Moved by Baroness Scott of Needham Market
8: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—“(e) public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is designed to require, rather than enable, the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to increase public access to, and enjoyment of, the natural environment.
One of the themes that has run through the debates that we have had so far today is the extent to which the public understand the provisions in these Bills and, more importantly, the extent to which they buy in to the sorts of things that we are trying to achieve with this legislation. It seems to me that the best way to make sure that people support what we are trying to do is to ensure that they have access to nature in all of its different forms, because it is very difficult to get public support for something that is entirely theoretical.
It seems to me that there is an opportunity in the Bill to think about creating a new national framework that relates to people’s access to, enjoyment of and understanding of the natural world. From all sorts of studies that have been carried out, including by government, we know just how important access to open spaces and nature is for people’s physical and mental well-being. This has been particularly important over the last year.
As I say, we also need to understand that people need to have access to nature if they are going to support what we are trying to do. They should not feel shut out or that the countryside or nature are somehow for someone else. I am not just talking about the countryside or public rights of way; I am really talking about access to nature in all its forms, whether it is our magnificent urban parks, the smaller spaces that pop up sometimes, or places such as canal tow-paths. All of these provide important opportunities for people to access the natural world. This is not just about walkers, although it is mainly walkers: there are also cyclists, bird-watchers, kayakers, wild swimmers and all sorts of other people who benefit and wish to get access. But we know that that access is not equally distributed. We know that access is limited for people with disabilities, for example. We know that, in a lot of deprived, particularly urban, environments, access is limited, and that this is particularly a problem among certain ethnic groups.
We are still debating Clause 1, and we are talking about creating a framework for target-setting. But while subsection (3) creates areas where the Government must set targets, the whole question of access and public enjoyment is in subsection (1), which sets out areas where targets “may” be set. Similarly, when we get to the EIPs, in Clause 7, with all of its monitoring, planning and reporting requirements, enjoyment of the countryside is enabled rather than required.
So these amendments would require the Government to put more focus on the question of access and the public enjoyment of nature. However, there are real benefits to the Government from thinking about this approach, because it would enable them to start pulling together a framework that would link the work they are doing on the coastal path and the refreshed Countryside Code with the system of new payments for farmers, with its emphasis on public goods, as well as the planning Bill when it emerges and the green infrastructure provision—all alongside the health and well-being agenda, and in particular social prescribing. So I hope that the Government will at least consider putting public access and enjoyment on a slightly more secure footing and I beg to move.
My Lords, it does not seem that long ago that we discussed these types of issues on the Agriculture Bill. My noble friend is a skilled and subtle operator in Parliament and did not dive in on the issue of footpaths and their creation. Footpaths and access to the countryside inspire in people either a Messianic gleam—“This is where you should go”—or a grating of teeth because you hate the person who is planning the path. The advantage of this approach is that you are looking at it as a whole. If you are trying to make sure that people have some access to the countryside and put it in a plan, you stand a chance, albeit a slim one, of getting rid of these quite silly and childish arguments. We should have access.
The comments of my noble friend bring this down to the fact that we should have access. There is a benefit to you and a way out, and this cuts into other agendas. I will not expand on this for long, because I will have another opportunity later in Committee, but the fact is that, if you want a fitter and healthier society, you should give people some access. Opportunities for gentle exercise are there for those of a more advanced age, but—why not?—if you want to run up that hill, off you go. We need to make sure that people have opportunities to use and enjoy the countryside. That will enhance people’s buy-in, because they will see what is there. There is also a chance that they will see the problems that other people have in making sure that the countryside works to deliver a good environment and to produce food; it is all there.
I hope that when the Minister comes to answer he will make sure that he embraces the idea that things come together. We all know that Ministers are very keen on working across government so long as their department is dominant and their scheme is the one having the final say. I have seen dozens of documents that state, “Yes, the other departments should really do what we say, but we don’t impose upon them to actually do it”. The Government should get a plan together that makes people co-operate. I would be interested—maybe I will get a chance to expand on this later—to see how the various bits of government will communicate, what is required here, and what they can expect.
Also, when the Government encourage people to enjoy the environment, they should take into account little things, such as whether there is a bus service to walking facilities or whether everybody has to pile into a car, go down small roads and clog up the local infrastructure. Things such as this matter. You have to get in there and make sure that there is some form of communication. This is a good idea.
I also cannot resist saying that we have a bit of a parliamentary evolution; it is now “may” and “must”, as opposed to “may” and “shall”. Maybe that is a step forward—or are we just going to a new cliché? I do not know. But if we are moving things into these areas, it will be interesting to see what the Government are going to say and what the priorities are, because good intentions have far too often been the paving stones of the road to hell.
My Lords, my two amendments in this group are Amendments 9 and 57. Amendment 9 adds “connecting people with nature” to the priority areas in Clause 1(3), and Amendment 57 looks at the environmental improvement plans and adds “understanding” and “participation” to “enjoyment” in Clause 7(5).
Clause 1(3) lists the priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. If we are giving priority to all those areas, we will be asking people to make substantial changes to the way they behave: to use less water; to drive less; to drive slower cars; to make fewer demands on the environment and the food they eat; to spend much more time recycling than they do at the moment; and doubtless other changes too. People need a motivation to do that, and the underlying motivation surely has to come from reconnecting people with nature, so that they value it and feel part of it, and it will therefore come into the equation when they are considering whether to go along with and support the changes the Government are proposing. There have been a number of changes recently where those proposing them have not chosen to take people with them. There is growing opposition to low-traffic neighbourhoods, for instance, because people were never involved, consulted or taken with them, and there was no underlying motivation for the improvement of the common environment.
It is silly to make those entirely desirable changes in a way which conjures opposition. Stonewall has done this with trans rights. It does not have to be this way. It means that those proposing change must take long steps to involve people in the reasons for those changes, and the underlying motivations. In the case of subsection (3), the underlying motivation is a love of and connection with nature. We know that people are capable of that because we can see it all around us, in those people who are connected. We know from that, and from research, how much well-being and how much joy and pleasure—at a very low cost to the environment—comes from having a deep love and understanding of nature. It really ought to be the underpinning value in subsection (3), and it ought not—coming to the environmental improvement plans—be just about the enjoyment of nature. This is not a passive thing, like a television show, but something which people need to be part of. I hope that the changes I propose will find favour with the Government. They will make everything else they are trying to do much more effective when it comes to putting it into practice.
I rise to speak to Amendments 8 and 56, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, to which I have attached my name, though I will also offer my support to Amendment 9, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about connecting people with nature. It is clearly much connected to Amendments 8 and 56.
In introducing this amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, focused on the need to win support for the Bill by allowing people to access nature. I will also focus on the public health elements, and the fact that we now have increasing awareness—with particular credit to many campaigners over the years, and to many researchers who have helped us understand this—that for the human microbiome, mental health or general well-being, exposure to, involvement in and being in nature is good for people’s health. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was talking about access to small spaces. I will talk much more broadly, and I fear that perhaps I will scare the horses a little here, but I want to draw noble Lords’ attention to the degree of the desire for access to nature that exists out there. I put it to your Lordships’ Committee that we very much need to create more space because there is a push for very great openness.
In talking about that, I will refer, and offer my support, to something known as the Right to Roam campaign. It highlights that, in England, 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers are not accessible to the public. We often talk about “these overcrowded islands” and how difficult it is for people to get to open space. But some parts of these islands are not very crowded at all. The Right to Roam campaign is calling for an extension to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, so that people will have much broader and easier access to open space, including hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland, meadows, rivers and their banks. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave access to 8% of England. That is mountain, moorland, commons and some downland heath. By the very nature of those spaces, they tend to be very remote. They are not easy to access, particularly with our extraordinary lack of public transport in rural areas—in fact, they are almost totally inaccessible to people who do not have access to a car. There is a real postcode lottery, and a clear inequality and unfairness in our current arrangements.
The proposal from the Right to Roam campaign is that all woodlands, all downland and all green belt be opened up, not just to walkers but to camping, kayaking, swimming and climbing. For those who might like to explore this idea further, I can strongly recommend The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, which sets out the case clearly.
You might think that this is the radical Greens saying radical Green ideas again, but what I am talking about exists, in Norway, in Sweden, in Estonia and in Scotland. It was a common law or long-established right, which has subsequently largely been codified in law. I stress that in all those countries these rights are contingent on responsibilities. Essentially, it is our countryside code extended to reflect whether people are making broader use of the extra responsibilities they need to keep the land safe, to protect nature, to protect other people and to protect other people’s privacy and rights.
It is important to see how this is not just a question of access but one of changing relationship. At the moment, for most people, visiting nature is like going to a museum. It is a special trip that you have to make a special place, often far away—something you cannot do very often. We are talking about embedding in people’s lives the opportunity to make nature part of their everyday life and part of the environment that is accessible to them.
As a Sheffield Green Party member, I have at this point to refer to the Kinder mass trespass that helped to create some of the basic rights that we have today. People were not granted those rights; they had to win them. I stress to your Lordships’ House that there is now a strong and growing campaign to get more rights. I suggest to the Minister that acknowledging that desire needs to be written into the Bill as a statutory responsibility of government. Then we can start negotiating how much is allowed. I am not expecting him to say, “Yes, I entirely accept everything that was just proposed”, but let us start the conversation.
My Lords, I think that farmers and landowners welcome the public’s enjoyment of and responsible access to the countryside. Of course, one of the joys of the countryside is that few people are there. If the whole of our urban population walked in the countryside for all their free time, it would be wrecked. There has been an enormous increase in recent years in public access to the countryside. Unfortunately, public understanding of and respect for nature and the countryside environment have not developed commensurately.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, in Amendments 8 and 56, seeks to add targets in respect of public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. I am not quite sure how public enjoyment of the countryside can be measured. It depends in part on the weather. Ironically, the increased, and in many cases unauthorised, public access which has occurred during the past year or more has been the single greatest cause of damage to the land and to nature. There has been a massive increase in fly-tipping, littering and trespassing. All this has produced unexpected costs for farmers and landowners in the very year in which they suffer the first big cut in the direct payments scheme, and this before they are able to compensate their loss of earnings through enrolment in the new ELM schemes.
Natural England has launched a new countryside code, which should be taught in schools, as the CLA has recommended. Farmers and landowners welcome responsible visitors, but it is vital that the increased numbers enjoying the countryside stick to footpaths. They must also understand the risks around livestock. There are many areas where wildlife habitats need protection and should be left undisturbed. So I would not support an unfettered right to roam, and any measures that the Government take to encourage increased public access must be balanced by measures to improve public understanding of, and respect for, the countryside.
Some people believe that agriculture is the enemy of environmentalism, but surely the opposite is true: sustainable agriculture and the recovery of nature can and must coexist. I very much hope that the ELM schemes under development will encourage that. For these reasons I prefer Amendments 9 and 57 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas: they presuppose improved public understanding of the countryside. I am not convinced, however, that the countryside needs, or can easily cope with, any accelerated increase in public access beyond that which increased prosperity and improved work/life balance is in any case already enabling.
Amendment 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is interesting. Illegal use of motor vehicles on private roads and tracks, whether sealed or unsealed, should be prevented by better enforcement, but I do not think that the state should distinguish between driving on sealed and unsealed tracks. Furthermore, many tracks which were sealed years ago are now indistinguishable from unsealed tracks.
The last amendment in this group is Amendment 284, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It is probably otiose, in that the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the powers to set targets for the people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. There are already 140,000 miles of public footpaths and other rights of way in England and Wales, and landowners are busy considering what additional paths they might open to the public. Can the Minister confirm whether ELMS will provide the opportunity for land managers to receive grants for allowing permissive access, similar to those which were offered under countryside stewardship schemes?
The noble Baroness suggested that a review should compare public access rights in England with those in other parts of the United Kingdom. Is she not aware how great the differences are? The population density of England is 279 people per square kilometre, more than four times that of Scotland at 67 people per square kilometre, and nearly twice that of Wales at 151 people per square kilometre. The vast difference between England and Scotland in typical terrain and density suggests that a comparison of access rights would be irrelevant, even if interesting. I regret therefore that I cannot support this amendment either.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I agree with nearly everything he says. That may surprise some noble Lords but, as I think he will understand, I have a great connection with nature. At the age of nine, in 1964, I was made a member of the RSPB by my grandfather. I am still a member—in fact I am a member of the council of the RSPB. Wildlife and nature have virtually become my religion, in the sense of being where I find solace.
However, there is a lot that can still be done on access for those people who cannot get it. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned public transport. Certainly I have been active in trying to get access for those with disabilities. I am not sure that it is the Government’s job. A lot of the NGOs, including the RSPB itself and the National Trust, are trying their best but it is difficult. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, if all people were responsible, more access for walking and so on would be desirable. However, I am afraid that I have seen too many examples—not just in the last year although it has been accentuated—of people who do not know the countryside code and, quite frankly, do not want to know it. I live not in the country but in suburbia. We have some very pleasant walks around our local lake, Little Britain Lake, but it is constantly ruined by picnics and barbecues and so forth. The litter is appalling and ruins the enjoyment of the many people who go there to just wander around and enjoy nature.
Another point I think relevant is that unfettered access is not necessarily good for the natural environment. Again, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned, where wildlife is concerned, you have to make sure there are some areas without access. You will see it in in reserves and in other places, certainly at breeding times. Again, responsibility comes into it. I am a dog owner myself but I would not let my dog off the lead if there were ground-nesting birds, whether on the shore or indeed on heath-land. Heath-land is another example where you see many paths cut through, where people have just walked all over it—not to mention the dreaded portable barbecues.
Although I want to make sure that people have that connection to nature, we cannot force people. I think there is a role for education, and I have certainly noticed more people being interested—that perhaps goes back to the first debates we had about biodiversity and nature—but it would be unwise to just have unfettered access. I feel extremely sorry for landowners and farmers, and say that I regard the majority of them as custodians of the natural world; there are one or two exceptions but normally they are not individuals that I have come across. We have to be very careful. The idea of getting more people connected with nature is a good one. I am not sure that it should be in the Bill, but I am prepared to see what comes forward.
My Lords, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I could not make up my mind—I do not think he could either —about exactly what he wanted. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. She has a point about getting public buy-in, the principle of well-being, and people enjoying the countryside. It is a shared environment. I live next door to the Grand Union Canal and across the road I have access to farmland and so on. Yes, there are people who do not respect that environment; that was one thing on which I agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—it is a question of teaching young people the countryside code. However, the basic principle of including a reference to this in the Bill is worth while. I probably agree in this instance with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Government ought to consider exploring the principle of the right to roam. It is as though we imagine that, as soon as we open up these places, they will be terrorised by people who have no respect for the environment. The reality is that the vast majority of people have, and appreciate it.
I hope that, when the Minister replies to this amendment, he sees its positive side; the benefits to public health and well-being cannot be overestimated. Along with access and rights go responsibilities, as I mentioned previously. I look forward to the Minister’s response and once again congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on this amendment.
My Lords, noting my interests previously declared, I am a passionate believer in better access to our natural environment. Access goes hand in hand with education and knowledge of the environment, our landscape and the sources of our food. Without this understanding, landscape management will suffer and our health outcomes will be worse. I am glad that the Minister welcomes us referencing Professor Dasgupta’s review into the economics of biodiversity. Professor Dasgupta clearly highlighted the need to educate the nation about the natural capital we consume and the landscape in which we live. This education is dependent on properly managed access.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on the first set of amendments, in recommending the health and well-being benefits of being active in and connected to the outdoors. The pandemic has laid bare stark inequalities in people’s access to nature, often along wealth and social divides. Our work for the national plan for sport and recreation highlighted the basic need of many urban communities for better access to green and open space. The Bill needs to do all it can to encourage better managed access to nature and better education about how our predominantly farmed landscape came into being and is now managed.
Observant Lords will note that I am not calling for an increase in access and I do not support Amendment 284 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Rather, I am talking about better quality of access, provided where it is needed most for public health and well-being and has the least impact on the biodiversity that is really at the heart of the Bill.
Noble Lords may recall that, almost exactly a year ago, we debated access in the context of the ELMS under the Agriculture Bill. I note how much we miss the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, at this time, whose wisdom and contributions were so valuable in this regard. During that debate, I listed the negative impact of access on our small part of Devon over the previous few years. I will not repeat the graphic details of the baseball-bat attacks on young lambs, but will remind noble Lords of that, of IRA bomb-making equipment stashed in our woods alongside flytipped asbestos, of the dangers of chestnut blight and other tree diseases being spread by human contact, of the theft of shellfish and of the disastrous impact of dogs on nesting waders and other birds across the SSSI of the Exminster marshes.
Access is key to improving our understanding of the environment and obtaining well-being benefits from it but is often not good for the environment itself. Thus, where access is to be granted, it must be properly managed and fully funded, taking into account the preservation of nature and the land management that is responsible for maintaining it. Improved access requires better gates, fences, signs, pathways and knowledge of the functions of our land and the heritage that brought it into being. For that reason, I support Amendments 9 and 57, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but remain equivocal about Amendment 8, particularly as the explanatory statement reveals an intention to “increase” access. Increased access is not the answer; better access is.
Finally, I speak for farmers and land managers who, for the most part, remain nervous about public access for the reasons I have stated. Improving public access is dependent on their willingness to open their homes and farms to others. We need to bring them with us and to educate them about the benefits of improved access, as much as we need to educate those seeking such access.
My Lords, I start with a short explanation of the reason for Amendment 58. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 protected footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways from use and damage by recreational motor vehicles. However, the same Act left unprotected a further 3,000 miles of countryside tracks. These are the nation’s green lanes. They are being used and damaged by 4x4s, motorbikes and quad bikes, which are being driven entirely for recreational purposes. This amendment is the first step in closing the loophole in the NERC Act which allows non-essential motors to inflict environmental damage and nuisance to green lanes. The amendment does not affect the rights of landowners, occupiers or residents, drivers of essential motor vehicles, or people with disabilities who use powered mobility scooters.
The context for this amendment is twofold. First, the stated purpose of the Environment Bill is to improve the natural environment. Secondly, the 2019 Glover review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty called for radical change in the way we protect our landscapes and stressed the need to take urgent steps to recover and enhance nature. One of the things that is causing damage to the natural environment, and to fragile and precious landscapes, is that, at present, 4x4 vehicles, motorbikes and quad bikes are allowed to be driven for purely recreational purposes on unsealed tracks all over the countryside, including in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
This is allowed to happen only because the law currently says that if an unsealed track, whatever it may be, was used in the past by the public with horse-drawn carts, that it is now a right of way for any kind of modern motor vehicle. Parliament attempted to deal with this in 2006 by passing the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act: other vehicles could use footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways, but it left unprotected over 3,000 miles of other track in the countryside that have no public right of way classification. These amount to over half of the country’s green lanes. They are open to use and abuse by recreational motor vehicles and, as a result, great damage is being done, even on the high fells.
There are similar problems on many of the other 3,000 miles of the country’s green lanes—those classified as byways, open to all traffic. In reality, many of them are effectively no longer open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, horse-drawn vehicles and the disabled for peaceful enjoyment of the countryside because of a loss of amenity caused by recreational motor vehicles—many riders of which are based abroad.
The amendment does not seek an immediate change in the law. If passed it requires the Secretary of State to return to the business left unfinished by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and to carry out a public consultation on whether the loophole left by that Act, should now be closed.
The Minister may say that there is another way of dealing with the problem: the use of traffic regulations orders. The highway authorities have had TRO-making powers since 1984, the national parks since 2007, but such orders are costly to make, rarely used and almost invariably are fiercely resisted by the recreational motor vehicle groups—often with threats of legal action. TROs must be made one track at a time. If they could put a stop to the environmental damage being made by motor vehicles, the problem would have been solved long ago. A new approach and ultimately a change in the law is needed.
My Lords, it was an absolute delight to listen to the excellent speech from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and his call for better-quality access. There is considerable merit in Amendment 8 and especially in Amendment 9, and it probably should be a priority target. I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept them in principle. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas is very important. Could Amendments 8 and 9 be amalgamated into one target?
Of course, this is a very difficult area for the Government to set targets in and that is possibly why the Government have not added it to the clause. If you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it, and as for measuring people’s enjoyment of something, I should love to see how one can make a target for people to enjoy something. However, with time and work, I believe that we can figure out some targets in this area, especially on connecting people with nature.
Every month Natural England publishes its people and nature survey. Despite Covid, there are still very much the same patterns emerging. When one looks at March 2020, before lockdown—an idiotic term which I hate—and compares it with April 2021, one gets roughly the same statistics: 30% had not visited a green space or nature in a 14-day period, and of those who did, the vast majority numerically were older people. The justification in April this year by the 34% of people who had not visited was to stop Covid spreading. That is a noble reason not to go. However, I looked at our previous studies, in what was then called the monitor of engagement with the natural environment, and in 2017 more than 30%, the same figure, had not visited a green space. Exactly 34% said that they had not visited because they were too busy, 23% said health reasons and 18% had no interest whatsoever. The justification or excuse may vary but the numbers stay the same.
However, the other statistic that the survey highlights is that of earnings. Of those earning more than £50,000 per annum, 75% reported a visit to a green and natural space. This is compared to 50% of those earning less than £15,000 per annum. Adults earning more than £50,000 also took three times as many visits as those earning less than £15,000. That confirms the anecdotal evidence of our own eyes. You do not see many black and ethnic-community people in their Range Rovers visiting the Lake District National Park, stately homes, or National Trust properties.
There is of course a big cost element for those who cannot afford the time or money to go far visiting green space, but there is also a cultural problem. I was told in a briefing from the creators of the brilliant London National Park City scheme that they found that children walking to school would prefer to take the slightly longer route round by the shops and the high street rather than the shorter route through the local park or green space. There is thus a problem that even when green space is on their doorstep, many people are not connecting with it. That is why Amendment 9 is so important. I believe that Natural England is in discussions with Defra on what more we can do to connect people with nature, and that could lead to a target.
The briefing we have all received from the Ramblers, Open Spaces Society, and others, cannot identify targets, but suggests three areas where it might be possible to set them. I am glad that they acknowledge that this is not easy. Their first suggested area is proximity. Are there access opportunities close to where people live and work? The second is accessibility. Are different types of users, including disabled people, able to connect with and make use of access to green spaces and good quality paths, and do they feel welcome? The third is quality. Are green spaces of sufficient standard to ensure that people want to use them?
Leaving aside the problem that even when green space is nearby many people will not use it, I say that if people will not go to the space, we need to bring the space right to their doorstep. I commend the excellent report published in January last year—with that timing, it disappeared without trace, unfortunately—called Living With Beauty. It was written by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, a body set up by the Government. Chapter 11 is called “Nature: re-green our towns and cities.” It says
“There is a considerable body of evidence that shows green spaces in rural and urban areas are highly beneficial to health and well-being and also provide space for people to meet … The presence of greenery in the urban environment normally has a positive impact on our mental and our physical health”.
The report continues:
“The evidence also suggests that greenery has the most beneficial consequences when it is ‘little and often’, when you encounter it frequently throughout your daily life. For maximum impact, public green space needs to be frequent, close and, therefore usually, modest in size. Large parks are great for those who live by them, have to pass through them daily or have the leisure to visit them. They are not so helpful for everyone else. Evidence suggests that people will frequently go to an open space if it is less than 2-3 blocks away (about 225m) but very sharply less frequently if it is further away than that. In MORI focus groups many (particularly parents) would trade off even further in favour of immediate access to private green spaces.”
I had to read that a few times—I found it rather frightening. More than 225 metres, and people were reluctant to walk that far to get to a mini-park. The report recommends massive urban tree planting, mini-parks within a few hundred yards of home, gardens and a fruit tree for every home and opening up our canals and waterways. Unfortunately the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which commissioned the report, in its recent National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code consultation proposals failed to take on board any other of those recommendations. The recommendations it did take on board did not go down too well in Chesham and Amersham, I understand. So we can expect far too many of the 300,000 new homes to be packed together like battery cages with no or tiny gardens and no green space for parks for miles. That is a missed opportunity, I submit.
There is no time in this debate to go into detail on the social prescribing initiative which is being run with Natural England, the NHS and PHE. That is connecting people with nature and has tremendous potential. I am certain that that is an area where we could really develop a target.
I want to say a bit more, provoked by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on connecting people with nature. It is more than just being out and about and whizzing through it. Many years ago, when I was taken through the Louvre by my wife, I walked past all the paintings such as the “Mona Lisa”, and it left my cold—I thought it was boring as sin. Then I went down to the basement and found the Roman and Greek architecture, the statutes and material there. I tried to remember my classical education, I found it absolutely fascinating and I spent the rest of the day there. I now realise that I was connecting with something that I related to.
Last summer, I was being driven by the side of Ullswater on a lovely day. There were a few cyclists, and all one could see of them in their lycra were their bums up in the air and heads down, and they could see the tarmac for about six feet ahead. What is the point? Why cycle down the side of Ullswater and not look at the thing—not look at the mountains? If you want to just race, you can belt around the streets of Penrith.
Finally, every day I come to the Lords, and going home—perhaps not tonight—I like to cut through Victorian Gardens, because the park there is much nicer than going along Millbank. A few years ago, I was coming through there and my wife said, “Stop and listen”. I said, “Why, what’s wrong?” She said, “Listen to the blackbirds”. I said, “So what, it’s blackbirds”. She said, “Yes, but they sing louder in London and other cities than they do in the countryside, because they have to above the noise”. From then on, every time I went through the park I would stop and listen, and then I would actually look at the plants coming out, and their growth. I began to realise that I was connecting with that bit of nature. That is my amateurish way of agreeing with the noble Earl, Lord Devon. It is not good enough whizzing through nature. Yes, we need more people out in nature, but we need them connecting with it more and understanding it more, with better quality access.
I hope that my noble friend will give these amendments serious consideration. It will be difficult to devise meaningful targets and it may take more time than the other four in this category, but it can be done with effort and good will. If he takes away one message tonight, it should be from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention in Committee, and for the purposes of all the stages of the Bill, I declare my interests as a retired farmer and landowner, chair of an internet travel business and chair of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology research.
Most of these amendments stress the importance of the Government taking seriously the planning of people’s enjoyment of nature and all that the countryside has to offer. Other noble Lords have outlined the advantages for people and their health, and indeed for nature itself. I am pleased to be following the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with his knowledge and expertise in the subject.
I very much support the principle that the Government should get involved in the promotion of access, as it is no use leaving these things to chance. If it is worth a taxpayer paying land managers to produce a landscape or habitats of which we can be proud, it is vital that the same taxpayer should be enabled, and even encouraged, to enjoy the fruits of their spending. As Professor Dasgupta has indicated, our countryside and its wildlife are extremely valuable. I ask noble Lords: would an artist complete a wonderful painting without thinking about how they were going to display it? Would a drama company put on a play without thinking seriously about attracting an audience? In my view, the taxpayer deserves no less. The Government must set out how they are going to facilitate and improve the public enjoyment of our countryside and its nature.
I will add a note of caution to what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, it is relevant that, while Scotland has a population density of 65 people per square kilometre, and Norway, another country that she mentioned, has 15 people per square kilometre, and the UK has 278 people per square kilometre, for England by itself the figure is actually 432 people per square kilometre. We are a very crowded country, and all land uses therefore have to be carefully planned, although I believe that where access is available it should be well-promoted.
I sat on the Glover review of the management and uses of our national parks and AONBs. We are still waiting for the Government’s response to it, although I am told that it is extremely imminent. I remain hopeful that that response will be a first step in the right direction of improving people’s enjoyment of our natural environment.
I turn to Amendment 58, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The issue is an old chestnut that this House has touched on many times before, and indeed Governments and local authorities have skirted around it for decades without really resolving it. The NERC Act 2006 tried to put it to bed, as the noble Lord said, and partially succeeded, but the despoilation of green lanes remains a thorny issue. The problem, as he said, is that these lanes, made for use by horses, and by horses and carts and carriages, have become an attraction for four-wheel-drive vehicles, trail bikes and quad bikes. In some rare instances—I stress that they are rare because mostly coexistence works quite well—they have become so popular, and, frankly, so irresponsibly used, that parts of the green lane have become almost impassable mud baths. That often makes those sections impossible to pass for the very horses and carriages that they were originally intended for, and even sometimes for ramblers on foot. Some of the photographs that I have seen are not attractive.
There is also the problem of local farmers who have permitted rights over the green lanes, usually to feed their stock on the nearby hill. On rare occasions, even they have found it hard to get access to their stock because of the state of the green lane. It is not common, as I say, but it is a problem.
When the Select Committee looked at the NERC Act 12 years on, in 2018, we recognised the problems and the controversy between the various users and suggested that if the rules were clear, as well as easy and inexpensive to use, the small number of problem sections could be dealt with by local authorities imposing traffic regulation orders, or TROs. These TROs could either ban motorised vehicles altogether or limit them to summer months, or even just summer weekends, or whatever. But the point is that they have to be put in place cheaply and without bother by the local authorities, which do not have the money to put into them at the moment. Nor is the legal situation very clear. If these problems could be dealt with simply, firmly and, I hope, cheaply, and on a localised basis, that would be a successful result.
The Government’s response to our report was to ask the motor vehicle stakeholder group to produce recommendations for how the TRO process could be used more efficiently by highway authorities. The Government indicated that they would consider bringing forward legislative or regulatory changes in the light of the stakeholder group’s report. But as far as I know, no new enabling regulatory changes have been brought forward, and it would seem that the issue continues to be controversial. I am not sure whether a new consultation, as proposed by the amendment, would actually help the situation—I expect the views of the various participants are by now well known to all. As I say, in 2018, Defra was expecting to bring forward measures to simplify the TRO system very soon, and maybe now it should, frankly, just get on with it.
I put my name to Amendment 8, and it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves what that says given the debate that we have just had. It says
“public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment”, but it does not say whether that should be urban or rural.
My noble friend Lady Scott emphasised small spaces, and I very much welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who emphasised urban space and greenery, which is much more accessible to the majority of our population. That reminds us of something which has always been true: in the countryside, perhaps as well as in urban areas, once people are at the car park, or wherever they decide to park their car—in a national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or by a nature reserve—the amount of travel that they do from that point is extremely limited.
One of the key things about this is public health and social prescribing, which people have been talking about. I am not an expert in that area, but in my role as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, we have decided to work closely with the local health and well-being board to make sure that we have a combined aim and goal to improve people’s lives by their access to the environment and to green spaces, which needs to be frequent rather than occasional—small bites, rather than occasional large sorties into the countryside.
I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that access to the countryside tends to be fairly limited, but I have to agree with him: during last summer in particular, I saw pictures on television of improvised barbecues and camping on beaches and areas of Dartmoor National Park. That is clearly an issue. But when I think about that I wonder what the equivalent is in an urban area. Yes, there is probably equal aggravation from litter and barbecues in parks, or whatever, but the point is that, in urban contexts, normally there are people there, and there is a budget, to clear this up. In the countryside, national parks, and in particular areas of outstanding natural beauty, have very small budgets for rectifying these sorts of issues that are created by minorities.
As the noble Viscount said, there is an issue with fly-tipping; it is an increasing problem and I suspect that, last year, it was partly because tips—I have been told off for using that word, and should say public waste disposal facilities—were closed for quite a long period of time. There is a real need there. I identify entirely with farmers who find that there is waste-tipping on their land and suddenly it becomes their responsibility. We somehow need to transfer the way that it works in urban and suburban areas, where there is a community responsibility to put that fly-tipping right, to the countryside. Obviously, the most important thing is to try to prevent it in the first place.
I particularly liked my noble friend Lord Addington’s comment that we suffer from silo management in this area, whether it is between the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. These need to be brought together. It is always difficult to do that, but this is one of the areas where we absolutely need to.
I also liked the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. However, I would say that I am very much a demand and supply economist. If you make access better, you will get more of it as well. The two go together; you cannot have one without the other, and I would very much encourage that. However, it is absolutely true that we need to make that access better where we can, and much of the need for that is because of constraints on public expenditure, not least for agencies such as Natural England, whose budget—together with that of the Environment Agency—on waste and other issues is highly constrained.
What expertise there was in the speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Cameron. I do not know what to say about this except that clearly, there is a need to finally resolve the issue of motorised transport access to green lanes and green spaces. However, I very much liked the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that we need to give taxpayers value for money as well here. How should we be spending what we do on national parks, urban parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty if we do not have that audience there to appreciate it and benefit from it?
I look forward to the Minister’s response on green lanes. I hope that he, with his colleagues in other government departments, will see a way forward to improving access to the environment, making that access better but also greater. However, I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that where we can make the most of this is in the smaller, urban and suburban spaces, and we should not just concentrate on the countryside.
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate on a very important issue. I will concentrate on Amendments 8 and 56, which are both in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, but also in the name of my noble friend Lady Quin, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. As we have heard, these would require rather than enable the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to increase public access to and enjoyment of our natural environment.
First, however, I will say a few words about Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, which addresses the issue of motor vehicles driving for recreational purposes on unsealed tracks. I thank him for his introduction and for bringing this important issue to the attention of your Lordships’ House and of the Minister. I have been involved with the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, or GLEAM, and with Friends of the Lake District. Both are concerned about the deterioration of a number of these lanes due to the large increase in motor vehicle usage over the past 20 years or so. These lanes are an important part of the Lake District’s cultural heritage and were of course originally made for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, himself mentioned the problem in the national parks, and it is only getting worse.
Friends of the Lake District believes that there is a strong case for introducing traffic regulation orders, or TROs, to restrict motorised use of the lanes to preserve their natural beauty and tranquillity. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also mentioned this and talked about how TROs could be used effectively. However, I was also interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who believes that we need to look at other solutions. Will the Minister listen sympathetically to the concerns that have been expressed about the damage that is being caused? This may be quite niche but it has a big impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, introduced Amendments 9 and 57, which have the important aims of connecting people to nature. He also talked about getting their buy-in to the behaviour changes that may be needed. Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to this.
Amendments 8 and 56 were ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. I was interested to hear her idea of creating a new national framework for access to open spaces and nature, so that we properly enable public access. She also made the important point that we need to make sure that we pull together different parts of policy and legislation. For example, ELMS, planning and health and well-being all need to come together. I was also interested in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on this area.
I am very fortunate in that I live right on the edge of the Lake District National Park, so I have some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK right on my doorstep. I can regularly enjoy fell walking with my family and my dog. This means that I also know that our personal experiences with nature are powerful. As the Committee has heard, numerous studies have demonstrated how important being active and getting outdoors in the fresh air are for both our physical and mental health and well-being. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, focused on the public health elements and the importance of access to open space. This is especially true when we are young, with nature acting as both an active playground and a place for curiosity and learning. Whether children are active in nature or not links to childhood obesity and to their mental health and happiness.
The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on our need to be outside enjoying nature. For those who have been less able to get outside, for example people without gardens or with less access to parks, the impact on mental health can be severely detrimental. The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that, for many people, easy access to the great outdoors and enjoyment of nature is far from guaranteed. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point that, if you want a fitter and healthier society, access is clearly important. On the subject of the pandemic, I refer to what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said about the need to enjoy the countryside responsibly. It has been pretty appalling in the Lake District, with a huge increase in litter, fires, trees being chopped down and campsites abandoned. It is very sad for local communities when that happens. I get so frustrated: they come here because it is beautiful, so why have they trashed it? This brings me on to the points made by my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green. We really need to educate people and teach them the countryside code. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also mentioned the importance of education about our natural environment.
For many years, the connection with nature has been steadily declining for parts of our society. Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local patch of nature, compared to over half of all adults when they were children. This lack of access to nature is exacerbated by inequality. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made an important contribution to the debate by bringing the Committee’s attention to the statistics in Natural England’s people and nature survey, which support this. He also made an important contribution on what we need to do to try to turn this around. We know that, in urban areas, the most affluent 20% of wards have five times the number of parks or general green spaces, excluding gardens, per person that the most deprived 10% have. Similarly, in areas where more than 40% of residents are black or minority ethnic, there is 11 times less green space than in areas where residents are largely white. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, talked about access for those who had difficulty in getting out and about in the countryside. He particularly mentioned people with disabilities, though there is no guarantee that we can all have this access.
Clearly, we need to address this. The Government’s 25-year environment plan, which is due to be incorporated, as we know, as the first environmental plan, includes a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment can be used by everyone. Why is the opportunity not being taken to address this more directly in the Bill? Does the Minister accept that these amendments would go some way to start to improve access to nature for everyone, not just those like myself, who are fortunate to live close to nature or who can afford to go out and enjoy green spaces.
The changes brought about by these amendments would ensure that access to nature is a core consideration in the development of future policy. I think that they are needed because, as published, the Bill fails to commit the Government to act. I urge the Minister to give these proposals serious consideration.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and agree that the Covid pandemic has underlined the important role of nature in our health and well-being in so many different ways. Before I go any further, I sincerely apologise to the House for not having been in my place when the debate began. I extend my apologies to everyone taking part.
Regarding Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, and Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on environmental targets, the Government considered adding enjoyment of the natural environment as a priority area for setting targets. However, there are substantial uncertainties, as numerous noble Lords have pointed out, over how to objectively measure these areas to be able to set a meaningful and achievable target now.
While there is evidence that engaging with nature can and does benefit people’s health and well-being in many ways, the evidence necessary to support setting a legally binding target for this area is still developing. For example, increased footfall may reflect not increased access but increased human population in an area. The Government are researching how to objectively measure this area and the best mechanisms to drive change. However, I reassure noble Lords that the Bill’s framework allows for long-term targets to be set on any aspect of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it in future, if the evidence base develops.
Before I move on to Amendments 56 and 57, I acknowledge the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the need to secure consent in relation to policy of any sort, particularly environmental policy. It is so important that, when we arrive at solutions, they are thought up in such a way as to bring people with us. If we fail to do that, the risk is always there that we exhaust the public appetite for environmental policy. I have seen that on numerous occasions, where good initiatives have met with public opposition because of the manner in which they have been introduced. It is so important that we get that right.
Amendments 56 and 57, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, are on environmental improvement plans. Connecting people with nature to improve health and well-being is a core objective of the 25-year environment plan. We anticipate that the plan will set the benchmark for future environmental improvement plans, as outlined in Clause 7 and the Explanatory Notes. However, the primary purpose of the environmental improvement plans is to set out the steps that the Government intend to take to improve the environment. Therefore, we do not necessarily want to give equal prominence to people’s enjoyment in environmental improvement plans, although, in practice, future Governments are absolutely free to do so.
Public access to, and people’s enjoyment of, the natural environment can in some instances have negative impacts on it, as my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, explained. For example, too many visitors to beaches can negatively affect wildlife and their habitats, including through the litter that is so often infuriatingly left behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made this point in relation to the Lake District, and it is something that I have seen myself. When I was Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, I saw piles of fast-food packaging left in the most beautiful spots in the park, which were chosen precisely because they were beautiful. It is mind-boggling and tells us that there is a need for some form of education, combined with incentives or disincentives, when it comes to leaving litter in the natural environment. Our enjoyment of nature cannot take precedence over our stewardship of that environment for the future.
I turn to the point made compellingly by my noble friend Lord Trenchard about the tensions that can exist between different groups. It is worth emphasising that Defra’s work to improve access always seeks to balance the needs of users and landowners. The Government work closely with stakeholders, representing as many interests as we possibly can, and landowners can formally object to proposals to create national trails across their land. Rural communities—this is a point worth stressing because it is not always about people coming in from miles away—can benefit from improved access, according to our evidence. Recent surveys show that 51% of walkers along the coast are local people, not those coming from miles away.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra both made passionate and compelling cases for access to better quality green spaces. I thank them for their remarks. The Generation Green project has been given £2.5 million by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which was an advance on the Nature for Climate Fund at the height of pandemic. The Access Unlimited coalition, in partnership with national parks around the country, will attempt to connect more than 100,000 people to nature. The project will focus on young people from deprived areas, BAME groups, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and coastal communities. It is something of a pilot and while it is of significant size, it is nevertheless a pilot scheme. If the evidence justifies it, this is something which we will want to expand.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for raising through Amendment 58 the subject of the use of recreational vehicles on unsealed tracks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising the issue more generally. The Government are ensuring that access is improved and increased by creating the England coastal path and supporting the network of national trails, as well as the effort to create a new national trail across the north of England.
In response to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, we are exploring how to further public access to and enjoyment of the countryside as a public good through the future environment land management schemes. We are still looking at the details but that is very much on the cards. It is also worth pointing out that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides the right to roam across open access land, giving the public the right of access to most areas of mountain, moorland, heathland, registered commons, coastal margins and so on. We are not starting from a position of the countryside being locked away.
I hope that I have covered most of the points that have been raised by noble Lords and that I have provided some element of reassurance. I would therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
I am most grateful for the opportunity to come in after the Minister. I wish to support the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Cameron of Dillington, in their Amendment 58. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has given us an explanation of the omissions from the NERC Act 2006 for part of the green lanes provision. Both noble Lords referred to the abuse that that has involved.
The advantage of this amendment is—[Inaudible.]
The time for the noble Lord to do that may be tight but let us try. The Minister will respond to the points already made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and we will then move on to the other speakers. If, at the end, we can get the noble Viscount reconnected, we will come back to him.
I thank the noble Lord for half of his question. He got to the point of echoing some of the concerns which were raised by previous speakers. Because we did not get to the substance of his question, I would be happy to arrange to contact him tomorrow with a view to discussing the issue—whatever it is—with my officials.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his responses to my amendments, but if he wants an example of how a connection with nature could be measured, he need not look further than the Glover review. Proposal 8, as I remember, is a night under the stars in a national landscape for every child; that is a pretty good target to aim at, and one which would go a long way toward achieving what I would like to see achieved at least over the long term. Once a child has done that sort of thing, they tend to bring their parents back, if it is properly organised.
I understand the difficulties that my noble friend faces, but there are things that, given the incentive of something in the Bill, could be done. An information system, for instance—a decent national online database of parks—would be something which people could use, and would then be a vehicle for the countryside code and enable areas to be set aside during the nesting season or lambing season, so that the relationship between the rambler and the farmer could be better moderated. There are things which the Government could do in this area if they set their mind to it. I have been really encouraged by what Natural England has been saying in this area. If the Government have a change of heart, I shall be delighted.
I can reassure my noble friend that it does not require the Government to have a change of heart, as we fully support access to nature for all the reasons which have been described so well by so many noble Lords. Indeed, just a few months ago the Defra Secretary committed £4 million for a project aimed at tackling mental ill-health through green social prescribing, which goes to the heart of some of the issues raised today. We want everyone to have access to a healthy, abundant and diverse environment, and the Environment Bill as a whole is an attempt to try to improve both our environment and access and enjoyment of it. Of course, we have much more to do and I am interested in the examples he has cited.
My Lords, in his response the Minister referred to the issue of littering, particularly personal responsibility for littering, but we were earlier talking about waste reduction targets. The people who profit from the production of that litter are of course fast-food companies and multinational food production companies. When it finally arrives, the bottle deposit scheme will be an important area of this. Will the Minister acknowledge that this is not just a personal issue but a case where we have to see system change, that multinational companies and fast-food outlets have to look at the ways their food is sold, and the packaging they produce, and that this needs to be seen as more than a personal problem?
I could not agree more. There is of course an element of personal responsibility; it is not always down to the Government, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is the whole point of our approach to extended producer responsibility, and that can apply to anything. It is very much my hope that we will be at a point not too far off where fast-food companies are financially responsible for the waste generated by their activities. We would see, the moment one creates a financial dynamic of that sort, that companies will do anything they can either to design waste out of the way they do business or to minimise the amount of waste they know they will generate. I do not think there is a better way of doing it, but clearly having created the apparatus, which we will do through this Bill, we then must use it, and use it properly. If we do, we can get where we need to in relation to waste.
My Lords, thank you very much. I am most grateful and I apologise for the problems.
The advantage of this amendment is that it is easy for the general public to appreciate: quite simply, it requires the Secretary of State to institute a public consultation affecting unsealed tracks. “Unsealed” is an unqualified word, and it means all—I repeat, all—unsealed tracks. Here, I take issue with my noble friend Lord Trenchard. A lot of thought went into the framing of that amendment, and I suggest to your Lordships that “unsealed” is sufficiently definitive.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, it does not seek a change in the law and it does not aim to be confrontational against the users of off-road motor vehicles; it simply seeks to ensure that any proposal for the use of these green lanes by such users is as widely aired with the general public as possible. This is in line with the lead amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, about public access to and general knowledge of the countryside.
There is one beneficial effect which I hope the passing of the amendment will bring, and here I venture to disagree with my two noble colleagues. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, the TROs are very divisive, costly and lead to unpleasantness and legal actions. But, at the end of the day, the general lanes of this country are a priceless part of our national heritage, and they are beautiful. However, it has to be faced that any use for recreational purposes by motorbikes, quad bikes, et cetera, renders them ugly. I have said that we do not wish to have a confrontation with those users, but compromise is always probably necessary, and I suggest that it is just a reasonable and small additional step to safeguard our precious inheritance.
I thank the noble Viscount for his question. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on this, but my understanding is that the use of motorised vehicles is already regulated and, therefore, limited to access routes classed as byways. My understanding—I think this is what the noble Viscount said—is that it is not about creating new laws or new restrictions; it is about implementing the rules already in existence. If he disagrees with that and thinks that it is a matter of tweaking the laws, I am very happy to hear from him after this debate—not tonight, I hope, but perhaps tomorrow.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I am very pleased that I tabled these amendments because they have enabled the Committee to surface a number of almost apparently contradictory themes. There seems to be a general sense that access is a good thing, but only on certain terms and only if people do not do certain things. It has really highlighted the tensions involved, whether greater access or better access. In many ways, the debate has made the case for a more strategic approach on the part of government, because it is the only way some of these things can be resolved.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his broadly constructive response. I was slightly struck by the irony that it appears that all sorts of government initiatives and funds are being put into this, but they are not really being joined up in the way that they probably should be. I will bet that there is already a whole set of targets established in every one of these funds, because that is the way government funds always work. I think it is possible to set targets in this way, so I hope the Minister will give a little more thought about how he can work with user groups and other interested people to think about this.
Finally, for me, this is always about access to nature; it is not just about access to the countryside. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made a really important contribution when he focused first on the financial and economic inequalities, but also on the importance of these smaller local green spaces. There are many people in our crowded island who, sadly, will never get out into the countryside. That does not mean we should not aspire to it, but they will find it difficult. It just makes it all the more important that they have access to good-quality space close to where they live. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 9 to 12 not moved.
House adjourned at 10 pm.