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Lord Denham: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Ullswater and Her Majesty's Government for finding time in their parliamentary programme for this Bill and, in particular, Part III of the Bill which deals with national parks and is of special interest to me as a member of the Countryside Commission.
The 10 national parks were established by means of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. At that time few people foresaw the great changes that have since occurred in our way of life and the resulting pressures on rural land in general and the national parks in particular. The qualities of the parks--their beauty, relative wildness and the opportunities that they give for outdoor recreation and for finding peace and quiet--are at a premium in today's fast moving and crowded society. At present, they are visited by over 100 million people every year; and their qualities will become even more necessary if current development and leisure trends continue.
The National Parks Commission was expanded in 1968 to become the Countryside Commission of today. In 1989 the Countryside Commission set up the National Parks Review Panel, under the chairmanship of Professor Ron Edwards, and in 1991 it also published that panel's report called Fit for the future. It is from that report that many of the proposals relating to national parks in this Bill, which is the first comprehensive legislation on the subject for 45 years, are derived.
Particularly welcome is the establishment of new free-standing national park authorities within the local government framework. New authorities are needed to create a clearer focus for achieving park purposes. They need to be able to set their own agenda and have the freedom to decide how to use their limited resources most effectively. Of course, these proposals are based on those in the National Parks Bill, which was introduced in your Lordships' House in the last Session by my noble friend Lord Norrie and received widespread support.
One small but important addition is the proposal to make the current proportions of membership on park committees and boards--two thirds of the authorities' membership from local authorities with areas in the national park and one third nominated by the Secretary of State--a statutory requirement.
So much is good in the Bill that it may seem churlish of me if I express a certain amount of regret about the omission from it of two key recommendations from the Edwards Report. The first is the need for a statutory test for proposed major development. In the national parks the highest priority must be to safeguard the essential character of these nationally important areas. Major development, such as new roads, quarries and industrial
Let me end by making a brief reference to the agri-environment clauses, Clauses 80 and 81. I apologise for that appalling example of environmental jargon. Those clauses herald the start of a new relationship between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment and its agencies in developing environmental schemes. In 1996 the successful countryside stewardship scheme, pioneered by the Countryside Commission, will be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. By that time, the ministry's agri-environment schemes will be spending £100 million a year on environmental and access benefits for the nation. The Countryside Commission, English Nature and English Heritage are the Government's specialist advisers on environment and countryside matters. It is important that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of the Environment and those three agencies should work together, perhaps through a steering group on the agri-environment programme. I should like to ask my noble friend what plans he has for achieving that.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel referred to the fact that there would be a contribution from this side of the House about the Scottish parts of the Bill. Perhaps I may say first to the Minister that we get a little annoyed when large and important parts of Scottish legislation are pushed into a Bill which is basically an English and Welsh Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel that it would have been far better had there been a Welsh Bill also: one for each of the countries. The laws and habits of the people are quite different and I believe that separate Bills would have been better.
I know that the Government like to get their business through as quickly as possible and are convinced that they have the perfect Bill. I should be very surprised if that were the case. It seems to me, from all the correspondence I have received from Scotland, that a very large number of amendments to the Bill will be proposed. Despite the care taken and the great ability of the draftsman, I predict that because of the nature of the Bill, and particularly because Scotland is included in this way, at the end of the day the Government will finish up with an enormous number of amendments as the Bill goes through this House and another place.
There is a very long list of speakers. I do not intend to speak for very long but I must make one or two general comments. First, let me apologise to the House and say that I cannot be quite so enthusiastic about some parts of the Bill as some noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly concerned that there is no indication of real public participation in the environmental debate. To my mind, it is extremely important that local authorities have some kind of meaningful representation on the bodies concerned.
My main reason for believing that it is so important is that when ordinary people have a comment to make or an objection to raise they find it very difficult to go to bodies like the Scottish environment protection agency or the English environment agency. They are too big and remote. We are discussing the big environmental difficulties--the noble Lord mentioned quarries and there may be a very large problem in Scotland--which are problems that everyone grasps. But what cause even more trouble to ordinary people are fairly local pollutions, which they must be able to report locally. They must be able to find out where they can report them. An example from my area which caused very great trouble was a glue-making factory, which is a very odious thing. It was a trifling matter, but one which caused great trouble and discomfort. Ordinary people would find it very difficult to go to any place as elevated as the Scottish environment protection agency to make a protest in such a case. At the other end of the scale, we have been speaking about the national parks. Many of us would like to have a national park in Loch Lomond, and I agree that that would require the involvement of a much bigger body.
Sometimes this House may appear a little remote and believe that an apparently perfect scheme can work. But I should like to emphasise that the average person finds it very difficult to go to an office and make a complaint. On the other hand, they feel that they have a right to go to their public representative, whether it is a councillor or Member of Parliament, and that their representative has an obligation to listen to them. The representative is the one person who can put them on the right lines or take up their case. Anyone who has been in local or national government and listened week after week to the people who come to the surgeries will know how important it is that they appear not only to be making local by-laws, but also to being the mouthpiece and earpiece of the ordinary citizens who have no powers or experience, even if they manage to summon up the courage to approach a large organisation. I suggest that in Scotland we shall end up with a super-quango rather than a genuine representative body which people will feel able to approach. Simple air pollution, whether from smoke or industrial processes, is just as unpleasant to the ordinary person as are the more elaborate forms of pollution.
A point raised by the Law Society of Scotland concerns the level of contribution the Scottish environmental protection agency will make to sustainable development. My question is: what is sustainable development? The right reverend Prelate called it "environmentally sustainable" development. Most of the speeches mentioned it, though I do not believe that anybody properly tied up the matter to say exactly what it is.
My last point is this. If we have a Scottish environmental protection agency it is important that members of the public should be able to inspect the records--even if it is necessary to pay for the privilege--and perhaps even attend some of the meetings of the board. Another respected lobby that was in touch with me--the Scottish Consumer Council--is concerned about the membership of the board. It is worried that if the board chairman and deputy chairman of the SEPA are appointed by the Secretary of State they will not have full public support. There is no doubt that if the Government appoint the quangos in Scotland in the same way as they appoint other quangos they will be highly unrepresentative. Many people believe that there should be nominations for membership of the agency so that people can see exactly what it consists of. I would prefer to have a strong representation of elected members on the board; not all, but a certain proportion. Ultimately, local accountability will be reduced with the establishment of the SEPA unless there are places for current local authority representatives, as they already have reserve places on the purification boards. That ensures, at least to some degree, local accountability and a place to which ordinary people will be able to make representation if they find that the environment is being defiled in any way.
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