HL Deb 19 October 1981 vol 424 cc596-9

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".

As an amendment to Amendment No. 103:

103D Subsection (1)(b), at end insert— ("; and (d) prepare an annual report of changes in the character of the area defined on the map.").

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I have no doubt that my recollection of events which occurred at a very late hour on Thursday, when we last dealt with this Bill, is perhaps as hazy as the recollections of other noble Lords. Certainly we were in a fairly confused state—a state of confusion which was perhaps partly added to by the assistance which we received at the last moment from the noble Lord the Chief Whip when we endeavoured to adjourn the House in the midst of one amendment and halfway through another, but my recollection is that this Amendment No. 103D, standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady White, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and myself was spoken to partly by my noble friend Lady White in the course of moving earlier Amendments Nos. 103A, 103B and 103C, with which it is closely related, although I do not think she got as far as formally moving it.

I do not think it is necessary for me to say much more about this amendment, save this: I think the answer given to us by the noble Earl to an earlier amendment regarding the requirement to prepare a map was so very satisfactory, making it utterly clear that there was not to be this onerous burden on the National Park Authorities to produce, print and make available for sale an entirely new map of the area every year. That being so, we were glad to withdraw an earlier amendment.

That being the position, the case for this amendment becomes doubly strong. This amendment requires merely that the appropriate authority should prepare an annual report of changes in the character of the area as defined on the map. It does not need to be a detailed map; it could be a written document containing statistics, and those statistics I am sure are very necessary. They would certainly be helpful to the Countryside Commission, a body which has a continuing duty to advise Government, and would certainly have to advise them on the question of the implementation of Clause 40 of this Bill. In order to give effective advice it will need this kind of information coining in from the national park authorities and it will need to collate that information.

One of the problems which I think has bedevilled our discussions in regard to Exmoor, and other areas where areas of moorland are being restored for agriculture, is that we have had bandied about a whole series of different figures at different times. There has been a great deal of disagreement as to how much of Exmoor has been lost, how much has not been lost, and how much is likely to be lost in the future. I think therefore—since it is not only Exmoor that is concerned; the Northumberland National Park is in the same situation and the North Yorkshire Moors and many other areas of outstanding landscape and scenic beauty are under some threat from agricultural development—it is surely absolutely essential that the process should be monitored on a regular basis. I am absolutely sure it will be monitored by the various national parks, and since they will be monitoring and collecting this information it is also important that they should prepare an annual report so that all these various changes can be collected together and collated and considered by the appropriate bodies, the Countryside Commission, the Government and all others concerned, when deciding what other steps to take. I do not think I need say any more about this amendment, save that it seems to me to have become even more necessary than it was since we had the reply to the earlier amendment. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the amendment to the amendment.—(Lord Winstanley.s)

Lord Melchett

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has said, we debated this question when discussing earlier amendments. Like him, I am sure the national park authorities will prepare these figures annually. I would have thought it would be a dereliction of their general duty if they did not. Therefore, I see absolutely no harm in their having a duty under this Bill to prepare an annual report which will be available to the public. When we left this point last week the Government seemed to be of the view that none of these amendments were necessary. I would hope that the noble Earl if not able to be filled with more kindness and sweetness and light at this earlier hour and actually to accept the amendment, can at least tell us that the Government in the general discussion on regulations or whatever will be prepared under this part of the Bill will encourage the national park authorities to make these figures available annually, so that we are not forced to extract them from the Government by way of written parliamentary Question, which seems the only alternative.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend, Lord Hunt, who particularly represents the parks' interest, and from this Bench, I would just like to say that we are entirely behind this amendment. I think the case has been adequately put by the mover and I need not put it again.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as I said on Thursday night, there is very little difference between us on these four amendments. If I might just recap, on the first one, unfortunately, we were unable really to look at it because "in the opinion of the authority" was omitted in the amended version. With regard to the second one, as Lord Winstanley has kindly said, I was able to put everybody's mind at rest by saying that I would put on record the Government's view that it would be completely unnecessary and indeed it would be grossly extravagant for every national park authority to prepare and publish a revised map each year, but we think the authorities ought to be bound by statute to review the situation annually. I think that satisfied everybody on that one. The third one was about the Countryside Commission, and again I was able to say that that is exactly what we had in mind but did not want to make it statute.

Now I come to the proposition that each national park authority should be required to prepare a annual report of the changes in the character of the area defined on the map. The effect in practice would be to increase the administrative burden on the authorities, because they would be obliged to prepare annually a report of the changes rather than carry out an annual review which might be no more than an internal exercise of a limited kind. It is really that limited kind which seems to make it necessary to put this legally binding statute on the authorities. However, I would very happily give the Government's view, and put it in Hansard that it is the Government's view, that it would be advisable to have an annual report and to make sure that the national parks authorities realise this. I hope with that undertaking perhaps the noble Lord will not wish to press this particular amendment.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, it seems to me that that gets us a little further. We have those words of the noble Earl on record and I have no doubt that they will be read and heeded by the national parks as appropriate. All that is of concern to me and to the other noble Lords and Ladies who are concerned about this amendment is that it is absolutely important that we should have regular and continuing information on precisely what is happening to areas of land of outstanding scenic beauty. That is something we have not had on a regular basis before. The noble Earl's words assure me that that information will be regularly available when required. He knows that it will be required fairly frequently. On that understanding I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 103.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.