Purposes of National Parks

Part of Clause 60 – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 28th June 1995.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 8:15 pm, 28th June 1995

If the Minister could not find a definition of "quiet enjoyment", he did not try very hard. To try to help him, we have tabled amendment No. 267, which gives a definition of "quiet enjoyment". I suspect that the Minister may well have seen those words before, and he may well have recognised that they meet some of the points that he made in terms of defining what that phrase means.

Although I am sure that Law Lords have their uses, they are not always absolutely right. I know that the Council for the Protection of Rural England has examined the legal definition of "quiet enjoyment" as it applies to such things as tenancy agreements, of which the Minister will be well aware, and that should not be a problem in the way that it is worded in the Bill.

Opposition Members strongly oppose those amendments which remove "quiet enjoyment" from the Bill. One of the keystones of the Edwards committee report, which was widely welcomed and widely consulted, was the implementation of the words "quiet enjoyment" in providing a framework for what national parks should be about.

In January 1992, in their response to the Edwards committee, the Government said: The Government also welcomes the proposed references to quiet enjoyment and understanding as having special relevance to the National Parks. It is interesting that that welcome in 1992 appeared to have cooled by the time that the Bill was presented, and that that definition was put in the Bill only when there was a vote on that issue in another place. It shows that one cannot trust what the Government say in their responses to committees such as that.

On 26 May 1995, the Secretary of State for the Environment, speaking to the national park authorities conference in Keswick, said that he was optimistic that the phrase "quiet enjoyment" would remain in the Bill with a positive definition. As we have seen, no positive definition has been forthcoming, and what there was, was withdrawn by the Minister in Committee. It shows that, when it comes to it, one cannot trust what the Government say, and many people will have taken note of that during the passage of the Bill.

We strongly protest that those amendments were tabled only two working days before Report, giving very little time for response by the many organisations which have a legitimate interest in the national parks and that part of the Bill.

In Committee, as the Minister outlined in moving the amendments, he claimed that the problem was definition. In Committee, we had a considerable discussion about that, with all sorts of what I can only describe as nonsense about what those words "quiet enjoyment" would prohibit. We heard that they would prevent chain saws being used in forestry; we even heard that they would prevent camouflaged soldiers popping out of bushes, on the grounds that that might interfere with people's enjoyment. The person who mentioned that did not say what enjoyment that activity might interrupt. We have also heard about the RAC rally and other motor sports and the worries of people who take part in those.

Of course those people are right to have worries. They are right to explore what that phrase means. However, there is no reason why the Minister could not provide ministerial guidance to the national parks about the implementation of the legislation. Events such as rallies, which can be intrusive on occasions, have been managed successfully by organisations such as the Countryside Commission, and by the National Trust, which has written to express its grave concern about that withdrawal.

The National Trust has said that it understands that "quiet enjoyment" does not preclude certain activities taking place, but should be taken to mean that national parks should not have the statutory duty of promoting those activities. Indeed, the trust, while emphasising quiet and unobtrusive enjoyment on its properties, accommodates and manages intrusive activities as well where appropriate. Having said that, however, it recommends that activities that are inappropriate to the purpose of national parks should be subject to some form of restriction.

That appears a reasonable and responsible approach to the issue. I see no reason why the Government cannot accept that and deal with it in terms of that guidance. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), it was made clear in Committee that the words "promoting quiet enjoyment" would not give the national park authorities any new or extra powers to go out and stop any activity. They would only have to work within the existing laws and powers that they have at present. There is nothing new about that.

Although we believe that guidance can be provided without a statutory definition, we have offered the Government an amendment, using a definition that we know was originally proposed in another place.

It is a tragedy that the Government are trying to break the cross-party consensus that welcomed the Edwards report. We remind the Government that the Dower report—which set up the framework for national parks in 1945—said: Those who come to National Parks should be such as wish to enjoy and cherish the beauty and quietude of unspoilt country and to take their recreation, active or passive, in ways that do not impair the beauty or quietude, nor spoil the enjoyment of them by others". The Edwards committee adopted those admirable and important principles in its report and in the concept of promoting quiet enjoyment which remains on the face of the Bill.

In a hot and noisy House of Commons, with a pervading atmosphere of fevered speculation about the Conservative party leadership election, I would have thought that protecting precious quiet areas would be attractive to the Government. Instead, the Government ignore consensus, go back on their word and offend millions who live and work in national parks and millions more who support organisations such as the National Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and the countryside and conservation bodies—including the Government's own statutory adviser, the Countryside Commission—and refuse to protect those precious principles.

If the Government cannot accept our amendments, we will oppose their amendments and hope that the other place takes note of the debate and attempts to replace the measures in the Bill so as to protect the principle of quiet enjoyment. It has a right and a responsibility to do that, and the vast majority of people in the country expect it to be done.