HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc807-10 3.33 pm
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer upon the Secretary of State powers to establish national parks in Scotland. National parks were given to the world by a Scotsman, John Muir, yet today Scotland is one of the few nations that still has no national parks.

In 1945, two committees were set up to look into national parks in the United Kingdom. They produced the Balfour report for England and Wales and the Ramsay report for Scotland. The recommendations of the report for England and Wales were implemented, but those for Scotland were not. The reasons for that difference are not difficult to discern. The mountains, the wilderness and the beautiful areas in Scotland are much more extensive, and there was little pressure on them at that time. The distances from the population were large and visitors to Scottish areas were relatively few.

In 1952, the Scottish Health Department, which was responsible for such matters, introduced plans for national parks. Again, they fell by the wayside. In 1970, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs asked that plans be brought forward for national parks, but nothing happened. In 1988, a Scottish Office Minister, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), asked the Countryside Commission to introduce plans to manage Scotland's mountain areas. That resulted in the Countryside Commission's 1990 report, entitled "Scottish Mountain Areas". It proposed national parks for the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis, Glencoe, the Black Mount and Wester Ross. I think that the proposal should have included Skye, where pressures are increasing, particularly in Sligachan and Glen Brittle. I am undecided, however, about the case for Wester Ross.

Ben Nevis, Glencoe and the Black Mount is an important area requiring protection. Inappropriate development and bad planning are leading to significant blight and degradation. A national park is essential there.

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind, however, about the absolute and overriding necessity for national parks at Loch Lomond and in the Cairngorms. The problems of the two areas are different—at Loch Lomond they are of people management and, in the Cairngorms, of land management. It is clear in both areas, however, that the problems cannot be solved other than with an overriding authority that has planning powers—in other words, a national park.

The Cairngorms are of exceptional nature conservation and scientific importance within Britain and the European Union for a range of bird species associated with mountain plateaux, open moorland and Caledonian pine forest. Breeding birds of prey are particularly important and include hen harrier, golden eagle, osprey, merlin and peregrine. Breeding on the mountain plateau are ptarmigan, dotterel and snow bunting. Specialist pinewood birds include capercaillie, crested tit and Scottish crossbill. The Cairngorm lochs have been designated as a non-bird Ramsar site, and it is a candidate for special protection area and special area of conservation status.

The position has moved on since the Ramsay report of 1945. As I have said, in those days visitors to the mountain and wilderness areas were few. Even in the 1960s, I could climb the north face of Ben Nevis, both in winter and in summer, and rarely see another person. That is no longer the position. With motor cars have come people to enjoy the outdoors in all its glory. I welcome that, but we must deal properly with the realities.

The plans proposed by the Countryside Commission for Scotland are not those for replicating the system in England and Wales. Such replication would not be appropriate. Scottish areas need Scottish solutions. In Scotland, national parks will be based on an amalgam of local communities and conservationists, who will work together in eliminating conflicts that sometimes arise between the two.

Parks will be organised into zones. There will be a core mountain zone, which will be protected from any development and used only for recreation. There will be a countryside management zone, where recreation will be developed close to the roadside. There will be a community zone, where visitors will be catered for.

These useful plans were put out to consultation and gained universal support. Unfortunately, the Government are against them. They fear their landowning supporters in another place and, as a result, no progress has been made in establishing national parks in Scotland.

The Government recognise that there is a problem, but they do not understand how serious it is. They maintain that areas of wilderness can be managed solely on the voluntary principle. The voluntary principle has failed in the past, however, and has resulted in the desecration of the countryside, such as the punching of roads through Glen Feshie.

In response to pressure, the Government have set up a joint board for the Cairngorms, working on the voluntary principle. There is no doubt that that is an improvement. There are members on the board who never expected to be on it, and that in itself has been a victory for conservation. The difficulty, however, is that the board has no land management powers. Indeed, that is the main problem in the area. That power is left in the control of landowners, and it is difficult to deal with the problem.

Loch Lomond is under considerable pressure, where the problem is one of people management. Despite universal support for national parks from everyone, including the landowners in that region, the Government have simply proposed another joint committee. Not even Scottish Natural Heritage wants it. Its response to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs working party report states: The joint committee … would depend on the voluntary delegation of powers and functions by the local authorities involved. We are concerned that, on present indications, this may not materialise. The problems in Loch Lomond are becoming desperate. The road on the east side to Balmaha must often be closed due to traffic volume. Cars are driven down on to the loch side, eroding the bank. With boating restrictions being imposed in the Lake District national park and with the improvement in the M74, more and more traffic and boats are moving to Loch Lomond. Even though the road on the west side—the A82—has not yet been closed, it has functionally come to a halt on a number of occasions, with huge traffic jams extending from Luss to the Balloch roundabout.

The water is now crowded with speedboats and jetskis zig-zagging across its surface, interfering with fishing and polluting the air. Their engine whines can be heard even high up in Ben Lomond. Surely it is now time to call a halt.

In both the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond, there are too many authorities and too many agencies. Co-ordination is difficult, if not impossible. It is time to sweep them all away and to replace them with a body with real planning powers. It is time to replace them with a national park.

3.40 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

This important subject has been debated regularly since the war. I reluctantly cross swords with the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), because of his particular interest in the countryside in Scotland, which I share. As we have often said in the House, however, if something works, do not try and fix it. He has underestimated what is happening and has happened over many years in Scotland towards solving the problem that he raises in his Bill.

The hon. Gentleman overstates the problem, bearing in mind developments in recent years. The theme that has been developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) and is being developed now by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is one of partnership. That has been highlighted through the Cairngorms Partnership, the investigation into Loch Lomond, the recommendation of the committee to local authorities and the many people involved in the community.

We must also bear it in mind that we have a sound planning system in Scotland for our scenic areas of national beauty and that we should not implant a bureaucratic system such as that which exists in many of the national parks in England. At one time, I was responsible for them so I know the difficulties there, as I have known about the issues in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman underestimated what has been achieved in Loch Lomond. I am glad that byelaws are in place to deal with the problems that he raised, especially those relating to speedboats. The quick action taken by the Government in introducing legislation so that byelaws could be used speedily shows what can be done with co-operation. We have something in place for this summer. The regulations and the ranger services should have an important impact on the Loch Lomond problem.

The partnership system in the Cairngorms, the other extremely sensitive area, is working well and has an important part to play in current issues such as those involving Aviemore, the funicular railway and skiing developments. The breadth of experience in the partnership—involving environmentalists, the governing bodies or those involved with economic development—should go a long way towards the right decision being made.

We must always remember that many people must live and make an economic living in all these sensitive areas, which are not just to be admired. It is therefore important that we let this develop before we consider any further way forward, which is not essential at present.

In relation to all the developments, we need to consider what is going on in terms of the access concordat, which stems from good work by Scottish Natural Heritage. That organisation resulted from the Government putting together the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and has been a great success. I am glad that the Government have been able to fund it far above the funding for the two organisations before they were amalgamated.

Moreover, there have been immense developments in agriculture, and help for environmentally sensitive areas in the form of substantial grants and management agreements. There have been improvements in policy relating to forest development, including the community forest and the central Scottish woodland.

All that shows that the Government are working hard to improve Scotland's environment. We should not throw it away by introducing legislation establishing a whole new system when that has been shown to be unnecessary.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sam Galbraith, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mr. John Maxton, Mr. John McFall, Mr. Brian Wilson, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Mr. Elliot Morley, Ms Joan Ruddock and Mrs. Maria Fyfe.