‘(c) to ensure thatland is contiguous with or accessible to the holder ofrights.'.
Theamendment relates to deregistration and exchange orders, but on aslightly larger scale than the village and town greens items that wediscussed. The provision is more directly aimed at common land thatpeople have rights over and which from time to time will have to besurrendered in the public interest, for example when roads or otherpublic infrastructure are being built.
The Minister might say that theamendment would have been better directed at clause 16(6)(a), whichsays,
“the interests ofpersons having rights in relation to, or occupying, the release land(and in particular persons exercising rights of common overit)”.
We would like theprovision to be more explicit, and to say that exchange land should becontiguous to the land over which the rights are currently exercisedand that it should also be accessible. There are instances where landhas been given up and the land that has been offered in exchange isdistant from the existing commons, and is sometimes even divided fromit by a new fenced road.
The recent example that I havebeen given relates to the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road,which links the south Wales valleys. It goes across the heads of thevalleys and has been a dangerous road for some time. It has been athree-lane road and has been subject to many accidents. Now, thankgoodness, as a result of the intervention of the Welsh Assembly, it isbecoming a dualled road, but land has been taken up to achieve that.Commoners are not happy that some of the land offered to them has beendistant from where they exercise their rights at the moment; indeed,sometimes it has been on the wrong side of the road, so tospeak.
We would like,in clause 16 or clause 17, a commitment that when that exchange ismade, people with rights on the common can continue to exercise thoserights easily, and do not have to go to exceptional lengths to do so. Ilook to the Minister to give us comfort on that point, because that isa real, practical problem faced regularly bycommoners.
I think that in my response on the previous clauseI might have given the impression—in fact, explicitlysaid—that the commons registration authority would deal withmatters under clause 16, but it is, of course, the national authoritythat will do so, as is the case for clause17.
I hope that itwill be some reassurance to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshirethat precisely the sort of considerations that he is talking about willbe taken into account by the national authority when determining anapplication for exchange under clause 16. As we saw in discussion onamendments to that clause—the hon. Gentleman mentioned clause16(6)—the national authority must have regard to various factorswhen determining an application. As he says, those factors include theinterests of commoners, so where an exchange relates to common landthat remains in agricultural use, the national authority will look verycarefully at whether the replacement land provides an adequatesubstitute for the commoners.
The hon. Gentleman’spoint about the road is important; it would be absurd if the locationof the replacement land meant shepherding sheep across a busy mainroad, but—I would not want to disappoint my hon. Friend theMember for Sherwood by failing to use a conjunction after being nice tosomeone—we need to retain some flexibility in determiningexchange applications.
For example, a piece ofreplacement land may be highly advantageous to the community as a placefor recreation, or may have the potential for promoting biodiversity,but because the replacement land was some distance from the common, itwould not be accessible to a registered holder of rights who, say,wanted to graziers two geese, even though those rights had not beenexercised since before the war. In those circumstances, it would beplain silly to refuse the application for the sake of those two geese.In short, we resist the amendment, but I offer the hon. Member forBrecon and Radnorshire the assurance that its purpose will be a coreconsideration for the nationalauthority.
The Minister deals with Government Back Benchersand Liberal Democrat Members even-handedly, in terms of his use of butsand howevers. I listened to what he said, and I am pleased that hisresponse is now on record. Having had the satisfaction of hearing theMinister give that commitment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw theamendment.