DEFRA – THE NEW FOREST NATIONAL PARK – 13 July 2004

[Mr James Gray (Shadow DEFRA Minister): ... It will be remembered that my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest East (Dr. Lewis) and for New Forest West (Mr. Swayne) raised two particular points. They drew a blind over the fact that the Minister, rather disgracefully, chose to announce the New Forest National Park on the "Today" programme rather than in a Statement to the House.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Gray: No, I will not. The Minister can answer in a moment. My hon. Friends raised –

Alun Michael: On a point of order, Mr O'Brien.

Mr Gray: Oh for heaven's sake!

Alun Michael: I want to make it clear that what the hon. Gentleman said is not true.

The Chairman [Mr Bill O'Brien]: That is not a point of order.

Mr Gray: The Minister will have the opportunity to respond more fully in a moment.

My hon. Friends the Members for New Forest East and for New Forest West raised two particular points. The first is that, as the Minister finally delineated it, the New Forest National Park is 38 square miles smaller than that which was proposed by the Countryside Agency. As I understand it, the Minister himself made that decision. It misses out such important places as, for example, Dibden Bay – which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East referred to – with some detriment to the value of the National Park. The Minister might like to tell us why that is and what can be done to make sure that it does not happen again and make sure that suitable constraints are placed on areas such as Dibden Bay so that they are looked after.

... One problem that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West mentioned was that because the New Forest National Park will be smaller than originally planned, it will concentrate tourist activity in a smaller area. That will have an environmental downside.

Alun Michael: ... The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray), who has a talent for spoiling the party, was absolutely wrong to claim that I made any announcement on the "Today" programme. I did not. The first announcement relating to the New Forest was made to the House in a Statement. I have made that clear.]

Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Mr O'Brien, following the Minister's example. It must be made clear that the Minister made a Written Statement without informing the hon. Members concerned that it was going to be made.

[The Chairman [Mr Bill O'Brien]: Order. That is not a point of order.

Alun Michael: What the hon. Gentleman says is quite untrue. He knows that in advance of making that statement I undertook – and carried out the undertaking – to fax to his office a copy of the letter that had been placed on the Board so that all hon. Members directly affected heard about it at the moment when the decision was announced to the House.]

Dr Lewis: Will the Minister give way?

[Alun Michael: No. The hon. Gentleman has made enough misrepresentations. Perhaps he will stand up to make a point of order in order to apologise.]

Dr Lewis: On a point of order, Mr O'Brien. I have been accused of misrepresentation. I said that the Minister's office tipped off the BBC three days in advance of any announcement and did not tell the hon. Members concerned that any announcement was to be made.

[The Chairman [Mr Bill O'Brien]: That is not for the Chair to decide.

Alun Michael: I was absolutely scrupulous in ensuring that the House heard about the matter before anyone else. The hon. Gentleman's canard is not justified.]