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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Although the wording and tidiness of new clause 5 are better than what is in the Bill, if the Bill had not been rushed through Committee, we might have improved it to the extent that new clause 5 would have been unnecessary. Having said that, it obviously makes a great deal of sense to remove Crown immunity from the Forestry Commission.

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I am still slightly concerned that local authorities' role in making tree preservation orders on commission land will be quite impossible, but perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that. Of course, similar provisions apply in Scotland.

On the whole, the commission manages its land pretty responsibly. When I have been involved in woodland grant schemes, among other things, on my own land, those have been administered properly. I would not normally see a need for tree preservation orders in those circumstances. How many orders have ever been placed on commission land? I imagine that there have been very few.

I am delighted to see amendments Nos. 1 and 2 because, as the Minister points out, Opposition Members made a strong case for them. I made a strong case from my experience: having worked for the Property Services Agency and having been subject to the Official Secrets Act, I can see no reason why properly qualified surveyors should not be able to make just as good a case as a legal advocate in cases involving national security. Can the Minister say a little more about how this panel of qualified and suitable people will work? Will they, for instance, have to have signed the Official Secrets Act? That would seem to me to be a fairly good prerequisite. Clearly, in planning matters, it is important that there are no leaks of plans and so on. I therefore welcome amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which, as the Minister says, stop confidential plans being leaked inadvertently into the public domain. I also welcome the similar provisions in Scotland.

On provisions in Scotland, can the Minister say a little about amendments Nos. 66 and 67? I understand that the Crown cannot be liable for criminal prosecutions in Scotland, but he said that an order may be sought that something done by or on behalf of the Crown was unlawful, and that a certificate can be obtained in those circumstances. If such a certificate were obtained, what sanctions would exist against that person acting on behalf of the Crown?

I welcome amendments Nos. 70 and 71. Clearly, any simplification of the Bill must be desirable, so one statutory instrument to deal with two clauses rather than two separate statutory instruments must be good. Again, the tidying-up amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which remove the superfluous word "means", are clearly sensible.

With the exception of the national security amendments dealing with persons who can appear at planning inquiries, and the new clause on tree preservation orders, the amendments are largely of a technical and drafting nature. The Opposition welcome the new clauses and amendments in this group, and we will not seek to oppose the Government on this occasion.

Matthew Green: We, too, welcome both the new clauses and the amendments, particularly amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are in response to a point that several members of the Committee raised. I am glad that the Government have listened to that and that they have made it clear that it is not just legally qualified people who can be positively vetted—that is the simplest way of putting it. That is a

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welcome step forward. The other amendments provide clarification in a number of ways, particularly on the issue of documents that could have an effect on national security being forced into the open by the Bill, which none of us would want. In that respect, we support amendment No. 7 in particular. I do not wish to detain the House further. Likewise, we will not oppose the Government on these matters.

Keith Hill: I am grateful to both hon. Gentlemen for their support on behalf of their parties for the amendments, which I am pleased to acknowledge that they played an extremely helpful part in securing.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked two rather precise questions. He asked how many tree preservation orders had been placed on the Forestry Commission. I must confess that I do not have that information at my fingertips, but of course I shall undertake to write to him on that. In connection with amendments Nos. 66 and 67, which concern an application by a planning authority in Scotland to the Court of Session, declaring an act or omission of the Crown to be unlawful, he asked what sanctions were available in those circumstances. There are no extra sanctions, but the provisions give the local authority leverage in getting the Crown to comply, which is their purpose.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the proposed panel. Of course, matters in general relating to the panel are for the Attorney-General, but he asked specifically whether members of the proposed panel will have had to sign the Official Secrets Act, to which the answer is yes.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance about the rights of local authorities to make tree preservation orders. Let me say, as I said earlier, that local planning authorities will in effect be free to make tree preservation orders wherever they believe that it is in the interests of amenity to do so, on both Crown land and private land. With those assurances, I hope that he will be content with the proposals.

8.15 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister will know that in discussions in Committee, the Crown takes many different guises. Sometimes it is land in the name of Her Majesty as well as land in the name of the Crown. Of course, the Crown immunity provisions discussed in Committee by and large treat both categories the same. Can I assume from what he has just said that the provisions in relation to tree preservation orders will treat both categories of land in the same way?

Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. I think that our general expectation is that the answer is yes, but we will have to look at the matter in more detail—as he is only too well aware, I do not support the theory of ministerial omniscience. I think that he almost answered his own question in that regard—we will check it out, I think that he is right, but I will write to him on that subject, too.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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New Clause 21

Tree Preservation Orders: Scotland

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 7

Planning Permission For Subdivision Of Agricultural Holdings For Purpose Of Sale

'. After section 57 of the principal Act (planning permission required for development) there is inserted the following section—
"57A Planning permission for subdivision of agricultural holdings for purposes of sale
(1) Planning permission is required for—
(a) the subdivision of an agricultural holding for the purpose of sale; and
(b) the sale of an agricultural holding which has been subdivided since the appointed date other than for the purpose of sale.
(2) In this section—
(a) 'subdivision' means land divided into one or more units of less than one hectare, and 'subdivided' shall be interpreted accordingly;
(b) 'agricultural holding' has the same meaning as in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986; and
(c) 'the appointed date' means 1st July 1993.".'.—[Mr. Andrew Turner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Andrew Turner: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to take new clause 18—Failure to comply with notice to ensure proper maintenance of Green Belt land—

'After section 219 (Execution and cost of works required by a 215 notice) of the principal Act there is inserted the following section—
"Failure to comply with notice to ensure proper maintenance of Green Belt land
(1) This section applies when a notice has been served under section 215 in respect of land which is designated as Green Belt land.

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(2) If, within the period specified in a notice under section 215 in accordance with subsection (2) of that section, or within such extended period as the local planning authority who served the notice may allow, any steps required by the notice to be taken have not been taken, the local authority may acquire the land compulsorily.
(3) Land which is compulsorily purchased under this section shall be made available for community use which is consistent with its Green Belt status.
(4) In this section "Green Belt land" shall have the same meaning as in the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938.".'.

Mr. Turner: Members who attended the proceedings of the Committee will be familiar with my argument on this new clause, so I will not detain the House indefinitely on the subject. I want to start, however, by quoting what the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), said at the end of the debate on what was then new clause 2 in Standing Committee A. I am glad to see her in her place, albeit with a cold, on which I sympathise with her. She undertook in Committee to write to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) on this clause but not more rapidly than on the subject of car boot sales, and I understand that she has written to him on the subject of car boot sales. She went on to say:

the problem with which my new clause seeks to deal—

She accepted that the solution was provided in good faith, and I accept that it may lead to other problems, but that does not make it any less necessary that a solution be found to the problem of the division of agricultural land. As I said in Committee, that problem has arisen in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), as well as in many others.

Agricultural land is a valuable asset, especially when it ceases to be agricultural. Many people find many ways of using agricultural land by avoiding the planning regulations and, in many cases, the planning process. Although ways have been found to address that, they have not been effective. Indeed, they have been slow and ponderous and have not given confidence to local people that the problem in their backyard or adjoining field—or, in my constituency, at a number of sites that have been widely advertised—will be remedied. I look forward to a remedy that will work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has previously brought the problem to the attention of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) has tabled a new clause that relates to greenfield land in particular. However, the mischief to which I refer takes place not only on greenfield land and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but in other parts of the country. One particular example in my constituency is Alverstone, where 10 acres of the east Yar flood plain have been split into 27 plots, ranging in size from 0.15 acres to 0.73 acres, and

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advertised on the internet by a firm called Gladwish Land Sales. The site is important for nature conservation and within an area of outstanding natural beauty. It borders what the Environment Agency defines as a main river—Scotchells brook—and Alverstone Mead, a local nature reserve. It is a natural relict fen wetland area with peat-based soil, expanding reed beds and typical fauna, including water voles. One caravan has already been sited on a plot, without planning permission, and within 1 m of the brook bank, despite the lack of sewage disposal points, mains water supply or rubbish disposal. The public water supply intake is situated in the River Yar about 200 m away. That is a brief picture of one area in which the problem has arisen, but it is not the only area even in my constituency.

In Committee, I said that Gladwish Land Sales advertised a wide range of sites around the country. People are persuaded to buy them, perhaps because they think that they will obtain some development value in the long term or because they want to situate a caravan there, perhaps to use for holidays. The problem is that planning applications seldom precede such subdivision of agricultural land. A summary of land available, which was taken off the internet in May 2001—I have no reason to believe that any less a quantity of land is available today—describes the availability of half a dozen plots in Ashmansworthy in Devon; two in Ashwater; one in Barnhurst, near Bexleyheath, which has been sold; 14 in Bellingdon; two in Bethersden in Kent; and several others in Lamberton wood near Bethersden. I could continue through the alphabet.

We have heard about the methods used to address this problem, but they are not working. The Minister made it clear that the amendment that I had tabled would not deal with the problem satisfactorily, but she did not table an amendment that would. I hope that she will give us some comfort on that point tonight, because the practice is spoiling rural areas. Agricultural land is being abused for financial gain. I have no objection to financial gain, but in this case it is being achieved by avoiding the relevant regulations.

I first heard of the practice when Barry Abraham, who is a councillor in my constituency, was quoted in the County Press as saying:

Despite references to the Local Government Association, no satisfactory conclusion has been reached for dealing with that mischief.

The National Farmers Union also agrees that the problem should be addressed. It wrote to me when the Bill was in Committee to say:

The first occasion on which I was aware of the problem being identified was back in 1992 when the proprietors of Gladwish were named in this Chamber as the perpetrators of this mischief. Here we are, 11 years later, and still no solution has been found.

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