§ The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)
The House is well aware of my hon. Friend's commitment to improving access to areas of countryside and the parks. We welcome the recent report from his Environment Sub-Committee on town and country parks and we share its concern about the quality and future of our parks. We will publish our full response early in the new year.
§ Mr. Bennett
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that parks give many people much pleasure, but that the past 30 years have seen a tremendous decline in municipal parks? We must reverse that decline. If we want to stop the drift from the north and from the cities to the countryside, it is important to regenerate our cities. Parks could be one of the key elements in that regeneration and should be a key part of the Government's forthcoming urban White Paper.
§ Mr. Prescott
The Government share the Committee's concern about the decline of our parks. Since we came to power we have done several things about the green belt and parks. For example, by tightening the controls, we have halted the sale of playing fields, which the previous Administration encouraged. We have also recently announced a new opportunities fund for green spaces, which contains £125 million for developing green spaces, funded by the national lottery. We are currently preparing our urban White Paper and my hon. Friend's report will be considered in that process.
The report contains a powerful quotation from John Ruskin, which should be the guiding principle for the House:The measure of any great civilisation is its cities, and the measure of any city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and its squares.That is the principle that has governed the actions of Labour Governments and councils for many years.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
If the Government feel that the New forest deserves more protection than it has already, why are they insisting on imposing the straitjacket of a national park on it? For many years the New forest has been protected by special 136 legislation. If the Government have no parliamentary time for special legislation now, why do they not wait until they can do the job properly?
§ Mr. Prescott
The hon. Gentleman properly represents the interests of his constituency—I understand that—but the country generally welcomed the announcement that we made about the two national parks, which followed what a Labour Government had done many years before. The parks policy is important and popular, and we are proud that we have implemented it 50 years after the first legislation to introduce national parks.