Just a week remaining to respond to the consultation to establish a commons council for Brendon Common on Exmoor: it closes on 3 November 2013.
Why should anyone be interested in this? Well, this is the first ever commons council likely to be established under Part 2 of the Commons Act 2006: it’s taken seven years to get this far (I can hold my hand up to having had some part to play in that timetable). Moreover, the Act (s.27) provides that the council may be established only if, in response to the consultation, the Secretary of State: “is satisfied that there is substantial support for the making of the order.” He must have particular regard to representations from the landowner and commoners (particularly active commoners), so PannageMan hopes that they are sharpening their pens (or more likely hitting their keyboards).
The trickiest part of the order is the provision for elections and appointments to the council. Article 4 of the draft order (regrettably mounted on the website in Word rather than pdf: Government should not expect its citizens to subscribe to costly proprietary software) provides that the council is to consist of between five and seven members, three elected by the active commoners, one by inactive commoners (in both cases, from among themselves, so no third parties allowed), one appointed by the owner, and up to two co-opted. The difficulty which can arise in elections among a small number of commoners (we’re not told in the consultation how many are active, but previous research suggests around seven active commoners, and around thirty recognised commoners) is how to address the situation where each elector tends to vote for him or herself: the answer is found in paragraph 14(d) of Schedule 1 to the draft order, which provides than in the event of any equality of votes, each vote is weighted according to the voter’s share of the rights on the common. That means that, if indeed each active commoner votes for him or herself, those three with the largest number of rights will be elected. But the smaller active graziers can easily avoid that outcome by voting collectively for one or possibly two candidates. The politics, even at this level, could be quite interesting. Acting together, the three active commoners elected to the council will always have a majority, since any co-opted members have no vote on the council (paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the draft order). However, a special majority is required for certain purposes (such as making rules, a form of byelaw), and this must be two-thirds of those present with voting rights. Since there can be only a maximum of five council members present with voting rights, this moves the majority required from three (a simple majority) to three and one third: presumably, this means four, although the order does not clarify the point.