Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

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

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 3:15 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, these amendments would require the countryside bodies to consult with local access forums before appointing a contractor. That is a significant inhibition on the Countryside Agency in carrying out this work. As we shall discover when we discuss the relevant amendments, local access forums are regarded as an important factor in assessing how we establish and manage access. However, we do not believe that they are appropriate bodies to consult in the context we are discussing.

The countryside bodies are required to produce maps of all registered common land and open country. They will be required by regulations to consult widely on draft maps, consider representations, then produce provisional maps for confirmation or amendment following the hearing of any appeals by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales.

That is a considerable task. We cannot expect the countryside bodies to use directly employed staff in all contexts. The in-house staff will not have all of the technical expertise that is required. When specialist staff can be contracted to carry out certain work it would not be sensible for the countryside bodies to employ specialists for a limited period and then dispense with them. The bodies involved have already taken steps to identify, and where necessary contract, organisations and individuals with the right skills to do this work. As we discussed earlier, they are working closely with the Ordnance Survey to ensure high technical standards. In mapping and other areas they will need expertise which complements their in-house expertise. However, oversight and responsibility for all this work will rest with the countryside bodies. Their staff will set the parameters, oversee the operation of the contracts and will have a direct and vital role in discussions with the interested parties during the process and afterwards. They take extremely seriously the prospect of carrying out their functions. They are determined to carry out that work in a professional and transparent manner.

The amendments imply that we would employ particular bodies for particular mapping purposes. However, it is more likely that we would employ under contract particular organisations or personnel for their general expertise. It would therefore be difficult to engage a significant number of local access forums in the contractual arrangements, as the amendments would require, because they would be organised on a national or regional basis rather than on an area or county basis. There may be occasions where that is not the case but in those situations the countryside bodies' own staff would engage in full consultation with the relevant local access forums.

As regards guidance to the Countryside Agency, I think I have indicated that it will have tight overall management of this work. We shall not give specific guidance to the Countryside Agency on contracting out. However, the provisions in regulations--I refer, in particular, to Clause 11 which concerns regulations relating to maps--will set out in detail the requirements for consultation and appeal, which the noble Baroness was particularly worried about, and will allow us to concentrate on achieving the right outcomes without interfering in the way in which the Countryside Agency mobilises the inputs, whether in terms of direct staff or separate contracted companies or individuals. Therefore the fact that that body will be in charge of the procedure will safeguard the appeals process. What we are really talking about here is deploying expertise.

As I say, the Countryside Agency will be in charge of the process. It will consult with local interest groups and local access forums. Most of the expertise will probably consist of contracted specialists. I believe that the amendments are inappropriate. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press them.