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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the council for the work that it has put in to try to find the right answer, but I am worried that there remain detailed objections from the prestigious bodies to which he referred, which are trying to do their best for the local flora and fauna. Can he give us a better idea of when the new drafting may be completed and whether it will meet all those worries or whether there will be a compromise?

Mr. Rendel: I cannot answer for the bodies as to whether they will feel that all their objections have been met. The drafting of the original form of the Bill is complete, in the sense that it will--I hope--get its Second Reading tonight. The Bill could be amended in Committee. My understanding is that negotiations are continuing with various bodies which have set out objections to the Bill and it is believed that all their requirements will be able to be met. However, in such situations, with so many different potential users of the site--some on foot, some on bicycles, some wanting to do one thing and some another--there is the potential for some conflict. The potential also exists for conflict between wildlife on the common and human uses of the common. I cannot guarantee to the right hon. Gentleman that all the objections will be met: all I can say is that the

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district council and I will work as hard as we can to meet the objections. Much work has already been done and it is fair to say that all those who have objected now feel that their objections will be met sufficiently. It may be that some form of agreement will have to be reached between the various objectors, with each getting some of what they want, but I hope that such compromises will be avoided as far as possible.

The promotion of the Bill in Parliament received unanimous cross-party support at the council meeting which agreed its promotion. I hope and understand that during this debate support will also be shown by the other two hon. Members whose constituencies include parts of the west Berkshire district. We were also very pleased to receive a letter from the Minister, who in February of this year wrote:


This is a proud moment for me as we near the fulfilment of what is, for me and many people in west Berkshire, a long-standing dream. I hope that hon. Members will make it a happy moment for me by giving their total commitment to the Bill in its Second Reading tonight.

7.12 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I also welcome the Bill and congratulate the local authority, the local campaigners, the local councillors and the hon. Members who have worked so hard to bring it to fruition. We all have a long-standing affection for Greenham common in our different ways. I remember being threatened with surcharge in the 1980s, as the chair of finance for the Greater London council, for seeking to send sleeping bags to the Greenham common women at ratepayers' expense. [Interruption.] Well, it was an enjoyable period in which we were able to support those campaigning to bring about a pacific world.

Several hon. Members objected to the promotion of the Bill at an earlier stage to encourage debate today. That objection was not to the content of the Bill but to the failure of the Government to address the issue of private Bills and their compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998. I am happy to withdraw that objection. We have received assurances from the promoters of the Bill that it complies with the Act, but I have again to draw the House's attention to the fact that all other legislation under section 19 of the Act requires a statement from the promoters or the Minister in charge that the Bill complies with the human rights legislation and that statement should be on the face of the Bill. I urge the Government to consider that matter again, otherwise we will have the debate time and again on private Bills. There is no rationale for private Bills to be excluded from the human rights procedures on which the House has legislated so recently. Having said that, I wish the Bill a fair wind and hope that I will be able to accompany other hon. Members when the commons are reopened.

7.14 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Following my intervention on the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) and his reply, I am grateful to him for the information that he and those behind the Bill are seeking a way forward with the three bodies that have made

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representations that its detail could be improved. I urge those promoting the Bill to try to come to an accommodation and to be flexible towards any amendments tabled in Committee.

Some of the drafting of the Bill could be improved. Clause 23, for example, which is the guts of the Bill because it would give commoners their rights, contains a set of propositions that would impose restrictions on the use of commoners' rights as well as a provision that commoners' rights must take precedence over the restrictions in various areas. It is plain from that long and complex clause that the Bill is still somewhat muddled. We are told that people cannot graze


However, further on we are told that people cannot be prevented from grazing two or fewer animals and that that overrides the exclusion on stallions, rams and bulls. However, I presume that the idea behind the prohibition on stallions, rams and bulls was the fear of what they might do to some of the other animals seeking to enjoy the advantage of the commons. That is one example of many I could cite, but it would repay a little study in Committee to try to sort out some of the loose drafting.

I hope that it will be possible for the council and those actively furthering the Bill to reach agreement so that the legitimate concerns of English Nature and the RSPB, in particular, can be met. I am sure that the people of the west Berkshire district want to feel when the commons are opened up and returned that they will be a good sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. That will be one of the reasons why public money will be committed in the future to the maintenance of the area as a green and open space in what is otherwise becoming a congested and overbuilt county.

7.17 pm

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): While I do not stand to benefit financially from the Bill, I should declare the fact that I am a member of the Open Spaces Society. However, it did not consult me when it lodged its petition, and I might have withdrawn my £15 a year had it done so.

In December, it was my privilege to write to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and formally record my support for the provisions of this important and historic--locally, at least--proposed legislation. I enjoy an interesting relationship with West Berkshire district council and add my congratulations to Mike Harris, who has a senior position in the council, and to Councillor Tony Ferguson who, despite being a slippery Liberal, is sound on some of the nuclear-related issues.

For 60 years, local people from across Berkshire and elsewhere were denied access to that once beautiful piece of our county. We do not need to get into the whys and wherefores of the siting of cruise missiles on British--never mind Berkshire--soil, because anyone who saw Greenham common in its previous incarnation could not fail to conclude that the presence there of a military base represented a blot on the landscape of an outstandingly beautiful part of the upper Kennet valley.

It is important that hon. Members on both sides support the restoration of commoners' rights. I am looking forward to taking my recreation time on Greenham common. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), I attended certain political events in the 1970s and 1980s outside Greenham common

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and I will consider it a political event to be able to walk freely across that countryside that will, once again, become part of Berkshire and of England.

I would welcome the opinion of my hon. Friend the Minister on whether the Bill represents the first nationalisation under new Labour. If it is, many of us will rejoice.

I shall conclude by saying that I understand the objections raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. He and other Labour Members are engaged in a campaign to draw attention to some of the anomalies in the private Bill process. I pay tribute to them for withdrawing their objections and for wishing the Bill a fair wind in its passage through the House. They have not conceded the very important principle that motivates them, and I share much of their concern, but this Bill is a boon for the people of Berkshire and of this country as a whole.

Our country is extremely overcrowded, and Berkshire suffers from the same problem. A Bill that gives us a little more beautiful open space is to be whole-heartedly supported, and I am proud to do so.

7.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I have no intention of being drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) on the broader political implications of the Bill. Before we conclude this brief debate, it might be helpful if I gave the House the Government's view on the Bill.

The Government are adopting the traditional neutral stance on private Bills, although the parliamentary agents for the promoters are aware that we have concerns about some of the Bill's provisions. However, the Standing Committee to which the Bill will be referred will be in a far better position to consider points of detail and hear expert evidence on them.

I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that it will be allowed--


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