My Lords, this Motion is about the great outdoors. When I tabled it, I tried to include “great outdoors” in the title but the clerks thought that the term was rather colloquial and preferred not to have it. However, that is what it is all about. The previous debate in Parliament on these issues was a Commons Adjournment debate led by David Rutley MP on
Since I have been in your Lordships’ House we have had some epic debates. A long time ago in 2000, Parliament passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. More recently, it passed the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and there have been many others. These are all about the great outdoors, and that is what this Motion is about today. I should declare my interests, which are my involvement in the British Mountaineering Council as a patron and in other ways, and as a vice-president of the Open Spaces Society.
The purpose of this debate is to celebrate the great outdoors, its importance to the local and national economies, and its positive effects on the health and well-being of people. I tried to put the word “people” into the Motion but the clerk said that it should be “population”. However, as far as I am concerned, it is “people”.
The great outdoors involves activities that engage the body and the mind out in the open air, ranging from gentle walks in local parks to exploring the great mountains and wilderness areas. It entails experiencing not just physical activities—you can pay a lot of money to get that in a sweaty gym if that is what you like—but landscapes, nature and open, wild places. It includes walking, climbing, mountaineering, canoeing, cycling, riding, sailing, orienteering, fell running and hang-gliding, as well as nature lovers, botanists and twitchers, and even field sports, although I would draw the line at hunting. I apologise for any that I have missed out. It encompasses walking in the local park, flying kites, cycling across urban trails, winter mountaineering in Scotland and extreme sports that some of us have never heard of. Some are very organised and highly commercialised; others involve voluntary activities in local clubs, rambling groups, mountaineering groups and cycling clubs, but the great majority involve individuals, friends and families going into the countryside and doing their own thing.
What is the value of this activity? Inevitably in a debate such as this, we have been deluged by statistics from all sorts of organisations. I am grateful to bodies such as the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the Ramblers, the BMC and the John Muir Trust, and we have had excellent briefing from the House of Lords Library. Living Streets reminds us that going out and walking is not just a rural activity. I sometimes think on these occasions that you get so much material that you could write a book with it—you cannot possibly use it all.
The value of outdoor activities lies, first, in the economic benefits. The latest research that I have found—there is lots of it—is from the Welsh Economy Research Unit at Cardiff University on the new Wales coastal path. The research unit reckons that this attracted 3 million visitors and was worth £16 million to the Welsh economy over the 12 months from September 2011 to August 2012. In 2011, the LSE’s “gross cycling product” report—an economic report on British cycling—said that British cycling contributes £2.9 billion to the UK economy. I suppose that these studies all keep academics in work but they provide helpful background information.
The social benefits of the great outdoors are huge. The Government’s own UK National Ecosystem Assessment in 2011 estimated that the social benefits of people being able to access and enjoy the countryside amount to £484 million per year. How does one work out these figures? I have no idea. I am very cynical about their accuracy and what they actually mean, but if the Government think that that is what it is worth, I am very happy to support that because it helps me to encourage the Government to promote these activities.
Natural England, in its 2011 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment report, said that 2.73 billion visits to the natural environment took place in 2011-12, 10% up on the previous year, and that £20 billion was spent. We are deluged with these statistics and they are important, but there are other statistics as well.
The John Muir Trust’s research with Glasgow University looked at equality in accessing the great outdoors and wild places, and at people’s experiences of outdoor activities. It reported that these are still heavily biased towards more prosperous people—I suppose middle England and the middle class, except that this research was carried out in Scotland. It found that people from the 15% more deprived areas in Scotland—worked out on our old friend the indices of multiple deprivation—were more than six times more likely to have had no experience of wild places.
I think of the great epic accounts that have been written by working-class Clydesiders, such as the fascinating book Always a Little Further by Alastair Borthwick about his experiences in the 1930s and going out into the Highlands with some of his mates, and the northern working-class climbers in the 1940s and 1950s, Joe Brown, Don Whillans and their friends in the Rock and Ice Club. They are legends but they were always a small minority of people from deprived backgrounds going out into the countryside, and that remains the case.
We now have stories about children in schools being asked, for example, where milk comes from and saying, “From the supermarket”. The importance of education and of extending involvement across the social classes is as great as it ever was.
On the health values, one academic study in 2007 reported that physical inactivity cost the NHS between £1 billion and £1.8 billion a year, and that the cost to the wider economy was £5.5 billion in sickness absence and £1 billion in premature deaths. We know that going out into the great outdoors not only has great physical benefits for people but great mental benefits as well.
Local authorities now have their new public health roles, and public health is nothing if it is not a matter of ill health prevention. The new role at local authority level will be absolutely vital, and yet these local authorities, the top-tier counties and the unitary authorities that ought to be promoting walking and other outdoor activities to boost public health to produce significant savings in public spending, are exactly the same authorities that are now undergoing drastic cuts in their budgets and cutting their public rights of way budgets for maintaining and developing their local footpath networks. We need more joined-up thinking, and those local authorities should be looking at how to do it.
This leads me on to the question of access, which is absolutely crucial. If you cannot get into the great outdoors it is of no use to you. The Ramblers research last year suggested that 70% of local authorities have cut their rights of way budgets in previous years and that 41% of them have cut them by more than 20%. Given another round of budget cuts this year, the position now is clearly much worse. I am proud to say that my local authority—I declare an interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council, which carries out rights of way work on behalf of the county council in Lancashire—has managed to maintain its service this year despite drastic and savage budget cuts. However, we shall have to look at whether we can continue to do so in the future. Our spending on the service is voluntary, not statutory, yet we have managed to maintain it so far, I am pleased to say.
We have many national trails through our area: the Pennine Way is not very far away, the Pennine bridleway comes within a mile or two of where I live, and the ward I represent on the local council has the Pennine Cycleway, Cycleway 68, threading through it. So we are in the heart of the national trails.
On blocked rights of way, the latest rights of way condition survey by the Countryside Agency in 2000 suggested that serious obstruction occurred every two kilometres on average. I suspect that statistic is much better now, although it will deteriorate because of the way in which rights of way staff in county councils are being removed.
I sponsored a Question for Short Debate about coastal access on
The rights of way network never has been and is not complete. The map was supposed to be finished by 2026, when a cap would be put on new registrations of historic routes. Stepping Forward, the report of the stakeholder working group on unrecorded rights of way for Natural England has not been taken up and pursued, and it would be interesting to know that the Government are now intending to do that.
One of the problems with access is the lack of knowledge and understanding of what you can do in the countryside. We have such an urban population nowadays that people actually do not know what they can do. They drive out in their cars, park in the car park or on the verge and get the picnic table out, but if you suggest to them that they could go for a walk, they are bewildered. That is why most people who go out into the countryside stay within sight of their cars. Education, information, signage, the maintenance of well used paths and clearing obstacles from less well used ones are all vital, but are being put at risk given the present difficulties with local government budgets.
The Government’s Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement, published earlier this year following the excellent work of the Independent Panel on Forestry, did not pick up the recommendation of the panel with regard to access to forests and woodlands. While the specific recommendation may not be acceptable, it is vital that the question of access to woodlands generally is picked up again. There were concerns at the beginning of this coalition that there were forces, particularly within Defra, who were turning the tide on access. I think that that has now been sorted out and the Government are as committed to access as we could possibly expect; that is to be welcomed.
This is the centenary year of John Muir, who was a founding father of the modern conservation movement, an environmental campaigner, a pioneer of national parks, a champion of wild places and a promoter of the spirit of adventure. I suppose I should declare that I am a member of the John Muir Trust. It is appropriate to conclude these remarks with a famous quotation of his:
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul”.
That is what this Motion to Take Note is all about.
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for initiating this debate today and for the opportunity it gives to emphasise the benefits of outdoor activities to the health and well-being of the nation in so many important regards. It comes just a few days after the publication of a new report by the Mental Health Foundation to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and therefore it is particularly timely. I declare my interest in the great outdoors as the secretary of the All-Party Mountaineering Parliamentary Group and as one of three Members of your Lordships’ House to have climbed all the Munros, the other two being my noble friends Lord Elder and Lord Smith of Finsbury. I am sorry that my colleagues have not put their names down to speak in this debate because they are more eloquent than I and because I know that they share my enthusiasm for walking in the hills, and we are all fully aware of the health benefits—physical, mental and spiritual—that we derive from spending time in the hills.
All three of us will be on our way to Scotland this evening, by plane or sleeper, for the annual John Smith Memorial Walk. This event has been held most years since the tragic and untimely death of the leader of the Labour Party, 19 years ago now, and involves John’s family and friends and old colleagues from politics and wider Scottish life climbing a mountain and raising a glass to his memory. This year we will be on a Corbett in the far north-west of Scotland on Sunday, weather permitting.
Since neither of my noble friends is competing with me, perhaps I might add that I very much hope to be the first member of your Lordships’ House to complete what is known in the Scottish mountaineering world as the “full round”; that is, all summits over 3,000 feet, not just the principal peaks. The grand total is around 600 and I still have a small number to visit.
I am also the organiser of two rambling groups—the Radical Ramblers and the Wednesday Wanderers—and it is from the perspective of the first of these that I wish to make my brief contribution to this debate. The Radical Ramblers has been in existence for more than 30 years; we celebrated our 30th anniversary earlier this year, on the Sunday after the Eastleigh by-election, almost exactly 30 years after our first walk, which was on the Sunday after the Bermondsey by-election. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, remembers both those by-elections well. His party used to do well in parliamentary by-elections, and Bermondsey was certainly a landmark.
In the past 30 years, we have walked very extensively in southern England. Indeed, there is scarcely a long-distance footpath south of a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel that we have not walked. Some of the best walks have been along the coast. We have walked east from Gravesend on the Saxon Shore Way, turned right at Thanet and headed west along the south coast all the way from Dover to Dartmouth. That includes the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester and the South West Coast Path from Poole Harbour along the Dorset and Devon coasts, plus the bits in between through the New Forest and the surrounding countryside.
Much of this walking was done before the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, on pre-existing paths, some of which were some distance from the actual coast. That Act was widely welcomed by the walking community, in particular for giving legislative underpinning to the inspiring notion that as far as practically possible the public should have a right to walk right round the coast of England and Wales. In Wales this aspiration has been fully met, thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Welsh Government. Recently published research has shown that the Wales Coast Path attracted nearly 3 million visitors over a 12-month period and was worth an estimated £16 million to the Welsh economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has already mentioned.
In England the evidence on the ground is that significant improvements to the coastal footpath network are coming—but very slowly. Natural England has an important role to play in this regard, in co-operation with local authorities. I have to accept that in a time of austerity progress will be slower than one might like, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that progress needs to be steady and determined and that the Government have a role in ensuring that the momentum is maintained and the will of Parliament prevails.
Lots of figures are bandied about to emphasise the importance of walking to the economy. I have just mentioned one for Wales. Another, provided by the Ramblers, suggests that walkers in the English countryside spend around £6.14 billion a year, supporting almost 250,000 full-time jobs. Recently my group had a marvellous bank holiday weekend walking up the Suffolk Coast Path, taking it fairly easy over four days from Aldeburgh to Lowestoft. There were about 16 or 17 of us on that walk, including two other colleagues from your Lordships’ House. A rough, back-of-an-envelope calculation suggests that our little rambling group spent more than £3,000 in and around Southwold during those four days—on hotels and B&Bs, in pubs and restaurants et cetera. Why were we there? It was because of the coastal path.
The Government recognise that tourism is a cornerstone of growth. The Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport spelt that out in the debate on outdoor pursuits which was held in the other place earlier this year. What is needed is gentle but firm encouragement for the rollout of the English coastal path
The Marine and Coastal Access Bill was subjected to intensive pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses in the spring of 2008, and I had the privilege and pleasure of serving on that pre-legislative scrutiny committee. I still have the report, which I have brought with me, and the voluminous evidence which we received.
One of the submissions that disappointed me most was from Essex County Council. Although its paper acknowledged that long-distance walkers would bring economic benefits—increased trade for bed and breakfast owners was specifically mentioned—the general tenor of the submission was quite negative towards the concept of a coastal footpath.
Essex has more coastline than any other county in England, more even than Cornwall. This may come as a surprise to those who are not acquainted with the convolutions of the many tidal estuaries which make up so much of the Essex coast. Much of it is low-lying and subject to erosion.
In some cases the sea walls are being breached deliberately in collaboration with the Environment Agency to provide additional intertidal habitats—Rigdon’s breach, on the south side of Hamford Water near Walton-on-the-Naze, comes to mind. Much work is ongoing but precious little, if any, seems to be related to promoting a long-distance coastal path. In fact, some of this work gives the impression of being done to thwart the development of a coastal path.
I hope that Essex County Council can be encouraged to see its extensive coastline as an economic opportunity, not merely as an expensive liability. If Sussex, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall can see the economic potential of encouraging walking along their shores, with the appropriate provision of car parks and access facilities, Essex might yet do the same. I sincerely hope so.
It will be too late for the Radical Ramblers, as we are all getting a bit long in the tooth, but future generations of walkers are coming after us. The Essex backwaters provide splendid habitats for overwintering birds and are rightly popular with ornithologists as well as wild fowlers. Access on foot to these hidden gems needs to be greatly enhanced for future generations of lovers of the great outdoors.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend, who in his time in your Lordships’ House has really championed the cause of outdoor access. It was a privilege to be able to work with him on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, and ever since then I have learnt a great deal from him about all aspects of access. He referred to the different categories of people to whom access is important. I would classify myself in the category of nature lover, and it is on that that I am going to concentrate today.
In my lifetime, our lives have certainly become much more constrained to being indoors, in cars and in front of screens. It is a fact that has been reported widely that children play out less, are driven about more and spend more time in front of TVs and games consoles. My noble friend laid out some of the reasons why that is dangerous. It is dangerous to health and, as my noble friend was right to point out, particularly to mental health. It is extremely uplifting to spend time even just walking outdoors.
I feel pretty lucky, because we did not have a TV until I was 14 and my parents thought that their big radiogram was quite exciting enough. Being the last child by a long way and living in the middle of nowhere, I thought that damming the stream was high entertainment if my friends were not around. Now I realise how lucky I was, because the love of being outdoors has stayed firmly with me. At that age I absorbed absolutely effortlessly the names of birds, flowers and butterflies that my parents taught me. The excitement that they felt at seeing a patch of sundews or an early purple orchid if we were out walking in the mountains has also stayed with me.
Only once did I feel that my mother had taken this a little far. By that time I was an adult and she was staying with me. I was helping a neighbour with his beehives one evening in a rather nice area of heathland and my mother had come along for a walk. I made a mistake, did not smoke the bees enough and got 50 angry bees or more up my bee suit. I was running about screaming when my mother turned round and said, “Shh! I think I can hear a nightjar”.
Even with a very outdoor childhood like mine, I still felt keenly the absolute thrill of our biology A-level course field trip to a centre near Pickering. I remember clearly laying out our metre squares, our job being to count the different species within that metre. The point was to learn a bit more about ecology and how species related. My children in Somerset felt the same excitement when they went to the Somerset outdoor centres at Kilve Court and Charterhouse.
Imaginative schools can make the best of their own grounds. You do not need access to vast acres to make things interesting and exciting. Just this morning, as I thought about what I would say today, I looked at the Archbishop Sumner school opposite my flat in Lambeth, appreciating again just what they have achieved by planting silver birches in the front and creating an exciting woodland entrance to the school. At the back, there is an area now full of bluebells. There are also interesting places for the children to explore with woven living willow shelters and so on.
Experiencing the real world around you is incredibly important, not just for educational reasons but for the feelings of freedom and wonder that it engenders. The first time I came across a study on this sort of thing I was still a county councillor. In 1999, a publication called The Outdoor Classroom: Educational Use, Landscape Design and Management of School Grounds caught my eye. I started to look at the schools in our area, which had done a lot. That began to increase my interest in what you could achieve with even a marginal area round a school playing field.
A 2008 Ofsted report looked at a sample of schools providing opportunities to learn outside the classroom and found that, when implemented well, those opportunities,
“contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development”.
Indeed, if you ask a child what they remember about their last term at school, you will often get a vivid account of a school trip or something else based outside the classroom.
What are the barriers to this? There is health and safety. The 2010 report by my noble friend Lord Young, Common Sense, Common Safety, helped to reduce the form filling and red tape that had previously hampered teachers who wanted to take their pupils on school trips. The Department for Education continued the effort to reduce barriers in 2012 with some important health and safety policy statements about school trips and learning activities. It did quite a bit of work tackling myths about health and safety by explaining that its main interest is in real risks arising from serious breaches of the law, such as a trip leader taking pupils canoeing but not ensuring that they all wore buoyancy equipment.
Then there are the costs. An important 2010 report from the other place, Transforming Education Outside the Classroom, found that there was a risk of school trips becoming the preserve of private schoolchildren. My noble friend Lord Greaves mentioned that going outdoors at all can be a preserve of the privileged.
Sadly, as the report was published just before the election, its recommendations have not been taken up as fully as they could have been. The Guardian newspaper ran a round table in 2012 that found, unsurprisingly, that local authorities have been hit by cuts from central government. It was an interesting round table under Chatham House rules, so the comments are reported but not attributed. It found that some schools thought that they could meet the costs from the pupil premium and others were no longer subsidising the cost of children going on trips or to local outdoor activity centres. One of the conclusions of the discussion was that if you viewed the outdoor classroom as a classroom, it could be an essential part of the curriculum and should be given equal status with the other aspects of provision.
Of course, one of the biggest champions of all that is the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. If I had my way, the Government would class that body as pretty much as important as Ofsted. It is the national voice for learning outside the classroom. I can do no better than cite the example of Marnie Rose, who won the Learning Outside the Classroom award as the innovator of 2012 for setting up a social enterprise called The Garden Classroom four years previously to offer free science and nature workshops for schools in local parks and gardens here in London. She encapsulates what I am talking about when she said:
“When I was a child I attended Cann Hall Primary School in Leytonstone, east London and in year 5 & 6 we regularly visited Sun Trap Field Study Centre in Epping Forest. To this day I can remember the smells and colours of walking in Epping Forest, wearing wellies and being allowed to get wet and muddy ... seeing hedgehogs close up … and eating my egg mayonnaise sandwiches. They are some of my happiest childhood memories. The school continues to run the visits to this day”.
She then mentions that her nan had an allotment, which was also very important to her. It is that sort of childhood and formative experience that can lay the foundations of wishing to go outdoors and understanding what it can offer you as a person.
Given the time available, I will not list all the organisations that do so much work in this area, but I will just mention Garden Organic, which offers all sorts of help to schools with activities tied into the curriculum. The Wildlife Trusts run a huge programme of activities for children by collecting charitable and private resources. In 2012 alone, they hosted 162,000 pupils from 4,400 schools all over the country. They have sites dotted around everywhere, so there is nearly always one near a school. They provide informal education opportunities, with 140,000 members of their junior branch, Wildlife Watch. They also do outreach work in schools. There is a follow-up to that, because lots of those children then become volunteers with their local wildlife trust. You can go out to see things with experts. As I know, it is very hard to go out on your own and work out which sort of bat is which, but if you go out with a bat expert you will soon learn.
We talk about social mobility and equality of opportunity, but I think that is meaningful only if our young people have the chance to experience and learn about the natural world around them. To the Government, I say: encourage empty classroom day. This year, it is on
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Greaves was lucky enough to secure this debate, because he got himself together to put in for it, he asked me to contribute and I said yes. When you talk about the countryside and the great outdoors, what exactly does that mean? It suddenly became clear to me that it means something different to everyone. We have heard from noble Lords about serious walking and long-range walking. These walks are structured and take up the day. People plan them to be the major part of their day. My noble friend Lady Miller spoke about being in the countryside.
I thought about what the countryside means to other people. Let us remember that we all bring our own baggage to these debates. My childhood was in Norfolk, which we all know is very flat. It probably does not present the challenges suggested by noble Lords who have spoken here about walking. I now live in Berkshire, which is experienced differently because of where it is. I live in Lambourn, which is dominated by the racing industry and horses. The industry’s attitude to the usage of the countryside is very different from that of the average walker. It is worried about the people who use the paths. It does not want, for instance, to risk great holes in the paths and bridleways that might trap a horse’s foot, which could lead to a broken leg, a damaged horse or worse.
The area is close to urban centres. Swindon is just over the hill. We also get people in motor vehicles and cyclists on these paths. The usage and distortion of the paths and access points mean that once again there are different priorities. My experience of the countryside usually is walking, accompanied by a dog on a lead. My bête noir is the green laner in his 4x4 who seems to get a great buzz from going up the same small bit of hilly path that cuts across a walk I do frequently. In the past, I have been told that I just do not understand people who want to experience this activity or want to improve their driving skills. Over the winter, periodically
I saw the same person in a nice warm heated cabin bumping along the same path. You are quite right: I do not understand it.
I have slightly more sympathy for those on scrambling bikes, which we see quite a lot. That is possibly because I feel that there is a greater danger of them falling over and hurting themselves. The competition for usage in the countryside is great, particularly around centres of population. Of course, everyone knows that what they are doing is most important, which is intrinsic to us all. To get the best out of all those activities, we have to look at co-ordination. In addition, as my noble friend pointed out, local authorities are under pressure. It is no surprise that a path will be lost if it is not opened up or maintained. If you want to lose a path, brambles and nettles will cover it pretty quickly, particularly if it is not used frequently. How do we prioritise getting into those places to make sure that multiple uses are available?
My noble friends have reminded me of the CROW Act. At the time, there were rows with the Ramblers’ Association, which suggested looking at better services on more public paths. Someone said, “No, we cannot tarmac over the countryside”. I said, “But you are quite prepared to have expanding paths that spin out to the side, making an environmentally sterile situation with great scars running across the countryside”. Very few people can access those paths unless they are determined walkers. On the Ridgeway, someone with a baby in a buggy might have to turn around because of a huge, muddy puddle in front of them. Some management is required.
We also have the disability lobby, with which I have strong connections, saying, “No, we want places that we can use”. Then you discover that they are using small, powerful, electronic, jeep-type wheelchairs. Their level of access is different from someone who has a slightly bad leg but wants just to walk in the countryside. How do you co-ordinate that? Effectively, unless we take action to bring these people together, these conflicts will always occur. They will become quite intense at times and get in the way of the idea that there should be room for us all to do if not everything we want, at least some of that.
The economic and health arguments are fairly straightforward. My noble friend may be very cynical about the exact figure for the economic benefit, probably with some justification, but the fact of the matter is that if you are selling walking boots and giving out cream teas and coats, and the odd bit of bed and breakfast, there is going to be a benefit. In the same way, if you want horses that go out and are used for hacking around, there is a benefit to everybody, from farriers to saddlers and the people who run the stables. There are benefits to be had from this, and you can go on and do this again and again.
Those benefits are clearly there. Given that and the fact that gentle walking must be, shall we say, the most perfect form of low-impact exercise for weight control, particularly if you are not in the peak of condition and want a shorter activity, to get these benefits in all these areas we must have somebody who looks at the overall picture and tries to pull them all in together.
Can my noble friend give us an idea of exactly what has been done to bring all these competing groups together to talk to each other?
For instance, will people who are dealing with countryside access talk about access without a car from an urban centre? Either you walk there or you can catch a bus. That is quite an important part of access. It once again addresses a fact that was already raised: that the middle class who jump in a car and go get the best out of this. There again, do we particularly want them to use their cars more? Not really. We would much rather have it that anybody with a reasonably sturdy pair of shoes and a coat with some water resistance can access the countryside. Better still, if we can co-ordinate access from urban centres to the countryside without using a car, it would be a massive help.
The serious walkers also have an inbuilt interest in this, for the simple reason that we will encourage more people to take up the activity. There always has to be an entrance point, particularly if you are taking this on without having a cultural reference within your family. Having easy access to a start is very important. I have no doubt that the Ramblers’ Association, among others, will have views and opinions about how that should happen but unless it starts to co-ordinate it with those in urban environments who are, for instance, planning such things as bus routes and transport, it will not have the maximum effect.
Unless an overview is taken and some people are made to pay attention to it, we are never going to get the best out of this environment. We are always going to be chasing round and putting people under pressure, who will then defend with tremendous fervour their own particular interest. Unless we can form this overview and make people sit down and talk together more, we are always going to have that conflict. I look forward to hearing what will be said to address this, but can we please take on board that huge benefits are to be had here? They will never be maximised if we always find people in those situations of rivalry defending their own patch.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks and as a former president of the Friends of the Lake District, and currently a patron. If we are to have a second House worth having, people such as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, are indispensable. I have the highest regard for his independent-mindedness and his consistent commitment to qualitative dimensions in our society, ensuring that we are not able, in all the preoccupations of economic efficiency and administration, to overlook what a real, healthy, decent and civilised society should be about. I am very grateful to him for having introduced this debate.
In preparing for the debate, I was interested by the quality and quantity of briefing that came to us from organisations working in the countryside and in activity there. I draw the attention of noble Lords to a particularly good brief that came from the Ramblers. In case there is any prejudice about the title of that organisation, the brief is anything but a ramble. It is concise, brief and very effective. Let me share some of it with the House.
“Walking is a major contributor to the UK economy. Research carried out in 2003 on behalf of the Ramblers revealed that walkers in the English countryside spend around £6.14 billion a year, generating income in excess of £2 billion and supporting up to 245,000 full-time jobs”.
That suggests that this is a brief worth bringing to the attention of most departments of government, not least the Treasury.
According to the Outdoor Industries Association, £9 billion a year is spent directly on outdoor leisure goods and services, including walking as well as other outdoor activities, such as climbing, and an addition £10.5 billion is spent in the local economy by people engaged in outdoor activities. The outdoor economy employs 2% of the UK workforce in rural areas and is worth 1.2% of the UK’s GDP.
It is worth noting that the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 revealed starkly the extent to which our countryside is valued as a recreational amenity; the miserable closure of the countryside during the outbreak was estimated to have cost the rural economy and tourism industry £5 billion.
There is good evidence that clear, easy to use, well promoted path and trail networks influence more people to make day trips to an area or to stay for longer periods, thereby increasing visitor spend. This directly supports vital services such as shops and pubs, as well as local business such as hotels and small accommodation providers. For example, in 2010, £7.2 billion was spent visiting the countryside, while Hadrian’s Wall path has brought in £19 million to local communities since it was created in 2003. It is estimated that the south-west coast path national trail, running along 630 miles of the coast from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset is worth £307 million annually to the regional economy. Natural England estimates that the English adult population participated in an estimated 2.73 billion visits to the natural environment during 2011-12 and that just over half—52%—of visits to the natural environment were to the countryside.
Despite the popularity of countryside visits, our access infrastructure is not effectively or adequately supported. The extent and quality of public access opportunities is patchy; good quality access exists in some areas, but in others the recreational infrastructure is fragmented, in poor condition or access is not signposted. The last national survey on the condition of public rights of way was undertaken in 2000 and revealed that on average users were likely to come across a serious obstruction every two kilometres.
In a timely way, the organisation Living Streets reminded us in its useful brief of a recent article in the Lancet. It revealed that increased levels of walking and cycling have the potential to save the National Health Service more than £17 billion over 20 years through reductions in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and cancer because of increased physical activity.
All this is powerful evidence of why we should take more seriously the economic dimensions of the countryside and what it means for Britain, but I do not make any apology for turning to another matter. I recognise that it is subjective, but I cannot believe that
I am alone. It must be shared by many other noble Lords. I mean the priceless side of the value of the countryside.
What sort of Britain do we want our children and grandchildren to inherit? Is it one that has become so preoccupied with the mechanisms of creating wealth that there is nothing there of value to enjoy with the greater wealth at the disposal of the population? Do we want a Britain in which people are materially existing or a creative, living Britain in which youngsters—as an ambition, all youngsters—have the opportunity to discover themselves physically and spiritually and fulfil their lives by their experiences? For me, that is the value of the countryside and why all those who fought to make it available and enjoyable were so important.
I live in the Lake District, and when we are going home, my wife says that I become just about liveable with when we reach Preston on the train. I ask myself why that is so. I am sure may others share my experience that when I am on the west coast route from Oxenholme to Penrith between the two national parks and see the hills, the sun, the rain, the sheep battling with the environment and the rivers racing and flowing, there is an excitement and a dimension. I think, “My God, why are more people not able to enjoy this? Why have they not seen this potential in life?”. I know that when I have struggled, panted, climbed and clambered up a fell—although not at the moment, because my chassis plays me up a bit—and come over the brow of the fell, and there was range of hills and mountaintops in front of me, it was an extraordinary experience. Why is it not more available to people of all ethnic groups in our society or to the handicapped? We should find ways to make it available, sympathetic ways that do not spoil the objective. They must be ways in which that can be done.
There is a small fell near my house. Until recently, I enjoyed going up it whenever I could. When you get to the top, on a clear day you can look one way and see in this distance the hills above Buttermere—the Gables—and Scafell. If you turn round, across the lake is the view of the Isle of Man and, on a very good day, looking across the Solway, you can see the Mull of Galloway and the Southern Uplands. I challenge anyone to have that experience and not say that life is about more than just making money and increasing one’s material well-being. That should be there for all.
The danger is not that we will see an all-out blitz on the countryside but that there will be a gradual erosion of what I am talking about. There will be what has been described as a suburbanisation of what I am talking about. The paradox, incidentally, with suburbanisation is that people like me who can afford to live in the countryside and enjoy it have to face the reality that local people are no longer able to afford to live there. There is the huge challenge of affordable housing, and how that is done sympathetically. I am vice-president of the South Lakeland Housing Trust, which specialises in using existing buildings for accessible housing and is committed to the principle of ensuring that it is done in a sympathetic way.
A society like ours, with the psychological and other pressures that operate on people, needs places which are contrasts and provide pace in the context of living. In government departments and in opposition, we have to be rigorous in saying that, whatever the other immediate economic pressures and the rest—and you would be a fool to deny that these are of course important—we are here to protect this heritage and to enable it to be enjoyed by our people into the future. There must be a strong inter-departmental strategy to make sure that that is happening.
I conclude with an anecdote, which I have perhaps used more than once before in the House; I do not apologise for that, because it had a deep effect on me. Down on Windermere, there is a YMCA training centre. I was talking to a really rather impressive middle-aged lady who was utterly committed to the work going on there, and she said, “The other day, I had a youngster here from an inner-city area, aged about seven or eight. In the evening, I said to this youngster, ‘What did you do today?’. The youngster looked at me with wide eyes and excitement, and said, ‘Miss, I saw far!’. A few days later, I said to her, ‘What did you do today?’, and she replied, ‘Miss, I saw very far!’”.
That is what the countryside can mean. That is why it is invaluable. That is why those who want to ride roughshod over greenbelt land because of some immediate economic opportunism when there are perfectly good brownfield sites available need to be challenged. They are destroying the soul of Britain.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Greaves on securing this debate. I declare my interests: I am president of the Friends of the Ridgway and a member of the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, GLEAM.
When I was a member of Oxfordshire County Council, we moved to erect traffic regulation orders on the Ridgeway. This was a joint action between the county councils of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. I was also a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority, which was willing to enforce the traffic regulation orders. The reason for these was the need to protect the Ridgeway against the depredations of motorcyclists and 4x4 sports vehicles, which were turning it into an absolute quagmire. My noble friend has referred to the fact that it is a wide way, but it was muddy, dangerous to ride a horse and quite impossible to ride a bicycle. It really was a disgrace. We managed to do something positive. I am sorry to hear my noble friend’s story of the water across the Ridgeway, but I think that that is perhaps beyond the control of the county council. In any case, we should do something about it. Maintaining a footpath or bridleway costs a lot of money, but they are so easily destroyed by the activities of a few—and I use the phrase advisedly—pretty irresponsible people.
We have managed to make some improvements under the Traffic Management Act 2005 and the NERC Act 2006 making it a little bit easier to face down the Trail Riders Federation and their fairly substantial supporters. However, there are many more things to do. I will not talk for a long time about the Peak District, but it is an absolute disgrace in most places. The noise and intimidation that are presented to walkers, cyclists and horse riders are quite awful. This goes on because no traffic regulation orders are even being sought by the several local authorities in the Peak District. The reason for this is that traffic regulation orders can be difficult to obtain. The procedure is convoluted and allows lots of scope for objectors to make their views known, which they do. That makes the process very expensive. The result is the destruction of the countryside. The noise of many of these vehicles is really quite awful in a place that should be peaceful. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has referred to his returns to the Lake District, and it is the peace of the place that is part of the appeal he describes. However, I am afraid that the peace of the Peak District is being very severely eroded.
Obviously, the House will not want to hear a list of the technical things that need doing. I will not repeat it. However, the highway authorities have rather ill described objectives to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the authority. That can be read as if they are there to protect the rights of people who use noisy and intimidating vehicles. The highway authority is probably not the best body to initiative much of this activity.
I hope that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will give me some comfort. We ought to be prepared with the necessary secondary legislation, and indeed the primary legislation, so that when the opportunity occurs we can move forward. This will never be the major substance of any Bill, but we have in the past made quite a lot of progress through being ready and able, when a piece of legislation comes forward, to tack a clause on. I stress the serious condition of many valuable rights of way that causes immense heartache and suffering to the people who would use it if they could. I hope that the Minister might today offer some hope to those people.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the House for the opportunity to speak in the gap, and it is a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Bradshaw.
I have been involved in this matter for over 10 years, and I declare an interest as a member of GLEAM. My noble friend was far too modest about the achievement of the Ridgeway, which was a masterpiece of leadership and communication with the various authorities and the police. He has emphasised the contrast with the Peak District, which, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is certainly one of the most beautiful bits of this island. Ironically, however, seven highway authorities are involved there, and certainly up to spring of this year not one traffic order had been made.
It is worth pointing out that the cost and time involved in making one of these orders is far outweighed if the matter goes to appeal and the appeal goes against the authority, when it is faced with the costs of the appeal, of making good the damage and of enforcing the traffic regulation order. Therefore my noble friend Lord Greaves, who has done a great service in securing this debate, will provide the opportunity to get those local authorities, particularly in the Peak District, to look again at this matter.
I am told that the Peak District National Park Authority was only starting to look at this matter seriously two years ago, and it is said to be overwhelmed by the problems it faces. That may well be true, but it means that there is no time to lose. The off-road fraternity is very quick witted, shall we say, and very good at exploiting local authority inertia. That is one of the real problems that we face in this matter.
My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on his initiative in securing this debate, and if I may say so, on his excellent introduction to our debate. He is very well known in your Lordships’ House for the way he has championed the great outdoors, as he calls it, and it is a privilege to be able to take part in the debate.
As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, the great outdoors means different things to different people. His comments and those of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, have reinforced the fact that while most people who use the great outdoors are able to get along with each other with a degree of tolerance, there is a problem. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned 4x4 vehicles, and we could have talked about speedboats in certain parts of the national parks. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the particular points made about the Peaks, which is a wonderful, beautiful area in which people’s enjoyment is being spoilt at the moment. If there is a real issue about the laying of traffic orders, one might want to look to primary legislation as a way of helping local authorities to do the right thing. I hope the noble Lord can give some comfort on that.
The great outdoors, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, means different things to different people. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was very clear as to what the outdoors means to her. To me, of course, it means the great city of Birmingham, and rather different circumstances, but we have wonderful parks—and canals, which, in some parts of the city, meet the description by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, as open and wild places—and we have cycling paths, which are being developed. I was reflecting on the comments made by my noble friend Lord Judd that when he reached Preston he began to feel better and that he was beginning to get into the great outdoors. I use the same west coast main line, and I feel the same sense when I get into the city centre, just past Birmingham City football ground, as I look at the green spaces that greet you as you go into the city, particularly as a result of the recent development in the city centre.
I declare an interest as chair of an NHS foundation trust and as a trainer and consultant with Cumberlege Connections, as we cover health issues. My daughter is a director of policy at the organisation Living Streets, formerly the Pedestrians Association, which is sponsoring Walk to Work Week this month. Comments were made that if we are to encourage people to exercise more—and the evidence in favour of that is overwhelming—often the best way to do that is to incorporate it into people’s daily working lives. That is why the walking to work initiative is very good.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the Welsh and English coastal paths. He said that although at the beginning of the coalition Government’s term of office he feared the worst for the implementation of the Act, which many noble Lords here today spent many happy months debating, he had been reassured that the intention was to implement the coastal pathway. However, I have been very disappointed by the pace of implementation. Is the Minister able to give us any words of comfort about when we might be able to see the full implementation of the coastal pathway? I gently remind him that when I took the Bill through, we came under great pressure from the Conservative Benches on some aspects of it. It is right that we press for its speedy implementation.
The health evidence of an active lifestyle, including a lifestyle in the great outdoors, is overwhelming. The WHO estimates that around 6% of global deaths are caused by physical inactivity. It also estimates that between 20% and 35% of cardiovascular disease could be prevented if people became more active throughout their lives. We have the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines, which is 30 minutes of physical activity on at least five days a week for adults, and at least one hour of moderate or intense activity a day for children aged five to 18. We also have a 17 year-long study of 10,000 people, published by the University of Exeter last month, which looks at the impact of living in a green area, and which concluded that it has a significant positive effect on well-being. My noble friend Lord Haworth made the point that the green space effect is that you can have lower levels of mental distress and higher life satisfaction, which can still be seen, even after changes over time, in participants’ income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type. Although we are talking about the great outdoors, and inevitably think about the national parks, of course a green space can be in a city if planners are imaginative about their provision of facilities.
My noble friend Lord Haworth is going on the John Smith memorial walk this weekend, and I wish him well in that endeavour. He showed, and mentioned, the economic benefits of rambling, and mentioned the coastal path, as did my noble friend Lord Judd. It is interesting that the national parks have estimated that 110 million people visit them each year. They contribute about £4.5 billion to local economies, and more than 100,000 jobs are directly dependent on the national parks. In other country areas one can see similar impacts. Therefore, there is an overwhelming case for the economic, health and well-being benefits of encouraging the use of the great outdoors. Again, I would be interested to know what the Government are doing to recognise that and to encourage us to see even more positive impacts on the economy in future. The next debate, which is coming up a little earlier than some noble Lords thought, is about growth in the economy.
Perhaps we could send a message to the noble Lords taking part in it, although of course I very much share the point made by my noble friend Lord Judd that although the economic benefit is to be celebrated, the main issue is the intrinsic value of the countryside rather than any materialistic goal.
My final point comes back to an issue mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller: children and schools. Unfortunately, not many young people meet the levels of exercise recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. My information is that in England, 32% of boys and only 24% of girls meet the basic levels of activity that the Chief Medical Officer recommends. For adults, the figures are 39% of men and 29% of women—so they are low, and there is a gap between men and women. There is also some doubt about whether the figures are accurate. Some people responding to the surveys were tested to see whether there was evidence that they were engaging in physical activity. This reduced the figures that I have to 6% of men and 4% of women. Clearly, the overwhelming evidence is that although activity of the type mentioned by noble Lords is good for people, only a small proportion of people in our country engage in it.
This brings us back to schools. I have to mention my disappointment at the Olympic legacy. Of course not all young people will engage in the physical activity involved in competitive sport—although we should do everything we can to encourage those sports. There is no doubt that when the Olympic bid was won, and when we had the wonderful Olympics, we expected there to be a positive impact in schools on sport and physical activity generally. Mr Gove’s decision to get rid of funding and then bring some of it back is having a direct impact on the levels of physical activity in schools. I hope the Minister will be able to say that the Government acknowledge and recognise that this is a problem that needs to be put into reverse.
In conclusion, it seems that the case argued with great passion and conviction by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is one that noble Lords have found to be proven.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and acknowledge his long-term commitment to these matters. I also reiterate, as noble Lords said, that outdoor activity means many things to many different people. That is its appeal. It provides millions of people with the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of activities. It gives them much pleasure and improves their mental and physical health and general well-being. It also contributes to the economy.
Inactivity is associated with many diseases. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, suggested the figure of 6% of early deaths globally. My figure is 9%. Whatever the correct figure, it is a very serious issue. For those reasons and more, in July 2011 the Chief Medical Officers of the four home countries published Start Active, Stay Active, setting out the new guidelines for physical activity. For adults, the new recommendation is for at least 150 minutes of physical activity spread across the week. Importantly, the guidelines address the whole-life course, from early years to older people, and include advice on avoiding sedentary behaviour.
As we have just lost a Garden but there is a Gardiner on the Front Bench, I will raise the issue of gardening. That is an activity that millions of us engage in, all year round. Only two days ago I read that gardeners can burn off 19,000 calories a year. There were 20.9 million visits to allotments and community gardens between March 2012 and February 2013. The 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show is approaching next week—I declare that I am a member of the Royal Horticultural Society—and millions of us enjoy walking round this country’s wonderful parks and gardens. There were 34 million day visits to gardens in 2012 alone. As I gardened as a schoolboy, I was particularly struck by the important observations of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer on school gardens.
Much is being done to encourage people to take more exercise, but in England, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, suggested, six out of 10 men and seven out of 10 women exercise less than the guidelines would like us to. For children, the guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes of daily activity, but, again, participation levels are too low. I shall address how we should tackle some of these issues.
In the face of the statistics, the Department of Health has established a national ambition for physical activity for a year-on-year increase in the number of adults doing 150 minutes of exercise per week, and a similar reduction in the number of those who are inactive. This represents what could be achieved if all sectors worked together, supported by the new delivery system for public health. The ambition is reflected in the public health outcomes framework indicator for physical activity.
There are so many health benefits from outdoor activity. Walking brings important mental health benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Haworth, and other noble Lords spoke powerfully about these benefits. It can help prevent dementia in older people. I read recently of the important ways in which depression can be helped by people walking much more. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, also raised this point.
I turn to the Olympic and Paralympic legacy, which was mentioned. Grass-roots participation is crucial to a successful legacy. To support this, Sport England’s Places People Play programme is making a significant investment in local sports facilities, with more than 1,000 community sports facilities receiving grants totalling more than £50 million. It is also protecting playing fields, which are so important in enabling all members of the community to take part in sport and physical activity.
The latest active people participation figures for England from December last year showed that between October 2011 and October 2012 more than 15 million people aged 16 and over participated in sport at least once a week. This was a significant increase in sports participation over 2010-11, with more than 750,000 more adults taking part. Surely we must build on this. The Government recognise the importance of sport for people of all ages, and particularly for young people. In January last year, we launched the £1 billion youth and community sport strategy with Sport England, with the aim of creating a sporting habit for life.
The devolved Administrations are also actively engaged in promoting health and well-being via their sporting agencies. As part of that strategy, in December last year Sport England announced a £493 million investment between 2013 and 2017 in the national governing bodies of sport to deliver a year-on-year increase in the number of people, particularly those between 14 and 25, doing regular sport. Sport England is also funding programmes for community organisations, charities and local authorities, putting sport organisers into colleges, helping disadvantaged young people to develop life skills though sport, and funding to improve participation among those currently least active.
Major sports play a crucial role in the health and well-being of the UK. Sport England’s Active People survey shows that just over 2.1 million people play football for 30 minutes once a week. The forthcoming Rugby League World Cup in October and November this year and the Rugby Union World Cup in 2015 will inspire a new generation to play the game across the country. On the first day of the test season, I must not forget cricket, either.
I would like to highlight three sectors where we did extraordinarily well in the Paralympics and Olympics. First, there is equestrianism. Sport England has funded £6 million to the British Equestrian Federation, which will be used to deliver a number of activities to attract new riders, keep more people riding, and bring former riders back to the sport. I would particularly like to mention an organisation that I know well, the Riding for the Disabled Association, which is such a force for good. Then there is sailing. The Royal Yachting Association is expanding on programmes which introduce new young people into the sport by teaching them new skills in a safe and controlled environment. It is also continuing the successful Sailability programme, which supports disabled people to sail through specialist provision.
Then there is cycling. The huge success of Team GB truly inspired many more to get on a bike. The impact of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France setting off in Yorkshire next year will be immense. The Department for Transport has published details about how it will allocate the £42 million investment in cycling announced in last year’s Autumn Statement. It will comprise an urban element, which I hope will please the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and a rural element for areas that are covered by national parks.
I turn to mountaineering. I am very conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Haworth, has climbed all the Munros. I have a mixture of admiration and dread at that prospect. Of course, I wish him and all his colleagues well in the memorial walk that they are doing very shortly. I also mention the close interest taken by my noble friend Lord Greaves in this matter. Mountaineering is receiving £3 million through Sport England’s whole sport plans. Almost 100,000 people regularly take part in those activities. Figures from Natural England show that there were more than 60 million visits to mountains, hills and moorlands between March last year and February this year. They are much cherished parts of the countryside.
Outdoor pursuits can happen anywhere, be it large-scale events such as the London marathon or the Great North Run, Ramblers’ Association activities, or those at community level. We are now into the Walking to Work week, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings
Heath, mentioned. My own contribution is to get off the bus one stop earlier, as part of that exercise. It may not be the most robust contribution, but I am with them in spirit. Next week is Walking to School week. I am very conscious of safety matters in that regard. But, clearly, that is something that we should encourage wherever possible.
I turn to the matter of access, raised by quite a number of noble Lords. Defra has announced a £2 million fund for the creation of new permanent access rights, following the rural economy growth review in 2011. My noble friend Lord Greaves, in particular, raised those points. The Paths for Communities scheme, funded by the Rural Development Programme for England, aims to develop and enhance the rights of way network to the benefit of the local economy. Natural England, on behalf of the Government, has appointed Walk England as its partner on national trails at the start of the financial year. Natural England has completed a two-year review programme to develop a new operational management model for national trails. During that review, we are looking into the possibility of taking proposals forward on how we could leverage the economic potential of trails more strongly. It was raised by many noble Lords that the network of national trails is an important generator of local businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned the south-west coast path, which I understand generates over £300 million a year for the economy of the region, supporting over 7,500 jobs.
I am also very mindful of what my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Bridgeman have said on these matters, and on the challenges of the multiuse of rights of way, as well as the discussions and negotiations that have to take place to try to find a settlement. I am particularly conscious of the representations that my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has made, especially about the Peak District. I had an opportunity before the debate to discuss those matters with my honourable friend Richard Benyon, the Minister in Defra, and I know that he would be very happy to meet my noble friend. He is actively seeking to find solutions to what are clearly unsatisfactory problems in that part of the world. It has been mentioned that many local authorities are engaged in this matter, but I wanted to emphasise that the Minister specifically asked me to say that he is happy to meet and that he is working on this matter now.
I raise the matter of the countryside—and how could I resist, when my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer spoke so wonderfully about its place in the nation’s affections? Its beauty means so much to us, and binds together past and present, nature and culture, and tradition and invention. The countryside is where my soul certainly soars, but I equally respect the fact, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that the urban dimension also has a soul-soaring aspect.
Our “green and pleasant land” is hugely important for tourism. Domestic tourism, as well as that from overseas, plays a vital role in rural economies. I was pleased to know that Chinese visitors place great interest in the British countryside. There is no doubting the British passion for these pursuits, be they camping, country sports, hill-walking, climbing and outdoor adventure. They all play a key role in underpinning many rural economies. Indeed, Sport England has recently announced its largest ever investment in angling, of £1.8 million over four years, with 1 million people fishing once a month.
Outdoor leisure is a key area for the GREAT campaign, as it enables us to promote the UK as a fantastic destination for adventure and exploration. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke very strongly about the economic benefits that derive from outdoor activities. We received many excellent briefs stressing that point, and it is important that we should emphasise it. The GREAT campaign is run directly from the Prime Minister’s Office and celebrates our country’s rich heritage, countryside and contemporary culture, our people and places to visit, as well as our great economic strengths. Only last week, VisitEngland launched the follow-up to last year’s hugely successful Holidays at Home are GREAT campaign. There is no doubt that outdoor activities would have played a very considerable part in that success, with an additional £300 million spend, equivalent to 4.5 million nights away.
VisitEngland is also promoting outdoor activity in its work with the Regional Growth Fund and with DCMS investment. In March, VisitEngland and Blacks, the outdoor retailers, launched a £1.2 million multimedia campaign to run alongside VisitEngland’s Rural Escapes and Active Outdoors campaigns. One of the most powerful experiences that I have had in connection with children and urban schools is a visit to the countryside that I undertook with Kate Hoey with a Vauxhall primary school some years ago. It was among the most powerful effects that I have seen on children who have never had any opportunity before to see the countryside—and there they were with brushes, grooming cattle and running through fields of corn, barley and wheat. I have to say I was quite horrified but it was encouraged because they came back with ears of cereal and were asked what food came from them. It was probably one of the most effective ways of capturing those children’s imagination as regards where their food comes from and what a great place the countryside is.
The School Games initiative has been mentioned by noble Lords. It will be jointly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health and the Department for Education. The initiative will provide more pupils with the opportunity to compete in a wide range of sports regardless of ability, gender or disability. As of May this year, 13,271 schools are fully engaged in this.
The Prime Minister has also announced details of the new school sports premium, which will see £150 million a year going directly into the hands of primary school head teachers for them to spend on improving the quality of PE and sport for all their pupils. This will complement the £1 billion already being invested in youth and community sport. I would also like to mention the launch of the Britain on Foot campaign, led by the Outdoor Industries Association, which is working with other organisations to get us fitter, healthier and happier by encouraging us to participate in outdoor activities. The Department of Health’s Change4Life programme is also an integral part of Britain on Foot.
I do not have a brief for health matters but I am encouraged to hear what the Department of Health is doing, working with Natural England, to fund the expansion of the Living Streets Walk once a Week to school scheme, which was specifically mentioned by my noble friend Lord Greaves. The Department of Health is also involved in creating Walk4Life as a subbrand of Change4Life and Natural England is championing Outdoors for All on behalf of the Government.
I would like to mention quickly the national parks. I am very conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer are particularly involved in national parks. They are, indeed, national treasures for their wildlife, landscapes and cultural heritage. For millions of people they offer amazing opportunities to experience the natural environment, engage in outdoor activities and contribute to the economy and quality of life in our country.
We have had a fascinating debate. As someone new to your Lordships’ House, it is a great privilege for me to learn from the experience that is always displayed on these occasions. I now better understand that outdoor activities are key not only to our personal well-being but to the nation as a whole. The Government recognise the importance of all these activities and many government departments are co-ordinating to ensure that the public sector plays its part. It is very clear that many businesses, communities and organisations in the private sector are equally determined to achieve more. The activities of last year’s golden summer of sport show us all what we can do. We must now fulfil the next stage by encouraging even more participation in outdoor activities with all the benefits they undoubtedly bring.
My Lords, I am more than grateful to everybody who has taken part in this debate, which has exceeded my wildest expectations. I am very grateful to the Minister for his comments, which I will read very carefully. I am also grateful to him for covering in detail many of the current initiatives which I did not have time to cover in my opening speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Haworth, reminded me of when members of the Mountaineering All-Party Parliamentary Group walked in a long crocodile up Blencathra, otherwise known as Saddleback, in the Lake District. He and I, as befits Members of your Lordships’ House, were proceeding at a stately pace at the back of the group. One of the people who thought they were looking after us stopped, waited for us to catch up and asked, “Are you two okay?”. We said, “Yes, of course, we are sweeping up to make sure nobody gets lost”. I pay tribute to that group, of which I am a member, which does a very good job.
My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer talked about playing outdoors when she was a young person. That reminded me that for the first 11 years of my life I lived on the edge of a very built-up, working-class area of Bradford—Bradford Moor—but across the main road was the huge great open air playground of Myra Shay, which had a stream going through it. We used to dam the stream there as well and fish for sticklebacks, minnows and others. I do not think that would be allowed nowadays as it would be considered far too dangerous. The important point here is that children nowadays are often provided with activities which give them a thrill but are totally and utterly safe. Many of the things that I did in my childhood, with semi-official approval, would never pass a risk assessment. However, we are all exposed to risk in our lives in all sorts of ways. Learning to cope with risk and to deal with it is very important. I do not think that we are quite getting the balance right at the moment with the whole compensation culture, health and safety and so on. I am sure that outdoor activities have a part to play here. People have to realise that many outdoor activities are dangerous by their very nature but there is nothing wrong with that. What is important is being able to cope with that danger. In many cases, modern equipment has been developed for use in caving or skydiving or whatever which was never available in the past.
I desperately tried not to blush when the noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke about me. I thought that I would write down his comments and if I ever apply for a job again, which is not very likely given my age, I will appoint him as a reference. I was very grateful to him for his comments. I get off the train at Preston. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, cheers up at Preston when he looks out of the window. He can look east and, if it is a nice day, he will see the wonderful whaleback hill of Pendle. That is what really cheers him up when he gets to Preston.
A delightful and wonderful wheelchair bound lady lives in Colne. Her ambition in the next few months, together with her friends, is to get to the top of Pendle Hill despite her disabilities. My noble friend Lord Addington said that the great outdoors mean different things to different people. The great thing about this huge range of sporting and recreational activities is that they are not like cricket or football, they are activities where you set your own challenge and level. For one person taking a walk round the park is the same as undertaking an extreme rock climb or discovering a new cave is for somebody else. It is all to do with individual personality and that is why these activities are so wonderful.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was going to lead us in a rendition of “Hills of the North, Rejoice”, but perhaps that would have been inappropriate. The great Scottish rock group Runrig has what I think is a great song entitled “I’m Alive on a Lifeline”. Part of it reads:
The rockface inclinesHold her, leave herRise to glory Over mankind”.
All outdoor activities provide the people who take part in them with that kind of experience. That is why they are so wonderful and why the small amount of government money, local authority money and other public money which goes into them has such a huge leverage—I think that is the modern word—and why we should do our absolute best to maintain and protect it.