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The Earl of Courtown: I rise to express my support for my noble friend Lord St. Davids. My noble friend Lord Rees is quite correct to say that this is a highly complex area. As far as concerns common land, there is, as my noble friend said, great misunderstanding on the part of the public as regards access to such land. I have one point to make regarding the agents for the area of land to which reference has been made where the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, lives. Yes, indeed, Knight, Frank and Rutley do manage the land. The agent in question is both a professional and a personal friend of mine and does in fact live very close to the area. I am intensely interested to hear what the Minister has to say as regards giving assurances to my noble friend and the noble Lord on this matter.

Lord Hooson: Many years ago I was appointed as an assistant commissioner of commons to consider the enclosure of land in an urban common where different considerations applied. Such matters are very complex. People think of "common land" as meaning common access. But that is not so: common land means that there

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are common rights of grazing or other common rights, which I need not outline at present. They may be supplemented by public rights of way established by prescription.

One of the concerns that has been expressed today is if in fact motor cyclists, and so on, have uninterrupted access for the period of years which is required to establish a prescriptive right, prescriptive rights of access could be established for motor vehicles. Therefore, management in this respect is most important. It is an extremely complex matter. I am sure that the Welsh assembly would want one of its committees to look into the matter at some time, but it could be dealt with only on a national basis with representations being made by the Welsh assembly.

The matter is far too complex for us to think that guidance can be given, for example, to local authorities when the latter may have no control at all. I understand that the piece of land referred to in Gilwern is privately owned. There must be rights of common in that respect--that is, rights of grazing in common. Indeed, there may be other rights in common; but, as far as we know, there may be no rights of public access. However, from the description that has been given, it is possible that public rights of access have been established by prescription, but I very much doubt that the assembly could give overall guidance on the matter. I believe that it is a matter which should perhaps be transferred gradually and over a period of time from, as it were, parliamentary consideration to assembly consideration. But I do not believe that the time is now ripe for such action.

Lord Prys-Davies: I believe that the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to the Committee is very sound. I have had some dealings with common land in Wales. The phrase "open space" has been used this afternoon when it is an open space, but when it is not in law an open space. Clause 34 says:

    "The Assembly may consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting Wales".

But, as has been said, we are discussing a highly complex matter. It has occurred to me that this is an issue which might possibly interest a law commission as regards considering how the law in this particular area can be improved.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The advice given by the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Rees, as well as my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies is right; we are indeed discussing a complex matter. It is possible that the first secretary may wish to give responsibility for matters relating to common land to one of the subject committees. It would be a moot question as to whether it should be the agriculture committee, over which there could be some argument, or whether it should be a subject committee which deals with the environment, planning and related matters.

I do not believe it appropriate for such a provision to be on the face of the Bill. However, I have two points to make. First, the Government are extremely

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sympathetic to the thrust of the argument put forward by the noble Viscount. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel was courteous enough to give me prior notice of what was likely to be said this afternoon. So we do view the matter with some seriousness.

By a felicitous coincidence, a comprehensive research project has been commissioned by DETR. The Welsh Office was represented on the steering group which looked into all aspects of common land. It published this very month a good practice guide on the management of common land. As I said, that is, I hope, a happy coincidence, although the noble Earl may be about to tell me that the document is completely valueless. However, I should like to reassure Members of the Committee that we treat such matters with seriousness. We expect the assembly to be interested in such matters, but we do not believe it should be prescribed on the face of the Bill.

The Earl of Courtown: Can the Minister say whether the report gives an indication of the amount of common land that exists in Wales?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not know the answer to that. I focused particularly on the good practice guide on the management of common land because it seemed to me that answered the point made by the noble Viscount; namely, that there should be guidance for local authorities on this matter.

Viscount St. Davids: I thank the noble Lord for his encouraging reply. I had hoped he might go a little further as no doubt he would not have missed the irony of my asking him to fulfil an election manifesto of the previous administration made 11 years ago. But we should let that pass. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 149 to 154 not moved.]

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 154A:

Page 30, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) Each subject committee shall be responsible for monitoring the performance of the non-departmental public bodies within the fields covered by that subject committee.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment draws attention to the need for a creative relationship between the subject committees and the non-departmental public bodies operating in fields covered by the subject committees. I again declare an interest as the chair of a non-departmental public body. It is the smallest, most perfectly formed and most bilingual non-departmental public body! During the years in which I have had the honour to hold that post I have valued the link between the Welsh Language Board and the relevant government department at the Welsh Office and its cultural and education department with which we deal.

It is important that much of the loose talk that went on in the country prior to the referendum should now be laid to rest. I have been a victim in the street and occasionally in a public house--although never, to my knowledge, in the Gresford rugby club, which is so

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frequented by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, according to his speeches--of what might be called "quango bashing". There was a kind of fever abroad prompted by Mr. Rhodri Morgan, MP, another potential candidate for the national assembly. That fever consisted of attacking all non-departmental public bodies, their members and their staff for being Conservatives. That was patently untrue in many cases. It was implied that with the establishment of the great national assembly, quangos would be swept away. It was implied that non-departmental public bodies would no longer be necessary and that their functions would somehow be taken over by the 2,000-odd officials and the 60 elected members of the assembly. That always appeared to me to be a piece of false optimism or a piece of propaganda because traditionally there have been functions which non-departmental public bodies have carried out at arm's length on behalf of government. That is why they were created and that is why they are described as non-departmental government bodies.

My amendment seeks to explore the relationship between remaining NDPBs, which may or may not be re-organised by the assembly, and the assembly itself. We have already debated some of the schedules to the Bill and I shall not discuss them now. There is reference to bodies which may lose or gain functions and bodies which may lose functions or gain functions with consent. Later we shall discuss other bodies which may be called to account by the assembly, although they are not directly under its jurisdiction, as it were. How will the Welsh Office and the Government look more dispassionately at the role of non-departmental public bodies than was the case during the referendum campaign and consider how they may relate to the assembly? What kind of creative relationships may be established?

I am not making out a case for myself here. I have been accused of putting job applications on the face of the Bill, as it were. However, there are cases where members of public bodies may remain in post while being members of the assembly. That could create a creative relationship between those bodies. In other cases it may be considered preferable that such bodies--for example, the development agency, which we shall discuss later--should remain very much at arm's length from the assembly and there should not be a mix of the membership. It cannot be beyond the wit of our great democratic nation to look for ways of managing public bodies and making them accountable which does not follow necessarily the inherited model. In other words, there is a case for mixing the membership of various bodies without damaging the integrity of those bodies or the need for artistic freedom of judgment in such areas as the arts and culture.

I hope the Minister can indicate that he foresees the assembly having a creative relationship with NDPBs in Wales and that there will be effective monitoring of that. One of the most successful developments in the whole area of public administration and the management of public services has been the establishment of targets, strategies, schemes, business plans and other such things and the monitoring of performance vis-a-vis such targets

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and strategies. I hope that the assembly will pursue rigorously the need to monitor all our public bodies in Wales but will do so in a spirit of creative development rather than the negative quango bashing which occurred during the referendum campaign. I beg to move.

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