§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
It is my pleasant duty this evening to set before the House the provisions of my Bill to create new authorities to run each of the national parks in England and Wales. It is a measure that has been long awaited. Some noble Lords have been asking for it since 1951. In that regard, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Foot and Lord Sandford, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, all of whom are attending the debate this evening. We acknowledge the hard work that they have done for the national parks over the years. I am sure that they will all agree with me that the national park authorities have the vital task of running national parks and working closely with those who live and work in them. In practice, however, we now know that we have not given them the tools needed 322 to do the job as well as we would wish. My Bill now has the advantage of over 40 years of experience and aims to address that.
In preparation for the Bill I have been fortunate in having the assistance of three fellow vice-presidents of the Council for National Parks. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, joined me on a visit to the North York Moors, the Lake District and the Brecon Beacons. The noble Baroness, Lady White, also joined me in the Brecon Beacons and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, briefed me on the Peak District. I made a flying visit to the heart of that national park only yesterday.
Tribute too must be paid to the Association of County Councils. Its helpful guidance to me over the past six months has made it easier to bring the Bill before your Lordships. The association and its member authorities, along with the Association of District Councils and its member authorities, has played a key role in the history of the national parks and it is important to continue those close relations.
Creating new authorities to run the parks is a government manifesto commitment, made in response to the key recommendation of the National Parks Review Panel, chaired by Professor Ron Edwards. I shall refer to the work of this panel as the Edwards Report. Unfortunately, time has not yet been found for a Government Bill. That is why I have decided to carry this forward in a Private Member's Bill, which I see as a first-aid measure.
Before I tell noble Lords what my Bill does, I shall say what it does not do. It does not affect the statutory purposes of national parks—purposes which cover conservation and recreation—or the associated socioeconomic duty. It does not place a formal duty on Ministers or other government departments to further national park purposes, nor does it put into legislation the tests which development in national parks must pass. Here I refer to such controversial proposals as major roads or reservoirs.
It does not touch on rights of way legislation or set up new national parks. It does not in any way affect the status or administration of the New Forest. Changes in all these areas were recommended by the Edwards Report, but my Bill simply does not deal with them.
There are no national parks in Scotland. so the Bill does not touch on that important area either. It does not touch on the Broads, which has its own recent Act of Parliament. It affects only the original family of national parks.
There are seven in England: in the North, the Lake District, the Peak District, Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, and Dartmoor and Exmoor in the South West. There are three in Wales: Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast. I draw attention to the importance of these three in the Principality, where they cover 20 per cent. of the land area.
As I said at the outset, my Bill has one simple purpose: to set up 10 new authorities to run each of the national parks. It is rather a long and technical Bill— 323 some 43 pages—but I make no apology for that. Indeed, I am most grateful to the parliamentary draftsmen for all the hard work that has gone into this till.
The Bill ties up the loose ends and puts the national parks on a firm footing for the future. It pulls together responsibilities relating to national parks dating from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Countryside Act 1968, the Local Government Act 1972 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. In addition, it touches on at least a further 40 Acts where the relationship with the new authorities needs to be set out. Understandably, a little recycled paper would be in order!
My Bill stems from the Edwards Report. The more I have consulted interested parties in preparation for it, the more impressed I have become at the sound judgment inherent in the report itself. Although no interest group got everything it wanted, most got something. Support for these recommendations has been most impressive.
The Edwards Report found that,the essence of the concept of National Parks lies in the striking quality and remoteness of much of this scenery, the harmony between man and nature it displays, and the opportunities it offers for suitable forms of recreation".A quarter of a million people live in national parks. Creating new authorities which would enable the parks to work more effectively with local communities will be of major benefit. I also draw attention to the 100 million visits made to national parks every year. The parks are popular and legislation would result in better administration for them.
The cornerstone recommendation of the Edwards Report was that new authorities should run all the national parks. Those authorities are referred to as independent authorities, and I shall make it clear straight away that by "independent authorities" the report was not talking about quangos but about free-standing authorities within the framework of local government. That will become clear later when I come to the subject of their membership, their chairmen and the nature of the new authorities themselves.
At present we have 10 national parks designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Five in England and all three in Wales are run as committees of county councils. The other two—the Lake District and the Peak District—are run by boards.
My Bill will provide new authorities for all the national parks, building on what has worked best in the past and on what the parks will need in the future. To explain what I mean I can do no better than repeat the Government's own enthusiastic support for this key recommendation of the Edwards Report. They said that the advantages of such free-standing authorities include,a greater clarity of vision and self confidence, a higher profile, freedom to manage their own affairs as well as a more undivided commitment to National Park objectives".There is a pressing reason which makes this measure timely and urgent. It is now not just a matter of being in the best interests of national parks. Other events have overtaken national parks legislation. The Local Government Commission is progressing more rapidly than anticipated with its review of local government in 324 England. That may result in inconsistent and inadequate arrangements for the parks unless their future is separately secured. We cannot risk leaving them in bureaucratic limbo. Thus, it is very important that my Bill should succeed.
The future of the parks needs to be secured regardless of what happens to the county councils that currently run eight of the 10 parks. If my Bill does not succeed, a caretaker would be left in charge of the national parks or they would be carved up among various new local authorities. That is not in their best interests. The new national park authorities set up by my Bill will be sufficiently robust to withstand changes in local authorities.
The situation in Wales is slightly different. Under the Local Government (Wales) Bill, the three parks in Wales which are at present run by county council committees would become boards. That is an insurance policy should my Bill fail. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord St. Davids for clarifying that on behalf of the Government in a previous debate on the Wales Bill. My noble friend said of my Bill:Were my noble friend's Bill to receive the approval of Parliament, the Government would not need to bring into effect or use the provisions of Clause 19 to create planning boards for national parks in Wales.In the event of my noble friend's Bill not receiving parliamentary approval, however, the Government would certainly move to establish such boards".—[Official Report, 10/2/94; col. 1772.]I am most grateful for the clarification that there is no conflict between that Bill and mine. I welcome the assurances from the Minister that the Welsh Office would also prefer that consistent arrangements be made for all the national parks in England and Wales.
Having established the background of the Bill and its status —as a Bill of general principles—I shall conduct your Lordships on a simple guide through its clauses and schedules. Clause 1 provides for the creation of the new authorities individually, or all at once, or in any combination. This timetable should be dictated by the best interests of the individual national parks. It should not wait until some convenient moment that suits the process of the local government review.
Schedule 1 relates to membership of the new bodies. The majority of the members will be appointed by local authorities. The Secretary of State will continue to appoint members with a special knowledge and expertise in the purposes for which the national parks were designated.
My Bill sticks to the successful formula which for more than 40 years has meant that there are twice as many local authority members as Secretary of State appointees, as recommended by the Edwards Report. This reflects a special mix of local and national interest as befits areas of such great importance to the nation. My Bill confirms the position of the national park authorities firmly within the local government sector. As I have said, they are not quangos.
The new bodies will comprise a majority of members appointed by local authorities plus members appointed by the Secretary of State. The local authority members will come from any principal council; that is, a county, a district or a unitary authority that has a part or the 325 whole of its area within the park. Local authority members will be, in every instance, elected members of their councils. Surprisingly, that is not always the practice at present. These changes will enhance local accountability for the parks. The chairman and deputy chairman of the authorities will be elected. They will be drawn from and elected by all the members of the authority.
There is an important change relating to the Secretary of State appointees. For the first time their allowances will be on a common basis with local authority members. That will allow a wider range of candidates, particularly young, working people, with relevant skills and interests to serve on the authorities. The countryside agencies will continue to advise the Secretary of State regarding these appointments.
I have talked about accountability, but accountability is meaningless without making clear what the functions of the new authorities will be. As I have said, my Bill does not propose any new national park purposes; it merely makes cross-references to the existing legislation on purposes arid associated duties.
The Government are already committed to introducing legislation to review the national park purposes and to clarify the parks' duties. Therefore I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give a government assurance when he speaks that the Government will introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to revise the national park purposes and associated duties in accordance with the Edwards Report's recommendation.
When it comes to planning, national park authorities will continue to be local planning authorities, and responsible for minerals and waste, and for development control. Clause 4, however, changes the role of national park authorities as regards strategic planning. It presumes that all the new authorities will be structure plan authorities unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise. At present only the Lake District and the Peak District have this power. Under the Local Government (Wales) Bill the three parks in Wales are to become unitary plan authorities (strategic and local planning being rolled into one). My Bill provides for consistency with this.
In England all the parks will become structure plan authorities unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise. During my consultations I found that there is very widespread support for the structure plan option. However, the Bill gives the Secretary of State two other options using order-making powers. The reason for this discretion is that at present the outcome of the review of local government in England is unknown. He could decide to make the national park authority a unitary planning authority or he could decide that the strategic planning responsibility would best reside elsewhere. So the preference is indicated in the Bill for each national park authority to be the structure plan authority unless the outcome of the local government review suggests otherwise, as we know already is intended in Wales.
I hope that it will be the norm for each national park authority to exercise its strategic planning responsibility jointly with neighbouring local authorities. That will give the benefit of a park focus and co-ordination with 326 neighbouring authorities. There is a good example of that in the joint structure plan prepared by the Lake District and Cumbria County Council.
Of course the joint working will not always be possible as some national parks are covered by several local authorities. It is nevertheless desirable in most cases. My Bill is compatible with local government legislation which allows for strategic planning authorities to exercise their strategic planning powers jointly.
The Bill also tidies up existing provisions relating to responsibilities which have been delegated by local authorities to at least one national park authority. 'The most significant example is powers relating to local nature reserves, including the power to make by-laws. That will not take away powers either from local authorities or national bodies like English Nature. It refers only to the powers derived from the local authorities themselves.
We now come on to the financial arrangements, as set out in Clauses 8 to 10. In accordance with the Edwards Report, the Bill specifies that both local authorities and central government will continue to make a contribution to the funding of national park authorities. That reflects my earlier observations about the unique mix of local and national interest in the way national parks are run. The split will continue to be 75 per cent. of funding from central government and 25 per cent. from local authorities. So in the national parks £1 supplied locally will bring in £3 more from the Exchequer.
At present most of the parks are reliant on a gentlemen's agreement for the local authorities' contribution. The parks spend valuable time and resources negotiating that sum. The Bill proposes extending to all the parks a better system 'which is in operation in the Lake District and Peak District. Those two boards have always been able to make a levy on the local authorities for their contribution. That is more efficient and also means that the parks will be able to work with a greater degree of financial security.
The rest of the clauses-11 to 16—set out the mechanics for establishing the new authorities. Most of those relate to the rules and regulations which apply to the conduct of local authorities. As I said, the Bill is a statement of general principles. As with the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the precise arrangements will be set in place on the order of the Secretary of State following a wide process of consultation.
In brief, my Bill will create new and effective authorities to run each of the 10 national parks of England and Wales. Those authorities will help to ensure that the parks are properly financed and that the local people who live in them will have an effective voice in their running. It is my hope that a major benefit of an improved administrative framework for each park will be that the authorities will be able to spend less time on bureaucracy and more time on working closely with all their partners. That will help to ensure that our national parks have both healthy environments and healthy economies. They should have more time to 327 devote to encouraging enterprise—for example, in farming and tourism—that is compatible with national park purposes.
The late Brian Redhead, when president of the Council for National Parks, said of the parks themselves,They are Not Ours but Ours to Look After".Were he still there to interview me tomorrow morning on Radio 4, he would, I am sure, emphasise that very point. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Norrie.)
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I welcome the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and pay tribute to the quiet persistence with which he has pursued it over the past year, which culminated in its arrival before the House this evening. I commend also the hard work of the Council for National Parks which assisted many of us during the past few months with advice and information.
Although I cannot speak formally for my Labour colleagues, I know there is strong support on these Benches for the purposes of the Bill. Your Lordships will recall that it was a Labour Government that brought in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949 and our continuing support for the purpose of national parks is undiminished. The Bill is also supported by the Countryside Commission, the CPRE, the Association of County Councils, the National Farmers Union and the Ramblers' Association, to name but a few. I know that many other bodies give support; in fact, I have not heard anyone oppose it.
The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, worked tirelessly to bring the Bill forward and, as we heard, he worked closely with his fellow vice-presidents. As he said, I joined him on visits to the North Yorks Moors, the Lake District and the Brecon Beacons last year to see at first hand the existing different methods of organisation. The North Yorks Moors and the Brecon Beacons are county council committees at present, and the Lake District is a free-standing board which is the model on which the new authorities proposed by the Bill are based. The North Yorks Moors area is in the first tranche of local government reorganisation and the future administration of the national park is therefore in doubt. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is quite right to speak of the danger of leaving such an important area with a caretaker. The Bill will sort out the problem and I hope that it gains the support of your Lordships.
I now turn to membership of the proposed new authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, gave us the membership in detail and I simply want to emphasise some of the points that he made. It is a most important part of the Bill and I believe that it offers some vital improvements on the existing situation.
At present, under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, not less than one-third of the membership shall be appointed by the Secretary of State. That will not change. But there will still be a majority of local authority representatives on the new authorities and there are changes to enhance the 328 accountability of those members. The first is that all local authority members will have to be elected members of their appointing authorities. I believe that to be an extremely important change. It is not the case at present and will be welcomed by communities in the parks who have long desired a clearer link with those representing them. It accords with the recommendations of the National Parks Review Panel in which the Bill is firmly rooted—for which I have the greatest admiration —and within the spirit of increased local accountability.
The report of the panel recommended that,local responsiveness can best be enhanced by an increase in the proportion of district council members on national park authorities".Schedule I of the Bill also addresses that point, though it is expressed in broad principles to cover all possible outcomes of local government review which are presently going forward and the outcome of which we are uncertain. Schedule I says that every council, be it county, district or unitary authority, which has the whole or part of its area in the park, will be represented on the national park authority. That means that if the district tier is retained a greater proportion of that tier will be represented on the authorities. But whatever changes are made in local government, we can expect a closer correlation between the national park authority and the areas within its boundary. It will be easier for local people to identify with those who represent them on the authority.
The National Farmers Union had strong views on that point and I believe the Bill meets its objections. The Association of County Councils supports the proposals but is anxious that local authority representation could be reduced by way of the orders constituting the individual authorities. I am not quite sure who is to be asked for reassurance in this case. I know that the Government support the Bill and give it their full approval, but it is introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. I hope that at the end of the debate one or other of them will be able to reassure the Association of County Councils on that point.
Next I turn to the Secretary of State's appointees. Their presence recognises the national importance of the parks but they should represent areas of expertise and interest groups: local residents, farmers, business interests and so on. We should not be talking about—and I hope we are not talking about—men or women who come up from London to spend an afternoon deciding the fate of national parks. They should be, in the main, local people with something to offer. I say "in the main" because I believe there may well be some occasional exceptions to that rule. As the review panel said:They should be of the highest calibre",with,interests and expertise in the full range of national park responsibilities".I am glad that Secretary of State's appointees will be given allowances on the same basis as other authority members and paid for by the national park authority. We hope that these allowances, though they will necessarily be modest in terms of the national park budget, will enable a wider spectrum of ages and interests to offer their services. I strongly support the provision that the 329 chairman and deputy chairman will be elected by the national park authority members. That is a very important provision. This should help to create a positive and suppertive atmosphere and highlight the fact, which the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned, that these authorities are not just another set of quangos.
Finally, there are many other desirable recommendations by the review panel which we hope to see implemented in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, listed some and there are many more. We know that the Government support the findings of the review panel and I hope that it will not be too long before they feel they can bring in the rest. This excellent Bill is a good step in the right direction and I wish it a safe and speedy passage.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Foot
My Lords, I start by expressing to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, my personal thanks for his presentation of the Bill here tonight. To present a Private Member's Bill of this kind is an undertaking of considerable proportions and, as has been rightly said by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the noble Lord has been tireless in the process of consultation and seeking advice throughout the past several months.
It was said by James Boswell, after the publication of his great biography of Dr. Johnson and when that had received acclaim from one end of the country to the other, that he had "Johnsonised the land". In some kind of similar sense it can be said that during the past six months the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has done a similar service for the national parks. When he came down to Devon he was unfortunately greeted by a blizzard, but that was a useful reminder that the national parks can be pretty bleak and ferocious places. I cannot speak for the rest of England and Wales in this matter but I can assure the noble Lord that, since he has embarked upon this enterprise, the name of Norrie in my part of the world among all people interested in national parks and the countryside is now one to conjure with. In the counsels of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which by common consent is the oldest preservation society devoted to the care of a national park and also the most illustrious of such societies, the name of Norrie is only mentioned in hushed tones of grateful admiration. I hope that all the noble Lord's efforts will be crowned with success.
The noble Lord has, unfortunately from my point of view, explained the terms of the Bill with such clarity and so comprehensively that I am wondering what is left for the other 24 of us to say. Our plight is rather like that of anyone who is called upon to speak in support of a resolution moved by Edmund Burke or, possibly, Demosthenes. My observations will be very few. I believe that there are three of them, or maybe four.
The first point is that, although the Bill has 41 pages, 16 clauses and five long schedules, it is essentially a Bill of great simplicity. I must confess in parenthesis that some of the schedules, and in particular Schedules 4 and 5, are completely incomprehensible to me because they consist of cross-references, repeals and the like. But I am of a trusting disposition and I am quite content to 330 believe that the draftsmen have got it right. I suggest to your Lordships that you should not worry yourselves over that matter.
The simplicity of the Bill is this: as has already been said in a different context, when the first 10 national parks were designated and set up under the 1949 Act, it was provided that eight of them should be managed by committees of the county councils for the areas in which the parks were contained. The other two—that is to say, the Peak and the Lake District, were to be run as autonomous authorities called "boards". They were to be run quite independently of the related county councils.
The powers and the duties which were given to these 10 authorities were virtually the same. I cannot now remember why it was that the eight committee authorities and the two independent authorities were treated in that different manner. I believe that I understood it once, but I have forgotten it in the mists of time. It does not really matter. What the Bill does in substance is to confer on the eight county council! committees, if I may call them that, the same sort of autonomous and independent status as has been enjoyed by the Peak and Lake District parks over the past 45 years. In modern parlance, that is what the Bill is about.
I read somewhere the other day that the reason for the change now is that it has recently been recommended by the Edwards review panel. That recommendation has been accepted by the Government as if it were a bright idea which has been recently thought up. That is not at all my recollection of the history of the matter. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, agrees that the question why there was differentiation between the eight park authorities and the other two has been an issue since 1951, when the parks were established.
We who have played some part in the activities of the different national parks and who have had the misfortune, if one may call it that, to be one of the members of the county council committee authorities, have laboured and struggled quite unnecessarily with the many anomalies that are inherent in that set up.
We have long looked with envy at the freedom enjoyed by the boards and authorities in the Peak and Lake Districts. Indeed, as I remember it, independent status for all the national park authorities has always been the declared policy of the Countryside Commission and of its predecessor, the National Parks Commission—I think that was its correct title. I suspect that the reason this has gone on for so long is that it is always much easier to make a mistake than it is to correct it, especially if you can correct it only by new primary legislation.
The Government have at long last seen fit to make this change, not, I fear, because of a change of heart or any special wish to enlarge the authority of the national park authorities, but rather because they have been faced with the mundane and very practical reason that their prospective reorganisation of local government will include the possible abolition of the country councils which have hitherto harboured under their wings the national park committees. The Government were bound to realise that, in their reorganisation of local 331 government, the county councils might disappear altogether. In that event, changing the status of the park authorities becomes inescapable.
The Government are not doing good by stealth. They are, I fear, doing good under the duress of reality. We are therefore left tonight in the interesting position that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is proposing this reform as a matter of high principle to the delight and acclaim of all who are concerned for the protection of the national parks. The Government, I fear, are acceding to the reform because they have to. They have, as it were, run up against reality.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships one illustration of the difficulties that have been encountered as a result of making the park authorities sub-committees of the county councils. I refer to something that happened some 30 years ago now when I was an appointed member of the Dartmoor national park committee. We were faced with an application from one of the water authorities which was seeking to build a dam across one of Dartmoor's loveliest valleys which would have obliterated one of Dartmoor's loveliest little rivers.
In those days, applications by water authorities for permission to build dams and reservoirs on Dartmoor were almost an annual event. The arguments over the applications that we received usually followed a similar line. The committee took the simple view that dams and reservoirs could not, on any showing, be said to be preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the park, which it was, of course, our bounden statutory duty to defend. We further said that, if there were a proven need for some additional source of supply, then the applicant should look elsewhere. The promoters usually argued that the need for a further supply was imperative and urgent to the point of desperation, that they had made every possible inquiry to see whether any other place could be found, and that their search had been wholly in vain: there was nowhere else, they said, to go, and there was nothing else that would do.
In every case except one, I am glad to say, we were successful in resisting those proposed developments, but in one case we failed. That produced a curious situation. The sponsors of the scheme eventually produced a Bill. If I remember rightly, that came for decision before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. On that occasion there was a new, unforeseen factor in the controversy. Our committee (the park authority) stood firm in opposition to that proposal, but the county council—which was our theoretical master, I suppose—was persuaded to support the Bill. The people who were most directly affected, or who might have been expected to be most directly affected, by the Bill, were, by an odd accident of history, the inhabitants of Okehampton. I have no doubt that they were reasonably alarmed by the promoters' assertions that without that new reservoir their water supply would be at grave risk. I suppose that they contemplated the possibility of dying of thirst. How far the apprehensions of the local community swayed the judgment of the county council to support the Bill, I do not know.
We were then faced with an almost unprecedented predicament. Did the county council's decision overrule 332 the committee's decision? If it did, were we on the committee to be denied the opportunity of appearing before the Select Committee and stating our case and our objections to the scheme? If it did not, were both the county council and the committee to be represented before the Select Committee in open opposition?
The dilemma was eventually solved by the chief executive of the county council, who was a man not only of great wisdom but of considerable fortitude. He decided and announced that since under the statute it was the committee and not the council which was charged with upholding the park and its preservation it would be intolerable that the committee should be denied the opportunity of arguing its case before the Select Committee. Equally, he said, it was unacceptable that the county council should be denied the opportunity of stating its case. I shall not trouble the House with the eventual outcome but say merely that that is an illustration of the kind of difficulties in which we were involved.
Someone once said that if any unbiased inquiry took a long look at the constitution of the United States of America it was bound to come irresistibly to the conclusion that it was absolutely unworkable. Our problems as regards the clash of interest between the county council and the park committee were not as serious as that but if the Bill goes through, as we all hope that it will, those difficulties will be behind us.
The park authorities will be given a new and clearer mandate and a new standing in public estimation. The parks and the park authorities are already established institutions in our society and their value is increasingly understood and appreciated. The news of this Bill has already won the enthusiastic support of all the organisations whose purpose is to save and protect the British countryside. High hopes have been raised. Those hopes can be realised only if the Government provide the time and the opportunity for the Bill to reach the statute book. I hope that they will attend to that.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lord Barber of Tewkesbury
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on his enthusiasm, initiative and imagination in bringing forward this Bill, which enshrines most of the provisions of the Edwards Report. I was there, so to speak, when the Edwards Committee was set up because I was a member of the Countryside Commission for England and Wales. I do not have the slightest doubt that Edwards got it absolutely right and this Bill gets it right too.
I must confess to your Lordships that my attitude to the Bill is one of robust simplicity. My natural primitive instinct urges me to give the Bill as big a shove as I possibly can rather than to risk the fragility of all private Bills by examining too closely the small print and going along the amending path. This is the best Bill that we are likely to have within the current political infrastructure.
I had hoped to be of some use to your Lordships by covering one or two of the main points which appeal to me which have a grass roots flavour—I am thinking in commission terms. I shall pick them up extremely quickly and try to cover them in about three minutes flat. 333 As well as being a first step, the Bill is also an urgent step. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has already described the advantages of a free-standing status for the national park authorities. The Edwards Report refers to,the need for park authorities to make decisions in support of park purposes unconstrained by the sometimes conflicting priorities of their parent county councils".That puts the matter in a straightforward way. While addressing that issue, the Bill also gives the new park authorities the advantage—and it is worth emphasising that—of remaining part of local government. They benefit from having the conflict removed and they benefit from remaining in touch with and responsive to local communities. That strikes a fine balance which accords fully with the Edwards vision.
I commend also the clauses relating to the role of the countryside agencies. Schedule 1 retains the obligation on the Secretary of State to consult the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales on appointments. Given the agreed need for a higher profile for those members and for them to represent a broader spectrum of interest and expertise, it is vital that the advisory role is made explicit in the Bill and that it is fully understood. As Edwards pointed out, the agencies are well placed to ensure that appointees are selected for their,commitment to national park purposes and their experience and skills in relevant fields of activity, rather than for their 'political acceptability '.Over 10 years for the 11 parks I have interviewed scores of nominated men and women in their homes. That was not merely to see whether or not they were good enough for the job but whether they fulfilled a particular need for a particular park at a particular time. I believe that that was time well spent but I must confess that my judgment was not al ways infallible.
I welcome Clause 9 of the Bill which relates to the national park grant. That perpetuates the present procedures. It is worth emphasising that. The arrangements of functional strategies being prepared by the parks in consultation with the two public agencies as the basis for grant allocation have proved their effectiveness. That is yet another national park procedure which works.
Finally, perhaps I may offer a practical thought on the outlook for national park administration and management. There seems to be a broad consensus that the main element in this Bill—namely, free-standing status for the park authorities, which is a consensus of which Her Majesty's Government are a part—is a necessary and urgent measure. It is urgent because of local government reorganisation but it is urgent also for another reason; that of increasing pressures of all kinds on the parks demanding yet more sensitivity, more skill in balancing the often conflicting interests of park status and local community—and we must not flinch from recognising that there are such conflicts from time to time—and more sophistication in the management of land and people. Employment. the rural economy, landscape and wildlife, traffic and walking boots, local industry and conservation areas are all part of a great cauldron of decision-making which daily imposed the need for ever more Solomon-like judgments.
Moreover, we view a changing scene in the parks
334 which in turn needs deft hands. Visitor pressures will demand inspired administrative techniques, some of which are yet to be explored. How salutary it is to recall that the Peak District National Park now has over 20 million visitor days each year while the total population of Australia is 17 million. A visit to the Peak District National Park at the end of a hot, dry summer reveals starkly the problems which must be faced.
How salutary it is, too, to dwell on the underlying trends in farm policy. Can we really believe that 10 years hence the structures of hill farming and patterns of the sheep stock will still be the same? Land use changes will need to be anticipated by strong., far-seeing authorities which are firmly in charge.
Therefore, this is a good Bill to meet a critical complex of issues which faces the parks. it gives the authorities a more muscular and effective organisation with which to do their job. I wish, most profoundly, for it to find a fair wind and a safe passage.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Castle of Blackburn
I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on his Bill. He must be very pleased that so many Peers have stayed late to support him. Indeed, it is right that we should do so. It is an important step in carrying forward to a new and improved phase a movement which started over 50 years ago. I am honoured to have been in at the birth of the national parks as a new, young MP in 1945.
The campaign had been growing in intensity since the 1930s. I represented an industrial Northern constituency, near Manchester. I know, and I knew then, how the workers in that smoky town and in the unhealthy mills and factories looked up to the Peak District, and other open spaces, for freedom, fresh air and beauty which they were determined to enjoy. The movement was ably encouraged by Tom Stephenson who was then secretary of the Ramblers' Association. He made his name pioneering the creation of long-distance walking routes. He was determined to secure the opening of the Pennine Way, which was over 100 miles of uninterrupted joy on the ceiling of the backbone of England above those smoky towns.
Tom Stephenson organised a series of walks at Whitsuntide—in fact, there were five of them—among Labour MPs of whom I was one. We were accompanied by Hugh Dalton who shortly beforehand had been Chancellor of the Exchequer. The objective was to forge that Pennine Way and to support the demand for national parks legislation which Lewis Silk in (then Minister of Town and Country Planning in the Labour Government) was preparing in his National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. That was a revolutionary step forward because it not only contained the concept of national parks, but it also strengthened the right of access to mountains as its title showed. Moreover, it preserved footpaths, rights of way and provided for such long distance routes.
We were enthusiastically supported, but in our view it had one drawback. We believed that we could only keep the national parks really national if there was a strong national parks commission which appointed the local parks committees. Therefore, we kept reminding 335 the local people that they were darned lucky to live in those special areas and should not prevent other people from enjoying them. That concept of ours was endorsed in the report of Arthur Hobhouse in 1947—the seminal report on the new national parks concept which was commissioned by the Government.
We were all concerned to prevent damage to the national parks which allowing the local interest too strong a say might achieve. Unfortunately, Lewis Silkin did not give way to us. I believe that he was got at by his civil servants. Moreover, I would not be surprised if the Treasury had put a foot in it, as it usually does in such affairs. We were left with the threat to the national parks which we wanted to preserve, in John Dower's words in his wartime report, as areas "beautiful and relatively wild". We were afraid that local pressures —those are perfectly understandable—would encroach on that beauty and that wildness in the form of inappropriate leisure pursuits. If one is to obtain the spiritual value of the solitary heights, one must not allow theme parks to litter an area.
There have been dangers in the interim period and we all welcomed the setting up of the review panel under Professor Edwards who found there had been,deteriorating environmental quality … permanent damage to the landscape".That precious heritage which we were seeking to preserve had been damaged. It was Professor Edwards, as has been pointed out, who made the recommendation that the control of national parks should be taken out of the hands of county councils and should be placed in the hands of new freestanding park authorities. This Bill has come like a breath of life to those who care about these areas and about rambling, access to mountains, solitude, beauty, and the preservation of our landscape.
This Bill is not the constitution for which I agitated 50 years ago, but nonetheless I welcome it. One has to adapt with changing circumstances and I believe the Bill gives us the best institutional arrangements that we can hope to have all these years later. To have these independent authorities with their own finance, personnel and extra powers is a great step forward. Yet at the same time—I believe this is right—the Bill gives a strong voice to local authorities. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly and I again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. He has done a wonderful job of work.
I apologise to the House as I cannot stay to hear the winding-up speech. I shall have to leave very soon to catch a late train to my home in Buckinghamshire. However, I wished to attend the debate to say that those of us who pioneered the national parks 50 years ago welcome this step forward and believe it will meet many of the fears that we have experienced in the ensuing years.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I live in one national park, the Brecon Beacons. For 17 years as a Member of Parliament I represented another, the Pembrokeshire Coast. As Secretary of State for Wales I was responsible for both and a third, Snowdonia National Park. I believe there is only one, Exmoor, that I have not visited and 336 walked in. Therefore I have a tremendous interest in and concern for the national parks. I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Norrie on his initiative upon introducing this Bill so admirably earlier this evening. It deserves—and I hope it will receive—support from all parts of the House.
As we have heard, it is only a limited Bill. It takes one simple step and it leaves much still to be done. It is a pity that the Government have not yet found time to be able to introduce the comprehensive legislation that was promised in the document Fit for the Future. However, simple steps can be important and this one certainly is. It is the essential measure on which we can build. When the committee of Professor Edwards invited comments on its original consultation document, I was one of those who responded. I made the point—I believe it is an important point and it picks up an area that was discussed by the noble Baroness who has just spoken —that our parks in this country, unlike those in other parts of the world, are places where people live, work and play and where all the normal activities of life have to be carried on. However important the environmental interests and the environmental concerns may be, we must never overlook the rights of the people and the businesses actually housed within the parks. There is a delicate and difficult balance to be kept. If it is not kept we shall simply not be able to fulfil our objectives.
In my representations I also expressed anxieties about the way the planning process was working, at least in some parks. At that time it was working extremely badly in the Brecon Beacons park, and I made some suggestions for improving the balance of relationships within the committees which have been taken up in this legislation.
I also raised the issue which the noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, touched on—namely, the threat of damage to the parks as a result of unsuitable activities. I am particularly anxious about increasing pollution and damage caused by motorbikes and cross-country vehicles. But we also have to be concerned about the damage done by the visitors who go to enjoy the parks. In Pembrokeshire they used to destroy the hedge banks. In the Brecon Beacons National Park there are areas on the Offa's Dyke walk which are stripped bare to the width of this Chamber by the footprints of walkers. One can point to many other examples.
One always likes to find that a committee agrees with one's conclusions. Therefore, having made those points I was glad that they were taken up so effectively by the Edwards Committee. Its report stated at the start that:The parks must demonstrate the highest standards of environmental protection and provide spiritual and physical refreshment for those seeking it. At the same time, they must develop a more supportive relationship with the communities living and working there".On the same page the report picks up the point about intrusive and noisy activities which conflict with quiet environment. It says that those should be discouraged. It concludes that, where there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two purposes, conservation must have priority. I agree with that conclusion.
As Chairman of the National Rivers Authority I particularly welcome the preference expressed in the 337 Bill that the national park authorities should be strategic planning authorities. I am also pleased to see the prominence given in the Bill to national park management plans. They are an immensely useful instrument, not least for involving local people in the whole process of planning for the park and understanding what happens in it.
I am anxious that the National Rivers Authority should be consulted in the preparation of those plans. I should like some clarification of the relationship between the development of those plans and the development of our river catchment management plans. I should like to see a specific reference in Clause 3(7) to the National Rivers Authority in addition to the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council. That would strengthen the Bill. I hope that that can be considered.
I have a rather wider concern, which may spring simply from the obscurity and complexity of the drafting. Even by contemporary standards, it is exceptionally complex and obscure. I ask whether the Bill as drafted guarantees the requirements of existing legislation—for example, the Town and Country Planning General Development Order—to ensure that all the existing statutory consultees are involved in the planning process. I particularly have in mind the National Rivers Authority, but there are others. Will the new parks authorities have the duty to consult them in the planning process? Such matters can easily be overlooked in the drafting of a complex Bill of this kind.
Having raised the question with Professor Edwards's committee about the balance of interests, I welcome the fact that as a consequence of the Bill each local authority in the park will be entitled to at least one member on the national parks authority. It is also sensible that those representatives of the local authorities should be elected members accountable to their electorates.
However, having strengthened the district representation in that way, and having ensured that local interests are fairly represented by number, it is important to ensure that they are not unfairly represented in the decisions taken. The representatives appointed by the Secretary of State to protect wider national interests need to be strong and effective. They need to be fairly represented on the appropriate committees, and robust in ensuring that the broader interests which the national parks have been created to protect are not overborne by selfish local pressures. I should like to see a provision under which any committee or sub-committee of the authority has to have serving on it representatives from both classes. That is an issue that we can pursue at Committee stage.
It may be said that these are points of detail. The suggestion was that perhaps we should not pursue them too far and that we should take the work of the draftsmen on trust. I confess that I never take the draftsmen on trust. An important point arises here. If the Bill is to be improved, it must be improved in this House. If it is to overcome the immensely difficult hurdles presented to a private Bill in competition with the private legislation in another place we must get the Bill right in this Chamber and send it to another place 338 in a form which needs no amendment. The principles of the Bill are right. With all the uncertainties arising from local government reform, there is an urgent imperative to put the Bill on the statute book.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow noble Lords who have already spoken. It is always salutary to be reminded in debates of the long tradition of the national parks movement and its links with the early Labour Party. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, referred to that. It is important to ernphasise that we would not be discussing the issue tonight if it were not for the work of the noble Lord, Lord Barber. He was involved with the Countryside Commission for England and Wales in setting up this important review. As Secretary of State for Wales, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, took an active interest in all national parks. In particular, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for his consistency in ensuring that we are moving the Bill through Parliament.
In the context of Wales, it is a pleasure for me to say that the Welsh Office is slightly ahead in that we have a fall-back position in the Local Government (Wales) Bill which has now passed through this House. A model of an independent board for the three parks within Wales has already been placed in legislation in this House. If and when the Bill is enacted, the new provision will obviously replace that legislation in creating those new authorities.
I speak on the issue because, apart from when I have had to be in London or Cardiff, I have lived all my life at three points in and around the Snowdonia National Park: in the Conwy Valley, in the shadow of Carneddau; in the Wnion Valley, with an uninterrupted view of Cader Idris; and now in the Royal Borough of Caernarfon, with an uninterrupted view of Snowdon. I live in that environment from choice, as do many of us. For 18 years I had the opportunity to represent in another place a large part of Snowdonia. I am pleased to mention in this House my involvement as a vice-president of the Snowdonia National Park Society and the Snowdonia Appeal of the National Trust and the ramblers.
I mention those activities because it is important to remind noble Lords, and those in the conservation movement, that we who live and work in the parks are conservationists. We also care for our environment. There is not nowadays the conflict that there used to be between the local interests and the "national" interest referred to in the title of the Bill.
It is in that context that I also wish to pay tribute in this brief speech to the chairman of our National Park Committee in Snowdonia. Councillor John Tudor has been a long-standing sensitive and sensible chairman of a national park authority and I am aware that he is known to other Members of the House. He has set the difficult duty of park committees, which will become the difficult duty of the new park authorities under the Bill. I shall not take the time of the House by quoting it in Welsh, though I suppose I should, but in the English 339 translation the recent introduction by Councillor John Tudor to the Snowdonia National Park annual report states:The Parks Committee's job is to maintain the fragile balance between the very often conflicting aims of conservation, recreation and the social and economic well-being of the local people. This is not an easy task but we can only be successful in our objectives by working closely with the numerous other bodies which have their own individual objectives and above all with the local people who own most of the land in the Park and who live and work there".I think he makes the point well that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made earlier.
I quote that introduction because in the Bill there is no change in the form of governance of the parks or in the balance of the governance. What we see in the Bill is a change of structure, a change of finance and a strengthening of representation. So those who in some aspects of local authorities have expressed anxiety in the past that there would be a move to nationalise the parks away from local representation are confounded by the Bill. It is quite clear that what we are seeing is a structure which is a change merely in terms of codifying the existing national park policies and legislation and establishing a structure of independent authorities but within local government.
In that sense, for those of us who have been following the progress of local government change, particularly in the recent Welsh Bill, it is important to stress that we may see in this model an example of what effective joint working within the local government framework might look like. We may have authorities which are comprised of a balance of local representatives. They will be very local and we hope that the local representatives will represent wards within the parks, as they sit on the authorities from the new principal councils; the councillors will represent their interests. Alongside we will have the balance, as we have it now, of those nominated technically by the Secretaries of State but representatives by nomination, as we heard in the short extract from the memoirs of the noble Lord earlier, on the advice of the Countryside Council for Wales and the Countryside Commission in the case of England.
It is a useful model. It is a model of how to provide a function for an authority which is part of local government and which, for the first time in the Bill, will lead to equal partnerships between the nominated members and the members of local government. There was the feeling in the past that the nominated members and the local members were not on a par. I do not just mean in terms of allowances and how they arrived there. The feeling was that they were not full partners in the work of the authorities. However, obviously in the structure of the new Bill that equal partnership will be possible.
I also welcome the funding changes in the Bill. It is not for me to criticise Gwynedd County Council or any other authority, but there have been instances in the past where the local authority 25 per cent. has not been forthcoming when it should have been. That has created planning problems and funding cycle problems for the park authorities.
340 A number of questions arise in the context of the Bill. There is the whole question of how the authorities will function as unitary planning authorities; what is the relationship between them and the surrounding authorities. Pembrokeshire will be within one principal council but in the case of Snowdonia it will be within two principal councils. Brecon Beacons is a rather different animal. It will be in far more councils. I am not sure how many but possibly seven. It will obviously be difficult for the Brecon Beacons to have joint planning structures with all its surrounding local authorities. We should look to ways in which the national park authorities can co-operate as strategic planning authorities with their neighbouring principal councils. One of the problems in the past has been that we have had national park policies within the boundaries of the park, or within the designated landscapes of the park; but often there can be conflict between those policies and the planning policies of authorities next to them.
I have always seen the national parks as unique landscapes; as areas where conservation had to be paramount, and balanced (obviously) with the statutory obligation for recreation and the well-being of the local community. I always favoured the idea of a third purpose. That point was discussed at some length in the Edwards Report; namely, that there should be a reference to the socio-economic position of the local population in national parks legislation in the future. That would place the national parks clearly in the context of sustainable development. That is what we are really talking about. We are talking about very precious landscapes which should become models of sustainable development, from the environmental, landscape and socio-economic viewpoint; in terms of "green" tourism; and in terms of environmentally friendly industrial development within a rural context. All that is yet to come. But this Bill marks a very important step in the direction of creating sustainable development, not only in our national parks but in all of our countryside.
§ 10.6 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, I lack the natural oratorical skill of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. To my regret, I speak only one of the native British languages. Nonetheless, it is with great pleasure that I offer my strongest support to my noble friend Lord Norrie in carrying forward this Bill. I add my congratulations to his already well-swollen head.
It falls to me at this stage of the debate to emphasise the ways in which the proposal in this Bill to create free-standing national parks will offer potential benefits to nature conservation. First, as was emphasised by the noble Lords, Lord Foot and Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, the existence of these authorities will increase the independence of park administrations from pressures which are unsympathetic to the natural environment, or, indeed, to other purposes of the park. Among those, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, emphasised, recreation and public enjoyment are vital considerations.
I remind noble Lords that the national parks of England and Wales are repositories of biodiversity and the sites of rare species. Their value in that respect was 341 recognised when the parks were first set up. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, has already reminded us of the Hobhouse Report 1:Cmnd. 7122), which stated that,The establishment of a system of national parks covering extensive areas of wild country will itself increase the potential protection of many species which cannot be included or confined within any reserve".We have to recognise that Professor Edwards's panel identified a decline in the nature conservation resource in parts of the parks. But for the past 40 years or so, it has, in the main, been true that they have been important for nature conservation. The national parks still contain extensive areas of land and water that are of great conservation value. They also contain many sites of special scientific interest and national nature reserves.
Because it shaald foster the protection of these important areas and the enhancement of their value for nature conservation, for landscape and for people, this Bill is a very welcome step. I have the confidence to make those remarks being a Secretary of State's appointee,—not one who bustles up and down to London, as one might say of the noble Baroness, but one who is largely there most of the time. I am the Secretary of State's appointee to the Suffolk and Norfolk Broads authority. That is a successful model, similar to, but not exactly the same as, the kind of free-standing authority that the Bill will create. The Broads authority is a multi-purpose authority with duties for nature conservation, public amenity and recreation and, in this special case, also for navigation. It is not covered by the reach of the Bill because it also has its own Act of Parliament.
The Broads authority provides experience of a national park equivalent body that is working in partnership with others to achieve its objectives. It exercises its statutory planning function with the assistance of the constituent local authorities into which the Broads executive area extends. Confidence is maintained by the balance of representation which marginally favours local authority members. At the same time, its appointed members—if I can say so without immodesty—bring expertise from all quarters. They include landowners and land managers, navigation and boating interests, public bodies, including the National Rivers Authority, the Countryside Commission and English Nature, and voluntary organisations from within the local communities. The authority has powers to levy on the local authorities. Those are accepted and the high level of grant from central government allows it to fulfil its functions effectively from a position of strength. It is a useful model that gives confidence for the future of the new authorities proposed in the Bill.
The Bill does not propose any changes to the statutory purposes of the national parks or to their associated duties. I remind my noble friend the Minister that the Government clearly stated, in the recently published biodiversity action plan that,there should he legislation to make nature conservation a primary National Park iDurpose".The Bill is therefore a first step in a process. The context of the biodiversity action plan or the national sustainahility strategy may be the appropriate mechanism for future legislation which should take on board the 342 nature conservation purpose and other recommendations made by Professor Edward's national parks review panel.
I join my noble friend Lord Norrie and others in asking the Minister for assurance that the objective has not been lost sight of. I hope that he will confirm that future legislation for the benefit of nature conservation resource in national parks is on the timetable. Also, does he have any view of when the legislation may be introduced.
§ 10.12 p.m.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Foot, speaking second in the order of speakers this evening, lamented that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, had covered the subject so comprehensively that there was precious little left to say. Nonetheless, my noble friend found quite a lot to say. Imagine the plight of the rest of us who, like myself, coming in ninth and subsequent in the batting order, in finding anything at all to say. But one thing I can do, along with other noble Lords who have already spoken, is to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for his patient and persuasive skills in getting the Bill drafted, accepted, and given a fair wind by the Government. I thank him also for his kind reference to myself.
I prefer to strike a positive and appreciative note rather than to regret the Government's delay in bringing forward their own legislation on national parks, as they promised to do in their manifesto for the current parliamentary programme. Like everyone in this House, I pray that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will become law during this Session of Parliament, especially so in the light of prospective local government reforms.
I should also like to place on record the long and persistent efforts of many others, both within and outside Parliament. I am happy to make a special reference to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford—I am not sure whether it is proper to refer to distinguished personages who are seated behind or below the Bar, but I am happy to do so. He campaigned for upgrading the status and strengthening the powers of the national park authorities for many years past.
The review panel under Professor Ron Edwards did an excellent job in its report to the Countryside Commission in 1991 entitled Fit for the Future. But the commission itself, under the splendid leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, had already conducted a three-year campaign for the national parks between 1985 and 1988 under the title Watch Over National Parks. I am happy to pay a special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Barber, in that connection. The Council for National Parks, the CPRE, the CPRW and others, whose origins date from much further back, had all called for a stronger administration for the eight parks which are run by local authorities. Indeed, the Standing Committee for National Parks, which pioneered the movement in the 1930s, launched a campaign in 1972 which included a call for equal treatment as between all the parks. The SCNP was to become the Council for National Parks, of which I was privileged for a number of years to be the president.
343 It is worth recalling those early years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, did so movingly, of the national park movement which led up to the 1949 Act in order to make the point that the Addison, Dower and Hobhouse Reports, which led to that Act of Parliament, all assumed that the future parks would have equal status and powers. The first two national parks, designated in 1951, set the pattern which it was expected would be followed by all the parks to follow. The Peak District Park and the Lake District Park were then, and are now, controlled by independent boards, having full planning powers, precepting on local authorities for funds and appointing their own staffs.
When in that same year, 1951, the Snowdonia National Park was created, the local county council, Caernarfonshire—or, in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, Sir Gaernarfon—insisted on retaining control of its administration. That park "authority" was not, and is not today, a true authority. It was a committee of the county council. All other local authorities in whose areas national parks were designated by the Act of 1949 followed suit. In effect there were, and are, two grades of national parks, unequal in status and powers.
It is in no sense a criticism of the national park committees nor of the local authorities in whose areas they are located to point out the limitations under which those committees have worked. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Foot of the kind of limitations which they worked under. They hampered strategic planning in the eight parks in terms of conservation in general, landscape protection, public access and quiet enjoyment.
I have been purely historical so far and I would insist that that is all water under the bridge. It all happened 40 years ago. But now the pressures for land development are greatly increasing. It is in the national interest that all the parks should have greater protection today by placing them all on an equal free-standing and firm footing of independence on the model of the boards which administer the Peak and Lake District parks.
The Bill must not be the end of the matter of ensuring our national parks for the future. I, too, hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government have in mind to bring forward further and more wide-ranging legislation relating to the countryside in general and designated areas in particular.
I end on a proper note: the future. We have a heavy responsibility to hand on these very special places to future generations. They were perceived as necessary for the health and ethos of Britain nearly 60 years ago. How much more necessary they have become today; and how much more so will they be in the future. We, and our descendants, will need the parks for their own sake and no less for the values which they offer to human society.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bristol
My Lords, I too should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for bringing forward this Bill. I can assure him 344 that his long track record of concern in this House on behalf of environmental causes is widely admired within the Church.
The matters which I would wish to share with this House are not directly and immediately about this particular Bill, but rather to ask some questions about the principles which undergird it. There is still a widespread assumption that, whereas the Churches are deeply interested in social policy, they are much less interested in the environment. Regrettably, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth pointed out in a recent debate in this House on the follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit, the Christian Churches have a very patchy record indeed.
But at that Rio Earth Summit there was a parallel meeting in less salubrious circumstances in Rio, of Churches from across the world. In the discussion which took place the intention was to draw out the relationships between human beings, human community activities and the environment. I believe that they have something to say to this House about that which underlies this particular legislation.
Our inherited, main Christian stream of thinking has been to see human beings as of supreme importance, the pinnacle of creation, and given the task of subduing unruly nature and bringing order out of chaos. Such a strand has been taught for many years and has supported an arrogant and exploitative approach to natural resources.
There is a new anthropology—no, a rediscovery of a strand which has been there all the time—which says that human beings are of the earth earthy, with the responsibility of continuing to share and care for the creation, mindful of the needs and interests of their neighbours, of future generations and of the value and worth of creation itself. It is this principle that finds, I believe, important expression in our national parks. They are places above all, and may be an example to all, where we try to develop the attitudes and disciplines on which to base sustainable development which does not spoil and destroy the future. Such sustainable development demands self-discipline, humility, reverence for nature and respect for the interests of the wider community and future generations.
I said that this undergirded the present legislation and our concept of national parks, but also that our national parks might be an example to the rest of the whole community in which we live, in balancing these concerns together. But sustainable development cannot escape the conflict of interests which are present in our own national parks. As we have already heard, conservation is part of that, but the livelihood and economic development of those who live and work within our parks are also of concern, involving such matters as housing, mining and quarrying. Balanced against these are the recreation, restoration and enjoyment of the citizens of this country.
Balancing such, at times conflicting, interests, demands a strong and broad-based authority to manage each of our national parks. Against this background I hope that the House will start with a strong presumption in favour of this Bill. In fact all the speeches this night have concluded that that is the right way forward. It 345 represents a great deal of careful consideration given, as we have already heard, by Professor Ron Edwards and his committee in its report to the Countryside Commission. It is important to remember that they listened to lobby groups; they listened to vested interests; they affirmed the integral importance of the people who live and work in the parks to the nature of our national parks as living and evolving places rather than wildernesses. Bearing that in mind, the committee also came to the clear conclusion that the legislation needs to be strengthened to safeguard the unique place of the national parks in our national life.
The Bill is needed quickly if the national parks are not to go into limbo. It is needed because they require a free-standing body with a majority of local authority and local members. Two principles are involved: subsidiarity and accountability. Both are to be found in the Bill. I hope that the House will give this Second Reading its full support.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, the national parks are lucky and their cause is enhanced by the fact that my noble friend Lord Norrie is the sponsor of this Bill. I know a little bit about my noble friend as a sponsor because I was lucky enough to have him as one of my sponsors when I became a Member of your Lordships' House three years ago. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that there is a good chance that my noble friend will be recognised when he next visits Dartmoor. That is particularly appropriate. I am reminded of the fact that a few years ago, when one of the Dartmoor park wardens visited a local school wearing his green jersey with the black horse on it and began by saying, "Well, children, you all know where I come from", a little hand went up and someone said, "Yes, sir, is it Lloyds Bank?" That confusion could not possibly arise in relation to my noble friend Lord Norrie
I believe that the idea of having national parks was copied originally from the United States. Since then, however, the United Kingdom has been in the vanguard of the conservation and enhancement of the countryside. Government bodies such as the Countryside Commission and English Nature have played a part in that, as have voluntary bodies such as the CPRE, of which I have recently had the honour to be asked to be chairman, and the CI'RW. This country has an awful lot to teach other members of the European Union, and I believe that the Bill will provide a good path-finding demonstration.
I want to touch on only two points this evening because the hour is late and many of your Lordships wish to speak. I refer first to the question of planning. I hope that one of the big improvements that will result from the Bill is that the new authorities will be given a realistic and effective responsibility for the parks' structure plans. It would be desirable for the park authorities to collaborate closely with their neighbouring strategic planning authorities in exercising their planning powers. That is the basis already in the Lake 346 District, where the authority produces a plan jointly with the Cumbria County Council so that policies are co-ordinated. Each is an equal partner in the process
That may not be possible everywhere; for example, if there are too many such authorities, as in the case of the Peak District. As your Lordships know, the Lake and Peak District authorities are already structure plan authorities. I hope, however, that with this legislation the Minister will be able to ensure that in the future the new park authorities will at least consult closely. The ideal will be for each national park authority to be a structure authority unless it chooses not to be. I hope that when the Minister answers the debate he will be able to give us a little more detail of the Government's plans of how they will operate the legislation.
My second point relates to the importance of the Bill to the socio-economic interests in national parks. That has already been dealt with by a number of noble Lords, and particularly by the right reverend Prelate. I have a particular interest in this as a former member of the Rural Development Commission. I know that my noble friend Lord Vinson, as a former chairman of the RDC, would have wished to refer to that had he been able to be here.
We must remember that parks are places where people live and work. They must not he regarded as museums to be preserved in aspic. The NPAs should have a real role in supporting the local economy and contributing generally to the health of rural communities. Such projects are not just fully compatible with but enhance the parks themselves. People do not wish to go where they are surrounded by other visitors. In fact, if one is travelling anywhere and one wants to see oneself as a traveller rather than a tourist, the exciting thing is not to see other tourists but to see local people going about their everyday jobs.
I hope that the Bill will enable the NPAs to work with others to foster the social and economic well-being of their communities. The National Parks Review Panel made it clear that the NPAs have a part to play, and,an enabling role in the maintenance and creation of appropriate employment opportunities that contribute to park purposes. The issue then is one of identifying, supporting and fostering those economic activities that are sustainable and compatible with the purposes of national parks".There is a good example which I hope will be encouraged by the Bill. The Peak District, already a free-standing board, as I have said, piloted a most successful integrated rural development project in the 1980s. Emphasis was placed on collaborative action combined with local initiative and commitment. It created 60 new full-time jobs and helped 24 businesses and 43 community schemes. All of that contributed towards environmental conservation in the park. I remember visiting the Peak District park with the noble Lord, Lord Barber, when he was chairman of the Countryside Commission. Incidentally, that was the first time that I met Michael Dower, the son of John Dower of national park fame, who was the creative and driving force behind that project. Of course, he is now doing an excellent job as the Director General of the Countryside Commission.
The new NPAs are ideally placed to prime the pump of similar initiatives. That should be able to contribute 347 to the health of rural economies and to the sustainable development which is the Government's goal. I welcome the Bill strongly. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and I hope even more that it will have equal success in another place.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Lord Feversham
My Lords, I join everyone else who has congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on bringing to us this timely Bill. It is timely in view of the mayhem which we are led to believe will be unleashed shortly by the Government on rural local government, producing, I have no doubt, widespread discontent and unrest in the countryside, almost certainly leading to massive Liberal Democrat gains in the shires at the next general election, always supposing that they can get their act together on country sports. Talking of country sports, perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on the magnificent pictorial spread in a recent issue of Field magazine, available, I feel sure, in the Library, and showing in glorious colour the noble Lord relaxing in open country—I do not know whether it is a national park—in the company of his dog Gnat, or perhaps like Gnasher, the dog of Denis the Menace, the G should be hard, and it should be the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and his dog Gnat. He is explaining to his pet the opinion of the National Parks Review Panel that,The present requirement that dogs must be kept under control is insufficiently precise".The noble Lord is giving Gnat that news, I guess, but noble Lords will, of course, want to judge for themselves, in terms certainly not less quiet and masterful than those which he employed in introducing the Bill.
It is late, and I hope that I shall not delay your Lordships for too long, given that I come to the debate armed to the teeth with an action packed brief from the secretary of the National Association of Local Councils, of which I am the president, and given that I live in the North York Moors national park and have views. As of a few weeks ago, I also live in a national nature reserve because my garden was declared as such. I do not know whether that is because I am a particularly rare kind of insect or what! Nevertheless, I live in a national nature reserve as well as in a national park.
In general I support the view that we need new national park authorities, as recommended by the review panel in the Edwards Report. The great sadness is that tonight we are not debating a Bill which promotes many of the issues in respect of which Edwards felt there was need for further legislation. I understand the reasons for that and for the pressing need to bring forward in a Private Bill new authorities for the parks. As one observes the mode, timing and progress of the Government's approach to the reform of rural local government, the desire to cling on to anything by way of a passing life raft swells in the bosom.
I also support the view that the membership of any new national park authorities should be made up of a majority of elected local representatives, much as they 348 are now. It would not be in the interests of parks to become quangos. Local interest must be built up in their activities if they are to prosper.
In the terms of the Bill, membership of the new authorities is something of a detail. However, it is a very important detail, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said. We must look at that matter. I understand the expediencies required in steering a Private Bill through Parliament. This is an important Bill which I too wish to see on the statute book. Normally, I am as keen as the next man to rock boats but one tends to take stock before rocking the lifeboat!
In the Bill, although not in his speech where he was more forthcoming, the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has made gigantic efforts to avoid entangling himself in the hapless entrails of the Government's avowed intentions for rural local government reform. He has adroitly skipped past county councils, district councils and unitary authorities by producing an act of creation worthy of the noble and almighty Lord. With much writhing and anguish, he has given birth to that fine new beast "the principal council". Increasingly, one imagines that large numbers of civil servants and all those who have to lock horns with them are forced to spend much of the working day inventing names for these organs of local government. We pay our taxes to support them in this mighty endeavour.
I am not a county councillor or a district councillor. I am a parish or local councillor, which in a world of unitary authorities, for example, would mean that I was the only councillor who was not a principal councillor. It has long been the agreed policy of the National Association of Local Councils to press for one or two seats at the table of national park authorities to be filled by representatives of the parishes in the parks.
Historically, two main arguments have been produced against our case, both of them specious. The first suggests that the numerous small parish councils in each park would find it difficult to agree on who their representatives should be. We know that that is nonsense as we frequently carry out just such appointments to regional and, indeed, national bodies.
The second argument has been that the local authority members of park authorities should bring with them to the table a dowry from local taxation. Parish councillors are elected representatives, even though they operate on a small proportion of the community charge and would not be able to bring anything in the way of a dowry. However, the community charge payer should pay only once to the national park while being more than happy to have representatives of park parishes on the authority under the umbrella of the dowry of the principal authorities, which should still command a majority in committee.
I do not know what idea was recommended in Edwards, but in my view districts should not pay a dowry. The community charge payer should pay once through the principal authority. We are not convinced, as noble Lords should not be, of the arguments promoted against parish council representatives on national parks. Edwards suggested increased district 349 council membership on national park authorities because he identified a pressing need for the parks to get closer to their communities. The report says:There is a need to bring together the aspirations of the local communities with the pursuance of park purposes, and to minimise the conflict between them".I ask your Lordships to note that there is conflict which needs to be minimised.
Again, from evidence received by Edwards, we learn that,
local people consider that their interests are not properly represented".In other words, th,. principal authority, with a dowry system employed at present, does not work in that respect.
The National Association of Local Councils told Edwards to get some parish councillors on the board. Edwards baulked at that, the panel heads no doubt spinning with dowry thoughts and fears of the conflict among the parishes in choosing their representative. However, Edwards had to solve the problem that local people did not consider that their interests were properly represented and that there was conflict. Thus, the idea was hit upon of dishing out more seats to the district councils; that would do the trick. Indeed, it may have done the trick were it not for the prospect of local government refer with the favoured option of the Government being unitary authorities which will be necessarily larger than districts and make local government more remote from local people than the present two-tier system.
It is likely to remain the national policy of local councils to press for local council members on national park authorities. Parish councillors in national parks have a beef about it and where parish councillors have a beef, it will be difficult to resolve the conflict. The best way to deal with that would be to give them a seat at the table.
However, apart from that, there are other ways which should be pursued to minimise conflict; namely, by courting local councillors. Edwards suggested that national park authorities should do so. It is suggested in particular that there should be systematic consultation with local councils regarding planning applications. In my experience, that is essential. It is suggested also that there should be regular forums with local councils to explain the implications of policy developments and to hear the aspirations and problems of park communities. I feel sure that that would be progressive. I understand that such a forum already exists in the Peak Park and I know that there is an Association of Local Councils in the Dartmoor Park which I feel sure would be raring to go with a forum. It strikes me that one advantage of such a forum is that a large number of parishes within the parks, if not all of them, could be involved with the forum and could be represented.
I believe also that it is hoped to set up advisory panels on the new national park authorities with representatives of various interests within the parks. It seems to me that parish councils have such an interest and could profitably be represented on such panels. In all those ways, I believe that i would be extremely helpful to the national parks to involve local councillors as much as possible in order to minimise conflict. Experience 350 suggests that a clear lead from the Government in stressing the need to work with local councils is helpful in making the kind of orders envisaged in the Bill.
That brings me to my final point which does not concern local councils but worries me somewhat. Local government members of national park authorities should include a significant number elected for wards actually situated in the national parks. Unless that is so the areas of conflict in the parks can only increase Edwards recognised that by suggesting that one-third of local authority representatives —those from the districts —should represent electors in the parks. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, believes that the wording of Schedule I will achieve something approaching that. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and one or two other noble Lords say that the Bill will produce greater democracy for people who live in the parks. I am not so sure. They may well be right, but I have a fear in that regard. I should like the Bill to be strengthened if possible. They may be right in the majority of cases but the Bill provides that the park authorities shall be composed of persons appointed by every principal council, any part of whose area is within the park and that appointments must be of members of those councils. I agree with that. The Bill provides further that regard must be had to political balance when appointing members. Since at present, and under most likely scenarios for reorganising local governrnent, many appointing authorities will have substantial areas not in their parks, it is possible that only a small number of appointees will be sitting for electoral areas actually in the park.
Given the likely size of park authorities, there is a real risk that the inhabitants of a park may see themselves excluded from proper democratic input into bodies supposedly designed to give them such. That democratic deficit could be exacerbated if., given the higher profile and the autonomous budgets of the new authorities, leading members of appointing councils were to serve in preference, for example, to local sitting members.
I should like to hear any views which the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, or the Minister, when he comes to reply, may have on that aspect. They may say, "Well, we can work out the details to cope with it when we come to make the orders". However, like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I would prefer to see something written into Schedule I to say that local authorities should not only have to take account of the political balance—that is already there—but also the balance of their appointees who actually represent electors in the park as against those who do not. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. It is a matter of balance. I am only concerned that we should get the balance right. In that respect as regards local councillors, Edwards thought that about half-and-half was the right balance.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I must, first. declare a personal interest in national parks, in that, for the past decade, I have had a Welsh base just south of Llangorse Lake in Brecon Beacons National Park. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, also lives in that park, as does 351 Professor Edwards, to whom justified tributes have been paid throughout the debate. Indeed, he is well aware of local needs and circumstances. Prior to that, I had a Welsh home within a few miles of the Snowdonia National Park. I cannot claim such close affinity with the Pembrokeshire coast park, which has its own special characteristics. But it is with a reasonably long record of personal experience that I declare my full support for the Bill now before us.
I am looking at the clock. It is not only my noble friend Lady Castle who has to find her way home. I have come to the conclusion that the kindest thing that I can do is to show restraint and not make the speech that I should quite like to make. We are only half-way through the speakers' list; indeed, I believe that I am number 13 on it. I have two distinguished noble friends on the Front Bench to speak for me, both of whom have Welsh connections and will, I am sure, wish to discuss the significance of the Bill, which we all welcome in the Welsh situation. Having said that, I shall now sit down.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Lord Wise
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Norrie must be congratulated for his determination in introducing the Bill and for the hard work involved. I believe that everyone who is concerned and interested in the future of national parks is most certainly indebted to him. I am sure that we are all committed to the concept of national parks as places where natural beauty is protected and as an environment in which people can peacefully enjoy their leisure time. We set great store on both aspects of their purpose—conservation and enjoyment.
Obviously there are times when the two parts of that twin aim run counter to each other. A balance has to be struck to ensure that usage does not damage the fabric or that conservation does not stifle the natural life and economic well-being of the local communities—that is vitally important—and nor should it debar the park as a facility for recreational enjoyment by those from other areas, especially urban dwellers.
There are many organisations using the parks for recreational purposes. The Caravan Club, of which I have the honour of being vice-president, is possibly one of the largest of these. I wish briefly to bring to the attention of the House the views of the Caravan Club on the relevance of this Bill to it. The Caravan Club is typical of a large and well controlled recreational organisation which, through its administrative and management structure and its codes of conduct, ensures that its members enjoy their hobby in a responsible way. An example of this is recognition and observation of the special rules which govern caravanning in the national parks. In this respect the staff of the Caravan Club find it much more efficient to work with those parks where single authorities already exist than with those where it is necessary to deal with a variety of local authorities each of whom controls part of the park.
Experience suggests that the essential balance of interests is best maintained by a single authority with the entire park, and solely the park, as its sphere of interest. Such an authority is also best placed to set 352 consistent, fair and high standards on all questions of development and usage. Valuable two-way relationships can be developed between single authorities and main users but those between the users and a number of different authorities, each perhaps with different perceptions, are much less efficient. For this reason the Caravan Club, and I am sure similar organisations, are very much in favour of this Bill.
I was particularly interested in a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, that there should be better liaison between the national park authorities and parish councils. Surely it is essential that the people who dwell and earn their living within the national parks are adequately consulted for they are the people most affected by all proposals and plans. By and large they are also the guardians of the environment within and the beauty of the parks and therefore the idea of a parish council forum in each national park is surely to be welcomed. A parish council forum has the virtue of enabling all parish councils to join in and discuss policy and issues of park-wide significance as opposed to individual parish concerns. As the noble Lord said, they would also be able to feed back the problems and aspirations of the park communities. This builds on the recommendation of the National Parks Review Panel that the,consultant arrangements between the NPAs and the Parish and Community Councils should be strengthenedWhen the National Farmers Union submitted its view to the Edwards Committee it expressed concern that the credibility of some of the national park authorities was in doubt in respect of how representative their members were of local people in the park area. Even with all the local authorities nominating a member to the national park authorities, the NFU is concerned that there is a possibility that those appointees may well live in urban areas outside the park boundaries and have no first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day problems or activities of the local people. I share that concern and I endorse the recommendation of the National Farmers Union that national park authority membership should consist of one-third appointed by the Department of the Environment, one-third appointed by the local authorities and one-third directly elected by voters living within the park boundaries. That recommendation seems to be well worthy of consideration for it would ensure that local communities are well represented. After all, they are the people directly affected by the activities of the national park authorities. I cannot stress too strongly that in my opinion it is vital that the national park authorities co-operate fully with the local community, and they must listen to and work closely with all the farming community in the more remote areas. Without that co-operation the Bill will not achieve all that we hope that it will.
I strongly support the Bill and I wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and another place. I hope that we can prevent the whole question of national parks becoming enmeshed in local government reviews.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Lord Nathan
My Lords, in view of the hour I shall certainly follow the fine example of the noble Baroness, Lady White, in being brief, as I have frequently attempted to do in the past.
I should like to add my word in praise of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for bringing this Bill forward. It has many merits, but it has one great merit in that it is of narrow focus. It is therefore possible to deal with it without extending Jiscussion into more difficult areas which it is to be hoped the Government may deal with in due course in their own Bill.
I am particularly interested in the conservation and enhancement of the countryside because I am chairman of the recently formed Sussex Downs Conservation Board. We have the same concerns and interests. I should have liked to speak this evening on the social and economic factors to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred briefly, but it is better that I should omit that section of what I wanted to say and confine myself to one question to the Minister. In this case I believe that it is correct to put that question to the Minister rather than to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, because the answer will depend on his view and his action.
That question arises in the context of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, relating to the membership of the authorities and in particular to the number of members. The Edwards Report recommended that national park authorities should normally comprise between 18 and 24 members. I recognise the force of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and it seems to me that that is a wise proposal. It enables the authority to function effectively and not be so large and diffuse as to be incapable of taking decisions. On the other hand, there is the need for proper representation within the councils of the authorities of those who live and work and have their livelihoods within the national parks.
It would be interesting to learn of the Government's view on that point, either this evening or at a later date when the Minister has had an opportunity to consider the matter further in the light of what has been said tonight. Both factors are vitally important, and I do not put the effective management of the parks in second place. Both are equally important, and I shall be very interested to hear the Minister's response.
§ 10.58 p.m.
My Lords, I too wish to become a member of the Lord Norrie appreciation society. I shall try to be brief. I should like to concentrate on one area of the Bill, namely paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. I, too, warmly welcome the undertaking in the Bill that any council —any county, distric: or unitary authority—whose area falls wholly or partly within the park shall be entitled to appoint at least one member to the national park authority. That is no: the case at present. Although at present every county council appoints members, there are district councils which share members through a 354 rotation system. That need to share is because there are not enough district council places for each to have one place all the time.
For example, in the Peak District National Park, three district councils—Staffordshire Moorlands, Macclesfield and North East Derbyshire—share two places on a four years on, two years off basis. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to the Brecon Beacons. In the Brecon Beacons, Dinefwr, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouth share two places; and Torfaen, Cynon Valley and Merthyr Tydfil share just one place. That is hardly satisfactory.
In its extensive consultations, the Edwards review panel found that over local issues many' people relate more closely to their district councils than to their county councils. The guarantee in the Bill of representation is therefore most welcome.
I have a specific question that relates to that aspect. Schedule 1, paragraph 2(3) states that the Secretary of State may make provision for excluding a council from appointing a member of the national park authority but only at the request of that council. I understand from my noble friend Lord Norrie that that provision is included in case there is any local authority with such a small area of land in a park that it would prefer to opt out from making an appointment or a financial contribution. I should therefore be most grateful if the Minister could clarify how the provision might operate and the area that he has in mind.
There is a related point on membership of national park authorities. The Edwards Report recommended that district council members should, wherever possible, represent wards within the national park area. That would go some way to addressing the concerns of local communities that their interests are not always properly represented. Therefore perhaps I may ask the Minister this question. How will the Secretary of State make provision for this to be achieved where possible'? And after local government review, where unitary authorities are set up, what logic will apply to achieve a similar effect under a unitary local authority structure?
I wish the Bill a safe passage and trust that it will riot be too long before I visit an area of park named the Norrie Plantation.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I, too, should like to add my congratulations to and admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. The hour is late and I shall endeavour to follow the wonderful precept of the noble Baroness, Lady White, and be brief. Almost every thing that I could have said has now been said.
The Bill gives precise legislative recognition to the central recommendation of the Edwards Report. It is a well crafted recommendation, and one which was endorsed by the Government as long ago as 1992. Applying the national parks structure which has been so successful in, first, the Peak District and then the Lake District is a simple concept. Subject to satisfactory clarification of one point, and with. regard to the other points raised, there appears no wish to see the Bill amended. It seems to me to serve admirably the recommendations of the Edwards report.
355 As some noble Lords know, I have the honour to be chairman of the National Trust. I think we can fairly claim some interest in national parks and how they function. We own over a quarter of the Lake District National Park; we have major landholdings in the Peak District; we have major landholdings in Snowdonia; and I believe that it is correct to say that we have landholdings in every national park, some of which are huge. That is not surprising because we are concerned with protecting the landscape, the wildlife and habitats.
To achieve that, we must concern ourselves with the welfare of the local communities and our own and other farming tenants. We must concern ourselves with archaeology and at all times we have to keep in front of us the considerations of amenity, of access and all the problems of visitor pressure—which have been mentioned but we must not forget them—of erosion of footpaths and so on; and then there is quiet enjoyment. All those concerns and objectives we have in common with the national park bodies. We have, I believe, now going on for 99 years' experience in the field and I think I may fairly say that we have excellent relationships with those who manage the parks.
It is our experience that the Peak District/Lake District model is the more effective model for achieving national park objectives. I say that without in any sense wishing to criticise the running of the eight other national parks. It is simply that the county council committee model will at times come up against conflicting priorities. That is perfectly understandable, but it is nevertheless unsatisfactory because we are dealing with national assets and national interests. The Bill, by establishing free-standing park authorities, will relieve these tensions. It should result, if the Peak/Lake District experiences are anything to go by, in a much better delivery of services and it makes much more management sense. Yet—and I emphasise this point —at the end of the day the new authorities will still be part of the local government family.
I do not wish to go over the detail of the Bill—that has been done already—but I should like to touch briefly on the matter of representation, which was dealt with at some length by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. One of the recommendations of Edwards was that to enhance local responsiveness the proportion of district council members on the authorities should be increased. The panel said that increasing this proportion would also be appropriate,in the light of the responsibilities of district councils in relation to the social and economic needs of park communities".This raises the question of whether it is the intention of the Government, if a two-tier system exists in a national park area after the local government review, that the Edwards recommendation should apply. Specifically, should the local authority membership be half from county councils and half from district councils? If that is to be the case, how will the Secretary of State make provision for that to happen?
The Bill is an important first step in the implementation of Edwards. But much remains to be 356 done and I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House whether further legislation is likely to be forthcoming.
I have nearly done, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I end on a personal note. My father was much involved in the whole national park movement from its inception. He was a member of the Hobhouse Committee and was involved both in the passage of the 1949 Bill in this House and subsequently at the time of the local government reorganisation in the 1970s. One of his great concerns was to achieve the type of structure that we have before us tonight. Sadly, in those days the time was not ripe, but now the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, with, I am glad to say, the support of the county councils, the district councils, the CLA, the NFU and other bodies and all sides of the House, has brought the Bill before us. If, as I hope he is, my father is looking down on us tonight from "another place", if I may put it that way, I am sure he will be delighted and would wish to add his congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I too am delighted to support my noble friend Lord Norrie in his introduction of this Bill. It is very hard when one is the eighteenth Member to speak to find the right words to say that. But I assure the noble Lord that my support is very solid.
I welcome the Bill in particular because it fulfils the Government's undertaking in manifesto form to create (or establish) independent national park authorities. I also welcome an aspect which has been mentioned by several noble Lords who have spoken before me; namely, the increased representation of district council members on those authorities, and also the necessary offset (I shall return to this point) of the one-third membership to be appointed by the Secretary of State.
As some noble Lords have said, sadly the Bill does not seek to address many of the specific issues arising from the Edwards Report, though I believe that we are all agreed that these will have to be addressed in due course, and probably sooner rather than later. I appreciate nonetheless the immediate need for the objectives that this Bill seeks to achieve.
Although, as my noble friend Lord Norrie said in introducing the Bill, it does not cover recreation, which was in the title of the 1948 Act, I should like to speak briefly on the importance of the national parks in the context of tourism —here I declare an interest—as well as on the importance of tourism to the viability of the parks themselves.
It is estimated that visitors to the English national parks spend some £650 million pounds each year. It is estimated by the Lake District authority that some 30 per cent. of the jobs within the park are directly concerned with tourism and leisure. If one were to take account of the jobs that are supported by visitor or recreational expenditure in other sectors, such as shops and transport—which after all exist first and foremost not for the visitors but for the local community—one could probably argue that 50 per cent. of all 357 employment in the Lake District national park is dependent in one way or another upon tourism and leisure use.
A major issue facing the new national park authorities will be that of maintaining the balance between, on the one hand, the primary objectives of environmental conservation and access, and on the other the needs of the local economy. As noble Lords may be aware, Maintaining the Balance is the title of a report of the Tourism and Environment Task Force set up by the then Secretary of State for Employment in 1990. The report was published in May 1991, jointly by the Department of Employment and the English Tourist Board. The task force in particular, comprising a complete range of tourism, countryside, recreation and environmental interests, was very positive in its recommendations. It set down a number of principles for sustainable tourism in the national parks. It recognised the need for proper planning and that the enjoyment of the environment and its long-term survival should not be prejudiced by short-term consideration. Finally, it recognised tourism as,a positive activity wilh the potential to benefit the community and the place as well Ls the visitor".I commend that report in the context of today's debate and of this particular Bill to those noble Lords who have not already read it.
In its response to the national parks review panel, the English Tourist Board suggested that the sustained viability of tourism and the benefits flowing therefrom within national parks are vital issues. Those of us who do not have the pleasure of living within national parks —and hence do not have the pleasure of being democratically represented, as several noble Lords have stressed—must bear. that fact in mind. The national parks do not exist only for those fortunate people who are residents. They cannot exist without the visitors. If one takes out the visitors, if you take out leisure and recreation, the national parks almost become sacred cows, existing only for the benefit of the immediate neighbourhood. I believe, as does the English Tourist Board, that these are vital issues which we must continue to look at, even if they are not perhaps germane to the Second Reading of the Bill which my noble friend has moved. In saying that, I am agreeing with the Edwards report which basically said that,tourism policies for National Parks should be clearly defined in the National Park Plans and in the strategies of the Regional Tourist Boards".Those policies, as the report suggests, should be drawn up in partnership between the regional tourist boards and the national park authorities. I believe that Her Majesty's Government support that view and also endorse greater co-operation between the national park authorities and the regional tourist boards. They commended recent initiatives such as the development of Principles for Tourism in the National Parks and also the publication of a Guide to Good Practice for Tourism in National Parks. That is vital. If tourism overruns we destroy the parks; but if we do not have tourism, the parks cease to have justification for existing.
Although those appointed to national park authorities by the Secretary of State may not specifically represent particular interests, I hope that the importance of 358 tourism to national parks—I have argued several times for this—will be recognised and that those appointees will include at least one member to each national park authority who has specific involvement with the needs of the tourism industry. That need not be specific knowledge because one can have academic knowledge and that is not necessarily relevant; it is involvement that is of paramount importance.
Let me conclude as I started, by welcoming the 13i11. I am saddened that time does not permit me to elaborate on one last concern; that is, that the planning policies of the bodies which we are establishing tonight must not overlook the pressures which the existence of national parks impose especially on the immediately adjacent Green Belt beyond the national park boundaries. The fact that one has planning constraints within a national park area puts enormous infill pressures and all manner of other pressures on the Green Belt area just outside.
I am thinking particularly of the New Forest. It is my neighbour and perhaps I should declare an interest, though I have no interest in any of the many committees. However, I have an interest in the New Forest, as its neighbour, in that it seems to have gone into a sort of limbo. It does not know if it is a quasi-national park; it does not know if it is a proper national park. We in the New Forest area have long been waiting for a declaration of the Government's eventual policy. I hope that in replying—I have given notice of this question—my noble friend will be able to give us a little progress report on the New Forest.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, unusually, just for once, as I rise to speak in your Lordships' House I know what I am talking about. I have bodily experience of the Welsh national parks, for have I not climbed with my fingers and toes in Snowdonia; walked on my feet every inch of the Pembrokeshire coast path, and crawled on my belly as a national serviceman over half the Brecon Beacons?
The three national parks are at present run as committees of county councils which, after local government reorganisation, will cease to exist. There is a most welcome provision in the Local Government (Wales) Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, referred, which would make it easier to change those existing committee parks into free-standing boards on the Lake District and Peak District models. So that provision represents an insurance policy for those parks.
However, the Bill presented by the noble Lord is a much more comprehensive set of arrangements for the administration of national parks and would put the whole family of national parks in England and Wales on the same basis. As a vice-president of the Council for National Parks I naturally approve of that. I also approve of the fact that the Bill is drafted from scratch rather than being patched on to existing law in the form of a simple amendment. There will be scope to sort out anomalies and incorporate best practice.
I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, for the assurance he gave me at the Report stage of the Local Government (Wales) Bill. It is now 359 abundantly clear that there is no conflict between Clause 19 of that Bill and this Bill, and that the latter is the preferred option.
As the former president of the Council for National Parks, the late and lovely Brian Redhead said:It is not enough to stop the bad. We must encourage good things in these beautiful places".Brian Redhead cited farmers as essential to this process, and I wholeheartedly agree. And so does the Farmers' Union of Wales. Autonomous status will enable the park authorities to devote more of their time and resources to working with local communities. Support for farmers is just one example which will be most welcome in the national parks in Wales.
There is one aspect of the Bill on which I should be most grateful for some clarification from the Minister. The Bill says that the Secretary of State "may" make an order to set up one of the new national park authorities. That implies that he may not. Can the Minister provide some reassurance that it is intended that the existing national parks are all to have new authorities set up to run them? Can I be further assured that there will be no national park area designated under the 1949 Act that will not have a new authority to run it? To have an area without an authority would be a grave matter of not only national but international concern.
The national parks are unique places, repositories of a rich cultural heritage as well as beautiful landscapes. They deserve the best that can be provided in terms of their administration. I am confident that the Bill provides the best.
§ 11.21 p.m.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norrie for introducing the Bill, which I broadly welcome, and for doing it so clearly. Many of the points that need to be made have been very well covered by other speakers. I shall therefore confine myself primarily to Clause 4, with its presumption in favour of strategic planning powers being vested in the new national park authorities, and refer briefly to the status of local interests within the new national park authorities.
I speak largely from my own experiences of land use and planning. But I should also add, because of its relevance to Clause 4, that I am chairman of the Landscape Foundation, an organisation that has a particular interest in the impact on the landscape of planning. I am acutely aware of the pressures on land use that currently face many planning authorities. These pressures can be intense; they can be wide ranging; and they can demand difficult and sometimes controversial decisions. This challenge, which encompasses both planning strategy and planning practice, is often at its most critical in areas designated on landscape or environmental criteria. To achieve an effective, consistent and far-sighted response, planning authorities, especially those with a major responsibility for designated areas, need cohesive, strategic structure policies. Hence my broad support for Clause 4. No authority will have a greater responsibility for 360 designated land areas than the new national park authorities and therefore no authority has a greater need for proper structure plan powers.
At present there is no guarantee in legislation—apart from the two exceptions which have been referred to by other noble Lords—that the integrity of each national park landscape will be contained within a single structure plan. The Brecon Beacons, for instance, which appears to be the most densely populated national park, falls across four county councils and, therefore, four structure plans. Such arrangements are clearly not in the best interests of any area designated for its landscape value. The assumption in Clause 4 of one structure plan for the whole of the national park is a clear benefit of this Bill.
Much has been said about the economic and social interests of those who live and work in the national parks. I shall not add to the comments that have been made except perhaps to make two points. First, the livelihood and circumstances of residents are often crucial to the management and care of the landscape within the parks and the very landscape that the designation intends to protect. Secondly, environmental protection and environmental improvements are very often better served when local land use interests are able to thrive, are able to evolve and are able to feel a part of a wider strategy. Many noble Lords have said that a balance needs to be struck. I agree. That is why genuinely intentioned consultation is needed. The consultation should be genuine in spirit as well as in the letter of any new arrangement.
If any guidance or inspiration is needed on the sort of balance that could be aimed for, I would urge reference to the thinking behind Scottish Nature's new designation, the NHA or Natural Heritage Area. This designation recognises that the appearance, heritage and future of many areas of exceptional natural heritage owe much to man's active and passive land use in that area. The NHA designation, therefore, deliberately aims for flexibility, for local participation and integrating multiple objectives, both at local level and in terms of national strategy, in its management and policies.
I shall finish by making brief reference to Clause 3, which requires management plans for national parks. Clause 3 will provide a leading edge of strategic landscape planning and it will do so for some of our most beautiful landscapes. In doing so, Clause 3 will provide a splendid frame of reference for any other party involved in or affected by national parks' strategy. It will enable other parties to co-ordinate their own policies and actions.
As a result, if Clause 4 confers a clarity of purpose in terms of planning, Clause 3 confers an equal clarity of purpose in terms of management. I therefore wish my noble friend's Bill well and, as with many other noble Lords, would welcome any reassurance that attention will be paid to the state of local interests within the parks themselves.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lytton
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on bringing forward this Bill and, as is always the case in a debate at this late hour, most of the points I would have liked to have made have been made much more eloquently by others.
I shall begin by declaring my interest. I farm about 850 acres in some of the more beautiful parts of the Exmoor National Park. I very warmly support this Bill. I particularly hope that it may deliver an improved service to the local communities as implied by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. It is crucial to carry local commitment in national parks, and that cannot be overstated. I also wish to enter a plea which has been referred to by others. Those who serve on the new national park authorities should have locational relevance to the park itself as a minimum requirement. I take that no further, but that, too, is very important.
Picking up points which have been very well made by others, I also express the hope that the interests of farmers and landowners are not just taken into account but that they are recognised as full partners in the management of the land in national parks and, with that, the provision of recreational facilities and the conservation of nature. That should be part of an inter-dependent process. I do not believe that there is one single factor that can have total pre-eminence. National park authorities should be enabling and facilitating and not dictatorial authorities.
The Government in This Common Inheritance said of the countryside,What we see today is the result of centuries of interaction between man and nature".That must never be forgotten or we lose our heritage as well as the functional competence of activities as a whole within national park areas. I say that with great feeling. My late father worked out that the land I now farm with my wife has been in the family since the year before the Black Death, so it is a fairly longstanding association which we have with that location.
I too would like to see consultative panels set up in all parks and I look forward very warmly to the Minister's response on this point. Finally, I hope that Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968, which is specifically referred to in this Bill, and with that also Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 7, will be honoured in national park areas as elsewhere. National parks have to function economically. Without an economic function there can be no deliverance of the essential goods which are required. In that I would like to reinforce what has been said by others. In its own terms this Bill is an excellent thing and I wish it every success through this House and another place.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I too start by congratulating my noble friend Lori Norrie on introducing the Bill and on the meticulous way in which he has addressed it to so many of us and allowed us to join him earlier in commenting on it.
My noble friend knows well that I have strong reservations about the way in which some of the national parks have been conducting their business. I 362 speak as I find. I am not against the principle of national parks and fully appreciate their objectives and the need to balance local requirements, visitor requirements and nature conservation.
Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I live in a national park and own and manage land in a national park. Indeed, I had the privilege of serving on a national park committee for six years. But I am bound to say that recently this has nothing to do with the fact that 1 am no longer a member of a park authority there has been a marked deterioration in the relationship between the local community and the park authority. I must say that I have found a far greater appreciation and understanding of the needs of realistic land management combined with a genuine wish to co-operate when I have dealt with other organisations. However, that does not apply to all national parks. I have recently become involved with the Dartmoor National Park authority and have been very impressed by the initiatives that it has taken to enhance the well-being of the environment through local involvement. People I know who operate and work in the Lake District have found similar co-operation.
I have no wish to dwell on personal experiences, but I am bound to say that I have some sympathy for the park authorities because in many cases other initiatives which might have gone to them have been given to other authorities, government agencies and, indeed, government departments. Therefore, much of the glory that might have gone to the parks has gone to those other agencies, leaving the parks very often with the more mundane and less attractive aspects of countryside management such as planning and public access.
That begs a very basic question: do we actually need national park authorities now if those other agencies can carry out countryside enhancement as effectively as they do? Environmentally sensitive areas are, for example, dealt with by MAFF. The SSSI system and the national nature reserves, many of which are in the national parks, are dealt with by English Nature, on the council of which I have the privilege to serve. 'The Countryside Commission administers stewardship schemes, and the Rural Development Commission promotes rural businesses. I often find that the park authorities seem to fall between too many stools being neither one thing nor another, but attempting to deliver countryside initiatives that are in many cases carried out so much more effectively by other organisations. That results in a duplication of staff, many of whom have no real technical support or proper career structure. As we see too often, that results in a constant change-over of staff which is very demoralising for those of us who have to work with the park authorities.
I put an idea to your Lordships which I am sure will raise a few eyebrows. In about two weeks' time we shall be debating the Unstarred Question that has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford on the proposed merger of English Nature and the Countryside Commission. I ask whether such an agency, if it were to be merged—I hope very much that that will happen—could not take over the countryside and public enjoyment responsibilities of the NPAs—
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, not in Wales!
Earl Peel: My Lords, yes, and in Wales—thus leaving the planning to go back to the local authorities where I believe that it belongs.
I hasten to add quickly, as I see my noble friend Lord Cranbrook (my chairman) sitting there, that I have not been briefed in any way to come up with that suggestion. It is purely one of my own, but I believe that it would work, that it would be financially prudent to do so and that it would lead to a much more cohesive and effective running of the park authorities.
The problem at the moment is that for those of us who try to manage land and farmland there are too many organisations delivering many of the same objectives. The more cohesive and streamlined they become, within reason, the more effective they are likely to be in financial terms and in their ability to build up good working relationships with the rural communities, and that is the key to success. My noble friend Lord Lindsay mentioned national parks in Scotland. There are none, and things seem to work effectively there.
Having got that off my chest, I am realistic enough to know that NPAs are almost certainly a political sacred cow, and are likely to stay. As I said to my noble friend Lord Norrie, I want to be helpful, and I genuinely understand the purpose behind the Bill. If by giving the park authorities autonomous power that will lead to an improved and more cost-effective service, an improved relationship between the parks and the rural communities and genuine improvements in nature conservation resources, I most certainly welcome the Bill.
Many noble Lords have expressed their concern about local representation. I too have that concern. I do not wish to go into the matter in detail, except to say that if we are going to have genuine local representation it must come from councillors who represent wards within the national park itself. I give North Yorkshire as an example. A county councillor from York is not local to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park or the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take that message loudly and clearly. It is one that has been expressed by many noble Lords.
My other anxiety so far as concerns the Bill is the question of structure plans. Again that topic has been touched upon by other noble Lords. How are the new structure plans for NPAs and the other authorities, however they turn out to be, to dovetail together? It seems to me that it is a question of getting together and trying to work out a mutually acceptable plan, but I ask my noble friend which strategic plan would prevail—the park plan or the county or local plan? That is something to which we perhaps need an answer.
As I have said, I believe that I have good reasons to be sceptical about enhancing the role of national parks, but I have no doubt that the purpose behind the Bill is a genuine belief that it will lead to a more locally accountable and efficient group of park authorities operating in a more enlightened fashion to the increased benefit of local communities and the environmental well-being of the areas concerned. That in turn—and it 364 is an important point—can only bring enhancement of pleasure to those who visit the areas. I sincerely hope that to free the national park authorities from the shackles of being simply an extension of local government will give them a new sense of responsibility to which I hope they will rise. A great deal needs to be done in some parks to win the respect of the local people.
I wish the Bill well so far as it goes, but I am worried about what might come afterwards. I hope that if the Government see this as a first step to future legislation they will consult widely and that we shall have a full-ranging debate on the many aspects recommended in the Edwards Report.
Finally, I wish to make a plea on behalf on one aspect of the local vernacular that is systematically being destroyed in so many parks. Please can we have no more brown windows?
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ Lord Walpole
My Lords, it is late and I shall be brief. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. I am pleased that the Government support the Bill and I look for further government legislation in the near future. I am aware of the urgency of the Bill due to local government reorganisation.
I wish to comment on one or two specific points because I can describe myself as a member of the midwife team that brought the Broads authority into the world. As the Broads are unique, special legislation was needed. I am sure that any new park will be unique and will need unique legislation. Therefore, we are not concerned with that tonight; we are talking about legislation to secure existing parks, which is important.
Let us not lose sight of the functions of national parks. They must be concerned with the protection of the countryside and its conservation and the repair, refurbishment and reinstatement of features both natural and man made within the park, but not to the exclusion of the interests of those who live and work there and those who visit it.
I wish to make a plea about planning. That is an essential function which should go with the authorities. I beg, however, that it will not mean the setting up of a further monolithic planning department for each national park. That expertise can easily be bought in.
As regards membership of the new authorities and the input of various other bodies, there have been rumblings, in particular from the NFU, the CLA, the National Rivers Authority, the National Trust, tourist boards and local universities. As suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, it is far more appropriate that those bodies should have an input through panels and not through membership of any particular board.
Such requirements have been achieved by the Broads authority, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said. The authority uses its local authorities for planning and uses panels for input from everyone else. It has special panels on such aspects as agriculture, water recreation and scientific research, which the noble Earl was too modest to say that he chaired. That is where the bodies which I have mentioned should be represented and not necessarily as members of the authorities.
365 I am proud to have been part of the team which set up the Broads authority. It is highly successful, locally popular and efficient. The authority's constitution bears a strong resemblance to what is proposed in the Bill. I know that the formula works and, with good will on all 366 sides, it will continue to work. I am sure that the authorities covered by the Bill will also make it work provided that everyone makes an enormous effort. I wish the Bill all the best.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I am extremely happy to join with my noble friends Lord Foot and Lord Hunt, both of whom have considerably greater experience than I have, in welcoming the Bill from these Benches. In this party, we had hoped that we should have free-standing national parks along these lines as part of a Local Government (England) Bill but the Government would not have that. They thought that it was not workable and the fact that they have done exactly that in the Welsh Bill seems to reveal a certain lack of logic in their reasoning.
They promised us this Bill and they have not been able to deliver it. We are extremely grateful, as we have all said, to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for taking it on, but that does not mean that this is a satisfactory procedure; that a measure which is largely agreed to be necessary on all sides, including the Government, should be left to this kind of procedure. That is so, in particular, when the time of your Lordships' House, as I have said on another occasion, is taken up with Bills which then have to be withdrawn either in full or in part because the Government have got it wrong. Why do not the Government give proper time to deal with legislation which we all agree is needed? However, we must take what we have and, as I say, we are graceful to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie.
There is now, as always on these occasions, pressure to deal with the Bill with speed. That is what makes these matters so difficult. We shall do what we can to help but I agree that we must get it right in this House because, whatever its fate in another place, there will almost certainly not be time to deal with it there. That means that we must get it right here.
I had hoped that we might have been able to save time by exploring some Committee points on Second Reading but the lateness of the hour and the length of the list of speakers have made that impossible. For example, I feel very strongly that limiting local authority representation to elected members is patronising and misconceived and is a variation on a point which I was fighting in your Lordships' House 20 years ago.
I see the opposite point of view which has been argued by other noble Lords; namely, that the representation should be from those councillors who represent wards in the national parks. That is almost equally acceptable. One or other is acceptable but the present situation is not acceptable. I propose to set that out before your Lordships in Committee.
This is basically a good Bill. We shall do our best to give it a fair wind. We must not be hurried into letting it go to another place in an inadequate state. If the Government will not father it or admit paternity then we, as its godfathers, must see that it is properly brought up. And we must do our duty.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, it is late and we have all had a long day, or, at least, I have had a long day. I do not wish to detain your Lordships too long. I give a welcome to the Bill not merely on my own behalf, 368 as the president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, but also—and this is quite unusual—on behalf of my party. I have consulted extensively my colleagues on the Front Bench in another place and I can say to the noble Earl that the Bill will receive the support of the Front Bench in this House and in another place.
Therefore, we wish the Bill well in principle. As noble Lords have said, it fulfils at least part of the Government's commitment to implement Edwards. Of course, we would have preferred a government Bill—indeed, everyone would—but we understand the realities of the situation and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on taking the initiative to bring forward what is perhaps best described as half a loaf. However, half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.
The Bill is long and quite complex. In general, as I said, I have no problems in principle with it. However, there are a number of fairly detailed points that I should like to put to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, some of which I have given prior notice of. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said about amendments for the Committee stage. If we are to go into Committee, I shall keep my remarks fairly short. I do not want to go into long and detailed Committee points which I might otherwise have raised.
The doubts which arise in my mind when reaciniz the Bill are as follows. On Clause 1, there is the question of whether the Secretary of State should have a duty, or whether it should be a permissive power to order that a national park authority be established. If the Bill is to have any effect at all when it is enacted, it seems to me that the Secretary of State should have a mandatory authority to designate national park authorities where there are existing national parks, but that he should have a permissive authority to designate national park authorities where there could be parks in the future. That would provide a distinction between paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1(1).
I now move to Schedule 1, because it follows on from Clause I. Several speakers commented on the schedule. I have many points about it which were raised by some noble Lords both as regards the wording and, indeed, some of the principles. I am not entirely certain why in paragraph 2, for example, the word "appoint" is always used rather than the word "elect". I always prefer to call a spade a spade. If we can use the word "elect" rather than "appoint" for local authority members, I would be somewhat happier. Similarly, I am not entirely clear as to what paragraph 2(6) means. But, again, that is a Committee point that we can resolve; or, indeed, perhaps the noble Earl or the noble Lord can resolve it at the conclusion of the debate. Does "retiring from any council" mean that a council has ceased to exist because elections are taking place, or does it mean something else?
However, the latter are very detailed points and I am more concerned about paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 as regards the aspect of consultation. Several speakers raised the point regarding the consultation that the Secretary of State shall engage in with either the Countryside Commission or the Countryside Council 369 for Wales on his appointees. We must do better than that. Consultation is a very broad term. Your Lordships have discovered all sorts of formulae for police authorities during recent days which are much more transparent and open than what is represented by simply the word "consult". If the Bill is enacted, I very much hope that some formula will be found to allow a thoroughly open form of selection for Secretary of State appointees. In other words, they should not simply be cronies of the Secretary of State and the public should see them as not belong so. Of course, it is not for me to say how that should be constructed; indeed, it is for the Government or, perhaps, for the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, to indicate how he sees it in the legislation. But I think we have to do really rather better than what is in the Bill as such, although if the Minister can make a full statement about how he envisages the procedure being carried out we might well be satisfied on that point.
There is also the question of paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 1 and what the terms of appointment would be for members appointed by the Secretary of State. I am sorry to bore your Lordships with these Committee points but I have been asked to set them out in as much detail as I can to hasten the progress of the Bill. In paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 there is the question of whether the chairman and deputy chairman of a national park authority should be elected by the members of the national park authority. It is as simple as that. Why they should be in some sense appointed, I do not know. Political balance is, of course, built into the measure but I never know what political balance means. Speaking from a Welsh point of view I can say that in rural areas political balance consists of independents who have one view and independents who have another view. They all stand as independents. What the political balance is between independents who favour one point of view and independents who favour another, I do not know, but I find that an odd concept in terms of national parks.
I now turn to compulsory competitive tendering, which appears to apply in this Bill. I do not see why it should if it does not apply to quangos. Will national park authorities in that sense be local authorities with CCT built in. or will they be much freer, possibly to trade themselves? In Clause 8 the levy gives rise to problems of capping of local authorities and the local authority contribution. Will the local authority contribution be built into the standard spending assessment or will it be ring-fenced in some way? Will local authorities be capped or will they be allowed to contribute in the way that the national park authorities wish. and will that come outside the capping procedures? How will all that be arranged? Will national park authorities be allowed to trade—of course at the moment local authorities are not allowed to do that—through shops, garden centres or through selling camping equipment or other goods?
I am sorry to be slightly disaggregated in what I have to say, but I am working through this in a rather different manner from the way I thought I would have to present it. On the planning question, a number of noble Lords have asked whether the planning policy guidance notes will apply to national park authorities. Will, for example, PPG7 or PPG22 apply? After all, PPG22 has 370 a presumption in favour of renewable energy—recently we had a short debate in which we discussed wind farms —and it encourages the development of wind farms. Clearly the national parks will have to take account of that. Would the national park authorities be subject to that provision?
The main point about Clause 11 is that it is a Henry VIII provision. It gives powers to the Secretary of State to vary primary legislation. As I understand it, that provision has been examined by our Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and it will report on it. We will take account of that report. The committee may well take the same view as it did about certain aspects of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, in which case we will certainly have a problem in Committee. However, if the committee does not take the same view as it did on the Local Government (Wales) Bill we will be happy to be guided by it, but certainly this clause will have to be studied by that committee and I shall follow its recommendations.
The only other detailed Committee point I have to make concerns Schedule 4. There are a number of Acts which are to be amended by this legislation. The Telecommunications Act is not mentioned. It is my understanding that under the Telecommunications Act British Telecom has powers as a planning authority in its own right for wayleaves where owners give up rights. I may be wrong about that. I have not had time to check the matter out because it was only brought to my attention today, but it would be very odd if British Telecom were able to override the planning decisions of a national park authority.
I apologise for the disaggregated nature of the speech that I have just given, but it demonstrates to the noble Earl that all is not quite as simple as some noble Lords have tried to represent. In principle and in general we —and I say "we" rather than "I", which is rare for a Private Member's Bill—support the Bill and wish it well. We hope that it becomes legislation. Nevertheless, there are some very complicated issues of a detailed nature which need to be addressed before it can go forward.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, the hour is late, but I am certain that your Lordships would not wish me to skate over many of the points that have been raised on all sides of the House. It is 45 years since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act made provision for the creation of national parks. We all acknowledge that the landscapes which the Act sought to protect were the product of centuries of loving stewardship by many local people. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, in a very interesting and moving speech, reminded us that the establishment of the parks was a recognition that those areas were a national asset which had to be provided with national means to ensure that the qualities that we all cherish and respect were not lost. The 1949 Act thereby provided for the most beautiful areas of our countryside to be designated, protected and provided with a special administration
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us that it is vital that we continue to manage and protect those 371 national assets. Living in the foothills of Exmoor, as I do, where my wife's family have lived for many years, I too have the same strength of feelings on the preservation of national parks and all the riches that lie therein.
My noble friend Lord Norrie referred to the work of the National Parks Review Panel. I fully support his endorsement of the panel's report and would add my own thanks to the countryside agencies for their realistic recommendations. We set out proposals for the future of the parks in our January 1992 policy statement, and I share the regret that the pressures on the parliamentary timetable have not allowed us to bring forward legislation to implement those proposals in the current Session.
We were therefore delighted and most grateful to my noble friend Lord Norrie when he announced his promotion of this Bill to examine and address the specific issue of establishing a new and common administration for the 10 national parks in England and Wales. That was the principal recommendation of the review panel. Our 1992 policy statement accepted the recommendation that the administration of the national parks should be independent of any other local authority while remaining within the family of local government. The Bill delivers that objective and will enable the parks to be managed more effectively while maintaining their well-being as living, working areas.
I am happy, however, to reassure my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and many others who referred to further legislation that it remains our intention to introduce that legislation as soon as there is a suitable opportunity. We shall then reconsider and update the purposes of the national parks and return to further consideration of the review panel's recommendation that there should be a statutory duty on Ministers and public agencies in the exercise of their responsibilities as they affect national parks.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans asked for clarification of our plans for the New Forest following the consultation exercise in which we sought views on our proposals for the future care and protection of that unique area. We are considering the considerable correspondence generated by that consultation exercise and we hope to make a statement with our conclusions.
The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and many of your Lordships sought assurances about the relationship between national park purposes and the economic and social needs of local communities. We have said that we will clarify the national park authorities' duty to take full account of those needs when we introduce legislation. We have had placed before us several suggestions as to the form such clarification could take, including that which the review panel favoured. We shall be considering the matter again in the light of tonight's debate and other representations.
The Bill maintains the status quo. However, the new national park authorities will clearly have to take account of factors beyond the qualities of natural beauty and public enjoyment for which they are designated. I believe that they will continue to recognise the positive contribution which economic and social development 372 can make towards sustaining those qualities. The new national park authorities will need to work closely with other authorities and agencies whose primary responsibility is the economic and social development of their areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, raised the issue of Wales. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has made clear that the Government support a common approach to the future administration of national parks in England and Wales. If the Bill succeeds, the three national parks in Wales will have created for them new authorities of the same form as are proposed in England. However, should my noble friend's Bill not succeed, the Government will rely upon the provisions in the Local Government (Wales) Bill. The Government's commitment to free-standing national park authorities makes it unreasonable to expect the new local authorities in Wales to have to set up new committees for the administration of the parks, knowing that this responsibility would soon pass to new national park authorities. That would be a recipe for uncertainty and disruption. For that reason, the Local Government (Wales) Bill contains provisions to establish joint or special planning boards in Wales similar to those already in the Lake and Peak Districts. These provisions will be used only if the Bill fails but will secure the continued effective administration of the parks in Wales.
There has been much discussion, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, of the Government's intended use of the powers which the Bill confers, particularly the so-called Henry VIII clauses. Clauses 4 and 11 are of most significance. Clause 4 allows for a national park's structure planning responsibilities to be amended by order. I shall say more about that in a moment. The provisions in Clause 11 give the Secretary of State power to modify primary legislation for incidental, supplemental, consequential and transitional purposes. The practical scope of this power is, however, limited by the primary purpose of the Bill to establish new authorities to administer the national parks.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, asked for an assurance that all national parks will have a national park authority. I can assure the noble Lord that it is our firm intention that every national park designated under the 1949 Act will be managed by a national park authority.
Some noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Peel, stressed the need for local people to be better represented on the authorities. We intend to increase district council representation to equal that of the county councils and to maintain that principle wherever a two-tier system of local government persists. We shall, of course, recognise the consequences of any changes which result from the present review of local government. We also intend to encourage the new authorities to set up local consultative groups where they do not already exist. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, that we shall also encourage them to make provision to ensure that the parish councils in their areas are given full opportunity to make their views known.
373 The Secretary of State will continue to appoint the remaining one-third of members who represent the wider national interests. We will continue to make sure that there is a reasonable mix of interests among them. We already seek nominations from a wide range of organisations and we are keen to ensure that there is a good field of high quality candidates from which the Secretary of State members can be drawn.
I have already mentioned Clause 4 which deals with the strategic planning provisions of the Bill. Your Lordships will appreciate the uncertainties the parks face in relation to local government re-organisation. However, I can assure my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Marlesford that it is our intention to give the new authorities the full range of appropriate planning powers. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell raised the question of consultation, and I can assure him that the National Rivers Authority and all other bodies which are statutory consultees will continue to be so when the new national park authorities are established. We shall also be advising them to consult widely on other park matters.
The parks are already responsible for local development plans and for development control. This Bill will also allow the park authorities a formal role in strategic planning. The manner in which this may operate will depend upon the circumstances of individual parks.
The pattern is already clear in Wales. The Local Government (Wales) Bill provides for unitary local authorities throughout Wales and for unitary development plans to replace present arrangements. That Bill provides for the three national park authorities in Wales to be unitary planning authorities and this will be the case whether new authorities are set up under this Bill or as planning boards under the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
There may be circumstances in which similar arrangements will be appropriate in England, perhaps in the Peak District where the national park authority already has responsibility for both structure and local plans. More common perhaps will be the position where the scale and geography of the national park make it most appropriate that it exercises the strategic planning function in collaboration with other authorities.
My noble friend Lord Peel asked a question concerning the interplay between county council and national park authority structure plans. In those cases, the national park authority will be solely responsible for the preparation of the structure plan for its area, but it will need to ensure that its plan is co-ordinated with those of its neighbouring authorities. That arrangement has worked well for many years in the Lake District and I believe that it may be a model with wider applicability. Nevertheless, I can assure your Lordships that it is our intention to give the new national park authorities a full and formal role in the strategic planning process.
Many noble Lords have sought assurances about the future funding arrangements for the parks. Placing the funding of the parks on a secure and sustainable footing is one of the main objectives of this Bill. It is an aim which the Government especially support. The Bill provides that all the parks will continue to be funded 374 jointly by central and local government. This is an essential principle if local accountability is to be preserved. The national park authorities will continue to receive 75 per cent. of their approved expenditure from central funds, with the local authorities contributing the balance. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Barber, that we will continue to look to the countryside agencies for their views on the appropriate level of resources, as well as considering the plans put forward by the individual authorities. In turn, we expect the authorities to operate efficiently and effectively and to have proper regard to the need to ensure value for money and to demonstrate that they do so.
The ability of the two board parks to raise their contributions from their constituent local authorities by levy is being extended to all the national park authorities. We expect the authorities to use that power wisely and to consult widely before submitting their expenditure plans to the Secretaries of State for their approval. All the local authorities represented on a national park authority will be expected to contribute to its expenditure. We recognise that extending the financial commitments to district councils represents an increase in the resources which they will need. They, along with the county councils, have the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State through the consultative panels on local government finance in England and Wales in respect of the burden which falls on them to contribute to national park authorities' expenditure. We shall need to issue advice on that and other matters about the operation of the new authorities, and we would envisage that that would be done by a circular well before the new authorities come into being.
My noble friend Lord Norrie has taken a very important step forward for the continued care and protection of the national parks. I accept that this is an interim measure that does not deliver all the commitments that the Government made in their 1992 policy statement. Without in any way reneging on those commitments, I recommend this Bill to the House as a way of ensuring that the most essential proposals are carried forward effectively and urgently.
Some of the questions raised this evening—particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Williams--are of a very technical nature and deserve to be taken at Committee stage. They need considerable thought and sensible answers. But if the Bill succeeds, the Government will be committed to the earliest implementation of its provisions to ensure that the long-term future of the parks is secured.
I believe that this Bill marks a major milestone in the conservation of our most beautiful landscapes, the spiritual value of which has been so eloquently expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. Your Lordships have an opportunity tonight truly to ensure that these unique national assets are fit for the future. I am therefore pleased to give to my noble friend's Bill the full support of the Government and I commend it to the House.
§ 12.17 a.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, it has been a most valuable evening. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Arran for stating the Government's support for this measure so strongly. There have been some very interesting and informed contributions on this important topic. We have heard from all sides of the political spectrum as to why this Bill is so important.
National parks have always remained a matter of all-party consensus, and I am pleased that this Bill also finds favour with noble Lords from the opposite Benches as well as from this side of the House. I am hopeful that this level of agreement will make for a speedy passage to the Bill, without which, at this stage of the parliamentary timetable, it might indeed fail despite wholehearted support.
The debate has produced some very searching questions. I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for being so forthcoming in his answers and assurances at the Second Reading stage. With a Bill of this complexity I may not be able immediately to answer every question that was addressed to me, but I am anxious to establish an early dialogue with any of my noble colleagues who feel that his or her concerns have not been sufficiently addressed. Tomorrow would not be too soon for that to happen.
I should now like to comment on some of the contributions made by noble Lords this evening. I shall start by referring to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. She observed quite rightly that the new authorities will in no measure be quangos. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, made clear that those authorities would sit firmly within the local government framework. That has been confirmed by the Minister.
My noble friend Lord Cranbrook raised a question that was echoed by so many other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on future government legislation for national parks which the Minister answered. I should like to add my support to that chorus of opinion, voiced not just inside but also outside this House.
I am also grateful to the Minister for his helpful clarification in response to my noble friend Lord Marlesford as to how he will exercise his discretion over the planning provisions. On the same theme my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Lindsay were anxious to see a wide consultation carried out in preparation of management and development plans. In answer to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell I would anticipate a close partnership and consultative process between national park authorities and the National Rivers Authority in the preparation of both management plans and the water catchment plans prepared by the NRA. The two parties have complementary objectives and their future relationship can only be improved by the Bill.
I am happy to reassure my noble friend Lord Lindsay that the national park authorities will continue to draw up their management plans after wide and public 376 consultation. In fact, national park authorities will consult widely, just as other local authorities do, in the exercise of their development plan functions. That is set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 12 and no change in this system is proposed.
My noble friend Lord Peel expressed concerns and reservations about the current state of affairs in some of the national parks. We appreciate the sharing of his experiences on that subject. No one would deny that problems have existed and opportunities have been missed. Indeed, as was made clear in the debate this evening, we know now that the administrative structure of national parks has not been all that it might have been. That point was well made by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Foot, and the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, who have the advantage of the historical perspective on those early days of national parks.
All I can say to noble Lords concerned with the fate of those who live and work within the parks is that the Bill is intended to make the operation of national park authorities more efficient and effective, especially when it comes to delivering services to local communities and to improving the local responsiveness of national park authorities. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for pointing out the benefits that the Bill could bring to the health of rural economies, and to the noble Lord, Lord Barber, for reminding us how crucial it is that we equip national park authorities to cope with the many challenges ahead.
On the specific point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on a socio-economic purpose for national parks, I made clear that my Bill does not seek in any way to change the national park purposes or associated duties. My noble friend Lord Arran indicated that that will be addressed by the Government. I should welcome a more clear assurance from the Minister that any revision will be guided by the spirit of the Edwards recommendations.
Many noble Lords speaking tonight pointed out the advantages that the new status will bring to national parks. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, for drawing a most helpful analogy with the Broads Authority, which is seen to act with the "vision and clarity" to which the Edwards report referred.
The noble Lords, Lord Chorley, Lord Feversham and Lord Nathan, and my noble friend Lord Addison asked questions on membership of the new authorities. I am anxious to see a greater degree of local responsiveness and for clear guidance to be given where the Bill's provisions can only adhere to the general principle. The Minister stated that the Secretary of State would be issuing a circular to include details of membership of the new authorities. As we heard, guidance on those key points will be consistent with the Edwards recommendations, which carry the consensus of support in these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, in pressing for a louder parish council voice for national park authorities, proposed a most welcome way forward in the shape of a parish council forum for each of the parks. That view was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Wise. I am most sympathetic to the idea, which has the advantage of 377 enabling every parish council within a national park to gain access to the authority. Again, that is consistent with the Edwards report.
On a similar point, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, raised a question about consultative panels, which were recommended by Edwards to be created in each national park in order to provide a sounding board for various interest groups, and I believe those would be welcomed across the national parks.
Noble Lords w ho spoke from the perspective of Wales—the noble Lords, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, were most helpful in clarifying the relationship between the Bill and the Local Government (Wales) Bill. They made clear the advantages of a Bill which covers the national parks of Wales and England, levelling them all up in accordance with the Edwards recommendations. l am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for drawing attention to the central role of national parks in sustainable development. For this reason alone it is essential that in order to face future challenges they be given the most effective authorities that we can provide.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred to the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill. We are most fortunate to be able to draw on the expertise of the Scrutiny Committee, and I am sure that it will advise us accordingly. We rely on the committee to make sure that parliamentary democracy is upheld in all cases. I note that in the case of this Bill the Secretary of State has explained clearly the basis on which he might make any order.
378 The noble Lord, Lord Williams, also asked for more transparency in the Secretary of State's appointments process. This was an Edwards recommendation. Let us hope that the prospect of new national park authorities will encourage all relevant interest groups to put renewed effort into finding suitable people to nominate. I include here the tourism interest, so constructively referred to by my noble friend Lord Mountevans. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on his other more detailed points, which he described as Committee points.
On a personal note, I should like to express my gratitude to my team of 11, who make it possible for me to bring this Bill before your Lordships' House. Many organisations have been involved: the Council for National Parks; the Association of National Parks; the Countryside Commission and Countryside Council for Wales; and the Council for the Protection of Rural England. Without their hard work, together with that of the government draftsmen, this Bill could not have been debated in your Lordships' House this evening.
Finally, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol for his contribution. In an era where we talk of the need for a more sustainable relationship between people and the earth's resources, it is perhaps fitting to end on this point. National parks are vital to the health and well-being of everyone, as well as to those who are fortunate enough to live in them, work in them or visit them. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes past midnight.