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Lord Jopling: I have listened to the debate on this group of amendments on areas of outstanding natural beauty which the Government have cascaded onto the Bill at a late stage. I have to say that I am totally perplexed by this method of legislation. We are looking at government amendments without having had a proper opportunity fully to debate their implications.
I have listened to the debate so far. In this group of amendments the Government are seeking to do all kinds of extraordinary things. They are seeking powers to allow Ministers to transfer to the boards any or all local government functions in the matter, and other extremely fundamental powers are being taken. I ask the Government to reconsider the position. Even if Ministers on the Front Bench have sympathy with what I am saying, I suppose it is too late, particularly at this stage of the legislative programme, to suggest to the business managers of this place, bearing in mind the absolutely criminal way in which they have managed the legislative programme this year--here we are, half way through October, and we are only reaching the end of the Committee stages of this and other Bills--that they ought to go back and have a Second Reading debate on these fundamental amendments to the Bill. I suppose that that is too much to ask.
In my view, the business managers in this House have organised the legislative programme in a way that is totally inconceivable so great is its incompetence. I say that as a former government business manager in another place, so I do have some knowledge of managing the government programme. As I said, the way in which these people have organised this year's programme is a disgrace. It is a disgrace to Parliament and a disgrace to the whole democratic system in this country. I could not be more infuriated by this. It is all well and good for the Minister to attempt to laugh this off, but, with great respect to him, I think that he has very little experience of the parliamentary process. I happen to have been around this place for a long
Lord Jopling: I should like to finish what I have to say. In all my 35 years in this building, I have never seen government legislation handled in a more incompetent way. The Government should be totally ashamed of themselves.
Earl Peel: I should like to speak briefly after the contribution from my noble friend Lord Jopling. He has echoed what I said earlier, but he has put it in far more powerful terms, based on his long experience. I have to say that I agree entirely with what he has said. However, I shall not repeat the points I made earlier.
Perhaps I may refer to my noble friend's amendment. The Minister stated that there was widespread support for these measures throughout local councils. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, suggested something similar. All I can say is that, speaking as someone who comes from the north of England and living in an AONB, I do not believe for a moment that those views are shared. I do not know from where the idea has developed that every single council has been consulted on and approved of these measures. That simply is not true.
Even if some councils do support the principles, I wonder whether they had any idea that such functions of local authorities could be transferred from them to these new boards. I would bet that they did not. I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's amendment.
Baroness Hanham: I had not intended to intervene in this debate because I have not taken part in it before. However, we do need to look at the situation in local authorities. It is quite extraordinary to see provided in this Bill quite specific arrangements to remove powers from local authorities and confer them to what, in other terms, might be described as development boards. We have seen such boards before.
However, by doing this at a time when great reforms are being made--we have greatly reformed local government--we are about to give powers to conservation boards which are to be taken away from local authorities which in other legislation over previous months we have described as being about to take on more and more powers in different ways in order to have a greater effect over their local areas.
The concern I feel relates to something on which my noble friend will touch in a minute--that is, the general way in which local people will be consulted about what is to be done in their name. These powers will be handed over by local authorities which, as my noble
Perhaps I may refer back to Clause 26(4) which has been discussed. It seems to me that subsection (3)(a) of the amendment would enable the provisions in that clause to be carried out and implemented, and all the powers could go immediately to the conservation boards without further touching or impinging upon local authority consideration.
I hesitated to intervene. Local authorities are being seriously undermined by what is proposed here. They may not perhaps be quite as excited and enthusiastic about this when they see what the implications are in the future.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I, too, was under the impression that there was general approval for the basic proposal that there should be a board where the area of outstanding natural beauty covers more than one local authority area. But I think that I was misled in this belief because, quite clearly, having heard from the Country Landowners' Association and from the Local Government Association, there is some concern about the Government's proposals. In particular, the Local Government Association is concerned about the transfer of its planning powers to the conservation boards.
I am here to represent in particular the interests of Wales. I believe that of the five areas of outstanding natural beauty currently designated in Wales only one extends beyond a single authority--that is, the Wye Valley, which crosses the border into England. That will pose a very interesting problem. It has had a joint advisory committee for some years and, as I understand it, it has worked well.
I think that the Wye Valley AONB committee may well consider it advantageous to seek board status. In that event, it would involve a twin-track procedure for the relevant order involving the Secretary of State, this Parliament in England and the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with the new clause in Amendment No. 527A. It may well be a prolonged and difficult process, but I would hope not impossible if there is cross-border agreement. It is the kind of situation with which we are faced--potentially difficult but not impossible.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, based in Welshpool, Powys, which keeps an eye on all the AONBs in Wales, has written to me to express concern that those areas which are limited to single local authorities may be disadvantaged financially by not having board status and the additional grants that will accompany that. That organisation foresees a three-tier system of national parks, conservation board AONBs and non-conservation board AONBs, each tier with rather fewer resources than the one above. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that, so far as concerns England, there would be an increase in
So far as concerns the smaller AONBs, amalgamation, certainly in the Welsh case, to achieve conservation board status will not be an option, because the Welsh AONBs are geographically remote from one another. The Ynys Man coastal area is separated by the Menai Straits and the Irish Sea from the Lleyn Peninsula AONB, and the Clwydian Hills are very far from Gower. I hope that the Government can give some reassurance that the non-conservation board AONBs will not be unduly disadvantaged. I am sure that many in England, like those in Wales, have low rateable values and cannot raise much money locally.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales also points out that the conservation boards will have a duty to increase public understanding and enjoyment of their areas, and to foster the social and economic well-being of their communities. I think that the phrase "without significant expenditure" goes in there somewhere.
These duties are not specifically attached to AONBs as they stand, although the local authorities and other interested bodies may be empowered to act in these respects. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board and that he will comment on it. In other words, is there a difference in function, in duty, between the conservation board AONBs and the non-conservation board AONBs?
Incidentally, Amendment No. 539 (after Schedule 10 to the Bill) is curiously drawn in that it prescribes, as I implied in an earlier intervention, parish council membership in England to the extent of 20 per cent of the conservation board. But there is no mention of community council membership in Wales. Community councils are the Welsh equivalent of parish councils. Are community councils to be ignored and have no prescribed part in any conservation board that may be set up in Wales, or is the situation different? The Minister implied that the situation regarding community councils in Wales would be the same as that for parish councils in England. I hope that that is the case.
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