§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 2 [General purposes and powers]:
Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 21, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A) below,").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. The purpose behind the two amendments—I shall call them one from now on—is to try to redress what I regard as an imbalance that will exist if the Bill reaches the statute book. Under the 1949 Act, national park authorities have a statutory duty to promote the conservation of the countryside for public enjoyment. That duty will be carried through into the Bill. However the national parks have no duty so far as concerns the promotion of the socio-economic well-being of the parks or those who live and work in the parks. What they do have however under Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968 is a duty to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas. But a duty to have due regard is not the same as having a duty to promote. So all that I am seeking to do is to achieve a level playing field.
§ The need for the change is brought about by the fact that under the Bill all national parks will of course be freestanding. They will no longer be just an arm of a county council. They are and, of course will be, the planning authority. There will be a new duty imposed upon them to produce a structure plan. That structure plan will have considerable and far reaching implications for the indigenous populations and businesses within the park areas.
§ I am aware that the question of socio-economic well-being has been raised before and is discussed in Professor Edwards's report. The Government's original argument was that the concept of promoting 259 socio-economic interests was not appropriate, because the national park authorities could not deliver. But the Bill is all about making national park authorities stronger and independent. As I have said, they are the planning authority, and they will be responsible for the structure plans. As such, they are not merely well-placed to promote such interests, their actions are bound to influence local interests. For that reason, I do not believe that the amendment is outside the Bill's scope. The new powers have been created for the national park authorities, and the amendment is necessary to redress the balance. The duty to promote should develop through the national parks themselves or through their co-operation with the other enabling agencies. That point was accepted in the Edwards Report. The difference is that this amendment will make it a statutory duty and not simply a policy objective, as recommended by Professor Edwards.
§ The statutory duty should not clash with the duty of the parks to promote conservation, and nor would I want it to. I believe that we should look to the parks to balance such demands. I accept that that is not always easy but they will be in a unique position to do so. I wonder who else can if they cannot. But, inevitably, extra powers mean extra responsibilities.
§ I also wish to point out that the amendment will not give the park authorities the duty to promote agriculture and forestry. I say that because under Section 37 of the 1968 Act those two enterprises are linked with the economic and social interests of rural areas. There would, of course, still be a duty for the authorities to have due regard to them but in this amendment the duty to promote rests solely with economic and social interests. There remains the need to bridge the gap between the park authorities and those who live and work within. There is a need for closer understanding.
§ My noble friend's Bill can achieve that essential objective if the duties to promote are seen to be shared in an even-handed way between the duty to look after and promote the countryside and to enhance public enjoyment. However, it must incorporate the well-being of those who live and work within. The amendment seeks simply to do that. It seeks to give confidence to the inhabitants of the parks that their authority will have a statutory responsibility to promote their well-being in an even-handed way, together with the well-being of the countryside and the visitors to the park. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for moving the amendment. The problem is that the Bill does not address, and it was not designed to address, the conclusions of the Edwards Report on what national parks should be about. It was designed for a limited purpose. For that reason, if the noble Earl wishes to debate what national parks are about and what they are meant to do we can go on all night. However, if he is saying simply that he would like to insert a particular responsibility on national park authorities as in this amendment, without going across the whole range, I personally would not agree with the amendment. There 260 is a debate to be taken at a future stage about the purposes of national parks and what they are about but it is not in the context of this Bill.
§ Lord Derwent
My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment for presentational reasons. I have much sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Williams. However, it is common ground to us all that unless the inhabitants of the park believe that the existence of the national park is for the benefit of everyone but themselves they will regard it as their enemy and will not co-operate. It is important that the inhabitants should believe that there is an even-handedness. Whether the parks exist for conservation reasons, tourism and so forth, there should be a provision in the Bill indicating that there is also an interest in the people who live in them. Therefore, it is for a psychological reason that I support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I first wish to declare an interest as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks. In that capacity, I declare a certain unease at the thrust of the noble Earl's amendment. I take his point that to have due regard to something is a direction in the legislation not to overlook it. It is a gentle reminder to keep an eye on that something and not to forget or ignore it. But the duty to promote is far more peremptory and pro-active. It is a transitive, infinitive verb in the active voice, and it feels like it too.
I wish to be numbered among those who believe that this Bill is not the best place for providing for the purposes and duties of the authorities. After all, the Government have promised to bring forward legislation and I cannot help feeling that that would be the appropriate time and vehicle for the debate to take place. The National Parks Review Panel looked carefully and in considerable detail at the subject of national parks' statutory purposes and the socio-economic duty. After much consultation it found that:The time has come for our own national park authorities to be given a clearer role to support the social and economic welfare of the local populations but only in such a way that the environmental quality of the parks is sustained and, where possible, enhanced".The panel devised a means of achieving that by establishing a role for national park authorities as enablers, supporting the executive agencies. That is the right action at the present time. The noble Earl's amendment seems to imply that the national park authorities should be given some stern tasks to accomplish because Satan still finds mischief for idle hands. I assure the noble Earl that the national park authorities will have plenty to occupy them and that we should debate exactly what their duties should be in a context difference from this Bill. I hope that he may be persuaded not to press his amendment.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, anyone who lives, farms and works in a national park will be grateful to my noble friend for moving the amendment. It reflects the anxiety which was raised in Committee by the reply given by my noble friend Lord Arran to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The amendment was eventually carried by the Committee. The matter that 261 causes anxiety are the words used by my noble friend in reply in col. 1232 of Hansard of 31st March. He stated that, as regards giving advice to the committees on the representation and the interests that they should bear in mind, he could only give clear guidance which would in no way be binding. That is the reason why the amendment should be put into the Bill at this stage.
[t is a terrible fact that today people who live and work in the countryside are finding themselves less and less in sympathy with so many of the countryside bodies. People are anxious about the attitude of English Nature, which appears to be becoming more averse to the presence of grazing animals anywhere on land with which it is involved. I realise that English Nature has a particular narrow scientific base but it is rapidly becoming out of sympathy with those who live and work in the countryside. Almost the same can be said of the Countryside Commission. After all, we know that its real interest is to promote and to protect the landscape and various recreational interests. It is a sad fact but the time has come when the people who live and work in the national parks should be given the proper protection for their economic and farming interests, which the amendment would provide. I have much pleasure in supporting it.
§ Lord Nathan
My Lords, I believe that it would be unwise to proceed with the amendment proposed because this Bill has a very narrow focus. It seems to me that the amendment takes the matter much wider than the aims which the Bill is designed to achieve.
Clearly we are concerned that the Bill shall proceed to enactment at an early date and it has an enormous amount to commend it. The Minister indicated at an earlier stage that the Government had very much in mind the introduction of a Bill dealing with many other matters which require to be dealt with in the context of national parks. One of the items which clearly requires to be dealt with is the purpose and duty of those running the national parks, including the points mentioned by the noble Earl when he moved the amendment, for which I feel great sympathy. However, I do not believe that it is a good idea to seek to include this provision at this stage. That will not assist the early passage of the Bill which I, and I am sure everybody else, is anxious to achieve. Therefore, I oppose the amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, I recognise the seriousness of my noble friend in introducing this new issue to the debate at this late stage. But I am extremely reluctant to make detailed comments on it because this is simply not the right moment at which to do so. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, we shall be here all night if we continue with this debate. It is true that the topic needs discussing, but as other noble Lords on all sides of the House have said, and as has been stated clearly on Second Reading, the Bill has a single simple purpose which we all wish to carry forward.
On Second Reading, the Minister made clear that at the right moment, those larger issues will be debated. We cannot possibly pick out one of many issues and, as 262 the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, spend the rest of the evening discussing it. I do not believe that this is the right place for such an amendment.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, is right. There is some sympathy with the feelings behind the amendment and, indeed, if I lived in the national parks, I should feel comfortable with the amendment. But it depends on what is meant by some of the terms. On these Benches, we feel that this is a simple Bill with a simple purpose and that this is not the right place for the amendment.
§ Lord Barber of Tewkesbury
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment. When I had an avuncular and recent interest in the Countryside Commission and national parks, one thing which worried me day after day was the question of trying to keep a balance between local and national interests I reached the conclusion that something was needed and those feelings were relayed to the Edwards review—the National Parks Review Panel—which spent an enormous amount of time considering that issue. It concluded that the appropriate role of park authorities is to support others in fostering the social and economic role of the park communities in ways which are compatible with the purposes for which National Parks are designated.
I have been persuaded that that is the way forward. I have been persuaded also that this is not the place at which to consider the amendment in view of the fact that the Government are to allow us time later to discuss issues relating to the Bill. Surely that is the time to get our teeth into the various details.
There has been an enormous amount of outside criticism about the inability of some parks to maintain a balance. To some extent, that has been a fair criticism. However, in the past five or six years there has been an anxious attempt by the national park authorities to put their house in order on that matter. They have an extremely difficult job because they have to balance issues on an almost daily basis. Therefore, I put that forward in their favour. I recognise that there is a need to bring about a better machinery for maintaining that balance.
§ The Earl of Lytton
My Lords, virtually all the points that I should like to have made have been made much more eloquently by other noble Lords. However, I should like to add my support to the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I believe that it is vitally important that the point should be flagged in the context of the Bill; I would have added my name to the amendment, but I did not do so because I had not expected to be here.
One particular point referred to was the way in which the Bill attaches the structure plan role to national park authorities. Planning is a crucial lever in promoting the social and economic well-being of an area. I felt that the job would be done on a piecemeal basis, if those planning powers were divorced from that concomitant duty to deal with the social and economic well-being of the area; in other words, the point was at risk of being left out of account altogether.
263 I am glad that there has been a debate on that matter. The powers and duties must be built in parallel and not piecemeal. The Bill alters the situation with regard to the structure plan role and it is right that the other roles which follow from that should be taken into account also. However, I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that it is not appropriate to amend the Bill.
In particular, I relate to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent; namely, that it is seen that there is a slightly other-worldly approach with all the agencies really saying to those who live and work in national parks, "This is how you are going to do things". It may well be that that is appropriate in the national interest. I must declare an interest because I am a farmer in a national park, although I do not live there. I believe that there must be a greater movement towards taking into account the interests of those who have had national park designation laid over their interests. If they feel that they are part of that and part of the national park process, their interests must be taken into account. It cannot be left that preservation of the landscape and the interests of a wider and often distant general public as regards park recreation take joint first place, with everything else coming a very poor third. Therefore, I support the principle behind Amendment No. 1.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Arran)
My Lords, I have listened very carefully indeed to the arguments put forward for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peel and to the other arguments which your Lordships have put forward this evening on the amendment. Indeed, it has raised much debate and discussion.
The relationship between the purposes for which the parks were designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the social and economic needs of the people who live and work in them was extensively discussed by the National Parks Review Panel, which heard a wide range of views.
As they go about the business of managing their areas, the national park authorities will clearly have to recognise the importance of the needs and interests of the people who live and work in the parks. Each new authority will be required to prepare a management plan in which it will set out its proposals for the administration of its area. These plans will be subject to wide public consultation and will therefore provide one opportunity for local people to make their views known. We also intend to advise the new authorities that they should set up formal arrangements for ensuring that the views of local people are heard.
But the new authorities must not forget the purposes for which the parks were designated. The review panel heard evidence from some people who felt that the national parks should have a third purpose, to promote the economic and social interests of their local communities, which would be the effect of my noble friend's amendment, while others felt that the inclusion of such a strongly worded duty would divert from the main purposes of the national parks and confuse the role 264 of the new authorities with that of the local authorities and those agencies, such as the Rural Development Commission and the Welsh agencies, which are already taking action to further the economic and social development of rural areas.
After carefully considering all the views put to it, the panel decided that it was not appropriate to add a third purpose, but instead recommended that the National Park authorities should support the appropriate agencies in fostering the social and economic well-being of the communities within the parks. I have to say that I am very sympathetic to the reasons underlying the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peel; but I do not believe that it is a matter for the Bill; indeed, other speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Williams, have indicated as much.
The Bill is simply concerned with the establishment of independent authorities for each of the 10 National Parks in England and Wales. Under the Countryside Act 1968, local authorities are already required to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas. Under Clause 2(2) of the Bill, the new National Park authorities will also be bound by the same duty.
As I made clear when we debated the Bill at Second Reading, it is the Government's intention to introduce further legislation to update National Park purposes and to clarify the National Park authorities' duty to take full account of the economic and social needs of local communities. It is a matter which merits wider debate and discussion and so I believe it is not appropriate for the matter to be dealt with as part of the Bill at this stage.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions on this important topic. As I said on Second Reading, my Bill has only one objective—that is, to set up new authorities to run all the National Parks. I made it quite clear at that early stage that it does not affect the National Park statutory purposes and associated duty. I do not believe that my Private Member's Bill is the right place to resolve those other matters.
The Government have made clear their intention to legislate on the subject. My noble friend Lord Arran made clear during Second Reading that, in reconsidering and updating the National Park purposes, the Government would be guided by the spirit of the recommendations of the National Parks Review Panel. The House has also been reminded of what those recommendations were. The panel considered the question in detail. Apart from recommending redefining the National Park purposes, it said, on the question of the duty, that National Park authorities should play a supportive role which would be,compatible with the purposes for which National Parks are designated".I consider the purposes, the duty and the relationship between them to be inextricably linked.
Naturally, such a complex and important matter merits a full and wide ranging debate within the context of a government Bill. I do not believe that it is appropriate to use this Private Member's Bill as a Trojan Horse to import that debate.
265 There are other important matters on which the National Parks Review Panel also called for legislation. I refer to issues such as: a duty on Ministers or other government departments to further National Park purposes; a statutory development test for National Parks; rights of way legislation; and of course new National Parks. I am sure that there are many noble Lords who would think that they are equally important to discuss, but now is not the time to do so and they are not affected by my Bill.
What is important and timely, especially in the light of local government review, is the need to establish new National Park authorities to run the National Parks. I trust that my noble friend Lord Peel will agree that it would be wise to wait for government legislation to address his anxieties. I hope therefore that he will withdraw his amendment.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I hear what speakers have said; namely, that now is not the appropriate time to move such an amendment. However, I also noted that I received quite a degree of positive support. But, perhaps more importantly, I think almost every noble Lord who spoke actually sympathised with the point that I am trying to make. We have at least had the opportunity of flagging what is the real problem. It is one which will have to be discussed in great detail if the Bill becomes law and if the recommendations contained in the report of Professor Edwards are to be a second stage to my noble friend's Bill.
I cannot get away from the simple fact that having a policy objective, an enabling system—which, I believe, is basically what was suggested by the noble Lords, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Barber—by which the parks work with other authorities to look after the interests of those who live and work there, is not the same thing as having a power to look after them; that is, a power to promote their interests. They are two very different concepts.
I shall withdraw the amendment, but I just wanted to make that point. When we discuss the matter again, I hope that that will be very much in the forefront of the thinking of noble Lords. There is a big rift between many—but not all—park authorities and those who live and work therein. I trust that we shall be able to address that very real problem soon so that the National Parks will have the confidence of the people who live and work in them. As I said, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who took part. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ 7.45 p.m.
Lord Derwent moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Parish Council Forum
§ Each National Park Authority shall establish a Parish Council Forum or equivalent body on which shall be represented by one member each parish council whose boundaries fall wholly or partly within the boundaries of the National Park.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the above is intended to be primarily a probing amendment. It 266 returns to a point which I —and, indeed, other noble Lords—raised in Committee about the importance of involving local people. I believe that it is common ground that if park authorities are to function properly they need the co-operation of the people who live in the park.
§ It therefore seems to me essential that the parish councils, which really are the only councils in close touch with grass roots opinion at the village level, be properly consulted and listened to. In the North Yorks Park, at least, that has not always happened in the past. I should point out that involvement of the parishes in some way would be wholly in line with the Government's overall policy on local government which envisages that parish councils be given art enhanced role.
§ It is difficult for direct representation by parish councils on the park authorities. That is not something which I am seeking. However, I hope that the Secretary of State will be prepared to give strong guidance to park authorities that they should set up a special mechanism for obtaining the views of parish councils—both individually and collectively via a parish council forum for each park on which all parish councils would be represented; indeed, my noble friend Lord Norrie said in Committee that he had some sympathy with that point. I hope that guidance would also indicate that they should not only consult the parish councils but they should also give weight to parish views.
I should like to commend the wording used by the Local Government Commission for England in its report entitled, Report to Local People on the future of Local Government for the area North of the Humber. I believe that the commission has given similar advice in other parts of the country. Although the commission is concerned only with the relationship between county and district councils on the one hand and parish councils on the other, it seems to me that its suggestions are also apposite to the relations between park authorities—which, after all, are a part of local government—and parish councils. I quote the key sentences from the commission's report:
Since parish and town councils are an important reflection of people's sense of identity with their community, the Commission recommends that their role be enhanced … The Commission agrees with many of its respondents that a clear consultative framework should be established between local authorities and parish and town councils. This framework, or 'local charter', should ensure that parish and town councils have rights to the following:
1. a clear statement of those matters affecting the local community upon which they will be consulted; the range of matters for consultation should be widely drawn;
2. sufficient information from local authorities about local matters on which their views have been requested;
3. the right to a written explanation from a local authority if it decides, as it legitimately may, not to agree with the views of the parish or town council;
4. regular meetings between representatives of the local authority and the parish and town councils to discuss matters of common interest".
§ It seems to me that this formula, or something like it, might be included in the guidance by the Secretary of State to a park authority as to the way in which the latter should conduct its relationship both with individual parishes and with its parish council forum. Finally, I would hope that if the Secretary of State is prepared to 267 give such guidance he would do so in rather a formal manner. In this particular case I have been persuaded that it would be wrong for the Bill to provide for the Secretary of State to give legally binding directions to park authorities about parish councils because the whole essence of the Bill is to give power to the park authorities and not to central government. On the other hand I would hope that ministerial guidance, while short of direction, would in this instance take the form of a formal and fairly strongly worded circular.
§ As I said at the outset, this is intended as a probing amendment in the hope that my noble friend the Minister—who I am sure, from what he has already said, is as anxious to involve local people in the workings of the parks as are all noble Lords—will be able to give the House some fairly firm indications of the nature and form of the guidance he has it in mind to give to the parks about the establishment of a parish council forum for each park and about the involvement of parishes generally. I beg to move.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I have no quarrel or particular negative concern with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, but he is of course speaking for England only. He clearly had no idea, in putting down the amendment, that in Wales we do not have parish councils. We do not have an established Church. We have parochial church councils which deal exclusively with matters concerning churches and we have community councils. If one was going to do proper justice to the Principality of Wales, obviously one would have to refer to the community councils which would be our equivalent. I do not wish to pursue the matter further but it is essential to indicate that this Anglicised view of the Bill should not be sustained. Happily, this is only a probing amendment and therefore I shall not continue with the argument but I am certain that everyone in the House will have recognised that we could not possibly let it go through as it stands. On a purely practical line, I would suggest that if one is going to have only one person from a parish council, one must certainly make provision for alternates but that is a matter of detail.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady White in her contention that in Wales we do not understand what parish councils are. We have community councils. The problem with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is not just that, although that is problem enough. It is that a community council in Wales, if I may speak for a moment for Wales, has not got a particular constitution which the parish council in England has, and we have difficulties with community councils which may or may not represent the people they pretend to represent. That may be true of parish councils in England. I have no experience of that.
If I may speak for a moment of the Welsh problem, to have one member of each community council—which I take to be the equivalent body of that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in his amendment —whose area is in some way in a national park, represented we know not how and speaking for we 268 know not what interest within some national park authority in some way which we know not, does not seem in the Welsh context to make much sense. Nevertheless, having said all that, I appreciate the thrust of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, which I believe I supported at the Committee stage; that is, that the national park authorities have to be very sensitive to the needs and requirements of the local people in the area. But even as a probing amendment I am bound to say that I consider it rather defective.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I hope I may get away from Wales for a moment because I absolutely accept the objections which have been put forward about that. I, too, am grateful that this is a probing amendment. I am far from sure that it is right to put such a proposal on the face of the Bill. However, I join with the noble Lord who proposed the amendment in saying that we in this party would certainly think it of immense importance that we try to involve people at the very lowest tier of local government, to get their views and consent and to allow their initiatives to be examined, however worthy the objectives of the national parks. I think I have already shown that I fully support that. I also strongly support the need for consultation and carrying along, and listening to, the people who live on the ground in the areas and the bodies to which they elect their representatives. I hope that the Government will take aboard most of what I say.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, from the government viewpoint let me say straightaway that we are very aware of the importance of the role which parish and community councils play in the affairs of the national parks. We are also aware of the need for the new authorities to make sure that proper arrangements are in place to ensure that the parish and community councils have the opportunity to make their input into the affairs of the new authorities. Certainly, I am happy to assure my noble friend Lord Derwent that we intend to issue guidance in due course in the form of a departmental circular to the new authorities to the effect that they should make formal provision to ensure that the parish and community councils are given the fullest opportunity to make their views known. I can also assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the Welsh Office will issue its own guidance in its own particular form.
There are already examples where effective consultations have been set up by the existing authorities. For example, the formal channels which Dartmoor has set up and the parish council forum in the Peak park offer models on which other parks should be encouraged to build. I can also reassure my noble friend Lord Derwent that parish and community councils will continue to be statutory consultees on development control matters. So dialogue with individual councils will continue to be important.
There is a further means—I would particularly point this out to my noble friend—by which the parish and community councils make a contribution to the affairs of the parks. The Secretary of State, in making his appointments, welcomes nominations from a wide range of interests. At present, however, he receives very 269 few names with a parish and community council background, and parish and community councils will, I am sure, want to consider how best they can ensure that candidates with an interest in those matters are put before the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Derwent for bringing this important matter of the interests of parish, town and community councils before the House this evening. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for reminding the House that in Wales it will be the community councils within the three parks which will be voicing their opinions.
I stated at Second Reading that I am supportive of such councils having an effective voice to which the national park authorities will be attuned. It will be helpful to establish a parish or community council forum in each national park.
As my noble friend Lord Arran said, the requirement for the establishment of an equivalent body will be set out in the Government guidance. This implements the recommendations of the National Parks Review Panel which said that there should be,regular forums to explain the implications of policy developments and to hear the aspirations and problems of park communities".Naturally that challenge will need to be looked at on a park-by-park basis. The same formula will not work across the map of national parks. For instance, the Yorkshire Dales park has 83 parishes within its boundaries; the Peak District has 114; and the Snowdonia National Park has 55 community councils. Noble Lords will appreciate the scale of the task.
I note the anxieties of my noble friend Lord Derwent about local responsiveness under the new national park authorities. As I made clear on Second Reading, this Bill provides benefits for local responsiveness. For instance, every local authority with an area which falls within the boundaries of a park—and that includes district councils where they continue to exist after local government review —will be represented on the new authorities. In the case of most of the proposals for unitary authorities, their area will be smaller than the current counties and their boundaries are more likely to be drawn closely around the national park areas.
The Minister has also made it clear that his guidance will say that local authority members should, where possible, come from wards within the park or live in the park area. I feel that the Bill provides for a greater level of local responsiveness and that forging better links with parish and community councils is all part of the picture.
I hope that those factors will reassure my noble friend Lord Derwent that his anxieties will be met and that he will therefore withdraw his amendment.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Derwent
My Lords, as I said this is intended as a probing amendment. First, I should like to apologise to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The last thing that I want to do is to start a war between national parks—one in North Yorkshire and some in Wales. I apologise for the oversight.
I am grateful for what I thought were quite categoric assurances by the Minister and by my noble friend Lord 270 Norrie that everyone is conscious of the problem and is sympathetic to what lies behind it. I look forward to seeing the guidance which my noble friend the Minister will issue in due course. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 [National Park authorities]:
Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 14, line 11, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert:
("(3) The number of members appointed under sub-paragraph (2) (a) above shall, as far as is practicable, be twice that appointed under sub-paragraph (2) (b) above.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4 standing in my name.
§ This amendment arises out of a discussion that we had in Committee on this Bill when the noble Lord the Minister indicated, in accepting an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who also accepted that amendment, that he might look at the amendment that I had put down, which was not dissimilar but somewhat stronger than the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent.
§ I have tabled this amendment again. with one slight variation—"as far as is practicable"—simply because it would appear sensible that, if we are to enshrine in this Bill and this Act, if it ever gets that far, the principle of two thirds/one third, there should be some let out if local authority appointed members die and you cannot immediately fill the place, or if Secretary of State appointees die and you cannot immediately fill the place, and at least the words "as far as is practicable" should be inserted into the provision.
§ I believe that this is in the spirit of Edwards and, indeed, in the present spirit. If it is right at the moment, and if Edwards thought that it was right at the time, I see no reason why it should not be right now. I know that the noble Earl has accepted the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. I am not going to press this to a Division. I should just like to know, after the noble Earl's comments in Committee when he said that he would look at this, what the Government's position is. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I am a little uneasy with my noble friend's amendment. I feel that it is important to keep the Bill as it is on the subject of membership. The formula, which is now clear, has the majority of members from local authorities and it has found widespread support. I would be very unwilling to change it at this stage.
The process of local government review makes uncertain the circumstances in which national park authorities will exist. It is important not to remove any possibility of discretion, within limits, on the subject of membership.
In England the outcome of local government review is far from clear. We could have a national park covered by one unitary authority. In Wales we know what the Government intend. In Snowdonia the national park authority will be covered by two unitary authorities. In the Brecon Beacons there will be several. But in the case of the Pembrokeshire coast the entire area will be covered by one unitary authority.
271 The situation in which a national park is covered by one authority has not worked well in the past. The concern is that what may happen is that a single local authority may dominate national park business with the dominant political party operating as a single bloc. Up to now, as we discussed at an earlier stage, party politics do not, on the whole, enter into national park arrangements, but this particular arrangement would invite problems.
We can offer an example. From February 1952 to July 1964 the Dartmoor National Park drew its local authority members solely from Devon County Council. The park was not at its most effective during that time. As we heard at Second Reading from the noble Lord, Lord Foot, it was during that period that the county promoted Swincombe reservoir on Dartmoor. The Countryside Commission comparison of actions taken by national park authorities between 1954 and 1970 shows that the county gave a low priority to the national park authority and resisted even the most basic expenditure at that time.
It does not seem in the best interests of national parks to equip them for the future with their administrative framework having an in-built potential problem which already has a historical precedent.
I hope that my noble friend will not feel that he needs to press the amendment. In fact, he has said that he will not do so. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will not feel disposed to accept it, because I believe that it would be unfortunate to do so at this time. It is possible that by the time the promised legislation comes from the Government we shall know better what the arrangements in the national parks will be and we can discuss the matter at that time.
§ Lord Wise
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. If a situation arises such as she described in which discretion is needed there is surely merit in a system which allows the Secretary of State to be able to return to Parliament on a matter of changed circumstances under clear procedures set out in the Bill without having to find time for primary legislation.
If the exact proportions of membership are set out on the face of the Bill I believe that I am right in thinking that primary legislation would be needed to amend it. As we all know, time to amend primary legislation is always in short supply. Therefore I support the Bill as it stands with the proportions of membership set out in the government guidance. That provides the right mechanism to cope with any changing circumstances.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I thought that we had got the matter about right with the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, which we accepted at Committee stage: that there should always be a majority of local authority members.
This amendment goes further. I do not wish to add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said. She put her finger on the crucial point. I intervene simply because, if I understood him aright, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, thought his amendment was in tune with the Edwards Report. I do not think that it is. Surely 272 the whole thrust of the Edwards Report was the importance of the plurality of voices. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said, the danger is that we might lose that factor in certain circumstances. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will resist the amendment.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend Lord Chorley. I agree with all the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. There is a real danger that if the amendment were to be accepted, some national parks might be dominated by one unitary authority and other interests which ought to be represented would not be represented. It is right that the Secretary of State should retain discretion.
Like my noble friend, Lord Chorley, I, too, think that what was done at Committee stage in accepting the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, was right, and as far as we should go. I therefore hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was quite right. I undertook to consider the amendment which required that two-thirds of the members of the new authorities should be appointed by the constituent local authorities and one-third by the Secretary of State.
We have given the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, very careful consideration. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Derwent which was agreed at Committee sets out beyond any possible doubt that there will always be a clear majority of local authority members on each national park authority. In addition, I have made it clear that it is our intention that not only should the local authority members be in the majority, they should make up two-thirds of the total membership of the national park authorities, and the Secretary of State members the remaining one-third.
During Committee, I explained to your Lordships that it is our intention that the current balance of representation between local authorities and Secretary of State members will be maintained so that two-thirds of the total will be appointed by the local authorities and one-third by the Secretary of State. That remains our intention. I hope that that will allay the concerns or anxieties that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, may have.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has given us an important matter to scrutinise. I believe that the Bill as it stands is right. I shall explain why.
I have made clear throughout the debate my preference for using the 1949 formula on the face of the Bill and for setting the exact membership proportions in the circular. Thanks to the most helpful amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, the Bill makes it abundantly clear that there will always be a local authority majority. It also sets an upper limit for the local authority members. Since Committee stage, in my consultations I found widespread satisfaction with the clear signals that that gives. I believe it is right that the Bill itself sets exact parameters but not exact 273 proportions. Those proportions should be established in the circular and in the orders setting up the individual parks.
The Minister has been most clear in his statement: he intends to set the membership at two-thirds of local authority appointed members and one-third Secretary of State appointed members. That I fully support.
I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that it would not be desirable to take away from the face of the Bill discretion that national parks legislation has always offered. As the Bill stands, it retains the possibility to look again under changed circumstances at the detailed membership numbers. We currently face the prospect of changed circumstances with the review of local government, the outcome of which is still unknown. We face the prospect of single-tier local authorities. Under such a regime it is less obvious how national park authorities will achieve the mix of local strategic and national interests which have always been the hallmark of national park membership. I say that without in any way questioning the importance of getting right and enhancing the local responsiveness to my Bill.
In England the outcome of local government review is far from clear. In Wales it is proposed that Snowdonia National Park will be covered by two unitary authorities; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said, the Brecon Beacons by several authorities; and the Pembrokeshire coast by one authority. It is unknown what the effects of the changes will be on the national parks. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, suggested that a prescriptive formula could deny options in those circumstances.
It would be helpful if I were to remind the House that the Bill is drafted in such a way that national park authorities could never be quangos. The new authorities will rest firmly within the local government sector, will have a local authority majority, and local authority procedures will apply. In addition, I pointed out that the chairman and deputy chairman will be elected from among the authority membership and not appointed by the Secretary of State—a benefit which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, assisted in making clear at Committee stage. All those factors give clear signals about the nature of the new authorities.
It is also important to remember that the Secretary of State has a duty to consult local authorities in drawing up orders for individual parks.
I hope that on reflection the House will join me in supporting the Bill as it stands. The parliamentary draftsman probably has got it right. I should resist deviation from the wording of sub-paragraph (3) of Schedule 1. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, at Second Reading, I said that so far as my Party was concerned from our Front Bench the Bill had support. However, in Committee, I said, as I believe all noble Lords will recognise, that certain of my honourable friends in another place who represented Welsh constituents had strong feelings about the representation of local 274 authority appointees and Secretary of State appointees, given (if I may introduce a slightly controversial note) the nature of the present incumbent at the Welsh Office.
At Second Reading I undertook that my right honourable and honourable friends on the Front Bench in another place would support the Bill. I gave that undertaking on authority. However, I was told by my colleagues in another place that this matter was of considerable interest. I am anxious that the Bill should go forward. I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie—I do not refer to the Government —has not recognised that, since I do not propose to press the matter, there is now a danger (I put it no higher) that some of my honourable friends in another place will decide that they cannot support this specific measure. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, knows what I am talking about; he raised the matter. If that is what 'your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, wish to see, that is what you wish to see.
If my amendment had been accepted, I think that I could have guaranteed that at least the Front Bench on the Welsh side in another place would support the Bill. As it is, I am afraid that I cannot offer any such guarantee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 18, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert:
("(3) It shall be the duty of a National Park authority, in relation to any committee or sub-committee to which this sub-paragraph applies, to secure—
(3A) Sub-paragraph (3) above applies in the case of any National Park authority to the following committees and sub-committees, except those appointed under section 102(4) or (4A) of the 1972 Act (advisory committees), that is to say—
(3B) The proceedings of a committee or sub-committee to which sub-paragraph (3) above applies shall not be invalidated by any failure of a National Park authority to perform its duty under that sub-paragraph.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I should first explain that this amendment is simply a technical expansion of the amendment brought forward by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell in Committee. I am advised that his amendment was not as tightly worded as it might have been, in particular the word "balance" was open to interpretation. In other words it was not clear whether the membership of committees and sub-committees of the new authorities should comprise a simple majority of local authority members or whether the membership should reflect a combination of the 275 actual proportion of local authority and Secretary of State members. The amendment gave no indication on the minimum representation of both types of interest —that is to say, local authority and Secretary of State.
§ In Committee I also said that I was sympathetic to the principle behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, which is that all committees and sub-committees of national park authorities should reflect the proportion of the two types of members on the authority. My amendment also makes it clear that there must be, at the minimum, at least one of each type of member for a particular meeting to have a quorum.
§ At Committee stage I had envisaged that those requirements would be clear, through the Government's guidance. But my noble friend Lord Crickhowell made it clear that he was not content with that reassurance. I have now been advised by the Government that by adopting this wording it is possible that the provision will be made on the face of the Bill, as your Lordships wish. The technical expansion does not affect the intentions of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, but I am advised that it puts them on a much sounder and legal footing. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, we appreciate the need to reflect both national and local interests in all aspects of the work of the national park authorities. For 276 that reason, I explained to noble Lords during Committee that it is our intention to advise the national park authorities that the composition of their committees and sub-committees should reflect the balance between local authority and Secretary of State members on the authority itself.
During Committee, noble Lords agreed to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, which requires the committees and sub-committees of the national park authorities to reflect the two-thirds/ one-third balance of local authority and Secretary of State membership of the authority. I believe that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norrie develops the intention underlying the amendment of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell which was agreed to at Committee and provides a more workable alternative because it is drafted in precise terms. On that basis, we support the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.