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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, obviously did not understand my use of the term "discrete". The matter concerned funding. The spelling I intended was "discrete".
The conservation board I mentioned was started eight years ago. For six years it constituted a voluntary arrangement between the Countryside Commission, as it then was, and local authorities. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nathan, spent the final year of his chairmanship fighting to get money. He ended up with a reduced subscription from the Countryside Commission--a third less than it had been before--but on that basis he was able to persuade the local authorities to continue their support. I am now in precisely the same position vis-a-vis the Countryside Agency, as it is now called, the local authorities, and--through the Countryside Agency--with the Department of the Environment. I receive many kind words, but kind words do not butter parsnips and it is the buttered parsnips that I now need.
The Minister, Mr Meacher, told the Labour Party Conference that the South Downs are to constitute a national park. The park will be an unusual one in that it is 106 miles long and, on average, is not more than four miles wide. It is surrounded by towns, all of which are growing successfully. To the north lies Gatwick and to the south lies the sea. It will embrace 16 local authorities. However, in my judgment all of that does not mean to say that this is the wrong solution; it is possible that it is the right one, provided the details are right. For example, local authorities will, quite rightly, want to know what the planning arrangements will involve. Unlike in other national parks, they will want to be solely responsible for planning at development control level. Working this out, working out the size of our national park, and taking into account the inevitable public inquiry, the process will probably take four to five years.
Meanwhile I have a board to run. We have rangers to pay who are responsible for maintaining more than 2,000 kilometres of rights of way. We have just created a new website which is widely consulted for information on where to go in the South Downs; where to spend the night; how to find archaeological sites; fauna and flora; and for educational purposes. We are determined to launch a South Downs marketing initiative. We shall wish to restore downland on a permanent basis and we shall wish to encourage more farmers to enter into longer-term ESA and Countryside Stewardship Schemes for that purpose. But the board's current funding expires in nine months' time.
It is not surprising that I have considerable sympathy with those who say that we need much more information about funding and about the money that is to be available. I regard the Minister as a sympathetic soul. I hope that he will take that message back to the department, not just for the sake of my conservation board, although naturally I shall want to hear more about the funds with which we are to grow in this interim period of four or five years. However, I also want to hear what new money will be available to implement the provisions of the Bill to enable it to be not only effective but also fair. When the Bill is enacted local authorities and the relevant countryside bodies must not be starved of the money needed to implement it.
It is not surprising that we have 45 speakers. When we debated the last of the big countryside Bills, the 1981 Act, which was apparently the first big countryside Bill to come before any Parliament, there were 27 speakers, only four of whom are speaking today: the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Buxton, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who then made his uncontroversial maiden speech, and myself. I wound up for the opposition. I regret that this time we do not have Lord Melchett and the Earl of Cranbrook, whose enormous knowledge of wildlife in all its aspects was
This is a big Bill with its four distinct parts. I wish to concentrate on Part III, which concerns nature conservation and wildlife protection. Greater protection for SSSIs is urgently needed, and the Bill strengthens the legislation. The weakness in the 1981 Act was that there were inadequate powers to protect sites; inadequate powers to take over their management and enforce the law; and penalties were too low. The result has been that nearly one in five SSSIs have suffered damage in the past five years and nearly half are suffering from neglect and mismanagement. The Bill will improve the process for notifying sites; allow English Nature to support landowners in positive management of their land; and address problems where third parties are causing damage.
I recently talked to a friend who had just finished her two year stint as President of the Botanical Society of the British Isles. She said that it was relieved that there would be greater powers of enforcement and larger penalties. As many people have said, I hope that English Nature has the funds and the manpower to carry out its increased duties.
I wish to raise one matter which is not dealt with in the Bill but which has been discussed in the Commons in Committee and at Report and has been mentioned today by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone; namely, to provide statutory backing for better protection and management of wildlife outside the network of SSSIs. That is where many losses have occurred in recent years. Effective ways have to be found to safeguard this biodiversity. I very much support everything that my noble friend Lady Young said on this matter. I hope that the Government will accept an amendment, or better still produce one of their own, to deal with this problem.
I trust that some landowners--most are co-operative--will not try to make a case for profits forgone. I have heard this matter mentioned. It was mentioned today by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. It seems to me quite iniquitous that farmers should be paid for not doing something they never intended to do. I was interested to read the comments of Viscount Ridley, on this matter in the 1981 debate who said,
I wish to raise the matter of limestone pavements. From my visits to my daughter, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales, I am well acquainted with them and enjoy and admire them. Clause 69 refers to them and
This is a very important Bill, for which we have waited a long time. I hope that our debates in Committee and on Report will be positive and constructive. In introducing the Third Reading in another place, the Minister, Mr Meacher, said:
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I shall take a Welsh eye view of the Bill, which I think is justified as it is estimated that about a third of the access area envisaged is in Wales, where the Bill will have a disproportionate impact on the countryside in a variety of ways, including costs. Wales already has three national parks, five areas of outstanding natural beauty, 1,000 SSSIs--which is about a quarter of the total--and more than 40 per cent of the coastline is heritage coast. It also has a number of Ramsar sites--wetland habitats of international importance-- several special areas of conservation for a wide range of habitats and species, and special protection areas for wild birds, all of European importance. More than two-thirds of Wales is covered by some form of conservation/environmental designation--much of which, I am happy to say, is accessible as a result of the voluntary agreements achieved to date.
The first point that occurs to me is that while in the past the emphasis has been on conservation and protection of areas and wildlife against human intrusion and interference in its many and varied forms, we now appear to be moving strongly in a different direction and seeking to open up to the public the few wild and quiet places that are still left after the depredations of previous decades.
Of course it will be said that the 1949 Act provides for access as well as for parks and that the protective legislation remains in force and may be enhanced--as are the SSSIs and wildlife protection under the Bill--but such legislation of itself involves a degree of
The implementation of the Bill in Wales will be the responsibility of the National Assembly and its subsidiary bodies, especially the Countryside Council, the National Parks and other public and local authorities--and, of course, one must ask the crucial question of whether they will be given adequate resources to perform their functions properly. There is widespread concern that the Government have underestimated the costs. When the Minister comes to reply to the debate, it will be interesting to know how reliable are the estimates and statements given in the Explanatory Notes. I assume that the National Assembly is covered by Clause 75, the expenses clause, although it is not specifically mentioned. I hope that I am right and I should appreciate confirmation of that.
The lead role under the Welsh Assembly will be taken by the Countryside Council--the financial position of which has been referred to twice already, once by the Liberal Democrats' spokesman and once by my noble friend Lord Moran. The council will undertake the mapping of access areas and other centralised functions and will certainly require extra resources. I wonder whether it will have adequate resources to do the job.
The 11 national parks in England and Wales have calculated that they will need on average about £150,000 a year each, in addition to their current funding, if they are to provide stewards and other essential services, and the access scheme is to be properly supervised. As we heard today during Questions, the Welsh park authorities have been underfunded historically compared with the English authorities and will certainly require extra support.
Local authorities will also require extra funding to deal with the rights of way provisions. There is a genuine fear that much of their costs will have to be borne by council tax payers in rural areas already burdened by low wage levels and the special, increasing costs of living in the countryside. The main beneficiaries under the Bill will be visitors from the urban conglomerations. The realisation of this and the fact that their contribution is likely to be minimal, fuels much of the doubt and antipathy widely felt in rural areas towards the Bill.
But, of course, the Bill's most vociferous critics are the farming communities and the farming unions. The communities see themselves bearing the brunt of the costs-- both in terms of worry, effort and labour, as well as money--at a time of real economic hardship, when morale is as low as incomes. My noble friend Lord Monro said that goodwill is essential. Without goodwill on the part of the farmers, I foresee tension and difficulties galore. There is not much doubt in my mind that, as it stands, the Bill is unbalanced and tipped against the farmers.
The Government appear to expect statutory access to be achieved by consent at very little or no cost, but they must be aware that access agreements have in the past been paid for in Snowdonia and the Peak District national parks, and payments have also been made under the Tir Cymen scheme, which is the Welsh equivalent to the stewardship scheme in England. Farmers see the existing agreements threatened and their negotiating position of course weakened by the imposition of statutory as opposed to voluntary access agreements. More such farmer friendly access agreements were anticipated under European agri-environmental schemes, but I am not sure as to how matters now stand with those schemes.
The Government would be wise to give strong reassurances in this area if they wish to have the goodwill of the farming communities, otherwise there will be interminable difficulties and friction in securing access to the hills, through the coed cae or ffriddoedd lands of the slopes and foothills. Access above the 600 metre, or 2,000 feet contour, is pretty useless, frankly, unless there is access through the foothills.
We are all aware of farmers' major concerns; and as a countryman I share them. Dogs, even on a leash--as I would call it--are a menace to livestock, especially sheep which can sense their presence at a considerable distance whether or not they are on a leash. We have some 11 million sheep in Wales, a high proportion of them in hefted flocks, attached to their grazing by their localised rearing rather than walls or fencing. A wandering dog on the loose for days in the hills can cause irreparable damage and wreak havoc on such flocks. It happens now, occasionally, and the dog has to be hunted and shot. Anyone who has experienced a dog on the loose and the havoc it can cause on the mountains would certainly not allow dogs into open access country. For legislation to promote the opportunity for such accidents to occur is, to my mind, madness. I hope that the local deviations from the provisions of the Bill will be allowed to deal with this problem, either through secondary legislation in the National Assembly or through by-laws.
To allow night access to the hills is also to court trouble, certainly with regard to the hills that I know. They are full of hazards, ranging from deep crevices, caused by subsidence and old mine-workings in South Wales, to sudden mists in the north that leave the unwary prey to hypothermia. We have a lot of unwary young visitors coming to Snowdonia. In Snowdonia, death--I regret to say--is an all too familiar end for those who wander off the beaten track even by day, let alone by night. The risk of fires, criminal activity and
Finally, I wish to emphasise the need for education in countryside matters. We must bear in mind not only the needs of urban visitors, who have probably been misled by the facile cry of the right to roam and who will have to be given guidance about what is allowed and what is not and what is good behaviour and what is not, but farmers and land managers must also be given guidance as to their rights and their obligations. They, too, will need a code of practice if this Bill is to have any chance of success.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, the Government are right to describe this as an historic Bill because the introduction of the right to roam over mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land will change at least some hundreds of years of our history. In addition, the changes proposed in Part II of the Bill on public rights of way, with the creation of the new category of restricted byways and the possible ending in due course of certain unclaimed rights of way, are also a new step in the history of our countryside.
I am broadly in support of all three principal parts of the Bill, but like all other noble Lords who are strongly attached to British agriculture and to the future of our rural communities, I shall flag a number of points which seem to call for further examination during the later stages of the Bill in this House. On the basis of speeches so far, including the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, I think that there will be a great deal of common ground in the identification of what are the important points that we need to examine. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is putting a good number of ticks in the boxes on his brief, and I hope they will be the same boxes.
I should declare an interest as a member of the National Trust's regional committee for Wessex and as adviser to the National Trust on some matters, since the National Trusts in the UK are not only the major conservation charities but also resolutely committed to the principle of access for the public. Their position was cited by Mr Mullins in the debate on the Bill in another place.
The main points to which I want to draw attention are, first, access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. It is, of course, not surprising that such a large percentage of the population supports a statutory freedom to roam; for example, 85 per cent of those surveyed in a NOP poll in 1998. Evidently very many people will benefit from the right to roam under this legislation. It is truly a permanent and new advantage for our citizens, which is greatly to be welcomed. It seems to me important that when this is being achieved, Parliament should be particularly attentive to risks or problems for those landowners or occupiers for whom the land is generally their
Both the legislation itself and its implementation need to avoid the scope for contention and dispute. So first and foremost we need, as soon as practicable, maps which show clearly where the public has a right of access. I strongly support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The Countryside Agency has said that it will start work later this year on two pilot schemes to develop methodology, and the mapping itself will take a minimum of three years from the enactment of the legislation. I am always suspicious of the phrase "a minimum of three years", because it usually seems to mean twice as long as three years. But we shall see. But as maps showing access land are the only reliable basis for the big change in our countryside, I have some sympathy with the request of the Ramblers' Association that a timetable for the introduction of maps should be introduced. The National Farmers Union is concerned that new rights of access to open country may be introduced before the bulk of the mapping exercise is completed.
Secondly, we need to decide about night-time access. In the debates in another place Mr Meacher said that the arguments for and against night access are finely balanced and indicated that where there is good reason to restrict night-time access, that could be dealt with; for example, by local restriction on access or even by-laws. We shall need to probe whether or not that is a sufficient and workable solution. Personally, I think that it is not and that we shall need a general restriction on night-time access.
Thirdly, we need to deal with the definition of the possible 28-day exclusion period, which excludes weekends and bank holidays. However, as we have already heard, pregnant ewes do not take leave at the weekends and during bank holidays. If it does not introduce too much complication, we might consider that the 28-day period should be treated differently in respect of land on which livestock are present and other open land.
I turn now to Part II of the Bill, which deals with public rights of way. Our network of footpaths, bridleways and other rights of way is a great heritage, although a slightly confused one. I welcome the proposal to redesignate the roads used as public paths--the so-called RUPPs--as restricted by-ways on which there will be no general right of way for vehicles, or perhaps, in a more limited number of cases, re-designation as by-ways open to all traffic (BOATs), which will produce a more reasonable pattern of use. However, speaking personally, I hope that we shall not see too many BOATs on our land.
I also welcome the decision to set a cut-off date for the recording on definitive maps of footpaths and bridleways created before 1949 and the extinguishment of certain rights of way that have not been claimed by the deadline. As regards the value of establishing and mapping the new order, a cut-off date as far ahead as 1st January 2026--the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the period began as one of 10 years but was then extended to 25 years with the possibility of further extension--does not seem to be consistent with the excellent precedents we have in this country for speedy action, first established by William the Conqueror with the Domesday Book. I hope that we shall be able to move a little more speedily to reach the deadline.
This part of the Bill also contains supporting amendments of current law on the use of rights of way which are to be welcomed, notably that the unauthorised driving of off-road vehicles will become an offence. I understand that a new section is to be introduced in the Road Traffic Act 1988 to cover offences caused by vehicles which do not fall within the definition of a motor vehicle. I have certainly seen quite a few of those in the countryside. It is clear that we need legislation to cover such vehicles.
The reordering of many of the present provisions on rights of way is inevitably legally complex. I look forward to the Government following up the discussions held in another place as regards the filtering out of irrelevant objections before a determination by the Secretary of State. That was recommended by the Countryside Agency.
Perhaps I may now turn briefly to Part III. Clearly, the Bill gives greater protection to sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), which was long overdue. Both the framework document following consultation and the Bill itself certainly command a great deal of support, and rightly so. A power will be given to the conservation agencies to secure the management of an SSSI and the possibility to impose permanent restrictions in place of the present temporary four-month restrictions to prevent damaging operations. As has been stated by other noble Lords, evidence gathered over recent years has shown that some SSSIs have suffered damage either deliberately or through neglect. We wish to avoid that in the future.
In addition, the conservation agencies will have the power to enter into agreements with owners or occupiers of land adjacent to SSSIs. That is sensible, although personally I have some hesitation as regards the power to compulsorily purchase such adjacent land. I am always hesitant about compulsory purchase powers.
Finally, I welcome the action to be taken on the hitherto neglected areas of outstanding natural beauty, which have been promised stronger protection, both because I understand that in the future they will enjoy the same protections under the planning system as our national parks and through the adoption by local authorities of management plans.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady David, revived happy memories for some of us of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Minister will not encounter the problems faced by my noble friend the late Lord Avon when he was in charge of that Bill. When he made his closing speech during Bill do now pass, my noble friend said that he wished that he had had wing mirrors on the Dispatch Box, such was the trouble given to him by his own Back-Benchers. Although the Minister might have to keep a wary eye on the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, the limited remainder of those on the Government Benches appear to be fairly placid about the Bill.
I should declare a non-interest. On the last occasion that I spoke in your Lordships' House on the matter of rights of way, I received a letter that declared that all I was trying to do was to protect the interests of my own vast estates and farms. Sadly, I do not have any vast estates or farms. I used to work as a land agent. I think it is wise to declare that non-interest just in case that nice person wishes to write to me again.
When he introduced the Bill, the Minister said that it would give greater freedoms and also protect our heritage. Those two aims are contradictory. It does not require a survey along the lines of that carried out by my noble friend Lord Peel to remind those who, like myself, were lucky enough to be brought up in the hills that a grouse moor, by the nature of its management, is one place where it is possible to achieve much more concentration of wildlife than elsewhere. Opening up such areas will undoubtedly cause problems, not only for the wildlife but also for the land itself. We have all seen the problems created by access. It needs very careful management.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said also that there had been some misunderstanding as regards the purpose of the Bill. Of course he is right. The title itself is misleading. Someone who does not understand the legislation and merely notes the title will be misled into thinking that a total right of way in the countryside will be the result of this Bill. The Government face a great deal of work in trying to educate people about this.
I approach the Bill with a slightly heavy heart. The Government have taken the hard road when they should have pursued the route of voluntary agreements. However, they decided not to do that. As a surveyor, I wish to see the best way of sensibly implementing the legislation. I shall turn, first, to the matter of occupier's liability. As we have heard, the countryside is full of hazards, but those hazards are not covered in the legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and my noble friend Lady Trumpington referred to the problem of the gallops, in particular those at Newmarket. However, what are we to do about the old coal adits that are to be found in Yorkshire, or the disused arsenic mines in the south-west of the country? They are open holes in the ground.
We have already heard of the case of a rambler who, in trying to avoid a three-foot wide muddy path, fell to her death. A case was also recently reported of a surveyor who found an American lying on a hillside. The American said, "Don't touch me until the ambulance comes, and who do I sue?". Problems of those kinds will be exacerbated by the Bill. We need to find a sensible way to minimise the problems before we encounter too many cases of that kind.
The by-laws resulting from the exclusions in Schedule 2 should be implemented by legislation. I take completely the opposite view to that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who sadly is not in his place. I think that he would have been right to pursue local agreements had the Government set out the legislation on the basis of the voluntary option. But they have not; they have pursued the blanket approach, countrywide. It is only sensible to put in place a system of model by-laws that apply throughout the country but can be modified for specific areas.
As my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy pointed out, if the person who will truly benefit from the Bill comes from an urban area, he will not bother to understand the specific by-laws that apply to Yorkshire as opposed to Exmoor National Park. Unless there is a common basis of by-laws, we are building problems for ourselves right at the beginning.
We also need visitor management. There needs to be a ranger service of some description. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has estimated that there needs to be one warden for every 400 hectares in order to achieve proper enforcement of the by-laws and the management of access which most people want. If access is for the public good, it is only right that the public purse pays for it.
We need to look seriously at definitions. My noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked how one could define downland. It is not well defined in the Bill, and that will lead to all sorts of problems. We also need to define who are walkers. The Government have been encouraging people to go out and walk through farmers' land in groups. In that way the farmers have benefited through tourism, and the groups have normally paid a fee to the farmer. That will now be overridden. Under this Bill those people will have a right to go onto that land. That will lead to a diminution in the farmer's income and present a further hazard to the farmer in operating his land. From a situation where he knew that groups were coming in a set order and at a set time, we would be moving to an open and free-for-all system. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take that point on board and see whether that definition can be tightened up.
An issue which is not covered in the Bill is that of fire threat. Given the hazards that exist in the face of climate change and the drying-out of the hill, if there is a threat of fire, the hill land ought to be closed to the public. Those of us who have been involved in a moorland fire will know that it can be a terrifying experience because one is never quite certain where the fire will spring up next. One may think that the fire has been put out behind one, yet one can turn round five minutes later and find that one is completely cut off. If there is nothing in the Bill to prevent access to the hill when there are conditions of increased fire risk, the Government are building potential problems for themselves.
Another matter in relation to the issue of closures is the allowance of 28 days. Despite all that the Government's best spin doctors have been able to produce, neither the hinds on the hill nor the ewes on the uplands and the downlands understand that it would be best not to calve or to lamb at weekends. A period of 28 days is totally inadequate; a period of 40 days would be more sensible, with closure at weekends during the key lambing and calving seasons.
I believe that the local authority should be clearly identified as the agency which enforces the closures. It is no use having a closure order unless it can be enforced sensibly. The only sensible authority to do it, and do it on a comprehensive basis, is the local authority.
Reference has already been made to dogs. I will recount just one incident which I saw when walking some three or four weeks ago in Richmond Park. A person got out of his car with a big Alsatian. There was no attempt to put it on a lead; it was left to roam. It found a hind that was about to calve and had a happy 10 minutes chasing that poor hind. One does not go up to somebody in Richmond Park who has an Alsatian, particularly somebody of the size of this person, and say, "Put your dog on the lead". He would not take kindly to that. If that happens in Richmond Park, how much worse will it be on the hill?
On rights of way and footpaths, I am all for updating the footpath map, but I hope that the Minister would agree with me that we ought to have a footpath map which looks forward to the needs of the 21st century, rather than building on the necessity for paths in the 19th century. Surely this is an opportune moment to carry out a comprehensive review. The sizes of farms have changed; the nature of the need to walk across the countryside has changed. Let us now put the footpaths in a sensible place for the modern-day walker, rather than leaving those paths--which in the 19th century were set beside a hedge--running through the middle of fields.
Finally, I turn to a subject which most of your Lordships have raised, the question of funding. We have heard of national parks in Wales whose funding has been reduced. I know of one in England which has had a 6 per cent cut in its budget. Unless there is a substantial amount of new money, this Bill will not operate successfully. If there is to be a warden scheme and sensible access, it will require new money and public education--all of which are costly.
The one thing on which I can agree with the Minister is that he will probably not get the money from the Treasury. Let us hope that, with your Lordships' support, we can force the Treasury's hand and make this Bill rather more of a success than it would be if it were to be implemented in its present form.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I would like to consider this Bill in the wider context of the countryside. I should declare an interest in that I have been involved with agriculture and the countryside all my life. That was during a period when agriculture and farming were respected. We have now seen a cataclysmic fall in the fortunes of agriculture and, in particular, in the livestock area.
I do not blame the Government entirely for this, but they have divided the countryside into two areas: the environment and agriculture. They do not seem to understand or to care about the latter. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that we should not fear this Bill. I believe that there are certain things to fear in it, however. Before I sit down, I fear that I may not have many of your Lordships agreeing with me or many friends left--but I can take that risk.
The Government have turned the balance of the countryside over entirely to the environment and to wildlife. Anyone who is in favour of the environment and wildlife is therefore a "good thing" or a good person. This Bill is evidence of the Government's desire to encourage everything to do with wildlife, and that of course encourages more rules. More regulations will be imposed on a distraught and impoverished industry.
The countryside is not gardening on a large scale or running a zoo without cages. In its essence it is a mixture of all things: the flora and fauna; the domestic animals; the wild animals and the wildlife.
Many people have recently given up their dairy herds, and I am in the process of doing the same, because the dairy industry is now right at the bottom and also because we are importing milk from Poland and France. When this happens, animals have to be sold. Young animals have to be sold. The older animals go straightaway, but not into the food chain.
I dare say that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, would rise up in horror if badgers, butterflies, beetles and bats were hoovered up, incinerated and turned into electricity. It would indeed be horrifying. But the domesticated animals--cows, sheep and pigs--have just as much right to the countryside as the wildlife.
I was talking to someone the other day who said that when walking through the village she had noticed that one of the fields was rather overgrown. She had suddenly realised that the farmer had sold his cows and, as he had no sheep, the grass had been allowed to grow. It was too long for hay--although there would, of course, have been no point in making hay because there were no animals to eat it. So the result was desolation. If we ban fox-hunting, there will be no horses either. Every child's idea of a toy farm is that it has pigs, cattle and sheep, and those are the first models that a child puts on the farm. They will now be in short supply.
It seems that agriculture is now considered a fairly expensive irrelevance and that the only thing that matters is the environment. The Government believe that there is virtue in legislation; they commend themselves on the amount of legislation that they produce. Of course, "legislation" means regulation. We are talking about wardens; my noble friend Lord Caithness said that more money is needed, as have a number of other speakers; and we are talking about codes of conduct--and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was not quite certain what they were or who was going to run matters.
It is not Ministers, civil servants or local authority officers who have made the countryside what it is. It is the farmers and landowners of the past. I agree with my noble friend Lord Monro that the Bill has been put together by people who do not know about the countryside. My noble friend said that the Isle of Arran had been designated as an SSSI and that there is a checklist of 36 points that each farmer has to go through before he can do anything. That is intolerable.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I had the privilege of being in the Department of the Environment. I was appalled by the momentum that was generated and perpetrated in the department for the protection of almost anything. Cormorants were in a low state, so they were put on the endangered species list. Then the cormorant population grew like mad and you cannot get them off the list unless you spend about £5 million over five years doing research to show that listing is no longer required. The result is that they hoover up all the fish out of the sea. Then there was that wonderful thing, Desmolina's Whorl--a
Then there is the stag beetle. To my horror, I was told a short while ago that stag beetles were to be declared an endangered species. Stag beetles are nasty, beastly things. They bite. I said that I did not believe it, and the answer was, "Oh no, not all stag beetles. Just a very, very special stag beetle which is so rare that not many people know about it". I said, "Well, if it is so rare, what happens when you have a stag beetle in your kitchen? The first thing you do is stamp on it. If it is rare, how do you know it is rare? And if you have stamped on it, how is anyone to know that you have stamped on it and have committed a criminal offence?". The whole thing is unbelievably absurd, unless, of course, you give great publicity to a rare stag beetle which no one ever sees. It really is absurd.
Now we are told that adders are to be placed on the endangered species list. Heaven help us! Adders are the most horrible snakes. If an adder comes anywhere near anyone in our family, everyone screams like mad. I can see no virtue in putting them on the list. But the Department of the Environment loves it. What it does is to ask the professionals what they think; the professionals produce a whole list of things that ought to be preserved; they give it to the Minister, and the Minister says, "Well, I'd better send it out to consultation. Who do we send it to?". The local authorities, English Nature, the Countryside Commission, the National Farmers Union and all those great big bodies say, "Oh well, of course, if that is what the experts think, we'd better agree with it". So the thing gets on the list. The Government need to get a grip. They need to put fewer things on the list, and to care slightly more about those in the countryside who are trying to earn a living and make a success of it.
What is the real damage to the countryside? It is not what the agriculturists have done; it is what was once described as "the march of bricks of mortar over the fair plains of England". The idea that everyone who goes into the countryside and avails himself of the right of access is a good person, a kind, gentle, understanding person, is absolute nonsense. My noble friend Lord Buxton has a path near his home which a whole lot of cars and people go down. My noble friend thought that this was rather dangerous, so he made a special additional path for people to walk down so that they do not get tangled up with the Land Rovers and cars. He saw one family getting muddled up with the Land Rovers and the cars, so he went up to them and said, "Look, there is a good pathway here for individual walkers". The man, who was a charming character with rings in his ears and his nose, turned round to him and said, "Mind your own business"! So my noble friend did not get much credit for having tried to help in that respect.
What happens if a person goes onto premises and causes damage, say, by starting a fire? The landlord pays, and the premiums go up. He cannot turn round and tell the person not to come again. The person can come along the next day. If the landlord says, "Don't come again", he says, "I have my rights. I can still come". That does not seem correct.
What happens if a person moves a stone into a river and then falls off it and breaks his leg? Presumably, the landlord pays for that. What happens if a person catches his foot in a rabbit hole, falls and breaks his leg? There may be a public liability for that. If a person damages your property, you can be compensated for that--unless, of course, it is access land, when you cannot. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, whether this does not represent the removal of a person's fundamental right to his property. Does it comply with the Human Rights Act 1998? What about the upland farmers who pay rent to their landlords for private access to the farms that they work, only to find that others will now have access without paying any rent?
The trouble with the right to roam is that it will not, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, be seen as being confined to certain areas. People are being given the right to roam, and they go out and roam. They will not look at the legislation and ask themselves whether a particular area falls within the confines of Section 53, or whatever it may be.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said that the Bill will enable people to appreciate agriculture. That is a fanciful idea. I wish that the noble Baroness were right, but it is absolute nonsense. I believe that people will just take advantage of what is given to them.
We have heard a lot about SSSIs, AONBs, local authorities, the Countryside Agency, English Nature, management plans, biodiversity, the whole lot. All are receiving money or spending money; and all are in the business of trying to manage the countryside. The management of the countryside is important, but here the Government have gone over the top by encouraging others to believe that in the countryside the only thing that matters is the environment. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, the environment is a valuable part of the countryside but only one part of it. It is not right to fetter, curtail and even threaten with criminal sanctions those who know what the countryside is about and look after it.
I view the Bill with great suspicion. I look forward to the many amendments that I am sure will be tabled at later stages of the Bill. I would like to say that I wish the Bill well, but I do not think that I do.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, as usual the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has been amusing and engaging, but I find it difficult to agree with the thrust of his arguments. When I was Minister in Northern Ireland responsible for both agriculture and the Department of the Environment my experience was that farmers saw the environment as something to which they wanted to contribute. I was always pleasantly surprised at the willingness of farmers to adopt environmental schemes for the wider benefit of the environment while they got on with their farming. I did not witness the conflict which the noble Earl described, and I doubt if it happens here. I can assure the noble Earl that, based on my knowledge, the Government are not committed to a division between the environment and agriculture but to co-operation between them.
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