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Lord Renton of Mount Harry moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 539, Amendment No. 539A:



(" .--(1) A conservation board shall consist of not more than 24 members of whom--
(a) not less than two-thirds shall be appointed by local authorities and parish councils in such proportion as they decide among themselves; and
(b) the balance of not more than one third shall be appointed by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate, from organisations whose interests and objectives are relevant to the Conservation Board.
(2) In the event of a failure by local authorities and parish councils to agree appointments under paragraph (1)(a) above, the matter shall be referred to the Secretary of State for arbitration and decision.
. A Conservation Board shall, after local consultation, decide whether to form an Advisory Council, and if such a Council is formed, shall appoint members who shall be drawn from local organisations concerned with the objectives of the Conservation Board.").

The noble Lord said: I tabled this amendment because there is general dissatisfaction with the number of members of the conservation board to be appointed under Amendment No. 539 by the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 539 suggests that 40 per cent

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shall be local authority members; and the balance of 60 per cent shall be appointed by the Secretary of State of which 20 per cent shall be parish members. I find it hard to understand why the Secretary of State should appoint parish members. It would be far more appropriate for that to be done by parishes, by local people. It is almost absurd to consider that parish members shall be appointed by the Secretary of State.

I believe that the balance is wrong. My amendment is a probing amendment to which we shall return, probably on Report. I suggest that the balance should be two-thirds appointed by local authorities and parish councils,


    "in such proportion as they decide among themselves".

It seems more satisfactory that local people should work out how many should be council members, how many district members and how many parish members. It would be better for that to be undertaken locally than by an edict passed in Parliament for implementation by the Secretary of State. Obviously, if local people could not agree among themselves, the matter would be referred to the Secretary of State for arbitration and decision.

I accept that one third of the members should be appointed by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, but they should come from organisations whose interests and objectives are relevant to the conservation boards. The principle is that two thirds should be parish and local authority members appointed locally and a maximum of one third should be appointed by the Secretary of State.

I have added that the conservation boards shall consist of not more than 24 members. I wholly understand if the Minister says that it is not for us to set a limit because the order should decide. My point is that there is a great danger of there being too many people on such boards. The conservation board of which I am chairman numbers 36, plus me. If we were to become a national park, embracing east Hampshire as well--that is the Government's intention and the Countryside Agency is working on it--I am told that on the same distribution the size of our board would be 45. That is too large. For effective working, the smaller the board the better. I suggest that 24 is the maximum for a reasonable executive board capable of reaching decisions. Within that, no more than one third should be appointed by the Secretary of State and two thirds by local people.

However, with a board of only 24 there will be people who feel that they should be consulted and have not been. That is why I have tagged on the thought that:


    "A Conservation Board shall, after local consultation, decide whether to form an Advisory Council".

That advisory council could be quite large, meeting perhaps twice a year. Its members could be drawn from local organisations concerned with the objectives of the conservation board. That is a different approach. I have got away from trying to decide exactly how parish members are elected and how many there should be. Let the local people decide. There

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could be a smaller number on the board, supported by an advisory council to bring in a larger gathering of people to talk about their objectives and aspirations once or twice a year. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selborne: I support my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry. We have come back to the issue of local accountability on conservation boards. My noble friend has said it all. There can be no case for having a minority of locally accountable people who have been elected or appointed by local authorities. The Secretary of State could appoint up to 60 per cent--20 per cent from the parish councils and another 40 per cent from elsewhere. That is unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will think again about the proposal.

Lord Bridges: I well understand the feeling that parish members should be represented on the boards, but I am somewhat concerned that they are to be confined to parish councillors. Having seen a good deal of the work of parish councils recently, I am not convinced that all the people who could best contribute to a conservation board would necessarily be found among their ranks. Parish councillors now face demanding tasks and there may be others who would be well able to contribute to the work of the board who have chosen not to be parish councillors.

We need a different procedure by which the parish council could suggest names from among their own number or from among residents of the parish to be considered by the appointing body, be it the Secretary of State or somebody else. I prefer the arrangement suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It would be much better and more representative and would not have the link with the Secretary of State whose role seems a little unnecessary. The Secretary of State already has so much to do. The Bill places many more tasks upon him, and this is something which he need not bear.

2 a.m.

Lord Marlesford: I support my noble friend's amendment for the simple reason that I want the Bill to be effective. I want the boards to be effective, and I am quite sure that 24 is the absolute maximum number of members for a sensible executive body. Certainly, the executive board of almost every company of which I am aware has fewer than 24 members. The total board, including non-executives, would probably comprise fewer than that number. Even the Cabinet has no more than 24 members. I am not sure whether the number is limited by statute, but I believe that the number of people in the Cabinet who can be paid is limited to 24. If a Prime Minister wants additional members, he must find people who will serve without payment.

I am sure that that number is right. I also believe that it is right to switch the proportions so that 60 per cent of the members are local people and only 40 per

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cent are appointed by the Secretary of State. I believe that that would give greater credibility to what will be an important body for AONBs.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We have returned to the debate that we had earlier. Perhaps this is the point at which I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that I strongly disagree with the statement that he made earlier that I do not see local accountability as important. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply to the amendment.

I believe that the model proposed by the Government probably builds on the national parks model. The Secretary of State confirms the parish council representation in that instance. Therefore, it might be said to be a Secretary of State appointment. However, the parish councillors are chosen locally from among the parishes. I believe that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, may be covered by the precedent set by a parish council being able to appoint a school governor to represent it on a governing body. The representative does not have to be a member of the parish council.

One weakness of the national parks model which the Minister might address is that currently the Secretary of State's appointees who are considered to represent the national interest can be appointed from many miles outside the park--sometimes virtually from the other end of the country. That seems to me to be a weakness. I believe that the Secretary of State should make every effort to ensure that, where the person is appointed not as a local authority member but to represent a national interest, some qualification about living or working within the area should be in force. If the Secretary of State was truly unable to find such a person, it may be possible to look further afield. However, I believe that the underlining of the role of locally elected members in conservation boards, and the links that that would forge to local authorities, is extremely important.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I have a series of amendments which are grouped with my noble friend's amendment and which have a similar effect, but in their effect they have very much answered the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

This series of amendments may appear to be scrappy because one must sit down and work out exactly what they say. My noble friend, however, has had the good sense to produce a cohesive amendment which appears to provide the perfect solution. Of course, it is not perfect because the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has pointed out its flaw. The flaw is that we do not understand--at least, I still do not understand--the need of the Secretary of State to appoint members to those boards when the chips are down.

If, in his reply, the Minister says that the Secretary of State will do so simply because there must be an appointment mechanism and he is it, we say simply that that is because we are unable to take sufficient care to ensure that the local organisations produce the people who are required. That is what my amendments are directed to because we see that the conservation

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boards should consist of council and parish council members and we leave to the Secretary of State the right to determine the numbers. But they both will be appointed in accordance with a scheme to be defined in the order. That can be done quite easily. It is reasonable to assume that one AONB in one part of the country will have a very different constitution from a different AONB in a different part of the country.

However, I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry about numbers. On the whole, the prejudice should be to keep numbers small.

If the Secretary of State has an interest, the point is covered in my amendments by allowing him to appoint two members. I am not even sure that that is necessary but I thought that I should leave in that provision because it seemed to me to be a reasonable concession.

Certainly, the conservation bodies can be covered much better by allowing the boards to co-opt such number of members who may be co-opted from relevant conservation bodies as specified in the order. You do not want someone from the national headquarters of a conservation body, except in particular circumstances, as a member of an AONB in the far-flung ends of the country. What we want is to have the local people who have local interests and who know what is going on. That applies just as much to conservation bodies as it does to parish and ordinary councils.

Therefore, my series of amendments goes rather further than the amendment of my noble friend. At this late hour, I do not ask the Minister to answer this question this evening but simply to say that he will go away and think about the issue because I do not pretend to have an absolute answer and I hope that my noble friend would not do so either. We are both pointing in the same direction: those bodies should consist of local people arrived at and determined locally, in so far as that is possible. If there is a need for national representation for a natural interest, that should be kept as small as is reasonably possible. It was with those thoughts in mind that I tabled these amendments.


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