My Lords, I would very much like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield whose very human speech was a very special addition to this debate, so sincerely introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Like him, I have many interests to declare in this important debate--farming, strategic planning, houses open to the public and country sports. But today I am concentrating on one, the contribution made by country sports to the countryside.
Only last week I was chairing a meeting of the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports looking at the role of the agencies, three of which were presenting papers after Mr Michael Meacher, the Minister, had introduced the debate.
In discussing the forthcoming Bill on access, some of the fears of those who farm or who are involved in land management and forestry, were partly put to rest when we heard the Minister underline the position of woodlands which he said were not to be made accessible; and later on, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, expressed the need that all dogs would have to be kept on leads. Unfortunately, the noble Baroness is not in her place. She gave an excellent explanation of the work of English Nature, even though tempted by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, to get a touch of Langholme fever at odd times.
I have been a very keen supporter of access for many years, particularly when I became the first chairman of the Countryside Committee of Hampshire County Council. During those years in the early 1960s, the county council bought by agreement or leased over 5,000 acres of land of high landscape value to take the pressure off honeypot areas like the New Forest. That was a very successful exercise completed only with the help and co-operation of landowners only too willing to share their beauty spots with those who wished to visit them.
The success of this venture, which gave access to downland, waterside and hill tops, was due to a great extent to the way in which the landowners were approached by the local authority which accepted that certain areas of the estate were very sensitive to intrusion which would disturb both shooting and fishing.
Those who own and work the land are only too pleased to co-operate with statutory authorities if those authorities are understanding of the very severe difficulties that now face both farmers and landowners, large and small. Some give and take is very necessary if relationships in the countryside are not to reach breaking point. That could mean damage to the environment affecting those who live in the countryside and the visitors, and could also be detrimental to flora and fauna.
It was not clear to many of us during the standing conference discussions how closely the main agencies--English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency--work together. It would seem that there can be conflicts between them in the emphasis that they place on particular issues and between concerns about the management of wildlife and landscape and those who manage the land. We now have yet another quango--the regional development agency--as a further bureaucratic layer.
Having listened to the presentations given by English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency, it seems essential that they should work together towards a common objective, the management of the countryside as a whole, rather than each one pursuing its own agenda. Those of us who have to manage the countryside for farming, for forestry, for country sports, for access and for amenity, need clear messages and soundly based guidance. I hope the Minister will take an interest in those last few words.