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Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Before he leaves this part of the Bill, perhaps he will tell your Lordships a little more about the clauses that the Minister for the Environment, Mr Meacher, said in Committee in the other place that he would introduce in order to strengthen the position of areas of outstanding natural beauty in relation to land protection and conservation, and also to give powers to introduce statutory conservation boards where that was asked for locally. Bearing in mind these are major changes to the Bill, it would be helpful for the House to have some idea of what is likely to be involved.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, following discussion in Committee in another place, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment indicated that we would be introducing amendments to the Bill during its passage through this House which strengthen the management of areas of outstanding natural beauty. He outlined those proposals a couple of weeks ago and some of the ideas may be familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, because he was engaged in the promotion of his own Bill on such matters a few months ago. Amendments will be brought forward to put into effect the

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commitment given in the other place. Therefore during Committee stage in this House, a section on areas of outstanding natural beauty will be introduced. While I am discussing amendments, I should also inform your Lordships that we will be introducing a number of other amendments during the Bill's passage through the House. They are necessary to make corrections and complete provisions, and some will implement the undertakings given by the Government in another place. On this Bill I expect the number of amendments to be modest.

This Bill will open parts of the countryside for the first time to many thousands of our citizens. It is not one to be feared. It will benefit all those who use and love our countryside and natural heritage. It is a balanced Bill that brings access to the countryside, our rights of way system and the protection afforded to wildlife into the 21st century. We have ensured, in our view, that the interests of landowners are respected and that those who wish to use the new right of access may only do so in a responsible way. Our rights of way system will be simpler to understand and our wildlife and natural heritage will be better protected. This is a good Bill. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Whitty.)

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, this Bill has been welcomed by many people and organisations, and we, too, give some of it a warm welcome, though the Minister will not be surprised to hear that we have reservations about other aspects.

Already the standard of debate in another place has been high. Some improvements to the Bill have been made and I congratulate the Members of the other House on their progress. But the Bill is still an unworkable muddle and we have much to do. The basics have not been altered. The Bill only confirms that this Government do not understand the country. As recently as March this year the Prime Minister implied that all was well in the countryside with just a few exceptions. But we know that is not true. Some 18,000 plus farmers gave up in despair last year, and many more are hanging on by their fingernails.

Today we are considering a Bill which, in its present form, not only takes away from the farmers' already dwindling incomes, but also demands more of their time. We would much prefer to have seen an expansion of the voluntary agreement system rather than this overburdensome, heavy-handed, regulatory and impracticable Bill.

This Bill is three Bills in one. An attempt by Labour Back-Benchers in another place to add a ban on fox hunting with dogs outraged many country people. The amendments were withdrawn and are not part of this Bill. But the Government are to bring forward a Bill next year which could prevent people from participating in their lawful recreation. That is for another day.

Before I move forward, I want to say how much I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Brittan. He is an experienced

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parliamentarian and we welcome him warmly to this House. I look forward to what he will shortly have to say.

I am acutely aware that this Bill, in all three parts, most closely affects that sector of our population which is under serious threat; namely, the farmers. They have seen their incomes drop for the fourth year running. On top of that, the growing of crops is subject to the effects of climate change, of genetically modified organisms, and of legislation on pesticides, pollution and propagation. The production of meat is affected by animal welfare legislation and the severe competition from the Third World.

The dairy industry has insufficient quotas to supply the UK milk needs, but near neighbours have a saleable surplus. Further down the chain the closure of abattoirs threatens even the most independent person and those who want to produce, as organic farmers, for the niche market. All areas suffer competition from farming methods allowed in other countries but not here.

It may be asked why it matters. It matters because the very countryside which this Bill celebrates is the product of centuries of work in the agriculture sector. Moreover, many of the features most beloved of our calendar manufacturers--dry stone walls, animal-filled fields--were created by the farmer.

I turn to the Bill. Part I, dealing with access, is still controversial. Although the Minister spent only six minutes on it, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I spend a little longer. It does not make sufficient allowance for land management techniques, especially management of heather moorland, 70 per cent of which is designated as SSSIs or special protection areas. Moorland management contains heather habitat which encourages ground nesting birds, including waders, curlews, lapwings and golden plovers.

The most important moorland bird is the grouse which, along with other game birds, provides occupation and income directly and indirectly to thousands of country people. The major danger for those birds comes from disturbance during courtship, nesting and fledging. The current allowance in this Bill for the closing of land against walkers is 28 days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. That is simply not enough. Forty days was the period suggested by my colleagues in another place and is a more realistic figure, recognised by English Nature which stated that the period should last from March to July.

Another problem is presented by dogs. Even dogs on leads enjoy chasing birds. Their owners must face stiff penalties for failure to control them. The time which they can be allowed to run free must be shortened.

The question of overnight access was debated at great length in another place, but without any reasonable outcome. The Minister recognised that the concerns that were expressed were genuinely held, but he felt that they were exaggerated. Night-time access is granted now by agreement between local landlords

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and ramblers, mountaineers and Duke of Edinburgh award organisers, to name but a few. Surely the Bill could extend this practice by giving people the right of night-time access provided they sought approval in the first instance.

Clauses 12 and 13 deal with liability for injury to individuals on access land. The occupier is not liable for injury caused by natural features, defined as plant, shrub or tree. We are grateful for that provision. However, everything else will give rise to occupier liability. Yet dry stone walls are often referred to as "natural features" of an upland landscape. I know that we shall wish to table amendments in Committee to widen the present "natural features" definition.

I readily acknowledge that the prospect of greater access pleases the vast majority of people and is a provision that they will treat with great care and respect. However, we have to recognise that, sadly, not everyone is like this. We have to legislate for the unfortunate few who spoil things for the majority.

As I said earlier, it is important that we have a sustainable countryside for farmers, for wildlife and for others whose incomes are derived from the land, and also for those who wish to enjoy our countryside as an amenity. A balance has to be struck.

I wish now to turn to the timetable of the Bill, which I consider totally unworkable. Clause 77 lays down the time at which each clause of the Bill will be implemented. I understand that the department is currently preparing tender documents for issue to anyone interested in participating in the mapping process. They will be ready by the end of July.

Thereafter tenders will be prepared, submitted, processed, assessed and the winner or winners notified. The mapping of land above 600 metres and registered common land will then begin and will last for about two years. The mapping of moor and heath is estimated to take three to five years beyond that.

Most of Part I will come into force two months after the day on which the Bill is enacted. The rest will be activated as decided by the Secretary of State. In the main this covers the rights of the public in relation to access land; the offence of displaying notices designed to deter public access; by-laws and wardens.

The Bill will be enacted. There will be a two month hiatus. I suspect that this will be followed by a period of two to eight years during which it will be known which mountain, moor, heath and common land are to be open access but the public will have no right of entry because the maps defining access land will not have been published. Many people tell me that the right to roam is already in place. However, that is not the case.

Am I alone in thinking that this is essentially unworkable? Am I alone in feeling that the Bill must contain rules governing the spread of information about what the public are or are not allowed to do? Am I alone in believing that landowners and tenants need statutory protection for the period before the public right of access has been codified and made legal?

Funding is a further issue which deserves close attention. In less euphemistic terms: "who is going to pay?" I understand that the Secretary of State will be

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able to give grants to the Countryside Agency and the Nature Conservancy Council. Ministers of the Crown and their departments will be reimbursed. Increased costs due under other Acts will be defrayed.

The Countryside Agency will pay for the mapping process and will make grants to landowners and tenants for managing the countryside. However, the means of reaching access land, of signing the boundaries and keeping the public informed of entry restrictions are to be arranged by the national park authorities and the local highway authorities. How will the latter meet the costs of their new duties?

Access authorities may pay owners or occupiers in full or in part for carrying out access work; they may also pursue them for non-compliance. Careful reading of the relevant clauses leads me to the conclusion that the Government intend that owners and tenants will routinely subsidise the cost of creating and maintaining the means of access to their own land. I hope that the Minister will clarify that point.

Hill farmers have this year earned an average net income of some £2,500. Tenants own neither land nor buildings and the value of their stock is at present derisory. Many of them will be affected by the access provisions. Will we see the local highway authority taking them to the bankruptcy court because they can neither afford to do the work demanded nor pay the authority to do it for them?

Will they also be held responsible for paying for the restitution of stiles, bridges, and walkways damaged by vandals; for removing burnt-out wrecks of cars or heaps of fly-tipped rubbish? Is it fair to expect an owner or occupier to do that? Is it fair to make it illegal for him to be unable to afford to do it?

I now turn to Part II of the Bill, which concerns rights of way. Matters to which I have already alluded have relevance here, too. Local highway authorities are to produce improvement plans (under Clause 56), manage local rights of way, extend the network and do anything else the Secretary of State demands. Local authorities have been unable in 20 years to produce a definitive map of existing rights of way. Where are they to find the money to pay the staff to produce an improvement plan? Where are the resources to cope with preventing obstruction?

A recent National Opinion Poll revealed that some 65 per cent of the population prefer to walk on prepared paths within five miles of their homes. Many rights of way, public footpaths and bridleways are reclaimed and maintained by organisations such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Where does this legislation leave them?

I refer again to the timetable. Part II of the Bill will come into force when the Secretary of State decrees. Should there not be a statutory delay built in to ensure that the highway authorities have time to clear obstructions on registered footpaths before having to tackle the full enforcement obligations of the Bill when it is enacted?

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I now turn to Part III of the Bill. This part has been keenly anticipated by all shades of political opinion. It increases cover for sites of special scientific interest and gives power to the Countryside Agency and the National Assembly for Wales to enter into agreements with owners or occupiers of land to improve the management of these sites. It also further involves public bodies in the conservation of SSSIs and raises the penalties for anyone damaging them.

I recognise that the vast majority of people visiting these sites will enjoy studying the flora and fauna without causing any damage or disruption. However, once again, we must legislate for the few who seek pleasure in destroying the results of so much work. I should like at this point to record my thanks to those many owners and occupiers who have worked with wildlife organisations and local authorities over the years to preserve and improve these precious havens.

However, much of our wildlife lives outside these designated safe areas. Recognising this, concerned individuals and organisations have set up local wildlife sites which are usually well run and fulfil their role in providing safe habitats for threatened species. In a Bill of this magnitude there is surely room to legitimise the work of these local groups and to give their clients protection under the law.

Biodiversity action plans have been set up in many places in response to international accords on environmental protection. At the moment they are the result of voluntary co-operation between landowners, tenants, conservation organisations and private companies to produce plans for conserving wildlife. These plans cannot be sustained without the active support of local authorities and government departments, which are the main source of finance.

Currently there is no statutory obligation on the Government to advance or support BAPs. When money is tight, the authorities drop their non-statutory involvements. For example, the Countryside Council for Wales has had its budget frozen and has been forced to stop working on 102 of the 222 BAPs which relate to Wales. The Bill could be used to give local and central authorities a duty to advance, promote and support BAPs. By adding a duty to review them periodically, we could ensure that each one remained relevant to its aim.

At the risk of being accused of nagging, I must return to the subject of funding. Part IV of the Bill relates to the whole; the section on expenses does not mention local authorities, local highway authorities or access authorities, nor does it set a duty on the Government to incorporate funding for the consequences of the Bill into the standard spending assessments. If the aims of the Bill are to be met, there must be a mechanism for long-term support for those charged with their delivery.

Finally, I return to the subject of fair play. As it is set up, the Bill will give wide-ranging rights to vast numbers of people, most of whom do not live or work in the countryside. Those rights should be balanced by responsibilities--for instance, the carrying of insurance by those who wish to enjoy the more

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dangerous aspects of the freedoms that they will be given. Equally, the penalties for non-conformance with the statutes should be balanced. It is simply not fair to criminalise a landowner or tenant for discouraging people from walking on his land when the penalty for misbehaviour by one of those walkers is merely to be turned off that land until midnight.

The Bill does not even nod in the direction of those people and bodies who will have to put up with the by-products of the freedoms given. Why, for example, is there no power for parish councils to control where people park; why is there no authority to charge them? What about the effects on the police, the rescue services and the voluntary bodies dedicated to saving life?

The Government cannot have it both ways. They have implied that our concerns are exaggerated. If that is so, I submit that this Bill will not result in large numbers of people coming into the countryside for the first time. But we have to assume that the Bill is needed and that there will be a significant response; so we must get it right. In Committee, we shall bring forward amendments to cover issues such as unlimited night-time access; the length-of-closure rights; Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays; penalties for contravention of the regulations; restrictions on dogs; owner liability; wardens; and the issue of local access forums, which are not included on the face of the Bill. We shall also cover funding; the timetable; and, if I may take up a point raised by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, the issue of the inclusion of AONBs in the Bill.

In addition, we should broaden and deepen Parts II and III; and we should extend Part IV to cover funding by local authorities, the paying of expenses, and compensation for owners and occupiers. We should set up the mechanisms necessary for the mapping exercise to be completed, but in a shorter time-scale. We should then abandon Part I, perhaps, until a later date.

3.43 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this Bill. We welcome increased access to many of the parts of England and Wales that have the most beautiful landscapes; we believe that people should have the right to explore those parts of our heritage. We hope that this will build on the work pioneered by the National Parks movement to encourage people of all backgrounds, from cities, towns and villages, to enjoy the peace, recreation and, indeed, spiritual renewal that such areas can offer. The Bill should provide an opportunity for rural areas to be better understood and appreciated.

We certainly welcome more thought being given to the rights-of-way network--although, as it stands, Part II of the Bill is rather like Wednesday's child: it has far to go. Part III, which concerns added protection for wildlife, is long overdue; we warmly welcome it.

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Speeches and amendments from these Benches will be concerned with the practical application of the Bill. Although the aspirations of the Bill are worthy, their practical working will be extremely problematic, despite the hard work of many honourable Members in the other place, including particularly my honourable friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, who brought forward many helpful amendments. We believe that the Government intend to return to several of those amendments in your Lordships' House and we await that.

Many of the practical workings are still ill thought out. As it stands, some parts the Bill leave the nightmare of a lack of definition of meaning, a lack of clarity as to how it may be applied and a lack of understanding as to how access and rights of way work in the countryside. If one wants success, one needs a willing partnership between landowners, users and local authorities. In order for that relationship to be constructive, it must have a clear consultative forum. Problems must be openly debated and a compromise reached that all partners can live with--and it must be adequately resourced. The fact that local access fora are not included on the face of the Bill causes us concern.

One crucial matter upon which the Bill is silent is that of educating the public so that the provisions of this Bill can bring maximum benefit to the public and the minimum disruption to those who make their living from the land. It has been years since there was any kind of country code campaign run by any government. As the Bill becomes law, this is the time for a campaign that spells out, and then constantly reinforces, the essential messages--do not disturb livestock or wildlife; do not pick the flowers; leave gates as you find them. We need people to be as clear about a 21st century country code as they are about the Highway Code--perhaps even more clear.

We on these Benches will cover the Bill from a variety of angles. Many of my noble friends have a keen interest in the Bill and I shall mention a few of them in particular. My noble friend Lord Greaves is an experienced hill walker and climber, with extensive experience of the open spaces of the north; he will concentrate on the issues raised by open access. The fragility of some habitats, particularly those such as the heathlands in the south, will be championed by my noble friend Lady Thomas. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will bring her years of experience as chairman of a rights of way committee in Sussex to lend practical advice to Part II. My noble friend Lady Sharp will cover AONBs and the difficult issues of access to common land which were raised extensively in the other place but remain unresolved in some areas. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury will deal with the difficult issues raised by time limitations being imposed on rights-of-way maps; and my noble friend Lord Addington will tackle the Bill particularly on the question of access for the disabled. With his experience of negotiating equally worthy and competing claims, he will keep us generally on the right track.

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I shall touch now on a few issues which we feel, if the Government were to accept our suggestions, would dramatically improve the Bill. We welcome the statement in relation to AONBs and we are anxious to have more details. We are surprised that we are dealing in this House and the other place with issues affecting Wales. We should have preferred those matters to be devolved to Wales. The Assembly is well capable of dealing with them.

Turning to Part I of the Bill, the definition of land is still too loose--for instance, the issues of hay meadows and land cropped for silage have not been adequately resolved.

Mapping is a crucial part of making access work. A good consultative mapping process which results in a map backed by people in the locality will be the key to the success of these arrangements. The Government believe that they can get away with a bare minimum of information on a map--that is, whether land is in or out of an access area--but there is a strong case for more detail. For instance, is the land in that access area MoD land? Is it part of gallops? I believe that other noble Lords will be concerned with that aspect. What part of the open access land is covered by SSSIs? We shall be making a case for more detail.

With regard to closures, the current provisions appear to bear no relation to the realities of farming or wildlife. Do the Government believe that birds will not lay eggs on Sundays or bank holidays, or indeed in some cases that sheep will not lamb, although I believe that lambing has been somewhat covered by amendments passed in the other place? I know the Government believe that they have matters under control, but I bet that they cannot really control the urge to mate!

I hope that in your Lordships' House equal time, energy and passion will be spent on improving Parts II and III of the Bill as are spent on Part I. We believe that Part II, dealing with the rights of way network, is in many ways a particularly interesting part for most of the public who do not wish to travel vast distances to open access areas. Part II deals with where people can walk after work, walk to the pub easily at the weekends, ride their horse or their bike, and the school can take a nature walk. It is the network on people's doorsteps. We feel that a properly resourced and coherent network of rights of way for non-motorised users is a goal worthy of as much effort as open access land. After all, it is on their doorsteps. They do not have to get into their cars to travel in order to walk. It is a truly sustainable aim.

There is a backlog of years of work on the rights of way network. Redefining RUPPs as byways will not solve the fundamental problem of how to deal with a backlog that in many counties stands at hundreds of years of work. Simply to introduce a cut-off date will not cause that work to get done. Even though under the Bill local authorities have a duty to produce a rights of way improvement plan, there is no firm suggestion as to the adequacy of the resources they will have to implement it, or even that they will have to implement it.

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There is another surprising aspect of Part II of the Bill. Under the DETR rights of way improvement consultation document, improvements for horse riders and cyclists are right up there at the front as one of the aims of the Government. The Government say that they wish to improve life for those two user groups. However, even though under the Bill RUPPs have been redefined as byways, the network used by riders and cyclists is still extremely fragmented. The Bill does not do much to improve their lives. They have come to a perfectly good agreement that the Bill should allow cyclists to use bridleways and horses to use cycle tracks. In deciding how to spend public money on developing the rights of way network consideration should be given to making the best value of it too. Excluding one group from one entire network does not achieve that.

In drawing up the rights of way map and indeed the access map, it is important that the public, the users and the landowners should have equal rights of consultation and appeal. As it stands, the Bill is not even-handed. It will be, if it remains uneven, a recipe for discontent, non-co-operation and legal action. Once local authorities become bogged down in a morass of legal action, they will have less time, energy and money to get on with the constructive side of creating an excellent network.

With regard to costs, when the Countryside Commission was in existence, it estimated that the cost of getting the rights of way network into a decent state would be £30 million per year, every year for five years. If the Government intend local authorities to update their maps and implement their rights of way improvement plans once they are drawn up, then that is the starting point. That is £150 million for the next five years. I should like to hear from the Minister whether that is the Government's intention. The figure would be at least that because the Countryside Commission made its suggestion a couple of years ago. If there is no money, there is no chance of making the kind of improvement the Government are seeking. In the Explanatory Notes the Government mention a figure of between £12 million and £19 million, which seems to fall far short of the Countryside Commission's suggestion.

In terms of costing, the access legislation will need adequate funding not only for mapping but for an adequate warden service, which will be the first stop for resolving disputes between landowners and the public. It should also save further court action costs. If money is saved by inadequate funding for wardens, funding costs will go into legal action, which will benefit no one. The estimate is £2.2 million annually and a £7.6 million one-off expenditure. I have checked with a number of organisations that have no particular axe to grind. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors estimates that an adequate warden service might cost as much as £112 a hectare in intensively-used open access land. What information did the Government receive back from local authorities when the DETR consulted them to enable the proposals to be costed more thoroughly?

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I turn to Part III of the Bill. The protection offered to SSSIs under Part III is welcome. The Government have made some very valuable moves towards giving Britain's wildlife a fighting chance of survival. The measures for SSSIs and wildlife sites are a good start, because they do in fact create safer oases for wildlife. But they do not extend that provision as widely as wildlife will need. We shall be looking for statutory underpinning for the biodiversity action plans and for local sites. While pressure for development land continues to be intense, a planning consent cannot even take into account as a material consideration what effect development will have on the biodiversity action plans. That is a crucial point. If a local authority wants to implement that plan, it must have the means at appeal to be able to say that wildlife is as important in some instances as development.

We want to know what will deter people from ignoring closure orders and disturbing breeding wildlife, or even intentionally disturbing creatures. I am sure the Minister will know how the access legislation complies with the EC habitats and birds directives. I hope that he will share that information with us when we come to the Committee stage. Dogs will also be the subject of amendments from these Benches. Constant disturbance by dogs is more a killer of wildlife than being hunted.

In conclusion, we hope that the Bill will provide an opportunity for linking urban and rural areas, for making sure that the countryside and its issues are more widely appreciated and understood and for protecting what is marvellous about it. We support those aims, but not at the cost of beleaguered rural areas whose local authorities are still unfairly penalised for having sparse populations and whose social and economic future is still under threat. The worthy aims of the Bill must be underpinned by real money and it must be made easily workable by making practical amendments to it.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, I start by adding my voice to those of the many new Peers who have expressed their warm thanks to the Officers of the House and to their fellow Peers who have taken immense trouble to explain how things work here and who have made us feel very welcome.

I have learnt during that process that a maiden speech must not be too controversial or provocative. I soon realised that anything I had to say about Europe was likely to be both controversial and provocative. But of course anything said about the countryside, especially in this House, is likely to be equally controversial. I shall attempt what I hope is not the impossible task of squaring that circle by not talking about the fundamental principles involved in giving people the right of general access to other people's property, but I will deal with some particular points arising from the Bill as it has now reached us.

Fortunately, during the debates in another place a consensus seemed to emerge that if access of this kind was to be conferred there had to be clarity and

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effectiveness as to its exercise and a reasonable balance between the rights of the walker and those of farmers and landowners. How to achieve that clarity, effectiveness and the right balance is, I hope, not too controversial a subject even for a maiden speaker.

I can also claim without excessive immodesty some credentials for speaking on the subject. Both of the constituencies that I had the privilege of representing in another place contained large tracts of land within a national park. The second constituency, Richmond (Yorkshire), had the very rare distinction of having parts of it located in two national parks. Yorkshire farmers and landowners are not famous for being mealy-mouthed, so I soon became aware of their interests and concerns, although I myself have never owned more than three or four acres. On the other hand, I am also an enthusiastic and regular hill walker and have derived immense pleasure from walking over much of the open country of North Yorkshire; indeed, that is my principal recreation.

Having read much of the debate on this Bill in another place, I welcome the fact that on many points the Government not only said that they would listen but actually showed that they were listening. I welcome even more the fact that they candidly said that on a number of points they are still open-minded. Indeed, they seem almost to look forward to the debates in this House. In my experience, that is a rare example of governmental masochism.

It is clear that the Bill creates a complex network of rights and obligations. People with more experience of these matters than I possess have said that this can work only if adequate wardens are available both to help walkers and police the restrictions. The Government clearly recognise the desirability of this by providing for the possibility of wardens being appointed and being paid for. However, I note with regret that the Bill contains neither an obligation to appoint wardens nor any money to pay for them. If there are not going to be sufficient wardens, it is all the more important and fair that walkers should know clearly where the right to go applies and what are the rules about its exercise. I do not think that it will be sufficient to give a wholly discretionary power to the access authority to erect notices or allow those authorities to pay for others to erect such notices.

When it comes to the balance of rights, I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Byford--I am also grateful to her for her kind personal remarks--that it surely offends most people's sense of justice that someone who flagrantly disobeys the conditions of access (for example, by lighting a fire, selling merchandise or driving a vehicle) merely has to leave the access land for the rest of the day, whereas a landowner who puts up a notice which is even unintentionally misleading may be in breach of the criminal law.

What is unfair is rendered ludicrous by the fact that the only sanction faced by the walker who breaks the rules is that he has to leave land in the same ownership as that on which he has been misbehaving, as if

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ownership of the land was in any way relevant to the misconduct and as if the offending walker could possibly know to whom the land belonged.

I have also followed carefully the arguments about whether access should be allowed at night. Given the rising level of rural crime and the number of isolated farmhouses which are unquestionably surrounded by access land, I do not think that the fears expressed about night-time access are unreasonable or excessive. It is one thing to be allowed to walk on a known footpath; it is a completely different matter to be allowed access everywhere.

Although I respect them, I find the arguments in favour of such access frankly unconvincing. The legitimate dawn birdwatcher can be catered for by the proposal put forward in another place that access should be permitted for one hour before sunrise and also one hour after sunset so that the birdwatcher can get there and away in time. As regards the people who are alleged to gain special pleasure from contemplating an unimpeded night sky, is it too much to ask them to do so from a footpath? I do not think that that is an excessive sacrifice to make for the sake of the security and peace of mind of others. That is also the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Most serious of all, however, are the deficiencies with regard to occupiers' liability and the lack of any provision for mandatory compensation. It is impossible to justify liability, albeit limited, for damage caused by broken walls but not by dangerous hedges. The whole distinction between natural features and man-made ones is both unfair and illogical. It will require very careful examination and probing in this House.

The fact that that is the case renders the lack of a compensation provision all the more objectionable. Ample precedent has been set for granting compensation when a new right is conferred which may cause loss while there is very little precedent in our legislative history for not doing so. I am not suggesting automatic compensation for a theoretical loss in the value of land, but for compensation to be available when loss can actually be proved to have been suffered. Many examples were given in the other place of how that can occur. Frankly, I cannot see how, without such a provision, the Government can state so confidently that this legislation is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. Frankly, I do not believe that it is. It would be a sad irony if the first victim of the Human Rights Act, which is to come into force later this year, was legislation designed to confer new human rights on the public at large.

I hope that these matters, along with quite a number of others, can be put right in the debates in this House, in particular as important provisions have been made in other parts of the Bill which are very much to be commended. It is in the interests of walkers, farmers and landowners alike that, by the time the Bill leaves this House, it has greater clarity, provides more effective help and guidance to the walker and a better

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balance of rights between walkers, farmers and landowners. Even as a novice here, I am confident that these improvements can be achieved in this House.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne. It was characterised by his usual lucidity and perception, and it was relatively uncontroversial. It is also a personal pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord. I have known him for nearly 40 years. In some ways our careers have followed similar routes, though it might be said that they ran on different political rails. We were both Henry Fellows, although he went from Cambridge to Yale while I went from Oxford to Harvard. We worked together on the Sunday Telegraph.

In the 1970s, when I served the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, the noble Lord was one of the Members devising, perhaps I may say, an effective opposition to our governments. In the 1980s he held three different posts as a Cabinet Minister and was reported, I trust, to have been on the liberal side. Over the past decade he has served as a most distinguished European Commissioner. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to more contributions that will demonstrate his characteristically civilised and liberal approach.


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