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Earl Peel: While I fully understand the principles behind the amendment, I believe that, as it is drafted, it would undermine what has become known as the "Sandford principle" namely that conservation should take precedence when there is a conflict.
What concerns me particularly is the fact that when there is doubt about the interests of conservation being undermined it must be right that we should adopt the precautionary approach. If the amendment were accepted I believe that that would be lost, because the judgment would lie solely with the park authorities. That is too subjective.
I also question how a decision could be challenged. I can foresee a situation, for example, where English Nature may see conflict between visitor pressure and its duties to ensure the well-being of special areas of conservation under the new EU habitats directive. It is possible that the parks could come forward with a formula which they believe would reconcile the problem and could proceed with it. If that happened, the parks could be in direct conflict not only with the statutory obligations imposed upon English Nature but also with the obligations of the Government themselves under the habitats directive. Therefore, I believe that other interests and bodies should have a say. The decision should not rest solely with the parks as arbitrators in the matter, because too much is at stake.
As we all know, the "Sandford principle" has been accepted as a reasonable approach to the management of national parks and equivalent areas. It has been generally accepted by the recreational interests since it becomes relevant only when there is an acute conflict.
As the noble Viscount who moved the initial amendment said, subsection (2) appears in many ways to take the "Sandford principle" several stages further than the committee could ever have thought necessary or desirable. It provides that, if it appears that there is a conflict between the national park purposes, the authority shall attach primacy to the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty. In other words, the Bill does not require the authority to seek to resolve conflict, however minor; it simply requires the authority to rule in favour of the first purpose at the first allegation of any conflict.
I believe that that is a distortion of the purposes for which the national parks exist. I urge that consideration be given to modifying the clause. I do not mind how that is donewhether it is through acceptance of my amendment, the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount or that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. However, I believe that we should require that the relevant authorities first seek all reasonable means of reconciling conflict, as I believe was clearly intended by the Sandford Committee, before being required to judge in favour of the first purpose. I support the amendment.
As presently drafted, the clause seems to imply that the best solution in a honeypot situation would be to ban visitors from sensitive areas. However, our amendmentAmendment No. 257suggests that that would not be in the best interests of the people who want to visit the parks. We would soon lose the support of the public if we did that. It seems to me, therefore, that it is important that the clause makes it quite clear that any conflict which is to be dealt with must be irreconcilable. The words:
In the case of honeypot sites there are many options for resolving conflicts. The national park authorities are experts in that. They know exactly what they are doing and have had plenty of experience. The amendment provides a two-phased system of protection. I support the amendment.
Lord Norrie: Because 100 million visits are made to national parks every year it is inevitable that some of the recreational activities which go on in the parks may damage the fabric of the parks themselves. Whereas the earlier amendment to introduce the idea of quiet enjoyment into national park purposes attempted to address the problem where one enjoyment comes into conflict with another, this clause addresses the problem where recreation itself comes into conflict with conservation.
Clarification in the clause that greater weight should be given to conservation where the conflict is "irreconcilable" is most important. National park authorities, as the practitioners on the ground, are most experienced in trying to resolve various forms of conflict and must be enabled to explore every route before resorting to invoking the principle that conservation has greater weight. For example, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, outdoor activity centres, the National Trust and the National Park Authority have signed up to an "outdoor charter" to pre-empt the conflicts occurring. Problems potentially include disturbance to birds from climbing, soil erosion from mountain biking, and so on. It is that kind of management approach involving the various interest groups in national parks that ensures a better level of co-operation and, in the long run, provides the greatest potential for protecting the park. That is precisely the
However, it is clear from the other speakers, including my noble friend Lord Addison and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the Sandford principle is not enshrined in Clause 59. The guidance does not follow on logically from Clause 59 as drafted. Amendment No. 257 would fulfil the intention that Clause 59 was equivalent to the Sandford principle and the guidance would therefore follow on consistently from Clause 59, amended in this way.
Earl Peel: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I am very much in favour of applying the Sandford principle. What concerns me about the amendment is that the national park authority would be judge and jury. It is essential that other interested parties should be allowed to voice their opinion. If that were the case, then the national parks would not be put in such a position. They would have to consult more if there were conflict between conservation interests and, say, visitor pressure. If it is left entirely to the parks, then a great deal of expertise will be by-passed which could be detrimental to the conservation wellbeing of the national parks. That is simply the point that I sought to make.
Lord Williams of Elvel: It is clear that there is a problem which has to be addressed. My noble friend Lord Howell is not able to move his amendments this evening. For the convenience of the Committee, perhaps I may make it clear that I speak to Amendments Nos. 257, 257A, 258 and 258ZZA. My noble friend Lord Howell is not able to attend partly because he attended the 80th birthday dinner of Sir Stanley Matthews last night; and although it is not necessarily cause and effect, he is not able to be with us this evening.
There is a difficulty which the amendment addresses. I hope that the Government will take account of the difficulty. My noble friend's amendments attempt to resolve the difficulty. I am not fully in support of Amendment No. 258ZZA; nevertheless, he wished me at least to speak to it and to apologise to the Committee that he was unable to be here; so that is what I do.
If there is a conflict between purposes, clearly there has to be some mechanism by which it is resolved. That is the purpose of the amendment. I look forward to hearing what the noble Viscount will say.
Viscount Ullswater: I understand the problem that the amendments seek to address in their various ways. I have considerable sympathy with the intention underlying them. It has been our long-standing policy to accept the Sandford principle that in those rare cases where there are irreconcilable conflicts between the first
It is, however, also my firm view that every opportunity should be taken for negotiation and mediation before the Sandford principle is applied. As the draft circular makes clear, we expect the number of instances where the principle bites to be kept to a minimum and that all reasonable steps will be taken to reconcile the different viewpoints. We believe that careful planning and positive management, as my noble friend Lord Addison said, can often facilitate greater use of the parks, which respects their special qualities and which reduces the potential conflicts. Nevertheless, we accept that the parks' twin purposes may occasionally come into conflict despite every effort being made to reconcile them. In those exceptional cases where reconciliation proves impossible, the conservation of the parks' special qualities must take precedence. This principle, now enshrined in Section 59 has been policy for over 20 years, and we believe that it continues to stand the parks in good stead. We expect this principle to apply to all those relevant authorities who may need to consider park purposes in their activities.
I do not believe the amendments will help this process, although I understand and sympathise with the intention that they do so. In particular, I fear they may encourage very lengthy and long drawn out discussions so that the relevant bodies can, if they should be required to do so, "prove" that negotiations have truly broken down and reached a point where the different viewpoints can never be reconciled.