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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he confirm that all those methods of raising funding will equally apply to AONBs which remain with a joint advisory committee? We are concerned that there should not be a two-tier system of AONBs and that those which choose not to have conservation boards will not be financially disadvantaged.

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1 a.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, government grants and Countryside Agency grants would apply to AONBs which were not conservation boards. Voluntary grants from local authorities would still be a matter for them. But it would be possible for the boards to receive grants.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I listened with interest to what the Minister said. He has been very helpful in his response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 235A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 235, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 235 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 236 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 236A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 237 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 237A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 238 had been renumbered as Amendment No. 234A.]

Lord Renton of Mount Harry had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 238A:


    After Clause 79, insert the following new clause--

ESTABLISHMENT OF CONSERVATION BOARDS: CONSENSUS OF AGREEMENT

(" . Before making an order to establish a conservation board, the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) shall be satisfied that there is a broad measure of agreement among those consulted locally that a conservation board should be established.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in saying that I shall not be moving this amendment, perhaps I may at the same time congratulate my noble friend Lord Peel on having Amendment No. 234B accepted in principle by the Government.

[Amendment No. 238A not moved.]

Lord Renton of Mount Harry moved Amendment No. 238B:


    After Clause 79, insert the following new clause--

COMPOSITION OF CONSERVATION BOARDS

(" .--(1) A conservation board shall consist of not more than 24 members of whom--
(a) not less than three-quarters shall be appointed by local authorities and parish councils in the proportion of two members from the local authorities for every one member from the parish councils; and
(b) the balance of not more than one-quarter shall be appointed by the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) 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 subsection (1)(a) above, the matter should be referred to the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) for arbitration and decision.

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(3) A conservation board shall, after local consultation, decide whether to form an advisory council, and if such a council is formed, shall appoint members to it who shall be drawn from local organisations concerned with the objectives of the conservation board.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the composition of conservation boards. I believe that on this occasion I must have got it right because my noble friend Lord Peel has added his name to my amendment. That is bound to mean that it will now enjoy wholesale acceptance from all sides of the House, including the Government Front Bench.

The purpose of my amendment is to suggest that a conservation board should not consist of more than 24 members, of whom not less than three-quarters--that is, a maximum of 18--would be appointed by local authorities and parish councils, thus in the proportion of two members from local authorities to every one member from parish councils. The balance, comprising not more than one-quarter--that is, a maximum of six--would be appointed by the Secretary of State in respect of England or the National Assembly for Wales in respect of Wales.

The point about the size is extremely relevant. I am well aware that, for example, the Council of the University of Sussex, on which I happen to serve and which is the governing body of the University of Sussex, is under pressure from the Higher Education Funding Council. The council is thus in the process of reducing its numbers. I believe that many other universities are in exactly the same position. It has been suggested that for a university to function properly, the executive body of its council should not comprise more than around 25 members.

I believe that exactly the same principle could apply to the new conservation boards, as and when they are established. The conservation board which I now chair has a membership of 36. If the same composition of membership were to continue at the same time as we absorb the East Hampshire joint advisory committee and become, in due course, the South Downs national park, I am told that the board membership would comprise a figure in the mid-forties. For a board to function properly, it should be kept as small as is practicable. I suggest that a maximum of 24 would be about as small as is practicable.

When he replies, the Minister may well say that this should be dealt with in the order establishing a particular conservation board rather than be added to the primary legislation. I think that is wrong, because if it is put into primary legislation it will remove the temptation that will certainly exist, as individual conservation boards are created, to allow them to be formed at a size that will prove unmanageable in practice. However, it will be politically expedient at the time of the creation of the board. That is because it is a great deal easier to say "yes" to increasing numbers when a board is becoming formed than it is to say "no". For example, a local authority or county council may wish to put up three members rather than one. It is easier to give in to such requests. For that reason, I believe that to include a definition of maximum size in primary legislation--a size that would be as small as is practicable--makes good sense.

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The division between local authority and parish council members is a matter that has concerned many people, not least when the national parks came into being. I have therefore suggested that, when taking my maximum figure of 24, there would be 18 members, of whom 12 would come from the local authorities, six from the parish councils and the remaining six appointed by the Secretary of State to represent those organisations whose interests and objectives are relevant to conservation boards. At that point, the Secretary of State could bring in representatives from national bodies such as the NFU, the CLA, the Ramblers' Association and others.

In subsection (3) I have added a provision that there should be an advisory council if a conservation board decides that that would be appropriate. I believe that that is the correct way in which to involve representatives of local organisations who are concerned with the objectives of the conservation board. I would much rather see them involved at the level of advisory council, which might meet two or three times a year, instead of in the composition of the board itself, for the reasons I have outlined. I have tried in this amendment to arrive at a compromise figure which balances the different factors and pressures. It is on that basis that I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps it may help the House if, as I did earlier, I say a few words about the government amendments and then, with the leave of the House--without curtailing debate--come back and talk to the other amendments.

Perhaps I may first tell the noble Lord, Lord Renton, a little story. In the 1960s, I was a member of the Metropolitan Water Board, which had something like 100 members. It needed 100 members because the grand boardroom in New River Head had 100 seats, and it would have been awful if there were not 100 members. The majority Labour group used to meet at 1.30; the board would meet at 2.30. On the rising of the board, the water examination committee would meet in the Oak room. On the rising of the water examination committee, tea was served in the Oak room. Tea was never served later than 2.45. That was an efficient way to run a board.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, perhaps I may cap the Minister's story. I have a meeting of my conservation board in nine-and-a-quarter hours' time in Lewes, Sussex. I suspect that all 36 members will be there waiting for me in order to find out how I got on tonight.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall speak for a shorter time than the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

As regards Amendments Nos. 239 to 243, I explained in Committee that the Government's proposals for the membership are for at least 40 per cent--it could be more--to come from local authorities; for, in England, at least 20 per cent--again it could be more--to be parish members; and for whatever proportion is left to be appointed by the Secretary of State in order to represent all the other

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interests that needed to be represented, such as conservation specialists, land managers and people who use their AONB for recreational purposes.

But there were concerns expressed that the Secretary of State would be allowed to appoint up to 60 per cent of the members, and that was seen to be too great a proportion. Amendments Nos. 239 to 243 now provide that in respect of conservation boards in England, the parish members would be appointed by the parishes themselves rather than by the Secretary of State. We will provide for this by specifying in individual establishment orders how the parishes will go about making these appointments. We will consult before an establishment order is drafted with the relevant county associations of local councils--again I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Association of Local Councils--and the affected parishes themselves as to what the order would say.

That means in England that the Secretary of State will be able to appoint an absolute maximum of 40 per cent of the members, with the majority being democratically appointed locally. It is thoroughly appropriate that the Secretary of State should appoint some members to reflect the national interest in the AONB and the central government funding which will be provided.

In Wales, if conservation boards are introduced--it will be a matter for the National Assembly to decide--the Assembly will decide in practice how to distribute the membership interest beyond the basic requirement for at least 40 per cent to come from the local authorities.


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