HL Deb 04 May 1994 vol 554 cc1201-8

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the National Parks Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, it is my duty and pleasure to bring the National Parks Bill before your Lordships for its Third Reading. I believe that the passage of the Bill has demonstrated the interest and support of Members of this House—

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I understood that the Question had been put. I hope that the noble Lord is now moving, That the Bill do now pass.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)

My Lords, if it is of any help to the House, my paper suggests that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, should move, That a privilege amendment be now agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

I shall start again. It is my duty and pleasure to bring the National Parks Bill before your Lordships for its Third Reading. I believe that the passage of this Bill has demonstrated—

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again at this early stage, but is the noble Lord moving, That the Bill do now pass?

Lord Norrie

My Lords, yes. As I said at the unopposed Second Reading, the origins of this Bill lie in the report of the National Parks Review Panel. I am most grateful to the panel for its work, which has consistently informed and assisted your Lordships in your considerations.

I should like to thank the 24 speakers from all sides of the House who spoke in support of the Bill and those who assisted at Second Reading, Committee and Report stages in clarifying those positions. My noble friend Lord Arran, who is unfortunately absent today, has been most helpful in providing assurances of the Government's intentions not only in regard to this Bill but also about future legislation. I am grateful to him for playing such an active role.

I am also indebted to a fellow vice-president of the Council for National Parks, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for her active involvement. She has joined me on fact-finding missions to the parks and has worked tirelessly with me in gaining support for the Bill. That is a further illustration of the fact that the Bill transcends party political boundaries.

As your Lordships are aware, I am most anxious that the Bill, which fulfils a government manifesto commitment, should succeed in this parliamentary Session. It was never my intention that the Bill should be viewed as a stalking horse. The timetable for local government reorganisation could produce a situation where the administration of the national parks is left in limbo or it could require interim arrangements for the administration of the parks which would be far more complex than acting on my Bill. Those scenarios are in no one's interest and could damage the parks themselves. The success of the Bill in this Session will ensure that that does not happen.

The Government have promised to legislate on several of the recommendations of the National Parks, Review Panel. It has been agreed that that other legislation would include the national park statutory purposes and associated duty. Many noble Lords who spoke on Report agreed that revision of purposes and duty would not be appropriate in a Private Member's Bill, and therefore. that debate on that subject should be deferred until a government Bill is introduced.

My Bill is a narrow Bill with one simple objective: to set up new authorities to run all national parks. As a Private Member's Bill, it has to be precise in its focus. That strategy has won the support of your Lordships. Only by maintaining that clear and narrow focus will the Bill succeed. The National Parks Bill is a first step towards the introduction of those other measures by the Government, but it is a first step that must make a clear and lasting imprint. With the support of the Government and of the other parties and with the backing of many organisations outside this House, including those from the local government sector, there is every reason why this popular measure should now succeed. It goes to another place having had the full scrutiny of this House.

The Bill benefits the parks. It has advantages for those who live, work and have other interests in them. It will be welcomed by those who make the 100 million visits to the parks each year. The time is right for the Bill to become law. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —(Lord Norrie.)

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, perhaps I may have my word. The House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for what he has said this evening and for his conduct during the passage of the Bill. He has conducted himself, if I may say so, with great dignity and expertise. We are grateful to him. I imagine that the Government will also be grateful to him for producing the Bill in the first place.

I wish the Bill well. As I said on Second Reading, it has my personal support. It also has the support of my noble friends in this House; and it has the support of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place, as far as I can tell. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is well aware, I can speak only for the Front Bench in another place, and the other place has its own procedures.

The problem, as I see it, is that this is really a government Bill. I said so, I think as clearly as I could, in accusing the noble Earl, Lord Arran, of being disingenuous in Committee when the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, raised the problem of whether this should not be properly adopted as a government Bill, produced in the normal manner that government Bills are produced. The rest of my speech assumes that there is a government in place, which is by no means certain after the events of recent days.

There are, as I understand it, those in another place who dislike the Bill, and, if it is a government Bill, then it is a government responsibility to ensure that the Bill is not killed in another place. Now I accept that the Government have not produced it from the Front Bench, but I have been party, if I may say so, to discussions at an early stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, knows, and, as the noble Lord quite properly said, it is a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party. Therefore I assume that the Government will take responsibility for the Bill.

Unfortunately, the Government refused to introduce this Bill, or indeed many other Bills on environmental matters, as their own Bills. So it is a curious arrangement that it is farmed out to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who, as I say, has conducted himself with exemplary discipline and skill; but, nevertheless, the Bill has been drafted by parliamentary draftsmen and it is essentially a government Bill. So the Government must ensure that it goes through. That has been clear from the start. Otherwise—there is an otherwise—if that does not happen, then I am afraid that I have to say that the Government have been wasting the time of this House. Because, if there is a commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto and if a Bill is produced to meet that manifesto commitment and if the Government cannot in one way or another ensure that that manifesto commitment is met, if we have a Private Member's Bill in your Lordships' House which we discuss, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has said, in some detail, and the Government do not ensure that that manifesto commitment is met, then I can only say to noble Lords on the Government Front Bench that they have been wasting the time of the House.

Not only will they have been wasting the time of the House, but they have also been wasting the money of the taxpayer, because it takes money to keep this House going, and, if the Bill does not go through, we will be noting how much money has been spent in keeping this House sitting, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, well knows, well into the night: on Second Reading, and, indeed in Committee. We shall be noting what the Government are doing to make sure that the taxpayer gets a proper reward for his or her investment. So the ball, to my mind, is very firmly in the Government's court.

The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has done his best, and his best has been extremely good. I support the Bill. As I have said, my noble friends in this House support the Bill. The Front Bench in another place of my party and, I believe, of the Liberal Democrats—we shall hear later from them—support the Bill. The question is whether the Government can get the Bill on to the statute book. That is the real question. Are they prepared to meet their manifesto commitment?

I can only conclude by saying that I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, that the national parks require the Bill, particularly, if I may say so, in Wales, and that the sooner the Bill is on the statute book the happier a lot of us will be. There it is. So I look to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who will reply for the Government to give us an absolute, guaranteed assurance that the Bill will go through and get on to the statute book.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I shall not weary the House by repeating a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has said, with which I agree almost entirely. It would however be discourteous not to repeat the tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and those who have assisted him in bringing the Bill to the House. They have worked extremely hard. They have dealt with all the problems with great courtesy, and as a result we have a Bill with which we can be pleased.

But the fact remains that this should have been a government Bill. In fact I think that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, say in his first couple of sentences that the Bill fulfils a pledge made by the Government. It does absolutely no such thing. It is the only thing that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, said which was not quite so: it fulfils the pledge of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, to do what the Government have found themselves unable to do, and which they should have done, instead of putting through the House, and sometimes not entirely through the House, Bills of much less worth upon which your Lordships have had to spend a great deal of time taking to pieces and sending back again.

This is a good Bill. It is a Bill upon which there is wide agreement. Both the Front Bench and the Back Benches of my party in another place will support it. I only hope that the Government will find some way of fulfilling the pledges which they owe and which they have not yet shown any sign of paying. We wish the Bill well, and we thank the noble Lord, Lord Norrie.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I wish to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for the way in which he has brought forward the Bill, and to make two points briefly in congratulating him on his success so far tonight. Perhaps I may first reply to some of the criticisms made outside the House as we have been progressing through the Bill, that this is somehow an attempt to take the national parks out of local government. On the contrary, the Bill creates a statutory framework for national park authorities consisting of local government representatives. It also ensures that a financial basis of national park funding from local government will be secure. That is a point which needs repeating as the Bill goes to another place.

The second point relates to what my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said. I was present at the national park authorities' conference in Brecon where the commitment to legislate on the Edwards recommendations for independent park authorities was made by the Minister of State at the Welsh Office, Sir Wyn Roberts. That same commitment was made simultaneously that day for the national parks in England. Therefore, this is a clear government commitment. I endorse all that has been said from both sides of the House; that it is up to the Government's managers in another place to ensure that the Bill goes through.

There are those of us who see this as a test of the Government's willingness to do something in the area of environmental legislation. If we cannot have other more major environmental legislation, which we have been promised, at least we can have this Bill. All that it does is to place our national parks on a secure footing at a time of local government change. That is the least the Government can do for the environment in this Session of Parliament.

Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for the way that he has conducted the Bill. I also thank those advisers in the voluntary national park organisations and the Council for National Parks and others who have supported the noble Lord. In particular, I thank him for the excellent letters in Welsh which he sent out recently.

8.21 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, enough has been said about the difficulties facing the Bill and about the purpose of it. I shall confine myself to saying a few thank you's, which are necessary. Obviously, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who has worked extremely hard, As my noble friend Lord Williams said, he conducted himself with great dignity and much credit is due to him.

Many people have been involved in work on the Bill. I wish to thank members of the Council for National Parks, who put a great deal of work into the measure. They collaborated with the Department of the Environment. Although it is unusual, I wish to thank those in that department who worked hard on drafting what proved to be a difficult and tricky Bill. I suspect that their work is not finished.

I wish to thank in particular the staff of the parks we visited last year. They gave up a tremendous amount of their time at a busy time of year in order to show us the work they had done. I thank the farmers and the residents of the parks who were willing to talk to us and put forward their points of view. They proved by their comments that it is possible to have good relations between the national park authorities and residents and farmers. Special thanks are due to them.

Finally, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who had a difficult. part in this little play. He spoke for the Government but not for the Government, and he did so most skilfully. I hope that his noble friend Lord St. Davids will manage with equal skill. I wish the Bill every success in another place and I remind the Government that there is urgency in getting it through.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Walpole

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for what he has done. On Second Reading I said that I considered myself to be a midwife to the Broads authority Bill. I suppose that the few of us who are in the Chamber tonight may consider ourselves midwives to this Bill. I hope that the birth will be happy and fairly imminent.

I wish to make one comment—and bother the politics! That is why I sit on the Cross Benches. important that the Bill will have benefits. It will benefit those who in future run the parks and those who live and work in them. If the other authorities work as well as the Broads authority, they will do very well indeed.

8.24 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Arran, I wish to begin by apologising for his absence tonight. As we speak, he is in attendance at the UN Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. I know that he would have liked to have been here to congratulate my noble friend Lord Norrie for the way in which he has handled the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. But instead that pleasure has been left to me.

We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Norrie for the way that he has presided over the Bill and we admire the support which has been demonstrated for the establishment of independent national park authorities.

The Government are committed to safeguarding the future of the 10 national parks in England and Wales. In reply to the work of the National Parks Review Panel, we set out our proposals for the future of the parks in our January 1992 policy statement. In it, we accepted the central recommendation that we should introduce legislation to establish independent authorities for all the parks as soon as there 'was a suitable opportunity to do so.

I know that there is much disappointment that because of pressure on the parliamentary timetable we were unable to bring forward a government Bill this Session, but I congratulate my noble friend on promoting a Bill which addresses this central issue of establishing a new and common administration for all the parks. As my noble friend Lord Arran indicated at the Bill's Second Reading, the Government are pleased to offer their full support.

We recognise that this Bill fulfils only part of the commitments that we made in response to the review panel. However, we believe it to be the most important and urgent part. As my noble friend Lord Arran made clear when we debated the Bill at Second Reading, and as he reiterated at Report stage, it remains our firm intention to introduce further legislation to meet the rest of our commitments as soon as there is the opportunity to do so.

This Bill places the national park authorities on a sound footing and ensures that the framework within which they will operate will enable the parks to be managed more effectively. The founding national parks legislation is now over 40 years old and no longer adequately reflects the need for the parks' administration to reflect up-to-date practice. Furthermore, I believe that the Bill will form the basis of a better relationship between the parks and those who live and work in them.

Your Lordships will appreciate that the need for independence for the park authorities is seen as urgent in the light of the unknown outcome of the review of local government. The timing for local government reorganisation in areas affecting the parks will depend on the Local Government Commission's recommendations and Parliament's decisions on them. However, whatever the outcome of reorganisation, this Bill will secure the future administration of the national parks.

There has been much discussion during the passage of this Bill about the membership of the new authorities. Indeed, the Bill has emerged from your Lordships' House with three amendments all of which relate to this issue. My noble friend Lord Arran made it clear at each stage of the Bill that it is our intention that the current balance of representation between local authority and Secretary of State members will be maintained so that two-thirds of the total will be appointed by the local authorities and one-third by the Secretary of State. And, indeed, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Derwent, which was agreed in Committee, sets out beyond any possible doubt that there will always be a clear majority of local authority members on each national park authority.

My noble friend Lord Norrie's amendment, which was agreed at Report stage and which developed the intention underlying the earlier amendment of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, will ensure that the composition of the committees and sub-committees of national park authorities will reflect the proportions of local authority and Secretary of State members on the authority itself.

Debate on this Bill has also drawn attention to the important role which parish and community councils play in the affairs of the national parks. Arising from this discussion, my noble friend the Minister assured your Lordships that in due course we intend to issue guidance through a departmental circular to the new authorities which will strongly recommend that they should make formal provision to ensure that the parish and community councils in their areas are given the fullest opportunity to make their views known.

During the passage of this Bill we have also touched on a number of issues which merit wider debate and discussion; for instance, the economic and social responsibilities of the national park authorities. My noble friend Lord Arran listened very carefully to the arguments put forward on this issue during discussion of my noble friend Lord Peel's amendment tabled on Report and expressed his sympathy with the arguments surrounding my noble friend's amendment. I am happy to reiterate our commitment that the Government's legislation to update national park purposes will clarify the need for national park authorities to take full account of the economic and social needs of local communities. This Bill addresses the central issue of the status of the authorities responsible for managing these most precious areas. We are committed to implementing its provisions at the earliest opportunity to ensure that the long-term administration of the parks is secured.

During its passage through this House your Lordships will have become aware of the almost universal support for the Bill and the amount of goodwill which my noble friend Lord Norrie has generated by its introduction. I have been especially aware of, and heartened by, the full and constructive contribution which my noble friend has been offered by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Beaumont, and the continuing support which they have demonstrated for this Bill.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has apprehensions for the future of this Bill in another place. The noble Lord will be aware that the Government cannot guarantee this Bill a safe passage but I can give him our assurance that we shall do all that is within our power to assist its progress. We shall continue to work as closely with its sponsors in another place as we have with my noble friend in this House. I wish the Bill well and hope that it enjoys continued success.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, it remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. If I were to summarise the Bill I would say that it has a narrow focus and aims solely to set up new authorities to run all the national parks. There is widespread support both inside and outside Parliament for the principles of the Bill. It is a first step towards the package of measures recommended by the National Parks Review Panel, which it is expected the Government will introduce at the earliest opportunity.

My Private Member's Bill is a timely opportunity to provide the national parks with the best level of administrative arrangements for the future and to enable them to withstand the rigours of local government reorganisation. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before nine o'clock.