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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Because of the legislative timetable, will she consider the possibility of the Government at some point making their intentions clear because that, by itself, would probably help with some of the pressures?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, that is a helpful suggestion. I shall have pleasure in writing to the noble Baroness on the matter.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the DETR, Angela Eagle, is planning shortly to meet the local MPs and a representative of the Verderers in the New Forest. She plans to visit the New Forest in the autumn.

Various interesting and detailed points were raised during the debate. The important issue of commoning was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. We recognise that commoning is a traditional aspect of the forest which has helped create the landscape which is so loved. As the noble Lord said, it is essential that the open forest is grazed in order to maintain the forest landscape. We recognise the difficulties facing the commoners at present. I can assure noble Lords that we shall consider the need for further support and that that would be one of the key tasks of any new statutory authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, suggested that the forest be designated an environmentally sensitive area. That is one possibility. He mentioned also the problem of under-grazing which, as we saw earlier this week in the West Country, carries with it the risk of fire. That emphasises the need for continued grazing of the heaths. I am sure that my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture will be considering the points raised and whether there is need for further agricultural support. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that hill farm support is not available, but the Ministry of Agriculture will consider the points that have been raised.

I pay tribute to the commitment of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe who pointed out that a new statutory authority could be seen as a quango, creating additional bureaucracy and spending more money. However, a new authority could also benefit the forest. I can assure noble Lords that we will not create a new authority unless we are confident that the benefits would more than outweigh the costs.

The Countryside Commission has proposed that local authorities should be given the legal duty to manage areas of outstanding natural beauty sympathetically. That is one of the points we shall be raising. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to the fact that the Countryside Commission considers that designation of the New Forest as a national park could be justified. Those issues are important, and we shall take account of the points they have made.

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The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, spoke of our not referring to a further review. Noble Lords will be aware that the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review across departments were announced yesterday. There are increased resources for the DETR on the whole over the next three years. There will be an increase in overall spending in the department's countryside and wildlife budget. Full details will be announced later. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that a review which brings additional resources, including resources to assist the Forestry Commission, is valuable.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, on securing the debate this week on the future of the New Forest. It is an especially appropriate week. It is national heath week. The New Forest is one of our most important heaths. Heath week is designed to draw attention to the importance of the few remaining heaths in southern England, and to the need for their full protection, continued support and management.

This has been an important debate. I can assure noble Lords that we shall listen carefully to the views expressed tonight and those which will be expressed in the coming weeks. If my honourable friend the Minister can take a copy of Hansard with him tomorrow, I know that it will help him to have a greater understanding when he visits the New Forest.

Government of Wales Bill

8.45 p.m.

Consideration of amendments after Third Reading resumed.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 35:

After Clause 73, insert the following new clause--

("Planning appeals
Determination of planning appeals

. Where the determination of planning appeals on planning applications under town and country planning legislation has been transferred to the Assembly by an Order in Council under section 22 of this Act, the standing orders must include provision for this function to be exercisable by one person appointed by the Assembly for that purpose.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first of three amendments in my name which try to put wealth creation, especially in the rural economy, as a priority for the assembly. As I have been trying to point out, without a flourishing economy there will be little room for culture.

The amendment tries to simplify the planning system. As your Lordships will be aware, if a farmer, entrepreneur, or wealth creator wishes to diversify, he or she has nearly always to apply for planning permission. The route is tortuous, expensive and time-consuming, often to the extent that it delays matters so much that the opportunity is lost, and so a few more rural jobs are also lost.

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The first stage is to persuade the local planning authority of one's case. As was clearly pointed out on Report by my noble friend Lord Kenyon, local councillors are often swayed by their constituents. They may prevaricate beyond the permitted time, as they did in a case in which I was involved, or they may decide against guidelines laid down.

The next and expensive step is to go to appeal where, if the inspector rules that the applicant's case is justified and valid, he will recommend to the Secretary of State that planning permission be granted. However, as the Bill is written--I have pointed this out before--the decision will be left in the assembly's hands. Unless your Lordships support my amendment, in theory the whole of the assembly could re-examine the case, thus reverting to stage one; that is, the case being decided by vociferous and articulate NIMBYs who may reverse the decision.

Apart from being time-consuming, that destroys planning law, for it is essential for farmers and wealth creators to have strict guidelines which they can follow so that they can know how and where they can diversify or develop. I hope, of course, that the assembly will study the complexities of the problem. I am sorry to say that the corruption--potential--that the planning system, encourages will make that difficult for the assembly. As I understand it, the assembly will have the power to do so. I hope that it will discipline local planning authorities when they behave irresponsibly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who said that the system could be made to work if only one managed it properly (Hansard col. 1451). I would add to that "honestly". That is why I have tabled the amendment after Clause 72 which I call the "sleaze" clause. I hope that the assembly will study the French system.

The amendment is a simple first stage. It would ensure that the final decision would be taken by one person. That person will be decided by the assembly. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. It also, I hope, satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Williams. At col. 1452 of the Official Report of 9th July, he said,

    "it is always an advantage in Wales not to be a committee".

I am sure that with the exception of my noble friend Lord St. Davids we would all agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was kind enough to take the trouble to write to me reiterating his sentiments, and stating that he would draw the Secretary of State's attention to the fact that I, and I think he too, preferred one person to adjudicate. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that; and I hope that your Lordships will give him every encouragement to urge the Secretary of State to take a similar view.

As always there is a snag in life. That snag was vividly pointed out by my noble friend Lord St. Davids. At col. 1450 of the Official Report of 9th July, he stated:

    "The National Assembly Advisory Group has discussed the matter. It came to the conclusion that responsibility should go to the first secretary, and perhaps through him to a relevant subject committee. It may be the wish of the first secretary or the subject committee to appoint a panel drawn from the national assembly members to hear such appeals".

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Golly!--or whatever parliamentary words I may use to that effect. It goes without saying that I much regret disagreeing with my noble friend's inept remarks although I entirely accept that they put the whole problem into a nutshell. I most sincerely hope that those are only the mistaken views of the noble Viscount, and not those of NAAG, for they spell out delay, confusion and political intrigue, and, perhaps some noble Lords might say, sleaze and all the symptoms of a waffle shop--something about which I and the 74.4 per cent. who did not vote for an assembly were concerned. Fortunately, my noble friend, like me, often gets the wrong end of the stick. However, I hope that, like me, he will admit it.

It is up to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and, I hope, the Secretary of State to prove that my suspicions about what might happen are unjustified. The noble Lord could do that this evening by accepting my amendment.

Finally, I repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his letter and sympathetic reply to my queries at Report stage. However, I point out that his letter was slightly incorrect in stating that this is an identical amendment to the one tabled at Report. It is not. I had taken his advice and specified that the function should be exercised by one person and, with regard to the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies--I am sorry that he is not in his place today--that the assembly should decide who that person should be.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be able to accept this minor amendment. I beg to move.

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