Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 1st November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 3:15 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 1B. I should like to welcome the fact that we have arrived at the Report stage of this Bill and to say how pleased we are on these Benches with the progress made in Committee, especially the number of amendments that the Government have brought forward.

However, during our discussions in Committee, the words "discretion" and "sensitivity" were mentioned many times in relation to the Countryside Agency. Indeed, I believe that the Minister mentioned those words just a short while ago. The way in which the agency exercises such discretion is obviously crucial. These amendments were prompted by concerns as to exactly how that discretion will operate. It is clear that the Countryside Agency will not be able to begin to implement all of the functions that it will now have to undertake as a result of the Bill. It will obviously have to contract out a large number of the tasks that will arise as a result of this legislation, as is the case with the mapping.

In practice, contractual arrangements depend very much on how successful the original specification is in drawing up the exact responsibilities of the private enterprise as regards the people with whom it will be dealing. Given the fact that the agency will have a relationship between access authorities, local access forums and the agency--with the contractor somewhere in the middle--we need to hear from the Minister exactly what is in the Government's mind in terms of giving guidance to the agency about contracting out these very sensitive areas of work. Indeed, they would include not only the mapping but also appeals on behalf of landowners about closures, which was something that exercised all our minds in Committee; for example, when it would be reasonable to grant discretion to landowners to close their land beyond the 28 days given in the Bill. However, I am sure that we shall debate that issue again at equal length.

I should like to know what sort of guidance the Government intend to give the agency on such matters. In the event of the contract not being a happy arrangement in a certain area, can the Minister say what process could be followed in such circumstances? For example, will there be a right of appeal to the Countryside Agency because the contractor is not carrying out its duty in the way that people had hoped? Alternatively, will the appeal be to the Secretary of State? At present, I am quite unclear as to how that relationship would work in these extremely sensitive areas. I beg to move.