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Peak District National Park Authority

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 11th March 2004.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman will know from last week's Adjournment debate, I have concluded that a membership of 30 is an appropriate size for the Peak District National Park Authority. I now intend to consult on that proposal.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for responding to the request that I and other Members representing the Peak park made by striking the right balance in terms of future membership of the authority. Is he aware, however, of the growing concern among Peak district farmers, in the light of the Secretary of State's announcement on 12 February, about the future viability of long-term farming in the Peak district, which is essential to that area? Bearing in mind what the Secretary of State has just said and her statement of 12 February, when can we expect the final announcements to be made, so that farmers can know whether they have a secure future?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Given that the hon. Gentleman moved on very rapidly from the national park authority to other issues, it is clear that I have satisfied him on that front. Detailed regulations and other work needs to be done before these matters can be finalised. As he will know from earlier exchanges, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State fully understands the challenges that certain parts of the farming industry face, and it is clear that some of those fall within national park authority areas.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that in composing the national park board, outside users, particularly those in Sheffield and Manchester, are fairly represented on it, especially given that many of them use the park as walkers, rock-climbers and tourists?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to underline the fact that national parks are a national asset. It is obviously right that there should be local representation, and engagement with local representatives and local authorities that are directly affected. That is why the final figure for the Peak district was rather higher than that for other authorities. Of course, some of those representatives represent urban areas as well as park areas. We will shortly renew and refresh the remit for national parks, as recommended in the recent review, and in doing so we will underline the existing range of interests, including those of the users to whom my hon. Friend refers.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

As the Minister knows, part of my constituency lies within the Peak park. Following up the highly relevant question from my hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin, are livestock farmers being properly represented within the Peak park authority, and will the Minister take seriously the issues raised by my farmers in the Peak park in the light of the recent Government announcement? In their view—a view shared by their representatives and by me—farming in the severely disadvantaged marginal and hill areas will come to an end. That would be a disaster for farming and for our economy.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have a template for considering, through the Secretary of State's appointees, representation on the national park authorities. That template takes into account farming and landowning interests, as well as those of users. In addition, all national park authorities provide representation—through parish councils, for example—for those with a direct farming interest. In every case, the interests of farmers within the landscape of the national parks are important. The Peak park involves a particularly complex set of relationships, and we do understand the connection between support for farmers and farming's impact on the landscape.