HC Deb 17 December 1986 vol 107 cc1188-9
4. Mrs. Shields

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will publish the Green Paper on reform of common land legislation.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

Yes Sir; as soon as possible.

Mrs. Shields

What proportion of common land does the Secretary of State think is likely to be deregistered when the Government introduce legislation on this matter?

Mr. Ridley

A consultation paper will be published early in the new year and legislation will follow as soon as it is possible for the Government to find time to bring it forward. I can assure the hon. Lady that the legislation will be high in our programme, but I cannot speak for the Opposition.

Mr. Colvin

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulty that has been experienced by commoners this year in evicting hippy convoys from common land? Will he ensure that at least one section of the Green Paper deals with this problem, which may be a recurring one, especially in my constituency?

Mr. Ridley

I am aware of these problems because I have such a common in my constituency. I think that my hon. Friend will be reassured by the action taken under the Public Order Act 1986 to deal with the problem. I hope that that action will be satisfactory.

Mr. Barron

Is the Secretary of State aware that over 30 years ago a Royal Commission said that when dealing with common land, the ownership of the soil, the boundaries of the land and the common rights should be on the public record? Past legislation has failed grossly to meet those criteria, especially in respect of ownership. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that any new legislation will include provisions to enable the public to check the ownership of common land claimed by individuals?

Mr. Ridley

Under the chairmanship of the Countryside Commission, the Common Land Forum has produced a nearly unanimous report on what new legislation should contain. That is such an achievement that the House would be wise not to suggest deviations from what is recommended, without good reason. I hope that the consultative paper will be met with the same nearly unanimous reception.

Dr. David Clark

When does the Secretary of State intend to publish the consultative paper? Secondly, will he be more explicit about when he expects to be able to draw conclusions from it? I think that there is accord on both sides of the House that the work of the Common Land Forum—covering the views of the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and all the amenity bodies—is a worthy basis for legislation, and we expect early proposals from the Government.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome. I have said that we hope to publish the consultative paper early in the new year. It has not been possible to do that before the House rises for the Christmas recess. Consultation will take place for several months and we look forward to hearing what the public think. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support.