HL Deb 25 June 1981 vol 421 cc1212-22

7.14 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 8 [Establishment of Regional Parks]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 40, leave out ("regional") and insert ("scenic").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I would like to take Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 together. It is a simple change of terminology which I think would be of value to those who sponsor the Bill and would meet some of the problems that might well arise from confusion in respect of the name we give to these parks. At the moment we are calling them "regional parks ". The House will be aware that the Stodart Committee said that parks should be dealt with in the main by district councils in a comprehensive way. The Government in their reply to the Stodart Report, while they agreed in the main with that, suggested that regional councils should still have a definite role to play. I understood from that statement that there was going to be discussion with the local authorities in Scotland about their reaction to that, and that later on there would be more certainty about what the Government proposed. I think it would be wrong to jump the gun of these discussions and say that as far as this new kind of park is concerned they should be regional parks.

The idea first, thought out I believe by the Countryside Commission, was that we needed a new tier of park. The trouble is that some of the regions are already involved in parks; there are already what we call regional parks, but those regional parks are not regional parks in the new sense. There was some talk about calling them area parks.

I hope the noble Earl will acquit me of just being obstructive about this. What I am concerned about is to try to get a distinctive name for them and one that is more related to the purpose of this type of park, as compared with the ordinary park under the control of a district at the present time within a town, or a countryside park such as we have got at Culzean, to which Strathclyde contributes, or the Brodick country park, one of the newest ones, which is under the control of the Cunningham District Council, or the countryside park in Aberdeen around Haddow.

The whole definition of it is one that takes in a wider area, an extensive area, and one in which access is probably more important than recreation, where in great stretches of the extensive area the public will not be allowed because in the main, as far as I now understand it as put by the noble Earl when we discussed it in Committee, there will be private tracts entirely within the control of the private proprietors; there are going to be limited areas within the great park area for the recreational purpose. I think it would be true to say that most of that recreational purpose will be under the control of the council concerned. It will be walking, it will be viewing the countryside, and it will be in areas that are already designated as areas of special scenic value.

How better to describe the parks than "scenic parks", which include within the area very considerable areas of mountainside; it might be more hillside, special scenic beauty? It may be in the Borders, it may in the Galloway area, but mainly it will be the Highlands. This would be a far better description than the mundane "regional park". It would give people an indication of the difference between this park and other parks. That is why I am suggesting this particular name. Other names have been suggested but I thought that none of them was appropriate. This matter was mentioned in the discussions in Committee in another place. That is the purpose of the amendment.

It is a simple amendment, but I think that it is one that would add a certain measure of distinction to the idea of regional parks and get rid of the regional aspect which is tied now to a certain tier of local government. We can leave the business of sorting out whether it will be the region in some cases or the district in other cases until we finalise the conclusions about the Stodart Committee and we get other local government legislation, as we have been promised. So there is no ulterior motive. I hope that the amendment commends itself to the sponsors of the Bill, to the Government and to the House. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, on the face of it this is simply a drafting amendment and I should like to deal with it as such in the first instance. I am bound to say that, looking carefully at the Bill, I cannot see any advantage in changing the name. I have listened to the noble Lord's speech and I cannot really say that there are any powerful arguments as to why the name should be changed at all. There are, in fact, rather substantial disadvantages. First, these areas are not selected for scenic purposes as such. One may say, of course, that it is an advantage that any part of Scotland's countryside has a scenic value and I would not differ from that. But, taking the special meaning of the word "scenic" I must say that they are not selected for that; they are selected because of their locations and because they are convenient for the urban populations of, particularly, the central belt of Scotland. In actual fact they will probably not exist very much in the Highlands or in the Borders because it is not really necessary for them to do so. They will be managed by the regions; that is the purpose of the Bill. If the noble Lord really has an ulterior motive to change the management of the parks, then he is dealing with quite a different subject—one which we have already discussed at considerable length and at that time the noble Lord did want to change it. If he does want to do that, he is changing the Bill substantially and I cannot accept it.

Dealing with the amendment as a purely drafting amendment I must advise the House that I see no advantage in this course and I think the description of "regional park" shows quite clearly where the responsibility lies—it lies with the region. It may conceivably run into two regions and it is their responsibility. It would be a great mistake to change it at this stage.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I am disappointed but not surprised for the simple reason that the noble Earl is concerned about time. He told us the other day that the Bill must be elsewhere and through by—I do not know whether he has an American bias—4th July. I can understand that. But he must be aware that there are already parks that are called "regional parks" which once this Bill is through will not be regional parks. There are the regional parks within Strathclyde; the Muirshield Regional Park and the Strathclyde Regional Park. I think that it would have been far, far better to have had a different name. He must know the genesis of this.

I am interested to find out that they will be somewhere in the Central Region—I am perfectly sure that they will not be. It may well be that we will change the name of the park in the Hamilton Mountains area to something else. This runs counter to some of the descriptions we have already had from the noble Earl about the new concept of regional parks.

Noble Lords should remember the definition of "the countryside". It is on the maps. I think that there are 40 areas, and great stretches of the countryside, including areas where there will be these new parks, have already been designated in respect of their scenic value. If the noble Earl had not been limited by time, if he had not been tied by the sponsorship of the Bill and his desire to get rid of it, he would have seen that there is far more value in this than he suggests. We have somehow got to designate not for lawyers or anyone else but for the general public that there is something different about these parks from the countryside parks. Quite frankly, I think there will be considerable confusion about it and that is why I have made this suggestion.

However, if the Government are not prepared to give us any indication as to the final outcome of their considerations about responsibility for the parks, then there is not much hope left. I am not at the moment—and there is nothing in this that suggests that I am—objecting to the regions controlling these parks. I raised that point during the Committee stage. Much of what the noble Earl has replied to me was to the effect, "If this is my intention". It could not be my intention because all that I am changing is the word "regional" in respect of "park" for "scenic" and leaving the fact that regional councils will or may embark on this new type of park. That is all. I am sorry. I think that this is wrong and that it is muddling. I do not think that it is right. However, in view of the lateness of the hour—and I hope that people will appreciate that it is not the Scots who have kept them late; we have spent more time on various statements and other matters before ever we reached, belatedly, the Scottish business—and the fact that I am getting rather hungry anyway, I beg leave to withdraw [...] amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

7.28 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 4: Page 5, line 42, leave out ("without modification").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move No. 4. This is an amendment that I had down but withdrew because of the lateness of the hour when we discussed the Countryside (Scotland) Bill in Committee. It says that at page 5, line 42, we should leave out, "without modification". The paragraphs says that where there are no objections or representations made, or if they are made they are withdrawn, the order shall not be submitted to the Secretary of State—in other words, they can proceed quickly with it.

It may well be that, in the discussions with people who have made objections, a very simple change would be acceptable. That is why I suggest that "without modification" should go. I do not think that one should go through the whole procedure in relation to the Secretary of State because one has made some very small minuscule modification to the original order. The purpose of the amendment is to speed things up. Anyone who has had anything to do with this knows quite well that you have your meetings with the people who object. They may be prepared to withdraw their objections and, so long as the objections are withdrawn, even with a slight modification, I do not think that the matter needs to go through the hoop of further consideration by the Secretary of State. That is the purpose of the amendment. It is meant to be helpful and meant to ease the progress of the order in respect of the setting up of what the noble Earl prefers to call a regional park. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I think that this was an amendment which the noble Lord did not move in Committee; I say that because I was not too clear as to why the noble Lord intended to move it now until he rose to his feet. I think that the noble Lord's concern is perhaps a little misplaced. The provenance, if that is the word, for this procedure, is entirely respectable and, in fact, it is taken from Section 58(5) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, which deals with tree preservation orders and which has the same caveat.

The purpose of this part of the section is to make clear that when specific provision is made in statute, in certain circumstances a local authority can both make and later confirm an order which affects the interests of private individuals, but they cannot change the content or effect of the order during the process of confirmation, and I stress that. We consider that this safeguard is of particular importance in this clause dealing with the designation of regional parks. The concept is novel. I am quite sure that some landowners will, rightly or wrongly, be apprehensive about the effect which such a designation will have on their land. In fact, a designation does not directly affect private land in that by itself it lays no burdens upon it. But such matters as the extension of public access can be pursued under existing statutory provisions.

Nevertheless, the willing co-operation of landowners is essential for the success of these new regional parks, and I believe—and I am sure that I am right in this—that the adoption of a safeguard like this is likely to remove any concern that landownwers may have about the possibility of a regional council attempting to alter agreed proposals, as it were, after the process has otherwise been completed, save for confirmation.

Therefore, the provisions will mean that if the council wants to make any modification to what is, in effect, an unopposed order, it would have to seek the confirmation of the Secretary of State. I agree with the noble Lord that on occasions that will mean that a fairly minor modification will bring the Secretary of State into the matter. I do not believe that it will happen very often, but it is necessary so that the rights and interests of those who can be affected by the designation are seen to be protected. So it is a provision which is sensible and should remain in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will agree that, in fact, nothing is being taken away from either the function or, indeed, the proper designation of a regional park by the local authority; it is a small safeguard which will probably be more valuable than it looks when one merely reads through the Bill.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I am sure that that is clear to everybody. This is a new amendment; it is not one that I have tabled before, but I may be wrong. It was intended to be helpful. I realise that it might well have to be qualified by some other words to deal with the point that the noble Earl has mentioned, because the information would have to be conveyed to all the other people concerned. As I understand it, if there is the slightest modification, it could be sent to the Secretary of State, he being asked to make the modification; he would pass it or those concerned would then drop the order and proceed with yet another one which included this matter, and then go on. I had hoped, as I am always anxious to help, to save the Scottish Office trouble, but I sometimes think that it likes trouble. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Management agreements]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 6: Page 6, line 12, leave out ("or the Commission").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment which I tabled in Committee and did not move. It is to find out just exactly what are the implications of the Commission entering into agreements to be known as "management agreements": with any person having an interest in land to do, or to secure the doing of, whatever in the opinion of the parties to the agreement may be necessary to preserve or enhance the natural beauty of the countryside". I am conscious of the fact that with this Bill we have already, to a certain extent, changed the nature of the commission from an advisory commission to an executive one. Under the main clause of the Bill it now handles, decides and pays grants in respect of the countryside to local authorities rather than, as originally, the Scottish Office direct.

First, it became agents; now we have regularised it by this piece of legislation so that this is part of its duty. To that extent we are building it up more as an executive body than an advisory body. In respect of management agreements where the commission will deal with landowners—this may be in respect of things to be done in a particular way—I wonder whether this is another executive function that it may well carry out. Under this Bill I want to know whether the commission itself will directly control land. It may be in any part of the countryside; it may well be in, say, the new type of park. What is the limit of this and what is its real function? It may well be that the explanation I receive from the Government will clear everyone's mind about it; that the commission is simply doing it instead of the local authority. If the local authority does it, the Countryside Commission may well pay for it by giving the local authority a grant in respect of whatever may have to be paid.

For instance, where a dry stane dyke may have broken down, the person who owns the land may decide to erect some fencing which may be quite offensive from the point of view of the outlook of the area compared with a continuation of the pleasing aspect of a dry stane dyke marching over miles of countryside. The suggestion is that it could reach agreement with the proprietor and pay for the rebuilding of the dry stane dyke. That having been done, out steps the Countryside Commission or the local authority. Perhaps the noble Earl, who is the sponsor of the Bill, could tell me just exactly what is intended by these management agreements and why the commission should be involved in them as well as the planning authority. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, the noble Lord of course is perfectly right. In the ordinary course of events management agreements will be carried through by local authorities. That is perfectly clear. On the other hand, there is a slight addition here—and the noble Lord is quite right—in that it gives the commission a slight executive task for special circumstances, which I shall mention in a minute. These powers have been agreed by the Convention of Local Authorities. They are quite happy about them. They are very much the same as already exist for the Forestry Commission, and which have existed for a long time for the Nature Conservancy.

In England, as the noble Lord may well be aware, it is also done in the national parks. We do not have national parks in Scotland, and it is thought that this is desirable in certain circumstances. They have to go through a quite full process. That is to say, they must consult the local authorities to see whether they agree, or at least whether they know about it. They must make a voluntary agreement with those interested in land. The object must be to preserve and enhance beauty, and the Commission of course will pay for it.

The circumstances which seem to me to arise as possibilities are those in which the local authority do not want to do it. There may be quite a big scheme, something worth while, and maybe of a national character, I do not know, and the local authority does not put it at such a high priority as perhaps the commission would. The local authority may say, quite reasonably, that they have not got the money, because in most cases of a management agreement some contribution would be made by the local authority. They may say that they do not want to do it. All right, the commission can take on doing something that the local authority feel at that moment they do not want to do.

Another occasion when it might be more convenient is, for instance, when a certain scheme straddles two authorities. It might be much more convenient in those circumstances for the commission to make the arrangements than for the local authorities to do it together. Those are examples. This is merely an additional method, or procedure, to enable enhancement of the beauty and preservation of the beauty of certain countryside. The noble Lord himself gave an example, and of course there are many examples like dry stane dykes in certain areas. These in most cases will be done by the local authorities, but this is another outlet which could enable the attractive character of the countryside to be slightly advanced.

Those are the purposes that we have in mind, and which I think are right, and it is important too to get the fullest co-operation that we can in this work. That is very much in mind. I hope that the noble Lord, who very rightly says that this is a probing amendment, will see no objection to the procedure here. I recommend to the House that this is not a necessary omission. It would be better to leave the commission in to do this work which, in many ways, is a matter in which they specialise.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I am sorry I did not go ahead with it on Committee but, as he knows, some people object to Scotland taking up any length of time at all in this place, so from that point of view, I withdrew the amendment. The noble Earl now tells me that it could possibly be that in special circumstances only would the Countryside Commission come in, if it was a large scheme. If it is a large scheme it might cost a large sum of money. In that case I should have thought that maybe the Secretary of State would have been interested. There is nobody to hold back anybody here. Although at the present time, if the noble Earl has been reading the report of the Countryside Commission, he will see that they have been saying "No" to an awful lot of people who want things done, because they have not got the money. It does not necessarily follow that because the local authorities have not got the money that the Countryside Commission will have the money.

One of the other things that attracted me to asking questions about this particular clause was that where the commission is going to do something they have to consult the relevant planning authorities. But the relevant planning authorities, if they are going to do something, do not need to consult the commission. When the noble Earl listed the things that could have been done that the local authority did not want to do, he implied that it was because at the time it may be that they did not have the money. It may well be that they objected very strongly to it being done at all. It would have been far better if we had, as we did with the other Bill in relation to parental choice and the powers of local authorities, listed so far as we could the exceptional circumstances through which it would come within the ambit of the new powers of the Countryside Commission.

I do not want anyone to get me wrong. I set up the Countryside Commission. I reappointed the present chairman of it. She does a first-class job because she is full of enthusiasm. But it may well be that you have to watch all this. I am not the opponent of this Quango. The whole Quango idea is opposed by the party opposite, but here is the one Quango they have taken to their heart. Indeed, they are increasing its powers, and not only in Clause 1 but here again in Clause 9.

It is not my intention to pursue this matter, but it is only right that we should know something of what the Bill is about. It is only by having discussion on the Floor of the House here that we will get that information. I do not think we have had a clear indication. There was no Second Reading in the other place; there were two sessions of Committee, and then it came through fairly quickly after a discussion on Report stage. This is the purpose. On the information that has been given I do not seek to pursue this particular amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Power of islands and district councils to control noise in the countryside]:

7.47 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 7: Page 9, line 5, leave out ("quiet areas of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 7 is a return to a clause that has given me a lot of heart-searching. I put forward some suggestions at Com mittee stage that would have rendered it unnecessary. Again I make a suggestion here that will get rid of what I think is a bit of unnecessary difficulty. Noble Lords will remember that Clause 11 gives power to district and islands councils to control noise in quiet areas of the countryside, but only particular noise. The noise of, the use on land or waterways of vehicles (including hovercraft and boats); and the landing and taking off of aircraft". The engine noise of these vehicles is what they are after.

Now it says, "quiet areas of the countryside". The countryside as I know it is all quiet. There are no special areas of quiet in the countryside. Nature itself is not always perfectly quiet—it can be very noisy—but even so far as the countryside is concerned that is quiet. Why this strangely undefined—and it is undefined—"quiet areas of the countryside"? Why was it not contained in the existing powers of the local authorities, or given to the local authorities? If it is necessary to give powers to control noise, why limit it to engine noise of vehicles and aircraft?

There is the other difficulty that we have exceptions; that it does not need to say that these quiet areas are going to be quiet. That all depends on the owner and the noise of agricultural machinery, and the rest of it, which I think is part of the quietness of the countryside itself: part of the enjoyment of the countryside itself. It would be far safer and better to leave out "quiet areas of", and instead of, For the purpose of preventing disturbance by the engine noise of vehicles and aircraft to the enjoyment by the public of quiet areas of the countryside we could leave it, enjoyment by the public of the countryside". The power is there and they do not have to use it unless they want to. They can use it in whatever part of the countryside they think will be troublesomely affected.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, clearly wants there to be quiet parts of the countryside, but his amendment would open it far too wide, giving local authorities power suddenly to declare that any particular area must be a quiet one, and that would extend to factories, quarries and virtually anywhere, when that is not the intention of the Bill. The intention is that those areas which are quiet should be preserved as such. It is not intended that local authorities should impose quietness on areas which are naturally noisy. The amendment would go further than that. It would give a local authority power, say, to close down an aerodrome. I appreciate that a by-law to that effect would have to go to the Secretary of State—all Secretaries of State are eminently sensible people, which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, knows extremely well; he is a great authority on that subject—and he would not agree to such a move.

We are here seeking simply to preserve an area which is already quiet. We are not intending to give a local authority power to say, "There will be silence" in any given area of the countryside. Frankly, much of the countryside is quite closely inhabited, and certainly I would not want to include agricultural noises. To do so would be ludicrous. If a local authority had power to say that all agricultural machinery must be stopped at once, the measure would have no meaning whatever. I hope the noble Lord will not press the amendment. What we already propose is sensible and, as I said earlier on a similar point, it has the advantage of enabling, albeit in a negative sense, those who want to make a noise to know the areas where they can be noisy (for motor cycle racing and all sorts of such exercises, which may take place) and they will have to go out of the quiet areas which may be defined by local authorities. I might add that local authorities could define areas which should be quiet, say, five days a week and allow noises on certain other days, and that would form part of their regulations.

As I say, the amendment would open the provision far too wide and would not provide much advantage. If an area where quarrying was taking place suddenly had quiet imposed on it, that could have a very serious effect on employment. That would be wholly undesirable, and I am certain the noble Lord would not want to achieve that by his amendment. I believe he is in agreement that there should be parts of the countryside which are quiet, where people can rely on quiet, and I suggest that what the Bill proposes at present is the way to achieve that. Indeed, it may help those who want to make a noise to know that there are certain areas where they must not make a noise. For that reason, the present drafting is reasonable for a new concept which I believe will enable the public more fully to enjoy those parts of the countryside where they want to be quiet, and the amendment would not add anything of value to the Bill.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Frankly, my Lords, I do not think the clause itself adds anything of value to the Bill because it is so vague and contains no definition of "quiet areas". Why was that phrase not defined? Indeed, "countryside" itself has not been defined, except by reference to maps. Indeed, anyone who wants to pick a hole in the clause legally will have no difficulty, and the noble Earl is a lawyer. "Quiet areas of the countryside" will be very difficult to define in such a way that we get at the troublesome engine noises of vehicles and aircraft which are disturbing the public. The noble Earl said the amendment would open the provision too wide and disturb, for example, quarrying activities. Bearing in mind that such developments would already have planning permission, I suggest that if he examines the matter a little further he will find that that would not arise. I believe difficulty will arise over the question of defining "quiet areas of the countryside", and we must bear in mind that it will not always be the district council which will have to deal with the subject. For example, in the Highlands the regional council will have the planning powers, and the same applies to Dumfries, Galloway and the Borders. The regional councils may not always be the right people, and therefore had it been the district with which we were concerned, then what is proposed might have been worth while.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord has been emphasising the importance of the district, my Lords; this is purely a district council power.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, it may be a district council power, but they do not have planning powers in these areas. Next Session we shall be looking at the whole question of the by-laws of districts and the hangover from the old days of Borough Police Acts and by-laws in towns that are presently being continued by special processes. Perhaps that would have been the time to have dealt with this sort of matter, and in my view the way the Bill deals with it is not the correct way. I do not think it will work, and that is my simple view of it.

I do not know whether the districts want this sort of provision and if they were asked if they wanted it. Frankly, I think it arose because someone was annoyed over water skiers and what are called snowcats. That sort of thing is beyond my ken; maybe I have spent too much time examining legislation as a result of the activities of Scottish Office legislators. I hope we shall have a rest next Session, when we shall have time to find out where these quiet areas of Scotland are and who are the hooligans who are subjecting us to all these strange engine noises that are likely to cause havoc in the eountryside of Scotland. I do not think they exist, but that this is a bit of nonsense.

I see approaching the noble Lord, Lord Denham—the great white chief himself—who constantly gets worried about Scottish legislation. I regret he was not in his place earlier, when we discussed the Education (Scotland) Bill, when I pointed out that within that Bill was another full Bill. He may care to remember that when he is allocating time for our future debates. I see that the noble Lord is about to intervene. I do not want him to delay the House by making a speech; I know how long he is usually, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.