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Mr. Drew: My problem is the distinction between grazing rights, whose holders will presumably be active members of whatever organisation manages the common, and more distant rights, such as that of access. The difficulty is achieving the balance between the two. For example, those holding grazing rights are seriously under-represented and they do not seem to wish to come forward. How can we resolve that?

Mr. Dunne: It is very difficult to say what farming activity should take place in areas where it is no longer economically viable. It may be attractive to have an entity such as English Nature enter into management agreements in areas such as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. In the Stiperstones area, the graziers used to get what I would call proper payment from DEFRA's predecessor, the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. However, the payment that they receive now is about to make grazing in the area uneconomic, even though it is part of environmental support and so deserves reward.

My final point has to do with clause 31 and the management of common land, which I am not convinced is always best determined by a bureaucratic entity. Commoners in the Stiperstones area tell me that the land management practised by English Nature means that opportunities for grazing have fallen significantly over recent years, with the result that the land can no longer support the number of animals for which rights have existed for many decades. In part, that is a result of the management agreement entered into by English Nature, which does not consider grazing to be a priority. It has a different objective, and wants to create environmental attractions for walkers and those who pursue other leisure activities.
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That gives rise to a conflict: whose rights should prevail? My fear is that small graziers, whose voice is relatively small, will be steamrollered by the bureaucrats. I hope that the registration process and the relevant management agreements will allow appeals to be mounted. So far, however, I have seen no evidence that such mechanisms will be included.

In conclusion, our agricultural sector, and the livestock industry in particular, faces difficult times. Our common lands cover large areas of some constituencies, and we must not set up a management system that weakens the possibility of a viable livestock industry in those areas. Any such system should encourage that industry.

7.3 pm

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): As many speakers have said, this Bill is a historic piece of legislation, linking us with the Norman conquest of Britain and the manorial system. Village greens and commons are part of our historical and natural heritage, and are valued for reasons of agriculture, recreation, landscape and nature conservation.

There is a long history in this House of legislation relating to commons and village greens, but the Bill shows what happens when we fail to take account of the effect that measures can have once enacted. We need it to rectify the failures of the Commons Registration Act 1965, but we must ensure that any failures in this Bill do not take so long to put right.

The Bill's provenance is worth setting out in detail. An interdepartmental working group made recommendations in 1977 and the common land forum of 1984 reported in 1986. A consultation on the better management of common land in England and Wales led to the 2000 rural White Paper and the common land policy group set up by DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly in 2002 published a statement in 2003. All of that was needed to rectify failures in the 1965 Act.

Many speakers have identified those failures and the need to ensure that the Bill drives forward to achieving the Government's target of having 95 per cent. of SSSIs in England in a favourable condition by 2010. Common land covers 4 per cent. of land in England and 55 per cent. of commons are registered as SSSIs, but only half those sites meet their public service agreement targets.

In Wales, between 8 and 9 per cent. of land is common land: 45 per cent. of that total comes under the SSSI designation, but only 16 per cent. of those sites have management agreements. I questioned the Countryside Council for Wales and was told that the targets in the Wales environment strategy action plan to be released in May will be lower than their equivalents in England. Where 95 per cent. of SSSIs in England are set to be in a favourable condition by 2010, the target in Wales is to have 95 per cent. of SSSIs in favourable condition or in unfavourable recovery by that date.

Mr. Llwyd: May I suggest an answer to that conundrum? Much land in England has fallen out of agricultural use, but the CAP system meant that, in Wales, an impetus was given to increasing stocking. That is the reason behind the problem that the hon. Lady has described.

Mrs. Moon: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I remain concerned that, in Wales, the target is to have 100 per
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cent. of SSSIs in favourable condition only by 2026. The landscape of Wales is as important and valuable for biodiversity as England's. I do not want England to be ahead of Wales in the protection of anything, but especially not our national heritage. I am sure that he agrees with that. I hope that the relevant Ministers, in Wales and in England, will take part in close consultations and work side by side to protect our natural heritage. Biodiversity targets should apply across the UK and we must ensure that they are met.

I want to focus on a common in my constituency because it highlights the critical importance of commons in meeting biodiversity targets. Kenfig down was given to the local burgesses by Thomas le Dispenser in 1397, in compensation for land lost to sand encroachment. In the 1920s, Colonel H. Morrey Salmon, an amateur naturalist, established the Kenfig sand dunes as a wildlife resource of outstanding significance for its birds and plants. The rare fen orchid was especially important in that context.

Kenfig appeared in a list of 19 proposed British nature reserves that was produced in 1943. That shows that, even in the depths of war, we were planning for the future of nature reserves. In 1947, it was recommended that 1,500 acres should form a national nature reserve. Sadly, the Margam steel works was expanded soon afterwards and the population of two local villages, Pyle and Cornelli, grew. The increasing pressure from those communities meant that Kenfig did not become a nature reserve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke about the loss of common land. Kenfig did not get the protection that NNR status would have conferred, and the consequences were dire. In the 1950s, a pipeline was laid across the sand dunes to provide an emergency water supply from its 70-acre freshwater pool—the largest natural pool in Wales—for the Margam steel works. A large railway yard was built in the north-east of the site, and a road was built behind the dunes to enable the deep port at Port Talbot to be established.

With the spread of tourism, there were suggestions that the whole of the dunes would be flattened for a holiday village. It was, even then, the last extensive remaining part of the sand dune system that had previously stretched from the Ogmore river to the end of Gower. It was the only area not covered by housing, industrial sites or caravan parks and the Margam estate claimed the land. That led to an extensive court case between the trustees, who held the commoners' rights, and the estate. It was not settled until 1971. Fortunately, the settlement went in favour of the commoners and not the Margam estate. That enabled Colonel Salmon, supported by county Councillor Ted Davies, to fight for Kenfig to become a local nature reserve, which it did in 1978. It made it to national reserve status in 1989 and was designated a European site for nature conservation in 1995.It is worth noting that, since the establishment of the reserve, the water pipe has been removed and the haul road scarified, promoting the creation of a whole new habitat. Generations of people will have cause to thank Colonel Salmon and Councillor Davies.

Let me give an example of the importance that just one common in Wales has to biodiversity and hitting our important targets. Kenfig alone has 525 species of plant, 19 species of fern, 69 species of fungi, 509 species of moth, 24 species of butterfly, 16 species of dragon and
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damsel flies, six species of leech, 54 species of snail, 195 species of beetle, 950 species of fly—I was surprised to discover that—113 species of spider, and 77 species of bees and wasps. Some 250 species of birds visit the site.

Kenfig is one of 12 commons protected in Wales by local authorities, but it is the only nature reserve and European site of nature conservation funded and protected by a local authority. My local authority also manages Locks common, which is now a local nature reserve, on behalf of its landowner, and the Green. Both are areas of access and public open space and commons stretching along the sea front, and they are much valued by visitors and residents. I am concerned that small, new unitary authorities will not have the capacity to take on such tasks and responsibilities.

A recent study of just six SSSIs in Wales, carried out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, found that only one was in a favourable condition. Problems were caused, as several speakers have said, by both undergrazing and overgrazing. Lack of fencing, lack of graziers, off-road 4x4s and motorbikes, vandalism, arson and conflicts of interest between graziers, owners and commoners were common. Almost all common land is semi-natural habitat and should be delivering on biodiversity targets if the habitat is in a favourable condition, but that requires funding and investment.

Some issues will be addressed by the Bill, particularly through the ability to form commons associations with powers to regulate grazing and some other agricultural activities and to access agri-environment schemes. The capacity for the Countryside Council for Wales and for Natural England to acquire severed rights of grazing by voluntary sale will assist in moving towards the 2010 target of halting biodiversity loss.

I would welcome some clarification of how the Minister sees the Bill operating. Areas currently have management agreements between local authorities and commoners, involving voluntary organisations such as the excellent Glamorgan wildlife trust, in my constituency, which manages a number of commons across south Wales in partnership with commoners and landowners. How will they relate to the new commoners associations? Will their current terms of reference come into play? Or if we are to have regionally based commoners associations, will they be incorporated into the new associations? There is some lack of clarity.

I am particularly pleased that there will be new money for local authorities to take on responsibility for the management of registrations. But how will commoners associations be funded, particularly for new works that will be needed, such as cattle grids, fencing and equipment? Will new money be provided? Kenfig is funded by my local authority and the CCW; it has five staff, but no funds to allow it to buy the new tractor, mower and Land Rover essential to carrying out its tasks. If that is Kenfig's experience as a statutory designated site, how will commons with no statutory protection finance themselves and move forward to tackle the damage taking place because of the neglect of some of our commons?

There will be cost implications for local authorities in supporting the establishment of commoners associations and public inquiries. Will there be financial support for local authorities if they are brought into involvement when the associations are developed and introduced into Wales?
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There is some indication that there may be some conflict and cross-over of responsibilities between commoners associations and local access forums. There is potential for duplication in some areas of responsibility. Local access forums do not have responsibility to have regard to the public interest in relation to biodiversity, but we may find that officers with responsibility for commoners associations may well also be involved in local access forums. There seems to be an opportunity to look at how we marry some of those responsibilities so that we do not have officers and land managers having to attend two meetings rather than one.

It will be important for commoners association meetings to be held in public. A wide range of people have an interest in the management of commons and a previous speaker referred to the importance of those with grazing rights being heard. There may also be people who have an interest in the natural history of sites who would wish to be heard and to be able to listen to debates and speak with members of the commoners associations.

I have some concerns about the use of "may" in clause 45(2)(a), which deals with local authority intervention powers. It says a

but to give full protection to common land where there is no registered owner, the intervention powers should be strengthened to a requirement that a local authority either must or shall take steps to protect the land from unlawful interference. Alternatively, has the Minister looked into the local commons association having that power and responsibility?

The requirement to take action could be particularly relevant in an area of common land in my constituency where there are problems with off-road biking and the use of 4x4 vehicles. Powers might be taken under clause 31 which deals with the functions of commons associations. I would certainly like additional powers to tackle such problems, which affect a number of commons in Wales.

The drive to establish commons associations will be led in Wales by the Welsh Assembly Government and in England by the Secretary of State. It would be helpful to consider the common land stakeholders working group report of 2003, which called for the establishment of regional advisory bodies to advise the statutory authority on whether to confirm regulations put forward by commons associations and whether reserve powers would be justified. The report also called for a non-statutory advisory body to promote good practice and provide a medium for communication between the Government and those with an interest in common land.

I would welcome the Minister's comments on whether such bodies will be created and whether he agrees that the responsibilities would best be placed with Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds carried out a brief survey in Wales and it was felt that there was a need for an independent body to which commoners could go for advice and information. That will be critical to help commons associations to make progress.
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Commons are much loved and valued in Britain where, as the Minister rightly said, too many people believe that the title means that they are owned by the public and managed for the public good. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 brought public access to commons and the Bill will bring management which includes the public interest. It is not the solution to all the problems of commons. We cannot draw a line under the issue—to do so in legislation whose history stretches back to the Norman conquest would be nonsense. What will be needed to halt biodiversity loss is a proactive approach to implementing the legislation, and funding to ensure that its effects are positive.

I hope that the streamlining of consent systems for works on commons will remove casual abuses such as one that occurred at Kenfig during the recess, when Network Rail drove a tractor and pick-up vans over the reserve to carry out work on a fence without the agreement of the trustees, the local authority, the reserve or the CCW. Such casual abuses will not end, but new powers, new information and new bodies will have the responsibility to tackle what has been rightly described as the tragedy of the commons.

Given the debacle of the 40-year gap between the previous legislation and the Bill, I urge the Minister to consider a requirement for an assessment of progress after five years so that we have an analysis of the improvements brought by the Bill and of its impact. After 10 years, there could be a further analysis of the effectiveness of the Bill's operation, so that we do not wait a further 40 years to rectify our mistakes but can start to move forward.

We should not be too disheartened by the 40-year gap, however. When I was exploring the 1965 Act to see what had gone wrong and what might have led us astray, I discovered that in the same year the House discussed smoking and the banning of cigarette advertising on television. It took us 40 years to move forward on that. There were concerns about the inappropriate award of honours because the Beatles had been given OBEs. We can move forward and we can be proactive, but we need to keep track of the legislation. We need to review it and we need to know that Ministers will make sure that we do not wait 40 years before rectifying any further mistakes.

7.24 pm

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