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 Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench 3:15 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, this is a drafting amendment but it raises a point of considerable importance as it affects the whole question of what constitutes access land. I hasten to assure the Minister that in raising this point I am in no way infected with paranoia.

The first aim of the Bill, as stated in Clause 1(1)(a), is to give access to "open country". The question of what constitutes open country is conclusively resolved and defined in Clause 1(2) which states that "'open country' means"--that is therefore exclusive--

"land which-- appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist wholly or predominantly of mountain, moor, heath or down".

For the purposes of the point I am making I shall concentrate on downs. By that definition, any land which appears to consist mainly of down is open country. Thus, if one has an area of land which is undoubtedly mainly down, it is within the definition of open country and therefore becomes access land even if it is not open at all. That point became apparent on the first day of Committee in this Chamber when there was discussion of a technical nature as to what constituted a down. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggested that that probably included parts of the Cotswolds, the Yorkshire Wolds and other such places. It then became apparent to me that if those areas of countryside are considered downs, they are within the primary definition of open country, whether or not they are open. No one, not even the Countryside Commission, can say, "They are down but they are not open and therefore we shall not treat them as open country".

The definition states that all land which is down is open country and therefore under Clause 4(1) it must be mapped, unless, of course, it is of a de minimis quantity. That cannot be what was intended. I give an analogy. Let us suppose that an Act protects ancient dwellings but states that an ancient dwelling means any building constructed before 1600. Then any such building is included, whether or not it is a dwelling. One has precisely the same situation here in that any down is included, whether or not it is open. Therefore I wish the definition to state that open country constitutes land which is open and which appears to be wholly or predominantly heath or down.

I confidently hope that the Minister will gratefully accept my freely-given advice and improvement to the Bill. I beg to move.