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Clause 7 - Management agreements

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 21st June 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in clause 7, page 3, line 26, leave out

‘who has an interest in the land’ and insert

‘with whom the agreement has been made’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 46, in clause 7, page 3, line 28, leave out

‘who has an interest in the land’ and insert

‘with whom the agreement has been made’.

No. 47, in clause 7, page 3, line 40, at end insert—

‘(3A)A management agreement may not impose on any person with an interest in the land other than a person to whom subsection (3B) applies—

(a)any obligations in respect of the use of the land, or

(b)any restrictions on the exercise of rights over the land.

(3B)This subsection applies to—

(a)the person with whom the agreement has been made;

(b)any person whose interest in the land is derived from the interest of the person with whom the agreement has been made.’.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The clause deals with management agreements, which, the Minister will realise from my earlier comments, I entirely support. Indeed, I want to see much of the work achieved through agreements between Natural England and various people with an interest in the land. However, the definition of interest in the land in the Bill slightly puzzles me, and I have tabled the amendments to clarify it. The Minister may tell me that they are unnecessary, but I hope that he will clarify the situation.

Subsection (6) states that the definition is the same as in clause 97 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which I have of course looked up. That Act states that interest

“in relation to land, includes any estate in land and any right over land, whether the right is exercisable by virtue of ownership of interest in land or by virtue of a licence or agreement and in particular includes sporting rights”.

That definition is fairly all embracing, so many people with different interests in the land could exist side by side. An interest may derive from somebody else’s interest, but not always.

At the top of the tree, obviously, will be the owner of the land, although even that is not 100 per cent. exclusive. Alongside the landowner could be a separate owner of, for example, mineral rights, which are often held by organisations or individuals separate from the owner of the land overall, so there could be two people at the top of the tree. Below that, there   could be farm tenants, short-lease graziers, sporting tenants—there could be several of those with different sporting rights—and forestry leaseholders.

Subsection (3) clearly states that an agreement is binding on people who derive title under or from the person who made the agreement. In other words, if the owner has made the agreement, it is binding on anybody whose title, such as a tenancy or sporting lease, derives from that ownership. However, I am trying to avoid a situation in which an agreement made by, for example, a farm tenant is binding on somebody who does not obtain their title from the farm tenant. It might be desirable, but it should not be enforceable. If, for example, a sporting tenant or forestry leaseholder had a separate lease from the owner—alongside a farm tenant—the farm tenant should not be able to bind the sporting or forestry leaseholder and, of course, vice versa.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Whip, Whips

I shall add another example to the list; those who have common grazing rights, which are historic, and are capable of making their own agreements currently under the stewardship scheme, regardless of who is the landowner.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I was remiss not to refer to that myself. We have an entire Bill on this matter to face in this Session of Parliament.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We look forward to it. That Bill will, I know, be extremely tortuous and technical.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, who has large areas of upland common land in his constituency, is right. I have lowland commons in my constituency. The division of responsibility and rights between owners and common holders is very difficult. The purpose of these amendments—I will not detain the Committee any longer in explanation—is purely to try to confirm that people can only bind those others with an interest whose title derives from the person who signed the agreement.

I am a bit concerned with subsection (2). Subsection (2)(a), for example, says that management may

“impose on the person who has an interest in the land obligations in respect of the use of the land”.

It does not say the person who signed the agreement. To me that implies anybody who has an interest in the land. The same comment could apply to subsection (2)(b) particularly.

I hope that I have made the point clear. Although, for the purposes of Natural England, everybody going along with the agreement and adhering to it is desirable, the fundamental point is that one person should not be able commit another person with an interest unless that interest derives directly; in other words, if the owner signs an agreement or otherwise. I think that I have made the point clear.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

I want to ask the Minister a brief question before he replies.

The common meaning of ‘impose’ seems to suggest that Natural England can enforce its will against an unwilling landowner. Could the Minister explain the process for that and what the sanction is if a landowner does not wish to co-operate with Natural England? This is not giving Natural England a power, but giving it a power with a sanction. What is the sanction? What happens if the landowner does not co-operate?

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 both those interventions and comments. Dealing with the hon. Member for Banbury’s comments first will help us considerably. He has focused, understandably, on ‘impose’. I would ask the Committee to focus on ‘agreement’. These are agreements between two parties. Once the agreements have been made, they may impose different things on the two parties to that agreement, but they will not be imposed upon anyone in the first instance.

I would suggest to the Committee that it would be wrong to exclude anyone who might have an interest in the land from being able to enter into an agreement. I accept the spirit in which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire tabled the amendments, but I am advised—this is pretty complicated and tortuous—that the wording could, unwittingly, potentially exclude some people who might have some interest in the land from entering into agreements. That, in turn, would deny them access to funds and other assistance that might be available through those agreements.

The amendment is unnecessary given that any agreement is entered into willingly by both parties. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire understandably fears that one person might enter into an agreement containing obligations or restrictions that would affect the interest of another. It should be borne in mind that that would depend entirely on the agreement-holder already having legitimate control or influence over the interests of the other person. The agreement would not give such control, because no agreement would have been made with the other person.

Technically, I am told, clause 7(3) means that the agreement would remain in force over any person who succeeds to the interest of the agreement-holder. It does not mean that the agreement would bind other interest-holders. I hope that that clarification and the suggestion that the starting point should be agreement and that any imposition must flow from that agreement is sufficiently helpful to enable the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45 pm, 21st June 2005

I am grateful to the Minister. His assertion that people will not be able to bind somebody who does not have an interest deriving from their own is certainly welcome. That was my objective in tabling the amendment, so my objective has been met. I was puzzled, however, by his assertion, which he seemed not to understand himself from the way he phrased it, that somehow my amendment would exclude others from making such an agreement. I had no intention of doing that, and he might like to explain to me at some   other time how it could be interpreted in that way. Nevertheless, the key point is that people should not be able to bind somebody whose title does not derive from theirs, and the Minister has confirmed that that is the case. I am therefore happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.