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The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I appreciate that the Government responded to general disquiet about the lack of a local democratic base in national parks. As someone who has business interests as a landowner and employer in a national park, I feel that acutely. There are important reasons why that issue needed to be addressed which were perhaps not so apparent at the time of the Edwards Report. Increasingly, we are moving towards all-purpose national park authorities. They are taking on board planning powers. As they take on those planning powers they acquire an enormously important role which is crucial to the economic well-being and the lives of those who live and work in national parks.
An example was quoted to me by a neighbouring landowner of mine in Exmoor some time ago in relation to the problems resulting from the breaching of the shingle beach at Porlock Bay. The nearest member of the national park authority had to come from Bridgwater to attend a meeting. That was the only person who was available. That simply will not do. It is not acceptable that on matters which affect national parkswhich admittedly affect the national interestthe legitimate aspirations of those who live and work and have an investment in the long-term future of national parks (and also have to take responsibility for that investment) should be represented only indirectly. One hopes that as a result of the Bill the situation will improve, but appointees from local authorities are not directly responsible to an electorate with an interest in the national park.
The problem was brought into sharper focus by a recent experience of mine. I referred earlier today to having been involved in the Exmoor National Park local plan inquiry. The Exmoor National Park authority made it clear to me that it was not the organisation responsible for economic development. It was also not the housing authority. When I looked at the draft local plan for the West Somerset district, part of which is also in the Exmoor National Park, I found that the area covered by that document excluded
There are serious problems which need to be addressed. They cannot be addressed simply by having appointees from outside who can allow the policy void to pass from one authority to the other. It is very important that parish councils, which are probably the closest to people in the sparsely populated rural areas, have a role to play. The response which the Government have sought to put in place here is right and proper. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on that point.
Baroness David: My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and my noble friend Lady Nicol. It seems to me that the representation which was proposed in the Bill was very fair. District councils should be able to represent the views of local people. There must be a district councillor who represents the area. The unfairness of what is proposed is manifest in the representations that we have received.
I should like to ask the Minister why this change was made at this very late stage. I cannot understand why it should have been because the matter was agreed at earlier stages of the Bill. It has been widely discussed. It seems to me an extraordinary thing to have happened. I hope that we can have a clear explanation.
Lord Wise: My Lords, I too share the concern of my noble friend Lord Norrie regarding the change in the membership arrangements. I am not at all certain that the change in the membership arrangements of the authorities is the best way to increase local representation on the park authorities. I agree entirely with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that it is important that the parish councils are consulted, but the Bill already provides for greater parish representation as it requires formal mechanisms in each park for consulting every parish council. That is vitally important.
In addition, there is a danger that in the race to increase local representation the Government may have neglected to put on record the importance of the other categories of membership. It would be helpful if my noble friend the Minister could assure the House that the national parks are still considered to be of national and regional importance and that the arrangements for appointing members to represent the national interest will reflect that importance. I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norrie.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I find the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, opposes very surprising. We discussed in great detail the membership of park authorities when the Bill was before
As regards the Government's proposals, there is a clear difference between what is happening in England and what is happening in Wales. In Wales we shall have the Bill exactly as drafted before it went to another place. The English are being asked to accept parish councillors.
No other planning authority that I can think of has representation from parish councilsneither county councils nor district councils. So far as I can understand, this is the first time in the history of planning legislation in England that there will be appointments by the Secretary of State on the basis that someone is a member of a parish council.
and so on. The amendment defines what a chairman is and what happens if a chairman gives up his authority as a chairman of a parish council during a period of office when he is appointed to an English national park authority.
It is a most obscure piece of drafting. I am sure that the noble Earl knows better than I do how parish councils work in England. I understand that the reason for the provision is for local people to be on national park authorities. How anyone can rely on any of this provision for a proper representation defies me.
Secondly, district councils which will be represented on national park authorities in Wales and England are comprised of people who are on parish councils. Therefore anyone who is on a parish council and a district council may well have dual authority. That seems to me to be very odd.
Thirdly, what about the interests of other people who should be represented? Millions of people who live in urban areas like to go to national parks. These are national parks. The regional context of the park is important, as is the national interest. Why does the Secretary of Statethe reference is to the Secretary of State for the Environment, not to the Secretary of State for Walesselect someone who just happens to be on a parish council to serve on a national park authority which is a national asset and is defined as such?
Lord Walpole: My Lords, before the Minister responds, perhaps I may make one point. I differ from my noble friend Lord Lytton, and I think that it is probably because of our experiences. The Minister will know the Broads Authority as well as I do. There does not appear to be a problem of consultation. So far as I am aware no
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Wise that national parks have both a national and regional interest and membership should reflect that. What I find difficult to understand is the great feeling that parish councillors should not be part of that involvement.
I was glad when the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, disagreed with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norrie. I felt that he and I were on the same track because I disagree with it too. I believe that my noble friend's concern was that our amendments to the membership of the new national park authorities will weaken the role of those members who are appointed by the Secretary of State to represent the wider national interest in the park. I can understand the concern of my noble friend Lord Norrie. Bringing the wider national viewpoint into the deliberations of the new authorities remains a vital element in the continued care and protection of the parks. However, I do not think that the revised membership which we now propose will weaken that.
It is no surprise that the way in which local people influence the management of national parks should have taken up a large proportion of the time we spent discussing Part III of the Bill. We have always emphasised the importance of giving local people the opportunity to make their views known and to have a real input in park affairs. They are national parks and I cannot understand the noble Lord, Lord Williams, asking, "Why should these people in the locality be taken as more representative than everyone else when it comes to national parks?"
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