Clause 29

Commons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Constitution

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of 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)

Clause 29 requires the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing standard terms about the constitution and administration of all commons associations. Regulations made under the clause are subject to the affirmative procedure. The standard constitution will cover matters that are relevant to all associations, such as conduct of members, frequency of meetings, and financial reporting.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Is it prescribed in the standard constitution that sittings of such bodies be in public?

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)

We would expect that normally the sittings would be but, as with most statutory bodies, there may be circumstances when the associations may want to sit in private.

Each association will also have its own establishment order that will set out its functions. That order can modify the standard constitution when necessary, or can replace standard terms with terms more suited to local circumstances. Some Members may have seen the draft standard constitution and the specimen draft establishment order that we published last autumn, and which were wielded in the Chamber by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. They illustrate how the establishment order might integrate with and modify parts of the standard constitution. There is also an example of one possible approach to representation, and a voting mechanism for situations in which there are different interests for a group of commons.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Is the Minister prepared to produce copies of the two orders so that the Committee can examine them between now and the conclusion of our deliberations? They came to me surreptitiously, but I lost them, or maybe they were surreptitiously lifted—I am not sure.

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 apologise to the Committee—it would probably have been useful had I anticipated that request and circulated the documents in advance. They are available on the DEFRA website but I shall make  sure that members of the Committee have copies. The net effect of the documents would be to reduce the demands and potential costs on those who want to create an association, but to leave them the flexibility that they need.

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

I believe that the issues with which we shall deal in this and the following clause will determine whether the statutory associations succeed. If there is any doubt about the support that the Minister has for the Bill, especially from commoners themselves, it arises from these issues, so if he could supply the draft documents that would be good. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is a known magician, and the way in which he produced the documents out of a hat on that occasion was extraordinary and well up to his usual standards.

I hope that there will be consultation on the standard constitution before the regulations are made, because people would like to be involved, and consultation would give them confidence that their interests are being looked after. I have no doubt that there will be many amendments to the standard constitution, because the nature of commons is extraordinarily varied. For example, I have only to look to the common of Llangors lake in my constituency, which is entirely composed of water, and over which there are no rights at all, unless one can walk on water. I do not even think that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 applies to that common, and I assure the Committee that there are no rights of piscary. Yes, there will be amendments to the standard constitution, but that standard constitution will be the basic document, and people must have confidence in it.

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

That is a great comfort. I am not sure whether many of the commoners whom I represent understand the affirmative resolution procedure, but I am sure that they will be heartened by that comment. The more time that the Minister, DEFRA and the National Assembly for Wales can take on the issue, the better the rewards will be. I assure him that I will be out there encouraging people to take up this opportunity and make the most of it, but we must put the foundation in place to make a success of what should be a good piece of legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.