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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Before the noble Lord sits down, that would be the kind of circumstance envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Rees. If there were a censure motion against the secretary in terms of a reduction in salary which was not then acted upon by the first secretary, it seems to me that standing orders could reasonably allow for a second stage; in other words, an impugnment of the first secretary on the basis that he had not followed the assembly's guidance expressed on the conduct of one of his colleagues. It seems to me that there is not an insuperable difficulty there.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I do not believe that there is a difficulty. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that I am simply anxious to explore the point and to have it on the record for others to consider in due course. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 [Committees]:

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

Clause 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [Executive committee]:

[Amendments Nos. 121 to 139 not moved.]

Clause 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 [Subject committees]:

[Amendments Nos. 140 to 148 not moved.]

3 Jun 1998 : Column 372

Viscount St. Davids moved Amendment No. 148A:

Page 30, line 2, at end insert--
("( ) The Assembly First Secretary shall give one of the subject committees responsibility for common land in Wales with a remit to issue guidance, which may be revised from time to time, to local authorities, landowners and glaziers on the proper management of the land, with particular reference to enhancing its agricultural potential and natural beauty (including flora and fauna).").

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 148A, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 271A. The management of rural land in England and Wales has for some time been a matter of great controversy. Admittedly, it is a difficult problem since various interests are involved. I refer to the owners of the land who have mineral and shooting rights which they wish to protect; graziers who have grazing rights which they, too, wish to protect; and members of the general public who believe that open access for all or any activity is legitimate since the land is "common".

The Registration of Commons Act 1965 registered the ownership and the grazing rights, but it failed to address the management of the land. The Conservative manifesto of 1987 promised legislation on management based on the findings of the Common Land Forum. That forum recommended a management system for rural common land based on a committee for each parcel of land consisting of representatives of all interested parties. The legislation never appeared.

Common land is extensive throughout mid and north Wales. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds estimates that some 36 per cent. of rough grazing in Wales is on common land. It also estimates that about one-third of common land lies within SSSIs and large areas lie within the national parks and ESAs. In the late 1980s, 57 per cent. of all commons in Wales had only one right or no rights registered, leaving them to be subject to deregistration. Furthermore, the owners of common land have no economic interest in their proper management.

As I have no personal interest in common land, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I relate the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who cannot be with us at the moment because he has a meeting in another part of the building. The noble Lord lives on the edge of Gilwern Common in Radnorshire, an area of some 800 acres. He is also a grazier, although he does not exercise those limited rights. The land is owned by the Glanusk Estate, which is a trust of the Legge-Bourke family run, as he has found out, from the office of Knight, Frank & Rutley in Hungerford.

I do not wish to imply any criticism of the trust, its owners or the agents because they are managing the lands subject to the provisions of the law as it now stands. Since the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has lived there for the last 18 years there has been no management of the land at all. Motorbikes and 4x4s seem to be able to roam around on the land at will. Fly-tipping is general, as is overgrazing. Land which used to support curlews and lapwings is now bereft of either. Even though Radnor is an ESA, no mechanism is available to require the owners to manage their land properly.

3 Jun 1998 : Column 373

The amendment has two purposes: first, to ensure that one of the subject committees of the National Assembly of Wales addresses the whole matter with a remit to give guidance of an authoritative nature to local authorities, landowners and graziers on how common land should be properly managed. Secondly, in doing so, to ensure that previous neglect of wildlife on Welsh common land is rectified and made up. I beg to move.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I echo the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, and support the views of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. The matter is serious and deserves attention. The noble Viscount reminded the Committee that the 1965 Act did not meet the obvious need, the crying need, for the proper management of common land. It is a great pity that that promise was not fulfilled because common lands and many other public open spaces have suffered seriously over the past decade.

The result of that failure has been similar in the extensive areas of common land in Wales and in many similar areas in England. The noble Viscount referred to the experience of my noble friend Lord Williams as regards the illegal use of motor vehicles. Last summer, during my brief retirement between leaving the House of Commons and joining this House, I spent a good deal of time observing the illicit use of motorcycles on public open spaces. I saw vehicles which were unlicensed, unregistered and ridden by riders who had probably not passed their test or in some cases were not old enough to take it. I watched them ride over newly-planted saplings, shrubs and flowers, inflicting thousands of pounds worth of damage.

I became accustomed to waiting for police helicopters, which paid a number of visits, to depart and to see five minutes later half a dozen young motorcyclists appear. They were all committing an average of at least five offences because, to get on to the public space or common land, they quite often use public roads. Then there are those affluent people in society who buy 4x4 vehicles and do untold and perhaps greater damage by the use of those larger machines.

It really is quite outrageous that there should be such appalling damage. We have to understand that this is not limited to those commons which abut conurbations and populated areas; indeed, the reach of destruction is spreading far more widely and remorselessly. Action really does need to be taken. I am, therefore, delighted to be able to support the noble Viscount in this amendment. I hope that the Government will ensure that it has a fair wind and that the Welsh assembly understands that, if it takes the necessary action with the degree of urgency which is certainly deserved, that action and its example will be rapidly followed in England. We must have regard for the retention of the ecological interest and for the safeguard of the national advantage. We must ensure that the attractive areas of our country are not subject to the ruinous experience of the past decade.

Lord Rees: In rising to speak to this amendment I should, first, declare a slight interest in common land not, I should say, in mid or north Wales but in south

3 Jun 1998 : Column 374

Wales where we have the same problems. Of course I recognise some of the problems which have been identified so eloquently by the noble Lord who has just spoken and, indeed, by the noble Viscount. However, we must stand back a little from the question and ask ourselves whether the various issues which have been raised are covered by the functions set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill.

We may have to face the fact that, because they are so complex, such issues are really more a matter for central government rather than the Welsh assembly. I am not advancing any particular view, but that fact must be considered with some care. I do not believe that it would be right for us to identify problems close to our heart in the Principality and throw them to the new assembly or to any Select Committee without stopping to think about how they fit into the broad framework which we are considering as a constitutional question.

Therefore, I sympathise with the points raised, especially as regards motor cyclists and others who, with no permission, no rights and perhaps no licences, are despoiling the countryside. I am entirely in sympathy with the views expressed in that respect. However, there are also wider issues. It is not right to assume that the owners of common land, limited though their ownership may be by comparison with normal agricultural land, do not have some care and responsibility in this regard. Indeed, if such matters are not considered with considerable care in advance from all points of view, they might be saddled with public and economic responsibilities which I do not believe should be the case.

While I sympathise with the concerns that led my noble friend Lord St. Davids and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, to table the amendment--and we are very sad that the latter could not be present today to tell us about his personal experience in such matters--I hope, having made the general point, that we can leave the matter to be considered in a slightly wider context at a later stage.

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