Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Norrie: My Lords, I put my name to the amendment, which has the support of the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales. It would provide the necessary positive incentive to encourage public bodies to engage in environmentally friendly practices. If we cannot achieve such an approach in national parks, where the Government are committed to the highest status of the protection of landscape and scenic beauty, where on earth can we achieve it?

I wish to refer briefly to the guidance on this matter because it is most relevant. I am worried that the guidance makes only the briefest reference to this subsection of Clause 59 and to the role of public bodies. The guidance does not treat the new duty as an important opportunity to ensure that national park purposes are afforded greater weight in all areas of public life. That was, after all, seen as a national responsibility by the National Parks Review Panel. Nor does the draft circular expand upon how the various public bodies should interpret their responsibilities. That reinforces my fear that the role of public bodies in national parks will not be given the priority it deserves by the clause as drafted.

The amendment gives the necessary boost to the idea that national parks are a shared responsibility; that is to say, by government departments and all public bodies. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will find that we can overcome the concerns expressed in Committee and will agree to give the suggested wording careful consideration.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, the Government in their strategy document on sustainable development, This Common Inheritance, reaffirm their commitment to national parks, calling them,

They also promised to,

    "ensure that their special needs and priorities are reflected in policies affecting agriculture, forestry, transport, industry and minerals".

9 Mar 1995 : Column 415

It appears therefore to make perfect sense that public bodies should be required wherever they can to further national park purposes in their work. Many public bodies carry out activities in the parks; for example, the Forestry Commission owns and therefore works directly on 10.7 per cent. of all national park land. It also offers grants and issues licences to other forestry operators. Water companies own 5.1 per cent. of the parks. They are also responsible for managing the demand for water, which in turn determines the need for new infrastructure.

Therefore, what those public bodies do in national parks could have an important bearing on the special qualities of the parks. I welcome the amendment, which would give a positive incentive to all public bodies in relation to national park purposes. I hope that the Government will find it acceptable.

Lord Wise: My Lords, I too support my noble friends' amendment. In Committee, I mentioned the fact that the National Parks Review Panel was quite clear that a "have regard to" duty in this context would not provide the incentive necessary for public bodies to pursue their activities in ways that are entirely sympathetic to park purposes.

I also suggested in Committee that the Minister might be concerned that not all government departments would be able to further the park purposes because of the conflict inherent in their activities. I believe that this amendment strikes the right balance.

The Edwards Report stated:

    "experience over the years shows that government departments have tended to regard National Park designation as a hindrance or an obstacle to their ends: certainly there has not been consistent evidence that they feel bound by the implications of designation".

The report continues:

    "As a result, sectoral policies have sometimes worked against the purposes of National Parks and they have rarely worked positively to help achieve these purposes".

The report therefore specifically recommended a duty that was stronger than the "have regard to" duty of the Countryside Act. The amendment seeks to achieve that. I hope that the Minister will heed the advice of the National Parks Review Panel and agree to look again at the clause. It requires co-operation throughout Whitehall but if we cannot achieve this for the national parks what hope have we of giving greater priority to the environment in any aspect of public life?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, during the Committee stage, my noble friends Lord Norrie, Lord Wise and Lord Addison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, moved an amendment (No. 256) which was very similar to the one before us today, only on that occasion the resulting duty on relevant bodies would have been simply "to further" national park purposes rather than to have regard to and "wherever practicable, further" national park purposes.

In Committee, I explained to your Lordships the practical difficulties in attempting to apply such an amendment because of the numerous agencies operating

9 Mar 1995 : Column 416

within the parks whose activities cannot be overridden; for example the supply of electricity or clean water to park communities.

While I understand that this amendment is intended to overcome that objection, I believe that the insertion of the proviso "wherever practicable" does not ease matters. What is meant by the term "practicable"? At which point is an authority expected to decide that it is not practicable to further national park purposes but instead to have regard to park purposes as it goes about its business in the parks? I therefore believe that the term is so vague that its application would bring no tangible benefits but would instead confuse and thereby inhibit the effective implementation of the duty.

I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Addison to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I wish to explore further with him how many public bodies which have an influence on our parks can be encouraged to play a more positive role. In Committee, the amendment received much support from all sides of the House and I hope that the Minister will give the matter further consideration. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 182:

Page 65, line 30, after ("purposes") insert ("that cannot be reconciled through management").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the "Sandford principle". The principle originates from the Sandford Report of 1974, which stated that, where there is an "irreconcilable conflict" between the two national parks purposes of conservation and recreation, conservation be given priority.

There appears to be overwhelming support for the intention that the Sandford principle should be enshrined in legislation. The Minister made it clear in his helpful reply to an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell in Committee that it is most certainly the Government's intention to achieve this. Indeed, the Minister made a most spirited defence of it, for which I am most grateful.

The question before us is, therefore: does subsection (2) of Clause 59 implement the Sandford principle in legislation? My concern is that as currently drafted, it does not. The crucial difference is that the Sandford principle includes the word "irreconcilable"; this means that reconciliation should be attempted before giving priority to conservation. By contrast, the clause as presently drafted simply states that where there appears to be a conflict conservation shall be given more weight. I suggest that the omission of any reference to the need to attempt reconciliation significantly alters the meaning.

I have studied the Minister's response to this issue in Committee very carefully and I am also most grateful to him for meeting my noble friend Lord Addison and myself to discuss the point. We understand that there may potentially be difficulties in using the word "irreconcilable" in legislation. Our hope is that the Government will be able to find an alternative form of

9 Mar 1995 : Column 417

words. These should capture the agreed intention that reconciliation through management should be attempted before giving conservation priority.

It is in that spirit that I move this amendment and I sincerely hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to help. I beg to move.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, the amendment avoids using the word "irreconcilable". It uses instead the expression "that cannot be reconciled through management", which was the suggestion that I made in Committee following the Minister's speech. In this way, we hope to make explicit the desire for management options to be explored. In contrast to the amendment tabled in Committee, this amendment no longer requires the park authority to deem that there is an irreconcilable conflict. We believe that by so doing we have met the concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Peel and referred to by the Minister that proving that a conflict is irreconcilable and may lead to such protracted debate that conservation may never be given priority.

We believe that our new amendment strikes the right balance. It has the support of the Countryside Commission, the Countryside Council for Wales, and the Council for National Parks. It endeavours to fulfil one of the important recommendations of the Edwards Report. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment or on Third Reading bring forward his own within the same spirit.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page