Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 5th October 2000.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 3:37 pm, 5th October 2000

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 17 [Byelaws]:

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 213:

Page 10, line 14, at beginning insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State or, as may be the case, the National Assembly for Wales, shall draw up model byelaws for the use of access authorities.").

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

The amendment has the aim of ensuring that model by-laws will be drawn up by the Secretary of State. We do not want to see different by-laws being introduced in different parts of the country, making it difficult for the public to understand which apply in various areas.

That is common sense and the Countryside Agency is drawing up such by-laws. However, it would be sensible to have a provision in the Bill to ensure that they are put in place. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

The Committee returns to a point it debated earlier. I support the noble Baroness's amendment because, together with my noble friend Lord Northbrook, I have put my name to a later amendment which is linked with it. The case for by-laws is well made. I hope the Minister accepts that by-laws need to be as national as possible. If someone wants access to land under the provisions of the Bill it is much better that the by-laws are common throughout England and Wales. There must always be room for slight alterations because of closure orders and the specific requirements of areas. I am sure the Minister agrees that one very good reason for having by-laws is that the police will take much quicker and more effective action than without them, as is well demonstrated in the case of travellers.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 217 which is linked with Amendments Nos. 213 and 214. Amendment No. 217 deals with by-laws. I too believe that the burden of work involved in exercising the power to prepare by-laws would be greatly eased if the access authority had a set of national model by-laws to consult. Various models exist. For example, there are by-laws for access land in the Peak District National Park and Dartmoor. There are also model by-laws for the control of dogs: dogs on leads; dogs on leads by direction; prohibition of dogs from grounds; dogs on seashores and promenades; and the removal of canine faeces from carriageways. Doubtless there are many other precedents. However, there does not appear to be one national model. Both previous speakers suggested that that would be immensely helpful to the general public.

The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales could usefully bring together existing examples to develop a national model set of by-laws for access land which could be made readily available to all access authorities and other relevant interests. That would speed up the process of selecting and preparing appropriate by-laws for any one site or area. The amendment requires the Secretary of State and the National Assembly to prepare model by-laws and, in so doing, to consult the relevant bodies, for example the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature, MAFF and voluntary bodies such as the CLA, the NFU, the Ramblers' Association and the British Mountaineering Council, all of which have been referred to in earlier debates. Surely, it is possible to develop a consensus on this issue to be reflected in any national model, taking into account existing experience such as that in the national parks.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

By-laws are a useful tool in the management of access land, but I do not believe that we should be over-ambitious about the actions that they can support. Nevertheless, the Minister could find it useful to consider a model set of by-laws to be available in the rare circumstances where that is the best way forward in terms of this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

I support this group of amendments. I do not much mind who produces the model by-laws, but it would be helpful to have them. I was unable to remain until yesterday morning when the Committee debated the Bill, but, having read the report of it, I believe that the Government still do not understand the aggro that will be created by all the finicky controls and bits of law involved with access land. I do not know how they could have avoided it, but it has happened. There will be a good deal of trouble on the ground once the legislation comes into force. One example is the potential trouble caused by by-laws. Farmers, whether they are tenants, owner occupiers or those running commercial operations, are anxious that the legislation should work. People with little knowledge of the by-laws will arrive. We are told that they cannot come to a common access point, so the by-laws will not appear in any one place.

I would have thought that those who sought access would be unlikely to carry the by-laws in their pockets, although some might. If they moved from one area of access land to another they would require two sets of by-laws. If all the by-laws were different they would not know the relevant ones. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, says that by-laws are a useful tool. That is one view. They are probably a necessity when one runs matters in this way. But if it is not known how by-laws will work right across access land and there is no similarity or common core attaching to them, there will be terrible trouble. People will break the rules; they may even break the law. That will create great problems. The Government must be very careful and ensure that the by-laws are more or less the same across the country, although there will still need to be variations. I hope that the Government can accept one of these amendments.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

I too very much support the principles behind the amendments. I ask the Minister to take particular note of the point made by my noble friend Lady Byford in relation to the Peak Park by-laws. The Peak Park Authority has been involved in access agreements for a great number of years and has tremendous experience of these matters. I would have thought that by-laws developed in areas of the Peak Park would be of enormous importance to these new access areas. I hope that the Minister will take into account my noble friend's comments.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I do not believe that any of these amendments states clearly what is to be done with the model by-laws and what respect the access authorities are to pay to them. Are they to be adopted universally by all access authorities or simply referred to as model by-laws? The very fact, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, that there are at least two sets in the Peak District and Dartmoor--and, I dare say, elsewhere--means that a variety of by-laws already exists in different areas. From what we know of the areas covered by the Bill and the access land which will develop as a result, it is clear that there will be considerable differences between one area of land and another.

If the Minister is in favour of a model set of by-laws I am sure that he will clarify exactly what its function will be and how much regard access authorities should pay to it. I cannot but notice that the amendments call for the National Assembly for Wales as well as the Secretary of State in England to draw up sets of model by-laws. So it is already anticipated that there will be at least two different sets of by-laws.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

All of these amendments require the Secretary of State or the countryside authorities to issue model by-laws to access authorities. This afternoon and in earlier debates in Committee there has been a certain misapprehension and ambiguity about the role of by-laws, which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, put his finger on. The main way in which modifications to the national provisions on access land are made is via applications to the countryside agencies in England and Wales. Therefore, most of the local anomalies will be dealt with in that context rather than in the context of by-laws.

We would not expect to see a whole range of different by-laws applying to access land. Nevertheless, there is a role for by-laws. We expect that the combination of existing by-laws and existing civil and criminal sanctions will be appropriate in most cases. Where there are by-laws, it is helpful to have advice from the countryside agencies or the local departments on the nature of those by-laws. It is also essential to recognise that by-laws are regulations appropriate to local circumstances. Therefore, to require on the face of the Bill by-laws to be issued without saying whether they are mandatory or not, and in what circumstances the access authorities would have to adopt them, is missing the point.

The amendment made by the Government at Report stage in another place clearly gives power to the countryside agencies to issue model by-laws and guidelines. It was explained then that those recommendations--they would be recommendations rather than binding on the local access fora--are likely to include advice on where by-laws might be appropriate and useful and how best they should be framed and publicised.

The power to have model by-laws is there. It could be useful to access authorities in these circumstances. The requirement that we issue model by-laws suggests an authority for them which goes beyond the useful role we think they could play. We are in favour of the ability to issue model by-laws and other forms of advice to back up access authorities which wish to issue by-laws. Model by-laws can be helpful to local authorities in these circumstances. If necessary we shall develop model guidance, but to issue the exact form of by-laws, and with the implication that they lay down the law in the form of a by-law which has authority, would not be appropriate. The face of the Bill should not read that way when the power so to do is already there.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

Can the noble Lord not put himself in the shoes of the ramblers? Can he imagine what it would be like going across one piece of access land, knowing that there are likely to be by-laws but not having seen them or having any idea of what they are likely to be, and then crossing to another piece of access land which may have different by-laws and not knowing what the difference is? We very much want the Bill to work. I personally am very anxious about this business of aggro being caused by ramblers not knowing what the rules are. Will the noble Lord not concede that it would be helpful to them if there was a fairly large common element in the by-laws? That would happen if there was a model which the authorities could follow. None of the amendments requires anything. There is not an assumption either. It would be helpful if there was a model that could be worked on by everyone so that a common core of by-laws can be developed. Surely that would help the ramblers and so help everyone else.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

Perhaps I may follow up what my noble friend Lady Carnegy said. It seems to me that the Minister is in favour of a degree of uniformity. The question is whether that uniformity can best be achieved by the Secretary of State acting under subsection (6) of Clause 17 merely as a confirming authority, confirming by-laws which will vary in their content, or whether he would achieve the purpose much better acting under Amendment No. 217, under which he will publish model by-laws for the various local bodies to follow when they draft by-laws. I should have thought that the Minister's purpose would be much better achieved that way.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

Perhaps I may raise a practical issue. The authorities will have to inform people using the access what the rules are. Surely it is better to have a set of standard rules so that the authorities have only to put up a notice saying, "In this particular case there is an additional by-law, which says that you may not do such and such", or alternatively, "In this particular case by-law number so and so, which says such and such, does not apply".

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

At the risk of repetition, it was quite clear in the debate the day before yesterday that there are very different needs for many areas on many subjects--hence the complexity of the debate. I am anxious to know how the general public--I do not include those who are part of organisations which are able to afford a secretariat and so on--are to be aware of and fully understand their rights.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

All by-laws, including those on existing access land, may be subject to advice from the countryside agencies, local government bodies and conservation bodies. In the Bill, therefore, there is a duty on the countryside agencies to issue guidance on how by-laws are drawn up. That provides a degree of consistency of approach to those by-laws. To put myself in the boots of the rambler, he will not know in advance exactly how a by-law will apply in a particular case. For example, if there is a restriction on access to water, there may be different restrictions at different times of the year, different hours of the day, and so on. Therefore, if there was a national model by-law a rambler would not necessarily know what hours, what months and what activities were actually covered by that by-law.

I do not object to access authorities seeking advice on achieving consistency in the way the by-laws are drafted. We are all in favour of that. But to talk about model by-laws, which sound on the face of the Bill as if they will be exactly the same and have exactly the same impact on land owners' and ramblers' right across the country, is misleading. That would not be the case. The power to advise on the framework and to develop models for the framework of the by-laws is already in the Bill as a result of an earlier amendment to the Countryside Act 1968. The idea that one would have a standard model does not seem to me to be appropriate. I repeat, by-laws are intended to deal with local situations and they have to vary. Therefore, while their legal structure may be standard the details are bound to be local. To apply anything else would be difficult.

Given the assurances I have given the Committee, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment. There is already a requirement on the countryside agencies to provide advice, guidance and drafting standards. Therefore, there would be some legal consistency but not specific consistency in the detail where by-laws have to address particular local circumstances.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

The noble Lord has dealt with the power to make the by-laws, but what about enforcement? What is the practical position? One finds a person on one's land. One goes up to him and says, "You are in breach of the by-laws". He says, "What by-laws?", so one tries to explain which by-laws. One asks him his name. He gives a false name and a false address. How does one enforce this as a practical proposition? Perhaps I am being terribly naive but it does not seem to me to be much good having a power to do something if there is no effective power of enforcement.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

I believe that my noble friend Lady Carnegy was putting herself in the shoes of ramblers and the Minister went on to talk about having his feet in their boots. One of the questions I thought the Minister was asked was how one would inform those ramblers of the different by-laws. We have talked about things--for example, closure for 28 days--which most ramblers will have to know. How will they receive this information? How will they find out?

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative 4:00 pm, 5th October 2000

Perhaps I may add to the comments of my noble friend Lord Rotherwick. It would help the by-laws to be better known if all walkers were members of their local branch of the Ramblers' Association, which could publicise the by-laws.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I am interested in the advocacy of a closed shop for ramblers. We want to encourage associations to have a wide membership and to publicise this information. We had a lengthy debate about publicising the basic information. Clearly, we shall need to ensure that, as far as possible, the information is available. Indeed, we shall come in a few moments to a group of amendments which deal with publicity.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked about enforcement. We have already had a wide-ranging debate on that subject. We have existing by-laws which relate to the powers of a landowner to restrict activity. Enforcement occurs in a number of ways--either by the landowner's agents or by the police--and leads to criminal sanctions in many cases. The enforcement issue is important but it does not relate to this amendment, which concerns a standardised form of by-law. I am in favour of a standard framework, or at least advice on a framework, but the details of any by-law are bound to be local.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

Can the noble Lord give the Committee any idea of the timing of the guidance by-laws to which he has referred? It can take a long time to make a one-off set of by-laws. The noble Lord will be aware that it took 12 years to do it for the Basingstoke canal.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The Countryside Agency will already be working on it. Bearing in mind that the mapping process is bound to take a few years--we have estimated up to five years--it will take a little time; but, it is to be hoped, not as long as the by-laws for the Basingstoke canal.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I welcome the Minister's comments about not wanting to centralise and about allowing things to be done locally. My amendment would allow models that could be adopted and adapted. The principle behind the amendment was that it should tie in with the country code, which, following our amendment on the issue, the Government have decided to put on the face of the Bill. Having model by-laws would make it much easier to tie in with the country code. Furthermore, access authorities would have something to turn to, as they will be hard-pressed, too. But I hear what the Minister says about ensuring that the Countryside Agency proceeds with urgency on the matter. I am sure that, between his department and that agency, something will now happen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

moved Amendment No. 215A:

Page 10, line 14, after ("land") insert ("or land which in their opinion is likely to become access land").

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 219A. The purpose of the amendments is to allow plans to be made before land has become access land; for example, during the mapping process. By-laws can then be in place when the access right arises. The Bill gives an access authority the power to put in place measures to ensure that access on access land by the public is not hindered in any way. The amendments give access authorities the power to be putting such measures into place while the mapping process is in progress. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

I support the amendment for the same reason as I supported the previous ones. It is important that people should know what the by-laws are from the moment access is available. I think here of the ramblers. We were told that the ramblers' associations would help, but one thinks of all the ramblers who do not belong to those associations. Parliament is supposed to govern for all the people. We have to think of all the ramblers. It would help the ramblers very much indeed if we could be sure that the by-laws were in place before the access was available.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Initially, the Government felt that, since it would not be known until towards the end of the mapping process what land was being mapped, it might be difficult to see how the specific by-laws relating to the locality might be drawn up. Therefore, we did not see the need for this provision. However, we accept that in some areas there may be evidence as to what would happen before the right of access comes into force, particularly if there has already been de facto access in the area, and that therefore there may be the opportunity to draw up by-laws prior to the right coming into force. For that reason I should like to take away these amendments with a view to tabling similar amendments at Report stage.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister. Having battled away for many hours, as we did, without gaining much initial reaction, it is lovely early in the day to receive a positive response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

moved Amendment No. 216:

Page 10, line 20, at end insert (", and

(d) to safeguard public health and safety.").

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

Amendment No. 216 seeks to safeguard public health and safety. This refers to by-laws to be made on the grounds of public health and safety. Clause 17 provides for by-laws to be made in relation to access land on three grounds: the preservation of order, the prevention of damage to land, and the prevention of conflicts between those using the land and the enjoyment of land by other persons. These powers are identical to those in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which provides for by-laws to be made for land subject to access agreements or orders.

This enabling power should be updated--some 50 years on--to take proper account of modern concerns. For example, dog walking and new recreational pursuits on the access land can pose risks to the public which were simply not present to the same degree, if at all in many cases, back in 1949. In particular, it is not clear whether the power to make by- laws under the Bill would extend to the provision of by-laws to safeguard public health and safety. For example, it could be important on some small, heavily used sites in or near villages and towns, such as common land and small areas of heath and down, that the by-laws be made for the control of dog fouling which can pose a serious risk to people, particularly children.

Uncontrolled dogs off leads can also be frightening. Children and other walkers have been affected, as many of us know. Even well-behaved dogs--I should like to think that our dog is well-behaved--can occasionally run amok. There might also be particularly hazardous features or activities on some land that would merit control through by-laws--for example, hang-gliding or para-gliding.

The amendment would make it clear beyond doubt that the by-laws could be made by the access authority to safeguard public health and safety. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

I rise to support my noble friend's amendment. I do so for a reason which I mentioned at an earlier stage of the Bill. We have to be careful about the danger that can occur to people if they are rambling after dark. We must realise that some of the country concerned will be land which is rocky or will have cliffs or steep hills. If we do not take the proper precautionary measures for people rambling after dark, very serious accidents could occur, especially to townspeople who are not accustomed to walking on country hillsides.

My noble friend's amendment is extremely necessary, including for the further reason that I have given.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I can see a certain superficial attractiveness in the amendment moved by my noble friend. However, quite frankly, if we start a process whereby by-laws are required to cover aspects of public health and safety, there will be no limit to it. Walking in the countryside presents certain hazards--I hesitate to say that it presents dangers. I do not think that it would be possible to guard against every kind of hazard.

If we put on to public authorities an obligation to draw up specific codes to cover health and safety, I shudder to think of the length, complication and restrictiveness of such an exercise. It will make life in the countryside extremely unenjoyable.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I rise to speak in support of the amendment. Can the Minister confirm whether the existing wording would cover the fouling of waters? I do not think that it does so. The water supply for many villages comes from springs located on access land. They run the danger of being fouled.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I agree with a great deal of what has been said during this short debate. I regret that I am unable to sustain my generosity, but the reason why I must resist this amendment is that we consider that the issues raised here either fall under the existing provisions of this clause or are provided for under other powers vested in local authorities. For example, local authorities already have powers in relation to a number of specific safety issues. Furthermore, they have powers that enable them to impose by-laws as regards fouling by dogs. It is not necessary to confer on them additional powers in relation to access land in those respects.

I believe that hang-gliding could almost certainly be dealt with under subsection (1)(c) of this clause because it may impair the enjoyment of the land by others.

As I have said, powers are already in place to deal with the kinds of hazards referred to by noble Lords during this debate. For that reason, I do not believe that it is necessary to repeat them on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

Before the noble Lord sits down, although he mentioned other clauses in the Bill which will address these matters, will those other clauses deal with the point I raised as regards the dangers of roaming after dark, in particular if there is mist or fog?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am not sure whether by-laws can be used to address general issues of safety. However, by-laws can be used to address known individual safety hazards such as mineshafts and so forth. Under existing legislation rather than under the terms of this Bill, by-laws may be used for exceptional circumstances of that kind. Similarly, dog fouling may be dealt with under the provisions of other legislation.

Although I have some sympathy with the points that have been made as regards the specific problems, I do not believe that an additional issue has been raised here which needs to be addressed.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister and I appreciate his sympathy for the thinking that lies behind the amendment. I accept the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Marlesford; namely, that if we are not careful, we shall encounter great difficulties in attempting to get right the balance of the Bill. That is part of the problem here; we need to accept that this is an extremely complex piece of legislation. Indeed, I believe that I made that comment at the start of our debates. The Minister responded by saying that he did not think it was complicated. Nevertheless, we need to get all the details right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 217 and 218 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 219 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 219A not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 5th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 220:

Page 10, line 31, at end insert--

("( ) Any byelaws introduced shall be publicised in such a manner as to be quite apparent to users of the access land.").

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

We have already debated to an extent the issue of by-laws. This amendment seeks to address the matter from a somewhat different angle by putting on to the face of the Bill a requirement that, should by-laws be introduced by access authorities, they should be,

"publicised in such a manner as to be ... apparent to users of the access land".

It would be unfair on the public if by-laws and their attendant penalties were introduced but the public did not know that they were in place. It is essential that people know about such laws.

I shall be interested to learn whether the Minister agrees that such an amendment is necessary to take into account the local variations in by-laws that will inevitably occur on access land. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I feel that this is a very impractical proposal. Perhaps I may make a simple analogy. Customs posts are often sited on roads at borders between different countries, but it is not possible to arrange for customs posts to run across fields and mountains as well. If people choose to cross borders by those routes, they will not encounter the customs posts.

By definition, as a result of this legislation, access to the country is going to become far less restricted. People will not access such land via places where they would necessarily see the signs. If an obligation is imposed that signposts should be placed everywhere, we shall see a plethora of such signs. I would abhor that.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may respond to that particular point since I believe that the noble Lord was addressing it directly to me.

I could not agree more that it would be undesirable and inappropriate to litter the countryside with signposts. However, my amendment does not specify in any way the geographical location of such signs. Many ways could be found to achieve this end, but I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by going into those details. I stress only that I have tabled the amendment because I feel that it will be unfair on the public if such by-laws are not made quite apparent to them.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

I support the spirit of the amendment, although I am puzzled by the word so carefully omitted by the noble Baroness in her speech. The amendment uses the words "quite apparent", but I am not sure whether she means "totally apparent" or "somewhat apparent", even though she carefully referred only to "apparent" when she moved the amendment at the beginning of the debate. In my view the spirit of this proposal is very good, although that particular part of the flesh may be a little weak.

As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made plain when he responded to the earlier amendment, the rules will vary from one area of the country to another. It is that which gives me the greatest concern. How on earth will walkers know what particular rules will apply in a certain place? It is not good enough merely to say that it is their duty to know the law and that if they do not, they will become trespassers. That is because, first, if they do not know the rules and then break them, they will be fairly dusty when taxed with a breach of them. Secondly, the purpose of the rules is not to enable the landowner to create a fuss and turn people off his land. The rules are there to stop people doing undesirable things in the first place. Unless people know what things are undesirable in the first place, they will not be able to avoid doing them.

The Minister has been ducking and weaving about that point. He has not told the Committee how it is intended in practice that the rules relating to particular areas of access land will be made known to the general walker. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Greaves--who plans a complicated climb for several days, reads the books and so on--a much more casual, ignorant and inexperienced visitor will see a nice bit of land, park his car and start walking across it.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am mystified by the wording of the amendment. On first reading it, I thought that in stating that the by-laws should be quite apparent to users of access land this meant that they should be displayed on a signpost easily visible to the user of the access land. However, after considering the amendment rather more carefully, I can interpret it to mean that the by-laws should be published in local newspapers. I prefer the interpretation that the by-laws should be available and easily discernible by the user of the access land. To me, that means that they should be displayed on some kind of signpost, as many local authority by-laws are these days.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

The noble Viscount kindly referred to the amount of time I spend anxiously reading guidebooks and trying to memorise routes--and trying to conjure up the personal courage to travel them and wondering if I ever will. That may be true in some cases, although, as I said earlier, in many cases the decision to go out is spontaneous. It is taken at short notice and depends very often on certain circumstances, particularly the weather.

The debate has moved away from the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Miller. I should like to make some points relating to the question of signing in the countryside in relation to points of access, rules and regulations, and general information. Much experience has been gained of signing, particularly in the national parks and in areas such as the south Pennines. It is done in a discreet and attractive manner which does not disfigure the countryside but at the same time provides a lot of information.

Many people going into the countryside want information. They do not want to know detailed rules and regulations. They want to know where the footpaths lead; they want to know the areas in which they can walk; and they want to be told about wildlife and so on. The key is to make sure that the rules and regulations are in the same place and on the same notice as that kind of information. The experience is that the message gets through to people in that way.

Perhaps I may now consider the question of how people get into access land. In general, there are two broad categories of land--although clearly they are not exclusive. First, there are areas which can only be accessed through a small number of access points--via rights of way, stiles in walls and so on. In such areas, those access points are the obvious places to put the information. Again, particularly in the national parks, much has been learnt about doing this in a sensible and discreet way. The obvious place to site the information in those areas is at the access points that people have to use because there is no other way of accessing the land.

The other category is land which can be accessed anywhere--for example, unfenced moorland which has a road crossing it. But even in such places, most people will use the same points of access as everyone else. They do so for two reasons: first, very often people travel to the access land by car or, if they are fortunate enough, by public transport, and they will all stop at a particular place, a car park. Those car parks are useful. They are the places to which a high proportion of people travel before going on to the land, for the obvious reason that they need somewhere to park their cars.

Secondly, no matter what rights are laid down in the legislation or what rights people have in existing areas of open access, the great majority of people will use defined footpaths. That is a fact of life. It is a fact which means that many of the fears that some people have about this legislation are probably unfounded; people will use the footpaths. Where there are not any footpaths at the moment, I hope that landowners will be sensible and define new footpath routes, which the vast majority of people would then use. So the sensible place to put information is where the main footpath goes into an area or where the footpath intersects with a road.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in a sense, makes my point. When I was on the Countryside Commission we spent years campaigning, first, for footpath signs, and, secondly, for signs that were carefully designed so as not to intrude upon the landscape. Various parts of England and Wales have different kinds of signing, many of them excellent. But they certainly do not include great lists of by-laws, warnings and so on. They could not include all that information and remain discreet and sensible. It simply is not practical.

Of course such information can be displayed in some places--the national parks have visitor centres where that kind of information is available--but if the noble Lord is saying that where there is a footpath sign this kind of information could be displayed, I strongly suggest that that would be undesirable.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

There has to be a sensible compromise. If it is a sign saying simply "public footpath" or "access land", it may well be that one does not want a big sign. But, as the noble Lord said, there is now a great deal of knowledge--I do not think we disagree--about how to provide well designed and unobtrusive signing. I am aware that the Countryside Agency is working on new kinds of signs, which can be adapted to local circumstances by use of local materials but which, nevertheless, will be of a standard form throughout the country.

Often the national parks put the material that people want--information about local birds or local maps--on the front of signs and the by-laws on the back, with a little notice saying "Please observe the by-laws". By and large, people do, and the message gets through.

My final point concerns the question of who enforces the rules in the countryside. Members of the Committee who do not walk or climb may not be aware of the degree to which what might be called "peer pressure" operates among climbers and walkers. I am not referring to people like me--who happen to be Members of this House--telling people what to do, but people generally are concerned about sensible rules and regulations, which have been agreed, sometimes statutorily and sometimes on a voluntary basis, on the use of the countryside being observed by other users of the countryside. There are people who, if they see people contravening the rules, will point it out. Quite often they will not be as polite as Members of the House might be.

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative

It is essential that everyone behaves responsibly and sensibly when they are walking. However, I must emphasise that we seem to be talking about some curious person called "a rambler". I am not a rambler; I walk. I would not go within a hundred miles of a ramblers' association; and not within a thousand miles of Miss Ashbrook, even though she is a fairly near neighbour.

I hope it is realised that in the places where I walk in the south there are footpaths which now have an efficient and discreet method of signposting. The same occurs in northern parts of the Lake District, which I know well. All the paths and directions are well signposted. People are told where they may and may not go, and where the paths lead to; but it is done discreetly and can cause no offence to anyone. I am not certain that anything further can be done. All large notices would be offensive purely in terms of their appearance. We have gone as far as is necessary.

Photo of Baroness Nicol Baroness Nicol Labour 4:30 pm, 5th October 2000

Before my noble friend responds, it may be helpful to the Committee if I report some thoughts from the Countryside Agency in the general context of giving information to landowners as well as land users. The agency states:

"At all stages we will use a wide range of information techniques from colourful leaflets, activity packs and displays to websites, information boards and signs. We will consider the feasibility of a telephone information line and assess the scope for providing information to a range of local outlets, as well as on site. We also plan to commission a range of educational materials, closely linked to the National Curriculum, to help in teaching children and young people about their rights and responsibilities in the countryside, and about its management".

I use that quotation to illustrate that getting information across, whether in relation to by-laws or anything else in this context, has been, and is being, addressed by the Countryside Agency. I believe that fears are greatly exaggerated.

Perhaps I may take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. The noble Lord is right: not all walkers ramble, but all ramblers walk. I should like to defend the Ramblers' Association, which gives information to its members and makes sure as far as possible that they observe whatever restrictions are necessary on the land on which they walk.

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative

It is a pity that they do not do so.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made one or two points which are worth focusing on. The noble Lord rightly said that many of the local authorities have great experience in providing signs and establishing the correct and most effective place to site them. However, I believe I am correct in saying that under the Bill there is no duty for them to consult the owner in regard to the erection of signs or on access points. We discussed this matter yesterday. It is a weakness.

The noble Lord made an interesting point. He said that the majority of people who go out into the countryside do so for specific purposes--bird-watching, for example, or whatever it happens to be. But he also said that they do not want to know what the rules and regulations are.

We are coming back full circle on this issue. Once again, we are discussing the weaknesses in the Bill regarding how we get these messages across to people--for example, when land is closed and what the rules and regulations are. I am sorry to have to repeat the point, but again our attention is drawn to the fact that sanctions against those who repeatedly ignore the rules and regulations are non-existent in the Bill. To ask someone to go away for 24 hours is, frankly, nonsense. The noble Lord's comment about people not wanting to know the rules and regulations brought home to me how important it is to get the matter right. We need to get the messages across, and proper sanctions should be in place--otherwise, this will be a complete nonsense.

I am sorry to return to this issue, but in a sense the noble Lord has done us a service. He has given credence to many of my fears in regard to the Bill and, I suspect, those of other Members of the Committee.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

As my noble friend Lady Nicol said, the whole question of conveying information on by-laws is but a small part of conveying information on the totality of access rights. This matter arose in the debate that we had a couple of nights ago on the need for the countryside agencies to ensure that there is adequate publicity to inform people about their rights, about the land to which they apply, and about the restrictions and variations on that land. I do not think that it is sensible specifically to pick out by-laws; nor is it sensible to suggest that there will be new signs up and down the country on every potential point of access. Clearly, there will be preferred points of access, sensible points such as car parks, and other points where most people accessing the land will cross. We do not want a plethora of signs across the country. But where the by-laws clearly change what are otherwise the normal rules of access, it is important that that is conveyed to the majority of people who use the land.

As to how that arises and who is consulted, we discussed this at some length the other day. Preferred points of access and other local rules will be discussed by local access forums and others, and local landowners will have a major part in that structure.

The countryside bodies will want to advise access authorities about the form of publicity, and that will be done in the general context. In some cases it may well be that access authorities--as is done in the national parks and by the National Trust--will want to print out the totality of the by-law and stick it on the back of the notice. I am not sure how effective that it is; and that may lie behind the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves--which was, I think, slightly misinterpreted by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. The full detail and the legal jargon of by-laws may well pass people by, but the key message needs to be conveyed. For example, on a piece of National Trust land that I use frequently, the trust does precisely that. On the back of the logo there is the full by-law, but there is also a notice on the front stating that dogs must be kept on a lead, which is part of the by-law and is the main message that needs to be put across. Providing the full by-laws locally--

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

On a number of occasions the noble Lord has understandably referred to the National Trust. It must be remembered that the National Trust--and my noble friend Lord Marlesford knows a great deal about it--is a well-endowed organisation. It has considerable resources at its fingertips, and it is able to deal with these problems in-house. Many of the people who will be affected by these access proposals do not have the resources and will therefore rely very much on the access authorities to carry out the kind of approach referred to by the noble Lord. I hope that he will bear that in mind. The National Trust is a rather different animal from the kind of people about whom we are talking, who will have to deal with these very real problems on the ground once the Bill is on the statute book.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I referred to the National Trust and national parks and many other pieces of more private access land where we presently manage to convey the main messages about the way in which the rules apply, and by and large those rules are followed. The noble Earl is right: under the Bill the responsibility falls entirely on the access authorities. By-laws are but a small part of what they need to convey. Particular landowners may want to add information, but there is no requirement in the Bill for them to do so. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, we do not want to see notices all over the place attempting to convey the content of a rather complex by-law.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

Will the Minister clarify this point? Is there not an obligation on the access authority to publicise its by-laws? Under subsection (5) of this clause, Sections 236 to 238 of the Local Government 1972 apply. A person on access land may well be subject to legal proceedings if he breaks a by-law and may suffer as a result. Is there not at least an obligation on the access authority to make sure that the user of access land is aware of relevant by-laws?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

There is indeed an obligation on local authorities to ensure that the public are made aware of the existence of by-laws. The by-laws were on view yesterday in St James's Park where I took a walk at lunchtime. However, I suppose that is a royal park rather than a local authority park and therefore is not a good example to mention as royal parks enjoy plentiful resources. However, as regards most parks and open spaces, local authorities are obliged to publicise by-laws.

The point I am making is that although that process enables people to check the by-laws, the most effective way to get across the key message of the by-laws may be somewhat different and somewhat more blunt. It is up to the access authorities to seek guidance from the Countryside Agency to ensure that adequate publicity is given to the by-laws in the interests of the people who are likely to use the land in question. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, there are a number of ways of publicising by-laws which do not intrude on the countryside and do not require landowners to undertake that task themselves. It is in that context that the need to publicise specific by-laws needs to be considered rather than in the terms of the amendment that we are considering. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will not press it.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

I was interested in what the noble Lord said, but I wonder whether he can amplify it a bit. By-laws are publicised sometimes on notice boards out in the open and sometimes by being printed in pamphlets which are available to the public if they happen to be near a suitable office. However, as regards the rambling by-laws, how does the noble Lord contemplate that they will usually be publicised?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

We have just been through that. There are many different ways in which they may be publicised. The Countryside Agency will advise access authorities on that matter who will decide on the best way to publicise them in a local area. In some cases they may be situated in car parks; in other cases they may be printed in literature that will be made available; in yet other cases they will be situated in places where people are likely to pass. There will probably be a combination of all those methods. The by-law information will form only part of the total information that is to be made available. For that reason I object to dealing with it specifically as the amendment proposes. As I say, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

Before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that he will comment on the question posed by my noble friend Lord Peel with regard to the purpose and the use of by-laws if they are not to be enforced and no sanction is to be imposed. The noble Lord has answered fully the other questions that have been asked but did not respond to the point made by my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 4:45 pm, 5th October 2000

There is always a sanction in relation to by-laws. A breach of a by-law invokes a criminal penalty. We shall return to the matter of enforcement. The agents of the landowner or of the access authority may draw people's attention to the by-laws and be able to enforce them. The question of sanctions is clear in relation to by-laws. It is in most cases a criminal sanction.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

Does the Minister accept that although this is not what the public thought they were going to get when they heard about the Government's intention to create a right to roam, what will be needed is an enormous advertisement constantly being put in the newspapers which states, "Going walking? Find out the rules"?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Something of that nature may help when access rights are implemented. However, what walkers will really need is more detailed local information. That will be a matter for the access authorities.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for his reply. I found the debate useful. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that I use the words "quite apparent" in my amendment in the sense that my American brother-in-law uses the word "quite" when he says, "You look quite nice". He assures me that that means very nice.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

I say to the noble Baroness that on the whole it is undesirable that we should legislate in "American".

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I do not think that I am in a position to comment on that. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, illustrates why I considered it necessary to table the amendment. As the Minister said, by-law breaches incur a criminal penalty. A duty to publicise by-laws on the part of an access authority is different from having to make them "quite apparent". One can fulfil one's duty in that regard by putting up a small sign somewhere. I feel strongly that the public should be protected in some way. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Wardens]:

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 221:

Page 11, line 1, at beginning insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State shall ensure that sufficient funding is available to enable an access authority or district council to comply with this section.").

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

This is possibly the most important amendment that I shall move in the whole of Part I. Therefore I make no apology for the length of the case I intend to make for it.

The amendment seeks to ensure that sufficient funding is available to access authorities or district councils to comply with the provisions of Clause 18(1) on the appointment of wardens. The regulatory impact study mentions a cost of £2.2 million per annum, whereas the Local Government Association's estimate is £5.46 million per annum. I seek to explore the gap between those two figures and seek an explanation from the Minister as to how the Government intend to fund this particularly important service. The appointment of wardens is a key provision and yet the financing of wardens is discretionary as the Bill is drafted at present. However, other provisions in the Bill are not discretionary in this regard; for example, the hearing of appeals. As I say, the appointment of wardens is absolutely key to the success of open access. It would be disastrous if some of the statutory provisions were to be adequately funded, but not the appointment of wardens.

The amendment seeks to ensure that access authorities can meet the need to appoint wardens and can be assured of obtaining sufficient funding from the Government. Wardens--or "rangers" as I prefer to call them, as that is the accepted term for people who work in open spaces, whereas I believe that "wardens" usually work in prisons--will be essential to make the opportunities offered by the Bill work. They will be essential to monitor the interface between the public enjoying the access, landowners trying to manage their businesses and make a living from the land, and wildlife. Their presence will be essential to prevent conflicts occurring.

The Bill states that an access authority "may appoint such number". That is the correct terminology as the access authorities are in the best position to judge what is needed in that regard. However, estimates vary according to the kind of access land that is being managed and the pressure upon it. For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in its report, Land Management Implications of Enhanced Access estimates that in the densely populated heaths and commons of southern England one ranger per 400 hectares is the minimum. With back-up, tools and administration, it estimates this is likely to cost £35,000 to £45,000 per 400 hectares. The same report estimates a moorland cost of about £24,000 per year for two rangers who cover about 2,000 hectares and spend half their time on visitor management.

Members of the Committee may have received the Local Government Association's report, Costs to Local Authorities of New Access Legislation. That is an informative report which I hope the Committee and the Minister have received. It was published last week. The detail is extremely useful. Having consulted widely with its membership of national park authorities and local authorities, it concludes that management costs will be about £3.50 per hectare. That is an average; the figure will vary widely. Members of the Committee will be aware that local authorities which face these costs are the very authorities which are struggling with the difficulties of delivering services in sparsely populated areas.

If sufficient funding is not provided by central Government to enable them to appoint an appropriate number of wardens, they will not be able to do so. They will be unable to cut further their social services budget, and the cost of maintaining, for example, a rural schools network has already involved choices. I believe strongly in maintaining that rural school network. However, choices are sometimes made that rural roads will suffer. Provision of rangers will be somewhat towards the end of that list. If no finance is supplied, it will be difficult to fit that cost into the budget.

Appointing rangers is a choice for local authorities but one that they are unlikely to be able to make if they do not have the money. Under the Bill, local authorities will have to give evidence at mapping inquiries, estimated at about £2,500 per inquiry. They may have to enforce means of access. The order will cost about £2,000 per case and the hearing £2,500. They may have to conduct detailed investigations of queries over common land, again about £2,000 a case. They will not have a choice over those but they need to be able to make the choice of appointing an appropriate number of wardens.

In addition, the costs of dealing with footpath erosion, especially in the national parks, are already unable to be met. That problem is likely to increase. Lake District erosion is estimated to be £2.5 million over the next five years, with probably a similar programme after that. I gather that the national figure is even higher.

Excellent figures are available from Bob Cartwright's research in the Lake District. He prepared it on behalf of the Association of National Park Authorities. Parks are making an excellent use of voluntary rangers, but even those volunteers cost money. Let us take the North York Moors with four rangers and five vehicles. It estimates that it will take on 50 additional voluntary rangers, and with provision of information and local access forums the total costs under Part I of the Bill will come to an extra £302,000 per year--and that is with extensive use of volunteers. I have not quoted the costs under Part II. For access authorities they will be higher--we shall deal with them later; the Government have made their own estimate. Neither have I dealt with the costs of AONBs, which are under-funded. Again we shall deal with those later.

How do the Government intend to fund access authorities for the increased costs of the discretionary aspects of the Bill and the gap between the regulatory impact assessment and the authorities' own assessment--it seems very fair--of what their costs will be? Will they make a blanket increase based on the area of land and the way in which and how much that land is used by the public? What formula are they likely to use? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

I am very glad the noble Baroness moved this amendment and that she spoke in the way that she did. I, too, received a communication from local government councils on the subject. It was extremely interesting. The Minister has sitting beside him the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who knows as much as anyone in this Chamber about how local government works and the pressures upon it.

All of us who have been in local government know how keen governments are to pile expense upon local authorities without adding to their funding. When the noble Baroness winds up, perhaps she will tell us whether she is asking for ring-fenced funding. I am not keen on encouraging ring-fenced funding because I am a believer in the discretion of local government. The noble Baroness spoke of this issue being a matter of choice for local government so she is probably not asking for ring-fenced funding. However, when she replies I, and I think the Committee, will be interested to know.

I hope that the Minister listened to her questions which were very much to the point. I hope that the noble Lord will reply with a fairly detailed answer.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

The noble Baroness raises some important questions. I, too, have seen the figures to which she referred. It is incumbent on the Government to give a clear answer.

Having been involved with the Yorkshire Dales for many years, my experience of the warden system there brings me to a somewhat cynical outlook. The largest privately owned estate in the Yorkshire Dales entered some years ago into an access agreement with the national park authorities. It was assured that it would be provided with a proper warden service. Over the years the wardens have become depleted. I do not know the present level. For all I know, it could be down to one lone warden--or, in the words of the noble Baroness, one lone ranger. It is an unsatisfactory outcome. It is essential that if the Bill is to work effectively we must have a proper warden system which will be an important link between the general public and those who wish to exercise the access provisions in the Bill.

The noble Baroness referred to the figure of £3.50 per hectare. On the matter of costing--it is slightly irrelevant but it may be indicative of the Government's attitude towards funding--in the Peak Park the cost to local owners of the access provisions for areas where access has been negotiated was in the nature of £4 per hectare. That seems to have been forgotten conveniently by the Government. There are no realistic provisions in the Bill for meeting the true access costs. The noble Baroness puts forward the realistic figure of £3.50 per hectare. I shall listen carefully to the Minister.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

I share the view of the noble Baroness that this is an important provision and topic. I venture to suggest that she is wrong to say that it is correct for Section 18 to say "may" appoint. I support the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which is grouped with this amendment; I hope that he will speak to it in a moment. It changes "may" to "shall".

The noble Baroness is right that it shall be for the authority to decide how many wardens are needed. But if "may" remains in the provision, perhaps I may explain to her that if the local authority decides that it needs four wardens, it does not have then to appoint them. The discretion should be to decide what is needed. If there is only a tiny area of access land in one's area one may not need a warden. Having decided that, there should be the obligation to appoint them. Unless there is an obligation on the local authority to supply them, her amendment does not achieve what it intends. The noble Baroness wants funds to enable local authorities to comply with this section. If they have a discretion as to whether to appoint a warden, no funds are needed to comply with the section. It is only if they have to appoint wardens that funds are needed to enable them to comply. Having done a little lawyerly nit-picking, subject to that point the noble Baroness's amendment is not only important but also vital.

Without wardens, the Bill will be a farce and a con on those whose land is subject to the new access right. It is full of things that walkers should not do, but if there is no one there to see that they do not do them, they will happen and the poor landowner will have to put up with it. Unless the Government can assure us that wardens will be in place and, taking up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, will continue to be in place for longer than just the initial period, the Bill is doomed to cause trouble and to be deeply unfair to landowners.

It is wholly right that the necessary funding should come from central sources. The areas we are talking about--the Lake District and, to make sure that I do not offend the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, Snowdonia--are in relatively poor rural areas. Rights are being given so that the urban or semi-urban dweller may spill out of his city and walk over the land. The costs of that should be funded nationally, not by the local authorities that happen to have the pleasure of having Snowdonia, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales in their area. They probably do not have the funds to take all the measures that are needed to control the urban dweller when he comes out. Going back to my point about the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, it is the urban dweller wandering around in his plimsolls and jeans, not the well equipped noble Lord, with his proper walking shoes on, who will cause trouble and need assistance. I strongly support the amendment and Amendment No. 222 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 5th October 2000

Does the noble Viscount accept that, except in major honeypot areas such as the Peak District, the majority of people who walk in a given area of countryside are relatively local, many of them living in the countryside themselves? I cannot say whether they always wear plimsolls or sandals.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

That may be so at the moment, but surely the point of the Bill is to give rights and encouragement to a whole lot of other people to whom that does not apply.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, funding is very important. That applies not just to wardens, but to a range of activities covered by the Bill. If we are to be convinced that the Bill will work, it would be helpful to have some reassurance about the Government's intentions. For example, local authorities already have responsibilities for footpaths, which we will deal with later in the Bill, but they often do not act on them because they are inadequately funded. I take note of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, about ring-fencing or earmarking funds, presumably in the rate support grant. These issues are fundamental to the success of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said that this was one of her most important amendments in this part of the Bill. It is certainly a very important subject. I, too, have seen the letter from the Local Government Association, which hired a consultancy group-- I believe that it is called ENTEC--whose figures differ considerably from the estimates provided by the Government. The LGA rightly points out that authorities have not done a great deal about their responsibilities for footpaths because they do not have adequate resources. Like many of us, the LGA fears that authorities will not be provided with adequate resources for the purpose specified in Clause 18.

The appointment of wardens will be at the discretion of local authorities, but they will be key to the implementation of the Bill and ensuring that by-laws are respected. When I moved an amendment at our last sitting that would have required those taking advantage of night access on the hills to give prior notification to the access authority, I imagined them telling a local warden on behalf of the authority. They would know the area where the night walker or climber intended to go and would probably be able to give guidance.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

Is the noble Lord suggesting that the warden should be on night duty as well as day duty?

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I certainly suggest that. We have agreed to the Government's proposal for night access, so surely the access authority must take some responsibility for what happens on the land during the day and the night. It cannot avoid the responsibility of knowing who is on its access land day and night.

I acknowledge the importance of wardens to the access authority, but we do not want too much multiplication of appointments. We want an adequate supply of wardens, but not a glut of them. Many local authorities with access land will be on the borders of national parks. They may wish the parks to take certain responsibilities from them for access land. I anticipate that in my area of north Wales, Snowdonia National Park will exercise substantial responsibilities on behalf of the bordering local authorities, even to the extent of securing warden services for them.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

From my background in managing nature reserves over the past 10 years--in some cases very extensive nature reserves that will have extended access provisions under the Bill--I should like to put a little caution into some of the statements that have been made.

The successful implementation of Part I will depend on adequate management of access and proper dissemination of information. Wardens will have a role to play in many areas. In some circumstances, it will be difficult to police the access conditions without wardening arrangements. However, in many other areas wardening will not be required. Much will depend on the pressure of access, the nature of the land and the conditions that are laid on by by-laws or by restrictions under Part II. Therefore, if we are to use money cost-effectively in this area, I believe that we need to be realistic about where and when wardening will be appropriate.

I turn to another cautionary point. Governments of all complexions have an unhappy knack of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It would be unfortunate if budgets in the same department for the countryside and conservation agencies--budgets intended for the improvement of the conservation status and management of those areas--were to be raided disproportionately in order to enhance considerably the funds available to local government for wardens. It is not an unknown phenomenon which governments provoke from time to time. I believe that it would be unfortunate if, in extending access to those wonderful areas, we were inadvertently to precipitate a situation whereby the conservation status of those areas suffered due to lack of funds.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

Before the noble Baroness sits down, does she accept that, when one is dealing with a national nature reserve, one is dealing with a different land type from the ones that we are discussing in this Bill? Generally speaking, people who enter national nature reserves do so from fairly fixed areas where it is possible to put up signs and do all the things that we believe this Bill is so short of. At the same time, one can manage the access in a much more restrictive and effective way, if one so wishes. Therefore, I note what the noble Baroness says, but I believe that it is a little disingenuous of her to compare a national nature reserve with the type of land that we are talking about under the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

Perhaps I may clarify the matter for the benefit of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Some national nature reserves are, indeed, quite restricted in size, and access is available only through a small number of points. However, I am not speaking simply from a background of management of national nature reserves. I am also talking about the extensive management of large-scale nature reserves in the voluntary sector where the type of scale that we are talking about in relation to upland and moorland areas is replicated. They do not have a single point of access. They are very lightly wardened because the voluntary sector is of course, as the Committee knows, excessively poor.

Generally speaking, the problems experienced are not substantial. Therefore, my point is that we must be realistic in differentiating between areas where wardening will definitely be required and will be essential and other areas where, I suspect, the type of light supervisory arrangements that exist in many extensive reserves in the voluntary sector is satisfactory.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness that no one is suggesting that wardens should be appointed except where they are needed. It will be for the authorities to decide whether any--and, if so, how many--wardens are necessary or expedient. If they decide that none is required, they do not appoint any. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that when they decide that they are necessary, they do not then say, "But we can't afford it and therefore there won't be any".

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

Perhaps I may respond to the noble Viscount's point. I believe that the second point that I made was that we need to be very clear about the circumstances in which such wardening, if funded by central government, would be required. Inevitably, alas, governments do rob Peter to pay Paul. The same department is also responsible for the budgets for agencies such as the Countryside Agency and, indeed, English Nature, in which I must declare an interest.

I should hate to think that the value of the land and that some of the useful collaborative and funding arrangements undertaken by such bodies with landowners would be squeezed in order to fund demands from local authorities. In some cases, those demands will be justified but, in others, they will need to be examined with a degree of scrupulousness.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

What always appear to be relatively simple issues at first become more and more complex as the debates develop--I see that the clock shows that we have been debating this amendment for 28 minutes. However, there is no doubt that the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is extremely important. It is important for a number of reasons, most of which have been discussed. However, the one that I consider to be most important is that it is a test. It demonstrates whether the Government are to put their money where their mouth is.

During the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill, we established that, as in so many pieces of legislation, the devil will be in the detail. A few minutes ago we talked about the difficulties of publishing information. That has a cost implication, too. Now we are talking about the cost of wardens. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was immensely helpful when she said that costs will vary from area to area and that different types of land will require different levels of wardening and, therefore, of expense. That is quite right.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out entirely correctly that the level of costs is dependent on whether the Government will obligate the access authorities to appoint as many wardens as they need, whether the number be one, two or four. The next amendment, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, places that obligation upon them. Of course the obligation should be in place because it is the wardens, rather like the signage that we discussed in the previous batch of amendments, that will make the Bill work.

We must have wardens and the access authorities must be obliged to provide them. They must therefore have the funding in order to do so. In many ways, whichever way one looks at this particularly complex issue, at the end of the day it comes down to a question of whether the Government really mean what they claim they mean in regard to the Bill. Are they really prepared to allow such access? Of course, my noble friend Lord Roberts was absolutely right: if we are to have night access, which we shall now have--the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, described it as 50 per cent of the access--then presumably we shall need 50 per cent, or, in this case, 100 per cent more wardens. It is obvious that if one doubles the amount of access, one needs to double the number of wardens. Clearly, we cannot have people wardening 24 hours a day; that would be silly.

Therefore, whichever way one looks at this matter and from whichever angle one comes at it, this is a very important amendment. It asks whether the Government are prepared to back the principle that they regard as so important. It asks whether they are prepared to back it with their money and not to oblige local authorities or access authorities to strip their budgets elsewhere in order to pay for that principle. If central government is not prepared to pay for the principle, frankly it is worthless and the Bill will not work.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 5:15 pm, 5th October 2000

I say to my noble friend Lord Mancroft that it is not the Government's money; it is our money as taxpayers.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

Of course, my noble friend is entirely correct. It is our money, but it is the Government in their usual generous way who are dishing it out on our behalf, whether we like it or not.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I rise to raise three quick points with the Minister. Before I do so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for putting forward the amendment. Those of us who took part at Second Reading will remember clearly two points that were raised. One related to the practicality of the Bill and the other to funding. This amendment hits on that very issue and I thank her for that.

First, when the Government carried out an assessment of the costs of access, did they include in their estimates a night-time provision for providing wardens? As my noble friend has just reiterated, if night-time access goes through, and the Government are obviously keen that it should, it will incur another 50 per cent of the costs. Therefore, if that was not accounted for, the estimate will be even higher than it was originally.

Secondly, presumably the Government will consider putting money through the SSA--the standard spending assessments. While I mention that, perhaps I may also remind the Government that virtually all access will be in rural areas. However, the very rural counties have had cuts recently in their standard spending assessments. I simply raise that as an issue. I do not know what the Minister wants to say about it.

Thirdly, what will the role of the wardens be? We have been talking about wardens acting purely as keepers of law and order. I believe that originally we talked about them helping the general public by providing advice and making sure that things were running in an orderly fashion. We also discussed the possibility of their having conservation responsibilities. Those are my three short points.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

This has been an interesting debate. A number of assertions have been made. We certainly share the view that it is important that adequate wardening takes place, although I am not sure that wardens will solve all the problems to which Members of the Committee have alluded. A number of important, what I might call political, issues have been raised and perhaps I should begin with those. That is unusual for me because I am trying to deal with the Bill in its legal form.

First, I deplore the attempt by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, perhaps inadvertently, to open up a huge urban/rural divide. This is not the case. The majority of people who will benefit from these rights are not hordes from urban areas who have never been in the countryside before. They fall into two broad categories. In my experience, it is not people in the centre of towns who resent the current situation. The biggest resentment comes from the people who look out of their back window every day and see the top of the moor that they can never visit freely themselves. That group of local people will take great advantage of the opportunity.

The second group are those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have enjoyed many parts of the countryside and rambles of varying degrees of difficulty and strenuousness but have enjoyed the existing areas of vacant access. They want to go to other areas with people who are experienced in the countryside. The idea that we have to police the access areas heavily is not the case. Clearly, we want to extend the enjoyment of our countryside, but the people who will take advantage of the new acreage opened up to them are those who live in, and have knowledge of, the countryside or their friends who accompany them. That is one quasi-political point.

In response to the noble Baroness, I make a straightforward political point. The experience and suspicion of many people in relation to local government financing has been that over the past 20 years we have suffered from a severe restriction in the resources provided to local authorities, however it has been provided. That has been reversed very substantially and generously. Yes, it is all our money but it is money that is being deployed on behalf of all of the people. I refute directly the idea put by the noble Baroness--and the figures will prove it--that the rural areas have been squeezed by this Government. In fact, they have had some of the most generous settlements they have ever had. Unlike the period of government of her party, when the inner-city areas were severely squeezed to the detriment of society as a whole, we have been generous to the whole of the population of Britain, including in particular the shire counties and the shire districts. So we want to fund the access authorities in order that they can fulfil their obligations under this Bill.

I thought that I had made clear the position of funding twice on the previous occasion. Obviously, I was not clear enough, so I will try again. The £2.3 million that the Government put in the regulatory impact assessment is part of what will be required during the current spending review period of three years--that is, before the access rights come into play--for all the preparatory work required by access authorities, others and in particular the countryside agencies so we can build up to manage effectively the right of access. It is much more difficult to give specific figures on the funding needed once the access land is opened.

I cannot entirely tie the hands of future Chancellors of Exchequer or the present Chancellor who will probably still be in office. Nevertheless, we have made it clear that we will wish to fund the management of the right of access and that we would expect the cost of that to be four or five times the figure in the regulatory impact assessment. One can compare that figure and that estimate of what will be required with the estimate made in the report of the LGA. That was referred to by several noble Lords. It suggests that the access provisions of the Bill will require local authorities and national parks to spend about £4.5 million per year, excluding the funding for local access forums. The figure to come out of that would be much less than the figure to which we have said we are committed to funding in the longer term.

Moreover, that larger figure would include some of the funding for the countryside agencies. So we agree with the LGA and its consultants that £5.5 million is the ball-park figure for the on-going management of this scheme required by local authorities. The cost of employment of wardens and the back-up would be paid from that figure. I hope that that makes clear and underlines the degree of commitment to funding that this Government are prepared to make now and our commitment to making this system work.

Exactly how the money will be conveyed may be a matter for future Chancellors. I am not absolutely certain that I would rule out a specific fund, although pressed to do so by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. It is more likely to come through the general funding of local authorities because that is a general approach. There would be obligations on local authorities requiring them to spend it, including on the employment of wardens where appropriate. We would not want wardens to be appointed with such a wide range of responsibilities referred to sometimes in this debate, but clearly wardens are required in order to make sure that the main provisions of the Bill operate.

Is the noble Earl willing that I deal with the other amendment in this clause because he did not speak to it?

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I purposely did not speak to that amendment because I think that the two issues are distinct although there is a common thread. I would like to tackle my particular point separately.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

Does what the noble Lord said about the funding mean that the large, generous amounts of money which the Chancellor has told local government it is to receive to assist with its responsibilities in relation to schools, roads and social services will be reduced by the figure which must be spent on wardens and other functions which have to be undertaken because of this Bill? Will that have to be subtracted? Local councils would like to know that. Is the cost of this new responsibility included?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Members of the Committee will be aware that the whole issue of local authority finance is subject to a major review at present. We are talking of a period beyond the current review when these access rights will come into play. I cannot answer the noble Baroness absolutely. I may have inadvertently referred to costs being four to five times the figure in the regulatory impact assessment. However, what I was trying to convey was that we would provide four to five times that figure in order to carry out the access provisions. That would be additional money to the other responsibilties for local authorities. What I cannot be absolutely clear about is whether we will have a ring-fenced fund of some sort on which local authorities would draw or whether it would be part of the general allocation to local authorities--for which the SSA in these areas would reflect the obligations of this Bill. But it is extra money. I hope that that clarifies the funding position and that in the light of those assurances the noble Baroness will not puruse her amendment.

Photo of Lord Willoughby de Broke Lord Willoughby de Broke Conservative

Will the noble Lord answer the point or agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Roberts about the possible need for wardens to control or to monitor night access? Is that something the noble Lord has thought about or something he may want to answer later? Is it something that ought to be considered?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Unlike certain noble Lords, the Government have always assumed that access means 24-hour access, as it does in relation to access land in general at present. We have always assumed that there will be night access. Our estimates are based on the inclusion of night access, as are estimates from the Local Government Association.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 5th October 2000

I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank him for spelling out that the Government agree with the LGA figure and that there will be additional money for some of the other work to be carried out, for example, through the agencies. That is all very helpful.

The Minister says that there might be a pot. I am concerned that it should not be yet another bidding round for local authorities; that it should be their money as of right in whichever way the Government decide to give it to them. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, about the fact that, on the whole, we do not like ring-fenced funds. Local authorities are well able to make their own decisions. We do not see this as a fight between the conservation bodies and agencies. I should remind the Committee of my interest as a Somerset county councillor. But the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, impugn a motive which simply does not exist. We do not want to take the money away. We want a recognition that local government is paid for what it has to do.

The Minister has reassured me that the Government intend to put sufficient financing behind Part I. If he is able to say anything more at a later stage about the way in which his department thinks that that might be delivered, that would be extremely helpful. But in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

moved Amendment No. 222:

Page 11, line 1, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

Before I start on this amendment, perhaps I may say how sad I was to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, felt about surveyors. She might think that I belong to an "institute". In fact, I am a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I believe there to be a significant difference between the two words.

I listened with great care to the last debate that we had and in particular, to what the Minister said. I was very pleased to hear that the local authorities are now awash with funds and that he believes there is a need for wardens. But there has been a need for wardens in the past. The local authorities have had the finance available to them, but they have not chosen to use it in order to supply wardens where there have been access agreements.

My noble friend Lord Peel gave the example of the Yorkshire Dales where an agreement had been entered into and, over time, other spending had taken priority for the local authority. If the funds which we discussed on the last amendment are not to be ring-fenced, there will be the usual local government argy-bargy which has been going on for years about how it is to spend its finance. My great fear is that although there is plenty of good intention, there is very little good action.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has much greater experience of local government than I. But she will have to compete against other demands in Somerset if she is to secure funds for wardens. Over time, it is unfortunately the non-statutory areas of local government which are squeezed and which traditionally have been squeezed. We have seen that in Surrey and elsewhere. That is what gives me the great concern that I have about the word "may" in line 1 of Clause 18. I believe that that should be "shall". There should be a firm duty on the access authority or the local authority to provide a wardening service.

How that wardening service is then constructed and made up is a matter for the local and access authorities and it will vary from area to area. It occurred to me that those authorities could use some initiative in this regard. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to voluntary wardens. The employees of the landowners or farmers might take on, with a little bit of help from the access authority, that extra work.

I can remember when I started my career in farming being irritated by some obstruction in the middle of the field which I was told I could not plough. I had to go round it. It would have made a lot more sense had I been told the full value of that particular obstruction; that other people wanted to come to see that obstruction; access was to be given to it; and those were the reasons why. I should have then understood the situation far more clearly and it would not have been such an irritation to me. I am sure that there are many small areas in which local people, living on the land, could be used in a wardening type of service for some extra finance, which would be of extra benefit in the rural areas. It would enhance their knowledge of the countryside and they are the best people to transmit that knowledge to those who wish to make use of those provisions.

However, I return to the fundamental point. It is absolutely right that there should be a wardening service. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said that there is a vital role for those wardens to play in most areas. Of course, it will vary from area to area. But there must be a duty on the access authority to provide them. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

Perhaps I may gently correct the noble Earl on his interpretation of my statement about wardens. I said that wardens will be important in some areas, not in most areas.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I support the noble Earl's amendment. The difficulty about a power rather than an obligation is that it leads to very wide variations between local authorities in the degree to which the power is implemented. From what I see in other contexts, central government have remarkably little ability to coerce local authorities into performing their optional functions. I have in mind the provision of youth services where the provision varies between the best and worst authority--£8 per head as against £236 per head. Therefore, wide variation between local authorities is a serious risk.

I am prepared to bet that the Minister will not like the idea of this amendment. However, I draw his attention to one other factor. I am informed that in response to a scheme relating to rights of way in north Hampshire and West Sussex, the commissioner for local administration, in reply to complaint No. 1340H of 7th December 1976 questioned whether a highway authority could justify putting resources into discretionary work rather than using those resources for its statutory responsibilities.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I rise to support my noble friend's amendment which would mean that the Bill would read:

"An access authority or a district council shall appoint such number of persons as may appear to the authority making the appointment to be necessary or expedient, to act as wardens as respects access in their area".

This is a very sensible amendment. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, left the word "may" in her amendment because that weakens the matter. This amendment improves the wording of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

There is an important point in this amendment which it is worth bearing in mind. If the Minister does not accept the amendment and if it is left as currently drafted, it may appear necessary or expedient to the authority making the appointment--in other words, it recognises that it is necessary or expedient--but it has no obligation to appoint so it does not appoint. Therefore, the authority has recognised the necessity for a warden. That takes into account the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in that there are some areas where they will not be necessary. However, there are some areas where the authority, and perhaps everybody else, recognises that wardens are necessary, for whatever reason it may be, but it still will not appoint them. That is the problem that this amendment solves. Therefore, it is simple and eminently desirable.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

All three clauses, which are miscellaneous provisions relating to the right of access, are discretionary as far as local authorities are concerned. The fact that they are discretionary leads one to try to conceive of a situation in which by-laws are not passed by an access authority, in which wardens are not appointed and notices indicating boundaries, and so on, are not erected. Many of us fear that that situation will occur on access land.

A further important point in relation to those clauses is that they involve the restrictions to be imposed under Schedule 2. Clearly, the wardens have an important role in enforcing those restrictions as well as the by-laws. It seems to me that the absence of wardens in such a situation would wreck the Bill. Nevertheless, one must emphasise that whether wardens are appointed or not is entirely at the discretion of the local authority. That point was made early in our debates by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

In answer to a previous question the Minister said that he felt that those who live at the bottom of a hill and want to experience the delights of going up a hill are not the kind of people who damage the environment. He said that people like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who choose to go on one type of walk one day and another type of walk another day, or do a climb one day and another climb another day are not the kind of people to damage the environment. I totally agree with him.

The Minister misunderstands if he believes that walkers and ramblers damage the countryside. If that were so, the countryside would be in ruins because of the large numbers. No, it is a small percentage of people who visit the countryside who damage it. It is the odd person who dismantles a monk at the top of a reservoir and throws it in; it is the odd person who dismantles part of a deer fence; it is the odd person who tends to pick up a sign and throw it away. For that reason I welcome the amendment of my noble friend as it would strengthen the situation by saying that the authorities shall appoint wardens.

In this Bill we are trying to avoid conflict. It is most important that we lessen the conflict between the land manager and those accessing the land. If we can be sure to have these provisions in place, we can look forward to good co-operation between them.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

The Minister said that he thought that there may be earmarked or ring-fenced funding for such a matter. Is that correct, even though the Government do not want it to be mandatory? The two do not go together.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 5:45 pm, 5th October 2000

I am trying to be careful not to tie the hands of future Chancellors. I shall leave the commitment of additional funds and how they will be channelled to be dealt with by someone closer to the point where the access rights become a reality. I understand the logic of the question posed by the noble Baroness, but in this area it is important to leave a degree of discretion with the local authorities.

The Government recognise the importance of wardens, but we want to be flexible about how we channel resources and about the balance of wardening as against other methods of ensuring that the access provisions work as they appear to the individual local authority. The provision would require local authorities to put their resources into wardening when that may not be the priority locally and there may be other ways, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, indicated, such as having others to provide and designate the wardening.

We need a degree of flexibility. The word "shall" would be too mandatory, albeit that it is still subject to identification, and so forth, and it would not necessarily impose an obligation on those authorities that did not require wardening, but it would mean that other ways of providing that wardening, or equivalent cover, would not be available to them. I believe that there is such a wide variety of access land to be managed by access authorities that we need some discretion.

While I understand the points that have been made, it is important that local authorities ensure that the access provisions are properly managed. In most cases wardening will be an important aspect, but I do not believe that we should make it mandatory as provided for in the amendment of the noble Earl.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

I find that the most extraordinary answer that I have heard in this House for a long time. The Minister talks about discretion for local authorities. Local authorities have as much discretion in Clause 18(1) as is necessary with either "may" or "shall". The point is that having identified the need for wardens, my noble friends want them to be appointed. That is absolutely right.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I agree that the two positions are not a million miles apart but at the edges there may be local authorities that can provide the wardening service in a different way than by appointing their own wardens. We want to cover that situation. Therefore, some discretion is needed at the edges. I hope that we do not fall out over this matter, but it seems to me that the amendment of the noble Earl would deny a small amount of discretion.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

If a local authority believes it can provide the service in another way, it is not necessary or expedient to appoint a warden. The Minister is saying that the first purpose of having a warden is to secure compliance with the restrictions. A landowner may ring the local authority to say, "On my land the restrictions are consistently being ignored; I cannot do anything about it; surely there should be a warden". The local authority will say, "Yes, we accept that it is absolutely necessary to have a warden because that is the only way of securing compliance with the restrictions; nonetheless we have decided not to appoint one". Is that satisfactory?

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

The first line of the clause says that the council "may", or if the amendment is agreed "shall", "appoint". It does not say "employ". It is quite possible for the local authority to appoint someone as a warden who is in the employment of a local landowner or a tenant farmer. The authority may decide that it is necessary or expedient to have a warden, but the clause is drafted in such a way that it does not have to pay for that warden, or at least not the whole of the warden's salary. It can find someone who is working locally, who may be self-employed, to work as a warden at a low salary or not a full salary. The word in the Bill, which has been drafted by the Government, is "appoint" and not "employ".

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

It is indeed. "Appoint" implies that the wardens are responsible to the local authority; that whatever the contractual relationship is with that local authority, they are responsible to it. But there can be situations where the person performing the wardening task is not responsible directly to the local authority; for example, it might be a neighbouring authority or a neighbouring parks authority, or in some cases even a local landowner. Therefore if we make this provision mandatory, problems will arise. So I wish to maintain a little flexibility.

We are probably making a meal of this point. As has just been said, the outcome of the noble Earl's amendment would still leave some discretion to local authorities. However, it would not leave discretion in that specific area. Therefore the Bill's present wording is rather better than the implications of Amendment No. 222.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

Perhaps I can ask a small question. Who has the responsibility for ensuring that the lands are wardened? If Clause 18(1) stands, it may be that local authorities do not wish to take on that responsibility. Who will then be responsible for ensuring that the lands are wardened?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The access authority has the responsibility for ensuring that access is managed properly. Whether or not that involves wardening and, if so, how it will be provided, is a matter for their judgment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

This has been a useful debate and I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who took part.

I want Amendment No. 221 to work. The best way of making it work is by inserting "shall". I agree with the Minister that it reduces the flexibility slightly. But that is not a bad thing. I do not believe the Minister's heart was in his brief on this one. He was just beginning to see that there was quite a good argument against him.

Amendment No. 222 strengthens the hand of the local authority in negotiating for funds. The fact that those within the rural departments of local authorities have a statutory duty rather than a non-statutory duty will certainly strengthen their hands when they seek to obtain funds. And we have to set that little flexibility which the Minister wants against the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who said on the previous amendments that if there were not wardens in appropriate places, conservation status could suffer.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

The noble Earl made a direct reference to my amendment and how Amendment No. 222 would strengthen it. Perhaps I can say therefore that I feel there is a difficulty with his amendment.

I fully understand the spirit of Amendment No. 222. But there are a number of ways in which local authorities could choose to exercise this provision; For example, in partnership with farmers or in taking out contracts with conservation organisations. In that regard I must declare an interest as Vice-President of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers which does an immense amount of work in national parks and other open spaces. So there is a vast number of ways in which this clause could be fulfilled if the money was in place.

Therefore, although I entirely applaud the spirit of the noble Earl's amendment--that there will be people on the ground once the money is in place--I am nervous about using the words, "shall appoint". Although I understood the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, if we were going down that route I would have looked at wording which said, "shall ensure that". I am not very happy with the words, "shall appoint". It is much too definite in taking a local authority down a certain route. After all, they often choose to fulfil obligations in imaginative ways and that is what the "best value" regime is all about; that local authorities should move away from direct employment and into a range of different methods of carrying out their functions.

For those reasons I do not support the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his Amendment No. 222.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I can say that I do not understand how my noble friend's amendment can in any way interfere with "imaginative ways". All it does is ensure that the wardening system is in place. That does not in any way impinge on the idea of imagination.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Unless these people are appointed as wardens, technically they will not have the power that wardens have under the Bill. But they can be volunteers; they can be members of the noble Baroness's association; they can be anybody. But they must have a ticket from the access authority saying that they are the wardens and they have been appointed. That is all "appoint" means.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

The difference between the two arguments is that, on the one hand the noble Earl's amendment says, "shall appoint", and on the other the spirit of my amendment is to say "shall ensure that the land is wardened".

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

It can only be wardened by people who have been appointed, otherwise they will not have the powers under the Bill.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

That is the telling argument for using the word "shall". I agree with the noble Baroness that we need some flexibility. When I moved the amendment I said that we should have some innovative ideas from local authorities. But if this question of the word "appoint" still worries the noble Baroness, we could come back to that at a later stage. I hope she will reconsider her thought and help me to help her to help the Bill work by having "shall" rather than "may".

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 222) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Not-Contents, 119.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 6:06 pm, 5th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 11, line 7, after ("17") insert (", with closures and restrictions under sections 21 and 22,").

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

With this amendment we remain with wardens. The proposal makes sense and is clear. I trust that the Government will find ways to fund wardens; dare I suggest that the Countryside Agency should become a beneficiary of the National Lottery?

Opening large areas of land to public access for the first time will inevitably lead to problems. I believe that no one in the Chamber, including the Minister, has any illusion about that. That is why we are here, debating the best ways of pre-empting those difficulties so as to smooth the way.

Clause 18 provides for the appointment of wardens, albeit at the discretion of the access authorities. I hope that at the Report stage we shall succeed in changing the provisions relating to that discretion, putting more pressure on the authorities to appoint wardens.

While the clause gives the necessary powers for wardens to secure compliance with by-laws to advise and assist walkers and to perform any other various and interesting duties which the authorities see fit, there is no mention of how the landowners are to enforce the restrictions which the Bill provides.

We suggest that it is not fair that landowners should first be forced to open their land to public access whether they like it or not and then that they should be forced to enforce those grudgingly given restrictions unaided. If a landowner secures a restriction, is he to turn back hoards of ramblers, all of whom will be deeply suspicious of his motives and disinclined to believe what he tells them? If they decide to ignore him and walk on, how is he supposed to stop them?

On the other hand, a duly constituted warden bearing his official papers will be believed and, for 99.9 per cent of the time, respected. Therefore, for the sake of equity and tranquillity wardens should be given power to enforce compliance with every requirement impartially, whether on behalf of the access authority or the landowner.

Members of the Committee will be aware that all over this country, and perhaps in others, wardening schemes are a service to everyone to help make the experience of the countryside or locality more pleasurable. I see the policing role of the warden (if I may call it that) as a minor part of his job. That role is a comfort to all concerned. The warden can be summoned on the telephone to assist, whether it is a call from a landowner who has trouble with unruly visitors or a group of people who, with the use of a mobile telephone, wish to call for help, or whatever. It may be that the warden is able to work in an educational role.

The amendment seeks to insert on the face of the Bill in Clause 18 as part of the duties of the would-be warden the ability to assist with closures and restrictions under Clauses 21 and 22. That clarifies the situation. I believe that it is important to put that on the face of the legislation because there is already a list of his other duties in the Bill. Some of the wardens, not all, will be remunerated. When assessing the workload and writing the job description of a particular person the access authority will need something substantive from which to work. I beg to move.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

I should very much like to support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if at this stage I indicate the view of the Government on this matter. Although it is arguable that enforcement and restrictions are already covered under subsection (2)(c), I rather agree that this matter should be made explicit on the face of the Bill. If the Committee agrees, I shall take this away and provide an amendment which covers not only Clauses 21 and 22 but any exclusions or restrictions under Chapter II. I hope that that is acceptable to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to take it away. I am sure that he will find the right terminology when we come to Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 223A:

After Clause 18 insert the following new Clause--

:TITLE3:LITTER

(" .--(1) Access authorities shall make arrangements with the owner and occupier of access land for the collection of litter left by persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1).

(2) The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons appointed by the access authority to collect litter or the making of payments to the owner or occupier for the collection of litter.").

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

Amendment No. 223A, which is not dissimilar, seeks to insert the following new clause:

"(1) Access authorities shall make arrangements with the owner and occupier of access land for the collection of litter left by persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1).

(2) The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons appointed by the access authority to collect litter or the making of payments to the owner or occupier for the collection of litter".

It is a sad fact that when walking in the country all too many people bring with them their dirty habits and drop litter. We debated this matter the other night. Inevitably, it varies from area to area and in direct relation to the numbers of people in a particular part of the country.

I query the strength of the commitment to the environment of many people when they cannot even bother to take home their litter. We are talking about a minority of people. Litter is unpleasant and unsightly. I refer to sweet papers and cigarette packets. You can bet your bottom dollar that landscapes near towns are sullied by Coca-Cola paper cups and the wrappings of McDonald's vegiburgers, beefburgers or whatever else. I remember that when I frequented Snowdonia National Park several days a week for most of the year--because I was paid to do so, and loved it--there were voluntary litter collection days. People who regularly visited the park, for example climbers, members of local clubs and people who did the kind of work in which I was engaged, which was to deal with young people, set off with rucksacks and spent the day collecting litter. One would be amazed how much litter was collected in one day, usually after bank holidays, even in the 1960s when the number of people was not as great as today. I do not believe that life has changed that much. Litter will remain a serious problem. I am sure that those closer to the national parks than I am will be able to tell us something about that in a moment.

However, litter also consists of glass bottles, many of which break as they are thrown away. Shards of broken glass are dangerous and can pierce leather and rubber boots and cause serious injury to livestock and wildlife. Another danger which may arise that is directly attributable to broken glass is fire as a result of sun reflection. Whole heaths and forests may be set alight in times of strong sunshine and drought as a result of a bit of broken glass acting as a magnifying glass, with potentially devastating effects. We have seen plenty of examples of that recently on the western side of the United States. Believe it or not, I have seen heath fires caused in that way in my part of the world. Such conditions occur only in one summer in 50 in Northern Ireland; maybe that is why.

Litter will be a problem. We believe that if this amendment is inserted into the Bill it will improve the management of the litter problem. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 6:15 pm, 5th October 2000

I rise to support the amendment. In a fairly long life in which I have walked, roamed and even rambled in the countryside I have probably seen more crisp packets than cowslips, or even grouse. Therefore, it is a little odd that we have before us a Bill of 114 pages--it is a rather heavy read--which is about the countryside but does not appear to include anywhere the word "litter".

Those who enjoy the benefits of the right to roam would reasonably expect this point to be covered in the Bill. We shall not change the situation in which, at least close to the designated access points, there will be a good deal of litter. That is a fact. I do not blame any particular group. The amendment has the advantage that, first, it is intelligible, which is very welcome; secondly, it does not give rise to the question whether it should say "shall" or "may". The amendment provides that the authority shall make arrangements for the collection of litter that is left in the countryside, which is quite clear. That is the main point that we seek to make. It goes on to say that those arrangements may include certain ways of doing it. Therefore, it is open to the access authorities to decide how to do it.

I believe that it is reasonable to make some provision to deal with a problem on which ordinary people walking in the countryside so often comment. We could clear that up by the amendment now proposed, and I support it.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

Whether or not this amendment is the right one, this is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. I have noticed in National Trust property that if wardens are not regularly working the situation can rapidly deteriorate. The problem is that if only a small minority of people--I believe it is a very small minority--abuse the situation the whole character of land begins to change. Then other people begin to slip. The only way to tackle the problem is to have very high standards that are maintained. They set the cultural pattern. There is a very important issue here. I am not sure that this is the right amendment. But I am certain that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

Perhaps I may support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in his amendment and say that the position is even worse than he has described. In country areas not only are Coca-Cola bottles, crisp packets and hamburger cartons discarded; so are syringes and needles. The danger posed can hardly be over-emphasised.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I strongly support the amendment. There is absolutely no doubt that in terms of enjoyment litter is damaging to the countryside. As a large part of the Bill is about increasing the enjoyment of the countryside, litter is not something that can be tolerated. The Government have made it reasonably clear that additional costs arising as a result of imposing access on private landowners will be met from public funds. This is clearly such an additional cost. It seems reasonable that it should come into that category.

There is no doubt that if litter is not picked up more litter arrives. Litter attracts litter. I am the chairman of the Marlesford parish council. One of my main duties--self-imposed--is once a month to go around the village with a litter-picker. For a few days there is no litter. Then someone leaves some, and quite quickly the amount grows again. If this gets out of control the minority who dispose of litter will ruin everything for the majority who would not dream of so doing. It is a really important issue.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I support the amendment very strongly indeed. It must be welcome to the Government because, as we have heard, litter is currently a very considerable problem in the countryside generally. It is not the first time that I have spoken on this matter in the Chamber. Part of the problem is that so much of modern litter is indestructible. Plastic bags, tin cans, aluminium cans and so on have a certain capacity to resist all weathers and all attempts at disposal. In my own part of Snowdonia litter is such a problem that I have taken it in hand myself. Every walk I take I aim to pick up litter and dispose of it properly.

I am bound to tell the Committee of a recent experience. On an open road, close to my home, someone disposed of a canvas chair--a picnic chair--and simply left it there. I thought that that would be a one and only occurrence, but now someone has left a door. It really defies the imagination as to how anyone decides to dispose of these things at the roadside in the country. Heaven only knows where they come from.

I give those examples to show to the Committee what is likely to be an ever-worsening situation. Particularly with the increase in access land, we shall certainly have a great deal more litter. I, and others, will not be at all surprised if cars are disposed of on the mountainside. It is already happening. Our fear is that the situation will worsen. Something has to be done.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

I support the amendment. It has not been mentioned that rubbish is dangerous to stock. Cattle can graze around in a field and hoover up plastic bags or can lids. That can be very dangerous. I should like to add to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. On Tuesday, as I drove to the House, I saw that a mattress had been thrown over a hedge.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

It is with particular enthusiasm that I mention the voluntary nature of subsection (2) of the new clause, which states:

"The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons".

Often this work can be done voluntarily. In our village on the edge of an estuary in East Anglia every spring a local association mounts a campaign. It divides up the river bank into sections. We all go out with plastic bags to collect the litter that has accumulated during the winter. That kind of activity can be arranged in communities.

Some years ago I was particularly impressed when driving in Sweden from Gothenburg to Stockholm. It was in the early spring just after the thaw. It was notable that every parish had schoolchildren out cleaning up the litter which had been thrown out of car windows during the winter. We should try to encourage voluntary activities of that kind. The new clause permits that kind of arrangement. Therefore, I support it.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

We have considerable sympathy with the reasons behind the amendment. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are places where litter is too often found. We have considered the matter with great care. As Members of the Committee have recognised, much of the land concerned will be in relatively remote areas away from centres of population. Previous debates on amendments in the Chamber have identified that the overwhelming majority of people making use of the provisions proposed in the Bill will be responsible and respectful of the countryside.

I should like to add to the groups to which reference was made earlier those involved with youth organisations and children. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, was right to refer to the work done by young people, both informally and through the schools. I well remember a project on the foreshore at Lytham St. Anne's in Lancashire involving local primary schoolchildren who had an exhibition where they dated the length of life of the litter and the fact--as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said--that much of today's litter is non-biodegradable and lasts for a very long time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to the dangers to livestock and other noble Lords referred to mattresses, chairs and doors. This is a major problem. Perhaps we should all think back to the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is not in his place. When we were debating the subject of access to the countryside he referred to people who drove and ended up depositing as litter a four-wheel drive vehicle in a lake. Perhaps I may remind Members of his words. He said:

"The problem is that the legislation for access to the countryside deals with the responsible. The irresponsible exist all over the place already and we must continue to tackle them as much as we can".

For that reason, and particularly in response to the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Williamson--because of the irresponsible minority who can spoil things for the rest of us--leaving litter on access land will be a criminal offence. Those who drop litter will automatically lose their right to be there. The provision of wardens and the development of different projects in areas subject to greatest visitor pressure will help to prevent the problems arising.

In addition, the department has been discussing with the Countryside Agency the whole question of how best to manage and encourage responsible access. One option we are actively considering is to fund the agency so that it can give grant aid direct to landowners and occupiers for work and facilities which help with that function. If there is a problem with litter in a particular area, funds could be made available through such a grant regime.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, we believe that channelling funds directly to people on the ground--for preventive measures such as wardening or litter clearance--is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. We are not attracted to the idea of local authorities having to make arrangements with owners and occupiers for the collection of litter as that could involve considerable bureaucracy and negotiation and might not be the most cost-effective solution, given the circumstances in a particular area. However, the local authority would have a responsibility to assist with the removal of litter; indeed, local authorities already cope with the removal of litter, such as that on the wayside.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 6:30 pm, 5th October 2000

If the local access authority is not involved, how will the channelling of funds directly to people on the ground operate?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

The Bill contains an amendment to the Local Government Act 1974, which means that the Countryside Agency and the agencies will be able to give assistance to anyone who has incurred expenditure in doing anything which helps to attain the purposes of the legislation. Clearly, the management and promotion of public access to the countryside fall within that.

We are in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that measures should be in place to prevent litter in the first place, but failing that, to provide resources for its collection. Such measures are best targeted to where problems might arise, rather than having a general requirement on all access authorities, irrespective of local needs and circumstances. Therefore, with those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will accept the Government's full commitment to resolving the problem which this short debate has highlighted. I ask him to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

I thank the Minister for that positive response. As we have heard, Members on all sides of the Committee are concerned about the problem. The Government have clearly stated that they are also concerned and that they are working on ways to solve it. I look forward to seeing what they produce at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Notices indicating boundaries, etc.]:

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 224:

Page 11, line 25, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall at appropriate points, after consultation with their local access forum,").

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 224 is to do with the erection and maintenance of notices. During the earlier debate about by-laws, we said how essential information boards and notices will be. We said that they should be at appropriate points, that they should not litter the countryside in an unsightly way and that they should be placed in such a way that the public are clear about their rights and responsibilities. I shall not rehearse those arguments again. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

I am happy to support the noble Baroness on the amendment. It is a delight to me that she has now used the word "shall" rather than "may". Having voted against "shall" only a few minutes ago, I shall not be churlish and go back to "may". I shall continue to support her.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I oppose the amendment for the reasons I gave earlier. I do not want to see a plethora of signs. I would much rather leave it to the discretion of local authorities to decide whether it may be necessary to put up some signs. If in due course the Act imposes an obligation to put up signs, I suspect that a good many unnecessary and undesirable signs will be put up. That is why I would much rather leave the Bill as it is presently drafted.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I had understood that Amendments Nos. 227 and 229 to 231 were grouped with this amendment. I thought that it would be preferable to debate the amendments together. Those amendments are very much on the same theme.

It may not be politically correct but I agree once again with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford--although this time it is against his colleagues. It is right that there should be signs and notices where appropriate to ensure that the public are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is also right that we should give careful thought to how they should be provided for. But if we were to accept any of the amendments, we would be in danger of promoting a landscape littered with signs.

Perhaps I may deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 225 and 224. Amendment No. 225 imposes a duty on authorities to provide notices without any indication of where to provide notices or when they might know that they had fulfilled their duty. They might find it quite difficult to defend themselves against pressure to provide notices in inappropriate places. Amendment No. 224 would allow access authorities rather more discretion in deciding where and when to erect notices. We would expect this to be one of the matters on which local access forums advise. We shall be bringing forward appropriate amendments to deal with that. The amendment refers to "appropriate points". Our concern would be the scope for litigation as to whether or not it was an appropriate point.

Amendments Nos. 227, 229, 230 and 231 would run the risk of putting an unmanageable burden on the authorities. They might find themselves obliged to erect a small forest of signs. That would be a blight on the landscape and it would also cost a good deal of money. I am not suggesting that the views and advice of landowners should be overlooked by authorities in deciding where notices should be provided. I would expect the authorities to consult as fully as practicable on matters of local concern. I see a role for local access forums in advising on these matters. But, ultimately, it is right for local authorities to use their discretion in assessing where and when notices are required. Those authorities that have already had experience of providing notices relating to public access may well be in a position to offer good practice for others to follow.

In the light of what I have promised to do about local access forums, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I look forward to seeing the government amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 226:

Page 11, line 25, after ("may") insert (", after consulting persons interested in the land,").

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

With this amendment we are dealing with the erection of signs and notices and the duty to consult owners. The amendment would require the countryside body to consult owners before putting up notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

This would parallel the requirement for consultation in relation to signs and waymarks placed on rights of way, provided for in Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968. The aim is to maintain good working relationships between those with an interest in land and the countryside bodies. Signs should be put up in places which are convenient for owners as well as for walkers.

In Committee in another place, the Minister said that:

"I do not consider it necessary to require authorities to consult those with an interest in the land before erecting notices. Access authorities will be able to ascertain the precise location of boundaries and restrictions applying on the land. However, I agree that authorities will usually want to discuss their proposals with landowners and, perhaps, other interested bodies such as local access forums and walkers' associations. Those with an interest in the land may well know which sites are used most. It would be in the interests of the authority and those involved with the land to liaise with each other to ensure that an adequate number of notices are erected in the right places. Indeed, authorities may often act in response to specific requests from landowners. It is unnecessary to provide for that in statute; again, it is more a matter of good practice. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will withdraw the amendment".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 2/5/00; col. 444.]

The Minister asserted that access authorities would liaise sufficiently. It remains to be seen whether this will happen in practice. Why are the Government set against this duty if the precedent already exists? Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968 places an obligation on a local authority to consult the owner or occupier when erecting signs on rights of way, for example, to indicate where footpaths leave metalled roads. It seems wrong and inequitable that consultation required where there is one type of statutory public access is considered unnecessary in relation to another statutory right of access.

It should be stressed that the requirement is for consultation only. The authority does not need to gain the consent of the owner as to the location of the sign. In practice, consultation on signs on rights of way is often important in avoiding problems caused to occupiers by poorly located signs. Examples include signs placed so as to block field gates and private vehicular access.

If the Government are still not disposed to include this provision in the Bill, firm assurances would be welcomed that the codes of practice being drafted by the countryside bodies for local authorities will contain guidelines, as suggested by the Minister himself. They should, first, discuss any proposals for signing with the necessary interests; secondly, liaise with occupiers as to the positioning of notices; and, thirdly, pay due attention to and deal fairly and responsibly with, any requests for signs from an occupier.

Earlier on we debated at considerable length the issue of signs. For that reason, I do not believe that I need to explain further this side of the argument.

Amendment No. 232 inserts at the end of Clause 19(3) the words:

"(4) A notice under this section may only be erected or maintained on land with the permission of the owner of the land."

This amendment prevents access authorities from placing or keeping notices on private land without the consent of the owner. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Amendment No. 226 seeks to give a duty to access authorities to consult persons with an interest in the land before erecting notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

We have already indicated that we think that authorities will generally wish to consult landowners and others such as local access forums on their plans for erecting notices, as they will on a range of local access issues. However, I accept that it may be desirable to provide for this in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, told the Committee, under Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968, highway authorities must consult owners and occupiers of land before erecting signposts. We propose to follow that example. On that basis, we shall return to this issue with appropriate amendments.

The reason why I cannot accept Amendment No. 226 as it is drafted is that it requires consultation with,

"persons interested in the land".

The Countryside Act 1968 refers to owners and occupiers. "Interest in the land" could include people with rights of commons, sporting rights or even the right to graze sheep or hang-glide on the land. We think that that would be going rather far.

I shall turn now to Amendment No. 232. This proposal would require access authorities to obtain the landowner's consent, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, rightly pointed out, was not the case with Amendment No. 226. The amendments are somewhat in conflict.

What would happen if permission were to be withheld? If we have agreed to consider giving the countryside bodies a duty to provide information about the new right of access, we could be considered perverse were we now to consider measures that would make it difficult for them to do that.

I hope that, with the assurances that I have given as regards Amendment No. 226, the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Liberal Democrat

Before the Minister sits down, can he clarify for me whether people who have been granted a right of access under the Bill will then qualify as people who have an interest in the land?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I do not think that it matters, because the amendments I propose to bring forward would restrict themselves to addressing only owners and occupiers. For that reason, I believe that the answer to the noble Earl's question is no.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

Again, I have a smile on my face and I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. I look forward to seeing his amendments at the next stage of the Bill.

I understand completely the difficulties he would have had in accepting Amendment No. 226 and I shall wait to see the wording which will be brought forward by the Government to cover that situation.

As regards Amendment No. 232, I am quite content with the Minister's response here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 227 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 6:45 pm, 5th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 228:

Page 11, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) An access authority shall take such steps and carry out such work (including the erection and maintenance of fences, signs or notices) as appear to it requisite for protecting the public from any source of danger on access land or on adjoining land.").

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

This amendment would place on the Government a duty to erect "fences, signs or notices" to protect the public from any source of danger on access land or adjoining land.

Where legislation dictates that unsafe areas should be made safe by the owner or occupier, it is obvious that that obligation should be carried out. However, where a new right suddenly imposes additional costs on an occupier because there has been no compulsion to make safe certain features, it is unreasonable to expect the occupier to incur such costs. We discussed this point to a certain extent on an earlier amendment.

The amendment would ensure that any expense incurred as a result of the need to protect the public from a source of danger above and beyond that which would be incurred in honouring statutory responsibilities would be borne by the public purse, not by the owners of the land affected. This issue arises with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, which relates to the duties imposed on the owners of abandoned or disused mine or quarry workings.

The Mines and Quarries Act 1954 requires all mines not used for a period of 12 months or more to have an efficient closure, barrier, plug or other device to prevent any person from accidentally falling in or entering the outlet. All such devices must be properly maintained. The provisions of the Act do not apply to mines unused since before 9th August 1872--I do not believe that many of us were around then!--where the minerals mined were not coal, ironstone, shale or clay. Some workings for minerals such as lead and tin used before 1872 could still be dangerous, but apparently would not be covered by the existing legislation. There are many such workings in some of our moorland areas.

Similarly, a quarry, working or otherwise, can be defined as a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if it does not have a properly maintained barrier to prevent persons from falling into it and if, by reason of its accessibility from a highway or a place of public resort, it constitutes a danger to members of the public. Will the owner of a disused quarry which is unfenced because it is not readily accessible, have to fence that quarry once this Bill has established a right of access to land around it?

These cases--where certain mines and quarries on potential access land are not covered by existing legislation which requires them to be fenced or otherwise protected to exclude the public--could give rise to additional costs to the owners and to increased risk to the public. One way of reducing this would be to exclude land containing such mines and quarries from the right of access at the outset by not mapping it as access land, as another amendment provides.

Another approach would be to require the local authorities to make safe any areas where the users may injure themselves. That is the approach taken in the amendment. There is a precedent for the authorities to fence dangerous land or to erect warning notices under Section 80(4) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. A similar provision is needed to provide safeguards in a situation where far more land will be open to the public under the current Bill.

As I said in our earlier discussions, we readily acknowledge that there will be many more people visiting our rural and remote areas. This is a worrying problem. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I shall be interested to hear the Government's views on the amendment. I suspect that the Government will say that the majority of these hazards in open country are already covered by legislation and that there are fences, markers, caps on mines and so on. But it may well be, as my noble friend Lady Byford implied, that many new crevices and so on will be a danger to the public as a result of the creation of access land. It is those hazards, which are not clearly recorded and marked currently, that we wish to be sure are made safe for the public visiting access land.

I know that in South Wales, in the Brecon Beacons and elsewhere--perhaps where the noble Baroness, Baroness Gale, takes her spontaneous walks--there are many deep, unmarked crevices resulting from old mine workings going back to time immemorial. I also know the Halkyn mountain area in north-east Wales where there were many tin workings. Again, the majority of those old workings are properly capped. Nevertheless, it may well be that with these provisions in the Bill we are opening up new areas where such hazards are not properly fenced and will therefore be a hazard to the visiting public.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, concerns the safety of those exercising the new right of access and how that safety should be protected. I should say at the outset that we had understood there was a general consensus that the new right of access should not lead to the disfigurement of open countryside by excessive numbers of signs and fences. We have made it clear that those exercising the new right should take responsibility for their own safety. That is one of the reasons why the Bill removes occupiers' liability in relation to natural features of the landscape, and we are considering what further changes might be needed to Clause 13.

The noble Baroness's amendment would require access authorities to assess access land in their area to see whether there is any source of danger on it, or from adjacent land, and to take action where necessary by erecting signs or fences. We have said before that parts of access land are intrinsically dangerous--a high rock face half-way up a fell, for example. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and I thought of Pen y Fan, which has many natural hazards. I well remember my first visit there. To my amazement, I ended up having to call out the mountain rescue people to save a local farmer who had walked up but could not walk down. When he got to the bottom he explained that he was a Conservative county councillor. Some of my colleagues made comments that were not very kind.

I hope that the Committee will agree that such dangers are part of the reason that many people wish to explore open country, and it is their responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary training and equipment to enjoy their visit. The Committee will be aware that we are removing all occupiers' liability in respect of features such as rock faces, potholes and any other natural features. In the region of the country where I live, that reassurance needs to be given wide publicity. Some of the local farmers--particularly in the Yorkshire Dales--believe that they will acquire a responsibility to protect people from the existence of potholes.

Clause 23 of the Bill provides that exclusions or restrictions may be directed to protect the public from danger arising from anything done or proposed to be done on access land or adjacent land. This includes activities which have occurred in the past. So if, for example, a disused quarry is mapped as access land, the relevant authority may, if necessary, direct that the land where the quarry is situated is closed to access.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the 1949 Act, which contained provision for areas of access land to be fenced off on grounds of safety to the public. However, that Act did not contain a provision similar to that in Clause 23 of the present Bill, which enables exclusions or restrictions to be directed by the relevant authority on such grounds. Nor did it eliminate landowners' liability in relation to some features of the landscape. That is the approach we have favoured in the Bill and it will enable the public's safety to be protected where necessary without unduly littering the landscape with fences and signs.

Access authorities have the power under Clause 19 to erect notices informing the public of any matters relating to access land. Such signs might indicate at points of access that there were hazards on the land, or could be placed near to hazards as a warning--perhaps to explain that access is excluded from the land surrounding the site. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is as aware as I of the kind of circumstance that arises in Swithland Woods in Leicestershire.

This power is sufficient to enable warning to be given where it is needed without placing the access authority under a duty to fence off any land which might pose a slight risk to public safety. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that there will be clear areas, where everything is black or white, but that other areas will be more grey and local judgment will be needed. Owners and occupiers of land may well be under existing duties to fence off dangers--for example, most mines and quarries. There are duties under environmental protection legislation and under health and safety legislation which require landowners or employers to remove dangers. Local authorities have, in some circumstances, powers to remove dangers on land and to make payments to others who carry out work to prevent or remove danger to the public.

We shall discuss with the Countryside Agency, local authorities and others whether funding arrangements, including possible grant schemes, are required and, if so, how they would be established.

I hope that with that detailed response the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 7:00 pm, 5th October 2000

I am grateful to the Minister. She always responds fully and with due care to the amendments. Her reference to Swithland Woods is because that area is part of an old quarry and some of it is quite rightly clearly marked. I thank the Minister for commenting on that and I accept what she said.

The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that land managers will not incur extra cost. As I am sure the Minister will understand, sometimes not even the land managers know exactly where some of these areas are, and that is the problem. The amendment seeks to ensure that if, for example, someone has a mishap on the site of an old quarry or whatever, landowners would not be liable, nor would they have to erect fences. I hope that I am not misinterpreting what the Minister said.

I, like the Minister, am concerned that our countryside does not become littered with notices. It would be a great tragedy if that were the result of this legislation. However, it was not clear to me from the Minister's response whether the example I gave would be included. We debated natural features two days ago and I accept the idea; however, I am not sure whether the example I have given would come within (I shall not say "fall" within!) the definition of such features. I am happy to give way to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

On this point I should be very cautious indeed, because of the range of judgments that have to be taken locally about the circumstances. We are talking about circumstances in which grants may be available which may not be used by someone for some other reason. I should not like to give a blanket assurance. I should prefer to write to the noble Baroness with detailed advice from the lawyers because in that way I can answer her question fully without giving a misleading blanket assurance.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister. That is a sensible suggestion. This matter is difficult. As the Minister knows, there are areas where one is not sure where such problems might arise. Under these circumstances, I accept the Minister's response. Perhaps between now and Report we may be able to examine the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 229 to 232 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Interpretation of Chapter II]:

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 233:

Page 11, line 44, leave out ("Chapter") and insert ("Part").

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

Perhaps I may say rather cheekily that this is more of a tidying amendment, or an attempt at it, than something more substantive.

Clause 20(1) makes reference to the interpretation of exclusion or restriction of access in Chapter II. The amendment seeks to apply the definition of exclusion or restriction to the entire part, thus obviating the need for duplication elsewhere. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I am always grateful for drafting suggestions from the noble Lord; however, I am not sure that I share his concern. The amendment seeks to extend the definition to include all of Part I. The definitions of the exclusion and restriction of access are set out in Clause 20 at the beginning of Chapter II, which then proceeds to provide for how such exclusions or restrictions may be imposed. There is a special provision in Clause 19(2) which avoids any doubt that the exclusions or restrictions referred to in Clause 19(1) are indeed those defined in Clause 20.

Of course, it would have the effect that the noble Lord suggests if the definition in Clause 20 were to be applied to the whole of Part I; therefore, in one sense the amendment is entirely proper. But there is no particular benefit to be gained from such an amendment because the other parts of Part I refer forward to Clause 20 in any case. Therefore, the situation is already covered, albeit slightly more indirectly than the noble Lord would like. For that reason, his amendment would not make the provision any clearer than it already is. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that conclusion, and I should be grateful if he would withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

I thank the noble Lord for his explanation. I am sorry that he does not like my suggested improvement. However, I bow to his greater knowledge on this occasion and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

moved Amendment No. 234:

Page 12, line 2, after ("any") insert ("access").

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

All the amendments in this group refer to the proper identification of land which may or may not be access land.

In subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 20 there is reference to the exclusion or restriction of access to any land. The amendment proposes that for the sake of clarity specific reference should be made where it is necessary to identify that land as access land and whether reference is made to the whole of it or to part of it, and the amendment seeks to do just that.

Perhaps I may speak also to the other amendments in the group, starting with Amendments Nos. 239, 240 and 241. As with the amendments under Clause 20, this batch of three amendments simply seeks to clarify and make specific reference to land which is access land rather than any land, which must be helpful to all concerned.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 259 relate to Clause 21, and to the extension of time for exclusion or restriction at the descretion of the landowner. In this respect the Bill is vague and imprecise in its reference to land and the purpose of these two amendments is to clarify and identify the land referred to.

Amendment No. 263 relating to Clause 22 refers to an application regarding land that is not access land. The subsection attempts to provide for a situation where the relevant authority is able to forecast whether or not land will be access land at some point during all or part of the period to which an application relates. That is simply not practicable and our amendment ensures that applications deal not with conjecture but with reality.

Amendment No. 266 relates to Clause 23 and refers to access land. For the purpose of clarification the amendment proposes that relevant land shall be referred to as access land.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 270 to 274. Again, we say that the reference in the Bill is vague and unspecific in many cases. This batch of amendments simply seeks to make specific reference to access land.

The final amendment in the group refers to Clause 23 and to land that is not access land at the time when the application is made. This matter was referred to in relation to Clause 22, where the Bill was described as conjecturing what might become access land but is not access land at the time when the application is made. We believe that that is irrelevant and the amendment seeks to exclude that possibility. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Many of the amendments tabled by the Conservative Front Bench have been most helpful. However, I venture to suggest that they are grossly over-doing it with this set of amendments. Clause 20(2) reads:

"A person excludes access ... where he excludes the application of that subsection in relation to that land".

How can one exclude access, which can only be given over access land, except in relation to access land? How can adding the word "access" make any useful addition to the wording of the clause, other than making it longer and taking up yet more of our time?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

For reasons that I shall explain, I believe that the Opposition are being slightly inconsistent on this occasion. The effect of this group of amendments would be literally to reverse government amendments put forward on Report in another place, which were tabled as a result of representations that had been made. It would be helpful to allow applications for restrictions to be made and dealt with before the actual right of access came into effect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, argued quite strongly earlier that we should allow for a certain situation where we could anticipate the need for by-laws before the actual right came into effect. The earlier amendments allow for the directions to be made in relation to restrictions and for landowners to be allowed to exercise their discretion under Clause 21 in anticipation of land becoming access land. They provide a mechanism whereby restrictions on access could be directed before the right of access came into effect, so that not only the access but also the restriction would be in place on day one of the operation of the right. That is the equivalent position to the one we discussed earlier on by-laws. We accepted the principle of the noble Baroness's amendment on by-laws and, therefore, we are being consistent in resisting this amendment.

As I have explicitly explained the reason why the reference to "land" rather than "access land" was made, any other reading of those amendments is mistaken. I believe that virtually all of the cases here are the mirror image of the amendments made in order to provide for that contingency, which I believe we now all agree would be both appropriate and helpful in terms of managing the approach to access land and the access right. In the light of my explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

I am sorry to displease the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe; and, indeed, the Minister. In view of that response, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative 7:15 pm, 5th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 235:

Page 12, line 3, at end insert ("or part thereof").

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

It is with some trepidation that I move Amendment No. 235. In doing so, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 236 and 238. Again, the issue here is identification. In Clause 20(2) and (3) reference is made to the exclusion or restriction of access to any land. For the sake of clarity, our amendment proposes that specific reference should be made, where necessary, to identify that land as access land and to clarify whether reference is being made to the whole or part of it. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Amendment No. 236 refers to the same argument in relation to Clause 21. Amendment No. 238 seeks to provide greater clarification as to how such land is identified. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I regret to have to tell the noble Lord yet again that this set of amendments is based on a misunderstanding of Chapter II of the Bill. The phrase "any land" means just that: any land. The exclusion or restriction of access does not relate to a pre-determined area, such as all land in the same ownership or all land within a specific geographical boundary. For example, it would clearly make little sense to require that an owner of extensive areas of moorland wishing to conduct a grouse shoot on one relatively small part of that moor should be obliged to close his entire estate. Indeed, that would be contrary to the intention; namely, to allow maximum flexibility within the closure and restriction regime so that it is responsive to the widest range of land management, nature conservation and other needs that may well vary within the area of one ownership.

When assessing the need for restriction or for closure, we expect the relevant authorities to approve the minimum restriction or exclusion to protect those interests. I can, therefore, reassure the noble Lord that the concerns lying behind his amendments are misplaced and that they are fully met by the Bill. In view of my explanation, I trust that the noble Lord will not pursue these amendments.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

That was a rather interesting response. With regard to the 28-day exclusion, the Minister mentioned the fact that it could refer only to one part of an estate, all of which may be access land; in other words, another part of that access land could actually be excluded for another part of that 28-day period. I hope that I am correct in that respect. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Exclusion or restriction at discretion of owner and others]:

[Amendment No. 236 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 237:

Page 12, line 43, at end insert--

("( ) Subject to subsections (2) and (6), an entitled person may, by giving notice to the relevant authority in accordance with regulations under section 30(1)(a), exclude or restrict access by virtue of section 2(1) to any land on a Saturday between August 11th and February 2nd where that land is used commercially for shooting.").

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 248. This amendment would allow landowners to close land on Saturdays during the game shooting season. The majority of game shooting takes place on a Saturday, mainly because this is when most people can take the opportunity to shoot but also because, by law, game cannot be shot on Sundays.

The importance of shooting to the economy and conservation of rural areas is crucial. Over £653 million is spent on shooting per year and much of the countryside is conserved by shooting interests. It is important to note that much shooting takes place during the harsh winter months. The public are much more likely to want to enjoy access during the spring and summer months. Further, the amendment would not deter the public from enjoying access on a Sunday during the period 12th August to 1st February--something that is denied by law to game shooters.

The rural economy often depends on sporting activities such as shooting during the winter months, especially as this is the very time when other tourists are less likely to visit remote areas. Therefore, the amendment seeks to strike an appropriate balance. It would allow those members of the public who wish to enjoy their right of access during the winter months to do so on Sundays, and it would not preclude land managers from shooting on the most popular day of the week during the statutory game seasons.

I turn to Amendment No. 248 which reads:

"Page 13, line 14, leave out subsection (6)".

It is not clear why access land should not be closed at weekends, given that the right to close it is limited to a specific number of days. Given that there is a limit to the number of days land can be closed, the public will be able to enjoy access land at the weekends for the vast majority of the year. But that right should also extend to those who wish to close access land for legitimate reasons. For example, shooting days often take place on Saturday. Removing that right would have severe implications for the viability of estates. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

It is a pity that the first amendment in this group, which deals with the important question of weekend access, should deal specifically with shooting which although important is by no means the whole of the matter. However, I should perhaps declare an interest as an enthusiastic participant in the sport of shooting who is likely to shoot on moorland on Saturdays. I hope that any noble Lord who owns a grouse moor and is present in the Chamber will take note of that!

The general problem of weekend access is much more important. I shall concentrate my remarks on Amendment No. 248 which seeks to remove subsection (6) of Clause 21. Clause 21 provides that a landowner may exclude access to land on certain days. It is obviously intended that he should do so at critical times such as lambing time or when birds are hatching. If we assume that that is the main purpose of the closure provision, it must be utterly illogical, and indeed destructive of that whole purpose, if weekends are excluded from the 28 days when closure is permitted.

I suggest to the Government that they take a little advice from King Canute and recognise that nature's rules do not bend to the wishes of human rulers. It is unfortunate but true that sheep and nesting birds and their eggs do not read Hansard or even the statutes at large and do not carry with them calendars which enable them to identify when weekends occur. Therefore, unfortunately, they will not refrain from lambing or hatching over a weekend. If those processes are to be protected on Fridays, they also need to be protected on Saturdays and Sundays. Even New Labour cannot persuade sheep not to lamb over a weekend because the former would like to allow people on to the land.

An exemption for weekends at such critical times renders the power to exclude utterly illogical. As many of us have sought to suggest, countrymen consider many of the Bill's provisions unreasonable and unfair. The concept of a Monday to Friday period of closure to protect lambs, birds and so on at critical periods demonstrates to those who know about the countryside that the Bill was drafted in Whitehall by persons with no tittle of understanding of what happens in the countryside. If the Government truly intend that landowners or tenants should be able to close their land at critical times, such as lambing or hatching, they must concede that it must also be closed at weekends and allow nature to take precedence over the vagaries of the calendar.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Liberal Democrat

Amendments Nos. 244 and 245, which are grouped with Amendment No. 237, stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. These amendments have the purpose of extending the period of closure. The amendments propose that four weekends should be added to the period of statutory closure as laid down in Clause 21(4). In arithmetic terms this would increase statutory closure from 28 days to 36 days.

Amendment No. 244 adds four weekends to the relevant maximum; and Amendment No. 245 spells out how the weekend should be interpreted. It seems to me that the presumption behind the Bill is that closure is for maintenance purposes and also for the pleasure of those who do not have to work. This seems to be unfair to those who wish to shoot or stalk--which are particularly dangerous activities if you are not taking part in them--but can do so only on Saturday. It seems also to be unhelpful to those estates--this has been mentioned--whose income is derived from selling shooting days. As the Bill is presumably not intended to disadvantage the rural economy, I hope that these amendments can be incorporated into the Bill.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

I support what the noble Earl has just said. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I should hate these discussions to concern only shooting. However, I shall return to that matter in a moment. How owners, occupiers and tenants will utilise their 28 closure days remains to be seen. I cannot speak for them. However, I believe that a number of people will use their 28 closure days during the breeding season in May. That is my hunch. If that is the case, the noble Viscount's comments were absolutely right and proper because clearly birds will not cease nesting during weekends or bank holidays. This is an important issue which I hope the Government will take extremely seriously.

I turn to shooting. The noble Earl is absolutely right to say that shooting--we are talking here principally of grouse shooting--is of enormous economic importance to certain country areas. I venture to suggest--this is an extremely important point--that most of the money that is generated by shooting is used to support the management of those areas. I go so far as to say that if it was not for the shooting interests a great number of sites of special scientific interest--many of which will now be designated as SPAs and SACs under the European habitats and birds directive--would not exist in the first place. Therefore it would be disingenuous of the Government to ignore the goose which lays the golden egg. That is a most important point.

As regards shooting, difficulties would arise for many people if they could not participate in that sport on a Saturday. I am not talking about people with vast sums of money. Many members of shooting clubs enjoy their weekend shooting and have no other opportunity to do so. It is important to note that this matter affects people across the whole social spectrum. The income generated from shooting is of enormous importance not just in terms of the maintenance of hills or the wildlife benefits; it has a considerable knock-on effect in other industries such as the hotel industry and the transport industry. The Government need to bear in mind all those points when considering this matter. I very much welcome the opportunity to increase the number of weekends where access can be closed for whatever reason, not just shooting.

I go back to what I said at the beginning. We must not forget that some people may use these days to try to close these areas for the benefit of nesting birds. These are not just game birds but also Schedule 1 birds.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 7:30 pm, 5th October 2000

Perhaps I may ask two questions. If someone wanders through a drive on a foggy day while shooting is in operation and is shot, whose responsibility will it be? Will there be conflict between owners of land and tenant farmers? For example, will a tenant farmer be able to have 28 days for his lambing while a landowner has a different 28 days for his shooting?

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

Perhaps the Minister will consider a degree of flexibility as regards weekend closures. It is not that I hate to think that upland landowners with shooting interests would be financially embarrassed by being unable to sell shooting days at the weekends, particularly on a Saturday. It is the more serious point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about the ecology of the uplands being heavily dependent on the income that shooting brings to those areas. It is a point that we need to emphasise.

I am less convinced by the arguments based on sheep or nesting birds. Birds set up territories. They nest; they hatch; and they breed and raise young over quite extensive periods. The odd Saturday or 28-day closure will not make much difference to nesting birds. Closures in order to protect nesting birds should be on the ground of conservation rather than discretionary.

On the sheep question, I am not convinced that there is evidence that walkers and lambing do not mix. As an ex-shepherd of 600 sheep, a horse and a dog, my ewes were concentrating on something else when lambing on the hill rather than whether walkers were close by. The odd Saturday closure will not help if the sheep are lambing on the open hill.

Nevertheless, perhaps we can prevail upon the Minister to be flexible. The points made about the economics of shooting are fundamental to our upland areas. I suggest that we should consider giving landowners more discretion about weekend closures within the proposed 28 discretionary days.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

Let us consider the reason that the Government introduced the 28 day period. It was so that landowners would have a period in which to undertake those activities vital to their landholding without having to go through the difficulties of applying for closures to quangos which might argue the case. It does not seem unreasonable that they should have a block of time which is not broken up by these three or four weekends.

In Standing Committee B, at cols. 474 and 475 of the Official Report of 2nd May, Mr Meacher said:

"I am not sure that we can justify providing in the Bill for shutting open countryside to the public for a whole month without giving any reason".

He continued:

"My problem is to find a way of reconciling the two views that does not severely or drastically undermine the purpose of the Bill".

I suggest that closing for that useful 28-day block period does not,

"severely or drastically undermine the purpose of the Bill".

The Government have said that people may abuse the provision and close the area for all the most popular weekends. On the other hand, landowners may say, "We can apply for closure orders in order to undertake those activities we have not had time to do and the quangos will make our lives difficult". If we approach the issue on the basis of scepticism, we shall not get far.

It is common sense for this to occur. At col. 475, Mr Meacher said:

"I accept that the 28-days' discretion gives landowners a simple way to close their land for any reason, without seeking approval".

That non-bureaucratic route is important. That time should not be broken into because there might be possible abuse. It is a weak case. It is time the Government admitted it.

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour

Perhaps I may add my voice to those who ask the Minister to be more flexible, particularly about Saturdays. It was not the intention of the Government that access would be increased at the expense of the livelihoods of those who work there. Indeed, when Mr Meacher was asked about the Government's intention regarding compensation, at col. 669 of the Official Report of 17th March 1999, he said that the independent study which the Government had commissioned indicated that there were unlikely to be any significant losses or costs to landlords because, among other things, there would be the continued ability of landowners,

"to develop and use their land after the introduction of the right".

There is no question that commercial shooting--I am no expert; there are many in the Chamber who are--relies in many cases on being able to let days on a Saturday. There is equally no doubt that shooting provides in many upland areas the only income, and it is that which pays for the maintenance, heather burning and so on, as Members on all sides of the Chamber have said. I hope that the Minister will listen to their concerns and perhaps make suggestions.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

Although we are literally a long way from mountains or moorlands, I do not know anyone in my part of the world who shoots on any day other than a Saturday. Nearly all the guns work from Monday to Friday; and most of the beaters have other jobs from Monday to Friday. For that reason, I favour either Amendment No. 237 or possibly Amendment 250 which would seem to fill the bill quite well.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Let us go back to first principles. The right of access is to enable the people of this country to enjoy areas of the countryside which are currently closed to them. Most of those people, irrespective of whether they are ramblers or live in the countryside or town, work for five days a week. To extend the discretion to cover the weekends when the vast majority of people would utilise this right, without any check and without the authority of the countryside agencies, severely undermines a basic right.

The 28 days provides some flexibility to landowners without having to go through the Countryside Agency. That does not alter the fact that people who want to organise shoots on a Saturday, those who, for conservation reasons, during lambing, or whatever, need to close on a weekend or series of weekends still have the ability to obtain the authority from the agencies in addition to those 28 days. We are talking here about virtually total discretion for the landowner without reference to anyone else. If shooting is carried out on a Saturday, the Countryside Agency will be able to be persuaded that that is a sensible reason for closing the land on that day or series of days. Indeed, as I have said before, once agreed, the restrictions on the right of access can apply over a period of time.

Some of the amendments--this is certainly true of Amendment No. 237 and the subsequent ones--are a means of extending the 28 days. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, was explicit about that, although the others dodged the point. They would extend the discretion of the landowner to close access land without reference to the countryside authorities. Land could be closed for the whole of August, when most people take their holiday, or for seven weekends across the summer, restricting access for people whose only time for walking is at weekends.

Many of the points that have been raised can reasonably be met by landowners approaching the Countryside Agency to ensure that land management and access needs are appropriately balanced. If there is a need for weekend closure beyond the 28 days because of breeding, shooting or other land management purposes, the Countryside Agency will decide.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I find that quite worrying, because the Bill does not give the Countryside Agency much of a policy framework to determine when weekend closures are reasonable. No framework was laid down in the other place and nothing has been done here. It will be down to the whim of a local Countryside Agency officer to decide whether weekend closure is reasonable. That is unsatisfactory.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

But neither are there any criteria in the amendments on how the 28 days can be used or extended. The 28 days could be used by an irresponsible landowner to exclude access for the period when people are most likely to want it. Some of the amendments, including Amendment No. 237, would extend the 28-day period considerably, without setting out any criteria for when those 28 days plus however many weekends applied. That could greatly extend the time that parts of the countryside are closed to the public.

As I pointed out earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, landowners also have the flexibility of applying one set of 28 days to part of their land and another set of 28 days to another part of their land. That also answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. A tenant's land could be closed for one set of 28 days and the rest of thefreeholder's land could be closed for a different 28 days. There is considerable flexibility in the Bill.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

There may be considerable flexibility in the Bill, but, although the Minister tried to assure us earlier that the access authorities would be reasonable, there is no guarantee of how they will behave, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has pointed out. If the Minister wants to assure us that the access authority will be reasonable, why is he not prepared to be reasonable? It amounts to the same thing. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the amendments would save all the bureaucratic nonsense of the owner having to go through the system. The Minister is arguing against himself.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

The income gained from shooting in the uplands is incredibly important to the ability to manage the area properly and to conserve wildlife. Shooting cannot be planned very far in advance. Very often, whether shooting can take place is determined by the keeper walking the hill to see the lie of the land, what the weather is likely to be and how the birds are. It is often not possible to seek agreement about closures through the Countryside Agency even modestly far in advance. The Minister should give serious consideration to allocating at least some of the 28 days to Saturday closure.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench 7:45 pm, 5th October 2000

The Minister has criticised some of the amendments because they would extend the 28-day period. Does he accept that Amendment No. 248 would do no such thing? It would leave the number of days at 28, but would remove the bar on weekend closure. If the Minister is worried that some landowners might abuse the situation by closing for 28 Saturdays during the holiday season or for the whole of August he should come back on Report with an amendment to limit the number of Saturdays or the number of days in August that can be taken as part of the 28 days allowed. Will he give serious consideration to that and come back with an amendment that deletes the wholesale ban on weekends but restricts abuses by those who cherrypick their days excessively?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked me to be reasonable. I think that I am being reasonable, but I am also trying to avoid bureaucracy. The 28-day provision was included to avoid having to go through bureaucracy and to give a basic right of discretion over land management. The provision is flexible, because different parcels of land can be dealt with separately. There are also clear provisions for how the Countryside Agency is to assess applications for closure. If it does not act reasonably, it will be inbreach of its duty and the landowner will be able to appeal to the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 237 is an attempt, for whatever motivation, to extend the 28-day period. I cannot consider any amendment that would do that. Landlords have other ways of excluding their land for particular purposes outwith those 28 days. That is why we have included the application provisions. Applications for shooting on a Saturday would undoubtedly meet the Countryside Agency's criteria for the use of the land and the need to close the land for safety and management reasons.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

The Minister said "undoubtedly". Is he giving us a firm assurance that if somebody applies for an extension on the 28 days for Saturday shooting, they will definitely get it?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I did not quite say that. Each case will be taken on its merits, but clearly the need for shooting for land management purposes and the safety implications of shooting when there is public access will be pretty strong grounds for the Countryside Agency to take into account.

I take in part the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. There may be another way of looking at the issue, but putting restrictions on the way in which weekends can be used within the 28 days could make things even more complicated.

Amendment No. 237 is certainly an attempt to extend the 28 days and I shall continue to resist it. I have not seen an amendment relating to weekends within the 28 days that would be sensible and workable. There may be such an amendment, but I have not seen it yet. I therefore continue to oppose the amendment before us. I shall take into account the views that have been expressed, but I hope that the amendment before us will be withdrawn. Having considered the views, I cannot give a commitment as to how far we would go because I believe that we could still end up with a completely unsatisfactory situation. Nevertheless, I hear the voices around the Chamber and will, without commitment, consider the matter further.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

I am very disappointed with what I have heard. I am afraid that I shall change my attitude slightly with regard to this matter. I believe that the argument and the case put forward by the Minister are the first sign of real old-fashioned dogma. It is dogma that a Labour Government who are sensitive to the misuse of something such as this should believe that big landowners might do everything that they can to misuse their privilege. Yet the Government are willing to open up land to other groups of people, including the antis, to misuse the privilege of walking across the land and shooting grouse moors on Saturdays. That is dogma.

The commonsense parts of the arguments that we have heard are still in place. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made two pleas about the value of shooting. She and others have made pleas about the need for conservation. It may interest the Committee to know that some places are sensitive conservation areas. For 52 days a year the RSPB closes everything to the public. It closes every Tuesday. I repeat: 52 days a year.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

Will the noble Lord give way? I may be wrong about the current practice of the RSPB but, certainly when I was its chief executive, if we were closing on 52 days of the year, I was uniquely unaware of the fact.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

Minsmere closes every Tuesday for maintenance. It is also closed during its holiday periods. I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention and for correcting me on that point. I should have been more precise. My own knowledge was weak.

However, the point is made. I believe that the inability to close land over a block of time also presents a problem for conservation and farming. Under this proposal, if it is not possible to close on Saturdays and Sundays, there will never be a period of six or seven days when one can, by right, close one's land for a consecutive period. This regime allows only five days in a row on which to restrict access without going through the problems of bureaucracy.

I put forward another small argument. Members of the Committee are well aware that a serious battle is taking place over country sports. One end of it is violent; another end is seriously and professionally orchestrated so far as concerns lobbying. By transferring to the local access authority the decision as to whether the land on which a person who shoots may or may not be closed on a Saturday or Sunday, one is also transferring the burden of resisting the lobby groups, both serious and violent--activists and those who have considerably more money than one could dream of to run heavily orchestrated lobbying.

Perhaps I show a weakness, but I am nervous that the countryside agencies may give way to the lobbyists and the antis--occasionally a little, then a bit more. There may be sympathetic members within local access authorities. Having experienced violence from the antis myself, I believe that that is a serious risk. Such violence is not pleasant and it makes one wonder why sometimes one does not simply give in, particularly if one is elderly and weak. It is a very serious issue.

I have made several points, as have many Members of the Committee. I make a final point relating to dogs. As the dog issue has not been settled, we must assume that dogs will be allowed to go free on any Saturday of the year on any area unless we go through a bureaucratic process and think a long way ahead--I do not know how many months. Then the arguments that I have been making about the antis, and so on, come into play. I believe that the present situation is intolerable. We shall return to this matter on Report and I hope that the Minister and the Government--

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Before the noble Lord decides what he is going to do with his amendment, perhaps I may say that, far from being disappointed with the reply from the Minister, I am very disappointed with the ungrateful and intransigent attitude being taken by the noble Lord and the Conservative Front Bench. I believe that the Minister has gone some way towards recognising that there is a problem. I believe that we should gracefully give him an opportunity to consider the matter and to come back to us.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

I am sorry that the noble Viscount did not like the tone of what I said. That is the direction in which I was heading. However, I have every intention of withdrawing the amendment and hope that the Government will return on Report with something with which we can all work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 238 to 241 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that that we do not continue with the Committee stage before 8.55 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.