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Lord Glentoran: We have had an interesting debate. While I accept the Minister's observations about Amendment No. 492 and the content of any appeal, to some extent the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, supported my point about the appellate procedure. My noble friend Lord Peyton made clear our worry, that of the NFU and, I am sure, many others. I said at the beginning of my remarks about this group of amendments that essentially Amendment No. 491 was a probing amendment to test the Government's view on the procedure. On that basis, I do not seek the opinion of the Committee. However, we shall return to this issue. We expect the Government to take another look at it, particularly bearing in mind that, as I understand it, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to which the Minister referred was as long ago as 1996. These matters move on fairly quickly and one wonders where one is now.
We shall table another amendment at Report stage to deal with this matter. We hope that the Government will give the matter further thought and perhaps table their own amendment, which will save us from moving ours. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 521 refers to Section 50 of the 1981 Act. The amendment removes any reference to the circumstances in which agreements might be offered. Under the Bill these circumstances will become irrelevant. As a result, the agencies will now have a general power to make payments under Section 16 of the 1949 Act and Section 15 of the 1968 Act, but that will be subject to the ability of Ministers to provide guidance generally on payments. We have issued a consultation paper on revised draft guidance. That takes account of the principles for calculating payments to farmers to which we are required to have regard under the European Commission's Rural Development Regulation and the notification of management agreements as a state aid. We shall issue revised guidance taking account of the comments received and the debates in this House and in another place next year. I beg to move.
Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her explanation of Amendment No. 493. I accept that the point is covered in another section. Perhaps I may just ask for clarification. We have had a debate about the role of Secretary of State, who is a nameless figure--he, she or it--who moves around. Which Minister will be responsible in each department?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My understanding is that "the Ministers concerned" include the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as well as the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, where appropriate. But the use of the term "Minister" allows for an extension of that to "appropriate Minister" should that become relevant. I cannot foresee circumstances in which it would in this particular case. That is my understanding. Should that be wrong, I shall write to the noble Baroness and place a copy of the letter in the Library, particularly for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who is listening very carefully.
The amendment would also make it clear that English Nature or CCW had to be satisfied that they could not conclude a formal agreement under these provisions. If English Nature or CCW attempted to reach an informal agreement and the owner was unwilling, English Nature or CCW might argue that they could then proceed to compulsory purchase, without attempting to secure a formal agreement. That would be unfair on the owner or occupier, who should expect to be involved not just in informal discussions prior to compulsory purchase, but also in serious formal negotiations over a formal agreement that would meet both the owner's needs and those of English Nature or CCW.
I turn now to Amendment No. 496. It is an important principle that before exercising any compulsory purchase powers any government body should seek to find alternative ways of achieving its objective. Depriving someone of their land and property in the interests of the state should always be viewed as a last resort.
Alternative options could include negotiating a management agreement, as provided for under new Section 28L(2)(a). A further option is voluntary purchase. However, although this option is mentioned in the draft financial guidelines in relation to SSSIs, it is not explicitly recorded as a prior condition for compulsory purchase in the Bill.
It is important, in safeguarding the interests of owners, that such a provision should be added to the Bill. The amendment would accordingly require English Nature or CCW not only to be satisfied that a management agreement could not be secured on the site, but also to have offered to purchase the site voluntarily before the body could exercise its compulsory purchase powers.
Amendment No. 497 seeks to tighten up the conditions under which English Nature or CCW could manage or dispose of land which it had compulsorily purchased. At present new Section 28L(4)(a) suggests that English Nature or CCW could simply "manage" the land itself. There is no reference to the land needing to be managed for the purpose of conserving the features of scientific interest which it contains. English Nature or CCW might accordingly decide to manage the land for other purposes, including income-earning purposes, which opportunities should properly be available to the owner of the land. English Nature or CCW might, for example, simply open the land up to recreational uses, for which it then charges a fee.
Similarly, new Section 28L(4)(b) enables English Nature or CCW to dispose of compulsorily purchased land on terms simply designed to ensure that the land is managed satisfactorily. What is there to stop English Nature or CCW selling land for high-value built development? The land would still presumably be managed satisfactorily in its new use.
The ability of English Nature or CCW to manage the land and to dispose of it should be related closely back to the primary function of conserving the flora, fauna and features of the site. If the land is to be managed by English Nature or CCW, it should be purely for the purpose of conserving its features. If it is to be sold by English Nature or CCW, it should be for the purpose of ensuring that its features can continue to be conserved appropriately. The amendment would achieve both purposes.
The amendment substitutes for the existing wording in new Section 28L(4)(a) and (b) the wording in new Section 15A of the Countryside Act 1968, which is introduced in Clause 66(3) of the Bill. Unlike the wording of new Section 28L(4), this wording ties in the purposes of management and of disposal closely to the conservation of the features of the land. It provides a useful model.
Amendment No. 497ZA is quite plain and seems to be fair and equitable. However, if the Government confirm that this situation is covered by Crichel Down principles, I shall be satisfied. I beg to move.
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