National Parks (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:45 pm on 5th July 2000.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 4:45 pm, 5th July 2000

We turn to motion S1M-957, which seeks agreement to the passing of the National Parks (Scotland) Bill. I am not sure that there should be commercials from the chair but, in view of the circumstances and the late hour, I inform members that the Scottish Environment LINK reception in the city chambers, which some members want to attend, has been extended until 7 o'clock. I call Sarah Boyack to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 4:58 pm, 5th July 2000

Thank you Presiding Officer. It is with a real sense of pride that I rise today to propose that the Parliament pass this bill, which is a landmark bill.

Several times in recent years, people have observed that it is deeply ironic that Scotland should be one of the few countries in the world that does not have national parks. As Robin Harper mentioned, Scotland is the birthplace of John Muir, acknowledged as the founder of national parks in north America and, by extension, throughout the world. Scotland has some of the finest landscapes in the world. It is high time that we had national parks.

The National Parks (Scotland) Bill sets in place a framework for national parks in Scotland. Some people feared that a blueprint would be imposed on all areas put forward for national park status. They made the point that what is right for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is not necessarily what is wanted in the Cairngorms.

We have listened to those points. The bill provides a framework, a set of common values and principles and a set of processes to ensure that the designation of an area as a national park can happen only after full consultation. Within that framework there is scope for differences between parks, for setting different priorities in national park plans, which reflect the needs and characteristics of the particular area and, crucially, for innovative thinking and ways of involving people.

If there is one theme that has emerged consistently throughout the discussions and the consultation on the bill, it is that people have feared that they would not be allowed to be involved. We understand those worries, which is why we have made many changes to the bill to strengthen the consultation provisions.

We have heard the points made that consultation must be approached properly—that it should involve people and seek their ideas, not simply become a matter of rubber-stamping the only option put forward. We have taken those points to heart and agree with them. We will be working over the coming months, in partnership with many others, on the guidance to national park authorities.

There is scope for innovation. We will be encouraging people to think of new ways of doing things. The preparation of the park plan is a particularly good example. It is essential that that is prepared in partnership. It will only be meaningful if everyone affected by it has ownership of it and feels that they have contributed to it.

We have also provided in the bill a requirement on every national park authority to set up advisory groups, to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to allow the voices of the many people with an interest in national parks to be heard. The groups will be vital to the success of a national park.

A further theme that has emerged is integration. National parks will have four aims. Those aims must operate together in a co-ordinated and integrated way. We do not regard them as polar opposites. One of the challenges for national park authorities is to integrate those key aims and to reach agreement in a co-ordinated way.

We all agree that we must get the balance right. That is our job in setting the framework and the job of the national park authorities and their partners. We must not rely on the old-style system in which economic development was weighed up against nature conservation. We have lived with that approach for years. In the new national park areas the challenge will be integration. It underpins the objectives of national parks and comes from an aspiration to do things better and to make the most of the opportunities provided by our natural areas.

The legislation must stand the test of time. It must ensure that the reasons for designating an area as a national park are not destroyed by virtue of the designation. Our high-quality environment is a vital asset for Scotland and for the communities in the national park areas. National parks offer us the chance to manage our resources better and in a much more sustainable way.

If an example is needed, I have a prop—a bottle of mineral water. It is on sale in a major retail chain in Edinburgh. It is a national park bottle of mineral water from the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. It illustrates the argument that national parks can sell produce created in them that can be branded and is an example of the opportunities that a national park will create. Some people fear that national park status will stifle development, prevent progress and preserve areas in aspic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aims make quite clear the importance of communities and sustainable economic development. The example of produce from the Brecon Beacons National Park could be taken up in Scotland.

We can learn from experience and best practice elsewhere. In France, when farmers sell their produce, it is branded as national park produce. Certainly tensions have been identified in the national parks in England. The challenge for the national park authorities will be to manage such tensions. We must lift our heads above the fears that have been expressed and identify the prizes and the opportunities and make the most of them.

I am not aware of anywhere in the world—and almost everywhere bar Scotland has national parks—where once a national park designation is in place, people have demanded that it be taken away. This bill is about looking to the future; it is about managing, integrating and looking to the four aims and the conditions of the parks. It is about asking whether we can do better and aspiring to do better than we are doing at the moment. It is about knowing why we have designated the parks in the first place, then setting up the mechanisms that involve all those with an interest and a contribution to make to deliver on the aims in the bill.

I have one formal task. For purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I am pleased to advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purpose of the National Parks (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

This is an important day, as we enter the final stage in the process of establishing the concept of national parks in Scotland. As the debate has illustrated, we must now look forward to the designation and electoral orders. That will involve more debate, but I believe that the debate so far has been time well spent. I urge Parliament to pass the bill. I look forward to the next stage of discussion.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the National Parks (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 5:05 pm, 5th July 2000

First, I record my appreciation for the hard work of the clerking team of the Rural Affairs Committee in particular. They guided the committee ably through a complicated process, in what I consider to be an unreasonably short time scale.

The reason for establishing national parks in Scotland is to conserve and enhance the national and cultural heritage of the park areas. That aim has enjoyed support from all parties in the chamber. It is true to say that the SNP was—or is—cautious about some elements of the concept of national parks, but we have attempted, through the various stages of the bill, to ensure that the legislation will truly conserve Scotland's countryside while preserving local economic control.

We have supported proposals that seek genuinely to conserve and protect Scotland's resources and landscape, while protecting local economic interests. The SNP is pleased, as are others, that the bill now allows for greater local involvement and accountability. It also allows for a better understanding about what will constitute a marine park and it allows for a more fitting reflection of the local heritage in national park areas.

Local involvement is especially important because, although national parks are for the benefit of the nation, we cannot ignore the interests of those who live and work in national parks. By allowing local people to have the opportunity to play a major role in planning and managing parks, we can instil a sense of local ownership. That must be created and nurtured. If we fail, we risk instilling resentment and distrust.

We have waited for about 40 years to get around to setting up national parks in Scotland, so I hope that Parliament does not, at some point down the line, regret that it did not spend more time on scrutiny. That might have avoided any difficulties that might arise when designation orders come before Parliament. The difficulty with subordinate legislation is that it creates difficulties in relation to parliamentary scrutiny.

I am disappointed that amendment 28, which was lodged in Kenny MacAskill's name on behalf of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, was not agreed to. As was mentioned during the debate, agreement to that amendment would have allowed for more involvement of individual MSPs and would have allowed Parliament more scope to influence subsequent designation orders.

One thing is guaranteed: the passage of the designation orders that will establish each national park will generate at least as much interest as the passage of the primary legislation. With those comments and reservations, I am happy to confirm that the SNP will support the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:08 pm, 5th July 2000

I associate myself with Irene McGugan's comments about the Rural Affairs Committee's clerks. We should also thank those who work for the Transport and the Environment Committee, which did a great deal of work on the bill. I was present at meetings of both those committees and I thank their conveners for the way in which they encouraged and facilitated good debates.

The Conservative group will support the motion to pass the bill. We are content that the bill is sound and that it represents a basis on which to develop national parks in Scotland. However, many procedural issues have arisen in relation to the bill. I made a number of critical comments when we debated stage 1 in Glasgow. I adhere to most of what I said then in relation to the time scale of the bill's passage, what happened to committee reports and the extent to which committee reports were built into the bill at later stages. I realise that the Transport and the Environment Committee's report was a report to the lead committee, the Rural Affairs Committee, and that it may not, technically, have been a matter for the Executive. I think, however, that the Executive should have responded to the Transport and the Environment Committee.

Des McNulty, Tavish Scott and I have raised a number of points in amendments. The responses to our concerns from the Executive have been haphazard, although the work that went into those amendments merited a thorough response. I am not criticising ministers; I am simply saying that we have to consider how we handle these things and how we divide work among the committees in future.

Although the Rural Affairs Committee carried out the whole stage 2 process very well, it inevitably focused more on the issues that it had studied than on the issues that were raised by other committees. That is a procedural weakness that we have to address. I am also unhappy about the time scale that was allowed for amendments. It was a pity that amendments were lodged up until quite late on Monday, a day when most members were not likely to be here.

Perhaps there ought to be an understanding that Executive amendments in particular, which are always likely to be passed, should be available to members a little bit earlier so that they have a chance to decide whether to seek to amend those amendments. A lot of amendments came in very close to the wire. I am not sure that that is a sign of a transparent and power-sharing Parliament.

The Presiding Officer raised some points this morning. I am pleased that he is writing to me—because if I had to write to myself, I would wonder whether I were turning into Fergus Ewing.

I regret that some of the issues that have been raised have not been taken on board in the bill—for example, the points about community councils, and the points raised during discussion of Kenny MacAskill's amendment for super-affirmative procedures. I am glad that Nicol Stephen acknowledged that the latter issue will be reconsidered for future bills. By and large, when committees have expressed substantial concerns, if ministers have not accepted the actual amendments put forward by committees or members, they have come back with a form of words to try to take account of those concerns.

I would like to touch on a point that arose earlier about the dog that did not bark. I refer to the substantial raft of amendments that were lodged at the beginning of the week by Des McNulty and that were pulled yesterday, signifying a shorter political career, I suspect, than even that of Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh in the SNP. The amendments raised substantial issues; it is a matter of regret that we have not had the opportunity in the Parliament to debate the principle of direct elections. From the soundings that I have taken around the place, I am not convinced that there is a majority in favour of them.

We therefore have to congratulate Mr Rumbles on his success not just in winning the vote in committee, but in winning the tug-of-war and tug-of-willpower yesterday. Mr Rumbles has had a remarkable triumph. A year or so ago, he was a threatened species, hunted almost to the point of extinction. Today, he is responsible for putting a lot into this bill. In America, bills are conventionally named after their originators or shapers. If we adopted that convention today, we would be referring to this as the Boyack-Rumbles bill. I put it that way round rather than the other way.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I will keep going, although I have been knocked off my stride. When Ross Finnie begins to barrack, one begins to worry.

I point out to Labour members the way in which the coalition has worked this week, with the Liberal tail wagging the Labour dog, making us wonder how proportional representation for local government, as well as other issues, will develop later on. However, I want to finish on a positive note. I would like to congratulate the minister on her achievement today. This is a milestone for this Parliament, and she has done extremely well in the debates.

I note that the minister's refrain has been, "Let's do better." I hope that, when we come to consider secondary legislation and the designation orders that will follow this bill, we will do better in terms of procedure, and that we might be able to feel, as the process comes to its final stage, that we have all had a share in it and been fully involved. I am happy to end on that positive note, and to support the bill.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 5:14 pm, 5th July 2000

I am delighted that the Parliament has accepted the amendments that it has done this afternoon. I hope that we can now proceed to pass this bill with all-party support. That is first class.

This bill is an enabling bill, which means that very soon—next year, I hope—we will have our first national park. That is long overdue. I am particularly pleased that the main issue of contention, during the months of the consultation exercise and through stages 1 and 2, about the membership of the national park authorities has been successfully addressed. The bill now contains a truly innovative and radical measure. I refer, of course, to the direct election of local people to the national park authorities. That will go a long way towards reassuring local people who live and work in the proposed national parks that their interests will not be forgotten in what will be parks for the whole nation.

I know that there have been procedural difficulties and problems with the time scale. As convener of the Procedures Committee, Murray Tosh should have stuck to addressing the procedural points, on which I am in full agreement with him. However, he became a little bit partisan towards the end of his speech, and I dissociate myself from those comments.

I am proud of the way in which our Parliament has worked to deliver the bill through the consultation process, through the work of the Executive in drafting the bill, through the committee processes—I am particularly pleased with the way in which the Rural Affairs Committee worked at stages 1 and 2—and finally here in the whole Parliament. This is a very good bill indeed. It is long overdue, it is good for Scotland, and I hope that we can support it unanimously.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 5:16 pm, 5th July 2000

At the Drumochter pass, as some members may be aware, there are two hills: the southerly one is called the Sow of Atholl and the northerly one, which marks the boundary of my constituency, is called the Boar of Badenoch. Rather than be known as the bore of Badenoch, I am happy to accept the alternative sobriquet of the Wolf of Badenoch from my friend Robin Harper. I must confess that I did not understand Mr Tosh's remark that I enjoyed writing to myself, but if I ever write to him, I shall address the letter to "Utter Tosh".

It has been a long afternoon, and I pay tribute to all those who have been involved, not least the two ministers, who have undertaken a huge work load, and all the members who have pursued their arguments with sincerity, passion and conviction. However, the procedure has been seriously defective and that gives us a good deal of food for reflection. Sarah Boyack said that no one in a national park had ever asked for national park status to be removed. I remind her that it was not for nothing that 10,000 people signed a petition in the late 1980s calling for the abolition of the Brecon Beacons National Park, for some of the reasons that have been debated today.

It is unfortunate that more was not done to address the concerns that were raised during this afternoon's business. Looking forward positively, I hope that some of the fears that I have expressed are never realised. However, I know that history repeats itself, and the problems of the past will be encountered in the future. I hope that, when it comes to ministerial appointments, membership of the park authorities will reflect the aspirations and needs of the local communities, and will not be dominated by bodies whose members' idea of assisting the environment is to spend their lives attending conferences on the environment, rather than working in overalls in the field to shape it.

People in my constituency fear that this legislation has been shaped and driven by the needs of the proposed Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park area. To some extent those fears are justified, as the needs of that proposed park area have influenced the way in which the legislation has been framed. However, we must look forward and work together to ensure that the national parks are a success for Scotland.

As we look forward to 2002 being the international year of mountains, we have a good opportunity to promote the Cairngorm national park as a world centre for tourism. That will allow us to promote and encourage tourism, as happens in national parks in many other parts of the world. I hope that the minister will agree that that is consistent with sustainable development, whatever that phrase may mean.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 5:19 pm, 5th July 2000

It is appropriate for me, as convener of the Rural Affairs Committee, to say one or two words in tribute to those who have helped us to get through the stages of this bill.

I recall the time when Tom McCabe first mentioned to me that he would like this bill to complete its stages in advance of the summer recess. To say that that was something of a shock would be a bit of an understatement. Although I made it clear to him all along that it might be difficult to do that, I also made it clear that the Rural Affairs Committee would try, and try we did. We tried extremely hard. One or two members have already paid tribute to the staff of the committee, and I will do so again in a moment. However, I would like first to pay tribute to the members of the committee, who did some quite extraordinary work during stage 2 in particular.

We began stage 2 on a Wednesday evening, in order to make an immediate start on it. It happened to be the same Wednesday that the voting and microphone system failed in Parliament. We had hoped to start at half-past 6, but it was nearly 7 o'clock by the time we eventually did. That was one of the few committee meetings so far to take place in the evening. We also met on Fridays, Mondays and in our usual Tuesday slot. We met in some very strange places. We put in the effort that was required to get this bill through in the time scale that had been laid down. The press likes to think that the members of this Parliament who were elected a year ago have done very little since then. I assure those in the press gallery that the members of the Rural Affairs Committee worked extremely hard to get this bill through.

I must repeat the tribute to the staff who, if anything, worked even harder than members of the committee. I am sure that all members of the committee will confirm that on many occasions marshalled lists were e-mailed out to us with a time of between 9 and 10 in the evening. I know that committee staff spent many a long evening preparing for meetings as we proceeded.

It would be inappropriate of me to end without paying tribute to the minister for the effort that she has put in to keep us informed. She was available to us at stage 1 and whenever required during stage 2. Information was passed to us whenever we needed it, without any attempt to disrupt the process. We were only to achieve what we have by virtue of the fact that everyone pulled together.

The bill that has been produced by this process is different from the one that was introduced. It is, without doubt, radical. It has been described today as in some respects experimental. There is a great deal to be learned from the way in which it is enacted and how it appears when it is implemented. Every member is entitled to feel that the bill that we have produced today is the property not only of the minister and the Executive, but of the whole Parliament.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 5:23 pm, 5th July 2000

On behalf of the Executive, I echo the thanks that have been expressed by others. I start by thanking the various committees that have considered the bill—the Transport and the Environment Committee and, especially, the Rural Affairs Committee. I also thank Alex Johnstone, the convener of the Rural Affairs Committee, and all the clerks who were associated with the committee's work, for working so hard to ensure that stage 2 was completed in time to allow the bill to be passed before the recess—Parliament willing. As Alex Johnstone said, some marshalled lists became available only at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock in the evening. People should remember that that was when members of the Parliament and officials of the Scottish Executive had to start their overnight work to ensure that there was adequate briefing and information on the bill as it moved forward.

I also thank those people who have been involved in the consultation and development stage of the bill, those who gave evidence during its passage and all those who have worked so hard behind the scenes to make the bill, so long awaited, a reality.

Our biggest thanks of all ought to go to the campaigners who have been so determined to keep alive the hope—indeed the dream—of having national parks here in Scotland. Today, we can deliver. When we do, there will still be much work to be done. We have still to arrive at the first national parks in Scotland, but we now know where they will be—in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area and in the Cairngorms. The passing of the bill will achieve that.

This is a strong note—and the right note—on which to end the first year of the Scottish Parliament. It is an historic step forward. The bill has been a long time coming. Our challenge now is to go out and make a success, not simply a reality, of Scotland's first national parks.

I call on all members of the Parliament, for once with some confidence, to support overwhelmingly—and, I hope, unanimously—the National Parks (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I seek the chamber's permission to move a motion without notice.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Do we agree that a motion without notice should be moved?

Members:

indicated agreement.

Motion moved, That decision time be taken at 17:27.— [Mr McCabe.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

That means that there will be a slight hiatus.