EXTENSION OF NATIONAL PARKS TO SCOTLAND (No. 1)

New clause 14 – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 27th June 1995.

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'. The Secretary of State for Scotland shall, within one year of this Act coming into force, make provision for the extension to Scotland of Parts I, II, V and VI of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.'.[Mrs. Fyfe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.—[Mrs. Fyfe.]

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

I shall be brief because the Minister is aware of the concern of the Opposition and the public in Scotland about national parks. My colleague the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned national parks, but, sadly, we do not have any in Scotland, despite the fact that a number of Secretaries of State for the Environment have referred to those in England and Wales as the jewel in the crown.

When we are in government, we shall establish a national park in Scotland. That is in the Labour party's manifesto, and we shall commence with Loch Lomond. We shall do so not merely because that is our view, but because we have consulted widely with the public in Scotland, who want national park status for the Loch Lomond area as a first step.

We have been trying for national park status since 1946, when the Government set up an inquiry to consider national parks in Scotland. Here we are 50 years later and nothing else has happened. The Government asked their body, the Countryside Commission for Scotland, to consider the mountain areas of Scotland and it reported in the late 1980s with the unambiguous view that national parks should be initiated in Scotland. The Government rejected that view.

Since then, the Government have prevaricated to the extent that they set up the Hutchison committee to consider Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Hutchison did not have the remit to ask for national parks but, within his tight remit, it was obvious that he was looking for a more global solution to the problem of the management of that area.

The Government's response to the Hutchison committee report was disappointing. The day after publication, the headline in The Herald read, "Trumpet of disbelief for the voluntary solution". The voluntary aspect is at the core of the issue. Very little is happening as a result of the Government's stricture that everything is voluntary.

Conservationists and environmentalists are telling us that there has been a deterioration in the Loch Lomond area and that we must have an adequate mechanism for managing it not in five or 10 years' time, but now.

The Countryside Commission's report, "The Mountain Areas of Scotland", stated that it would take £2 million for the Loch Lomond area to be granted national park status. I do not think that that is a big sum. I say that confidently, because when the Minister went to the launch of the Hutchison committee report in Drymen, the words came out of his mouth, "This could be £1 million," and apparently he did not think that that amounted to much financially. If £1 million is not very much, £2 million for the proper management and planning structure for Loch Lomond is not very much either.

I have already mentioned the voluntary principle. The Minister knows that we have been trying for years to have byelaws introduced in the Loch Lomond area. The idea has been taken up by the Loch Lomond park authority, and the byelaws have been suggested for three reasons, the first of which is that they would enhance public safety. The Minister knows that two years ago there was a fatal accident on Loch Lomond, and that the need to enhance public safety is paramount.

The second reason for the byelaws would be to reduce disturbance to especially valuable and vulnerable wildlife interests—the Minister knows our obligations under European Community directives in that respect. The third reason would be to reduce disturbance to local residents, especially those living permanently in the area. My postbag contains regular communications from people on the loch complaining to me about the disturbances. The quality of life in that area is most important, yet it is degenerating because of the Government's intransigence and inaction.

The byelaw proposals have had the strong support of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs working party under Sir Peter Hutchison, of the sheriff principal of North Strathclyde, Sheriff Hay, when he examined the report of the fatal accident inquiry in 1994, and of the procurator fiscal service.

Despite that, the Loch Lomond park authority now finds that objections have been made and a delay requested by the Scottish Sports Council. I shall not go into detail about the altercation between the Scottish Sports Council and the Loch Lomond park authority, save to say that the byelaws have been under consideration for years, yet there are now further delays because of the objections that have been raised.

Will the Minister ask the Scottish Sports Council whether the objections are genuine? If they are, can the Sports Council get together with the park authority so that the byelaws can be introduced as quickly as possible, for the sake of public safety, if for no other reason?

Following confirmation in March 1995 of Scottish Office and Scottish Natural Heritage agency funding of £345,000 over three years, the Loch Lomond park authority has recruited a small team of loch rangers, the patrol boat is due this week and the power boat registration scheme is ready to go. The authority will be able to print the byelaws and the accompanying advisory material as soon as notice of confirmation is received. But the Scottish Sports Council has caused a delay. In the interest of public safety, will the Minister contact that body and ensure that there is no further delay?

The delay has been caused by prevarication, and is due to the fundamental voluntary principle that the Government insist on preserving in relation to Loch Lomond. That is getting us nowhere fast.

For the Opposition, this is a long-standing issue, and the plan has massive public support. In September I shall call another meeting to consider progress on Loch Lomond. I shall write to the Minister and ask him to address that meeting and to consider in a positive and constructive way the planning for a way forward for the loch. If he cannot do that, can the Scottish Natural Heritage agency send a representative in connection with an environmental audit and financial planning for Loch Lomond? The situation is extremely urgent, and a management plan is needed.

Sadly, we do not have that today, but the new clause would meet the need completely. If there is to be a negative response from the Government now, please may we have a constructive approach to a management set-up for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area? By agreeing to the request in the new clause for a national park, we would indeed be looking after the jewels in Scotland's environmental crown.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith , Strathkelvin and Bearsden 9:45 pm, 27th June 1995

We debated these matters extensively in Committee, and the Bill greatly strengthens the powers and functions of national parks in England and Wales, which has been welcomed on both sides of the House. The Government have been complimented on the changes that they have made.

None the less, Scotland still has no national parks. Although two committees set up to look into that matter produced two reports—the Balfour report for England and Wales and the Ramsay report for Scotland in 1945—the recommendations of the report for England and Wales were implemented, but those for Scotland were not, partly because there was less pressure from Scotland, where the areas concerned are much more vast. In 1952, the Scottish Health Department, which was responsible for that matter, introduced plans for national parks but, again, they fell by the wayside.

In 1970, the Scottish Select Committee asked that plans be brought forward for national parks but those, too, fell by the wayside. In 1988, however, the Scottish Office Minister, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), asked the Countryside Commission to introduce plans to manage Scotland's mountainous areas. That resulted in the Countryside Commission's 1990 report on Scottish mountain areas, which proposed national parks for the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis, Glencoe, the Black Mount and probably Wester Ross. It said nothing about Knoydart, probably because nobody knows where it is. As we do not want people to know where it is, we do not want it to be made into a national park. Perhaps Skye should have been included. Wester Ross probably does not need a national park at this stage, but other areas clearly do and the most pressing of those are Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms, which the Government should deal with.

The plans were not the standard plans proposed for England and Wales, but were to be based on an amalgam of local communities and conservationists, to try to get rid of that conflict. The areas were also to be organised differently. There was to be a core mountain zone, which would be protected from any development and used only for recreation; a countryside management zone, where recreation could be developed close to the roadside; and a community zone, where visitors would be housed. Those useful plans were put out to consultation and agreed by everyone apart from the Government who, once again, introduced the voluntary principle, which has punched huge roads through Glen Feshie.

Even the Government's organisation, Scottish Natural Heritage, no longer believes in the voluntary principle. Point 38 on page 9 of its corporate plan states: The financial consequences of the voluntary principle are substantial and increasing … if it is sustained, it seems likely that it will become increasingly unaffordable, and an alternative approach may have to be sought. Thus Scottish Natural Heritage is telling the Government that their voluntary principle is unsustainable and must be dropped.

In response to a plan for the Cairngorms, in 1992 the Government introduced a world heritage site idea. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what has happened about that. Have the Government applied for that designation yet? If not, why not? A joint board was set up for the Cairngorms, which was a step forward. I recognised in Committee that that was an improvement. People were on that board who never expected to be on it and it was a fine victory for conservation. The problem is that the board had no powers.

Loch Lomond is the area that is under the most pressure and once again the Government propose a joint committee, which no one, not even Scottish Natural Heritage, wants. Its response to the report of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs working party states: SNH appreciates the effort the Park Authority and its staff have made, and it continues to support it in its work. However, we recognise the constraints under which it has acted, and the very real problems it continues to face in trying to achieve the ideal of geographically and functionally integrated management within the present system … The failure to achieve a satisfactory level of integration is an indication that the present system"— which the Government are imposing— is inadequate to meet the needs of Loch Lomond.The Joint Committee … would depend on the voluntary delegation of powers and functions by the Local Authorities involved. We are concerned that, on present indications, this may not materialise". That is the response of SNH, the Government's own body. We might like to ask whether SNH approves of national parks. It is often rumoured that its chairman, Magnus Magnusson, approves of them, although he is not on record as saying so. It might be helpful if he clarified his position at this stage.

I believe that the debate on Scotland's national parks is moving forward and has moved forward still further tonight. The proposal for Scotland's national parks is one whose time has come and the sooner it comes, the better.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) for moving the new clause. I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) are particularly interested in Scotland and its heritage. I am aware of their particular desire for national parks.

I am sad that I do not have much time to answer the debate in detail; I can merely respond in note form. The hon. Member for Dumbarton is not quite fair to the Scottish Office about its efforts to deal with the Loch Lomond project, because a great deal is going on. If it had not been for the Government introducing a change to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 to enable a change in circumstances relative to byelaws, no such development would have been possible. We have now received recommendations from the local authorities. We are going through the large number of objections—far more than just those from the Scottish Sports Council—as quickly as we can. I hope that we shall be able to do something about them in the not too distant future.

I agree that speed limits for motor boats, jet skis and so on should be considered as soon as possible, but at the same time, we should allow for certain water recreation, as others have requested. There has been no delay, because it is only right that we should consider the consultations carefully, and that is exactly what we are doing.

In response to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, I should like to consider all the issues associated with the national parks in much greater detail. Of course, he is not really right to say that SNH believes in national parks and not in the voluntary partnership, because, after all, the architect of the Cairngorms partnership was no less than Magnus Magnusson, the chairman of SNH, who is a keen enthusiast for the voluntary system. There is no doubt that that system is settling down extremely well under Mr. David Laird. We are pleased at how the developments are coming along in the Cairngorms. What has been important has been the tremendous co-operation between those who have been appointed to the partnership, who have had a general welcome, and the new local authorities. They are all beginning to work together extremely well towards the objectives that we want to see achieved.

That is what will happen at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. I do not know why Opposition Members keep on running down that partnership scheme, because they believe, as I do, in giving local authorities as much responsibility as possible. The local authority of the hon. Member for Dumbarton and Stirling authority have an enormous chance to work together on that project to develop just what we want, a voluntary partnership. That will offer the chance of immense development in the Loch Lomond area.

Bearing in mind the fact that the Countryside Commission has recommended that the special areas of Scotland should be subject to special procedures to govern their future, we have offered exactly that in the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. I am confident that that will work out well in the future.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I would have liked to debate this issue at much length, but unfortunately that is not possible tonight. The voluntary partnership is working well and will work well with the new local authorities, so I ask the hon. Member for Dumbarton to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I shall be brief, even though the Minister would not give way to me.

The Minister's response was disgraceful, because it did not begin to address the philosophical question of why Scotland, which gave national parks to the world, should be the only part of Britain that does not benefit from national parks. The truth of the matter is that it is because of the landowning lobby in Scotland and the Government's refusal to interfere in the free market of land and the untrammelled rights of landlords. That is the problem. Until the day when the Scottish Landowners Federation does not have the ear of the Government, Scotland will be denied national parks and Scottish land and Scottish natural heritage will be denied the protection that comes from national parks. Fortunately, the day when such things can be changed is not very far away.

There is wide consensus in favour of national parks and a clear-cut need for them. The fact that the Scottish Office has continued to find every excuse available for avoiding the implementation of national parks in Scotland is a standing disgrace to the Government and also a standing memorial to the fact that they are in the pocket of the landowning lobby in Scotland.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I share the annoyance of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) at the Minister's answer because however brief the time may be—we know that it is pressing—I think that at least sympathetic consideration could have been given to something so obviously desirable and long wanted. As we are not going to make any progress tonight, we must hope for better times in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.