HC Deb 03 April 2003 vol 402 cc1051-2
2. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

What plans she has to extend the boundaries of national parks. [106683]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

I have no plans at present to extend the boundaries of any of the existing national parks in England, and I am advised that the Countryside Agency has no plans to undertake any reviews.

Mr. Pickthall

I congratulate the Government on their wholly admirable handling of the national parks agenda thus far, but will my right hon. Friend examine the possibility that discrete areas just outside national park boundaries could be added to the national parks without going through a review of the entire parks boundaries? If that were possible, would not it be a good way to protect some of our most valuable landscapes, as it would give them the extra protection that national parks status guarantees? I am thinking particularly about the east and south of the lake district.

Margaret Beckett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the Government's record. He is right that, at present, the procedures that must be followed for even a relatively small-scale and discrete area review are substantial, and much the same as those for a new national park. That is the position, and I am not able to change that at present. However, I take my hon. Friend's point that we must take such issues into account, not least because national parks are of great value to the nation. I cannot offer my hon. Friend a remedy in the short term, but I can undertake to give careful thought to the point that he makes.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

When the Secretary of State considers the national parks, will she bear it in mind that, however important the quiet enjoyment of national parks is for visitors, it is also important that people can earn a living inside the national parks? The foot and mouth disease outbreak showed, among other things, how dependent most people living in national parks are on the tourism industry, which is often not high value, and on agriculture, which is going through a crisis. Will the right hon. Lady bear it in mind that we should look to the parks having an economic purpose, as well as an enjoyment purpose, so that the parks can live in their own right, and not be exclusively playgrounds for people who come in from outside?

Margaret Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point, with which the whole House will agree and sympathise. It is precisely to take account of such matters that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life presided over a joint conference with the regional development agencies about a year ago. Some further work is being undertaken on the back of that conference, and we anticipate a further report, probably in June. I entirely take the right hon. Gentleman's point, which is valid and important.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

I, too, congratulate the Government on their attitude to the national parks. Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), will my right hon. Friend look at the system employed in places such the parc d'Armorique in Brittany? Small areas worthy of protection that are not within the park's boundaries can be brought into the park quickly and easily.

Margaret Beckett

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an interesting point, and highlights an example of how others manage these things differently. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), I cannot undertake to make the changes that she suggests at the present time. However, I can certainly undertake to give consideration to the example that she gave, as we will to the proposals that may be put forward by others. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be very happy to discuss the detail of these matters with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Secretary of State knows very well the peak district national park, which attracts more than 20 million visitors a year. Recently, the Government produced a report on the governance of national parks that proposed a reduction in the number of parish representatives involved in running a national park. The proposal may have been well meaning, but does the Secretary of State understand that it would be greatly resisted in the peak district? Will she give very careful consideration as to whether she should go forward with the proposal?

Margaret Beckett

We always keep such matters under very careful consideration. I shall certainly agree to look again at the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. However, I assure him that the Government are trying, as everyone would wish, to get the right balance between the representation of the different interests, who all have the right to a voice.

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