INSIDE PARLIAMENT : Peers look to keep peace in national parks

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Indy Politics
A defeat for the Government in the House of Lords last night brought closer the prospect of off-road motorcyclists and powerboats being driven out of national parks.

The biggest impact could be on Windermere in the Lake District, where 400 jobs could go if powerboats and water-skiers are forced off the lake, peers were told. Powerboaters and those who believe national parks should be for quieter pursuits have been atloggerheads for years over Windermere.

Peers voted by 129 to 121 to amend the Environment Bill and require national parks to promote the "quiet enjoyment and understanding" of their area's special qualities.

Noisy sports would not become illegal simply on the enactment of the Bill, but the 10 park authorities would be under an obligation to find means of banning them. Targets would include off-road motorcycles and four-wheel-drive vehicles, which use bridleways and sometimes open fell sides. However ministers may decide to reverse the amendment, made during Bill's Committee stage, either at a later stage in the Lords or when the measure reaches the Commons.

Moving the amendment, Lord Norrie, a member of the Council for National Parks, said it would be "a disaster" to leave open the definition of enjoyment. Activities in the parks should not intrude on the enjoyment of others. Pursuits should involve "musclepower and not motor power", the Conservative peer said.

But Viscount Ullswater, Minister of State for the Environment, opposed a "blanket ban". He sympathised with people's need to use the parks to "escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life", but could not accept that particular activities should be "excluded from every part of every park".

It was possible, with co-operation and careful planning, to accommodate both those who wanted quiet enjoyment and those who wanted to pursue more active sports.

Lord Williams of Elvel, for Labour, urged the Government to enshrine the principle of quiet enjoyment in the Bill. The Bishop of Chester, Michael Baughen, said people needed quiet places like those offered by national parks, for the "human spirit to be restored and maintained".

But Tory Lord Gisborough pleaded for "tolerance from the middle-aged and old-aged for youth", while Lord Greenway, a crossbencher, said a ban on noisy activities could mean dinghy-racing being prohibited and warned that the amendment could cost up to 400jobs on Windermere.

Noisy sports were the order of the day in the Commons with John Major and his Chancellor spending much of their respective question times defending yesterday's 0.5 per cent increase in interest rates. Labour said the rise would contribute to an £800 blowto the typical homeowner in one year.

Kenneth Clarke said the move had been made in order to deliver his stated objective of sustained growth with low inflation. "At the moment we still have a very buoyant economy," he said. But there had been an increase in commodity prices and producer prices had been rising a little. "I judged it timely to make a further increase in order to make sure that growth should be sustained without a recurrence of inflation."

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, condemned the rise as a "double blow to living standards", and said the costs of the typical homeowner would have risen £800 in a year - a 25 per cent increase. "Millions of people will see a fall in their living standards." Labour's sum is made up of £200 a year as a result of yesterday's increase, plus last year's two increases and the Budget cuts in mortgage tax relief. By April it is reckoned this will total £785, rounded up for snappier headlines.

Without responding to the figure, Mr Clarke said that last year Britain had 4 per cent growth and the lowest inflation since the war. Unemployment had fallen by half a million.

Tony Blair put the £800 sum to the Prime Minister, again without any direct response. John Major said he appreciated the impact of the interest rise, but what would be most damaging would be for inflation to take off in the way it had in the past. Mr Blair asked: "What kind of a recovery is it that peaks when for millions it has barely even begun?"

But the Prime Minister said Mr Blair had a "cheek in denying history". The latest level of interest rates was "the lowest achieved at any stage under the last Labour government".