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Commons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 25th April 2006.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 94, in page 2, line15, leave out subsection(5).

It is a pleasureto move the first amendment. The clause says, “Regulationsmay”. Throughout the Bill, there are many issues relating tocommons that would be subject to regulation. The Minister said jokinglyon one occasion that there will be enough statutory instruments inrelation to the Bill to see us through our parliamentary careers.Looking around the room, in terms of longevity, perhaps my hon. Friendthe Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Rogerson) has more chance of seeinganother Bill relating to commons than most of us. That being the case,we are concerned that the form of the regulation is not obviouslyclear.

Any regulationthat allows information to be put on a register raises data protectionand human rights issues. We are concerned about the nature of theinformation that may be put on the register. I understand that theDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Bill team, in itsguidance document on identifying the ownership of rights of common,said that if not only the dominant tenement was included, but therights pertaining to it and the holder of those rights, that might leadto confusion about who holds the rights, because they refer to thedominant tenement, not a person. The only way to establish who owns thedominant tenement is to refer to the land register. If there were to bea problem in resolving an entry in the commons register and an entry inthe Land Registry, there might be some difficulty in agreeing who wasthe holder of therights.

Having saidthat, I have already had my hand slapped by Mrs. Griffiths, the commonsregistration officer for Powys county council, who says that thecommons registry officers for Powys and the Marches insist that theclause is included in the Bill, and she tells me that she has puttremendous effort and activity into ensuring that that takes place. Herargument for doing so is that it has been helpful to farmers whoexercise rights of common, when claiming subsidies through theintegrated administration and control scheme, and now through thesingle farm payment, because they have been able to prove that theyhave rights overthe common by getting copies of the registerin which Mrs. Griffiths has included the individuals who own therights.

I understandthat Powys county council has been reprimanded by DEFRA for taking thiscourse of action, so we are in quite a difficult position. I shall readbriefly a letter from Mrs.Griffiths:

“Currently,the Rights section of the register shows the name of the originalapplicant for registration (1967-70) against the details of grazing fora particular farm holding. If a farm with grazing rights is sold inlots then application can be made to apportion the grazing rightsbetween the various parties on a pro rata basis according to acreage.We then amend the register and cross out the original 1960s entry andinsert two or more new entries.

If the farm is transferred, as awhole, to the next generation on the death of the original applicant oris sold in its entirety to a new owner, there is no requirement underthe 1965 Act to amend the register. It is legally correct to show thename of a person who died or moved away 30-plus years ago and this isone of the reasons why the register needsupdating.”

Shegives an example from the area that she administers of the importanceof entering the names of rightsholders:

“When...Llanbedrand Llandeilo hill (Ireland moor) went into the ESA, Maureen Lloyd, thecommoners’ association secretary, had to ensure that theregister was amended to show all the current commoners’ nameswere in the register or else they wouldn’t receive payments foragreeing to reduce the number of animals grazing on thecommon.”

Is itthe Minister’s intention that as a result of clause 3, commonsregistration authorities will include the names of the holders ofcommon rights? If so, that goes against the advice of the Bill team,which is a problem. We are concerned that the register, a publicdocument, might contain unnecessary information or information thatrights holders do not want to be there.

Subsection (5) says thatregulations may

“requireor permit other information to be included in aregister”.

We do not havea problem with “permit”, but we do with“require”. The provision is so open-ended that it wouldallow the publication of lots of quiteimproper andunnecessary information—perhaps even information that goesagainst the nature of the legislation. Will the Minister respondpositively, indicating how he envisages that the regulation will actand what will be init?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I would be pleased if the hon. Gentleman passed onmy best wishes to Mrs. Griffiths of Powys council, who clearly showswisdom. We will return to the registration of ownership of rights whenwe discuss clause 8 and the interesting issue of apportionment, so Ishall not dwell on it unduly.

The register’s coreelements are the land register and the rights register. The landregister contains a conclusive record of the extent of common land andgreens, and the rights register contains a conclusive record of thenature and quantification of rights exercisable over the land to whichthey are attached.

The power in subsection (5) isintended to amplify what can or must be shown in the register. Forexample, we expect to provide that the registers may continue to showall the additional information—information about mineral rightsand public rights of access, for example—that the 1965 Actpermitted them to show. That the register should continue to show thatinformation does not raise any new data registration or human rightsissues.

We have alsoproposed that commoners should be able to enter in the register adeclaration of their entitlement to exercise rights of common when theyown the land to which such rights are attached. I think that thatanswers the hon. Gentleman’s question—they would be ableto register those rights, but would not necessarily have to. We willreturn to that when we discuss apportionment. It is not realistic torequire people to register those rights, because in the real world itwould be difficult to make them do so. The  measures will improve the availability of information about who isentitled to exercise the rights over a particular common. The provisionof such information will be for assistance only, as the informationwill not beconclusive.

Theregulation-making power in subsection (5) is an essential tool forobtaining the information that must be shown in registers undersubsections (1) to (4). The Government will consult on draft proposalsfor regulations under subsection (5), so some of these issues, whichthe hon. Gentleman has rightly raised, will be subject to debate underthose order-making powers and as those orders go through. However, wewill consult, as part of our commitment to consult, on the detailedimplementation of part 1 generally.

In respect ofthe hon. Gentleman’s question as to why we should“require” rather than “permit”, it must bepossible for regulations to require certain additional information tobe included in the register, rather than leave it to theauthorities’ discretion, for example, declarations ofentitlements to rights to which I have just referred. I hope on thatbasis, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw hisamendment.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:45 am, 25th April 2006

I listened very carefully to the points that theMinister made. We may refer to the matter again later in Committee. Onthat basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave,withdrawn.

Questionproposed, That the clause stand part of theBill.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

The clause ensures continuity between theregisters prepared under the Commons Registration Act 1965 and thoserequired to be kept under this Bill. It provides that registrationauthorities may roll forward the existing registers and they willbecome the registers held under the Commons Act.

The clause provides clarityabout what can be included in the registers. It provides for the registers to include information about the extent of common land and town or village greens and rights of common and the attachment of suchrights to land, such as farm holding. It also provides for regulationsto amplify those requirements, as we have just debated.

Question put and agreedto.

Clause3 ordered to stand part of theBill.