bill, as do the Scottish Landowners Federation, the SNFU, the Countryside Activities Council and all organisations with interests in the Scottish countryside. As a sponsor I do not wish to weaken the Bill. I wish to clarify what it seeks to achieve.

The English language presents a number of problems. It presents a number of problems for me. The double meaning of words is one of its greatest weaknesses. We have a responsibility not to add extra meanings to words. It is necessary to say "a park is a park". I object to the word "park" being used in this context.

The definition in the Bill is not the same as that in Chambers' dictionary. The word "park" conjures up many pictures. It could be a beautiful urban park with flowers, greenery, cut grass and waters in which the public wander freely and enjoy themselves. It could be a car park where vehicles are parked with access by the public and where the public have rights—although they often have to pay for them. It could be a wildlife park with firmly defined borders formed by a high mesh fence, to keep out the people or to keep in the animals. It could be a national park like an English national park. It could be, as it is in Aberdeenshire or Banffshire, a field.

Robert Burns used the term in his poem "On the death and dying words of poor Maillie" when he said: Ca' them out to park and hill And let them wander at their will". The Scottish Landowners Federation says: The Federation has always been opposed to the term park in terms of countryside legislation in Scotland except in certain specific circumstances. Country parks already in existence under statute are aptly named, these being areas of land owned by local authority and managed by them for the intention of recreation by the public. In Scotland we have no national parks as exist in England and the term 'park' as applied to rural land consequently has a different meaning. The public's conception of the term is an area of land, usually publicly owned, set aside for their use and over which they have a primary right of access and for recreation. This is of course a correct description of city parks and country parks. I could also quote the words of a farmer in the Pentland hills who objects to the use of the word "park" in this context.

Therefore, I am at a complete loss to understand what, if anything, the public would gain from this erroneous designation, apart from an impression of public ownership. I therefore ask the Government to accept my amendment.

Mr. Rifkind

I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles). The question is whether the phrase "management area" that he suggests would be preferable to "regional park". In fact, it might be even more deleterious to his objectives. The management area implies that the whole area is being managed in some way, giving an impression of bureaucratisation and over-control, which the National Farmers Union, and certainly local farmers, wish to avoid. For the parts of a national park that remain in private use and may be devoted to agriculture, there will be no extra burden on the local farmers in connection with the use of that land. Therefore, it would not be consistent to define that as being part of a management area which, by definition, implies that the whole area, including farming areas, were managed by the Government or by a local authority or other public body. For that reason, the term "regional park" seems more appropriate.

I wish to say a word on amendment No. 15, standing in the name of the sponsor of the Bill. I have carefully considered the wording of his amendment and, of course, that of Governmtent amendment No. 16. There is not much between them. My hon. Friend's amendment is inappropriate, in that it defines "regional park" as an area in which the dominant land use is public recreation, and the purpose of a regional park may be to provide an area for recreation in the future which may not exist at the time the park is created. That is why the Government's amendment refers to a regional park as being an area a substantial part of which is devoted to the recreational needs of the public. That shows the purpose for which the park is being created, rather than the use which might exist at the time the park comes into existence. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will support amendment No. 16.

Mr. Fraser

I accept the Minister's comment that what is happening in Scotland is still a developing system of regional parks. I should not wish to do anything to hinder the fact that we have settled upon a fixed number of regional parks. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 3, line 9 leave out lines 9 to 12 and insert—

'5. After section 48 of the Act of 1967 there shall be inserted the following section— 48A—(1) A regional park is an area of land extensive in size, a substantial part of which is devoted to the recreational needs of the public".'.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

12.15 pm
Mr. Dewar

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 3, line 13, after 'councils', insert 'in consultation with the District Council or District Councils within whose boundaries the designated land lies.'. I do not wish to delay the House, but we should pause a little to discuss this subject. In clause 5, we are creating a new animal in Scotland—a regional park. As yet, it is ill defined. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) made something of a virtue of that fact. I got the impression that he almost did not know what he was creating. Generally, it is seen as a good idea.

The difficulty is that the only power to designate a regional park lies with the regional council. That involves considerable problems, and we shall have difficulties about definition for some time to come. On 24 March, I received a letter from the planning director of Glasgow district council. He said: It is not explicitly stated what the difference if any would be between a regional park and a countryside park. A reasonable assumption would be that they amount to one and the same thing. I assume that they do not amount to one and the same thing, because they are totally different concepts. However, it is interesting that someone as well informed as the planning director is still in the dark about what a regional park constitutes.

Moreover, the monopoly of designation that is given by clause 5 to the regional council seems to me to me to be open to question. The Stodart report, which looked carefully at the overlapping responsibilities in local government, came down firmly in favour of parks being a district function. It said: For our part we see the range of countryside functions at present exercised by local authorities as being essentially related to amenity, and this leads us to recommend that these should form part of district councils' comprehensive responsibility for leisure and recreation … Where facilities such as country parks straddle district boundaries we envisage that the districts concerned would co-operate in planning, provision and management. There seems to us no reason for regional involvement, other than by perhaps contributing financially". The regions might have something to say about that. It is a definite recommendation that a designation—even of regional parks and even ones that straddle districts and are therefore substantial in size and are presumably something like what is thought of as being of mixed ownership and therefore very expensive—should go to districts or combinations of districts.

When I raised that matter in Committee, the Under-Secretary was unusually unconvincing and ill at ease. He said: If, at the end of the day, Stodart's recommendations are accepted, there will be a need for legislative means to implement those recommendations thought appropriate. That will be an opportunity to reconsider this matter in the light of the general response to Stodart. At this stage, it is sensible that we show clearly that it is appropriate that one tier of local government is appropriate for designating regional parks. It is an extraordinary argumemt that although we cannot decide which tier, we should have a prize draw and fly in the face of Stodart's advice and give it to the regions. He also said: No urgency is involved. No one will lose out as a result of a decision that we may take today on this matter. We wish to have time to consider what the hon. Gentleman says are the likely representations. That is why it is sensible to move in this way."—[Official Report, Second Scottish Standing Committee, 11 March 1981; c. 62–3.] If there is no urgency, surely it would be sensible just to leave it as an open option.

I hesitate to suggest that we take out clause 5 altogether, but surely it would be sensible to write in, as the amendment seeks, a specific responsibility to consult and involve in consultation, and possibly management, the district councils in whose area the area to be designated lies. We should do no less than that, because to do less would cause bitter friction and lead to misunderstanding that the decision has been taken and that Stodart is being rejected. The fact that there is to be a regional responsibility with no reference to district councils may be seen as a sort of legislative equivalent to possession being nine parts of the law when the argument and discussion about Stodart finally take place.

The Loch Lomond park, which might now be described as a regional park, not only involves the Strathclyde and Central regions but also a large management input from Stirling and Dunbarton districts. In view of Stodart's remarks, and for common sense considerations, we must recognise that by accepting the amendment the district councils have an interest which should be included in the statute. The Minister appears to have an open mind about the distinct recommendation from Stodart that it should be a district function.

Mr. Rifkind

I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). His amendment proposes consultations with district councils when a regional park is being designated. I assure him that it would be the Secretary of State's intention, in any circular issued as a result of the Bill, automatically to suggest that there should be consultation with district councils if the regional council is considering designation of a regional park.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment proposes a statutory requirement. I am prepared to consider that further. The Bill will be considered in another place. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) and the Bill's sponsor in another place might be prepared to accept such an argument. I assure the hon. Gentleman that any circular will recommend consultation. We shall give further thought to whether a statutory reference should be written into the Bill.

Mr. Dewar

I am happy to leave the matter there. There is no great difference between us. I have an open mind. I am not suggesting that the Stodart decision should be one way or the other. It is important to be even-handed about an undecided issue. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter sensibly. I have received representations from a number of district authorities, including mine in Glasgow. It would create a better atmosphere if the Minister could move in the direction that I have indicated.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 25, that clause 5 be transferred to the end of line 21 on page 6.

No. 26, that clause 6 be transferred to the end of line 11 on page 6.

No. 27, that clause 7 be transferred to the end of line 24 on page 7.

No. 28, that clause 8 be transferred to the end of line 11 on page 2.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

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