HL Deb 16 November 1978 vol 396 cc853-86

5.21 p.m.

Baroness WHITE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is any intention on their part to depart from the agreed policy regarding National Parks. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to ask this Question on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Your Lordships will be extremely sorry to learn of Lord Molson's indisposition; he found that on medical advice he could not travel to London today. He has been a very distinguished President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, so perhaps it was thought appropriate that I, as the President of the smaller sister organisation, the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, might do my best to put some of the points at least which I know the noble Lord, Lord Molson, wished to raise.

The reason he couched his Question in this form was because of his considerable disquiet, in particular at the Secretary of State for the Environment's response to the Peak Park Structure Plan. Before I come to that, I will briefly remind your Lordships of what we had always understood to be the agreed policy regarding National Parks. This general consensus as to the purpose and standing of National Parks goes back at least, as I am reminded, to 1952 when Mr. Harold Macmillan (who was at that time the Minister responsible) emphasised that in these outstanding areas that are designated as National Parks amenity considerations would have prior authority over all other demands on the parks. This policy of successive governments was strongly reaffirmed by the National Park Policies Review Committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was chairman, in an outstanding report which has become the handbook of those concerned with National Park policy. In that report it was emphasised that in the National Parks the presumption against development which would be out of accord with park purposes must be strong throughout the whole of the park. In the most beautiful parks which remain unspoiled it should amount to a prohibition to be breached only in a case of a most compelling national necessity.

Furthermore, it was noted by the Sandford Committee that when they were making their investigations there had already been a marked tendency for the intangible and enduring benefits of conserving our parks to be subordinated to short-term utilitarian considerations". I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, had these principles in mind when he put down his Question on the Order Paper. I have reason to think that he was particularly concerned to have a discussion as early as possible in this Session on the matter because especially of the disquiet caused by the response of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Peak Park Planning Board's proposed structure plan. I should emphasise that, as this is a Question rather than a Motion, its principal purpose is to elicit information rather than give it. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will be able to give us assurances which can be read by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in Hansard in due course which will quieten his apprehensions.

It was not only those who are directly associated with the Peak National Park who quite frankly were shocked at what appeared to us to be the attitude of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has done many things for which we are grateful, but in this particular context we were very deeply disquieted indeed, and that disquiet has affected all those concerned with National Parks in all parts of England and Wales. There are of course none in Scotland. Therefore, I am sure that my noble friend will appreciate that it really is important that these apprehensions should, if possible, be allayed.

There was a strong local reaction to the modifications which the Secretary of State indicated were desired in the proposed Structure Plan. I have a clipping dated 30th August from Arnold Bennett's old paper the Staffordshire Sentinel in which they express their disquiet in a leading article. They point out: The planning board have fought hard for their principles —principles on which they believe the National Parks concept is to be based— which have been endorsed by constituent local authorities, including the county councils involved, and by the public". The National Parks Board, they indicate, are widely regarded as having pursued a sensible policy of development control. It continues: … for Mr. Shore to seek to impose sweeping policy changes strikes at the very root of all serious intentions to preserve and enhance the character of the park". That is putting the matter in a nutshell.

I do not want to take up too much time of the House in going into the details; but I should like to draw attention to one aspect of the matter which has concerned me. In the official reaction to the proposed structure plan for the Peak there has been an apparent divergence of policy compared with the official reaction, for example, to the structure plan for Gwynedd which is the only approved structure plan that we have in Wales but which of course covers the Snowdonia National Park. There it was taken, as I understand it, as being perfectly in order to suggest that in a National Park area there should be presumptions against forms of development, including mineral extraction, which were regarded as being significantly detrimental to the purposes of the National Park.

I am of course well aware that there has been considerable quarrying already in the Peak. It is not as if this were some new proposal; but it is not merely the immediate intensification of conspicuous quarrying that one is concerned about, but the attitude of the Department that there should be no presumption against and that one would, therefore, have to prove one's case conclusively. The onus of proof—I am not speaking in a legalistic but an ethical term—should be on the person proposing the development. I think this principle which, if I understand it, was accepted as a general principle in the case of Gwynedd and Snowdonia, seems not to have been accepted in the case of the Peak Park.

There are other matters where modifications in the Peak Structure Plan were desired by the Secretary of State for the Environment, and again these seem to be out of accord, so far as one can judge, with principles which had been accepted or approved in other structure plans in other parts of the country—not necessarily National Parks. The Gwynedd situation is of course particularly relevant, because there one is dealing with a National Park. I do not propose, in this brief debate, to go into questions of local housing, static caravans and so on; but I am sure that my noble friend will have realised, not least from the correspondence which I know has been received in the Department of the Environment, that there is considerable disquiet.

I will mention only two such letters which I know have been addressed in recent weeks to the Secretary of State for the Environment. One is from the Council for National Parks, of which I am a member. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, is also a colleague on that Council. On behalf of the Council, the secretary wrote to the Secretary of State and expressed, I think in very convincing terms, the Council's reaction to the general effect of almost all the modifications which were proposed. We said that again and again they weaken the boards' strong measures—that is, the Park Planning Boards—to pro tect a park against development that conflicts with the basic purposes of National Park designation. Might I say, also, how surprised one was that one should have these reactions in the Peak Park, compared with the recent attitude of the Secretary of State for Energy, who referred to landscape considerations, among others—because there were other considerations—in disallowing the proposal by the National Coal Board recently at Whittonstall in the North-East for open-cast mining, although that is in an area which is not either a National Park or designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. So there does seem to be an inconsistency and one would have supposed that the Secretary of State for the Environment would have been the one who was the more eager to protect the purposes of the National Parks.

The Countryside Commission also wrote formally to the Secretary of State last August, expressing their very considerable concern about the proposed modifications of this structure plan. I will, if I may, quote just a sentence or two. They said: The Commission are particularly concerned that some of the modifications to the policies for recreation, residential development, transport and minerals would weaken the ability of the Park Planning Board to achieve the statutory objectives for the National Parks". That is a serious charge, coming from the official body which is concerned to safe-guard National Park policies, and therefore it was in no frivolous spirit that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, put this Question on the Order Paper.

I hope very much, !however, that my noble friend will take the Question just a little bit wider than the Peak Park, even though that was undoubtedly upper-most in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, because many of us are also concerned as to when we may hear what the Government's intentions are about the Porchester Report, for Exmoor. That was a report which I think many of us regarded not merely as expeditious but as an extremely interesting and significant report, dealing in a very practical way with some urgent problems in Exmoor.

As noble Lords who are concerned with these matters will recognise, there has been a very genuine and understandable conflict of interest between the environ-mentalists—one calls them that—and the farming community on Exmoor. Various propositions have been made, some of which, it appears, cannot be carried out satisfactorily without supporting legislation. I have been happy to learn that, pending what we hope will be very shortly announced as proposed legislation, action has been continuing on the general lines suggested in the Porchester Report, so far as it can be taken, and that the committee proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, has been set up. I understand that a first map is now open for public consultation and that the second map is being started. So far as it goes, that is comforting, of course, but it obviously does not go far enough and I very much hope that my noble friend—to whom I gave notice of extending the Question to Exmoor—will be able to tell us something about it.

I should like also to emphasise that I have naturally been in contact with some of my colleagues in the Welsh National Parks and they are very eager indeed that there should be the required legislation, not only in respect of the Porchester Report but also concerning some of the aspects of the Sandford Report, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will make some reference. They are much concerned that, while the problems in Exmoor could be expressed in terms of moorland preservation and protection, there are other National Parks where "moorland", as a designation, is not apposite. In particular, the Pembroke National Park have pointed out that they are not a moorland park but primarily a coastline park. Indeed, they would like to be extended to become a marine park. That is perhaps a wider question than we can go into today, but there is a very strong movement towards trying to extend, for example, the powers of the Nature Conservancy Council to designate areas of scientific interest and nature reserves related to the inshore environment as well as to land. However, I am not expecting my noble friend to go too far under water in a sub-aqua exercise this evening! Nevertheless, I think it is as well that we should be aware of this.

I hope that I have indicated sufficiently—though there are many other subjects one would like to discuss—what I believe to be the main reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Molson, put his Question on the Order Paper. I hope very much that at the end of this brief debate my noble friend will be able to quieten at least some of our apprehensions.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Baroness for asking this Question today, and we regret that my noble friend Lord Molson is not well enough to be here himself. I feel very diffident about speaking today before my noble friend Lord Sandford; he must be the leading authority on National Parks, and his committee produced that most excellent report on the subject about four years ago.

Today's Question is phrased in general terms, but the speech of the noble Baroness has been largely confined to two particular parks, and I know that it was the intention of my noble friend Lord Molson to speak about the Peak Park. On this occasion, I cannot attempt to cover all the ground, but I should like to make some general points and then return to the problem of the Peak Park.

This subject is surely one which is very largely non-controversial, in a political sense. We all want to retain the natural beauty of our country and to preserve it for future generations. Those who administer the National Parks have done a good job. There is so much detail which is arguable, but the administrators have, in general, used much tact in providing an acceptable compromise where opinions differ, and they have run the parks very well. I think that there is very little argument about that.

To put the matter of National Parks in perspective, they were introduced only after the end of the last World War. There are now 10 such parks, which comprise nearly one-tenth of the land area of England and Wales. They mostly lie in the West and North of the country and comprise large areas of high ground which were little developed or exploited by our ancestors. These parks are, however, inhabitated by approximately ½ million people.

The 1949 Act stated that the aims for these National Parks were, first, to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the areas; and, secondly, to promote their enjoyment by the public. Cir- cumstances have greatly changed in the last 30 years. People now have more time and more money to spend on leisure activities and, above all, they have more cars. This, together with the motorway network, has enabled many more people to visit the National Parks than ever was envisaged in 1949. To a large extent, and particularly in the summer, the second aim has been too successful and is defeating the first. The natural beauty is being spoiled by too many visitors, by their cars and, particularly, by their caravans. This sad situation is likely to get worse rather than better. It must be right that the first aim should have priority over the second.

How can we keep the numbers visiting National Parks within bounds? If one improves the roads to avoid congestion, one is likely to spoil the beauty and probably encourage even more visitors. Tolls are clearly a non-starter, but possibly high parking charges for cars and high charges for touring caravans might be an answer, particularly if rules against illegal parking were strictly enforced near the most popular sites. The touring caravan is such an important factor in the leisure industry; but they take up a great deal of room on rural roads, they are restricted as to their speed, they are generally self-contained and the occupants spend little or no money to contribute to the well-being of the district which they visit, and, unfortunately, their colour also frequently offends.

A more positive approach to relieving the pressure on National Parks is to draw the attention of visitors to other beautiful places outside these parks. National Parks do not have the monopoly of beautiful areas. They are simply large areas within which there are some particularly lovely places. Country parks outside the National Parks have had considerable success. Privately-owned wildlife parks and pick-your-own fruit farms have also been a success, and have attracted a large number of town and city dwellers during the summer months. Many speakers in the debate on the Forestry Bill earlier this afternoon mentioned how popular areas under forestry have become.

To revert to the natural beauty of the park areas, much has been said about modern activities which tend to spoil their natural beauty. I should like to make a few points which have, I think, been largely overlooked or inadequately stressed. First, there are high voltage electricity pylons. These are perhaps most noticeable in Scotland, as a result of their hydro-electric schemes. I appreciate that Scotland is outside the scope of today's Question. However, these electricity pylons wreck the countryside, even if sited below the skyline. I understand that the cost of laying such cables underground is prohibitive, but I suggest that high priority should be given to routeing future cables so that they are not visible from the most attractive places inside our National Parks.

My second point was going to be concerned with trees. It is a happy coincidence that earlier this afternoon your Lordships debated the Forestry Bill, and much of what I intended to say was covered then. However, I would urge that those places which still contain what I call deciduous trees, but which your Lord ships referred to earlier this afternoon as broadleaf trees, are preserved, even if grants have to be made for this purpose. I would also urge that the possibility of replanting other areas with deciduous trees is considered, despite the fact that that may lead to considerable subsidy.

My third point is about farming. I was a farmer for 25 years and, although I do not want to be disloyal to my fellow farmers, I must admit that some of the buildings which we put up are horrors and are totally unacceptable in a National Park, unless they are hidden. In National Parks, it must be right that any new buildings should conform with the landscape and that traditional materials should be used for their construction, if they are to be visible from any distance. It must also be right that if a new farm building is justified, any additional cost incurred in making its construction conform with higher standards should be grant-aided.

As to the reclamation of moorland for more intensive grazing, I am less sympathetic. It is only possible to farm these moorland areas intensively with large subsidies for drainage, for lime, for fertilisers and for fencing. I suspect that the cost of producing a little more beef and a little more mutton is, even now, doubtful economically in national terms. My lack of concern on this aspect is because of my belief that, if the drainage of any improved moorland were neglected and no further lime or fertiliser introduced, the land would very soon revert to its original state.

As to the extraction of limestone from the Peak Park, about which I know my noble friend Lord Molson had intended to speak, I have not been able to visit the site since I learned that this problem was to be raised. But I understand that this park covers some 346,000 acres, and that the part involved with the limestone working is comparatively small and on the edge of the park. As the noble Baroness, Lady White, has already stated, Sir Harold Macmillan indicated in 1952 that amenity considerations should have prior authority in National Parks, unless it was clear beyond all doubt that there was no alternative supply. I would also mention that Lord Silkin in another place in 1949 indicated much the same thing.

As I have said, I have been unable to visit this Park in the few days available, but I have spoken to several people who are acquainted with this particular problem. It seems that the operating company has been quarrying limestone just outside the new Park limit for many years and that they have a processing plant at Tunstead, which is, again, outside the Park. This plant employs some 800 men. It seems that they have now got conditional planning permission to quarry a further 180 acres just inside the Park. The material will be moved to and processed at the existing works outside the National Park.

I am also told by the operators that they own a further 200 acres of land which they intend to use as a cordon sanitaire—to conceal their mineral extraction by planting trees—and that they intend to do this before they start quarrying. I do not know whether the screen will be satisfactory. I further understand that the limestone will be exhausted by the end of this century, or very early in the next. This means that the processing plant at Tunstead, just outside the Park, will close down and, hopefully, be dismantled.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the Government three questions. First, is my understanding of the limestone operation correct? Secondly, is there any intention to depart from the agreed policy on National Parks? As the noble Baroness has already said, this modification to the Peak Park Structure Plan suggests that there well may be. Thirdly, in order to implement some of the recommendations in the Sandford Report, fresh legislation will be needed. May I ask the Government when we can expect such legislation.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my word of regret that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, is not able to be here to ask this Unstarred Question today. It is only right to say—and I hope that we can convey this message to him through the agency of Hansard—that nobody has been more staunch and stalwart in the protection of the English countryside—and the Welsh countryside, for that matter—and the National Parks in particular than Lord Molson. Almost throughout his life he has carried out a one man campaign in that great cause. I should like to thank the noble Baroness for having stood in his shoes and presented the very questions which I feel sure he would have been anxious to ask. The other satisfaction that I have in this Unstarred Question tonight is that we are to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I shall say something about his report in a moment.

The Unstarred Question asks whether there is any intention on the part of the Government to depart from the agreed policies for the National Parks. In order that we can try to answer that question, I think that we have to ask the preliminary question: What is the agreed policy of the Government—what is the agreed policy between all parties, because the Unstarred Question seems to suggest that that is the case—for the future of the National Parks?

In order to answer that examination question, it seems to me that there are two books which are prescribed reading. The first is the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and the second is the report of the committee of review which was presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. Of course, as the noble Baroness has said, that review report has become the handbook of conservationists and preservationists throughout the two countries.

One of the great contributions that was made by the Sandford Report was that it faced up to matters which are, very often, ones of inherent conflict. In the past, it seems to me, we have been all too inclined to pretend that there are not matters of inescapable conflict when we are discussing the future of the National Parks. Indeed, the debate this afternoon has taken such an amiable course on all sides that one might be left in doubt of the fact that in fact the argument about the preservation of the National Parks every now and then erupts into the most fierce controversy.

One of the inherent conflicts which has been there from the very beginning lies in the twin objectives which the Act of 1949 set down. It set out that the first objective was the preservation of these wonderful places and their enhancement. The second objective was the promotion of the enjoyment of these places by the public. For a long time it may have been supposed that there was no potential conflict between those two objectives, but over the years it has become clear —and this is what the Sandford Report brought home—that there is and can be a very serious conflict, and that when that conflict arises you must make up your mind which is your priority.

If I might quote a passage from the Sandford Report, paragraph 2.15 said this: The first purpose of national parks, as stated by Dower"— Dower was the person who produced the first report which led to the National Parks legislation— and by Parliament—the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty—seems to us to remain entirely valid and appropriate. The second purpose—the promotion of public enjoy ment—however, needs to be re-interpreted and qualified because it is now evident that excessive or unsuitable use may destroy the very qualities which attract people to the parks. Then it went on to say, and the committee put it into italics in order to underline it: We have no doubt that where the conflict between the two purposes, which has always been inherent, becomes acute, the first one must prevail in order that the beauty and ecological qualities of the national parks may be maintained. That was the first nettle which was grasped by the Sandford Committee. It came to the unequivocal and unqualified decision that it is preservation and conservation which must have priority if the purposes of the National Parks Act are going to be maintained.

May I draw your Lordships' attention to one other clash which is again inherent in the whole situation; namely, the clash between the interests of preservation and conservation, on the one hand, and what the Sandford Committee called the short-term, utilitarian considerations on the other. Although the noble Baroness has already quoted part of what I now want to quote from the report, perhaps I may be allowed to quote it a little more extensively because I think that perhaps this is one of the hearts of the matter. In chapter 3, paragraph 3.1, the Committee wrote this: We do, however, believe that there has in the past been a marked tendency for the intangible and enduring benefits of conserving our parks to be subordinated to short term utilitarian considerations". Then the Committee went on to say this in the next paragraph: These enduring benefits are so great and so precious that it is tempting to recommend that our national parks and other areas of exceptional beauty should be declared inviolate, whatever the cost". Then it went on to deal with the impracticability of such an ideal approach and it finished up in this way—and again the Committee saw fit to put the words into italics in order to underline the significance. What it said was this: The presumption against development which would be out of accord with park purposes must be strong throughout the whole of the parks; in the most beautiful parts which remain unspoiled it should amount to a prohibition to be breached only in the case of a most compelling national necessity. Those were the words which the noble Baroness underlined.

The noble Baroness has dealt quite satisfactorily with the Peak Park situation and I do not want to deal with that, but I should like briefly to put before the House two examples of the way in which these inherent conflicts arise and which are contemporary illustrations. The first concerns a proposal to build a dual carriageway highway through the northern perimeter of the Dartmoor National Park. Perhaps I may explain to your Lordships who may not be altogether familiar with this, how this arises. For the past 20 years the Department of the Environment have had a long-term plan for building a spine road all the way from London to Penzance. That has been part of the Ministry's plans for 20 years or so. Recently they have embarked upon the development of that programme by building a dual carriageway road from Exeter over the North of Dartmoor down to Bodmin. They are also incidentally building a similar dual carriageway between the same two points —namely, Exeter and Bodmin—going through Plymouth.

I am not going to deal with the idiocy of that proposition today, but the Department are at present engaged as their first priority in developing the old A30 road from Exeter past Okehampton and down towards Bodmin. In their proposals they have got as far as Okehampton and I think everybody recognises that it is highly desirable that Okehampton should be by-passed because it is being almost driven to death by the traffic now passing through it. So, perfectly sensibly, the decision is that the road should go round Okehampton but the question is whether it should go to the north of the town or to the south. That is a matter on which there is shortly to be a great public inquiry. There are of course perfectly legitimate arguments in favour of one proposal and the other. People who are opposed to the road going to the north of Okehampton are opposed to it largely because they say—and I think they may be right—that it will swallow up a lot of valuable agricultural land. The people who oppose the road going to the south say that it is wrong, unless there is an overwhelming national necessity, that we should drive a great dual carriageway through a National Park. Indeed, if its words meant anything, that is what the Sandford Committee was saying.

There can be specious and valid arguments on both sides. One of the arguments of course is what is best for Okehampton. People are entitled to have different views about that, but is it really argued that it is an absolute national necessity to drive the road through the National Park as opposed to putting it to the north of the town? There might be an argument of delicate balance if this were not a National Park, but it is, and what causes some of us to despair is that the support of the Department of the Environment is apparently going to be put behind the proposal to go to the south and through the national park.

I should like to refer to one other example of the fierce controversies which are inevitably involved in the discussion of National Parks, and that is the question of Exmoor. I only want to say a word or two about that because it has already been referred to. Ten years ago, when the Countryside Bill was going through this House, there was raised the whole question of whether it was possible to stop the moorland terrain of the Exmoor National Park being ploughed up and fenced off and being irretrievably destroyed. At that time, I spoke as best I could on behalf of the Somerset County Council, of all people. They wanted to have a clear measure so that people would not be allowed to plough up and fence off moorland, thus destroying it irretrievably, except with the permission of the appropriate Park Committee or the Secretary of State, and that where farmers were prevented from maximising the economic value of their land and were not allowed to do that, then there should be a proper system of contributions to assist them and to meet their needs.

At that time, the Government fudged it. They would not face up to the issue and they inserted a section—Section 14, if I remember rightly—which has proved utterly ineffective ever since. As a result of that, 10 years later we had to set up the Porchester Commission to deal with the very problem which we completely failed to deal with in 1968. Now the Porchester Report has come out and the Commission has grasped the nettle and made the clearest possible recommendations. Only by the carrying out of those recommendations can the rest of Exmoor and the places of great amenity value be safe guarded. We are still waiting to hear from the Government when they are going to introduce the elementary, simple legislation to give effect to the Porchester Report. I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to give us some sort of comfort tonight, although I am rather uncertain as to whether we shall get any definite reply.

When we speak about National Parks everyone wants to be on the side of the angels, and everybody likes to think that they are the friends of the National Parks. That is a very natural wish, but it cannot be forgotten that if the National Parks are to be defended it is necessary for people to take determined stands. There are many problems in connection with the

National Parks, as indeed with the general question of the preservation of the English countryside, which cannot be solved by compromises and where it is necessary for the Government to take a stand on one side or the other. I look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness—particularly after we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Sandford—as to what hope she can give us tonight.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will not be considered immodest to claim that when the present Government issued Circular 4/76 in January 1976 there was very wide satisfaction that, broadly speaking, they had endorsed the findings of the committee which I had the honour of chairing, dealing with the review of the National Parks. Of course in that review and in the endorsement of it not everybody was pleased by everything. But I should have thought that one could fairly claim that the recommendation, and the Government's subsequent endorsement of our clear proposal that conservation should clearly come first among the twin aims of National Parks, was almost universally acclaimed. This is why it is now so sad that the chairman of the CPRE and the chairman of CPRW both feel so constrained by what the Secretary of State has done to have to ask a Question of the kind we are discussing tonight. It seems that his action, and particularly his action on the Peak Park construction plan, has caused widespread consternation, misgivings and doubts, and it is very sad that that should be so.

I find it disturbing, too, that, having proposed modifications to the Peak Park Planning Board Structure Plan, he should now be refusing to see them. There does not seem to me to be any bar under Section 9 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1972 to his doing so. My hope is that he is taking up this position because he has it in mind to secure a further public consideration of the modified structure plan, and it seems to me there are two or three different ways in which this can be done within the legislation provided for it, Sections 8 and 9 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1972. I think we would all be immensely reassured if the noble Baroness could say tonight that such is his intention, because I think the weight of objection, protest and consternation in regard to what he proposes to do in the way of modifying this plan certainly justifies a further consideration in some shape or form of the structure plan as he has modified it.

I turn from what I think is the main point of my noble friend's Question, which the noble Baroness posed on his behalf, to the general one of minerals. The Secretary of State's modification concerning minerals is one of those that have caused the most objection. In our review our committee made two groups of proposals concerning minerals. One was that in any substantial application for the working of minerals in a National Park the proposals should be called in by the Secretary of State. That was one of the few recommendations which was not agreed to. The reason for not agreeing to it was that it implied a lack of trust in the National Park authorities. There is a good deal of weight in that.

But, my Lords, if the Secretary of State wants to place his trust in the National Parks authorities he really must allow them to develop a strong and clear policy on minerals against which applications can be judged. He really cannot have his cake and eat it. If he now dilutes their policy in respect of minerals, which is what his modifications have done, this will positively induce applicants who do not get the decisions that they want from the National Park authorities to go very quickly to appeal, and we are then back in the situation which the Secretary of State in his circular seemed to want to avoid. Furthermore, in doing so we have weakened the whole authority of all the National Parks everywhere. So it seems to me that we have got into a very undesirable situation as a result of that.

The second general point we made about minerals was that it was high time the Department, with the assistance of the Institute of Geological Sciences, advanced the state of knowledge about minerals in general, both the limestone aggregates and the more specialised minerals, so that we could move to the position where it was reasonable and practical to require the applicant for working minerals in a National Park to demonstrate that there were no workable reserves anywhere else in the Kingdom. I think one does have to accept that the state of knowledge is not such where it could be very reasonable to do that, though we were very much attracted by the proposal and made a recommendation on those lines. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could say what advances there have been in that direction, particularly in the light of the Stevens Report and the Verney Report, which have both come out since we reported, and any progress made by the Institute of Geological Sciences.

The final two points I should like to make relate to two specific applications in the Peak Park which have recently been dealt with. One is the one referred to by my noble friend, at Oldmoor (Tunstead). Could the noble Baroness say why serious thought was not given in her Department to the proposal advocated by Sir Ralph Verney in his report on aggregates, that in a number of cases it was practical and desirable that limestone should be worked underground without disturbing the surface? There is a lot of talk in mineral legislation and mineral matters about preventing development on the top of minerals which has the effect of sterilising that resource, but I think there is at least as much to be said for mining minerals so as not to disturb a renewable resource, the topsoil and subsoil which is on top of them, which can be found over and over again for centuries thereafter, whereas once it is taken off and disturbed you lose a renewable resource and you work through a non-renewable resource; that is not good environmental practice. Perhaps the noble Baroness could comment on that point.

The last point is in connection with the approval of the Dresser application in the Park for the working of fluorspar in which the Peak Park Board have been successful, very greatly to their credit, in securing a bond from the company in connection with a Section 52 agreement for the restoration of the land after they have finished working it. This seems to belie the hesitation of the Department in agreeing to the Stevens Report proposal on the planning control of mineral workings, their hesitation in putting their weight behind the idea of restoration funds and bonds. On the other hand, it does seem to me to justify their hesitation to develop a statutory apparatus for it; this bond has been secured on a voluntary basis, and if it can be done like that, of course, the whole system is much more flexible and has a great deal to commend it. Could the noble Baroness say that in the light of this the Department will develop more enthusiasm for bonds for the restoration after mineral workings, and that they will be content, at any rate for the time being, to leave the matter in the hands of the industry and not be provoked into producing a statutory framework?

6.19 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness when she replies will feel inclined to say, as I hope she may, that she feels that the present National Parks authorities, considering the financial restrictions in the period in which we exist, are doing a very good job of work. My noble friend Lord Sandford spoke with great modesty of the report of the committee over which he presided. That report is the biggest thing that has happened in the field of National Parks for many years. I think that we should all like to pay a tribute to the authors of that report and to the work that my noble friend did.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to Exmoor. I had the pleasure the other day of revisiting that area which is not far from my home. It was a marvellous day and I drove across it from South to North because, unfortunately, I can no longer walk over it. Is is true that some of the recommendations of the very able report by the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, cannot yet be carried out, pending some legislation. However, I gained the impression that, in the meantime, quite a bit was being done by agreement with landowners, and probably that is as much as can be done pending legislation. Because it was a National Park, when driving over that beautiful park I was particularly careful, of course, to close the gates and not break down the fences. I was even more careful when I remembered that a substantial part of that beautiful National Park—and this is a tribute to the modesty of my noble friend Lord Fortescue, who is sitting in front of me and who mentioned it—was owned by the ancestors of my noble friend, and it occurred to me at the time that it was even possible that it may still be owned by him. Therefore, I was even more careful to close the gates and not break down the fences for fear that Fortescue minions might rush out and pounce on me at any moment!

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred very rightly to the possibility of "eruptions" occurring from time to time and leading to local conflict. That is certainly true. My guess would be that, however perfect the arrangement may be, there will be the continued possibility from time to time of eruptions—they may be no bad thing in themselves—due to the difficulty of reconciling the amenity aims with legitimate considerations for local employment and the interests of people living in the park areas.

In 1981, a review is to take place—at least, I think that that is still the year when it is to take place—and I would urge that between now and 1981 no advantage would be derived from changing or interfering with the present composition of National Parks Committees. I believe that it would be premature to do that now and we ought to await the important review which will take place in 1981.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to support the noble Baroness and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for raising this matter. For many years I was one of his neighbours and had the honour to represent a constituency in the other place which comprised nearly 1,000 square miles and contained about 3,000 farms. A large part of it was in the Peak District and, of course, the National Park. I should like to join, from this side of the House, in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the report and for the way in which, during a brief period, he brought out succinctly some of the main points of that report. As somebody who was brought up in mining villages and saw my green valleys destroyed by coal tips, I should like to endorse how the intelligent mining of some minerals like limestone in the Peak District could have eradicated some of those great scars on the landscape.

I should like to say a few words for some of the people who are mining the limestone. It was my duty sometimes as a Member of the other place to take up cases on pollution. If noble Lords have never lived in a village where limestone dust falls on the washing and even enters the bedrooms, if the doors and windows are open in the summer, they will not know the difficulty of the people living in those remote, moorland areas which are sometimes above the 600 ft. contour line. I should like to say in fairness and as somebody who went to the mining companies and the lime companies in Water Houses on the edge of the Peak District, that these firms are, with modern equipment, doing their best to eliminate some of the dust problems. However, we must always remember, especially those of us who know anything about coal mining, that if we are to mine limestone underground the problem of pneumoconiosis and silicosis will be greatly increased unless we use first-class modern methods. That matter should be scientifically gone into.

We had an interesting short debate on forestry to which I listened with pleasure. When people visit some of the National Parks I believe that as a token of their respect for the parks they could plant a tree—especially during this year when we are planting a million trees—and preferably deciduous trees. Sometimes the beauty of my Welsh Hills has been destroyed because they are covered with masses of conifers. I like to see the old deciduous trees. If British people who visit National Parks could make it one of their duties to buy a tree cheaply—they would be cheap—and plant it in the area as a token of their respect, it could make such a difference to our National Parks. Nothing is sadder than to see, as I saw in a village known as Butterton which is up in the hills, bedsteads and old mattresses, and rusty cars. Who are the vandals and "yobbos" who do these things and scar the country-side? I believe that we should treble the fines and I should like to see established rather like traffic wardens—even if they were young women—groups of people who, during the high seasons, are National Park wardens whose duty it is to walk around the parks to ensure that litter and so on is not strewn around these beautiful places.

People may grumble about potholing, but it is a magnificent sport for those who have the life, limbs and lungs to do it. Let us keep it alive. We want some of our people to use the potholing facilities and more attention should be paid to the rescue facilities in some areas.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I interrupt the noble Lord to ask him whether, as a kindness to us all, he would give us notice when he is going potholing and where, so that if he does not reappear, we shall know what action to take.


My Lords, the point is that I do not know whether the noble Viscount would worry to get me up again! However, we shall pass that point and take it for granted. I wonder whether noble Lords realise what the "Beeching-isation" of country railways has done to National Parks. Let us take as an example the Buxton area and the National Park. Lovely old railways have been closed. It would have paid the nation to keep open during the peak season some of these lonely country lines and it would have diminished the pressure of the cars and lorries and even caravans on the National Parks. I believe that these areas of peace and serenity have a therapeutic value to mankind. Mankind driving a car today is sometimes almost an animal. In view of the lack of courtesy in driving and the pressure on people we need these areas as safety valves. They are of more value to us than the minerals which we can get out of them in the sense of building a decent society.

I have spoken for five minutes which is long enough. However, there is a lot that one can say, especially those of us who have lived in these areas. I should like to say a little about quarrying. If a quarry is necessary I believe that a few years after it has ceased to be used it can be a thing of beauty if trees are cultivated and ponds are established and arranged to fit into the ecology where the quarry has been dug in the hillside. Once again I am grateful to my noble friend Lady White for raising the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. May I endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. For a couple of generations almost the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has been a protagonist and has fought for the maintenance of our National Parks. I am grateful for this debate and I hope that the Minister will have something to say that will be worth while and encourage us.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, first, may I join with other noble Lords in saying how much I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was not here to ask this Unstarred Question himself today. I have spoken to him on the telephone, when he told me that he thought it was unlikely that he would be here but was sure that he would get a very good substitute to take it for him. I am sure that we would all agree that he could not have done better than to have my noble friend Lady White ask this Question for him. I am grateful to her for her co-operation.

I have listened with very great interest to all the various arguments today about the future of the National Parks, their importance and the role they have to play, I entirely share the general concern that their scenic beauty and amenities should be preserved. There have been suggestions that we are departing from the agreed policy on National Parks, or perhaps that we are forgetting the importance of the parks as compared with the countryside generally. Please accept my assurance that there is no foundation whatever for these suggestions, as I hope to show as I continue with my speech.

Some at least of the concern springs, I am sure, from a misunderstanding of the modifications which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has proposed for the Peak Park Structure Plan, and I shall return to that in a moment. However, first, I should like to say something about National Parks in general. In the Government's conclusions on the report of the National Parks Policies Review Committee—which is known more generally as the Sandford Report, and we have been privileged tonight to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, himself—which were published about three years ago, we described the National Parks as: One of the country's most important assets". We have not changed our view on that at all.

We also recognised at that time that pressures on the parks were increasing and that conflicts were likely to increase even between the two purposes for which the parks are designated; namely, the preservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the promotion of public enjoyment. As the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has said, occasionally there are flare-ups, and perhaps it is not a bad thing when our attention is focused on some of the problems. However, we said in our response that where these two purposes were irreconcilable, the Government accepted the Sandford Committee's view that priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty, and we have not changed our view on that either.

As we promised at that time, we remain committed to introduce legislation which we confidently hope and expect will include those of the Sandford recommendations that are relevant. That promise has been reiterated recently in another place, and I am gald to say it once again here. But it is not merely a matter of reiterating our past policies and undertakings, important as they are. We have also taken a number of important initiatives.

We have set up the new consultative machinery which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recommended in her report on the military use of Dartmoor. That is now operating under the independent chairmanship of Sir Peter Stallard and will report annually, starting next autumn, to both my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Defence. This is an important step forward in dealing with a problem which for many years has exercised those who, rightly, regard Dartmoor as a precious part of our natural heritage.

As noble Lords have mentioned this afternoon, we have also had that excellent report on Exmoor from the noble Lord, Lord Porchester. It has received a warm welcome in this House generally. The Minister of State for the Department of the Environment has announced in another place that the proposed legislation dealing with some of the Sandford recommendations will also cover the principal Porchester recommendations. At this point of time I cannot go further than that, but perhaps noble Lords will accept my assurance that I, at least, am hopefully looking to the not too distant future in presenting such legislation to this House.

My noble friend Lady White commented on the problems facing Pembroke arising out of the Porchester Report. Here again, I think that I can give her the assurance that future legislation is likely to take account of its problems as well, but I shall certainly consult with the Welsh Office as to how far they have got with that matter and I shall write to my noble friend.

There has also been the important personal initiative which my right honourable friend took last year to implement our conclusion that public bodies which owned and managed land in the National Parks should review the extent to which they can make a positive contribution to National Park purposes and co-operate in achieving the objectives of the new National Park plans. The House will be aware of the significant action which my right honourable friend took in writing personally to the chairmen of the appropriate public bodies and to ministerial colleagues with this message, and of the very encouraging response which he has received.

Roads and traffic in National Parks form another field where co-operation between public authorities is essential. The Department of Transport, the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office issued a joint circular last December addressed to both the Highway and the National Park Authorities urging them to see the task of roads and traffic management in the parks as a whole, and not to have one set of considerations labelled "Highways" and another labelled "National Parks", with no effort to bring the two together.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred to the A30 improvements and the Okehampton by-pass. I certainly welcome his views tonight; I shall bring them to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport and shall ensure that he knows the views of others concerned with the re-routing of the by-pass. Another example of the personal involvement of Ministers with National Parks is their practice of attending and giving the opening address at the annual conference of National Park Authorities. Indeed, in every year of the present Government's tenure of office the annual conference has been attended either by the Minister of State—my right honourable friend Mr. Denis Howell—or a Parliamentary Undersecretary. For the last two years my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Mr. Kenneth Marks, has given these addresses, which I know have been very warmly welcomed. Ministers in the Department have also taken many opportunities to travel to the individual parks to familiarise themselves with their problems.

This brings me back to the Peak National Park and its Structure Plan, on which there are one or two general observations which I should like to make and about which the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, and my noble friend Lady White were particularly concerned. First, this Structure Plan is unique because it is the only one to be prepared by a National Park Authority. That in itself demonstrates the need for it to be looked at in the light of the Government's stated policies on National Parks. The Government's conclusions on the Sandford Report, after referring to the Committee's view: that, in the face of growing pressures, stricter development control policies need to be applied in the national parks", went on to say: Such policies are already more stringent in the parks than in the countryside generally but every opportunity for strengthening them, where this is thought necessary, will be provided in Structure Plans". This does not mean, of course, that National Park policies can always prevail. The position is stated very clearly in the White Paper on Dartmoor following the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. While it was recognised that military training, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, was "discordant, incongruous and inconsistent" with the National Park, it had to be accepted that, important as the purposes of the National Parks are, neither Parliament nor successive Governments have ever accepted that they are paramount. They must be balanced against other objectives of national policy". To return to the Peak National Park Structure Plan, I hope that I shall be excused if I remind your Lordships of the background to this plan. It was submitted to the Secretary of State in August 1976 and was examined in public in February 1977 by a three-member panel, the chairman of which was a distinguished former county council executive, who is at present a member of the Local Government Boundary Commission; and the two other members were, respectively, a principal planning inspector with very considerable experience of planning inquiries, and a senior officer from the East Midlands Regional Office of the Department of the Environment.

There were very considerable representations at this public examination, which extended over a period of two weeks. The participants included representatives of the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Conservation Society, the Friends of the Earth, the Ramblers' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Automobile Association, the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, mining and quarrying interests, local chambers of commerce, trade unions and trades councils, and the six county councils and nine district councils with responsibility for parts of the Peak Park. The panel reported to the Secretary of State in September 1977, making extensive recommendations for modifications to the Structure Plan. The Secretary of State then published his proposed modifications, drawn up in the light of the panel's recommendations, on 3rd June 1978.

These proposed modifications were then open for an extended period for objections and comments, until 18th August 1978. As a result of the publication of these modifications, there was the widest-ranging quantity of objection that has ever been received to a Structure Plan, coming from noble Lords and Members of Parliament right down to mountaineering interests. Other objections were received from the Peak Park Joint Planning Board, the Countryside Commission, several amenity bodies, and from many individual members of such bodies. Several representations were also received in support of the Secretary of State's proposals.

It is the duty of the Secretary of State, in the interests of openness, fairness and impartiality, to allow all parties equal access to make objections and representations to him about the proposed modifications, and to reach his decision about the Structure Plan only after carefully considering all those objections. The Secretary of State is currently engaged in this process, and, therefore, noble Lords will understand that I cannot, at this stage, discuss the merits or otherwise of the proposed modifications. Neither can I anticipate the Secretary of State's decisions about these. But I shall certainly draw my right honourable friend's attention to the comments about the need for people to have access to the Secretary of State to make their views known if they have not done so through normal channels.

I can, however, give one or two general assurances. First, the Secretary of State will give fully detailed consideration to all the objections and representations which he has received. Secondly, it is not the case, as has been suggested by some amenity bodies and certain sections of the Press, that the published proposed modifications represent any weakening of support by the Government for the purposes for which the National Parks were originally designated; or any changes in the Government's policy for these parks.

The most recent pronouncement of Government policy in this area is contained in the Government's response to the recommendations of the National Parks Policies Review Committee, set out in Department of the Environment Circular 4/76. The Government fully adhere to the principles set out in the Annex to this Circular; and the Secretary of State will have full regard to these principles in reaching his final decision about the Peak Park Structure Plan, which he hopes to be able to publish by the early spring of next year.

We recognise and pay tribute to the splendid achievements not only of the Peak Park Joint Planning Board but of all our National Park Authorities for what they have done for the National Parks.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness is leaving the Peak Park Structure Plan, may I ask her a question arising out of what she said? I think what she is saying is reassuring to some extent. May I infer from what she is saying that the Secretary of State is clearly going to change his modifications to some degree in the light of these further considerations, and still have an open mind about the possibility of further opportunities for the public to be involved in a general consideration of the plan as modified? He has not closed his mind to that?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, no, I think that would be a very fair comment to make. All the National Park Authorities have done a tremendous job not only in preserving the beauties and the scenic beauties of the National Parks but in the way in which they have run them. The Peak Planning Board have had to balance the interests of the different users of the park and the overriding need to preserve and enhance the character and the natural beauty of the area: and it is our firm intention that the Structure Plan when approved will aid and support the Board in carrying out this difficult task. It is an onerous one that they have had to carry out, but we hope that it is going to be a rewarding one.

As we have heard from several noble Lords today, another example of the problems and conflicting interests which arise in National Parks stems from the very acute difficulties that can arise over the extraction of minerals in these areas. My right honourable friend still shares the view of the Sandford Committee, that these applications for mineral workings should be subject to the most rigorous examination because of the serious impact on the natural beauty of the parks; but there have been, and I am sure there will continue to be, cases where the extraction of minerals in National Parks is unavoidable if the wider national interest is to prevail. Clearly, one of the factors to be taken into account in dealing with this very difficult question, is the existence of practicable alternative sources of supply of the mineral in question.

Various comments have been made about mineral working. The Peak Park is very rich in mineral deposits, and minerals can only be worked where they are found. It has been recognised from the time of the Dower Report onwards that some mineral working in National Parks is necessary. Because of the very nature of the National Parks—particularly ones like the Peak District and the Lake District—they are obviously places where some of these minerals are found, whereas you would not find them if you came into my home area of the Fens. Therefore, there has to be some acceptance of that.

The Sandford Committee concluded that no proposal for substantial working of minerals should be allowed except by the Secretary of State after a full public inquiry. But for the rest, the Sandford Committee accepted that some mineral working would be necessary. Their main recommendation was that all applications for such workings in the National Parks should be rigorously considered against the full weight of the environmental consequences.

The noble Lord asked me about the Verney Report and how far my Department had considered the question of underground working for limestone. I have to confess that my head was reeling after my briefing and I thought I had covered every possible point, but that was one which I had not. If the noble Lord will bear with me I will make further inquiries and write to him as to what sort of consideration we gave about that. I am sure that my Department and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State are as concerned as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that there should be some means of making sure that restoration is carried out following mineral extraction, whether it be by bonds or by any other method.

The noble Lord also asked me how far the Institute of Geological Sciences was getting and what sort of work they were doing now. Their Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit is making an assessment of the resources of certain of the industrial minerals, mainly materials for construction, on behalf of the Department of the Environment. They have done a survey of sand and gravel resources in England, or have been doing it since 1968, and they are also assessing resources in the South East, East Anglia, and the Thames and Trent valleys, and those have been published. Their surveys of the occurrence and the purity of the limestone resources in the Peak District of Derbyshire and Staffordshire within and around the Peak District National Park are proceeding, and we expect to have a report on the limestone dolomite resources in the Monyash area, which has been published. Reports on five surrounding areas are also being prepared, and the survey is going to be extended into the limestones of the Craven Lowlands which lie astride the border of the Dales National Park.

This mineral assessment and reconnaissance work that they undertake will only give the broad indication of the economic potential of the deposit, enough for prospective operators to decide whether or not it is worthy of further investigation. But the more detailed, and perhaps more costly, investigations have to be carried out by the operators themselves. Field mapping and assessment work are also being carried out as part of a long-term investigation, the results of which are, and will increasingly become, much more valuable to planning authorities when they are trying to draw up their policy documents or formulate their views about the planning applications. But we are using them—


My Lords, that work of the Institute is, of course, work going on primarily on behalf of the industry. They are making those detailed investigations in the parks themselves because that is where the minerals are most likely to be found, and that is what one would expect the Institute to be doing in so far as it is doing work for the industry, work which clearly must be done. The point of my question was this: has the Department of the Environment yet made any moves towards getting similar work done in other places where minerals are likely to be found and can be extracted when they are found without damage to our parks? It is not really an answer to my question to confirm that it is going on in the parks because, frankly, that is what one would expect; the requirement emerging from my report was to start that work in other places outside the National Parks, because there are some. I do not want the noble Baroness to take up the time of the House now, and perhaps she will write to me on that point.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, they are doing the survey for the Department of the Environment throughout the South-East and East Anglia and the Thames and Trent Valleys for sand and aggregates —not for limestone—and I take note of the noble Lord's point and, with his permission, will write to him.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, raised the question of the Gwynedd structure plan and thought we were dealing with the Peak Park plan in a rather different way from that. My information is that, for the Welsh Office, the general presumption against minerals in the Gwynedd plan was limited to metal-liferous ores and not to mineral workings in general.

Baroness WHITE

That I appreciate, my Lords; it was the principle—that there was a presumption against the kind of ores which one would find in the Snowdonia National Park-and it appeared that the Secretary of State was not prepared to accept the presumption against the exploitation of the limestone which happened to be in the Peak Park.

Baroness STEDMAN

I do not think the noble Baroness has it quite right, my Lords, and I think that in accepting the fact that minerals should be worked as little as possible in National Parks, there are occasions when there must be some workings, as the Sandford Report said. We have accepted that presumption so far as the Peak District National Park is concerned.

Reference was made to the recent proposals for the extraction of limestone at Old Moor near Wormhill and Tunstead. The Secretary of State's decision on the company's appeal was issued last May but the legality of his decision is currently the subject of challenge in the High Court and therefore it is not approprite for me to discuss his decision in that case. But perhaps I could, without impropriety, assure your Lordships generally that in dealing with planning cases in National Parks, and not least with surface mineral-working proposals, the Secretary of State has very much in mind the need to do all he can to minimise any harm to amenities.

The noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, and my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek referred to the question of trees being safeguarded and doing more planting of deciduous trees, conifers and so on. I would support that wholeheartedly and I am sure that would be the attitude of my right honourable friends in the Department. I come from a New Town and in our early days we had a slogan to encourage people not to have a bare landscape, "Plant a Tree in '73" and we went on to say "Plant Some More in '74" —then we ran out of rhymes and have not done much since in that way to encourage the public. However, I take the point that it would be a good idea if we could have some means by which people could show their appreciation and perhaps make some gifts to us. My noble friend Lord Davies also referred to the Beeching cuts in rail. Perhaps I could offer him one solace, in that an experiment has been running during the past year between Yorkshire and Cumbria, where they have opened up the railway to bring the people from Yorkshire into the Lakes and vice versa. I understand that has been extremely successful and it is to be hoped that that idea might catch on.

One other part of the Government's role in National Parks policy is that the National Parks are of course of great importance for public enjoyment. As we foreshadowed in the White Paper on Sport and Recreation, with which the Country-side Commission and Nature Conservancy Council were in full agreement, we reached our conclusions on the Report of the National Park Policy Review Committee with this very much in mind. The House will be aware of the encouragement and guidance on many points in the recreational field which we gave to the National Park Authorities in our Circular 4/76.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness starts her peroration—because I would not like to interrupt her during or after that—and while I may have missed it when she spoke about the Porchester Report, to which she gave a welcome, may I ask her to answer these questions: do the Government consider that some kind of legislation is necessary if the Porchester Report is to be put into effect? If so, have they come to a conclusion as to whether they will introduce that legislation? If they have, when will it be introduced?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we accept that some legislation will be necessary, and I tried to give as broad a hint as possible, without giving away any official secrets, that I hope that in the not too distant future I might be standing at this Despatch Box doing something about National Parks which would include some of the Sandford Report and, we hope, Porchester; but more than that I am not in a position to say at the moment.


My Lords, the expectation of having the noble Baroness at the Despatch Box in 12 months' time is the best argument I have heard for keeping the present Government in power.

Baroness STEDMAN

I hope it might be before 12 months, my Lords. At national level, the Minister of State holds regular meetings with chairmen and directors of the various Government agencies and representatives of local authority associations and, in the regions, the Regional Councils for Sport and Recreation have now been operating for two years and they also bring together the local authorities, the Government agencies and the voluntary groups to advise on the development of facilities within that region.

We expect the National Park Authorities to follow the advice contained in Circular 4/76 and plan for recreational use, as they are doing, in close co-operation with the Regional Councils for Sport and Recreation. This ensures that suitable recreational use is made of the different types of area in the parks, with appropriate provision for public access, tourist services, hostels, information services, school visits and warden services.

I conclude by saying that the Government still regard the National Parks as very special areas where the twin purposes of conservation and public enjoyment should weigh more heavily than elsewhere in the countryside. Important as the interests of those living or working in the National Parks are—and the Government accept as an object of policy the promotion of the social and economic wellbeing of the National Park communities—they are National Parks and the Government will continue to be involved, as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, hoped, as they are at present, in the appointment of one-third of the members of the National Park Authorities, in making available National Park supplementary grants for National Park purposes and in continuing to give advice and take initiatives in ways similar to those I have described.

Our National Parks have an even more vital part to play today in our changing economic situation, with people working shorter hours and retiring earlier, and the beauty, scenery and real quality of life which are to be found in our National Parks are there to be enjoyed by all our people. But we must remember that in our National Parks people are living, apart from the visitors who go to them. It is the effort of those people and their forebears and their cattle and sheep that in many cases have made our National Parks the beautiful places they are today, and we have just as much a duty towards the people living in the National Parks to see that they have the same amenities, the same conveniences and the same rights as people living in other parts.