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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not entirely sure that the noble Earl covers all circumstances. There are well established scientific views on the breeding habits of most of the wildlife with which we are concerned. Therefore there is established knowledge. We know the degree of disturbance which cannot be tolerated. Therefore we would make provisions, protections and closures accordingly. I accept that there may be areas where we need further information and where it would be appropriate to adopt the precautionary principle to which he refers. The point I make is that there are many sites with substantial numbers of visitors where there does not appear to be a problem.
A number of points were raised on Part III relating to various wildlife provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Moran--he is no longer in his place--and at least one other noble Lord referred to marine conservation. Essentially, the Bill relates to land-based wildlife, but the penalties would apply to marine life, too.
My noble friend Lady David referred to limestone pavements, on which a working party is due to report soon. My noble friend Lady Young referred to English Nature--that is the Nature Conservancy Council for England--and I can see no reason why the name by which it is more widely known should not be encapsulated in the legislation. I shall write to noble Lords on other aspects relating to Part III of the Bill.
I turn to Part II, which relates to rights of way. There was a greater degree of consensus in that all noble Lords wanted to see the rapid establishment of a 21st century network of pathways based on good maps. They asked for the acceptance of a number of provisions which gave greater flexibility and clarity. A number of issues were raised about the motorised use of rights of way. My noble friend Lord Hardy suggested excluding motorised traffic from some of the pathways that it should not be using. I agree in principle, but empowering courts to confiscate motor vehicles is not for this Bill. In a different context, the Government are examining the penalties for road traffic offences and the Home Office will deal with that soon.
As regards enforcing the offence of driving off road, the Government have already amended the Bill to address several problems relating to the large number of motorbike riders in particular who believe that they may ride with impunity on bridleways and footpaths. Concern has been expressed that that does not go far enough and we will examine the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked about authorised motor sport events. We are aware that the introduction of the new category of highway will require amendments to a wide range of other legislation. Amendments to the Road Traffic Act to permit authorised motor sport on restricted byways could be undertaken under the regulations to be made under Clause 48.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised the issue of access over common land. It was raised also in another place. Problems for those whose property borders on common land exist, but they are not as widespread or severe as is sometimes suggested. Although I am not in a position to put forward a general solution tonight, we shall return to the matter in Committee.
My noble friends Lady Nicol and Lord Donoughue, and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, referred to the need for more provision on bridleways for pedestrians. We changed our original approach to bridleways and responded to the concerns by reclassifying RUPPs as restricted byways. That provides more certainty for the users of horses and of horsedrawn vehicles. However, the needs of equestrians should also be addressed in local authorities' rights of way improvement plans
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. The word "equestrians" was written next to her name and I realise that it related to the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Donoughue under Part I.
I turn now to the main point of contention on the Bill (which has proved even more contentious since I stood up) relating to access. There is obviously a difference of approach on this matter between the Government and a number of noble Lords. Several noble Lords opposite argued that we should have continued with the voluntary arrangement and they regret that we have chosen to legislate in this field.
I believe that it was quite late in the debate when my noble friends Lady Gale and Lady Thornton explained why we were providing these measures. Many people, many of whom live in the countryside as well as in the towns, have found access to the more beautiful parts of our countryside seriously restricted. Voluntary agreements have been in place but the acreage--or hectarage, as we should now say--of land which has been available through those agreements has not increased dramatically over a period of half a century. These provisions will bring another 500,000 hectares into access and, where the provisions are informal, to say the least, will clarify the position in relation to another 600,000 hectares over and above that. That will provide a substantial improvement for the people of this country in accessing their own countryside.
The voluntary approach has not worked. Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, we recognise a need for balance. The rights to access to land must be balanced by a responsibility. Walkers and others who use the land for open air recreation and who, in particular, use the access provisions on foot must behave themselves. If they do not, they revert immediately to being treated as trespassers.
Therefore, the Bill does not mean that people will be able to trample all over the countryside and that there will be a tidal wave of people accessing the most beautiful areas. Millions of such acres are already open to the public and that has not led to widespread destruction; nor has it interfered seriously with the management of land carried out by organisations such as the National Trust, and of areas which have been turned over voluntarily to access by landlords. We simply wish to generalise the good practice that has been established in those fields.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to explain what happens when someone has access to the countryside and abuses it, either by wrecking a fence or by lighting a fire? The owner may say, "You have wrecked this part of my land. You cannot come on it tomorrow", to which the offender replies, "Yes, I shall because I have a right of access".
Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is not the position. If the sole act is one of being on the land and there appears to be abuse, the landlord has the same rights as he has in relation to a trespasser. However, if a
Lord Whitty: My Lords, he will no more be able to do that than he may at present. An individual who, for example, is caught shoplifting can, theoretically at least, return to the same shop the next day. In other words, the rights and sanctions available to a landowner in the case of access are no different, and in some ways are slightly better, than those available to any landlord or owner of property.
I turn to some of the detailed concerns in this area: first, the 28-day discretionary closure. Perhaps I may make clear that 28 days is not the maximum period for closure; it is the period that is automatically available to the landowner without reference to any of the agencies. That excludes weekends, but the landowner could apply to the agency for weekend closure, giving legitimate reasons.
We shall clearly return to this. A number of anxieties have been expressed about the apparent illogicality of excluding weekends. I have taken those points on board and we shall look at them again in Committee.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in most circumstances it is the landowner, but there will be circumstances in which the occupier--for example, a long-term tenant farmer--will have the right to apply to the Countryside Agency and the authorities.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister is right to say that we shall return to that issue in Committee. Will he confirm that if people apply to the Countryside Agency--or whoever it is--for an extension, they will not automatically get it? That is one of our worries.
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