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Jim Knight: Thank you for that helpful guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
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I oppose amendment (a). The effect of amendments (a) and (b)—if I make take them together, Madam Deputy Speaker—would be to exclude "cultural heritage" and promoting

from the considerations that can inform the designation criteria for national parks.

To turn first to amendment (a), I hope to persuade the House that cultural heritage has been at the core of our concept of national parks in England since the 1940s. It was recognised by the founding fathers of the national parks movement that England and Wales have nothing that approaches the wilderness areas that were being designated in the United States at the time. In England and Wales, it was always recognised that the most exceptional landscapes demonstrate a harmony between man and nature. That encompasses cultural heritage, which, as was rightly pointed out by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), includes the built heritage produced by working the land.

For example, hon. Members would agree that the Yorkshire Dales national park is outstanding. I would invite members to pause and reflect for a moment, as I speak, and imagine the quintessential Yorkshire dales landscape. I am sure that their thoughts would include a pattern of stone walls, field barns and farm houses—all part of the cultural heritage of the Yorkshire dales, which we should include as part of our purpose in designating national parks.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the designation of the Yorkshire Dales national park also ought to include a good youth hostel? Will he consider giving some assistance to the youth hostels in the Yorkshire dales that are about to close?

Jim Knight: As ever, my hon. Friend is ingenious in finding ways to make representations on important causes, and the future of youth hostels is certainly one of them. I will bear his comments in mind.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Minister was unable to help the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), but he recently visited my constituency and Backdale quarry, and he was incredibly helpful in assisting the Peak district by issuing a stop notice. So I was very disappointed yesterday to receive a press statement that said:

the Deputy Prime Minister

How can anyone take any reassurance from the Government's word on the national parks, when a junior Minister gives the go-ahead and approval for an action that is then cancelled and overridden by the Deputy Prime Minister? If the Minister cannot give me an answer today, will he ensure that he makes a statement before the House rises tomorrow?

Jim Knight: I will certainly look into the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes and find a suitable opportunity to respond fully; I am certainly unable to do so now.
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These Lords amendments are intended to clarify the interpretation of the statutory criteria for the designation of national parks under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, in line with how they have been generally understood and applied for the past 56 years. As we have heard, they are being introduced in response to a judgment on a High Court challenge to the New Forest national park designation order of 2005. The amendments return the situation to one in which we have what were generally understood, prior to the judgment, to be the relevant criteria, but with greater clarity.

6.30 pm

Mr. Bone rose—

Jim Knight: Let me just make a little more progress, and then I will give way.

The Court found that the interpretation of the designation criteria should not be informed by national park purposes and appeared to favour a more restrictive interpretation of what could be considered to be "natural" in the context of "natural beauty". During the past 56 years, the criteria for designation have been understood and read in the light of the purposes of national parks. In 1991 a report by the national parks review panel, "Fit for the Future", reviewed the criteria and the purposes and recommended that there should be more explicit references to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the parks in the first purpose.

The Government accepted that recommendation, as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) pointed out, and used the Environment Act 1995 to amend the preservation and conservation purpose in section 5(1) of the 1949 Act. No changes were made to the designation criteria because it was thought to be generally understood at the time that the criteria were informed by the purposes. However, that assumed link was broken by the Meyrick judgment handed down last November. Therefore, the Government believe that we should now take explicit steps to make sure, in statute, that the 1995 Act changes do indeed apply to the designation criteria as well as to the purposes.

Mr. Bone: Will the Minister deal with the point about the appeal that has been lodged? Why do we need to have legislation now, before the appeal has been dealt with?

Jim Knight: I was going to deal with that question when I responded to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). There are a number of reasons why we need to act now. A degree of uncertainty would otherwise be created in respect of other issues relating to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. I am not referring specifically to the south downs. The Countryside Agency is considering other issues in relation to extensions to some national parks, for example. We need to be able to offer certainty for that work to be continued. The opportunity to revise the 1949 Act in the future would be very uncertain. It could be many years before Parliament has another
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opportunity to restore what we believe is the status quo. That is why we would like to act now. If the Bill achieves Royal Assent, as I hope it will in the next day or so, I will have to consider what our position should be on the appeal, in the light of having made those changes.

The main amendment, Lords amendment No. 17, adapts the criteria by incorporating the terminology of the purposes to make it clear that national park purposes are behind the criteria. As I have explained, we believe that that approach is what was intended by the original legislation. I have already talked about amendment (a). I think from what has been said that amendment (b) is an objection to the forward-looking nature of promoting

By that I mean that in deciding whether a piece of land should be designated, one can consider whether, through the actions of the national park authority, or someone else, its values for understanding and enjoyment could be increased. I must point out that that was fully explored in the New Forest inquiry and the Meyrick judgment.

The second criterion for designation in the 1949 Act, which amendment (b) does not alter, refers to opportunities for open air recreation. It is inherent in the word "opportunities" that an appropriate degree of looking to the future was intended; that point was even accepted by both the claimants and the judge in the Meyrick judgment. In response to the point about potential damage to the very environment and landscape that we are seeking to protect through national park status, the Sandford principle applies to national park authorities, so in the last resort their decisions would have to come down in favour of the environment. I could go on, but I suspect that some of my hon. Friends would not find that to their taste.

Mr. Paice: Lords amendment No. 33 reaches the heart of the Meyrick judgment on what natural beauty is by defining it in a way that I—and the whole House, I am sure—am more than happy with. Perhaps the Minister will explain why that is not sufficient, and why Lords amendment No. 17 is necessary on top of it.

Jim Knight: Lords amendment No. 17 specifically and only deals with national parks. Lords amendment No. 33 addresses the degree of naturalness that is needed to meet the natural beauty criteria for areas of outstanding natural beauty and thus clarifies matters for all definitions of natural beauty in statute. It is important to make that distinction. Lords amendment No. 17 deals with purpose, and we have a balance between purpose and criteria.

Lords amendments Nos. 35 to 37 provide for the commencement of the provisions two months after the Act has passed. I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

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