Clause 31

Commons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Functions

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I beg to move amendment No. 93, in clause 31, page 17, line 43, at end insert—

‘(5A) Where a commons association is established for an area of land that consists of more than one common, it may exercise the functions conferred on it under subsection (1) separately for each common or group of commons.'.

Part 2 of the Bill deals with statutory commons committees and the functions related to the management of agricultural activities, vegetation and the exercise of rights of common. Currently, to a  greater or lesser extent, those functions are carried out by the voluntary commoners associations. The Federation of Cumbria Commoners is excited about part 2. It tells me that if its potential is to be properly realised, the voluntary associations will have to be convinced that it is worth the candle to change to statutory committee status.

At the moment, the additional cost and responsibilities and increased burdens may outweigh the advantages of going down the statutory route, unless there is some Government pump-priming. If there had been a stand part debate on part 2, I would have made a speech on the missing funding elements. However, there is no legitimate scope for me to do so and be in order.

The most appropriate size for a typical upland statutory commons committee is uncertain, although the larger the grouping of commons covered, the greater the potential for cost-efficient administrative structures. At the same time, the very individual and peculiar nature of some of the commons, both in respect of their historical development and their modern-day management needs, demands very localised and sometimes individual decision making at individual commons level.

The amendment seeks to ensure that when a statutory commons committee is in the form of an umbrella organisation that looks after two, three or half a dozen commons, because that is seen as the most appropriate and cost-efficient way forward, rules that relate to specific individual commons within that umbrella may be created, and there may be different rules for different commons.

To give a simple example, Caldbeck and Allendale commons in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Workington might decide to set up a statutory umbrella organisation to share the costs of administrating the statutory functions. However, they might wish for there to be totally different management rules for Caldbeck common on the one hand, and Allendale common on the other. The amendment seeks to make it clear that a statutory commons committee could exercise different functions for all the individual commons within its umbrella.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 7:00 pm, 25th April 2006

Our sitting has been long and I shall attempt to be brief.

I rise to support the thinking behind the amendment. The example of Bodmin moor has been raised before and I raise it again. It covers a large area of my constituency and of the neighbouring constituency of South-East Cornwall. It is not a common, but a patchwork of many rural communities. Around 17 parishes would be affected so a large number of people would want to be involved. The more flexibility there is for voluntary associations to act within a statutory association or in concert with a statutory association, the more effectively the Bill will function.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about provision for small areas of common land that may be near a major area of common landwhere commoners and landowners want to form an  association and whether a nearby area might be able to have some form of relationship with the larger statutory association to gain access to some of the provisions in the Bill.

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 am grateful for the amendment and to be able to respond to the concerns of the Cumbria commoners and perhaps some of the Cornish commoners.

The amendment is unnecessary, but that is good news because part 2 is already sufficiently flexible to enable a commons association to do what hon. Members are asking for. It can respond to the different conditions found on each common that it manages. For example, its functions relating to the management of agricultural activities do not have to be exercised in exactly the same way in relation to each common. That will depend on the needs of each individual common. The national authority could, in the establishment order, confer different functions in respect of different commons within the same association, but we would probably prefer to give commons associations wider functions and allow the association itself to pick and choose those most suited to it at any one time.

As commons associations are empowered to do anything that will assist them in carrying out their functions, they could, for example, vary the livestock management regimes for each common or make different rules for different commons to respond to local conditions. They could also set up different voting regimes for different commons within the association to avoid the need for everyone having to vote on issues unrelated to their specific common.

In response to the last question asked by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Rogerson), I suspect that if there was worry about a small common being subsumed by a larger one in an association, different rules would be set up for their management.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

The question also related to areas such as Bodmin moor, which has clearly defined boundaries with areas of common land nearby but not actually in the area. Would they be able to have some form of relationship?

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 am sure that they could have a relationship because the associations will have wide and flexible powers to do anything that will assist them in carrying out their functions. I hope that that will be sufficient for the hon. Gentleman, and that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

In view of the Minister’s assurances that the various sections of part 2 of the Bill will allow to happen what I want to happen, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Seven o’clock until Thursday 27 April at Nine o’clock.