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Lord Lucas of Chilworth: I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Attlee and to the Minister. I am glad to hear the Minister say that the rental company must take a more dynamic approach to its responsibilities before it rents vehicles out. The whole business is so competitive that sometimes short-cuts are taken, but that is not helpful to either rental companies or to the passage of the Bill.

I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Attlee about IT systems. I understand the Minister's point about regulations and I am glad to have her confirmation that before regulations are put in place the Government will undertake adequate consultation with rental companies and with the association that represents most of them. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

The Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Bill [H.L.]

2.14 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Purposes of designation of areas of outstanding natural beauty]:

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount St. Davids): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 1, I should point out that if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, leave out lines 11 to 17 and insert ("of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas specified in subsection (1A).")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thought it might make sense to attempt to redraft the purpose of the designation of areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, the point has been made to me--in Committee 10 days ago there was considerable discussion about this wording--that it might be better to stick to the original wording that was used to describe areas of outstanding natural beauty, the only difference being that after the 1949 Act the word "conserving" was put in the place of "preserving" by the subsequent Act. Having listened to the argument and to the points made by noble Lords in Committee, I have tabled this amendment, which I hope will win the support of the whole House. The amendment brings together in one place a clear statement of the purposes of designating

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AONBs. It merely restates statutory purposes. It does not seek to amend the existing definition of AONBs' purposes, but it provides a clear statement.

It is now 50 years since the 1949 Act was passed. When the Government bring forward their proposals on areas of outstanding natural beauty, which I hope they will do soon, they may consider at that stage that 50 years have passed and that perhaps it is time to reformulate the purposes of an AONB. I hope that the Minister, who is kindly listening to the debate on a Friday afternoon, will take this point back to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

One example that might be considered is the whole question of encouraging biodiversity and, in the case of the South Downs, the return of chalk grassland, which falls within the bailiwick of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is a matter of substantial interest to us. Perhaps that kind of biodiversity should be one of the objectives of an AONB.

Mention of the South Downs reminds me that I think it is appropriate for me to remind the House of my interest in this matter. I have often declared in the past that I have an interest as chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. In that context, I am delighted to see my predecessor in that post, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, sitting in his customary place opposite.

It would be wrong to let this stage pass without reiterating that it is disappointing to many of us that so far the Government have not yet managed to make clear their intentions about AONBs. I shall not go over the sequence of "soon", "very soon" and "pretty soon" that we have been offered. However, last week I noted a strong contrast when, on the one hand, I attended the launch of the Countryside Agency, which had, as its slogan put out by Ministers, "Everyone's a Winner". A few days later I read in our local paper the words of the new chairman of CPRE, Sir David Ford. He said:

    "I believe the countryside is threatened as never before. Outward migration from our major towns and cities is fuelling urban sprawl; the crisis of farming and changes in farming practices are damaging the landscape and the relentless rise in traffic on rural roads leaves people intimidated and fearful".

In answer to a debate initiated in another place last week by Martin Caton, the Member of Parliament for Gower, on the subject of the future of areas of outstanding natural beauty, the junior Minister at the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, Mr Meale, said:

    "I can assure hon. Members that the subject of the advice--which related to the future status of the New Forest and the south downs, as well as making recommendations for AONBs generally--is never far from my mind or that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State".--[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/99; col. 302.] If that is the case, it would be good to hear quickly what are the results of the prolonged thinking on the part of Ministers at the DETR.

I realise that this is not easy, and that there are complexities as regards planning and conservation issues, and about where the money will come from.

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However, I beg the Minister to take away that all of us involved with AONBs need a decision from the Government shortly. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, first, I give the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, an absolute assurance that we shall read and consider carefully his comments today and those of other noble Lords, as we have during the progress of the Bill.

Secondly, I assure the noble Lord that I do not intend to repeat all the disclaimers and caveats that I placed on record in Committee. That would detain Members of your Lordships' House unnecessarily. We are aware of noble Lords' concern about the need for a decision, but the decision must be made after all the circumstances have been carefully evaluated.

Finally, the Government are likely to prefer to maintain the words,

    "conserving and enhancing the natural beauty", in the event of any legislation for which it would be appropriate.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Renton, I, too, declare an interest. I am a landowner and one who lives within an AONB. Having said that, I thank my noble friend for his sympathetic view on the debates that we had in Grand Committee. In particular, I thank my noble friend for trying to accommodate us as regards these two well debated clauses. However, as with other noble Lords, we are concerned that we should be unable to debate Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. We wish to articulate more carefully the description. Therefore, I agree with the Minister, although from a different angle, and cannot accept the amendment at this time.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, I find myself not entirely happy with my noble friend's amendment.

Clause 1 sets the whole tone of the Bill. The amendment does not give adequate recognition to those people affected by the legislation. The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick and myself are designed specifically to meet that problem. I do not believe that Amendment No. 1 is entirely satisfactory.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I feel that I should repeat what I said because I may have been misunderstood.

On Amendment No. 1, I said that the Government are likely to prefer to maintain the words,

    "conserving and enhancing the natural beauty", should there be any eventual legislation.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, from the Cross Benches, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry. In one sense, I do not mind either way. However, in a Private Member's Bill it probably makes

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good sense to stick to what we are used to, and to note what the Minister has now said twice. I support the amendment.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, the amendment has the general support of the Government. I listened carefully to what my noble friends Lord Rotherwick and Lord Kimball said. There are other amendments tabled in their names which will be discussed. Those amendments go a long way towards meeting the points they made in Committee. I hope, therefore, that they will not press their resistance to the amendment which restates the status quo as regards the definition of AONBs. I commend the amendment.

2.24 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, the Question is that Amendment No. 1 shall be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion shall say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". I think the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

Tellers for the "Not-Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division, therefore, cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.

Amendment agreed to.

2.28 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Duty of certain bodies and persons to have regard to conservation and enhancement of areas of outstanding natural beauty]:

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