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5.43 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I join the chorus of welcome for the Bill generally, although I share some of the misgivings that have been expressed all around the House. I hope that in Committee we shall return to some of the issues relating to water resource management. Little has been said about that today, but there is a great deal to be cleared up.

There is a long list of speakers and therefore I shall concentrate on a few items with which I have a particular association and interest. Obviously, they relate to that part of the Bill dealing with the national parks. I am particularly pleased with the proposals for membership of the authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, drew attention to that. Schedule 7 makes it clear that a majority of members will be appointed by local authorities. I hope that that will address any residual anxieties about the new bodies being yet more quangos. They clearly fall into the local government sector.

I welcome too the proposal that the chairman and deputy chairman of each body will be elected from among all the members. The presence of the Secretary of State's appointees reflects the national importance of the parks. It is vital that those appointees have expertise in national park purposes and it is also important that, as far as is practicable, they have local knowledge. Above all else, I hope that the Government will give assurances that there will be transparency in the appointments system so that we can all feel confident that the appointees are of the highest calibre available to the Minister. That is most important because the new authorities must enjoy the confidence of the local people. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.

Like my noble friend Lord Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Chorley and Lord Crickhowell, I am disappointed that the "quiet enjoyment" of the parks has not been spelt out in the purposes of the national parks. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, quoted the Edwards Report. On many occasions, the Government in their response to the report used the phrase "quiet enjoyment" and did not suggest that they had any difficulty with it. If they have changed their mind would they explain why? They used the phrase as recently as September of this year in PPG24, which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. What happened between September and December to make them drop the word "quiet"?

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If it is that in legal and drafting terms "quiet" is pregnant with meaning I am sure that the parliamentary draftsman is equal to the challenge of finding a phrase that will fulfil the longstanding intention that the parks are for quiet enjoyment.

I have received a briefing from the Association of National Parks. It suggests that the relevant subsection of the Bill should read:

    "promoting opportunities for the public enjoyment and understanding of the special qualities including the tranquillity of those areas".

That phraseology would do almost as well as "quiet", but I should prefer to return to the original wording.

These restated purposes will shape national park policies for many years to come. We have waited 40 years for this legislation and it is impossible to foretell now what forms of recreational activity will evolve during the life of the Act. Already, some forms of hi-tech sport cause problems and such sports are part of a rapidly developing industry. The Government need to be visionary about the kind of recreation that is appropriate in national parks. We know that most people value them as tranquil havens from urban pressures. I hope that the Government share that view and will ensure that it continues. The legislation must also be visionary in that respect and not shy away from the problem.

Clause 59 gives the new authorities a duty in pursuing the national park purposes to:

    "have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities".

That is a welcome clarification but it is not precisely what the review panel intended, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said. I hope that the Minister will spell out the Government's intentions.

The Edwards panel recommended that the "have regard to" duty should be fulfilled,

    "only in such a way that the environmental quality of the parks is sustained and, where possible, enhanced".

The panel was quite specific in recommending that the park authorities should not have prime responsibility in the socio-economic sphere, but should support others whose prime responsibility that was. It recognised that it would be wrong to duplicate the role of others such as the Rural Development Commission, the Welsh Development Agency or local authorities.

The intention of the Edwards panel, which we hope the Government share, was that the development in the parks should be sustainable and not damaging. The panel recognised that the vitality of the park communities is essential to the environmental health of the parks, the converse also being true.

The park authorities' prime duty is to pursue their purposes as laid down in legislation. I know that some members of the Countryside Commission feel that they should take on board the furtherance of the social and economic role but I think that that would be a mistake because the National Parks Authority should be in a position to measure objectively proposals put forward by those organisations whose duty it is to "foster" or "promote" socio-economic development and to make

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comments where necessary. I do not believe that it would be helpful to blur the respective areas of responsibility.

I welcome Clause 79 which enables the appropriate Ministers to make regulations to protect important hedgerows, although I should have preferred to see that referred to in primary legislation. I am concerned that there may be too long a delay before action is taken and it would be helpful if the Minister could give some idea of the timescale envisaged. He discussed how the production of the regulations would be approached, but he did not give us an idea of how long it is likely to take.

Perhaps I may make a suggestion. The production of the draft legislation in regard to the environmental agencies was extremely helpful. It enables people to see what was proposed and to make helpful suggestions. I suspect that that has taken a great deal of the heat out of what might have been long arguments. Therefore, I suggest that the same approach should be taken in relation to hedgerows. I hope that the draft regulations will be produced fairly swiftly so that people have an idea of what is in the Government's mind. That would be extremely helpful.

At the same time the Minister may remember that there are other landscape features which are worthy of protection such as stone walls, which I believe one or two noble Lords have mentioned, and some ponds, especially in national parks. The review panel recommended landscape conservation orders. For some reason, the Government have resisted that suggestion, which has been put before them for a number of years. Perhaps they have weakened a little on that and I suggest that the use of landscape conservation orders would be a very useful tool for that purpose.

Clause 80 gives MAFF powers to make grants for purposes conducive to conservation and we have heard that it will take on the countryside stewardship schemes. Would it be possible for national park authorities to act as agents for such schemes? They have considerable expertise in the areas connected with them and I suggest that in some national parks, where they already have a fairly active relationship with the local farming community, it may be a useful consideration for them to be given agency powers. I understand that it has worked very well in Snowdonia, for example, where the Tir Cymen--I hope that my Welsh friends will forgive my pronunciation--scheme has been very successful.

I have one final and quite different point to make in regard to packaging, in respect of which I must declare an interest. Recently I have been involved in a short study, with the packaging industry, of the minimisation of packaging, although it is not the packaging industry that has raised the point with me. I wish to deal with the issue of producer responsibility.

I am concerned that the present wording of Clause 76(5) enables the Secretary of State to impose a selective obligation on one part of the packaging chain since that would seem to contradict the view of the Producer Responsibility Group which indicated in its final report, published in November, that there should be duty of care placed on all participants in the chain. I should be grateful to have clarification of the

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Government's intentions in that respect and in particular in regard to the requirements which may be imposed on small businesses.

I seek information with regard to whether the Government intend to set thresholds and therefore exclude small companies. Also, what will be the scope of packaging on which obligations will be imposed and how will minimisation be measured? I understand that the noble Viscount may require time to answer those questions and I should be very happy if he would answer them in writing rather than at the Dispatch Box today.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Hesketh: My Lords, first, I must apologise to your Lordships' House because, due to a long-standing previous engagement, I shall be unable to be in my place when the Minister rises to wind up the Second Reading debate. Secondly, I feel that it would be right and proper to declare an interest as a landowner, because the Bill has a great deal to do with the land.

I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister for finding the time to introduce it in your Lordships' House. However, I have two small reservations about the measure. The first concerns its weight. In a simplistic way, its weight indicates a further extension of regulation, to which I shall return in a few moments.

My second reservation is in relation to the length of the Long Title. It may be described as a sort of hangover of paranoia from spending too long in the Whips Office, but it is a source of concern to anyone interested in the tidy completion of the Government's business. I hope that during our discussions of what is an excellent Bill too much advantage will not be taken of the Long Title to extend the proposition which is before your Lordships today.

In the summer of this year, I had the honour to speak to your Lordships' House on the deregulation Bill. If there is one depressing aspect of the Bill before us today it is that there is a great deal of regulation within it. Noble Lords on all sides often indicate an interest in reducing regulation. However, I feel that on this occasion we are adding to it, albeit in a good cause.

There are occasions when one can see a Bill as a thoroughly good proposition which can only be added to. I believe that that is not necessarily the case. I do not intend to delay your Lordships for long this evening as there are many speakers. I intend to refer to one clause only; namely, Clause 79, which refers to hedgerows.

If one goes back to the Second World War--I should not wish to detain your Lordships by going back any further--the primary effects on hedgerows have been created by income tax, capital taxation, mechanisation, deficiency payments in the original case and now the common agricultural policy. Thus, the proposition that one small piece of legislation can rectify 45 years of history is somewhat doubtful.

I am very grateful to the Minister, as I am sure are all Members of your Lordships' House, for expanding upon the detail of Clause 79. The clause in the Bill as printed refers to "important hedgerows". The Minister referred to the principle that any property owner will

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have to notify his local authority of the removal of a hedgerow and wait 28 days for a decision. The truth is that on that criteria--the dreaded word so popular within government--every single hedgerow in England, by definition, will become important. I am sure that that is not the purpose of the Bill, nor is it a satisfactory way in which to conclude the intentions of the clause.

With any kind of regulation which one starts to extend beyond the principle of planning permission, the listing of buildings and living objects, I reach a Rubicon which I find difficult to cross in relation to living objects. I do not believe there is any way one can regulate the activity of hedges in the longer term and more importantly, the decisions that are taken about them by people who may have an interest only in the hedge and not the whole countryside. There is a broader picture which, lamentably, in my experience, is not often seen by experts.

Why do I doubt experts? It is arguable that if you leave school at the age of 15, as I did, you are taught at an early age to be careful about experts. This is an area, I believe, in which the Minister will see the advantage of not providing too much opportunity for discussion and, more importantly, division in the countryside.

I have no difficulty with the rest of the Bill, apart from one great desire. I believe that its extension would be to the detriment of the intention. The interest in what is an excellent Bill is to contain excellence. I believe that we must resist the ambition of amendments to create bureaucratic oppression.

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