HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc931-4

Lords amendment: No. 259, in page 124, line 5, leave out ("enactments specified in") and insert ("Acts amended by").

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Trippier.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 260 to 262, 352, and 354 to 365.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The amendment is important for us in Wales and I should be grateful for some comments from the Minister on the way in which the Bill has been changed since it was sent to another place.

Several amendments are linked with amendment No. 259; a particularly important one is Lords amendment No. 261, which broadens the responsibilities given to the new body and says that it shall have regard to the social and economic interests of rural areas in Wales". We need fully to understand two aspects of this issue. The first is that, although we have in our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty places which need the protection of the legislation and of the body that we are setting up, other areas also warrant attention. I take it from a reading of the debate in the other place and from the wording of the Lords amendment that the new body will be given a broader remit to enable it to pay attention to the needs of areas outside the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The Countryside Council for Wales should have a broad remit in all areas of outstanding beauty. Part of the Snowdonia national park and some areas designated as heritage coastline and areas of outstanding beauty are in my constituency, but other areas not so designated equally require the attention and help given by the legislation.

7.45 pm

A second reason why it is important that the social and economic interests of rural areas be considered alongside environmental interests is that the countryside is not an area of some dead hand, merely to be kept as a park for people from outside to play in. The countryside in Wales, in national parks and elsewhere, is a place where people live and work and need to enjoy a full, balanced life, so the social and economic interests of these areas must be considered, too. If that is done sensitively, with one ear to the needs of the local population, the right balance can be struck; but if it is not struck, there could be a real threat.

I am sorry that no Minister from the Welsh Office is present for this debate. Welsh Office Ministers need to take an interest in it, because a body for Wales is being set up in a Welsh context. Differences in Wales have merited the structure that the Government have brought forward, and the Welsh Office will be directly involved in its day-to-clay activities.

Some years ago, before a major electric pump storage scheme was to come along in Snowdonia—the exciting Dinorwig scheme in my constituency—a rearguard action against the project was fought even though it provided 2,000 jobs for a period and 100 permanently. A "Save Our Snowdonia" campaign was launched, and the registered officer of that campaign, if I recollect aright, operated from Birkenhead. That did not go down very well with the people living in the area. Not for a moment am I denigrating the need to take into account the environmental interest of such beautiful areas, or the importance of access to them for people from outside who want to enjoy them, but the people who live and work in the areas also have interests which must be considered.

In the debate in another place on this clause, Baroness White said that not all the uncertainties had been cleared up in the late changes to the legislation. She referred to the differences between England and Wales and said, at column 1305 on 23 October——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will paraphrase it. I think that he knows the practices of this House.

Mr. Wigley

Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. The burden of the Baroness's point about some of the weaknesses of the wording in the Bill was that it was unfortunate that, even at this late stage, we have not managed to come up with legislation to deal more thoroughly with these matters. Lord Prys-Davies said the same on another occasion.

There remain some question marks about the wording of the Bill, and I should be glad of some clarification from the Minister. Perhaps he will let us know about the appointment of the person who will apparently take over the new body in Wales. That has been a matter of some controversy, and I very much hope that the final appointment will prove to be broadly acceptable. I have been asked questions about the appointment over the summer—for instance, about whether it was going ahead.

Lords amendment No. 352 provides for an annual statement by the council on promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by disabled members of the public, which is most important to them. We have seen a growth in activities for the disabled such as angling, which bring considerable pleasure to people who cannot participate in activities enjoyed by others. It is often necessary to make thoughtful provision for the disabled in the form of ramps, specially designed car parks, and even footpaths that are, within reason, laid out in such a way that the disabled can use them. However, a balance must be struck, because one wants to protect the natural environment, but it often conflicts with the interests of the disabled.

Although I welcome the new responsibility being placed on the council to take into account the needs of the disabled, it is one thing to require the council to make a report, and quite another to ensure that the necessary action is taken—particularly as it might have resource implications. As the Government accept Lords amendment No. 352, will they also give special consideration to the resource implications of making provision for the disabled in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and the countryside generally?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) asked whether the Countryside Council for Wales's remit will extend beyond national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The answer is a straightforward yes, and so it should be. The commitment by my colleagues in the Welsh Office to the Welsh mandate, which was debated in another place, means that consideration will be given to the social and economic interests of rural areas. Normally, my immediate reaction would have been that responsibility for social and economic development should lie with the Development Board for Rural Wales. However, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, it should be considered also by the new body.

Mr. Wigley

The Minister will be aware that the Development Board for Rural Wales covers only the old five counties of mid-Wales, so it is important that the new council should have responsibility for the important rural areas outside those five counties.

Mr. Trippier

I am even more pleased to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the council must consider the social and economic consequences for those new areas. In England, such a mandate would be confined to the Rural Development Commission, quite separately from the Countryside Commission, but that will not be the case in Wales, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome. Mr. Michael Griffith has been appointed and is the chairman in waiting, but unless I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I have no knowledge of the criticism to which he referred.

Mr. Wigley

I was speaking of the new director who will be answerable to Mr. Michael Griffith, who has been the subject of some controversy.

Mr. Trippier

I am not qualified to comment on the appointment of an executive director, which would normally be the responsibility of the countryside council and its board members, not Ministers. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish it to be otherwise. Perhaps he would like to raise that issue with Mr. Griffiths.

Lords amendment No. 261 provides a clear mandate for the new Countryside Council for Wales and carries through the same statutory functions of the Countryside Commission. That does not mean, as was suggested in another place, that those two organisations will have to do exactly the same things. However, they are being given the same kind of skeleton, and each can flesh it out in its own way, within the limits imposed. That also means that they will be able to learn from each other, whereas, if they had different functions, one body might not be able to adopt the other's successful ideas because it lacked the necessary statutory authority.

As to access to the countryside by the disabled, the hon. Gentleman has a proven track record, and I compliment him on his interest in, and concern and support for, the disabled, as I have in the past. I have not the slightest doubt that improved access must include that for the disabled. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who I am convinced will be sympathetic to the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]

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