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Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 234B:

("( ) No order shall be made under this section in relation to an area of outstanding natural beauty unless a majority of the local authorities whose areas consist of or include the whole or part of that area of outstanding natural beauty consent to the establishment of a conservation board.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Clause 79(6) provides for local authorities in AONBs to be consulted about proposals to establish conservation boards. Local authorities in this context means a principal council within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972. I understand that to mean a county council, district council or unitary authority.

As the Bill stands, there is no provision requiring any of the principal councils to agree to the establishment of a conservation board. Theoretically, therefore, the Bill could allow the Secretary of State or National Assembly of Wales to establish a board where every single authority involved was actually opposed to the idea.

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Of course, I realise that it is most unlikely that the Government would establish a board in such circumstances but they could do so, and that is the point. My amendment seeks to avoid that. I have received representations from local councillors in my part of the world who are in an AONB and therefore could have a conservation board imposed upon them. Their views on this matter are very strong indeed. They believe that there should be proper local consultation.

My amendment simply seeks to require that a majority of the local authorities concerned in any area--and there could be many in some AONBs because they traverse county and district boundaries--would have to agree to the establishment of a board following consultation before the Secretary of State or National Assembly for Wales could proceed.

There are similar amendments to mine. One is in the names of my noble friends Lady Byford, Lord Glentoran and Lord Dixon-Smith which would require the consensus of all local authorities within the AONB, which I believe is rather an extreme way of dealing with the consultation process. Another amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, requires a broad measure of agreement. With respect to my noble friend, I regard that as perhaps being rather woolly.

My amendment would require a clear majority of authorities to be in agreement before a board could be established. That is clear and unequivocal. It avoids the possibility of one authority vetoing a proposal supported by the others. Equally, it avoids the prospect of the Government proceeding where the authorities involved are very half-hearted about the idea.

Furthermore, I was interested to see in the circular letter sent to many noble Lords by the chairman of the Countryside Agency, Mr Cameron, that,

    "Conservation Boards will not be imposed on AONBs. We want every AONB to have the management system which best meets its local circumstances and needs".

The letter goes on:

    "But the new legislation as drafted is needed to make the Conservation Board model available",

which is fine,

    "when it makes practical sense, and where it is locally supported".

I suggest that my amendment exactly meets that criterion because it prevents conservation boards being imposed against the wishes of the majority of the local authorities within that area. I was also interested to see a letter circulated by the Local Government Association, which made the same point. It said:

    "The establishment of the Conservation Boards must be with local and national agreement".

Again, I suggest that my amendment meets this specific proposal. So I hope that the Government will look favourably on what I may describe as the third way. I believe that it would satisfy the requirements of local authorities, that we would get a consensus view

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and that this whole contentious matter of conservation boards would go forward in a manner acceptable to local democracy. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has picked up much of what I would have said on Amendments Nos. 236A and 237A, which are grouped with his amendment. Those two amendments require the agreement of all authorities. The establishment of a management board for an area of outstanding natural beauty will be a serious matter. If there is any degree of opposition to the establishment of the management board, particularly from participating local authorities that must have participated in an existing joint board, it is highly unlikely that it will work well. In some ways the wording of the amendment in the name of my noble friend is more felicitous than the wording in Amendments Nos. 236A and 237A. The fact is that if there is not agreement to the establishment of such boards, the likelihood of their succeeding is pretty remote.

Bearing in mind that in the vast majority of cases the AONBs are in existence and working happily and well with joint boards running them, it would be dangerous to go from that situation to one in which there was an imposed management board with a considerable degree of dissent in the area. I do not believe that that would be advantageous for anyone concerned, either nationally or locally. I ask the Minister to consider the position seriously. He may not want to decide tonight, but if not perhaps he can come up with something better at Third Reading.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I want to speak to my Amendment No. 238A. It states that,

    "Before making an order to establish a conservation board",

the Secretary of State with respect to England or the National Assembly for Wales,

    "shall be satisfied that there is a broad measure of agreement among those consulted locally that a conservation board should be established".

The history of my amendment goes back to my Private Member's Bill of a year ago, when in the course of debating it I remember my noble friend Lord Jopling pointing out that in my original Bill there was no mention of a "broad measure of agreement" to a conservation board being established. In consequence, I put it in at Committee stage. That was before the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peel was tabled. He referred to my amendment as being "rather woolly". I would not agree with that description, but I am not in the business of having a competition with him on such an issue.

If the Minister were to agree to my noble friend's amendment, I would gladly withdraw mine. The point that is common between us, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, is that the conservation board should not be established unless there is a broad measure of agreement from a majority of those consulted that it should be established.

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I fully agree with my noble friend that if the imposition of a conservation board were attempted by a Secretary of State against the wishes of most of those he consulted, it would be a great mistake. Clause 79 leaves open the possibility that a future Secretary of State may impose a conservation board against the wishes of the majority of local interests, including the local authorities concerned.

It is precisely to ensure that such an unlikely but none the less possible scenario does not happen that I tabled my amendment. It does not undermine the powers to create a conservation board as I am not suggesting that acceptance by all local authorities is sought. I suggest that the Minister will lose nothing by accepting either my amendment or that of my noble friend Lord Peel. In either case, reassurance would be given to the sceptics that conservation boards would not be established unless there were agreement from the majority of those consulted. That might be a good thing.

12.45 a.m.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, without wanting to be an adjudicator on variations on the theme, I come down strongly on the side of my noble friend Lord Peel. I believe that his amendment has the necessary strength, clarity and purpose. In my part of the world, Devon, the local councillors have expressed considerable concern that the Secretary of State has the power to impose local conservation boards against the wishes of local authorities within the AONBs. I hope that the Minister will understand the merit and good sense of my noble friend's amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches would take a different view and would prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, which is consensual. The difficulty with the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is that if there were only two local authorities, which is the case for some AONBs, it would be impossible to produce a majority if one agreed and one disagreed.

Furthermore, for the purposes of the conservation board too much emphasis is laid on the local authority and not enough on other interests. The concept that conservation boards will be over local authorities is wrong. It is a completely different relationship and in many cases they are fulfilling functions which are not among the primary purposes of the local authorities. I believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, would fulfil the kind of agreement which should rightly be sought locally. For that reason we support it.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I prefer the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Peel. It is important to have conservation boards. To some extent, it is a matter of persuasion. I well remember the previous government setting up the Broads authority many years ago. I was a member of the Countryside Commission and was sent to Norfolk and parts of Suffolk to help to persuade the local authorities to

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agree to the proposal. However, the Government's intention was to legislate to set up a Broads authority. We succeeded in getting it set up with consent and it has been a considerable success.

The South Downs Conservation Board of my noble friend Lord Renton, is a separate animal which he inherited from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. I understand that the local authorities, which have representatives on the board, are keen on it and supportive of it. Therefore, we need more to persuade local authorities to accept the boards than at present.

There is a difficulty as to the exact wording. I would have been quite happy with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peel. The noble Baroness said that there might be two local authorities only one of which agreed. My understanding is that that would still pass the test according to my noble friend's amendment, because the majority must agree. There must be better consultation than is presently provided for, but it must not be such as to enable people to sabotage the setting up of the board.

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