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Common Land: Legislation

Volume 490: debated on Wednesday 25 November 1987

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2.50 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they propose to honour the Conservative Party manifesto promise to safeguard common land on the basis of the Common Land Forum.

My Lords, the Government have already announced their acceptance of the case for legislation based broadly on the report of the Common Land Forum, as published by the Countryside Commission in September 1986, and we intend to introduce legislation at a suitable opportunity when parliamentary time permits.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Can he be a little more helpful about the possible timetable? In view of the fact that this proposal appeared in the Government's election manifesto, one would expect that a little more attention could be given to introducing it. After all, we have waited 22 years for such legislation. Can the noble Lord say whether there is opposition from any quarter; if so, how real that opposition is; and what steps the Government are taking to deal with it?

My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to the views of the Moorland Association. Departmental officials have had two meetings with representatives of that association and the Countryside Commission. I hope that it will prove to be possible to modify the forum's recommendations in a way that will satisfy its requirements. We are seeking to find some arrangement that will provide for the maximum degree of public access to heather moorland commons which is consistent with the need for proper management of grouse moors and the requirements of nature conservation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the two and a half years of the Common Land Forum's deliberations five whole commons were deregistered and hundreds of acres of grazing land were lost? To put it mildly, is it not likely that during the 15 months that have elapsed since the forum reported, further losses and depredations have occurred? Does not that add great urgency and importance to reaching a decision and taking action on that report?

My Lords, I am aware of what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just stated. I wonder whether he is suggesting that maybe there should be separate earlier legislation with regard to deregistration. The difficulty is that we are committed to the introduction of a comprehensive Bill. I do not think that it would be desirable to single out one particular item to be dealt with separately. Limited legislation of that kind would be unlikely to receive widespread support.

My Lords, will my noble friend draw the attention of his colleagues in the Government to this Question which shows that the Front Bench opposite as well as those on these Benches expect the Government to implement their election manifesto as quickly as possible, whether it concerns the safeguarding of common land, privatisation or the extension of educational opportunities in this country?

My Lords, I am sorry to come back on this matter but is the noble Lord aware that the views of the Moorland Association, or at least the views of moorland grouse shooting interests, were made clear to the forum and that the final result was brought forward in the light of those views? I understand that the Moorland Association has 120 members. In view of the very large number of members represented by the other bodies, could not more weight be given to their views?

My Lords, the interests of the grouse are also the interests of birds of prey, for example, and it is a very real problem. The trouble is that the interests of human beings and hen harriers, for example, are often very different. The last time I saw a hen harrier, she was not at all pleased to see me.