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Clause 123 – in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 28th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble 10:30 pm, 28th June 1995

I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 146, line 24, after '77' insert ',paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 7'.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 117, in schedule 7, page 173, line 42, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 174 and insert—

  1. '(a) one third local authority members;
  2. (b) one third members appointed by the Secretary of State; and
  3. (c) one third members elected from Parish councils which are entirely or partly within national park boundaries and which for the purpose of this election shall form one voting body.'.
Government amendment No. 62.

No 253, in page 173, line 45, at end insert— '(c) such number of members to be elected from amongst those persons whose main residence is within the boundaries of the National Park.'. Government amendment No. 63.

No. 254, in page 174, line 3, leave out from 'to' to end of line 5 and insert 'the number of local authority members specified in the order; and to the number of members to be elected for amongst those persons whose main residence is within the boundaries of the National Park.'. No. 118, in page 174, line 30, leave out 'have regard to the desirability of appointing' and insert 'appoint'.

Government amendments Nos. 64 to 68.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I should speak briefly to this amendment. In Committee, we dealt in preliminary terms with the structure of the national parks. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to respond to the Government amendments and I therefore want to put on record some points that may be of help to them.

There has been some interest in identifying the parish nominations to which we referred. We have received about 72 responses to the consultation exercise and the views expressed have been taken into consideration in reaching our decision to proceed with the change in the constitution of the new authorities.

The important point in all this is that concern has been expressed—certainly on Second Reading and on other occasions, I think—about the need to ensure that the national parks and those who live and work in them should be better represented than has been the case heretofore. I made an attempt in Committee to do just that, and I hope that this proposal will be acceptable to the House.

There has been some concern about parish nominations, but I can assure hon. Members that we are content for parishes in each park to decide, through a collective process agreed among themselves, a list of nominations to be put before the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will retain the ultimate discretion—I have assured hon. Members that my right hon. Friend is most unlikely to challenge anythingßžand will make the ultimate appointments. This will be made clear when we seek nominations for parish appointments, and in a circular to be issued in due course.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Will my right hon. Friend address amendment No. 118 which would remove the word "desirability" from the Bill?

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I shall be more than happy to address the amendment after my hon. Friend has spoken to it.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

As on the issue of quiet enjoyment, which we have just debated, the Government have decided on this issue to go back on their word and to break the wide consensus on the recommendations of the Edwards committee. But there is less of an excuse for the Government in this case. This is not a case of a Bill being changed following a vote in another place or where the Government put a measure on the face of the Bill. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Edwards committee, but suddenly—again, at very short notice—decided that they were going to change their mind and break the consensus.

The Edwards committee consulted widely and looked at all of the various issues, and yet we now have new amendments rushed through following limited consultation. There has been no consultation at all with the countryside bodies that are involved in national parks. Why have the Government done this? How does the measure improve the representation of local people? Are these proposals wanted in the national parks? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I shall refer to the consultations, and Conservative Members ought to listen to what they say before making their views known.

If the measure is so important, why is it to apply only to national parks in England and not in Wales? Why are parish council appointees by the Secretary of State apparently to be exempt from the provisions of appointment for other nominees by the Secretary of State? On the face of it, they seem to have open—ended appointments, compared with those in other categories. Why is it—contrary again to the original promises—that the Countryside Commission will not be consulted about the nominees who go forward?

The response to the Government's consultation exercise was very interesting. I have had the opportunity to examine the responses, which I asked the Minister to place in the Library. Of those organisations that expressed an opinion, 40 were strongly opposed to the changes being put forward by the Minister tonight. Sixteen of those that responded and that expressed an opinion were in favour. Not surprisingly, all bar two of those were parish councils.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

That is unreasonable.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

It is not unreasonable. If parish councils are asked whether they want representation on the bodies, most of them will be in favour. Before the Minister gets too excited, eight of those 16 that responded in favour made it clear that they were not happy with the process of selection, and that they were strongly opposed to direct appointment by the Secretary of State. Some of them said that they could not see how direct appointment or selection by the Secretary of State was going to improve local accountability in any way.

Some pointed out that large numbers of parish councils—there are more than 100 parish councils in the Peak district—led to organisational problems in terms of selection. There are virtually no parish councils in Northumberland, and I would be interested to know how the Minister will make the amendment work there if there are hardly any parish councils.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

I apologise if I misheard the hon. Gentleman, but I understood him to say that there are no parish councils in Northumberland.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson , Hexham

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the national park area is covered by parish councils that are delighted by my right hon. Friend's proposals.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 10:45 pm, 28th June 1995

That is not the response of the national parks. It is clear that in Northumberland only a small proportion of the population in the national park area is covered by parish councils.

The national parks have pointed out that there are organisational problems with the nomination and selection process. Some national parks do not have an adequate number of regional bodies representing parish councils—but where they do exist, not all the parish councils in the area belong to them. In some national parks forums have been established to deal with parish councils. We strongly support that approach if the forums are properly consulted and have a proper input into the decision-making of the national park authorities. It is an effective and sensible way to involve parish councils.

The benefit of such an approach was confirmed in the Edwards report. For the benefit of some hon. Members, I shall remind the House of what the Edwards committee said about parish council representation. It said that it did not support the proposition that there should be parish council appointees on each national park authority. Instead, to cater for the needs of parish councils and community councils, we argue that the consultation arrangements between national park authorities and the councils should be strengthened. We have no objection to that as it seems reasonable. It continued: For example, there should be systematic consultation on planning applications and regular forums to explain the implications of policy developments and to hear the aspirations and problems of park communities. The appointment of community development officers in a number of park authorities is helpful in this respect. There is no reason why the Minister and the Government should not follow the suggestion of the Edwards committee. It would be a far more effective way of involving parish councils and hearing their views, than plucking out through some mysterious magic circle a privileged number of people to sit on the new authorities.

Another point made by the parish councils was that where there are existing joint arrangements—such as in my constituency, where a number of parish councils cover a particular village school and there is a rotational system of representation on the school governing body—that sort of approach has often proved unsatisfactory to the parish councils. Again, they have expressed concern about the selection of nominees.

There is a genuine question whether the Government's amendments would improve local accountability. I do not think that the evidence is there to show that they would. Indeed, an examination of current national park committees shows that a high proportion of their members are also parish councillors. The proportion ranges from 60 per cent. of the members of the Snowdonia national park committee to 38 per cent. in the Yorkshire Dales. The average is between 25 and 30 per cent. for local government members who are also parish councillors. There is a link there.

Of course, good local authority members regularly attend the parish council meetings in their areas to report back—as should local Members of Parliament. I certainly attend my parish council meetings, give them an annual report and take questions from councillors. There is no reason why there cannot be that sort of accountability linked to the present system.

As two thirds of the members of national park authorities will be local government members, and in view of the guidance in the Bill that regard should be taken of councillors who represent wards within the new park authority areas—which is reasonable as the people who serve on the new authorities should come from wards in the national parks—local representation is good and will be improved by the Bill's proposals.

It must be spelt out that national parks are just that. With 75 per cent. national funding, it is right that, as laid down in the Bill, one third of the places should be nationally appointed to reflect national concerns. However, those national appointments should be transparent and a register of nominations should be established and available for people to inspect. The amendments would reduce those national places. They would also reduce local government places, namely the local councillors responsible for raising finance for the national parks, which responsibility parish councils do not have. The amendments would reduce national members and give parish councillors some 18 per cent. of the places on a 22-member national park authority.

Why do that? The tensions between parishes and park authorities will not go away as a result of those proposals. From the responses that I have read, it seems that the tensions were primarily linked with planning disputes. I appreciate that some local parish councils feel that only local people should have a role on national park authorities. One parish council even said that not only should it be local people but "native" people, which was going a bit far. I do not know whether it meant that only ancient Britons or Celts should be allowed to sit on the national park authorities.

Most reasonable people would recognise that there must be a balance between all those who live in, use and depend on the national parks and those who use them for recreation. The amendments upset the sensible balance which the Edwards committee brought about. There does not seem to be even an attempt to consider other ways of dealing with the matter, such as co-opting parish councils, if that were felt desirable. Instead, the amendments seek to upset the two-thirds, one-third balance. Professor Edwards, who has given greater consideration to this matter than anyone in the House tonight, said in a recent letter to the Secretary of State that the proposal that we are discussing is counterproductive both in producing a sensibly balanced pluralism on Park Authorities and, politically, being perceived as moving from bodies with a clear majority of democratically elected representatives towards quangos which are currently viewed with deep suspicion. And for what? Indeed, for what? Perhaps this is the Government of the parochial party, prepared to put parochial interests before strategic balance. Or are the amendments yet another example of the Government's fatal addiction to quangos, given that nearly half the appointments would be under the patronage of the Secretary of State? I doubt whether any hon. Member believes hand on heart that the Government should appoint nearly half the members of those committees. Those should be local government bodies, but they are being turned into quangos under the patronage of the Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be.

The amendments are a travesty of democracy, unanimously rejected by the national park authorities, eight out of 10 of which are controlled by Conservative Members. For once, the Government got this matter right the first time, when they introduced the Bill. We strongly support the wording currently in the Bill. The amendments are a retrograde step that does nothing for local accountability.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I speak with personal experience of how national parks have been and are run. In my misspent youth, I was an elected member of the Dartmoor national park committee for six years and its vice-chairman for five years, and I was proud of the work that that national park did. The problem then and now is that there is a democratic deficit in the running of national parks. Conservative Members from national park areas will agree with me.

It is extremely important that we are debating this issue, even at this late hour, and I am glad that a thorough debate, which I read, took place in Committee on the subject. I and my hon. Friends have put forward a solution in amendment No. 117, but the solution that we proposed in Committee was even better. I am sad that we did not have the support of all hon. Members from national park areas and other hon. Members who are concerned about the problem of democratic deficit in the running of our national parks. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) moved a simple amendment in Committee, that one third of the members of the new national park authorities should be directly elected by the people of the national parks. Then we could solve all the problems referred to in the House this evening and in Committee, about the use of devious mechanisms by which local representation could be achieved. Direct election is the answer.

I believe that the Minister was sympathetic to that proposal, because his objections about trying to find the right returning officer and the like were laughable. That proposal represented the best solution. It would have provided the right type of representation in all our national parks. Those elected would not be chosen because they happened to be the right parish councillor, at the right time, for whom no one could find another job. They would be elected because they specifically stood before their electorate and said, "I have something to say. I want to do something for our national park area."

Despite the widespread concern expressed about the Government's proposal to "appoint", as the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, a proportion of parish councillors, sadly, in Committee Ministers refused to accept the simple proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro. The Government have refused to listen to the many voices of dissent and have now gone back on their original proposal. They intend to extend the proportion of members of the national park authorities who will serve by virtue of quangodom, not of democracy. Accountability will not be enhanced, rather the appointee will still be responsible to the appointor—the Secretary of State—whatever his or her status in the local community.

The proposal to include a proportion of parish council members on the park authorities seems to have been made simply to try to pacify the fears of some Conservative Members. They are under considerable pressure, and rightly so, to extend the democratic accountability of the authorities. It ain't going to wash. The amendment will not achieve that end, and that must be our principal concern. The national park communities and the people who are concerned about the lack of representation will be no more satisfied tomorrow morning, if the amendment is passed, than they were before.

As it stands, the Government amendment will not improve democratic accountability to any significant extent. It cuts the number of elected members, who can serve with a mandate, because they have been elected by the local community, and increases the number who will owe their place to the Secretary of State. The one third, one third, one third proposal of the Edwards report has been torn up at a stroke.

The amendment involves an important principle. It is not simply that of no taxation without representation, because if one makes a contribution to something of national importance such as the national parks, one should expect some representation. Yes, that is correct. So one has the Secretary of State's nominees, who are the national representatives on the park authorities. The top-tier local authorities in the surrounding area have a direct responsibility and financial interest in the future of the national parks, so they, too, should be represented. Equally, the residents themselves of those national parks should be directly represented by people of their choice, not the choice of the Secretary of State—however well advised—in London.

In reality, the process of accountability will not be improved. To whom will those new members be answerable? They certainly will not be answerable to the local community. It will be impossible for the local residents to identify by whom they are represented and to whom that member is responsible. Those new members may be parish councillors, but they will not be appointed to the national parks because of their electorate's confidence in their views about the national parks. They may well be appointed because, according to the law of Buggin's turn, they have not served on the authority before and it is about time that they did something really useful. The parish councils may want someone to be chosen who has an entirely negative view of the national park in order to put grist into the mill. That may have merit, but that is scarcely what the local communities are being asked to consider.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have said, our party, and I believe most people living in the national parks, would prefer to see directly elected members on the park authorities. They would have to put their priorities and attitudes to the national park on the line before the electorate. That would ensure proper, informed local debate and a much greater sense of mandate and of accountability.

However, given that we accept, at this late hour, that the Government are unlikely to reconsider the option that we laid before the Committee—we did not press it to a vote because we hoped that they would come back with an endorsement of it—we have proposed, in amendment No. 117, a way by which we could at least ensure that there is some electoral responsibility amongst the members concerned, and that as a result they would be more democratically accountable.

We propose, in a simple amendment to the Bill, which I hope that Conservative Members from the national parks will support because I know that people in their districts will certainly support it, that those members who are appointed from parish councils should be elected by the parish councils meeting collectively. That is a simple, obvious mechanism for achieving the improvement that we seek in the Bill. It would mean that parish councils would simply come together into one voting body on one occasion for that specific purpose.

We know, from his contribution to the debate in Committee, that the Minister is sympathetic to the principle; the object—the need to improve democratic accountability. We know from the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, the Labour spokesman, that, although he may prefer to return to a previous suggestion, he acknowledges the need to improve the present position and rejects, as we do, the Minister's half-hearted step in that direction because it may be interpreted equally well as a step backwards as a step forwards.

11 pm

The Minister said, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, following the Committee, that such a proposal will be suggested to parish councils for guidance. We cannot understand why it is possible to be as explicit as that and yet not place it in the Bill in that simple form. Incidentally, for the benefit of hon. Members from Wales, we do not understand why it is not possible to extend it to Wales. Surely the principles of democratic accountability apply as much in the Principality as they do in England.

However, the Minister said that the Government see no need to make that requirement on the face of the Bill. I believe that he must come forward in the House tonight and explain the logic of that extraordinary discrepancy. We disagree with him. Only by requiring an election in which all parish councils in the area of the national park participate can the Government even begin to claim that that is a real improvement in local representation and local accountability.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I very much welcome the amendments that have been tabled by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, who has direct responsibility for the Bill.

When my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside wrote to me about those proposals as long ago as May, I decided to carry out my own consultation process. I therefore wrote to every parish council in the national park in my constituency—about 33 of them. If there is one criticism that had sometimes made itself felt, it was that there was no way in which to consult some of the parish councils directly.

I wrote because I believed that my right hon. Friend's proposals did go some way towards meeting some of the criticism that several of us made on Second Reading, to the effect that there should be a way of bringing about more local representation on the national parks. I reject any suggestion that somehow that does not go a great way towards bringing more people who live and work in the national parks on to the national park organisation. I believe that that is important and welcome.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

No, I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. He may make his speech, if he wishes, later.

I received several comments as a result of my consultation process with parish councils. Indeed, Hartington Middle Quarter parish council asked each of its councillors to write down their suggestions on what my right hon. Friend was saying. One comment was: I must congratulate the Minister on his forward-thinking ideas regarding Parish Councils and his proposal to involve them in conjunction with the National Park Authority and wholly support him. Another one said: There are a lot of good ideas forwarded by the Minister but I am glad to see that people have realised that people also have to work and make a living in the National Parks. A further one, which I shall read out, although modesty should perhaps have prevented me doing so, said: Our local M.P. has come up with some good ideas which we should support in any way we can. [HON. MEMBERS: "Resign."] I could quote at length from a number of letters that warmly welcome the Government's proposals, but I see my hon. Friend the Whip on the Treasury Bench noting that the hour is late. Nevertheless, it is worth recording that I have received a letter from Monyash parish council, which says: It was resolved that the Parish Council fully support your efforts in this direction and hope that all your hard work comes to fruition". The letter from Winster parish council states: It seems logical to me that people who are resident in an area obviously are more aware of local requirements than any outside bureaucrat however well intentioned that person may be". Eyam parish council, Fenny Bentley parish council and Ashford with Sheldon parish council have made the same sorts of comments.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

They are hardly likely to attack the proposals.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I remind the hon. Gentleman that they are the people who live and work in national parks. It is right that they should have an important role in the decision-making process.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Did those parish councils say also that they support the idea that the Secretary of State will choose a few of their number at whim to serve on the new bodies?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I have explained clearly to the parish councils the way in which the arrangement will work. They may make other suggestions, but the fact is that it is a move in the right direction. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) may shake his head, but in the past local councils with the bulk of nominations have appointed people who do not live in the area and who have nothing to do with it. That has led to great resentment. Derbyshire county council is an excellent example in that regard, because seven of the eight people whom it appointed to the bodies did not live anywhere near the national park. It is a move in the right direction. I would like to see fully elected national parks, but that is not an option before us this evening.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

That is not true; the House has before it precisely that option, which was also offered in Committee. Did the hon. Gentleman put the option of direct election to his correspondents?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I introduced a ten-minute Bill in the House in an effort to improve local representation. I have been consistent in my approach to the issue. My right hon. Friend's proposal is moving in the direction of greater local representation, and the hon. Gentleman must accept that. He is trying to skimp over the issue—but that is what we expect from the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

I refer my hon. Friend to the enthusiasm for the measure expressed by parish councils in his constituency. Why does he believe that that is so? Is it because the voice of the parish councils is repeatedly ignored by district councils, county councils and existing national park committees?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe spoke to his parish councils, he would know that one of their biggest concerns is that, although they are consulted about planning applications, their views are often ignored. It is one way of making them a part of the process.

I shall conclude my remarks about this part of the Bill and then refer to amendment No. 118. The clerk of Beeley parish council writes: The beautiful villages and landscapes of the Peak District are host to thousands of visitors every year. The landscape of the region and the character of its villages are largely the result of the people who have lived and worked the land for centuries. It seems only just and fair that representatives of those people should be allowed some major control in the decision making processes, and not be in the hands of some separate body". I think that that sums up very well the concerns of my constituents who live in national parks.

As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend's proposals are very welcome indeed. However, I draw his attention to my amendment No. 118. I interrupted my right hon. Friend earlier when he was speaking about quiet enjoyment of the countryside. I merely sought to stress that removing the words in question would clarify the law. I am still concerned about the wording of paragraph 2(4) of schedule 7, where it states that a principal council shall have regard to the desirability of appointing members of a council who represent wards or (in Wales) electoral divisions, situated wholly or partly within the relevant Park. According to "Collins Dictionary of the English Language", the word "desirable" means Worthy of desire or recommendation … attractive. What does desirable mean? What recourse will any member of a national park or an individual have, if councils wholly ignore that guidance? Why does such a mealy-mouthed word appear in the Bill? If such a course is desirable, why not state that it should be followed? I hope that my right hon. Friend can persuade me that some recourse exists, if that guidance is not followed by a council.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

Amendments Nos. 253 and 254 provide for direct elections and that option should be before the House. Twenty per cent. of the land area of Wales is designated as national parks. If some people have their way, current proposals would increase that figure to 30 per cent. There is considerable concern in Wales at the removal of one fifth of our country from local government control of land use and planning issues. It is essential that park boards are democratically accountable, particularly to park residents.

As I was not a member of the Standing Committee, this is my first opportunity to emphasise the considerable sense of alienation from committees felt by park residents. There is a strong belief that the needs of visitors are given priority over the rights of residents. Recently, an attempt was made by the national park in my constituency to force residents to remove static caravans that had been in situ for 25 years, which was strongly resented by park residents. People have also been prevented—absurdly, in my view—from pursuing legitimate business activities, on the grounds that they would contravene park priorities and that park amenities would be diminished.

That sense of grievance has been compounded by the park population being insufficiently represented on park committees. The Bill's provisions do not ensure adequate representation. Paragraph 2(4) of schedule 7 requires only that relevant councils—unitary authorities in Wales, after reorganization— shall have regard to the desirability of appointing members of a council who represent wards or (in Wales) electoral divisions, situated wholly or partly within the relevant Park. Although I would like to hear the Minister's comments, I shall not explore the question of what a council will be required to do to prove that it did have regard to the desirability of appointing members in that way. What would happen if it could be shown that a council had not fulfilled that requirement? In any case, that is only one consideration and not the overriding consideration. Sub-paragraph (8) makes political balance an important consideration.

If the number of local authority members on a park board is reduced for some reason—the Bill provides for that—the Secretary of State will determine who should go. The remainder of members are the Secretary of State's nominees anyway. That does not constitute a recipe for democratic accountability to those upon whom the policies of the national parks will have the strongest impact.

11.15 pm

My amendment provides that one third of the hoard members will be directly elected by residents. That is far superior to the Secretary of State's amendment which would increase the number of his nominees, although from among parish councillors or chairmen of parish councils. There is a good chance that such people will be Tories—or at least as good a chance as there could be these days. My amendment would establish the principle of direct elections to what is, in effect, a powerful local authority that covers 20 per cent. of the land area of Wales.

The elected representatives could be from community councils such as we have in Wales. They could he county councillors or members of residents associations or members of the general public. Parks make an important contribution to local employment. The elections would stimulate interest in the positive work of the parks, a great deal of which is excellent. That would go a long way towards eliminating the sense of alienation felt. There is a danger that the alienation of park residents from the boards will be intensified by the changes. I strongly urge the House to consider my amendments Nos. 253 and 254.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

My constituency forms part of the eastern border of the constituency of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and sections of three parishes are in the Peak park area. My response to these matters is different from that of the hon. Gentleman. Eight parish councillors are represented on the board. They come from different areas but they have parish representation, and that is worth while.

As the House has heard, many parish councillors share other positions and represent authorities with wider representation and greater responsibilities than those of the parish. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire spoke about some 103 parishes in his area. In such a case, only limited bits of the Peak district are represented by any parish, and there is the problem of the interlinked wider considerations. We need experienced people from parish areas who can be drawn into much wider forms of representation.

In my constituency, areas such as Dronfield attract people precisely because they are on the edge of the Peak park, and people look to the park for recreation. It is entirely unfair to say that there should not be representation from authorities that represent people in such areas. Unfortunately, under the Bill, authorities such as North East Derbyshire district council, which might be able to qualify for representation on the board, will be placed in considerable financial difficulty.

Authorities will be precepted to take up a position. The situation might be so serious that, even when they become entitled to one place, they have to seek to instigate other provisions in the Bill to withdraw from that entitlement because they cannot afford the precepting. They will get a standard spending assessment grant of about £4,000 and, under the Bill, will be liable to be precepted by about £130,000. That is an inequitable arrangement and is a consequence of the Bill. It needs to be considered in terms of the granting of standard spending assessments, which are undoubtedly separate from the Bill but are very much part of the general framework.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

We have had an interesting debate. If I may say so yet again, it has been summed up by the fact that my right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken for people who live and work in the parishes in the national parks.

I do not take kindly to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) talking almost disparagingly about parish councils. He is on record as saying in Committee to my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for Wyre (Mr. Mans) that he did not think that parish councils were truly democratic representatives. I can quote the necessary column in Hansard if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so, but I do not wish to delay proceedings unnecessarily.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I shall not give way at this point. I shall continue to make the point as strongly as I can that we believe that parish councils should be better represented on parks committees. It is necessary to give them more representation. Of course, I understand why some of the county and district councillors do not like it: it is because we are giving more attention to people who live and work in the national parks, and that is what my right hon. and lion. Friends want.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

No.

I am sympathetic to the comments of hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on direct elections. His hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) will doubtless have told him that we are sympathetic to that proposal. There are problems—he glossed over them. Some parishes are not, for example, wholly in a national park area and therefore there are difficulties about electoral rolls, but I have not ruled it out. One would want to try, if possible, to encourage that. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) agrees with it.

The proposal is, however, more difficult than I can allow at this point, so the compromise is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would have the ultimate discretion; but, as I said in my opening remarks, I do not anticipate that he would exercise that discretion. It is merely a residual power. That is probably the only difference between us.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I do not want to give way. If hon. Members will allow, we have had a good debate, we had a great debate about this subject in Committee and I do not need to persuade the House any more that my amendment is the right one.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment)

I hoped to be allowed by the Minister to intervene briefly because I raised the issue in Committee and he has not explained one simple point. Why does he prefer a request that parish councils and the national park come together to make a selection rather than a requirement in the Bill, which is the purpose of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)? Given that the Minister seems to believe that that is the appropriate mechanism, I cannot understand why he does not want to say so. I hope that he will respond to that point.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

We said in Committee that we were keen that the collective county associations of parish councils would choose, from their number, representatives to serve on the national park representing such councils. In those circumstances, the only difference between us is the point about whether there should be the Secretary of State's discretion.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I shall give way, but I do not want to prolong this debate. We want to get on.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment)

That is not the issue between us, because I am willing to accept, if necessary, that the Secretary of State should be left with the discretion. I am not clear as to why it should not be a requirement that the parish councils representing the national park areas come together rather than merely a recommendation in the Minister's regulations.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

It is simply that that is what exists now. I did not want to be too prescriptive or over-bureaucratic. At the moment, all the county associations meet and this is just another part of that process. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press me too far on this matter. I take the point that is being made by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. I want to give more power to the parish councils, but I cannot go as far as the hon. Gentleman wishes me to go.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I am anxious to set the record straight. I made no disparaging remarks about parish councils. The difference is that the Opposition want to ensure that the views of all those who live in and use national parks are made known. Given the state of the Government, any of my parish councils could do a far better job than them.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

That was a completely useless intervention. My hon. Friends who were members of the Committee will recall that the hon. Gentleman made disparaging remarks about parish councils. He said that they were not truly democratic representations of local people. He was quite wrong. The message that will go to all parish councils is that the Labour party does not think that they are truly democratic. That is on the record.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 56.

Division No. 184][11.25 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)French, Douglas
Amess, DavidGallie, Phil
Arbuthnot, JamesGarnier, Edward
Amold, Jacques (Gravesham)Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertGorman, Mrs Teresa
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Baldry, TonyGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bates, MichaelHague, William
Batiste, SpencerHannam, Sir John
Beresford, Sir PaulHarris, David
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnHawkins, Nick
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHeald, Oliver
Booth, HartleyHeathcoat-Amory, David
Boswell, TimHendry, Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Bowis, JohnHoram, John
Brandreth, GylesHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Browning, Mrs AngelaJack, Michael
Burns, SimonJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Burt, AlistairJenkin, Bernard
Butcher, JohnJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Butler, PeterJones, Robert B (W Herftdshr)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Carrington, MatthewKirkhope, Timothy
Cash, WilliamKnapman, Roger
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Coe, SebastianKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Congdon, DavidKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Conway, DerekLait, Mrs Jacqui
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Cran, JamesLegg, Barry
Davis, Quentin (Stamford)Leigh, Edward
Davis, David (Boothferry)Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Day, StephenLidington, David
Deva, Nirj JosephLightbown, David
Devlin, TimLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLord, Michael
Duncan, AlanLuff, Peter
Duncan-Smith, IainLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Dunn, BobMacKay, Andrew
Dykes, HughMaclean, Rt Hon David
Elletson, HaroldMcLoughlin, Patrick
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Maitland, Lady Olga
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Mans, Keith
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Faber, DavidMerchant, Piers
Fishburn, DudleyMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forman, NigelMoate, Sir Roger
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)Monro, Sir Hector
Forth, EricNelson, Anthony
Neubert, Sir MichaelSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Nicholls, PatrickStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Norris, SteveSteen, Anthony
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyStephen, Michael
Oppenheim, PhillipStreeter, Gary
Patnick, Sir IrvineSweeney, Walter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreySykes, John
Pickles, EricTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Powell, William (Corby)Thomason, Roy
Richards, RodThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Riddick, GrahamThumnam, Peter
Robathan, AndrewTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Tredinnick, David
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Twinn, Dr Ian
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Walden, George
Ryder, Rt Hon RichardWaller, Gary
Shaw, David (Dover)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Watts, John
Shersby, Sir MichaelWells, Bowen
Sims, RogerWhittingdale, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Widdecombe, Ann
Soames, NicholasWilletts, David
Spencer, Sir DerekWilshire, David
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)Wolfson, Mark
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr RobertTellers for the Ayes:
Spring, RichardMr. Sydney Chapman and
Sproat, IainMr. Timothy Wood.
NOES
Ainger, NickLewis, Terry
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Llwyd, Elfyn
Beggs, RoyMcAvoy, Thomas
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)McMaster, Gordon
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Mahon, Alice
Cann, JamieMarek, Dr John
Clapham, MichaelMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Michael, Alun
Coffey, AnnMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Connarty, MichaelMoriey, Elliot
Cunningharn, Jim (Covy SE)Mudie, George
Dafis, CynogOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Denharn, JohnO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Dixon, DonPike, Peter L
Dobson, FrankRoss, William (E Londonderry)
Dowd, JimRuddock, Joan
Foster, Rt Hon DerekSalmond, Alex
Foulkes, GeorgeSimpson, Alan
Godman, Dr Norman ASkinner, Dennis
Graharn, ThomasTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Heppell, JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Timms, Stephen
Home Robertson, JohnTipping, Paddy
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Tyler, Paul
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Wallace, James
Illsley, EricWise, Audrey
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)Tellers for the Noes:
Kilfoyle, PeterMr. Andrew F. Bennett and
Kirkcwood, ArchyMr. Harry Barnes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 201, in page 146, line 39, at end insert— '() The power conferred by subsection (4) above includes power to modify any enactment contained in this or any other Act.'.—[Mr. Atkins.]