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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I should like to clarify why I am so concerned about commons associations' rights to be consulted on issues concerning flood defence in respect of the sea. They will have no rights to be a commons association if a decision is taken not to maintain those flood defences. That might be a right decision, but they have every right to be consulted about that decision, which is a right that should be in the Bill.

Lord Bach: My Lords, certainly, in that situation, I agree that they would have every right to be
 
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consulted. Whether that means that they have to be a statutory consultee in the sense implied in the amendment moved by the noble Baroness's noble friend, I am more doubtful.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, before the Minister sits down and before I reply, perhaps I may beg the patience of the House to ask whether he could answer my second question. The Minister satisfactorily rubbished the amendment that I moved for good reasons, which I accept because it was a probing amendment. But how does he see the condition of SSSIs on commons being significantly improved? What is the role of the commons association where there is one within that process?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is an important question, which I do not want to speak back on without any thought. If the noble Lord accepts, I will write to him setting out our views about the relationship between commons associations and SSSIs. As we know, there are a very large number of SSSIs on common land.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I accept that. I thank the Minister for the excellent, detailed and informative letters that we have received since Grand Committee. It would be very helpful if the Minister could write before Third Reading because we might want to put down the odd teasing amendment. As yet, I do not know—I do not know whether anyone knows—when Third Reading will be. When I moved the amendment, I referred to the official record which shows that we did not discuss SSSIs very much in Grand Committee. I had intended to thank, because no one has, whoever—I gather that it was the Clerks—was responsible for this excellent special edition of Hansard, which includes all the Grand Committee debates on this Bill. It was wonderful. I do not know who was responsible but perhaps my thanks—and, I am sure, those of other Members of the House—will be passed on. I am not sure whether we will keep it on our shelves for the next 40 years until the next commons Bill, but it is has been extremely helpful and useful.

7.15 pm

I did not have a chance to speak to my noble friend's amendment. I thought that the Minister's response was not up to the standard that we have received from Ministers during the passage of this Bill. I thought that it was nonsense. He suggested that commons associations would not have the expertise of statutory consultees: for example, in planning applications parish councils are statutory consultees. Some of them have tremendous expertise and some have none whatever, but they are able, very often, to give their views. The idea that all statutory consultees have equal weighting or that someone cannot be asked for his or her opinion because you do not know what weighting you will give to the reply when you get it, is not very logical.

The Minister mentioned the wind turbine. It is inconceivable that the commons association would not be asked for its views. But a wind turbine would
 
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need a planning application and the list of statutory consultees on planning applications is written down. In many cases, it would not be directly asked for its views. It might decide to give them because a notice was put up on the common for anyone to put in his or her views, but it would not be a statutory consultee and would not necessarily be written to specifically by the planning authority. It may be that my noble friend's amendment was a bit wide ranging, but it needs to be looked at.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt here.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, we have been doing quite well today.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Miller mentioned flooding. Other noble Lords have mentioned 40 years. I should like the Minister to think about the impact of global warming in 40 years' time.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Minister has sat down. He has spoken. The mover of the amendment may speak. I am being as flexible as I possibly can, but I am being stretched beyond toleration point.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, that is for us to decide, of course. Perhaps we are all being stretched. I was a little surprised. Without further ado, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Clause 30 [Constitution: supplementary]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 37:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I understand that the Government may be considering Amendment No. 37 but it is important that I set out the background for it. There are some very real issues that I had not appreciated in Committee. In our earlier consideration of this Bill, the Minister promised to consider issuing some draft statutory instruments, which we received. But, so far, we obviously have not discussed them. The standard constitution defines a commoner as,

A member is defined as a person,

to an association. An association may levy subscriptions on, or demand contributions from, commoners.

The second statutory instrument enables a mythical association and, among other edicts, states:

The first members shall be appointed using the good offices of the returning officer appointed by the Secretary of State.
 
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I am concerned at the intentions revealed by these documents. While I know that they are in draft, the standard terms will have to be accepted by both Houses before they can become law and those applying to individual associations will be governed by the negative procedure. I am, however, doubtful about the following points and would be grateful for clarification; first, the desirability of depriving commoners of their title unless their common has an association. The third-day debate in Committee elicited from the Minister that the Government have no set ideas on how many commons associations will be in existence five years from the passing of this Bill, nor of the proportion of commons that will be covered by the associations, as set out at col. GC 92 of the Official Report on 2 November 2005. Clearly, after the passing of the Bill, commoners who do not belong to a statutory association will be commoners no longer.

Secondly, I doubt the wisdom of charging a subscription and then denying a membership. Will the Minister explain the thinking that lies behind this draft rule? I nearly said "daft rule", but I mean "draft". Will he or she—I am not sure who the Minister is—comment on the implication that, if there are only 10 to 12 members and they run the association, they will not be accountable to anyone?

I wish to bring to the attention of the House a little problem that I have with this Bill and the draft statutory instruments. The Bill allows for a commons association to be established by order. Does this mean that a currently established association will automatically receive an order without having to go through the procedure under Clause 27? Clause 27(2) says "must".

The standard terms define a commoner as someone "affiliated" to a statutory association. What are commoners who have no such group? The test statutory instrument defines, in effect, a "member" as one of a select band. The Bill and the statutory instrument make it crystal clear that the commons associations will be able to charge fees, subscriptions and whatever you will on commoners who will not, however, be members.

Clause 37 allows for the national authority to deem an association ineffective and to allow the,

to Natural England or the CCW. Does that mean that the commoners who are not members of an association will have to pay fees to exercise their rights of common, and may face losing those rights to Natural England?

The more I look at this, the more worried I get. Thus I wanted to fully explain to the Minister some of the concerns that we have with this provision. I beg to move.


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