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6.36 p.m.

Lord Norrie: My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome Part III of the Environment Bill, which concerns the future well-being of national parks. It is spot on in parts, but less so in others.

National parks are among the most beautiful and popular areas of the countryside in England and Wales. We all know that legislation which gives them security and adequate levels of protection will be popular and welcome. The widely respected Edwards panel report has contributed to the measures in the Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Denham, I base my comments today on the panel's recommendations, which I believe must be addressed in order to make the national parks fit for the future. I agree with him, and indeed with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and seemingly many other noble Lords in this Chamber, that there are two important omissions from the Edwards recommendations: a major development test and clarity on quiet enjoyment. My hope is that those issues can be addressed, as the Government are so close to achieving the right package.

However, first, I congratulate the Government on the clauses which set up new, freestanding authorities for all national parks. That was the key recommendation of the national parks review panel. It was the objective of my Private Member's Bill and I am now delighted to see it forming the major part of this section of the Bill.

On the first of the omissions, the legislation must include this test for assessing major development in national parks. Those special areas deserve the "highest status of landscape protection"--which indeed the Government have promised. In their response to the panel's report in 1992, the Government said that there was no need to wait for legislative opportunity and they introduced a test under Planning Policy Guidance Note 7. Of course, we must recognise that guidance does not carry the weight of primary legislation, and, now that there is a legislative opportunity, the test must surely be included.

This test should contain two simple criteria: that the development proposed must meet a national need and that there must be no alternative available. This will establish the correct procedures for the benefit of the national park authorities and the planning inspectors and also for the benefit of developers, to enable them to make an early decision on viable options as part of the environmental assessment process.

I, like other noble Lords, am concerned also that the legislation should fulfil the Government's avowed intention to revise the national park purposes to refer

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expressly to quiet enjoyment and understanding. The Dower report, which created the framework for today's national parks, stated in 1945:


    "Those who come to National Parks should be such as wish to enjoy and cherish the beauty and quietude of unspoilt country and to take their recreation, active or passive, in ways that do not impair the beauty or quietude, nor spoil the enjoyment of them by others".

This is as relevant today as it was then. Given the increase in intrusive, noisy activities in recent years, the Government have agreed that it is necessary to capture this more precisely in legislation.

The landscapes of our national parks vary from moorland to lakes and coasts, but they are all unified by some overriding values that society places upon them. These include the fact that they are large, open and beautiful tracts of country and the fact that they afford opportunities for enjoyment, for peace and for spiritual renewal--something to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester alluded.

I would argue that the wrong kind of enjoyment undermines the natural beauty and removes the opportunity for enjoyment by the vast majority of people who visit the parks. As the Edwards report made clear, it is not simply a question of intrusive activities conflicting with conservation, but also that those same activities are in conflict with quiet enjoyment, which is the purpose for which many millions visit the parks.

It is my understanding that the Government are keen to implement their long-standing intention to legislate for quiet enjoyment and there can be no disputing that this is the chance to do so. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, indicated, the drafting seems to lack courage on that point. Perhaps I may suggest that a quick glance at Roget's Thesaurus might produce an appropriate word or phrase, if "quiet" is not appropriate. As decibels alone are not the issue, we could start with the words "peaceful" or "tranquil".

I now turn to Clause 59 of the Bill, which places duties on various bodies in relation to national parks. The first duty of the new national park authorities will be to "have regard to" the social and economic welfare of the park communities. I very warmly welcome the wording "have regard to". This clarification was promised by the Government during the passage of my Bill and, although welcome, is not as precise as the National Parks Review Panel recommended.

Economic activities in the parks should be environmentally sustainable. The clause dealing with this should make it clear that the job of the national park authorities is to support other agencies who have prime responsibility for the social and economic well-being of the parks. These efforts must ensure that the needs of the park communities are met in ways that sustain or enhance the environmental qualities of the parks. This is vital if we are to achieve the objectives of sustainable development and, if you cannot make a start on sustainable development in the parks, where can it be achieved?

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This clause also gives a duty to public bodies to "have regard to" the national park purposes when their activities affect the parks. The public bodies category is a most welcome and broad net. However, the duty on them is not the same as the "duty to further", which is what the Government had indicated, and it should be strengthened in line with the recommendations of the Edwards panel.

Clause 59 also states that,


    "if it appears that there is a conflict",

between the two national park statutory purposes of conservation and recreation, public bodies shall attach "greater weight" to the conservation purpose. This seems rather woolly and not quite what the Sandford committee intended. I propose that "greater weight" should only be given to conservation where there is evidence that the promotion of public enjoyment is in conflict with the conservation purpose.

One final point: this Bill is an opportunity to make provision for the new national park authorities to take full responsibility for the rights of way--a responsibility that currently resides with the county highway authorities. It is a straightforward objective and was recommended by the Sandford committee and the Edwards panel.

In conclusion, Part III of the Bill is well on the way to making the national parks fit for the future. It will take only a new clause and some fine tuning to make it the package we have been awaiting for many years. The Government have the opportunity of achieving through this legislation great respect in relation to the future of the national parks and I welcome the opportunity to help them achieve that.

I have concentrated very much on national parks but I should like to mention briefly two other causes which are close to my heart. The first is the environment agency's duty in Clause 7 of the Bill to further conservation. My noble friend Lord Renton and I worked very hard to persuade the Government to include it in the Water Bill 1989. I am delighted that, before this Bill's First Reading, the Secretary of State moved to reinstate at least part of that duty. But I hope the Bill will not leave this House without the "duty to further" conservation applying across the full range of the agency's business.

The second cause is my interest in the responsibilities of government departments and public agencies to promote environmental protection. I have argued the need for such duties in numerous Bills since 1989, with some success. Here at last is the general Environment Bill for which we have been waiting. I believe that it provides the opportunity for a general environmental duty to be placed on all departments and public bodies. This will do more to advance the cause of environmental integration than almost anything else and I think that this House will look favourably on such a suggestion.

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I am spurred on in all the issues I have raised today by the many people who let me know how deeply they care about the countryside. Both present and future generations will judge us by our ability to get this Bill right.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, first I apologise to the House for not being able to stay for the conclusion of the debate. I particularly ask my noble friend to forgive me for not being here when he sums up at the end.

I welcome the Bill and have listened with great attention to those noble Lords who have emphasised the quality of the environment and of all the activities which impinge upon our daily lives. That is clearly of the utmost importance and I am delighted that so many noble Lords have referred to it. They have also referred in great detail to how the environment works within our rural areas. Most of the emphasis has been upon environmental activities within rural areas, but I feel that I should remind everyone that the environment is just as important for those who live not in rural but in urban areas. There is clearly a duty on agencies and everyone else in the country to ensure that for those people in our major cities and towns, and even small towns, the quality and standard of their lives is such that it reduces the pressure on rural areas and solves some of the problems at the same time.

I particularly refer to the importance, as I see it, of maintaining the right economic and social attitudes to the development of environmental regulations. I agree strongly with those noble Lords who emphasised the need for very high quality standards in pollution control, in the quality of the water that we drink, the air we breathe and the countryside we walk in. However, in order to achieve all those essentials, a high level of economic development is necessary. I refer to the comment by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that economic development is as important as environmental protection. It is important that the role of the agency should create that proper balance.

We talk about cost-benefit analysis and cost-benefits. They are an important aspect of the Bill. We all should have them in mind when we carry out legislation that will have an impact on the environment and all matters relating to it. We must also bear in mind the impact that it might have on someone's job, someone's business or someone's opportunities. They might not be needed now, but they may need to be available in the future.

I hope that noble Lords will consider that issue very carefully in Committee so that we do not do anything to weaken the existing provisions for cost benefit. Perhaps we may even look at ways to make it even more clear and definite so that when looking at various issues, as the agency will have the great responsibility to do, it should bear in mind its impact.

We talk about the future and about sustainable development, but the real issue is that noble Lords, and the rest of the country, know little about what

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the future will unfold for us. It is important that we do not lay down rigidities which will make it more difficult, as future actions evolve, for the right approaches, use of technology, development of businesses and attitudes of people to develop in the direction that is needed at any particular time. I hope that in those respects we shall think very carefully about the importance of the cost benefit aspects and, in moving forward, of the economic and social impact upon the people who are affected by all this legislation.

I should like to refer briefly to the question of waste. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra spelt out to us in some detail the various aspects of waste and how it has to be dealt with in the future. We have to be aware of one or two problems. If we are not very careful this Bill could give rise to implications as to how we handle waste without knowing how the investment will come about. Reference has been made on a number of occasions to the German situation. Germany passed legislation which put a stop to the traditional methods of dealing with waste but did not bring in any specifications for an alternative. As a result, waste built up to such a degree that the whole waste market was completely ruined in Germany, in the rest of Europe and in the UK. It is therefore very important to understand the implications of reducing the methods of dealing with waste. There must be a system that produces alternative methods.

I am also particularly aware that if we are to encourage incineration, waste dealing and the re-cycling of waste, people must understand that planning permission must be given for such sites to be built. I can see already that as people are forced to look for alternative methods of waste disposal and endeavour to deal with the problem their progress is stopped. We had an example in Liverpool very recently. The Liverpool City Hospital had no alternative but to try to improve its method of waste disposal but planning permission was not available. The hospital now has a serious crisis on its hands as to how disposal will be dealt with.

I have another point on the subject of waste. I hope that energy-from-waste will be included in the targets for the use and disposal of waste. Quite clearly, energy-from-waste is a very important economic method of handling waste problems. I believe strongly that energy-from-waste should be incorporated in the Bill.

I turn to one other aspect of the Bill; namely, hedgerows. My noble friend Lord Hesketh dealt with that matter extremely well. I support my noble friend's point that it would be a very serious and unnecessary consequence of this legislation to find that farmers are confronted with all sorts of unnecessary rules and regulations that give power to people to tramp all over their land and hold up decision-making on the running of the farm. Although it is one thing to say that we want to be able to protect certain hedges, it is quite another to use it as an excuse for creating unnecessary regulation and turning everybody into little criminals.

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In conclusion, one of the follow-ons from this Bill will be the White Paper on the rural areas, which is now a matter of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment--which is, in itself, very welcome. I hope, however, that it will be understood--and I believe that that follows from many of the comments made by noble Lords during this debate--that it is also important for all departments of government to be aware of the changes and pressures that will be brought about in our rural areas as a result of this legislation, legislation from Europe, the changing political situation, a changing agricultural economy, and the global economy in which we must work. I hope that all departments will be made aware of these pressures and the influence of the White Paper. That includes the Departments of Transport, Education, Health, and Defence--which, as has already been mentioned, have a big impact on our rural communities.

I welcome this Bill. I hope that it will go through. It will make life an awful lot easier for business. The "one-stop shop" approach was mentioned. We hope it will enable these decisions to be dealt with much more quickly. But we must be aware of the dangers of turning legislation into another way of producing controls and regulations which are entirely unnecessary.


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