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The Earl of Onslow: What happens if, when he has sent the invitation marked RSVP to the local authority, the local authority regrets very much that it is unable to attend the dinner party? What happens then?

Viscount Ullswater: I am afraid that I did not get the gist of my noble friend's remarks.

The Earl of Onslow: My noble friend said that he would invite local authorities to enter into traffic management agreements. If, seeing RSVP on the bottom of the invitation, they regret that they are unable to attend and do not co-operate, what happens then?

Viscount Ullswater: The whole point was that we would expect them to co-operate. We would ask them to do so. But we do not feel it right to take a power to make them do so.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I do not quite understand what the Minister is getting at. If a national park authority is to be a planning authority and if it is to be, in a sense, the authority that looks after the environment in its own area of the national park, it must surely have the same powers as a traffic authority to keep open the byways and bridleways. It must also have the power—it should have the power—to establish within its own park the relevant bridleways, byways and footpaths; otherwise it cannot protect the environment—

Lord Renton: I wonder whether I may suggest what I hope is a constructive way out of this. Surely a highway authority which has the responsibility for maintaining road surfaces and road signs should, even within a national park, continue to have that responsibility. I should have thought that the same would apply to highway authorities which are responsible for minor roads.

As regards rights of way such as bridlepaths and footpaths, is it not sensible that the national park authority, which is responsible for ensuring the preservation of all the other land within the national park, should have that responsibility? In other words, there would be a division of the public responsibilities involved.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has made an interesting and serious point with which I agree. Certainly, the national park authority must have responsibility for establishing what are the county roads, the bridleways, the rights of way and so forth. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is right in saying that the national park authority should not have the responsibility for maintaining an asphalted road, a county road or whatever it might be.

I speak from experience in Wales. As regards many of the Welsh national parks, we do not know where the bridleways are. I do not live in a national park but I can

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tell the Committee that the bridleway which passes my house is not on the ordnance survey. However, old records show that there is a bridleway. I believe that the same is true in the Brecon Beacons national park.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that it need not necessarily be the national park authority which has the duty of maintaining such roads. However, the authority must have an obligation and a duty to establish exactly within its area what are the bridleways and paths in order that we can be certain about it.

Lord Derwent: I am advised that the roads about which we are speaking exclude metalled roads of the kind referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Williams, and trunk roads. The Minister said that he recognised my success in drumming up support. Most of the organisations I listed earlier took the initiative in telephoning me to say that they had noticed that I had tabled the amendment and wished me to know that I had their full support. I draw attention to the fact that the list included the Association of Local Councils, which would be giving up the role, in addition to the national park officers, the Association of National Parks and so forth, which will be taking on the role.

All speakers have supported my position. Prior to the debate I went to some trouble to try to find an organisation connected with the issue which was not in favour. I wanted to hear the arguments against. The first voice that I have heard speak against the proposal is that of my noble friend the Minister. It is 10.28 p.m.; it would not be appropriate to divide the Committee tonight. However, I hope that the Minister will recognise that the support of a wide range of organisations outside the Committee, plus the heavy support I have received in the Committee, suggests that if on Report he is unable to return to the House having given further consideration to the matter—and I have taken his answer to mean no—it is almost inevitable that we shall have to test the opinion of the House.

The Minister talks about asking the authorities to delegate powers. But that is precisely what the Government have been doing since the Edwards Report. The fact is that many of them have simply refused to do so. There is no reason whatever to believe that another ministerial circular will encourage the authorities to change their minds. I hope that the Minister will at least throw out a crumb of comfort, indicating that without commitment he will take the matter away to his department and think again before the Report stage.

10.30 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, which he indicated he would do because of the lateness of the hour, I should like to tell him and the Committee that I recognise the feeling in the House and I have listened to what has been said. Therefore, without commitment, I should like to go away and think again about this issue. Perhaps between now and Report, my noble friend and I could discuss the matter to see whether there is a way forward.

Lord Derwent: I am grateful to my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 259B to 260 not moved.]

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 69 agreed to.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 260A:

Before Clause 70, insert the following new clause:

("Management of National Parks and other sites

. The functions of the control and management of each National Park authority, set out in section 61 above, or those of National Nature Reserves or Sites of Special Scientific Interest designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, shall be carried out in each case wholly by the relevant conservation agency, namely the National Park authority, or English Nature, Scottish National Heritage, or the Countryside Council for Wales, except where specific management agreements have been or will be negotiated with owners or occupiers of such designated areas under section 15 of the Countryside Act 1968 or under section 132 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the proposed new clause is to ensure the continued effective management of national parks, national nature reserves and SSSIs by the relevant conservation agencies or authorities in the public sector except where there are specific negotiated agreements with owners or occupiers.

The reason for tabling the amendment will be well known to Members of the Committee and to all of us who are concerned within the environment movement generally about the proposals, which have received substantial press coverage—and I refer to them as proposals—that certain nature reserves and conservation activities might have been transferred from the current management to other forms of management at the behest of the right honourable John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales.

I shall not speak at any length on this because I shall give the Minister the opportunity to put the Government's side of the case, and I look forward with interest to hearing that. It seems to me that an interesting scenario has emerged whereby the present Secretary of State for Wales has revived proposals which were floated by a previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the late Lord Ridley, and that those proposals were then put upon—and I say it in those terms—the Countryside Council for Wales. The way in which those proposals were pursued was to curtail severely the public expenditure allocation of that council for the next financial year. The cut of £3.7 million in the budget of the council has been referred to already in this Chamber both at Question Time and also in our earlier debates on the Environment Bill.

Nothing has been said to me from the government Front Bench in this Chamber or, so far as I have seen from the record, in the other place to put our minds at rest. Indeed, it was not the intention of the Secretary of State, as it was reported in the press the weekend before last, to pursue objectives which would have transferred the management of those valuable sites from the public to the private sector, or at least to other forms of management which might have included forms of contractorisation.

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I am well aware that the Secretary of State appeared at a press conference on 31st January. I quote from a Hysbysiad I'r Wasg, Y Swyddfa Gymreig, and because of the hour, I quote the English version. It states:

    "'I want everyone to be clear about my objectives and my priorities,' said Mr. Redwood. 'I have no plans for privatising nature reserves, nor any wish to halt the valuable work of the Countryside Council for Wales'".

The press release continues:

    "I want it to concentrate on improving the management of protected areas".

What does the Secretary of State mean by talking about the improved management "of protected areas"? Many of us who have lived, walked and loved such areas for a quarter of a century regard them as being extremely well managed by the national park authorities, by the owners and by the lessors of those sites. Indeed, that applies also to the scientific expertise of the Countryside Council and its predecessor authority the Nature Conservancy Council in Wales, which, as I have said before, was effectively directed by a colleague of mine who is now in the private sector, Dr. Tom Pritchard. In that connection, I declare an interest as someone who is a director of a private environmental consultancy who would perhaps benefit were the Secretary of State to carry out his proposal.

Therefore, I am speaking in favour of the principle and, in a sense, against my own interest in saying that those valuable sites should be maintained in perpetuity within public sector management and control. It is possible that there are ways in which the public sector management of those sites can be made more effective as the Secretary of State implies, but it is important for us to know how that would happen. In other words, whether it would mean transfers of functions between existing conservation bodies, between park authorities and other public sector bodies; or, indeed, whether it might involve the further activity of the National Trust, the North Wales Wildlife Trust or of any such bodies. It must not mean that those sites are transferred out of public control and management. In my view, that could only be detrimental.

As we have already heard in this Chamber this evening, the Countryside Council is highly regarded both in Wales and internationally within the conservation field because of the way that it has managed to integrate the activities of conservation and countryside management. The key to that lies in being able to call upon the public sector management skills—the scientific skills, the wardenship skills, and the access-control skills. All of them are available in that organisation. In the way that it is able to oversee the management of such sites, it has made a unique contribution to conservation policies.

Therefore, I hope that we shall receive reassurances from the Government Bench this evening and that, if necessary, the Department of the Environment will convey the message from this Chamber to the Secretary of State for Wales. I know that the Government may say that it is quite right for Wales to have different policies

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if it so desires. Of course, we all believe that; but the policies in Wales must not be worse than the policies in England. I beg to move.

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