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Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 5:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 revisits the role of the Commission for Rural Communities with respect to rural-proofing. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke very convincingly to an amendment on this subject at Report. I responded that I was minded to accept the principles of his amendment, but that he and I should agree a slightly different form of words for the Bill.

The noble Lord and I had what I think we would both describe as a very interesting and, I hope, very positive discussion on this issue, and the form of words set out in the amendment is one with which we are, I hope, both content.

Amendment No. 5 makes a revision to Clause 19(c) that further clarifies the role of the Commission for Rural Communities with respect to rural-proofing. It will widen the CRC's monitoring role to include looking at how bodies develop policy as well as implement it. That will enable it to make better judgments about how the rural-proofing process is undertaken by organisations—for example councils or RDAs—as they develop their strategies. It will also enable the CRC to provide government departments and other bodies with an impartial, expert view not only of the way in which their policies are meeting rural needs, but of whether their processes of policy development are taking proper account of the rural angle.

Given the definition of "relevant persons" elsewhere in the Bill, Clause 19(c) empowers the CRC to undertake this role in respect of bodies in both the public sector and the private and voluntary sectors, where such bodies are concerned with any aspect of rural needs. All that will add weight to the CRC's advocacy and watchdog roles, and will make the CRC a body that must be listened to.

The role of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in rural proofing will remain unchanged. Defra champions rural-proofing within government, taking the lead on setting rural-proofing policy and promoting rural-proofing to government bodies at all levels and providing advice to other government departments and delivery bodies on how best they can support delivery of the Government's rural agenda.
 
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Clarifying the role of the CRC in the way set out by this amendment will help both Defra and the CRC to work together to help to ensure that polices which affect rural areas are adequately rural-proofed and that the needs of people and business in rural areas are properly considered by policy makers. That will, I am sure, be good news to anyone concerned with the well-being and future of rural areas.

In commending the amendment to the House, I put on record our appreciation of the persuasive support of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for the CRC and other sections of the Bill. Rural-proofing has been a successful policy tool since its introduction in 2000, not least, if I may say so, because of the role which the noble Lord played during his time as chairman of the Countryside Agency. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I added my name to the rural-proofing amendment tabled in Committee, and I am sure that the Minister will remember our short debate on Report on rural housing. Although that debate was on another amendment, it was an excellent example of rural-proofing at work. I would like to think that our debate rural-proofed—if that is the right word—the Government's housing policy in the shared ownership sector. As we know, the Government have decided not to change the policy as they had intended, for which we are extremely grateful. The words are just right if you read them in the context of a practical example of the sort that I have just given of rural housing. That would certainly fit into this and all the other areas. This is good wording, and I shall certainly accept it.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his kind words, and for being as good as his word and including the words "rural-proofing" in the Bill. It really is very important to strengthen the CRC in this way, and the fact that it must now examine the way in which other persons and departments develop, adopt and implement policies through a rural-proofing process will be crucial for rural areas in the future. I greatly support the amendment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I spoke in Committee and on Report on this, and I particularly endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I hope that they are a very good example of what the Commission for Rural Communities will do, and I am grateful to the Minister for retabling the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I certainly believe that the amendment strengthens the Bill greatly, and I am very grateful that the Government have drawn the conclusion that they have under the helpful guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Before we go too far in our encouragement of rural-proofing, perhaps the first thing that the CRC could scrutinise is the plan of the Department for Work and Pensions to abolish Post Office card accounts.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): My Lords, I must inform the House that in the first
 
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Division this afternoon, the number voting "Not-Content" was 144 and not 143, as previously announced.

Clause 57 [Effect of failure to serve certain notices in connection with SSSIs]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 6:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 57 provides a saving for the validity of SSSI notifications where it appears that the conservation bodies discover a missed party, despite having taken all reasonable steps to discharge the duty to notify every owner and occupier of the site. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Carter raised the important issue of applying this measure retrospectively to protect all existing sites against a legal challenge on this basis. On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, tabled an amendment which sought to achieve that. I promised to return on Third Reading with amendments that would do so satisfactorily. I note the support for this in the House, and I am delighted to say that I have been able to do what noble Lords have asked.

Amendment No. 6 ensures that the provision applies to SSSI notifications given either before or after its commencement, thereby capturing all existing sites. Amendment No. 7 deals with the important question of liability. We should bear in mind that we are talking about a very small minority of people compared with the many thousands of notified owners and occupiers. Nevertheless, we considered it right, in ensuring the validity of the sites, to provide that liability is not imposed in respect of any action or inaction that occurred before commencement of the provision.

Amendment No. 7 ensures that liability in relation to the two specified offences that concern owners and occupiers will not be imposed until they have come to light and the conservation bodies have served the notification papers on them. I beg to move.

4.30 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Government for coming back with this amendment to strengthen SSSIs.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 7:


(a) in relation to anything done or omitted to be done before the commencement of this section, or
(b) under section 28P(1) or 28Q(4)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 67 [Ending of certain existing unrecorded public rights of way]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 8:


 
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The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 is tabled after consideration of Amendment No. 138A which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on Report. It strengthens new subsection (2)(a) of Clause 67, which will exempt from extinguishment any route where it can be shown that, for five years before commencement, public use had been mainly by motor vehicles. It does that by ensuring that, in determining the balance of use prior to commencement, only lawful use by mechanically propelled vehicles is taken into account.

On Report, I undertook to consider four other amendments. We have looked at them carefully, but have concluded that we cannot table amendments such as these. I will briefly explain why. Amendments Nos. 146 and 150 sought to amend what is now Clause 67(5) and new subsection (7B) of the Highways Act 1980—inserted by Clause 69(1)—so that, to be made "correctly", applications for definitive map modification orders must comply with paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 14 to the 1981 Act.

On a practical level, that sort of amendment would open up uncertainty because it could easily be a matter of dispute whether paragraph 2 had been complied with. More significantly, it would not work because paragraph 2 is not about making an application; it is about whether an application has been made. Nevertheless, as these two provisions stand, for an application to be valid it has to be submitted in the prescribed form with the correct supporting documentary evidence.

We are grateful to the noble Baroness for her assistance in tabling Amendments Nos. 154ZA and 154ZB on Report, but having now had an opportunity to consider those amendments further, we have concluded that the exemption works properly without the amendments. We are satisfied that the government amendment which is now incorporated into Clause 70 closed any potential loophole and that no further amendments to this clause are necessary.

I understand that there are residual concerns about whether it will be possible for people to argue that they are lawful visitors to a RUPP. Under new subsection (2A) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, introduced by Clause 70, the exemption covers only those who have an interest in the land, or, after commencement, are visitors to any land. People using former RUPPs for recreational purposes will not be lawful visitors to land after commencement. RUPPs will be reclassified as restricted byways immediately before commencement, and restricted byways do not carry rights for mechanically propelled vehicles. I beg to move.


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