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Lord Shuttleworth: My Lords, I support the amendment most comprehensively moved by my noble friend Lord Vinson. In doing so, I must declare my interest as chairman of the Rural Development Commission, which has already been mentioned twice in this short debate.
I do not think that it has been emphasised enough that local support and commitment is important in the national parks both in terms of the environment and for national park purposes generally. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that too often we hear grumbles from national park residents and businessmen that the park authorities seem more interested in the landscape and the visitors than in the inhabitants and their livelihoods. As we have heard, the Association of National Parks Officers is anxious to see the original wording strengthened, which is what the amendment would achieve.
The amendment offers a real opportunity to address the concerns of those who live and work in the parks. That is really important for park purposes. The amendment makes it abundantly clear that the national park authorities must undertake their work with, and not in spite of, local people.
The use of the word "sustain" in the amendment brings me to another favoured concept of your Lordshipssustainable development. It seems to me that the amendment as drafted is precisely in line with government and, indeed, international thinking on the whole issue of sustainable development in that it is an attempt to link the sustainability of local communities and their economic and social well-being with the broad conservation objectives of the park authorities. Noble Lords have argued that there is a conflict in that. Of course there is a conflict, but the whole point of sustainable development strategy and of placing an obligation on the park authorities to have a clear duty to sustain local communities is to resolve those conflicts within a lead agency.
Where there is a unitary authority, as is the case in Snowdonia and as certainly will be the case following the reorganisation of local governmentI am a resident of that covering Sir Gaernarfon A Meirionnyddit will be almost coterminous with the national park boundaries. Therefore, it seems to me that to give that park authority a duty to sustain local communities enables it to work more effectively with other agencies. Indeed, given that the Welsh Office in particular is reducing the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales in mid-Wales, the southern part of the Snowdonia park; that the Welsh Development Agency is under pressure; and that other local European initiatives, such as the Leader programme, are active in economic development and diversification in the area, the park authority could become the agency that brings together those activities in a coherent national park plan. Under the Bill, the authorities will have to have such plansbut they already have them. It seems to me, therefore, that having a cross-reference of powers is positive rather than negative.
Other noble Lords have touched on the issue of park residents being able to identify with the park authority. As I have said previously on national park issues, I have lived in and around Snowdonia for most of my life and despite the activity of the warden service and the way in which the park authority has promoted the local community, there is still the feeling that the park does not belong to those of us who live and work there. The placing of the duty on the park authorities will help to change that perception. It will help to create a more progressive relationship between park authorities and local residents. If we do not do that, there is the danger that people will say once again, "Here we have a designated area which is designated contrary to the wishes of the population of that area".
Involving the population more actively and helping them to identify with the park authorities is a positive development. It is absolutely in line with current conservation thinking. You cannot conserve any
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I support the amendment because the one thing we should never allow the national parks to become is a sort of Disneyland where tourists from Manchester and Liverpool are taken around in lorries to see twee walls and Welsh farmers trotting out their sheep solely for the benefit of those tourists. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, suggested, that is the quickest way to ruin a national park. A national park must be a living and growing entity in which the people living in it are seriously interested in looking after it themselves and in having a decent living and a decent way of life in it. That is why I support the amendment.
Lord Norrie: My Lords, I agree with the need to keep national park communities healthy. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I believe that the best way to do that is suggested in the clause as drafted. It accurately reflects the National Parks Review Panel's recommendations. As my noble friend Lord Addison said, the panel put a lot of effort into them.
The Minister helpfully clarified in Committee that the new duty with respect to the economic and social needs of local communities will ensure that the park authorities have to be seen to be taking those responsibilities seriously. I am sure that the new authorities will want to do that. Therefore, I suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because the new duty already provides the framework to implement all the recommendations of the Edwards Report.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Vinson. I have listened carefully to all the points that have been made in support of the amendment, but for me the clinching point was raised after I made some inquiries at Committee stage. The people who live and work in these national parks are part of what national parks should be. The people living and working in them perceived, fairly or perhaps unfairly, that the balance was either neutral or swinging ever so slightly towards the more twee aspects of the national park, as foreseen by my noble friend Lord Onslow. The amendment may push the balance back.
There is not much difference in the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, let alone by my noble friend Lord Norrie. But it is the perception by the people living and working in the national park, who support the life in the national parks, of the duties of the national park authority that is important, and that is why I support the amendment.
Lord Chorley: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I did not intend to intervene in this discussion; and, like him, I do not know whether I have seen a light on the road to somewhere in North Wales.
This is a question of a balance. There is a fine division between the two sides of the argument. I was particularly struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, as always, and those of my noble friend Lord Lytton when he referred to integration.
The landscapes of our national parks are entirely man-made, even in the uplands where the farmers keep the sheep. As I stated previously, they are like lawn-mowers. Therefore, care should be taken by our national parks, as opposed to what happens in some other countries, of the health of the local communities and therefore the economics of the area. Our national parks are not just about tourism. Tourism would go away if we wrecked the national parks. On balance, I come down on the side of the noble Lord, Lord VinsonI do not know whether it is the side of the angels.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I strongly support the sentiments and intentions behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Vinson. Park authorities should work with and sustain local communities within the national parks and have regard to their economic and social well-being. I could hardly say otherwise, having had the honour of serving for eight years on the Royal Development Commission, six years under my noble friend Lord Vinson and six years under my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth. I also had the opportunity of serving for 12 years on the Countryside Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Barber, who, sadly, is not with us today. I am now chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
Having stated my strong belief that there should be the appropriate economic development which my noble friend would like to see in national parks, I should like to point out that the objective of creating national parks in 1949 was that they should remain as national parks. That is why we have national parks of which we can be so proud today.
The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the means of looking after the parks. The communities within them must be looked after; that is an indivisible part of the remit. My noble friend Lord Vinson and I took part, over 10 years ago, in a study on the need to look after the economic and social welfare of the uplands of this country. Therefore I am very well aware of the needs. However, the words in the Bill as drafted by the Government, that regard should be given to the economic and social well-being of communities within the national parks, are the right ones, because, whatever else they are, national park authorities are not, were never intended to be and I believe should not become development agencies in any form.
The Rural Development Commission has that specific role, and I hope it will continue for many years. If we muddle the role for which the national park authorities were set up, if we take their eye off the ball of ensuring that the national parks survive for at least another 50 years, there is a risk of undesirable development.
I do not trust local authorities in regard to development of sensitive areas. The reason why I am such a tremendous supporter of the noble Lord's National Trust is Operation Neptune. Half of the local authorities with precious coastlines would sell them for caravan sites at a stroke because they would be receiving all of the so-called economic benefits; and they would be lost for ever.
The national parks are so precious that the primary remit of the national park authority must be to ensure their survival. I have seen in the Peak District and in Dartmoor that one can have sensible economic development as well, and I believe that that situation will be cherished by the Bill.
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