asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether it is still their intention to legislate for the greater protection of common lands, on the basis of the Common Land Forum Report.
My Lords, it remains our policy to safeguard the status of common land and to strengthen the ways in which it is protected and managed. We recognise that this may require legislation, but I see no prospect in the foreseeable future of adopting the comprehensive approach proposed by the Common Land Forum. The Government are looking, however, at practical ways to tackle the most immediate difficulties.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his rather disappointing Answer. He will understand that after waiting so long for legislation I am uneasy about the alternatives that may be proposed. Can he identify points of departure that are likely in the new approach from the findings and recommendations of the forum? Can he say, for instance, whether what is proposed would have been instrumental in saving Blackstone Leys and Spring Common in the Huntingdon constituency?
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness finds my Answer disappointing. I had hoped that she would be encouraged by the fact that the Government are looking at practical ways in which to go forward. We shall be looking particularly at the problems of de-registration and the management of common lands in a coherent fashion, taking account of the grant regimes currently in existence.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can remind me whether I am right in thinking that the time within which common lands not previously so identified can be registered has now expired and that therefore no new commons can be created except by statute.
My Lords, my noble and learned friend is correct when he says that there is a time bar that has passed. That is one of the problems that we shall have to tackle in deciding whether or not we should bring further legislation to bear.
My Lords, I declare an interest, not only as president of the Campaign for Rural Wales but also as one of 28 graziers on Gilwern Common in mid-Wales, on which I am entitled to graze 60 ewes. It is a pecuniary interest, only in this case the pecuniary interest is negative rather than positive. Is the Minister aware that those of us who are interested in common land are extremely worried about the management of such land? Can he explain why only one interest, namely, grouse shooters—a pursuit in which noble Lords opposite spend their autumn afternoons—and the Moorlands Association are able to hold up the conclusions of the Common Land Forum for so long; six years to be precise? Will he further accept that the management of common lands is of extreme interest to all people living in the countryside, who are fearful that the Government are not taking the matter with the seriousness that it deserves? Perhaps I can remind the Minister of an old rhyme about a central principle of English law:
"The law locks up the man or woman Who takes the goose from off the common; Then it turns the person loose Who takes the common from the goose".
Have a gander at that!
My Lords, clearly the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is in holiday spirit: the House appreciates his doggerel. It is not just the Moorlands Association. We received many representations about commons after the Common Land Forum. On that basis, and through lack of parliamentary time, we decided not to go forward with those proposals. Management, as the noble Lord points out, is the key issue. That is why we should like to begin informal consultations with various groups to see what is the best way forward.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's statement of government policy and remind him that it is always better if results can be achieved without legislation. May I also remind him, in the light of the question asked by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, that, even where common land was not registered under the Act of 1965, it is still open to the courts to decide that it is common land if historically it can be proved?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend when he says that if we can achieve our means without legislation, that is infinitely preferable to taking Bills through both Houses. As to my noble friend's second point, that is a matter on which I shall have to check.
My Lords, the Minister refers to the representations that he has received. Is it not the case that the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers Union, in addition obviously to a large number of conservation bodies, are still in support of the recommendations of the forum?
My Lords, I do not know whether that is the current view. Certainly, when the approach proposed by the Common Land Forum was announced in 1986 that was the view.
My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that consultations are to be carried out as quickly as possible and that the Government will introduce legislation in the next Session?
No, my Lords.