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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, in this crowded island it is evident that access to our beautiful countryside for any member of the population who wants to enjoy it ought to be possible in some sensible way.
Unfortunately, noble Lords who have spoken so far have underestimated the sense of frustration on both sides, the sense of bitterness and confrontation which exists between some parts of the farming industry and the rambling fraternity. I do not think that bitterness and confrontation help anybody. There are landowners and farmers who do obstruct rights of way; there are also ramblers who are exceedingly unhelpful when it comes to the question of reasonably argued diversions that would be to the benefit of both the landowner and the public. I will return to that issue in a moment.
The Government have a duty to achieve a consensus at the centre and to isolate the extreme fanatics on either fringe. In this context I should like to make two suggestions. The first relates to the right to roam in the open countryside. The problem with all the proposals that have been tabled so far, including the Bill in another place, is that they will be impossible to manage.
For 45 years I have been involved in land management in various parts of the world. I am a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I do not own any open countryside, but I know that the current proposals are unmanageable. It would be easier to
Finally, if there were a modest licence fee, that could be used to help to supplement the increased cost of emergency services. Real dangers are involved in wandering in the countryside. The fee could also contribute to the cost of management.
The second point I wish to make relates to the rights of way network. As several noble Lords have said, that is a priceless asset in this country. I, too, am a slightly reluctant walker. My wife is very keen. I tend to volunteer to take the car and pick her up at the other end when there is an opportunity to do so. But I have walked extensively with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The problem is that the rights of way network is set in aspic. The needs of today's walkers are totally different from the needs of walkers of 150 years ago when the network formed itself.
Many noble Lords who walk will agree that today the public want circular walks, both long and short, preferably ending somewhere where you can park the car and if there is a pub not too far away, that is better still. That is what the public want.
I shall not go into detail, but I give the House an example of the problem of securing circular walks. Fifteen years ago, I was approached by my local council which asked me to agree to certain changes to rights of way in the parish on the land that I owned in order to achieve short and long circular walks, both of them ending at the newly constructed village hall. It is not newly constructed now; it is 15 years old. We still have not got there, after 15 years of negotiation because the legal position is so exceedingly difficult. If you want a comprehensive scheme, there is no way in which that scheme can be approved as a whole. Each variation, closure and dedication must be agreed separately, so that the inspector can cherry-pick. We believe that he will cherry-pick to our disadvantage, and I speak as a landowner in this case. The ramblers believe that he will cherry-pick to their disadvantage. So neither group wants to risk putting the application to the test. It is absolutely daft. It would be extremely easy to change the legislation to make sensible change easier when everybody wants it.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, this debate has covered many interesting points. I must start by declaring an interest as an owner of land. I was very sorry that the choice was made to have confrontation through legislation rather than having a voluntary agreement. That was an opportunity to achieve good will turned away. Nevertheless, we must get on with it as it is.
I speak for many when I say that we are not against properly controlled and better access to the countryside. First, we must remember that we have a fast-growing urban population, an increasing ignorance of the countryside, a diminishing land resource and with it, its wildlife.
For over 100 years, my family has voluntarily permitted footpaths on the estate. In spite of that, recently I have been under pressure to allow greater access. I believe that the majority of ramblers are responsible and sensible people. However, there are leaders among them who display an insatiability for more. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to the diversion of footpaths and how there are those who always oppose everything, however sensible it is. So when their demands included entry into a Grade I national nature reserve I am glad that English Nature stood firm. I must declare the fact that part of my estate is in that nature reserve.
However, I wish to speak briefly about the coastal regions and to ask that special thought be given to its protection. Some of our rarest birds nest on our coasts or on the mudflats. They are already under pressure from natural predators: raptors, foxes, rodents and so on. When not harbouring nestlings, many wintering birds use them for migratory purposes. It is also an area very rich in flora.
Thanks to the National Trust, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, reminded us, nearly 600 miles of coastline is now being restored because of Operation Neptune. But there is one great problem; that is, that the immediate hinterland is often uncultivated and could be defined as moorland. Careful thought must be given to ensuring that the lands adjacent to the coast are not damaged by human intrusion. That intrusion is not only by pedestrians. There is also access from the sea; for example, by yachts. We must somehow deter people coming for their picnics with dogs and children.
I have no doubt whatever that English Nature can be relied on to defend the SSSIs it controls. But in the past, many landowners have created their own reserves on their estates and often on uncultivated land. Therefore, I hope to hear that nature reserves, however small, will be protected. Where appropriate, daily permits can be issued to people interested in birds.
Also, consideration must be given to the great parks around our historic buildings owned by the National Trust, English Heritage and privately. Again, they are often uncultivated and therefore fall into that definition.
Finally, there is no doubt that education has a vital part to play in teaching people in the towns how to behave in the countryside. If such matters are taught in our primary schools, things will be very much better. How much I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that the expression "right to roam" is unfortunate. "Permissive footpaths" is obviously a better way in which to describe those new routes. Perhaps there should be "permissive footpaths" for visiting at the weekends but not a right to roam.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, it will come as no surprise that I speak from a Scottish viewpoint and as an active access manager in lowland Scotland. Even this morning, I was harnessed to the strimmer, keeping the footpaths open. It was particularly pleasant in Pondwood, south-east of Alloa, in the early morning light.
This debate is about the proposed changes and improvements to the public's right of access to land in England and Wales. It is certainly true that there will be additional work for land managers if more people are to visit the countryside's footpath networks and the open hills. That must be recognised, as it has been in the Scottish access debate. The proposals drafted by Scottish Natural Heritage seem well balanced. They propose a restatement of the ancient Scots law access provisions in a single Act and identify that land managers must be assisted in their task of coping with problems generated by increased access. They are about the responsible use of access rights. That builds on the ancient right of passage over land.
There is a considerable need for greater access to the Scottish countryside, particularly in the peri-urban setting. Recreational walking gives both health and recreational benefits. The poor health record in lowland Scotland can be attacked by an increase in low-cost recreational outlets, especially those which do not require transport to reach the start or finish.
The existing historic network of footpaths was laid down either for the purpose of getting to work or as estate maintenance infrastructure. The network requires some additional linking paths to make circular walks practical. Having done that in the Marywood between Alloa and Clackmannan, I know that it is not difficult to improve a network. Funds seem to be available for footpath creation but not for footpath maintenance. That needs to be remedied, especially if wheelchair and cycle quality paths are to be provided.
I have made deliberate reference to the peri-urban environment and hence the special needs of those who manage the rural areas on the urban fringe. I believe that the increasing emphasis in planning law and guidelines is towards forcing people to live in established urban settlements. That is creating a nation of townies. Very few young people have a real chance of growing up as countrymen. I accept that having a home in a rural area does not make an instant countryman, as all those urban commuters well demonstrate. A rural job is the most likely route, followed by a rural sport, hobby or interest.
In Scotland there is a philosophical shift in the legal situation from access to get to work to access for health, recreation and rural education. All this is highly commendable, provided that access rights are enjoyed in a responsible manner. The watchword has to be "Leave only your footprints", and for canoeists it is even better: "Leave only your footprints on the portage trail". This does not happen on every occasion. The problems include litter and household rubbish, fires, scrap cable burning, fence cutting, damage to bushes and saplings, rods, poles and trees cut down (and not even for firewood), footpaths dug up for worms by fishermen, stiles and gates vandalised, signposts ripped up, livestock released, airguns used in the vicinity of paths. I suspect there are more. I have not even mentioned wildlife disturbance, poaching and motorcycle damage.
The frustration comes from the fact that while 99 people come and go, leaving only their footprints, it only takes one person to spoil it. My own enjoyment of land held by the Mar and Kellie estate is tempered by the risk of having to remonstrate with those others who are doing damage or breaching some aspect of common sense.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I declare two interests. First of all, I am a keen walker. I have walked in Yorkshire, Wales, Slovakia, South Africa and various other places. The other interest I must declare is that I am the owner of a heather moor which starts about a mile from a large town and which is crossed by many footpaths. These footpaths are well used and I, as a walker, recognise that they must be kept open. In fact they are kept open, there is no question about it.
I fully support the keeping open of all public footpaths. In Wales I have come across wired up footpaths. That is unacceptable. On moorland the owner is an idiot if he does not make certain that his paths are clearly marked. People try to use paths but if they cannot find them they cannot be blamed for wandering off. I fully support footpaths across moorlands. All the scenery can be seen without going off such footpaths.
However, the proposal for access I look upon as extremely dangerous. I do not accept that walkers are a problem. Eighty four per cent of them walk on the footpaths, and, peculiarly enough, the wildlife do not worry about people on footpaths. I have to go out and cull deer about this time of year. I was going up a well used track, not on the moorland but in woodland. I saw a buck about 40 yards away. I could not get round so I stood up and walked up the road and he paid no attention at all. If I had been seen in the wood he would have gone a mile.
The problem with the Bill is that it is not legitimating the walkers. It is legitimising all users. In spite of the country code 55 per cent of people with dogs let them loose. On two occasions I have encountered people walking along and talking while their dogs run totally wild. They resent even being asked to keep the dogs under control. There are people with airguns. Every single way marking sign is used as a target.
Many walls cross moorland. With open access someone will inevitably come to a wall. They have to climb over. Orienteers at the moment must get permission to carry out their activity and therefore put down a route which is congenial to the country. There will be nothing to stop them planning, perhaps from London, an orienteering scheme which crosses a wall. By the time a hundred people have been over a wall there will be nothing left of it. I lost 35 acres of prime woodland when someone set fire to it. A thousand people had walked through, but it only took one to set fire to it.
There are also the saboteurs who go out quite deliberately to disrupt the shooting. They will have the right to be on the moor where they wish, provided they are not seen and caught doing damage. The idea of educating people out of all this, I am afraid, is sad.
The moors take a great deal of managing which I do not think is realised. In order for the heather to be kept in flowering and good condition, burning of small patches has to take place over a period of eight years. It needs to be done when the weather is right. The operation is time consuming and technically difficult.
Foxes and crows have to be kept down; otherwise they pick out lambs' eyes, and perhaps kill the lambs and all the ground-nesting birds. Bracken spreads naturally and quickly over moorland. Much effort, money and time are spent reducing bracken and preventing it taking over the moorland. The moorland is what people go to see and walk through. They do not want to walk through breast-high bracken.
Who pays for all this? The shooting interests. If the moors deteriorate, not through the walkers but through people of ill intent who also have the right to be there, away will go the shooters once that activity is no longer worthwhile. There will be no management. The heather will deteriorate, and there will be no birds. The walkers will lose their scenery and will have with them only controlled motorcyclists and cycles. At the moment there is some chance of controlling them because of the keepering system.
North Yorkshire says that access will be a hindrance to what they are trying to achieve. Why should one small political organisation have their way over the majority of walkers? Why should those who want to manage the moorland for them pay for it? Even the RSPB are worried about the effect of unrestricted access on ground nesting birds?
There are a great number of questions which I am not going to be able to read out. I hope that when the Government get those questions from the Country Landowners' Association they are prepared to give proper answers. For example, what research did the Government undertake on the nature of public demand
The Earl of Stair: My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to join this afternoon's debate and thank my noble friend Lord Gladwyn for initiating it. I declare an interest in that I am a landowner in Scotland, although I look on myself more as a manager and lifetime custodian of a comparatively small part of the countryside, a job description that has been so well interpreted in different ways by the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Marlesford, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Now that Scotland has its own parliament, your Lordships' House and the other place will no longer be legislating on this subject in Scotland. However, the problems that will arise from this proposed legislation are similar in both countries.
As a landowner, I welcome the public to responsibly enjoy the open countryside, as I am sure do many other landowners. However, it is the definition of "responsible", and the degree of legislation that goes with it, which will make such a difference to the future of the countryside. In the first sentence of the Statement the Government refer yet again to their manifesto in which they promised a commitment to give people greater freedom to explore open countryside. Later in the Statement they claim that only a statutory right will deliver the access that they are seeking. Indeed, all through the Statement the Government give a one-sided preference to people to enjoy the open countryside. This, however, must be balanced by also giving definite legislation to support the people who both live in, and rely on, the rural environment to provide their living. I see it as very dangerous to make parliamentary time available for this law purely on the basis of a pre-election manifesto. The long-term effects and scope of this subject and the potential impact on the rural population are too important to be dealt with purely in that way.
The majority of the population of England is now urban based. Indeed, they are often several generations from a rural connection. Giving an open invitation and encouragement to people who are not familiar with, or even aware of, the basic dangers that can be encountered in the countryside will only increase the chances of injuries and perhaps even fatalities, a point that was aptly made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. If this is to be the subject of legislation, then perhaps a programme of education, backed up by an enforceable set of guidelines, should also be introduced.
The current legislation does not cover lowland ground in crop or grassland. However, silage is a crop and it is made from grass. Be it upland or lowland, it is still a crop. Under the current law, what is the difference between an enclosed silage field on low ground and an
During the debate after the Statement the noble Lord the Minister made it quite clear that liability for all matters arising as a result of this legislation would remain with the landowner. I wish to dwell briefly on the subject of liability for damage. Following the Statement on 8th March (at col. 51 of the Official Report) the noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised the example of a discarded burning cigarette. If a member of the public, under this legislation, were to discard a lit cigarette or light a cooking fire in a high risk area, particularly in the late afternoon or early evening, on open ground, moorland or forestry, in the summer, then the results would be catastrophic, not just on the open hill where the fire actually started but possibly also on neighbouring sites of special scientific interest. Why should the landowner have to carry the full responsibility and the inevitable cost of a higher insurance premium when he has no control over who has access to his ground? If this Statement is to form the basis of law, then it must also include some protection for the landowner, who at present can at least help himself by protecting his own interest.
I say again that I agree with the Government that everyone should be able to enjoy open countryside. However, the legislation must be stronger than mere by-laws to help protect the landowner or farmer. The countryside may appear to be a beautiful place in which everyone wishes a stake. However, it should also not be forgotten that people who work the countryside treat it as a business and very often have involved large quantities of their own capital in having that countryside both to run as a business and maintain. While a visitor to open land may see no harm in releasing his dog to enjoy a run, in the same way as it does in a park, and while not actually coming into contact with a farmer's sheep, that dog may still cause irreparable harm to an already frequently erratic animal.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. I have to declare an interest. I am the owner of a farm in Northern Ireland which is in a less favoured area. I have some 800 acres of moorland among others--bog and so on. On the other side, for seven years I worked for the Northern Ireland Sports Council as chairman of its countryside and recreation committee. In that role I spent a good deal of time with other people voluntarily negotiating for access; negotiating for slalom routes for canoes, for access to campsites, and negotiating to look after and protect some of the most precious areas of Strangford Lough and yet allow the farmers to have their way, the equestrians to have their way, the walkers to have their way and perhaps even the dogs to have their way. We eventually set up a management committee, which has now been adopted by the Government. So I know a little about Northern Ireland.
I have also walked and roamed as a serviceman in nearly all the Ministry of Defence--it used to be the War Department--areas from Northumberland to Land's End, and North Wales, South Wales, and so on. I have a particular interest in access to the countryside. I believe in it. I welcome it. I particularly welcome the Bill. But I hope that the Bill is more than following up a paragraph or two of the Government's election manifesto, which was perhaps motivated in those days by things other than goodwill. Having said that, I hope that the Government will realise the enormous task on which they have embarked and will give it the time, the energy and the money to get it right, or as right as anyone could get it, which is not easy.
I believe that statutory law based in Westminster is not the right place to run the countryside. We may have to have a statute but the management of the countryside and the bringing together of its users is much better done by local authorities and groups nearer the coalface. I am concerned about two or three points; first, the interpretation of what the Government are saying at the moment about the forthcoming Bill and their communications. Dare I hope for correct communication? As the right reverend Prelate said earlier, a statutory right to roam is perhaps not the best slogan for this legislation. It will almost certainly be interpreted by most, and, as we have heard this afternoon, is being interpreted by many, literally as a right to go anywhere on anyone's property. Those who have read the paperwork produced by the Government realise that that is not the intention. I accept and acknowledge that. But what is happening now is that where people were working towards agreement and working in harmony very often across the country, walls and barriers are going up and conflicts are starting to ensue. I ask the Government to get a move on with what they are doing and not delay.
The second side that worries me perhaps even more is the management of the countryside after the Bill has been passed. The Government say in their White Paper that they will do it all at little or no cost to the Government. Yet I believe that every moor and open area that is to become accessible will need its own specific policy, its own code of practice and its own openings and closings. Relationships will have to be built, whether or not a statute is in place, between farmers, owners, users, managers and so on. People will have to be educated to understand and have respect for the fact that the farmer has to earn his livelihood where the urbanite goes to enjoy and pass his leisure time.
We have heard several times today about the considerable worries on public liability. I would put before that, as we have also heard, rescue and health and safety. Having spent a good deal of time taking young people into the mountains, taking them down potholes, taking them on rivers and teaching them to climb rocks and cliffs, I know what the dangers are. I wrote some of the original codes of practice back in the early 1960s. I had telephone conversations with people, saying "Don't let them go there tomorrow". They went there tomorrow and died. If the Government
Lastly, there will inevitably be a cost to the farmer. I ask the Government to think again about how reconciliation will work. There will be serious damage. There will be loss of livestock, and walls and fences will be knocked down. I hope that the Government will think right through the huge number of portfolios of detailed problems under the legislation. I admire the Government for taking the role on. We have a wonderful countryside. Properly managed, access should be available for those who wish to make use of it properly.
The Earl of Macclesfield: My Lords, I too would like to thank my noble friend Lord Gladwyn for introducing the debate. I also wish to declare an interest in that I and other members of my family own an estate in and off the Chilterns.
I am relieved that at least one subject is left to me, the rather emotive one of the 28 days' change of use without planning control in the countryside. This is for other activities that take place on what some people would consider a somewhat doubtful legitimate basis. Those people would include my brother, who suffers from parachutists. Being inconsiderate to him is one thing. What about the animals and the noise around them, as a safety factor? What about the parachutists landing in his fields? It is fine if it is an ordinary grass field; it is not so good if it is a growing crop which has just been sprayed.
To many people, these are legitimate activities that might be allowed to take place in the countryside. For "parachuting" read "other matters", such as scrambling or whatever activities other people want to bring forward, in what I would like to think would be a wide-ranging consultation at some point.
Perhaps the Minister could look at the rather awkward situation in which I certainly feel that a period of 28 days without control is far too much. There are people earning money out of this, but they are not contributing by way of local rates, simply because they are not registered in any way.
That brings me to the horse-riding leisure situation, where planning is somewhat unclear for farmers, as to whether they can, and if so in what circumstances, have something called a livery. All this could be considered and tidied up.
For that and similar reasons, I feel that legislation is probably a good idea. It would raise the question of insurance, and not just for the public liability that we have been talking about. Licensing, if that is the appropriate word, for activities such as parachuting at least would be conditional on production of an insurance certificate.
If the Minister or an inquiry look favourably on horse-riding as an increasing leisure activity in the countryside, it follows that there is a need for off-road places to ride, on the basis that we have already heard, that a horse and a car are an accident waiting to happen. There is no reason why this should not be dealt with by
On the subject of footpaths, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Northbourne. At the other end of the scale there will be farmers with footpaths that they would like to have consolidated. Some of the footpaths are out of date and there really is not a need for the numbers. If we are to have rationalisation, it is only fair that the country as a whole is looked at. That is another reason for legislation. We look at the alteration of the straight line into the circle. At this point everybody might agree that footpaths came into being for the benefit of the locals, to get from A to B, with the agreement of the landowner, not for use by the general public. There will be occasions when it is appropriate to have an extra footpath, or two or three, and there will be areas in which it is appropriate to consolidate and remove some.
The circular footpaths will almost certainly end in car parks. Is there any good reason why the public should not pay for their car parking in the countryside? I have to pay in town. It is only fair and reasonable. And it is only fair and reasonable that assorted costs should be borne centrally, as other noble Lords have said, and not by local authorities, which, by definition, are rural local authorities. The money side of the matter bears close consideration. A little bit of fair play for the countryside would be welcome.
There is only one other point that I should like to make, in view of the area that has been covered by other noble Lords. It was rather unfortunate to hear the noble Lord, Lord Peston, refer to picking bluebells. It is an offence today to pick bluebells, and yesterday it most certainly was vandalism, which is why it is an offence today. We have bluebells, and we protect them by controlling.
On one occasion I left the farm on which I was then living and walked quietly up the road at about 6 o'clock in the evening. In front of me there was a car. Two children were picking bluebells in the wood, and their parents were sitting in the car. I did not alter my gait, but just wandered up. Clearly, the children picked up some vibes. They came out of the wood, left the bluebells and got back into the car. I will leave your Lordships to think about what I said to those parents.
The Earl of Enniskillen: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the gap. I will not keep your Lordships long. I just felt that coming from Kenya, where I seldom have an opportunity to contribute, I might be able to add something to this debate.
In Kenya I am involved in wetland management. I have recently returned from Costa Rica, where I was given the honour and privilege of addressing the contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention, consisting of governments from all over the world, including the
No one would question the right of access to water, particularly in a continent such as Africa. But, in spite of that, in my address to the conference I emphasised voluntary actions, sense of ownership, conservation of the resource and equitable distribution of the resource, without giving direct access to everyone. Throughout the week of the conference while I was attending there seemed little or no dissension from those principles; nobody argued for an unlimited right of access to such valuable resources as wetlands and the ecosystems that they support.
I believe that the open countryside in this country consists of equally important ecosystems, which must be sustainably managed and equitably distributed among the people of the country in such a way that direct access to all and sundry is not available. The need for educated and informed access, so that damage is limited, has been emphasised time and again.
I totally agree with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others, and I am not in conflict, I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, when I say that access to the countryside must be granted, but the right to roam, implying a sense of free access to all and sundry, is an unfortunate term, which I would urge that we consider changing. It is the wrong concept. Voluntary action at community level to provide access should be the underlying driving force of the legislation. As has been emphasised, we should not have overbearing national legislation which imposes a duty on those at community level who have special needs in special areas.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Government's commitment to introduce legislation to give access to the open countryside as a right in perpetuity. We believe that it is a very important step in restoring the connection of people to their countryside. Although I accept that certain people own certain sections of the countryside, I believe that it is important that the countryside is seen as a common heritage. One of the difficulties that has arisen as a result of people being so disconnected from the wild, rural and beautiful areas of our landscape is that the legislation needed to protect those areas has not been brought forward. That is because sufficient pressure has not been brought to bear and that is because people have not had access to the countryside and consequently do not value it. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, put that point extremely well.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate. Access given as a right raises extremely important issues, a few of which I should like to address. Several noble Lords have referred to the environmental impact of such access. I believe that legislation on that
My noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood referred to fragile landscapes. In their welcome consultation paper on sites of special scientific interest, the Government highlighted some of the difficulties, stating:
Other noble Lords have asked who will resolve the problems of access and of environmental conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to the fact that a working party has done considerable work on that issue. I hope that the Government will draw on its experience. Will English Nature, for example, be asked to draw up a set of criteria that could, and should, apply? Noble Lords have also mentioned the length of time for which land should be closed to the public and for what purposes. I refer, for example, to the nesting of birds and to lambing.
I was very jealous of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, who claimed to be able to see skylarks. I am sure that he can. However, hard as I frequently try to see them, I only ever manage to hear them. I must discover what sort of optician the noble Lord consults, given that he can see them so frequently!
I turn now to another issue which I think is of prime importance. I refer to the local access forums. How much of a say will be given to local people, such as land managers, landowners and local authorities? I believe that it is proposed that the forums should be advisory only and that the statutory agencies should have the final say. The success of such legislation will depend on the strength of those local access forums. They are the places where conflicts should be resolved and they need the necessary powers.
Another example of a matter which a local access forum might address comes to mind. I refer to the question of when a linear route may be particularly appropriate and when it is appropriate to have stopping-off places. I do not believe that most people want to wander very widely. They want a decent route to follow and, occasionally, they want to be able to wander 50 or 100 metres off that route to a viewpoint at which they can picnic before returning to the marked route. Such issues need exploring. We must consider whether to waymark particular places that are suitable for particular purposes.
As well as the local access forums, the national parks have a great deal of experience of questions of access and how to maximise the benefits for visitors while dealing also with the difficulty of protecting the environment.
I turn now to traffic. Although the Government's statement of 8th March was full and reassuring in some areas, it was a little dismissive of the fear about an increase in the volume of traffic. This is a big issue for local people, which needs to be carefully considered as people drive to, and need to park in, the places where they will walk, especially when access to some of those areas will not previously have been available. Some of the national parks have introduced schemes to deal with that. At points of high pressure, particularly during the summer or, as in my local area, when the snowdrops are out in a particular valley, together with local transport owners the national parks authorities laid on a minibus and then closed the road. One noble Lord referred to road closures in the Peak District. That scheme works extremely well. People pay a small contribution for using the minibus, and that money goes into the local economy. People do not have to worry about parking. They can go off and enjoy their walk. The bus will pick them up at any point on the route when they are tired. That helps one to enjoy the day.
Dogs are an ever-contentious issue in the countryside. As the owner of a very energetic dog, I agree that it is a great temptation to let it off the lead so that it can cover 10 times the distance that one wants to cover. Local access forums are again important here. The neat little pull-up gates which the National Trust introduced provide a statement about welcoming dogs while suggesting that the owner should be responsible for them. Nothing produces a less responsible attitude than very hostile notices saying, "Keep your dog on a lead",
A further important question is liability. A Question asked in your Lordships' House recently by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, reflects the concern of many of those who deliver access to the countryside, such as the wildlife trusts, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission. A prime concern is the drift towards liability litigation, which the legal and insurance professions may well have encouraged. Many agencies, the prime purpose of which is wildlife and landscape conservation, are saying that they have been forced to divert increasing resources to expenditure on health and safety matters for visitors.
I believe that a clear statement of principle in primary legislation would enable a definite line to be drawn. That would be helpful to individual visitors, to organisations taking groups to the countryside, land managers and wildlife trusts. I believe that the legislation needs to make it clear to visitors to the countryside that they are deemed to accept primary responsibility for their own health and safety in respect of hazards arising from natural and manmade features that are a natural part of the countryside. I believe that important issue must be addressed as part of any legislation.
Finally, the simplification of the rights of way network is extremely important. I would not like this House to be too condemning of mountain bikers. In another debate we spoke enthusiastically of encouraging more time and resources to be devoted to youth. Boys and young men, in particular, enjoy mountain biking and a way must be found for them to enjoy the open countryside. If we want them to pursue healthy and worthwhile pursuits, but deny them any opportunity to carry out those pursuits, that would be hypocritical of us.
The Government have a big task in addressing all these issues. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, enjoys walking without talking. I walk for that reason also because I spend so much of my time talking and I take a rest by walking.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, today we have given an airing to the many issues raised by public demand for the right to roam. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not manage to mention everyone who has made a contribution to the awareness and implications of such legislation.
The subject may be organised as follows: the public demand, the administrative consequences of that demand, the impact of that demand upon those lands involved, the implication of legislation and the management, after the Bill has been passed, to which other noble Lords have referred, and indeed the risks thereof.
Journalists, lobbyists, politicians and private individuals have written and spoken much about what people want. A consensus has emerged that most of them require constant access to land close to home and
It would be helpful to look closely at the experience of coastal authorities, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Montagu. Beaches and headlands have largely had open access since the 1950s. Many coastal authorities have now outlawed dogs, built charge car parks, stopped all free parking without residents' permits, imposed bans on jet skiing, on water skiing and ghetto blasters and have generally tackled some of the other problems that come with access.
A right to roam in the countryside will require similar controls and administrative backup. First, it will be necessary to decide what land is open to access and then to publish the rules, in the press, in handbooks, on maps and perhaps on the Internet. However, publicity will be sufficient in some cases, but all access land must be clearly signposted. It may be necessary to invent a universal code; for instance, a field that is totally open may have gateposts of pea-green; a field that contains footpaths may have gateposts of Jaffa orange; while an arable field that is totally closed may have gateposts of pillar box red. All fields with orange gateposts would also have finger posts which would sign the route.
Other noble Lords have mentioned the need for walkers to know where they are going, but what of territories with no boundaries? There could be footpath finger posts in orange, open land direction posts in pea-green and closed land surrounded by fence posts in red. What about areas of outstanding natural beauty? Who will pay for publicity? Who will buy and install such signs? Who will maintain them and replace them promptly when they are removed, defaced or destroyed? Indeed, those of us who live in the country already have those problems.
Of course, the roaming public will be covered for free treatment by the NHS, but what about payment for absence from work consequent on an accident? What about compensation, as mentioned by some noble Lords? The Government have indicated that landowners will continue to have public liability. Should the Government also insist that roamers carry insurance of their own, perhaps obtainable through the DSS and post offices?
It seems to me that accidents in open country will rarely be the fault of the landowner. Of course, most roamers will want to stick to established footpaths, as I mentioned earlier. Today I was delighted to see that MAFF have announced that 1,500 new farmland walks have been opened and guides will be forthcoming. That is good news, but who will provide all of those things that I have mentioned? I dare say that most roamers wish to stay on footpaths. They have no desire to disturb wildlife or to struggle with bracken, bramble or briar. However, who will provide the footpaths and maintain them, as mentioned by other noble friends? Who will patrol them to ensure that they are not annexed by bikers, abused by 4-wheel drive enthusiasts or churned up by horse riders?
In areas which are remote from town and city there will be a need for car parking facilities, public loos, seats, shelters and perhaps, where suitable, facilities for disabled access. Here too we should do well to learn the lesson from the coastal invasion, particularly from places like Cornwall. Here too we need to decide who will provide, maintain and pay for them?
In this context there is a potential clash between the right to roam legislation and existing laws which protect our areas of outstanding natural beauty. There is a clash between the needs of roamers and those who wish to maintain and protect the landscape. Who will prevail? The Countryside Commission has stated that priority in funding will be given to areas of outstanding natural beauty. Will that supremacy follow through to planning?
The outcome of that debate will impact upon rural dwellers, landowners and anyone who lives or works in an area that is open to the right to roam. The seaside experience would lead one to expect that our beautiful villages may become choked with traffic and littered. Moreover, we shall need to anticipate and legislate for the problems of the right to roam which will impact upon other legitimate countryside activities.
First, wildlife must be allowed to breed, feed and thrive. Secondly, rural production, which for many is their living, must be protected. For those who have had to diversify, as farm incomes have been so dire, into family holiday homes which offer peace and tranquillity, it is important that the countryside should be undisturbed and protected. Farmers' livestock should be secure and not vandalised. That may require limits to be placed on the number of people given access to certain areas. Many noble Lords have spoken of restrictions on dogs and of the importance of keeping them on leads. Last year, £2 million was paid out in insurance claims relating to sheep killed by dogs.
This subject raises many matters. We welcome the new farmland walks. As I said earlier, most people choose to walk near their homes. A recent Countryside Commission paper showed that the average journey of a day visitor to the countryside is 16 miles and that half of them travel for only five miles. On these Benches we would welcome a fair and voluntary approach to greater access for all. However, like many noble Lords who have spoken, we are also realistic.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister some questions. First, what is meant by access? I have read the Statement-- I was not fortunate enough to hear it although my noble friend Lord Luke replied to it. One part of the Statement clearly states that the proposals are for walkers and that legislation will include improvements to the rights-of-way system. That will be an important package. It then states that:
Will the Bill improve the situation for walkers and other recreational pursuits? And what about that most important aspect--compensation and public liability? If the Minister heard that once, he must have heard it 20 times today. There has to be a will of government to accept that it is unreasonable to expect land managers, landowners and tenant farmers to produce money to cover the cost of that liability.
All of us in this House expressed a wish to see access available. From these Benches we would like it to be a voluntary access. There is a tremendous depth of knowledge within this Chamber today and, while I am a mere lifer, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I am enormously grateful to all who have spoken, whether they are lifers or those who have lived in the countryside a lot longer than I--hereditary Peers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for introducing this debate and for the wide-ranging and lucid way in which he revealed his knowledge of this subject, on which he is an expert outside this House, to the benefit of a lot of walkers in many parts of the country. I congratulate also the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on his maiden speech. He started by praising the Ordnance Survey and then rendered it redundant, at least in relation to Swaledale, by giving us a clear oral guide.
I was not quite as taken by the debate as was the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, to say that it was tending to change my opinion on hereditary Peers. Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed. Indeed, if I had been so tempted, I might have been substantially less tempted as the debate went on. Some of the contributions to this debate were fighting old battles and we really ought to be putting in a constructive light what we need to do to follow through the announcement we made in March.
Emotionally at least, if not in the precise legalistic terms of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. The land belongs to the people. However, there are restrictions and responsibilities on people, whether they are owners or ramblers, as to how they use it. Because I believe access is a basic right, I do not warm to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that somehow the ability to make use of that access should be subject to some sort of licensing system.
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