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Viscount Addison: My Lords, we all agree that the economic and social well-being of local communities is vitally important in our national parks. This was recognised in the Edwards Report, which saw national park authorities as playing an important role in supporting the work of others whose prime role was in the socio-economic sphere. Importantly, the Edwards Report also made it explicit that such involvement by park authorities should be in ways that are compatible with park purposes. I remain persuaded that the original drafting provided an acceptable framework for achieving that. However, I appreciate the Government's wish to meet the concerns expressed on Report about the perceived limitations of a duty to have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities.
The government amendment is complex. It raises new legal questions about the role of national park authorities and their relationships with other bodies. It also appears to make more explicit some, but not all, parts of the Edwards Report's recommendations concerning socio-economic matters. My intention in putting down my amendment is to seek clarification that the government amendment is intended within the spirit of the Edwards Report recommendations.
First, I am concerned that there may be instances where fostering the economic and social well-being of communities involves projects that conflict with national park purposes. I should feel happier if the proposed duty on park authorities specified that it should be applied only in ways that are compatible with, or further, park purposes.
Secondly, the government amendment raises questions regarding national park authorities' relationships with the many bodies that carry out social and economic functions in national park authority areas. For example, if a park authority has a duty to co-operate with a development agency, how does that affect the way in which a park authority considers a planning
My amendment would make it clear on the face of the Bill that the new socio-economic duty is to be pursued as the Edwards panel suggested. It makes it explicit that national park authorities should foster social and economic well-being in so far as it is not incompatible with national park purposes. I suggest that it would provide reassurance to many both inside and outside this House if the Minister could make a statement that he intends the socio-economic duty to be pursued in ways that are compatible with park purposes, and also that this will be made clear in the guidance. I commend my Amendment No. 34.
Lord Norrie: My Lords, I rise to support Amendment No. 34 by my noble friend Lord Addison. The Government's amendment in this grouping is of considerable importance, because it places a complex duty on national park authorities. As noble Lords know, national park authorities have two main purposes: the conservation of natural beauty, wildlife and the cultural heritage and the promotion of quiet enjoyment.
The relationship between those two purposes and the proposed new duty which this amendment would place on national park authorities is just not straightforward. I am sure that no one would question the desirability of national park authorities having a socio-economic duty. However, the question that I pose is: will an unqualified duty to further economic and social well-being risk giving the impression that the national park authorities may be expected to play a role that brings them into conflict with their statutory purposes?
My noble friend's amendment seeks to ensure that the national park authorities will not be compromised when seeking to carry out their new socio-economic duties. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer assurances that he intends his amendment to be carried forward in the spirit of the Edwards Report recommendations. This would be a most welcome clarification, a point to which the noble Viscount alluded. Therefore I hope that the Minister will be able to respond constructively to Amendment No. 34. This amendment places beyond doubt the intention that the fostering of socio-economic well-being and national park purposes should go hand-in-hand.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I am grateful for what small caveats there are in the Government's amendment, although I am not terribly happy about that amendment. I am very uneasy about the number of complicated discussions that could arise as a result of it. For example, what is "significant expenditure"significant in whose terms? What is significant in the park authority's terms might be quite insignificant in someone else's. I feel that it is a most unhappy phrase to use.
But if national parks are to become examples of good environmental practiceas everyone seems to agree that they should beit is of the utmost importance to send a clear message that they are environmental designations and that environmental considerations should shape all decisions made by national park authorities. As we have heard so often, there are many other bodies which have economic development as their priority.
The Government's amendment is complex. It leaves the authorities in a position of having to make difficult decisions without sufficient guidance on how to balance the interests of conservation and development. The Government got it right the first time. I am very sorry that they feel that they have to move away from that very satisfactory approach. The Edwards Report made very constructive suggestions on how to get the balance right in the future. I should like to see its advice reflected more fully on the face of the Bill.
Lord Derwent: My Lords, I should like to welcome the Government's amendment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the whole of the amendment is governed by the beginning of this clause, which says that the national park authority should only take this course when it is:
that is to say, when it is pursuing its primary purposes. I believe that that is absolutely correct. That should be so. But I believe that it reduces the danger that it might find itself in conflict with those purposes. I have no objection whatever to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Addison. It merely says the same thing in a different way and underlines it. What is most important is the practical aspect.
The reason that the national park officers, the Association of National Parks and chairmen have welcomed the amendment is because they are conscious that a feeling has grown up in the parks that the park authority is against the inhabitants. Other bodies are working for them but they have no duties whatever toward the inhabitants. The park officers feel that that is not helpful to them in carrying out their primary purposes.
I do not mind at all that the Government's amendment has limitations about "significant expenditure". It was not my intention or that of any other noble Lord suddenly to spend a lot of money in being proactive. That was never the intention. The only intention was to enable the parks to show the inhabitants that they are very conscious of the need to look after them too. I welcome my noble friend's amendment.
However, I feel that we are in some danger of this amendment becoming something of a dog's breakfast. The phrase "without incurring significant expenditure" is thoroughly unsuitable for a statute. Surely statutes are meant to be precise. I can understand how the Treasury, when this matter came in front of them, would say, "We must not give them permission to spend more money. Let us put a little caveat in." But that is not the kind of phrase that one puts in a statute. It does not seem to me at all suitable.
I do not for one moment imagine that this amendment will be pressed to a vote. I hope that the Government will recognise that we probably all agree on the sentiments and probably all agree that the primary purpose of a national park must not be overridden by the economic aspect; but that the economic aspect must have a full part to play within the primary purpose. However, I do not honestly believe that the present drafting of the clause is worthy of this very important Bill.
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