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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 26:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 53. These amendments are both technical following changes we made in Committee and on Report.

Amendment No. 26 confirms that action under new Section 37A(2), which relates to Ramsar sites and which is inserted into the 1981 Act by Clause 77, is for English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales. The action is notifying the owners and occupiers that a Ramsar site has been designated by the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 53 clarifies that the relevant authority which authorises in writing a person to enter land is, for the purposes of the power of entry to ascertain whether a stop notice should be served (in Schedule 11, paragraph 21), the conservation agency. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 86 [Establishment of conservation boards]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 27:

    Page 61, line 13, at end insert--

("and shall not make the order unless satisfied that the majority of those local authorities consent.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee and on Report we debated a number of amendments which would have required varying degrees of agreement among affected local authorities before an AONB conservation board could be established. Ministers have explained that it is not the Government's intention to foist conservation boards on areas where their establishment is not supported.

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They are expected to be most suitable for some of the larger AONBs which cross a number of local authority boundaries. We expect the first moves towards the establishment of a conservation board to come from the local area.

The amendments simply support those principles by introducing a requirement that the majority of local authorities that would be affected by the establishment of a conservation board must consent when consulted by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales before an order is made establishing such a board. The requirement will also apply to the making of an order amending or revoking an establishment order. The amendments are similar in effect to Amendment No. 234A, introduced on Report by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for tabling the amendments. They more than satisfy the points that I tried to raise on Report. I am convinced that many local authorities within existing and potential AONBs will be greatly relieved. The amendment will create a mood of much greater co-operation among local authorities, which can only benefit the AONBs and will result in a much more positive attitude towards conservation boards for the management of those areas.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 28:

    Page 61, line 19, at end insert--

("and shall not make the order unless satisfied that the majority of those local authorities consent.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry moved Amendment No. 29:

    After Clause 90, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Minister (as respects England) and the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) shall, in respect of every management plan which they receive, publish, if requested to do so by the authors of the plan, a response within six months setting out--
(a) the steps which the Minister or the Assembly intend to take to further the targets and aims in that management plan; and
(b) the extent to which the policies of the Minister or the Assembly may conflict with that management plan, and the steps which are to be taken to resolve that conflict.
(2) In this section--
"management plan" means a plan published in accordance with--
(a) section 82, or
(b) section 66 of the Environment Act 1995; and
"Minister" means the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology, because this is the third time I have spoken to this amendment, which was

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tabled in slightly different form in Committee and on Report. It is therefore the third time I must remind your Lordships of my interests in the matter, as chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board and as a member of the executive committee of the Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

I have felt it right to come back on the issue because I am surprised that the Government have not been able to accept the amendment on previous occasions. Great importance is attached to the production of management plans by local authorities within AONBs or by statutory conservation boards, where they are established. The first point that the Countryside Agency mentioned in its literature about the new conservation boards was that it and the local authorities involved would produce a management plan. It is therefore surprising that Ministers have rejected the idea that they should have to reply to management plans.

I have watered down the amendment by adding that the Minister should reply to the management plan only if requested to do so by its authors. The reply should be made within six months, which seems a reasonable period.

That is pretty basic stuff. If the management plan is important, surely there should be a reply to it. In responding to me on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty said that AONB management plans,

    "were not part of the development plan system".--[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 507.]

By implication, he went on to say that they therefore did not need a reply. With the greatest respect, the Minister has got the wrong end of the stick and failed to understand the purpose and difficulty of management plans.

The essential point is that, although there is a formal response from the Secretary of State in the planning system, the delivery mechanism occurs through the local authorities which prepared the plans in the first place. The fundamental difference between management plans from local authorities in AONBs or conservation boards and any land use plan, such as a development plan, is that authorities which prepare the management plans do not have the power to implement the plans' objectives, particularly in so far as they concern land management. A major subject of the management plans will be land management.

Therefore, in essence, in the suggestion put forward by the Government one set of authorities will prepare plans to which great importance is attached--for example, in relation to the new conservation boards--and another organisation--namely, MAFF, a government department--will not reply to the plan but will implement national policies which very often have little regard to the needs of particular areas--in these cases, designated national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

I stress that point because, since first tabling this amendment, national park officers from many parts of the country have said to me, "You are absolutely right. The difficulty for us is that we prepare a management plan in accordance with the local agencies. We consult

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MAFF a little about it, but once it is delivered to MAFF, we often never hear any more about it. We do not know whether MAFF agrees that it should be implemented or not".

I make a further point. All national park programmes, which are in the same category, originating from management plans are in the public domain. Those programmes operate in parallel with the MAFF programmes and deal with the same people over the same area. However, the MAFF programmes are hidden under a cloak of confidentiality. Therefore, the national park authority--this will apply to the new conservation boards--has no way of knowing whether there is, for example, duplication of funding or staff resources, whether the MAFF schemes conflict with the management plan, or whether minor topping-up of support mechanisms might enable broader objectives to be achieved, such as making the best use of scarce resources. In a response from the Minister to a published management plan, those uncertainties could be resolved without the problem of breaking confidentiality.

When we discussed this matter on Report, the Minister rightly--I thank him for this--made considerable play about the introduction of Clause 85. That clause concerns the general duty of public bodies with regard to areas of outstanding natural beauty. As a reminder to your Lordships, the clause states:

    "In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in an area of outstanding natural beauty, a relevant authority shall have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty".

Those are fine words and I was delighted to see them in the Bill. However, the problem is that no one has the duty to enforce those words. No monitoring takes place. There is no mechanism for ensuring that they are put into action or enforced.

That is why I say again to the Minister--I hope that he is in a receptive and wise and understanding mood--that the acceptance of the idea of a statement from the department as to what actions it is taking to fulfil obligations under this new Clause 85 of the Bill is the logical follow-up to the worthy words that I have just repeated. However, in cases relating to national parks, those words often are not used other than when something goes wrong, and that is known only retrospectively. I suggest that my amendment gives substance to those fine words. It will save money; it will save wasted time; and it will save duplication of effort. I beg to move.

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