HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1647-8
1. Ms Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received regarding the new national park authorities. [33371]

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer)

Our conclusions in response to the many representations we have received are reflected in part III of the Environment Bill.

Ms Ruddock

The Secretary of State will be painfully aware of the extent to which Britain's conservation bodies feel cheated by his decision to remove "quiet enjoyment" rather than accept the definition tabled by the Opposition on Report. When will his revised guidance be published, as promised? Will he give us his word that that guidance will make it crystal clear that a special quality of all national parks is their peacefulness and tranquillity?

Mr. Gummer

I am sorry that the hon. Lady should not have read with care reports of discussions in Committee, when it was made clear that, although the Government sought to find a way both to retain "quiet enjoyment" and to ensure that people could continue to do in national parks what they have done and want to continue to do, there was no way in which either the Opposition or the Government felt that that could be achieved. We have removed "quiet" and I have stated in the guidance, which I hope to publish as soon as possible, that we shall ensure that the tranquillity that is suitable for national parks is maintained while enabling people to continue to lead their lives in a reasonable manner. I think that that is reasonable, and most bodies agree with me.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision to increase the number of local people on national park authorities, especially parish councillors, has been warmly welcomed, particularly in the context of the Northumberland national park? Will he dissociate himself from the remarks made by an Opposition Front Bench spokesman in Committee to the effect that parish councillors are overly parochial and accountable to no one?

Mr. Gummer

I was surprised to read of the Labour party's assertion that parish councillors are accountable only to themselves. I was surprised also by the dismissive and contemptuous way in which they were treated by the Labour Front Bench. I hope that parish councillors notice that the Labour party does not consider them to be representative of local parties and does not believe that they are elected. I hope also that parish councillors will know what to do in future when the Labour party woos them.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Secretary of State agree that there are many people who enjoy walking in national parks? Will he encourage national parks to negotiate access agreements to increase the areas in which people can walk? Will he urge all national parks to achieve the target set out in the Edwards report by ensuring that, by the end of the year, all rights of way in national parks are free of obstruction and are signposted where they leave the highway?

Mr. Gummer

I am obviously pleased by the way in which we have improved the opportunity of access during the past few years. I know that most national parks are trying to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman has urged. We must recognise, however, that there is a balance to be achieved. Many other functions of the national parks must be carried out properly, such as conservation of habitat, protection of birds and improvement of agriculture. All those factors must come into the balance as well.