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Lord Renton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Vinson has moved a very important amendment. The words "shall have regard to" are interpreted in various ways, not only by the courts but by those responsible for "having regard" where Parliament has said that they shall do so. Sometimes it is regarded in a purely negative way. In other words, "we shall not do anything to upset". But the amendment has the virtue of making the obligation positive. I believe it is an obligation that should be positive.
Of course, the national park authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out, has the primary duty of conservation within the national park but we have to remember that activities go on which must be allowed
The Government have wisely anticipated that there could occasionally be a conflict between the activities of the national park authority and other bodies. That is dealt with in subsection (2) of new Section 11A which is to go into the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. We need not worry about what will happen if there is a conflict because that is taken care of in subsection (2) with the help of the definitions of the bodies concerned in subsections (3) and (4). Therefore, I do not go along with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in his fears about the way in which the amendment would work. The placing of a really positive duty upon the national park authority in the way my noble friend has suggested and the way I have ventured to suggest also can only lead to a strengthening of what we all have in mind.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I support the amendment. There seems to be an idea that one can just stop everything in the countryside and have no progress and no change. It does not work like that. For example, a moor may revert from heather to grass for various reasons. Farming methods change, which again brings a change of need, and so on. One has to have progress in the uplands just as much as in the downlands. At the moment there is an enormous assumption against planning permits for anything in the way of industry. There are many places where quarries can be opened up to the great advantage in terms of work of the people in the area. They would not be visible because they are dug into the ground. They do a lot of good for the local economy. Control could come in to ensure that such developments were not visible, that the architecture was appropriate and the siting was such that they were not intrusive.
The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I very much support the amendment. As always, I declare my interest as a farmer in a national park. I take the point made so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, that it is not satisfactory to leave this matter wholly to guidelines. We know from experience that the provisions of Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968 have not been strong enough. The formula of words there was,
Several national park authorities seem to believe that they have no direct responsibility for social and economic activity in their area and that they should act as an enabling authority to facilitate the Rural Development Commission and others to deal with that. But we are dealing with a new situation where national park authorities will have planning and development control powers and will determine housing and other policies, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, so eloquently put it. In due course, they may indeed become highway authorities if amendments to that effect are agreed to. No other authority has those kinds of powers and they are at the heart of implementing any sort of social and economic momentum and keeping it going. Therefore, I do not believe it is satisfactory that we should have a process which my children would recognise as "pass the parcel". The effect is that the parcel never stops anywhere and nobody takes responsibility for these matters at all.
I hope that that is a partial answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He appeared to advocate split responsibilities. I am not sure that I can accept that idea in national parks. I am interested in integrated responsibilities. I thought that we were getting close to the concept of multi-purpose authorities for national parks. As I see it, the amendment does no more than integrate social and economic factors with all the other duties, but it does not pre-empt those other duties and neither does it give any kind of priority. It makes sure that this particular duty is stated overtly in legislation and the reason for that is because in the past it has been sidelined.
The amendment refers to "local communities" and that picks up a thread which appears elsewhere in the Bill. I would like to be sure that the Government mean that all composite parts of local communities are included in that description, which includes individual land managers, and that their interests are given not pre-emptive but due weight. The Minister gave an indication that that might be so in an answer he gave earlier to his noble friend Lord Onslow in debates on this Bill, but he answered in rather negative terms. I should like to encourage the Minister to make the same comment but in more positive terms if he will be kind enough to reply to that point.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I support this extremely good and important amendment for those who live in the national parks. I farm myself, but I do not have the misfortune, if that is the word, to farm in a national park. I know that if I did I would be much happier with the terms of this amendment than simply being told that the national park authority will have due regard for my needs as a farmer. As my noble friend Lord Vinson said, I should like to have my interests looked after by the national parks and work together in a positive way rather than feel that I am being sidelined and being duly regarded; but not as manager of the land as I would be as a farmer in a national park. It is very
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, as I said in Committee on a similar amendmentand though the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, believes that the word "foster" was strongerI cannot see the difference between "foster" and "sustain". It seems to me to have the same implication.
However, I feel that on this occasion the Government have got it right. I hope the Minister will resist this amendment. The amendment would imply a positive economic role for the park authorities and that was rejected by the Minister at Committee stage. It would not be in accordance with the recommendations of the Edwards Report on which so much of this legislation is based and to which the Government have given their complete support and approval in the past.
Park authorities are well aware of the importance of working in partnership with local communities and they have a very good record of doing so. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was concerned about planning opportunities which might come to park authorities under the new Bill. They have had planning functions before and in the Peak District in particular that has worked extremely well.
The Bill as it stands makes the relationship clear between the parks and the other agencies which have the duty and the means to sustain local communities. The park authorities cannot and should not blur the lines of responsibility. I believe that great disquiet and resentment may be caused within those other agencies if this amendment is passed.
The first duty of the national parks which is not mentioned in the amendmentI may have felt more kindly towards it if it hadis to further national park purposes. That must not be lost sight of. But all park authorities know that the economic and social well-being of local communities is essential to the well-being of the parks. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, implied that landowners and farmers were not members of the community. I would be the last to suggest that that was so. I hope that they are members of their local communities.
The knowledge that they have to work with the local communities is part of the consideration which national parks give to every decision. I hope the Minister will reject this amendment because it appears to me as the thin edge of a very sharp wedge which could be driven in further at a later stage of the Bill. I should like to see this amendment rejected.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that the social and economic well being of communities in the parks is important. Indeed, it is essential to the achievement of national park purposes and I wish to make that clear at the outset. However, I am not persuaded that this amendment is the right way forward. The Edwards Review Panel dedicated much of its thinking to the role of national park authorities in relation to the economic and social well-being of local
I believe that the Government have correctly interpreted the recommendations of the Edwards Review Panel in drafting Clause 59(1) of the Bill. The Countryside Commission, the Council for National Parks and the CPRE support that view.
The new duty to have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities in the Bill as drafted means that park authorities will be statutorily required to take full account of the socio-economic needs of local communities. The guidance already makes it clear that they should work closely with park communities to achieve that. The addition of a duty to sustain local communities is at first seductive, but I suggest that, on closer inspection, that presents many difficulties and is unnecessary. I shall expand on that in three respects.
First, let us take the relation with other bodies. As both the Edwards Report and the Government's policy statement on national parks made clear, there are numerous other bodies working in the parks whose prime role is to sustain local communities. These bodies include local authorities, the Rural Development Commission and the Welsh Development Agency. Rather than giving yet another body a duty to sustain local communities, I prefer the approach suggested by the clause as drafted and by the Edwards Report. That is that national park authorities should, mandated by their new socio-economic duty, work in partnership with those other agencies with prime responsibility for sustaining local communities.
I fear that the amendment could result in a confusion of roles, duplication of effort and a blurring of the distinction between a national park authority and a local authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, we should not forget that local communities in the parks are served by local authorities as well as by national park authorities. There is a danger of suggesting that national park authorities should almost completely take over their role.
Secondly, there is the matter of resources. Fulfilling a duty to sustain local communities would, I suggest, have resource implications. I am concerned that such a duty would place expectations on national park authorities that they would not have the resources to deliver because the relevant funding is channelled to other bodies. Surely the crucial point is that Clause 59 should be strengthened so that the public bodies which are given funding to sustain local communities use those funds in ways that are sympathetic to park purposes.
It is important to remember that often, in matters relating to sustaining local communities, park authorities are rightly in the position of needing to respond to the suggestions of others rather than initiating projects themselves. There may be instances where the objective of sustaining local communities gives rise to projects that conflict to some degree with national park purposes. A "have regard to" duty avoids any conflict of interest arising. Balancing is required, yet the proposed duty of the national park authorities does not specify that the requirement to sustain local communities should be in ways compatible with or furthering national park purposes.
Although it is a real brain-teaser, I put it to the House that sustaining local communities while in pursuit of national park purposes is not the same as sustaining local communities in ways compatible with or furthering national park purposes. That point was recognised by the Edwards Review Panel which included both those cross-references to "national park purposes" in its recommendations on work with local communities.
I hope that the Government will look carefully at the advice from the Countryside Commission in its Report stage briefing on the matter. The commission supports the Bill as drafted and expresses the wish that the guidance emphasise that,
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