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Lord Carter: As the government amendments have not been moved, the Question before the Committee is the noble Baroness's own amendment. She should not be discussing an amendment that has not been moved.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden): The noble Baroness should move the amendment, after which she can withdraw it. Then she will get an answer.

Baroness Byford: I cannot. That is why I looked at the Clerk. I think I am correct.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Are you moving Amendment No.306A?

Baroness Byford: I am, and speaking to it. I cannot help the fact that some of my comments will be linked to another amendment which has not been debated.

Lord Bach: The noble Baroness knows why it has not been debated. I have explained fully to the
 
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Committee, and indeed to her by telephone this morning, why. It is absolutely a matter for her whether she chooses to speak to or move her amendment today. But she cannot blame us if she has difficulties with it.

Baroness Byford: I personally have no difficulty with this. The intervention came from the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I thought that I was quite in order. It is important that the Committee should consider the wider aspects of national parks and the reasons why we are raising them, so that when the Government bring forward another amendment, they will have had a chance to hear some of the views of other people. So I have no difficulty. I acknowledge that this morning the noble Lord kindly made contact with me. I was promised a letter, which did not arrive, although that is not his fault. So I do not think that I am wrong.

Will the Minister tell us what is meant by the fact that national parks could be used to promote opportunities for open-air recreation? Will it be quiet recreation? Or will the other activities be considered suitable under a new amendment that is put forward? I could argue, for example, that the CenterParcs holiday centres are out in the open air. But under this amendment they would fall within the new criteria. While my family has enjoyed the centres at CenterParcs—and I wholeheartedly support the ethos and the enjoyment that they provide—I have to question whether the Government's amendment, which is much more widely defined, would be appropriate. It would certainly take it further away from that.

Lord Carter: The Companion clearly states that the debate should be relevant to the Question before the House. The noble Baroness has just referred again to an amendment which has not been moved. The Question before the House is Amendment No.306A, her amendment, and that is the amendment that she should speak to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: May I make some objection to the continual intervention on this point of the noble Lord, Lord Carter? If the Government are going to come back later, on Report, with amendments that we will not have the chance to discuss in Committee, it is perfectly reasonable to have as full a debate as we can now on the noble Baroness's amendment. She is quite entitled to compare the wording in her amendment with a hypothetical wording which the Government may still be inclined to use. Although the noble Lord, Lord Carter, shakes his head, and I am aware it is nearly the dinner hour, it is important to get the wording of this absolutely correct. In saying that, I do not support the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, either.

Baroness Byford: At this stage, having got to that point, I would like to formally move the amendment. Others can then comment on it and I can come back at a further stage. I beg to move.

Lord Judd: I should at this stage remind the Committee that I am an active vice-president of the
 
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Council for National Parks. I am also president of the Friends of the Lake District, which is not only a constituent member of the Council for National Parks, but also represents CPRE in Cumbria. I must say to the Minister that I have not received a letter.

Lord Bach: I apologise very much to the Committee that the letter has not arrived. I made sure that it was sent out early this morning from my office. I really should have hoped that it would reach—as it was sent to—all noble Lords who have taken part in this Committee stage, whether they were particularly interested in this or not. I also tried to contact the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, by telephone this morning, but I failed. I apologise for that not just to my noble friend but to the Committee as a whole.

Lord Judd: I certainly accept the apology of my noble friend—he is always one of the most courteous Ministers in dealing with the House. I am sure that no offence was intended. The letters may indeed be waiting for us when we get out of this Committee and go back to our desks. In the circumstances I commend the noble Baroness on having pursued her amendment as far as she did. I agree with what was said from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. If we are to return to this matter only on Report, it is important for the Government in Committee to know a bit about the issues raised—and I assure my noble friend Lord Carter that I will try to stay within his strictures—by the amendment moved by the noble Baroness.

I apologise for speaking fully on this matter, but it is very important that I do so. I think that the noble Baroness will agree that the views she puts forward reflect the view of those who are unhappy about the creation of the South Downs National Park and who claim that the Bill will move the goalposts for the designation process. The outcome of the Meyrick case in the High Court, which excluded land at the Hinton estate in the New Forest from the new park, has clearly therefore provided ammunition for this anxiety and this proposition. I want to deal with that in the context of what the noble Baroness has said about her amendment.

Section 5(2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which gives the criteria for designating national parks, currently states:

Section 5(1) of the same Act gives the purposes of the national parks as:

In the Meyrick case, the judge concentrated on the difference between the criteria and the purposes. His analysis, as I understand it, was that the added distinction of "natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage" in national park purposes, compared with the sole mention of "natural beauty" in their criteria, meant that wildlife and cultural heritage are not
 
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factors which can be considered when selecting areas of landscape for national park designation. But this is surely questionable. Prior to the 1995 Environment Act, the purposes and criteria of the national parks were the same. The purposes were only then amended so that national parks could be certain that they could focus more on biodiversity and heritage improvements. In practice, for the past half century, wildlife and cultural heritage have been a clear influence on what land should be included for national park designation. For whatever reasons, however, the judge did not address the issue of practice and precedent.

However, because of the focus on "natural beauty", the judge pondered what that could mean and, in the absence of a legal definition in the 1949 Act, put forward his own. It was,

—in other words, very little interference by man. By that definition, the Hinton estate in the New Forest, with its parkland, farmland, woodland and Grade 1 listed building, did not qualify. That clearly has big implications for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty alike. The 1949 Act applies to the creation of both. They all contain land influenced by man, through farmland to physical infrastructure and settlements, and to areas very similar to the Hinton estate, such as Chatsworth or Lyme Park in the Peak District. Again, it must be underlined that the judge did not address practice and precedent. All national parks in Britain are influenced by man. That is why the Government's new clause, which we were expecting this evening, made common sense—but we must not discuss that.

We need to look at some of the history. The application of the natural beauty criterion by the Countryside Agency has been fully exposed to debate and ratification in Parliament and by government for more than 50 years. Starting with the reports that led to the creation of national parks, it is obvious that "natural beauty" or "scenic beauty" and the influence of wildlife, cultural heritage and man have been critical to the designation process. The 1945 Dower report, which made the first post-war recommendations for national parks, set out the requirements clearly—the characteristic landscape beauty is strictly preserved; access and facilities for public open-air enjoyment are amply provided; wildlife, buildings and places of architectural and historic interest are suitably protected; and established farming use is effectively maintained.

The report of the national parks committee chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse and presented to the Minister of Town and Country Planning in 1947 underlined that approach with its references to "merit in variety", "wide diversity of landscape" in England and Wales, and the need to include,

The report tellingly observed:
 
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Both the Dower and Hobhouse reports had far-reaching influence on the preparation and legislative process that produced the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

Between 1951 and 1957, 10 national parks and 37 areas of outstanding natural beauty were designated. Again, I emphasise that all of them contained manmade features—settlements, farmlands and areas similar to the Hinton estate. In 1974, the so-called Sandford report, by the committee established by the government with the Reverend Lord Sandford in the chair, after taking much evidence and holding many public meetings did not find any need to review the criteria. Again in 1991, the national park review panel chaired by the distinguished professor, Ron Edwards, recommended no changes; indeed, it re-emphasised the influence of man, observing that,

If there is any question of the goalposts being moved, it is not by anything that we might have been debating this evening—I must remain in order—but by the ruling in the Meyrick case. I hope that what I have said will help to reassure the noble Baroness that the situation as it stood until that ruling is the one that overwhelmingly recognises what the national parks are about, clearly, explicitly and in every sense. In this Committee today, we should continue that tradition. Therefore, I hope that on consideration she will not find it necessary to press her amendment.

7.45 pm


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