|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I declare an interest as a cricketer of some 40 summer seasons. I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves but if, as he says, it is not possible to accept it, I shall most certainly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson. The proposal is only right and proper and would add to the character of our countryside.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): I am glad that we can start off on a friendly note, and I shall continue on a particularly friendly note. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, would enable the owner of any piece of land voluntarily to dedicate it by deed as a town or village green. Similarly, amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would enable the owner of any piece of land voluntarily to direct that it should be registered as a town or village green.
Some noble Lords will know from our 2002 policy statement that it is government policy that landowners should be able to register land voluntarily as a town or village green so that it may acquire the status of a green and the protection that that brings to the land for the future. It follows that we have considerable sympathy with the aim behind the two pairs of amendments. We cannot accept them in their current form, but we certainly see some merit in the thinking behind them. I undertake to give them further consideration before Report and so I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment today and await future events.
Baroness Byford: Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may say how grateful I am that we did not reach this amendment last week and that my noble friend Lord Vinson has been able to move the amendment himself. It is very important, and we are
1 Nov 2005 : Column GC3
delighted that the Government will consider it. I congratulate my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on making this important point.
The Duke of Montrose: Perhaps I may ask the Minister for a little clarification. When a town or village green is dedicated and the land is registered, presumably the ownership remains with the person who hands it over. Some of these places might well be a market cross that, at the same time, is the caput of the manor, and I wonder whether the measure would have any effect in that regard.
Lord Greaves: Before the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, replies, I want to welcome what the Minister said. Can he write to us in good time before Report, so that we have a clear indication of his intentions, whatever they are?
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 47, I shall speak also to four other amendments in the group. It is a fairly long group, and I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I go through them carefully.
Amendments Nos. 47 and 52, which concern lines 18 and 23 on page 7 of the Bill, would leave out the words "significant number" and insert "majority". According to the Explanatory Notes on the Bill, Clause 14 sets out the circumstances in which land may be registered as a new town or village green with a change to the existing law in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in Oxford County Council v Oxford City Council and another case.
Subsection (2) of the clause aims to make it clear that where "a significant number" of the inhabitants of any locality have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes as of right for 20 years or more, use must have continued only up to the date of the application to register the land as a town or village green rather than up to the date of registration itself. The aim of these probing amendments is to test what the noble Lord and his team mean by the term "a significant number" used in subsection (2)(a). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "significant" means "full of meaning or import, highly expressive or suggestive", and I am not sure which the noble Lord will go for.
I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us how he envisages that the measure will work in the context of the clause. What percentage of inhabitants would be
1 Nov 2005 : Column GC4
considered "significant"? Does it have to be at least half of the local population of the village, parish or valley? What criteria will the commons registration authority use to decide whether the application has been made by a significant number, and what proof do those individuals have to provide that the activity has occurred?
Further, will "significant" be considered differently for different pastimes and sports, or will the one phrase be used for all? For example, it needs only one person to walk a dog but a minimum of 14 people for a seven-a-side football game, which I know the noble Lord enjoys. If the sports are effectively club sportsfootball, rugby or runningwill they be considered significant only if the individuals are linked to an actual sports club, or will informal sports groups be able to apply as well? How wide will the definition of "sport" and "pastimes" be? Chess, for example, is classified as a sport. If chess were played outside for 20 years, would that enable an application to be made under this provision? That is frivolous, but I think that the noble Lord gets my drift.
The phrase "as of right" does not appear in the dictionary that I had. It is difficult to analyse or exemplify. What about a hotel guest who wants to go out on the town and helps himself to a front-door key "as of right"? Not every hotel owner or manager would necessarily agree. Similarly, a young person living with his parents and using the phone "as of right" might find himself in trouble if the person he was ringing was abroad and his parents were not so keen on wasting money in that way. I should like a clarification, replacing "as of right" with the words,
There will be landowners who will be pleased to allow things to happen, but some will probably be glad to lose some of the responsibility on a piece of ground that the village youngsters have always had permission to use. It seems unreasonable, however, to saddle some landowners with the cost of defending an application based on the use of "as of right". People might regularly exercise themselves or their dogs, using a frisbee, a ball or even a football in a field through which passes a right of way but which is some miles from the owner's dwelling. Would that constitute "as of right"?
Amendment No. 51 follows the same line of thought; it tries to tease out what the Government intend to be valid grounds for an application to the commons registration authority. Would most days of the week, in every week of the past 20 years be enough? Would it be sufficient to claim most weeks during those past 20 years? Or would it be regarded as satisfactory were there to be a claim that during a heavy snowfall over the past two decades, villagers took sledges and tin trays to the land and the landowner sometimes brought his children to join in? It is a grey area.
1 Nov 2005 : Column GC5
The average town or village in England has grown considerably since the 1980s. Land is now contiguous to dwellings and may have been quite separate some 20 years ago. It is important that the legislation, which may deprive some people of the use of land, should be clear and unambiguous concerning the qualifications of the characteristics the Government have in mind regarding the provisions.
Amendment No. 59 addresses one of the many issues regarding regulations. For a landowner to exercise what may prove to be a perfectly valid right over his land, he would be required to act via the regulations. What action do the Government anticipate the owner having to take in the event that he wishes to prevent the use of the land as a right when, as we read, there "may" be action specified in the regulations? Do the Government mean for us to assume that in the end there might not be action specified in the regulations? Will actions be specified in the regulations and, if so, what will they be and why are they not in the Bill? I beg to move.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|