§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I beg to move amendment No. 141, in page 38, line 36, leave out 'twelve' and insert 'eighteen'.
This amendment goes back to an area which we debated at length earlier—the way in which our moorland is disappearing. We argued strongly that, although we welcomed the Government's proposals that they would ask each national park to prepare a map, we really wanted a fallback position in which there were residual powers for the Minister to bring in compulsion.
In the Bill as it stands, people will have to give 12 months' notice in those areas which are designated. We felt that that was inadequate—at one stage it was suggested that there might have to be compulsory purchase if an important area was going to be destroyed—and if there was to be action more time should be available than 12 months. We argued strongly in Committee that the time should be at least two years. Now that we are returning to the subject, it seems reasonable that at least 18 months' notice should be given. If the farmer is intending to plough up or convert moorland into pasture, he will not do it quickly. He will take some time to work out the costs and he will go into the question of grants. To give 18 months' notice is reasonable. If someone is planning farming scientifically, he will not do things on the spur of the moment. Therefore, it is no hardship to the farmer to give such notice. I should have thought that this was a concession that the Minister could give even at this late stage.
§ Mr. Monro
As the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, we discussed this matter much earlier. Frankly, over the several hours my mind has not changed. Although I appreciate the argument, I cannot accept it. We come back to the basic issue of the voluntary system against the stronger line that he wishes to take with the back-up power. We have already increased the period of delay from six to 12 months, which should be adequate. The provision is built into the excellent voluntary agreement drawn up by the NFU, the CLA and the national parks committee in Exmoor which could be followed through elsewhere. There is no need to rehearse the arguments again.
The situation deteriorated dramatically. We do not believe that that is likely to happen again, but we have the 12 months during which alternative legislation could be introduced. However, I do not believe that that will be necessary in view of the present attitude. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to seek permission to withdraw his amendment.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I appreciate that the Government have doubled the period, so I shall not unduly labour the point. We do not wish to press the amendment to a Division, although we remain sceptical that 12 months is adequate.
1263 The Minister said one important thing. He hopes that the agreement drawn up at Exmoor will be taken up elsewhere. We have demonstrated, particularly after Dr. Parry's evidence, that it is crucial for it to be taken up in the other national parks, but who will take the initiative? Will the Minister draw the debate to the attention of the Countryside Commission, the NFU, the CLA and the Council for the Protection of Rural England and ensure that those national parks that have not had the benefit of that type of agreement consider it? If he can get those involved talking about voluntary agreements in other areas, many of us would feel relieved.
§ Mr. Monro
I am sure that the national parks committees have followed with interest the development of the Bill, including our debates on Exmoor. The Porchester report has shown the need to take action, and I am sure that the committee will realise that the voluntary agreement has been a success. I shall certainly make sure that the committees know about the agreement and that they have copies of it.
However, the Bill will not be enacted until later in the year, and many of the clauses will not come into effect until towards the end of the year or perhaps even next spring, which gives a certain time for development, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am sure that the national parks committees will also take careful note of what he says.
§ Amendment negatived.