|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Greenway: My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords who have given a general welcome to the Bill. I shall try to make my remarks as brief as possible due to the late hour and also because the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has already covered much of the ground that I intended to cover.
There is minimum mention of recreation and navigation in the Bill other than the transfer of duties incumbent on the NRA to the new environmental agency. It is fair to say that, on the whole, navigators--if I may refer to them as such--have been fairly complimentary about the management of their navigations by the NRA. However, they are concerned for the future in so far as the much wider brief for the new agency and the proposed new management structures are likely to make them more remote from the agency. Moreover, the existing duty to develop recreation and navigations could well be swamped by the natural increase in environmental and regulatory duties placed upon the agency.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned the proposed new review of navigation. I would have much preferred to say the imminent new review of navigation, because I believe that it was first promised to a Select Committee in another place some four years ago. I fear it is too much to expect that anything will be forthcoming before the Bill leaves this House. However, I wonder whether the Minister would confirm whether delegated powers would enable any suggestions that might be forthcoming from the review to be taken on board. At any rate the whole question of recreation and management needs further discussion at a later stage and I intend to return to this.
Another point that I shall seek to address in Committee will be the possibility of a facility to delegate the day-to-day management of navigation at some time in the future to a body other than the environment agency.
As we all know, this approach, which is generally known as the Sandford principle, has been accepted as a reasonable approach to the management of the national parks and equivalent areas. It is generally accepted by the recreational interests, as it becomes relevant only where there is an acute conflict; that is, one not capable of reasonably being reconciled.
The Bill before us today, in addressing areas of conflict between the two purposes, takes the Sandford principle several stages further than the Committee could ever have considered necessary or even desirable. Clause 59 of the Bill states:
In other words, the Bill does not require the authority to seek to resolve conflict, however minor; it prompts the authority to rule in favour of the first purpose at the first allegation of any conflict. I believe that this may be an unintended distortion of the purposes for which the national parks exist, and I would urge that consideration be given to modifying the clause to require relevant authorities, first, to seek all reasonable means of reconciling conflict (as clearly intended by the Sandford Committee) before being required to judge in favour of the first purpose. I wish the Bill well and I very much look forward to further discussion on the points that I have raised.
Lord Derwent: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a landowner, all of whose land lies in the North Yorkshire National Park. However, the thrust of my remarks is made not from the point of view of a landowner but rather from the viewpoint of someone who lives in the park and therefore shares the concerns of all the inhabitants of the park.
May I first say that I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the Bill. I suspect that he will find himself at Committee stage under attack more or less in equal measure from all points of the compass. That suggests perhaps that in general the Government may have got the Bill about right. At the outset I should like to associate myself with the general warning given by my noble friend Lord Hesketh. I recognise that many of the issues that will be raised during the passage of the Bill are emotive and many represent views which are very sincerely held. But I hope that even the most passionate will recognise that nearly every clause of the Bill represents direct or indirect intervention by the state and
That said, at this late hour I intend to confine my remarks to Part III of the Bill dealing with national parks. We shall all have opportunities in Committee to raise many other points. I particularly welcome this part of the Bill which gives the parks a stable and secure base. A great deal of the groundwork was of course laid by the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and the Government have taken into account many of the points made by your Lordships during the passage of that Bill so we did not, I feel, waste our time.
At this stage I wish to focus on two main subjects in respect of which I believe this part of the Bill is deficient or could be improved. First, I shall discuss what I call the "democratic deficit" already referred to by my noble friend Lord Peel. I, like most noble Lords--great stress was put on this point by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol--welcome the provision that a national park authority should consist of two-thirds local authority members and one-third nominees of the Secretary of State because that ensures the local interest. But the democratic accountability of a local authority member of the park authority to the inhabitants of the park is very tenuous.
Most of the principal councils concerned in England--I do not speak for Wales here as I do not have the relevant knowledge--will have the bulk of their population living in big urban conurbations just outside the park. This means that most councillors will represent areas outside the park and will be interested in the concerns of their constituents, who are the urban neighbours of the park. Especially when political balance is taken into account--which it has to be under the Bill--it may well not be possible for councils to nominate to the park authority only councillors representing areas within the park. I understand that there is to be ministerial guidance that they should do so, but it may not be possible numerically. The inhabitants of the park will therefore risk having few champions on the park authorities and their interests may therefore not be defended.
I believe, however, that there are ways of at least mitigating the effects of this democratic deficit. First, there should perhaps be provision on the face of the Bill requiring each park authority to make a report, perhaps annually, to the principal councils in the area in which the park lies. This would give the opportunity for county and district councillors who represent divisions within the park but are not on the park authority to question the park authority and to register views on behalf of their constituents. I am not suggesting that they should be able to overrule the authority, but at least there would be an open debate. This, of course, is what happens at present in the national park committees. I know that in
Secondly, in England there must be a formal mechanism for consulting the parish councils. I was rapped over the knuckles by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for including Wales, where there are no parish councils, so I speak only of England.
Under Clause 59 of the Bill as drafted a duty is imposed on parish councils to have regard to national park purposes. That is very proper. But there seems to be no corresponding duty on the national park authority towards the concerns of parish councils. Yet the parish councils are the elected bodies most directly answerable to voters, all of whom live in the park. They are closest to the grass roots.
Your Lordships will recall that during the Report stage of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Norrie the Government specifically undertook to issue detailed and formal ministerial guidance that the national parks should set up parish forums or similar arrangements to ensure continuing two-way consultation between the parks and parish councils. The Minister's assurance appears in column 268 of Hansard for 20th April.
I am glad to say that many national parks are already doing that without waiting for the guidance. In particular, I pay tribute to the park officer in North Yorkshire who has forged ahead with detailed arrangements. But I should welcome the reassurance of my noble friend the Minister that such guidance is still intended. This is a subject on which several of us will be pressing the Government at Committee stage, and I believe that it is important that that guidance should be quite detailed so as to ensure that the parishes are kept informed and have the opportunity to make their views known.
So much for the democratic deficit. My second theme is this. Your Lordships will be aware that there are a number of activities which have often in practice been delegated by councils to national park committees. I believe that we should take the opportunity afforded by this Bill to consider transferring some of those activities from local authorities to the park authorities once and for all.
Agency agreements between county and district councils and national parks are not entirely satisfactory as they leave a residual democratic responsibility with the delegating authority. After all, they are the people who have decided to delegate it. I believe that the main candidates for such transfer are the national park authorities, which should become responsible for maintaining public footpaths and bridleways in the parks. Possibly they should also take over responsibility for unmetalled and unclassified public roads so that they would be able, as they are not at present, to instigate traffic regulation orders where necessary to ensure proper enjoyment of the park by pedestrians and horse riders. Much of that could perhaps be achieved by amendment to Schedule 9 to the Bill which deals with footpaths but does not transfer the powers to which I have referred.
I believe that there are a number of other areas where there need be no residual role for councils when the work is in a national park. I shall make some suggestions in that regard at Committee stage.
Finally, as an inhabitant of a park I particularly welcome the provisions of the Bill which have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities in the national parks. Some, but certainly not all, national parks have paid scant regard to the well-being of those who own property, live or work within a park. Under the Bill that will no longer be possible. I thank the Government for that.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page