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Lord Renton of Mount Harry: Perhaps I may say a few words in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. We have all been here for a number of hours and I am grateful to all of those who have taken part in this debate.
I do not want to repeat all that my noble friend Lord Rotherwick said in relation to Clause 1 stand part, but his first question was: "Do we need this Bill?". My answer is clearly, "Yes". If I did not believe it, and if I felt that a lot of my noble friends did not believe it too, we would not be sitting here this afternoon.
My noble friend talked briefly about the difference between what we are proposing in this Bill--it is not prescriptive; it is a template which local people could follow if they wanted to--and national parks. There is of course a difference. National parks have set out to encourage recreation, but there is the much more substantial difference in that national parks are sole planning authorities. What we are proposing in this Bill is not that conservation boards should be sole planning authorities, but that they should have a role to play. That role involves working with local authorities rather than imposing a new jurisdiction upon them.
I do not believe we are talking about a new level of bureaucracy. That is certainly not the case in the conservation board of which I have been chairman. I bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, that in relation to the setting up of conservation boards, we should see whether we could find some words to go into the Bill that the Secretary of State would make the order if there is the broad consent of those who have been consulted. That is well worth working on. I hope it will go some way to allay the fears that have been expressed about more bureaucracy, more interference, and so forth.
It is certainly not what I want to see. It is not what the Countryside Agency wanted to see in making these proposals. I hope very much that at Report Stage we can move forward in finding a sensible but forward-looking compromise that would put conservation boards where AONBs want them and feel they need them, and make that possible while allaying some of the fears that have been expressed this afternoon.
I thank the noble Lord, the Deputy Chairman of Committees, and the clerks and others who have been in attendance this afternoon. I know that we have been in the unusual process of requiring an extra team of Hansard reporters which I gather adds considerably to the House of Lords' costs, but I am grateful to them.
I would also like to thank John Godfrey and Paul Amis from West Sussex County Council, Martin Beaton from my own Sussex Downs Conservation Board, and Ray Woolmore and Lynette Leeson from the Countryside Agency who have been here this afternoon, and have given me a great deal of technical help in getting this far.
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