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Lord Bridges: I have a brief comment to make on Amendment No. 526. It seems to me that the first two subsections are in a sense contradictory. The subsections lay out the duty of the conservation board. Subsection (1)(a) states quote uncontroversially,

That makes it a more important paragraph than paragraph (b) which follows. But subsection (2) states that the,

    "conservation board ... shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities".

That is extremely broadly defined. It would seem to me to be capable of overriding subsection (1) altogether. What would happen if it was proposed to have a large commercial development at the very edge of the area in question? That would be permitted by the clause. It would also be permitted by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, Amendment No. 526B.

I suggest to the Committee that the great attraction of these areas is the absence of development. So far as possible, that should be maintained. I cite as examples two cases in foreign countries where the absence of development in national parks is actively promoted. In the United States, when I lived there, I spent several summers in the Rocky Mountain national park, west of Denver. It is the most beautiful place. I came to understand the rather interesting rules of the national park which stemmed from President Theodore Roosevelt, who was the father of the national park movement in the United States. The rules had the effect of giving the national park authority the ability to have the first choice of purchasing any property which came on the market. If, for example, you inherited from your mother and father, who had lived there all their lives, a small shop, you had to have permission from the national park authority to have the property transferred to your name. That helped to preserve the beauty of the place from the development of hamburger stands and other things which are such a feature of the American way of life.

The second example occurred in Italy. A few years ago I went as a member of a group, the International Dendrology Society, to visit the Abruzzo National Park in central Italy. It was one of the first national parks in Italy and it is in a very beautiful area, high up in the Apennines, with many native beech forests. When the national park was created a good many of the existing commercial activities were gradually closed down; for example, the commercial exploitation of timber and certain small industries which stemmed from that. At first there was a great uproar in the local community because people felt that their livelihood was being taken away from them. But now, 30 or 40 years later, it is clearly seen by the inhabitants that it was an extremely wise development, because the people coming into the national park from outside create more prosperity than had existed there with the original commercial activities.

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Therefore, I suggest that there is a choice to be made. The present words of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and of the amendment to the amendment, Amendment No. 526B, duck the question. We have a choice. Do we or do we not allow the commercial development of areas of outstanding natural beauty? I think that we should adopt a rather more reserved attitude than is permitted under the amendments as they stand.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has just said. One of the difficulties is that in essence there is a feeling--I found this with my Private Member's Bill last year--that the social and economic well-being of the communities should be included in the objectives so that the Bill is not just seen as a conservation Bill--a Bill to protect wild flowers and fauna and to help the farmers--but as a Bill generally to improve the economic standing of the area. But because, for just the reasons given by the noble Lord, people are rather frightened about that, the Government have included the words,

    "but without incurring significant expenditure in doing so".

I was under exactly the same pressure when I brought forward my Private Member's Bill last year and I succumbed to it. I included those rather weasel words. However, it means that one is behaving like Saint Augustine--I am willing to give up sin, but not yet. It is a compromise that does not make a very great deal of sense and it has been carried forward into the Bill as it stands.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Noble Lords who sat through the discussions on the Local Government Bill about the purposes of sustainable development will know that there was a lengthy debate around the balance between economic, social and environmental well-being, at the end of which the House generally concluded that all three were important and that in different areas the balance would be different. Clearly, in AONBs the balance would be heavily on the environmental side. But to go beyond what is said in the Bill in terms of fostering economic and social well-being would be wrong. While I can understand the wish to support economic activity--in many cases it might well be the right thing to do--AONBs vary considerably in their capacity to be developed in economic terms. Some cry out to have just their qualities of outstanding natural beauty preserved.

The Bill as drafted is probably as satisfactory as we are going to get in terms of a national prescription. I do not think that we should weight it any more heavily on the economic side, although I would certainly underline that without the economic side it will be difficult for people to carry on the conservation of those very features which are so important to them.

Lord Marlesford: I support what has just been said. There are many examples of national parks getting it right. There has been conservation and there has at the

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same time been the fostering and development of social and economic advance. It is perfectly possible to do both.

Indeed, what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, is very interesting. The obvious analogy here is that, traditionally, when a plan is put in place to bypass a small town, the local traders worry that they will lose business. In general, the reverse proves to be true. There is nothing inconsistent between conservation and the fostering of economic and social benefit.

Lord Whitty: As regards Amendment No. 526A, we had a lengthy debate earlier on "enhancing". The amendment broadly raises the same point and we would continue to insist that "enhancing" has been in place throughout and should remain in place. The provision is not open-ended; there is "enhancing" only to fulfil the purpose of the AONB board or other management agency. For that reason, I do not believe that the word "enhancing" would have the kind of frightening effect envisaged earlier by the noble Baroness and others.

Amendments Nos. 526B and 526C seek to alter the provision in relation to economic and social matters. I recognise that these are delicate points and that the balance to be struck may be different between areas. Nevertheless, the economic and social well-being of the area and of those who live there forms part of the success or otherwise of the AONB's management. That is why we have employed almost the same phraseology as that covering "economic and social responsibilities" which was put on to the national park authorities in the Environment Act 1995.

The formula has worked reasonably well in the national parks. Although it does not allow them to spend significant amounts of money, it does mean that that dimension of their work must be taken into consideration, as well as underlining the need for close co-operation with neighbouring authorities. For those reasons, I should prefer to see the wording remain as it stands.

Amendment No. 526D would remove the Government's proposal to give conservation boards a general power to do anything to facilitate the accomplishment of their purpose. This power is properly expressed and is based closely on similar powers given to the national park authorities under the terms of the Environment Act 1995. Furthermore, the power is properly circumscribed by the following subsection, subsection (5) of the Government's new clause. The general power is firmly focused on the purposes we propose to give to conservation boards by means of this legislation. Again, it has not been put in place as an open-ended power, but it is important that such a general power is conferred.

So far as concerns Amendments Nos. 526E and 526F, I am not sure that I understood entirely why the noble Baroness wished to pursue those changes. On Amendment No. 526E which relates to the proposed limitations on subsection (5) of government Amendment No. 526, although I agree that the

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formula is a little complicated in our amendment, I cannot see that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness would significantly improve the situation. Amendment No. 526F appears to be designed to limit further the powers of conservation boards. If that is the intention, I do not see the justification for it. If that is not the intention, I am not convinced that we would need the amendment.

I regret that I cannot be more positive about these amendments, although I recognise that some anxieties needed to be addressed. I hope that my comments will have helped to reassure the noble Baroness.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that response. As I said earlier, the last two amendments in the group were probing amendments because we have here a circular argument as regards exactly how this proposal will work. However, I do not wish to detain the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 526A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 526, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 526B to 526F, as amendments to Amendment No. 526, not moved.]

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