HL Deb 15 July 1985 vol 466 cc503-5

1 Clause 6, page 3, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall before the abolition date lay before Parliament a report on the steps he will take to secure the full adoption by metropolitan district councils and the London borough councils of those facilities, services, and responsibilities for the protection and enjoyment of the countryside and areas for urban nature conservation which serve the continuing needs of the wider county areas and neighbouring populations.").

The Commons agree to the above amendment with the following amendments:

2 Line 4, leave out ("metropolitan district councils and the London borough councils') and insert ("the councils to which functions are transferred by this section in Greater London or a metropolitan county")

3 Line 8, leave out ("the wider county areas") and insert ("Greater London or that county").

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 to the Lords Amendment No. 1. It was on 7th May that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, with support from several parts of the Committee, persuaded your Lordships to place a duty upon the Secretary of State that was not in the Bill when it came to us from another place. She persuaded the Committee, although she did not at that stage persuade the Government. The duty that your Lordships put into the Bill was a duty for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the steps he was taking to see that the facilities, services and responsibilities of the urban authorities for the protection and enjoyment of the countryside were fully adopted after abolition by the borough and district councils.

Nearly a month later, during consideration of the Committee's report on the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, persuaded the Government to add an urban perspective to the rural perspective covered by the original amendment. In this he was assisted, in particular, by my noble friend Lord Chelwood. The duty that your Lordships proposed to another place thus became a duty not only to report on the steps taken to protect countryside interests, but also to report on the steps taken to protect urban nature conservation areas. Your Lordships clearly shared a general concern, with considerable support from outside the House, that the Secretary of State should not merely take but should be seen to take particular care to protect the natural environment from any adverse effects of reorganisation. I am happy to tell your Lordships that the Government are persuaded that this new provision is a proper one for inclusion in the Bill.

On consideration, however, we found that the new subsection (2) needed improvement in two respects. First, as drafted it does not include the Common Council of the City of London, which is also to receive functions under Clause 6; and, secondly, it refers to "the wider county areas", which is not apt in the case of Greater London. The Commons amendments therefore substitute references to the authorities to whom functions are transferred under the clause for references to Greater London or a metropolitan county.

This is far from being the first point, and very far indeed from being the only one, on which the Government and another place have been persuaded by your Lordships to change and improve the provisions of this Bill. This was, in fact, the third of the amendments that we sent to another place. The first and second comprised the major changes we made in the planning provision for London, but they were accepted in exactly the form in which we had drafted them and do not therefore figure on the Marshalled List this afternoon. This, our third amendment, did need tidying up, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale foreshadowed when he accepted the addition to it of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I am glad to start today's proceedings by asking your Lordships to accept what is, in effect, a small improvement to your Lordships' own improvement to the Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 to the Lords Amendment No. 1—(Lord Elton.)

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I wonder whether I may start this afternoon's proceedings on a happy note by thanking the Government for accepting this amendment. I do so on behalf of all those who have their hearts in the country and in the countryside, and, in particular, on behalf of the National Farmers' Union and the Countryside Commission, who were very interested in this amendment. On their behalf, I should like to thank the Government, not only for the amendment but also for the discussions and the letters that have gone on between the Government and those organisations since the moving of this amendment. Perhaps, in a lighter vein, I may say that, despite rumours to the contrary, the Chief Whip has not been pressurising me or my noble friend Lord Radnor in dark corners of your Lordships' House since this amendment was accepted. Perhaps that is because your Lordships threw out a certain Bill a week-and-a-half ago.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, may I from this side of the House say how pleased we are that the other place accepted the amendments which had all-party support in this House? May I also say that, as I understand it, my Chief Whip is very pleased to support what I have said. We are at least starting off on a happy note. It will probably deteriorate very quickly, but nevertheless it is a good start.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, before the position deteriorates, may I, from these Benches, as one of the signatories to the original amendment, say how much we appreciate what has happened—the tidying up that has been done, and the fact that the amendment has been accepted by the Government.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am no great believer in weather forecasts, so my pleasure in your Lordships' pleasure is unalloyed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.