HL Deb 15 October 1981 vol 424 cc540-50

103 After Clause 40, insert the following new clause:

Maps of National Parks showing certain areas of moor or heath.

"(1) Every county planning authority whose area comprises the whole or any part of a National Park shall—

  1. (a) before the expiration of the period of two years beginning with the commencement date, prepare a map of the Park or the part thereof showing any areas of moor or heath the natural beauty of which it is, in the opinion of the authority, particularly important to conserve; and
  2. (b) at such intervals thereafter as they think fit (but not less than once in any year), review the particulars contained in the map and make such revisions thereof (if any) as may be requisite.

(2) The authority shall cause a map prepared or revised in pursuance of subsection (1) to be printed, and shall cause copies thereof to be put on sale to the public at such price as the authority may determine."

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that the House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 103. There were, of course, long debates in this House at both Committee and Report stages of the Bill about losses of moorland in our national parks. In the course of the latter I explained the Government's view that the position in Exmoor is critical but that in no other national park is the position so exceptional. Subsequently, in the course of the proceedings on the Bill in another place, doubt was expressed about the statistics available to the Government relating to the extent of current losses. Much play was made with a research project undertaken by Dr. Parry of Birmingham University, who has studied particularly the North York Moors, Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. This persuaded the Government of the possibility that significant losses of moorland were still occurring outside Exmoor, where the position has fortunately been stabilised by the voluntary agreements.

One of the significant differences between Exmoor and the other national parks is that a map of the moor and heath on Exmoor is now available, enabling the national park committee to understand the important practical issues of loss of moorland. We therefore concluded that there ought to be maps of the moorland in every national park, which would have the important long-term effect of enabling a close watch to be kept on changes year by year. This new clause now requires the national park authorities within two years to produce and publish maps showing any moor or heath which they think it particularly important to conserve, and to review them annually. The point was made in another place that these maps should be prepared on the same scale, for easy reference, but the Government do not think this need be prescribed statutorily.

Moved, That the House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(The Earl of Avon.)

As an amendment to Amendment No. 103.

103A Subsection (1)(a), line 3, leave out from ("areas") to ("and") in line 6 and insert ("which consist of or include moor or heath which are of significance by reason of their character or appearance").

10.8 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in the names of my noble friends and myself. Needless to say, we very warmly welcome the intention of Amendment No. 103 which has been moved by the noble Earl, and all that we are attempting to do in this group of amendments—and I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 103A, 103B, 103C and 103D—is, we hope, to make a little more practical the proposals in the Government's amendment. We do so with the support of the Countryside Commission and, I think, the very lively sympathy of the Association of County Councils.

We are suggesting that the definition of the areas to be mapped under the Government's amendment is really much too narrow. After all, we are discussing only mapping; we are not discussing any other activity. While we are about it, it would be far more satisfactory, in the view of the amenity organisations, if we could have a reasonably complete map of the areas of heath and moorland. This would allow for differentiation between the "core areas", as they are called in Dr. Parry's studies, and the rest; the core areas "being a term used for those areas of heath or moorland which, so far as one can judge, have not been subject to ploughing or similar disturbance, probably over many hundreds of years. They are original, so to say, whereas there are fringe areas of moorland which, in particular national parks, may nevertheless be of significance, but which have moved on the borderline, in and out of cultivation, sometimes over a period of several centuries.

In our view, with very little extra labour, this could all be indicated on maps, not least because, as the noble Earl mentioned. Dr. Parry and his team have done a good deal at least of the preliminary work. I have here, which has just been issued, their study of the Brecon Beacons National Park. These are purely factual reviews. They do not express opinions one way or another, but they provide methods and supply a certain amount of the data that would be needed by the national park authorities to carry out this mapping exercise.

I should have mentioned that in Clause 40, which is the clause to which this is a postscript, the land concerned is land, in a National Park and which appears…to consist of or include moor or heath. This is one reason why we think that we should extend the definition which, in the Government's version, is really very narrow. It is only areas of moor or heath, the natural beauty of which in the opinion of the authority it is particularly important to conserve. Natural beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. We feel that our definition is much more satisfactory, and I understand that the Countryside Commission is of the same opinion.

On the other hand, if one is to publish a map the proposed interval for publication of a map of not less than once in each year appears to be excessive. We have here the support of the Association of County Councils who are also of that opinion; and they are the major authorities concerned with the national parks.

It seems to us that provided an annual report, as provided for in Amendment No. 103D, is published indicating in the text what changes may have taken place, including the number of hectares or acres, whichever you prefer, which have been affected during the 12-month period, this would be adequate for survey purposes, for statistical purposes, for record purposes, and that the actual map could quite sensibly be published at intervals of not more than five years. This is the period during which national park plans in any case are normally subject to review. This seems to us to be a sensible economy of time, effort and expense and would balance any extra work which might be required by extending the scope of the map.

Those are the main points, other than Amendment No. 103C, the purpose of which is to make the position of the Countryside Commission more specific and definite. I believe it is the intention of the Government that these maps for the 10 different national parks should be compatible one with the other in their nature and scale. The intention is that signs, coloration and so on should be compatible. Reference to the Countryside Commission seems to be the most appropriate way to secure this. I beg to move.

Moved, That Amendment No. 103A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 103, be agreed to.—(Baroness White.)

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment which stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, simply to underline very briefly the point we wish to make about the contrast between the wording of the Commons amendment and our Amendment No. 103A regarding the appearance of the landscape. The Commons amendment clearly says that on their own moor or heath can scenically be particularly beautiful. I contend that moorland and heath on their own can be extremely dull. We believe that moorland and heath, in the context of other types of scenery in the landscape, make the beauty and therefore that Commons Amendment No. 103 should be more widely drawn, according to the wording which we have offered. So I ask your Lordships, at least in regard to this amendment, to support it.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, as the third signatory to this group of amendments I have no wish to prolong the proceedings, but there are a number of different points and I, too, would like to support each and every one of them.

There are one or two comments which I should like to make. The broadening of the definition to "which consist of or include moor or heath" mirrors the Government's own wording in Clause 40(1) and is surely what is required, whereas the new clause as it stands merely says "showing certain areas of moor or heath", meaning that they must not contain anything else at all. The revised definition is surely much more satisfactory.

With regard to the specific reference to the Countryside Commission, surely that, too, is wise. The Countryside Commission is the Government's statutory adviser on landscape matters. Clause 40 of the Bill requires the commission to advise. Replying to this point in Committee in another place, Mr. Hector Monro said: It is unthinkable that the Countryside Commission would not be consulted". If it is unthinkable, why not put it in? There can be no objections to it being included.

Finally, there is one point about the requirement to prepare the new map every year, to make copies of the map and to make them available for sale. As the noble Lord said when introducing this clause, the only one of the national parks concerning which a map would show very rapid changes would presumably be Exmoor. In many of the other maps the changes would be very small. Under an earlier amendment the national park is required to provide an annual report detailing changes, and I should have thought that the added requirement to prepare a new map and then have it printed, published and then made available for sale every year was really unnecessarily burdensome on the national park authorities, whose resources are already severely strained.

Lord Digby

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, has already spoken to her Amendment No. 103B, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I spoke to my amendment, No. 103AA, at this stage. My amendment is very much in agreement with her amendment, but I am concerned that the noble Baroness has imposed a maximum of five years. So often, a maximum becomes a minimum and I believe it is better to leave the authority to decide as it thinks fit. I am concerned about the requirements to review a map yearly. If my amendment was agreed the county planning authorities would have to review the map as they think fit. I would remind your Lordships that they are responsible bodies and will review as necessary. The Association of County Councils is concerned at the expense involved in a yearly review. As the past chairman of a committee dealing with rights of way and definitive maps, I have so often found that new duties imposed by Parliament have meant that other duties, possibly of greater importance, have had to fall by the wayside. We all know that there are not enough staff to deal with all the things that we would like to have dealt with.

I appreciate that there is a difference between a revision and a review of a map. If a "review" only means, say, a report from a warden of the park to the appropriate committee for them to consider, this would be normal practice yearly and acceptable. But if it meant a more thorough yearly review, this may—and I emphasise "may"—be too often and too expensive. My other concern is the effect of subsection (2) as a result of any yearly revisions under subsection (1)(b). Even if the yearly review is simple, does it mean that any revisions under the yearly review will result in the considerable expense of reprinting the maps for sale? As I read it, it seems that that would happen. This is a major expense if it has to be done yearly. It is very easy to impose these duties in this Chamber but every extra duty means that something else must go by the board. When I move my amendment in due course, I ask your Lordships to consider it sympathetically.

Baroness White

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Digby, if he supports our Amendment No. 103D?

Lord Digby

Yes, my Lords, I do. I think that this is something that can well be done. It would be normal practice for those in charge of the authority, and I would certainly support that amendment.

10.19 p.m.

Earl De La Warr

My Lords, I find the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to be a good group of amendments and in general a great improvement on what has been produced in another place. The question of the reporting of changes of character in an area defined on the map is clearly a sensible one. It is clearly a mistake to get involved in redrawing a map every year.

I think that probably the most important amendment is No. 103A, and I like the reasons that have been given for spreading the areas that are to be mapped beyond those which are in somebody's opinion particularly important to conserve. Also, although the thing goes wider, the language is a great deal crisper. The only thing I regret is that Amendment No. 103A does not include the phrase "in the opinion of the authority ". I am afraid that on those grounds it may be a little difficult for the Government to accept, but the group as a whole is much more to the point and I am sure achieves what we should all like to see achieved.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of Amendment No. 103A. There is another argument in its favour which has not been mentioned and that is that the wording that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, my noble friend Lady White and the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, prefer would allow the authority to take into account nature conservation interests. After all, there are areas of moor and heath which may not look very nice but may be extremely important from a nature conservation point of view, and it seems to me that the wording used in another place totally excludes that, whereas the wording used in Amendment No. 103A, by using the term "are of significance by reason of their character ", makes it quite clear that it would be possible to include an area which happens to be extremely important for nesting birds or a very rare protected flower, and so on.

I hope that, on that ground in addition to the others which have been mentioned, the Government may accept Amendment No. 103A. I think it is fair to say that so far this evening we have not got a great deal of joy from the Government. I do not think this session on the Bill has been characterised by quite the same spirit of give and take as characterised all the other debates in the many days that we spent on the Bill, and I hope that with 103A we may now break this rather unfortunate mould that we have got into and that the Government may give a little.

On Amendment No. 103AA, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Digby, that I think he has got the wrong point. I would agree with his criticism of subsection (2) if it means that every time a small change takes place the map has to be redrawn, reprinted and put on sale again, but I do not think that simply reviewing the particulars on the map and making revisions on it, if that just means a master copy being kept up to date, is a particularly onerous duty and the fact that it has to be done once a year I should have thought was really a minimum requirement and something without which it will be impossible for the authority to keep this properly under review, which is the purpose of the amendment.

If I am right in thinking that subsection (2) does not actually mean that every small change on the map means that it has to be reprinted and another copy put on sale, I would hope that the noble Earl might agree with my noble friend in Amendment No. 103D, which is the sensible procedure for letting the public know about changes on an annual basis, to issue a report, and I should have thought that if 103D were accepted, which would be, as the noble Lord himself said, the normal procedure, a lot of the worries about keeping maps up to date and so on might be removed because everyone would know that they would get an annual report.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, of course I recognise in this series of amendments a genuine attempt to improve the clause, and, if I may slightly answer the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in his criticism about give and take, one of the difficulties with which one is faced, particularly on an amendment like this, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady White, will understand, is that it has been hammered out in the other place with a lot of compromise and a lot of everything else and that makes it rather more difficult for us to be flexible.

With regard to Amendment No. 103A, I agree with most of what has been said but I hope to be able to prove that it is to some degree unnecessary and might perhaps even achieve an effect which the noble Lords who have spoken about it do not wish to see achieved.

The amendment would require authorities to produce maps of areas of moor or heath which were of significance by reason of their character or appearance rather than those which the national park authority regard as particularly important. If this were agreed, the question would arise: how is the authority to know which areas are of significance by reason of their character of appearance? There has to be an element of subjective judgment and it is our view that the national park authority is best placed to make that judgment. Furthermore, the concept of particular importance conveys a more readily understandable criterion than that of significance. Perhaps when the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, comes to reply, they could say why they have actually left out the words "in the opinion of the Authority", because we find them rather necessary in that particular clause.

I turn now to the proposition that the national park authority should be required to send a copy of the proposed map to the Countryside Commission.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, if the noble Earl is leaving Amendment No. 103A, can he say something about the nature conservation interest? Do the Government accept that their wording would allow the national park authority to include in the maps areas which were particularly significant from a nature conservation point of view?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, while I find the answer to that perhaps I may go on and take the next point. The answer, I am told, is, yes. My rethoughts come so quickly.

I turn now to the proposition that the national park authority should be required to send a copy of the proposed map to the Countryside Commission. We have, as I think the noble Baroness knows, no objection whatsoever to the Countryside Commission being consulted in this way. They have a great deal of expertise which the national park authority may find it valuable to tap. But the Government do not recommend the House to incorporate this as a statutory requirement. The reason is that the commission have limited resources and they might well find it difficult to respond immediately to a request for observations on proposed maps from all the national parks.

The Government have set a period of two years on the preparation and publication of the map. This is a tight timetable but one which we believe to be achievable. But it would be impossible to meet the target if the Countryside Commission were unable to provide their observations on the proposed map very quickly. And if they did not, the national park authority would possibly be unable to fulfil their statutory duty because of the shortcomings of another body. This is not a position in which the authority should be placed, and we would prefer to leave it to their own judgment as to whether to consult the commission.

Next, there is the proposition that the maps should be revised once every five years. I think this may have been put forward so as to align the maps with the kindred national park plans, which provide a more general sketch of the conservation intentions of each park as a whole. Under Schedule 17 to the Local Government Act 1972, paragraph 18(b), the parks have to review these at not more than five-yearly intervals, and, incidentally, in paragraph 19 of that schedule, there is a similar provision about taking account of Countryside Commission observations in this exercise. This wholly admirable attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Digby, and the noble Baroness and her co-sponsors, to reduce the administrative burden upon national park authorities is, I hope, based on a misconception of the requirements of the clause. If I may explain, the duty put on the authorities by Section 1(b) is to review the particulars contained in the map annually. Such a review can be as wide-ranging or as perfunctory as the authority consider appropriate in the circumstances of their park, and they are only required to revise the map and put copies of the revised edition on sale if they think it necessary. I gladly put on record the Government's view that it will be completely unnecessary, and indeed it would be grossly extravagant, for every national park to prepare and publish a revised map each year. But we think that the authorities ought to be bound by statute to review the situation annually.

I come lastly to the proposition that each national park authority should be required to prepare an annual report of the changes in the character of the area defined on the map. I realise that this is associated with the intention of increasing the interval between publication of maps. I hope that, for the reasons I have explained, your Lordships will feel that it is not necessary. The effect in practice would be to increase the burden on the national park authorities, because they would be obliged to prepare an annual report of the changes rather than carry out an annual review, which might be no more than an internal exercise of a limited kind.

I hope that the House will feel that I have been helpful in trying to explain the various reasons why the Government would prefer the clause to stand as it is. I hope that perhaps the noble Baroness may consider that she does not have to press her amendments.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down I should like to point out that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that in another place the Minister said that it would be unthinkable if the Countryside Commission were not consulted by national park authorities when these maps were being prepared. The noble Earl seemed to be more or less directly contradicting that statement. I wondered whether he had any further thoughts about how the two points of view might be reconciled?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord could have heard what I said. I shall repeat it. We have no objection whatever to the Countryside Commission being consulted in this way. They have a great deal of expertise which a national park authority may find it valuable to tap. However, I went on to say that the Government could not recommend the House to incorporate this as a statutory requirement, and then went on to give my reasons.

Baroness White

My Lords, I can entirely understand, of course, why at this late stage in the Bill the Government do not like any amendments—who would? On the other hand, I must confess that I am disappointed. After all, what we are discussing is maps: we are not discussing any major physical work, or grants or anything difficult like that. We are simply discussing maps. It seems to me that it is not really all that difficult, surely, for the Government to accept a somewhat wider definition than they have which is confined, as I understand it, exclusively to natural beauty. How that can be said to take in the matters in which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is interested I do not know. I am not saying that he is not interested in natural beauty, but his main interests, I think, lie elsewhere.

I find it very difficult to see why the Government cannot accept Amendment No. 103A, which subsumes in the word "appearance" natural beauty. There is nothing to stop the park authority from indicating those features which they regard as particularly important. What we are concerned about is that we should have a map which is reasonably comprehensive within which one may then indicate particular categories. I should have thought that Amendment No. 103A, was definitely to be preferred to the definition given in Amendment No. 103.

On the other points, I do not think that my noble friends would wish to be awkward or to stick because they could be done by administrative action. I would hope that the Government could support Amendment No. 103D, because I think that the reports which we have had and the discussions which there have been about the true state of affairs in the various national parks during the course of consideration of this Bill indicate that it is very desirable that one should have a text, at any rate, indicating what changes have taken place in these particular features in the course of the 12-month period of the report. If we do not have some provision of this kind, or if we cannot have an absolute assurance that this will be done by administrative means, then one has a situation where one year one park is perhaps a bit short of staff or concerned about other matters and we lose the comprehensive data base for this kind of information, and it is less adequate for some parks than for others.

I should have thought that Amendment No. 103D was a minimal requirement concerning something which ought to be done in the normal course; and if, by leave of the House, the noble Earl would wish to speak again, could he give us some further assurance on that matter? We do not want to divide the House on this type of thing if we can help it, but we feel that the Government really could have gone a bit further, even given the anxiety that I am sure the Chief Whip has that we should complete this business with despatch.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I find myself in some difficulty because I greatly sympathise with what the noble Baroness says. By leave of the House, perhaps I could take up that last point again. As we see it in practice, the national park authorities, rather than actually preparing an annual report of the changes, would carry out an annual review which, as I said earlier, need be no more than an internal exercise. We always have over our heads the five-year point which would ensure that nothing was, what one might call, kept in the cupboard for too long. I do not know whether that helps the noble Baroness at all.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, would it be of assistance to him if we adjourned the debate at this stage? It is getting very late. We are not making very rapid progress and it does not seem to me that the spirit of co-operation which we might have had on a simple set of very modest and reasonable amendments is forthcoming. It might be better to leave this until Monday evening, when we are all feeling a little fresher, and we could come back and perhaps have a clearer indication about what was going to be done about Amendment No. 103D before we have to reach a decision on Amendment No. 103A.

Baroness White

My Lords, are we to get no response to this sensible and generous piece of advice?

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I did actually intervene before the noble Earl sat down, quite deliberately in order to give him the opportunity to continue with his speech.

Baroness White

My Lords, in that case I think that I must ask those who are in support of Amendment No. 103A to indicate their support for it, because it is a very sensible amendment. Lacking any further indication that the Government will do something about this, I would hope that we would show our opinion of the matter in the Lobbies.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, before the Question is put, please could we have an answer from the Chief Whip or someone to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett? There was a great silence in your Lordships' House, and we cannot sit up for another four hours being totally silent, which is what is likely to happen. Would it not be a good idea to have a view from the Chief Whip or from someone on the Government Front Bench?

Lord Denham

My Lords, the general rule in this House is that if we are to adjourn the debate, it is done by discussion through the usual channels and not by question and answer on the Floor of the House. I think that it would be very difficult if I were asked in the middle of a debate whether we could now adjourn it. I understand that the noble Baroness does not see fit to withdraw this amendment. I also understand that my noble friend does not feel able to give the sort of assurance that would satisfy the noble Baroness. I think that probably the only answer is that the Question on this particular matter should be put and decided by the House.

10.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether Amendment No. 103A as an amendment to Amendment No. 103 shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 12; Not-Contents, 37.

Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Pitt of Hampstead, L.
de Clifford, L. Stone, L.
De La Warr, E. Tryon, L.
Hunt, L. Underhill, L.
Melchett, L. White, B.
Peart, L. Winstanley, L. [Teller.]
Abinger, L. Gormanston, V.
Avon, E. Henley, L.
Belstead, L. Hives, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Holderness, L.
Burnham, L. Kemsley, V.
Burton, L. Long, V.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Lyell, L.
Coleraine, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Craigmyle, L. Margadale, L.
Crathorne, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mottistone, L.
Denham, L. [Tetler.] Onslow, E.
Digby, L. Peel, E.
Ferrers, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Renton, L. Sudeley, L.
Sandford, L. Swinton, E.
Sandys, L. [Teller.] Trumpington, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Stanley of Alderley, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment to the amendment disagreed to accordingly.

As an amendment to Amendment No. 103:

103AA* Subsection (1)(b), line 1, leave out ("(but not less than once in any year)").

Lord Digby

My Lords, in view of the Minister's assurance that subsection (1) (b) really is in the normal course of affairs—a normal report, rather than ensuring endless revisions of the actual map—I will not move this amendment to the amendment.

[Amendment No. 103AA not moved.]

As an amendment to Amendment No. 103:

103B Subsection (1)(b), line 2, leave out ("any year") and insert ("five years").

Baroness White

My Lords, this is not worth moving.

[Amendment No. 103B not moved.]

[Amendment No. 103C not moved.]

Lord Melchett

For clarification, my Lords, perhaps I might say that I had intended to say something on Amendment No. 103C, and I would have wished to move it on my noble friend's behalf if she had not intended to do so, but I hesitated because I thought the noble Lord, Lord Denham, was about to intervene before that amendment was called.

Lord Denham

Yes, my Lords, but I was having a little technical difficulty doing that, for which I apologise. If the noble Baroness, Lady White, on reflection wishes to say something on Amendment No. 103C—

Baroness White

I have said all I wanted to say, my Lords. As I received no co-operation at all, I did not see why I should say any more.

Lord Denham

My Lords, do I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, wishes to say something on Amendment No. 103D?

Lord Melchett

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Denham

In that case, my Lords, Amendment No. 103C having been dealt with, this might be a convenient stopping place for the evening.

Baroness White

Does that mean that Amendment No. 103D is left in the air, my Lords?

Lord Melchett

Yes, my Lords; it remains to be dealt with.

Lord Denham

Yes, my Lords; we will start with No. 103D next time.

I beg to move that further consideration of Commons amendments to the Bill be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.