To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will issue the statement of the Government's position on the implementation of natural heritage areas in Scotland.
I have written today to Magnus Magnusson, chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, to send him the text of the Government's statement on the implementation of the natural heritage areas provision, contained in the Scottish Natural Heritage Act 1991, following the period of public consultation last year. In preparing this statement full account was taken of the points made during the passage of the Act, as well as the many views expressed by the public bodies and individuals during the consultation period. A copy of this statement and a summary of the responses to the consultation paper has been placed in the Library of the House.I am very grateful to all who responded formally to the consultation paper. A wide range of views were expressed. Many showed strong support for the principle of natural heritage areas and for the associated concept of integrated management of areas of outstanding importance to the natural heritage in Scotland. Many respondents agreed that the implementation of the designation should be based where possible on the voluntary principle. There was considerable stress on the importance of ensuring the active involvement of local communities in natural heritage areas. It was also generally agreed that there was a need to influence in many areas sensitive and sustainable land management while taking account of the public desire for access. I am confident that the new designation will provide a suitable and successful framework which will allow Scottish Natural Heritage and others to develop successful partnerships which will safeguard and enhance areas of outstanding importance to the natural heritage of Scotland.A number of respondents doubted whether the natural heritage area concept alone would be sufficient to protect every area of outstanding natural heritage significance in Scotland. The statement of the Government's position makes plain that such designation should only apply where Scottish Natural Heritage has made a clear case that it will provide an effective mechanism for protection and where the proposal for designation has the backing of the relevant interests. If Scottish Natural Heritage were to advise, after careful examination, that another model of administration is necessary for a particular area, I would give that advice most careful consideration.