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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, particularly for his encouraging words about the final amendment and the extension of the consultation remit. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who took part in the encouragingly vigorous debate, which has extended into the dinner hour, so I shall limit my remarks in reply.
I understand the points which were made about the possible extension of the role of the standards commission in the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, suggested. However, I was specific in my remarks to ensure that the statutory role would be concerned only with complaints which occur already under Clause 71 of the proposed legislation and not with the broader tasks which I was suggesting.
In a sense, there is not so much a misunderstanding as a difference of theoretical principle about the role of the body which I suggested and which I noted in the course of the discussion. I do not see it as either extending the constraints on producers or improving the protection for consumers, but much more positively as extending the consumers' influence. Since tonight we are all precise in our declaration of interests, as a current producer and professional contributor to documentary programmes on many channels in this country, I have no wish to restrain my own or any other colleagues' creativity, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, suggested I was trying to do. All I wish to achieve through the amendment is to ensure that in my more popular role, on which I spend more time at this point in my career--that is, being a viewer and listener--I and the millions of other people in the country who are viewers and listeners and who feel that they have no positive influence on broadcasting strategy as consumers should have that role extended.
However, in view of the encouraging response which the Minister gave to one part of the amendment and the general disagreement about the broader principle of consumer interest, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Cranbrook: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time. The Second Reading was a long time ago--20 months now--on 7th June 1994. Since then, it has passed through the hands of the committee, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. There were 11 sittings and the committee also visited Bodmin Moor.
Except in one important respect, to which I shall refer later, the Bill returns to us no different in general form. In the interim the deliberations of the committee have involved much discussion with the promoters, Cornwall County Council, associations representing commoners and landowners, the Countryside Commission and petitioners. The promoters and the other parties would, I am sure, wish to be associated with me in thanking all noble Lords who served on the committee and their chairman. I congratulate Cornwall County Council for its perseverance in pursuing the Bill. It underlines the Bill's importance for Cornwall and, I believe, its significance in the wider arena.
At Second Reading I introduced the Bill in the context of sustainable development to which the country adheres through Agenda 21 and the Biodiversity Action Plan to which the United Kingdom signed up through international conventions launched at Rio in 1992. I tried to highlight the duty that we in Parliament have as a legislature to enact laws that facilitate action by people and communities directed towards the objectives of sustainability. The importance of that consideration has not diminished.
I do not need to enlarge on the multiple values of Bodmin Moor. It is a large area over which the commons affected by the Bill are scattered and of which collectively the commons form a significant part. Perhaps I may remind the House that the area is important for its geology, its land form, its biological resources, its landscape and its archaeological and historic value.
The moorland habitat is fragile and suffers from over-grazing on large areas and in places under-grazing. Farming is not easy, but livestock farming is traditional on the commons. It is vital that that use should be managed in a sustainable manner with farming practices integrated so as to safeguard and enhance the inherent natural values of England's most south-westerly upland.
There is no specific provision for judicial review, although the general law relating to such review will apply to the commoners' council as to any public authority. There is a new specific duty on the commoners' council to act fairly. That appears in what is now Clause 4. It replaces the specific provisions on judicial review. Other minor amendments of a drafting or technical nature do not affect issues of policy. So, except in an important respect to which I shall come, the Bill and the county council's reasons for promoting it are not substantially different from those outlined at Second Reading. It is still the aim of the Bill to establish a system of regulation on Bodmin Moor which will enable the commons, and indirectly the moor as a whole, to be managed in an environmentally sustainable way and in accordance with good husbandry. That, for the people who live there, will improve the viability of farms on the moor, encourage diversification and enhance the tourism potential. More directly, it will become possible to obtain environmentally sensitive area status, the associated grants to go with it and similar grants and facilities on the agricultural side. All that, the county council expects, will lead directly or indirectly to a substantial revival of the economy of the area.
When in June 1994 I agreed to sponsor the Bill in your Lordships' House I stipulated that it should have the agreement of the two statutory countryside agencies in England. As its chairman--which I still am--I was able to declare the support of English Nature, as recorded at col. 1153 of Hansard of 7th June 1994. I was also assured at the time by the Countryside Commission that I could say, as I did, that the commission had withdrawn its petition against the Bill in the face of assurances of modifications that would be forthcoming from the promoters. That created a somewhat difficult situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady David, raised concerns that had been apparent in the withdrawn petition of the Countryside Commission. In giving me authority to speak on its behalf the commission also asked me to say, as I did, that it had residual concerns about the fencing of common land, the sources of advice on nature conservation and archaeology, the consulting of the public on the access strategy and the way in which trespassers would be dealt with.
Those issues occupied the period between Second Reading and today's Third Reading. The main difference between the Bill as it now stands and as it was then is that it no longer makes provision for a right of regulated access to the commons where, for the most part, there is at the moment no such access. There is de facto public access over many areas of the moor, as noble Lords will know if they have visited it. Those areas include both common land and land which is in sole private ownership. But that access is dependent on the decisions of individual landowners in respect of their own land, or, to a degree, the commoners on land which is common land. I am assured that in many instances
The major thrust of petitions against the Bill related to the way in which a right of public access was to be provided. In the end it proved impossible to reach an arrangement acceptable to the petitioners, the commoners and the landowners. The solution of the committee was to delete all reference to public access, leaving the Bill purely concerned with conservation and grazing measures. Clause 10, therefore, and the associated consultation processes have been withdrawn. The county council now feels that the question of access to open country generally, including access to commons, should be addressed nationally and not in the context of a piece of local legislation. I admit that I agree with that.
I referred to sustainability. The central plank in the structure envisaged by the Bill is the preparation and approval of a management plan which will provide the means for the commoner's council to exercise its functions. The commoners, with professional advice, are well advanced in the preparation of a draft of the kind of plan they envisage and will develop it when they have formal existence as a commoners' council after the Bill becomes law. That is the meat of the debate about sustainability. I said that at Second Reading and I have done so again today. The term "sustainability" has featured strongly in debates in this House on various occasions and in different contexts. We may not yet be able to define the concept for all purposes on every occasion. But at least we know what is not sustainable. At present the state of Bodmin Moor is not sustainable in environmental terms. The Bill can put the moors and commons on the road to sustainability. I fear that the problems that have been encountered in this one small legislative measure illustrate in microcosm the huge difficulties we shall face on a national scale as we try to devise practices and, where necessary, provide legislative backing to measures which integrate the fair aspirations of people across a wide range of interests so that together we can achieve sustainability.
Once again I commend the work of the committee and its members and chairman along with the promoters, the objectors, the petitioners and all those who became involved in the debate on having successfully found a way through the maze and in the end having produced a Bill which provides a grounding for sustainable management of what is a cherished corner of England's natural heritage. I beg to move.