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Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: Does the noble Lord agree that since the statement of conformity was made on the face of the Bill there have been important

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developments, including the decision of the Court of Session? Will he give serious consideration to whether the statement that has been made can stand in the face of both that judgment and some of the fresh arguments that have been put forward on this issue?

Lord Whitty: I am confident that the legal advice that we were given when the declarations were made will stand. Nevertheless, I take the noble Lord's point. I shall ensure that by the time we reach the relevant stages of the Bill we shall have assessed whether we need to take a different view in any respect in the light of those legal developments. At this stage I shall not discuss that matter further. I recognise the importance of the issue that the noble Lord has raised and the way in which it is viewed by the landowning community. More generally, we need to be able to assure the Chamber--on this legislation as with other pieces of legislation--that such declarations are valid.

Viscount Bledisloe: If the noble Lord does not accept the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, will he ensure that we do not merely receive a reiteration of the one-line sentence that the Government consider that the Bill complies with the relevant rights, but that we are given a reasoned argument or opinion dealing with the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, rather than a mere bland assurance that everything is all right?

Lord Whitty: I think that the noble Viscount is familiar with the convention that we do not disclose legal opinion given to Ministers. Nevertheless, I can assure him that he will receive a reasoned reply to such points which will reflect the legal advice received.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to land over 600 metres high. I believe that we shall debate that matter almost immediately. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not mind if I do not speak in detail on that now.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred to the general issue of the precautionary principle. We shall no doubt address that matter in great detail when we reach Part III. I accept that there is some "cross over" with some parts of Part I in that regard, but I shall not respond directly to that point now as we are discussing a purpose clause. The general matters of information and education which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, mentioned arise in a later amendment which she has tabled. I hope that we can discuss that matter when we reach that amendment and at other points during the course of the Bill.

Earl Peel: I raised another issue which I believe to be fundamental; namely, the question of research into the impacts of access on ground-nesting birds. Can the Minister give us an assurance now that before the access provisions of the Bill are implemented, proper research will be carried out to ensure that those who make the decisions will have the necessary information made available to them to take those important decisions?

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Lord Whitty: I reiterate that that is not germane to discussion of the proposed purpose clause. The precautionary principle (in so far as it applies to the wildlife provisions) will be discussed. In so far as that research affects the implementation of other aspects of the Bill--in particular, Part I--the timetable that I have outlined allows us to take into account any significant new information arising from such research. However, I believe that the provisions stand up to the research that has so far been received.

I hope that I have given the noble Baroness a general indication of why I do not think that it is necessary for us to adopt a purpose clause. However, were the Committee to feel differently, I should point out that the proposed purpose clause contains drafting deficiencies. For example, there is no reference to the rights of way provisions which make up a substantial part of the Bill. As drafted, the reference in paragraph (c) of the proposed new clause would conflict with the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill which provides for the fast track which we are about to debate. As drafted, paragraph (d) suggests the control of traffic in AONBs. However, that is not the point of the reference to traffic which relates to the rights of way provisions. As others have said, the reference to development in AONBs could be considered ambiguous. Therefore, even if the Committee were to be convinced of the principle mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the proposed new clause would not meet that intention.

It may be helpful to the conduct of the rest of today's business if I indicate broadly the areas where the Government have concluded, in considering the amendments that have been tabled and other representations that have been made, that we are prepared to make some move at some later stage, although not necessarily in the form of the amendments that are before the Committee. I shall indicate those areas to give greater guidance to the Committee as to the conduct of the business. We intend to move further on Report on some issues and to give serious consideration to others. The areas where we intend to move further on Report include local access forums, which are addressed in the group of amendments which commences with Amendment No. 18; the provision of information on access, which is addressed in Amendment No. 103; training gallops, which are mentioned in Amendment No. 34; dogs, which are mentioned in Amendment No. 108; and occupiers' liability, although I do not think that we shall reach that tonight. Other such issues will arise later in the Bill, but the issues I have mentioned are covered early in Part I. I hope that that procedure is helpful. I shall repeat it at the commencement of subsequent Committee days.

Given what I said earlier, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the proposed purpose clause at this stage and will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hylton: Before the noble Lord sits down and before the noble Baroness replies, I notice that the point he made about rights of way is already fully

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covered in the Long Title of the Bill. Therefore, I think that it would probably be redundant to repeat it in the amendment.

Baroness Byford: I am most grateful to the Minister for his full response to my proposed purpose clause. I am particularly grateful to all those who have spoken from all sides of the Chamber. First, I thank the Minister for indicating that the Government have already seen areas where they may propose their own suggestions or meet other amendments part way, as it were. I am grateful to the Minister for that indication. I also thank the Minister and his team who have met our Front Bench team and, I suspect, many others around the Chamber, on several occasions since the Bill first came into being.

The Minister made several points I wish to address. He said clearly that the Bill addresses three matters. However, the Bill addresses four matters. The Minister mentioned access, rights of way and the protection of wildlife. However, the Bill also addresses areas of outstanding natural beauty. We received the provisions on AONBs rather late, as the Minister will acknowledge. As we had not received that section of the Bill, the two Committee days were withdrawn at the last minute. That comment is mischievous but true.

With regard to instant access to land, I live in the country and people are saying, "We can walk over the land. We have instant access". The Government have taken on board the issue. I have sought to make it clear that we do not wish to deter them from putting forward for consideration matters which will be implemented. But there is a difference between the Bill being passed and the period of up to five years before people have access to such land. I am grateful to the Minister for making the position clear. I hope that the message will be passed on loud and clear.

I accept, as the Minister acknowledged, that there could be a conflict of interest. The noble Lord said that it is not a complex Bill. Having considered other Bills I understand why he used that expression. However, the devil is in the detail. I suspect that although much of the Bill would not be considered complex, it will have to balance the interests of land users, land workers and wildlife groups. Although the Bill may not be considered complex, it is a demanding Bill for consideration in this House. That is one reason why I wished to put forward this purpose clause.

The Minister referred to funding, an issue raised by several noble Lords. It is and will be a problem. I realise that the Minister cannot tell us about funding for the years ahead. However, when local authorities run short of money, it is the wardens of land open to access who go. Yet they are the very people who can help to protect wildlife and enable people to enjoy that access. It is not a subject we can dismiss easily.

I shall not reiterate what my noble friend Lord Brittan said so eloquently on human rights. I hope that the Minister will address the issue soon rather than wait until we reach that section of the Bill. We need to know the answer sooner rather than later.

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In referring to the developing of areas, my choice of words did not reflect what I wished to say and could be misinterpreted. Perhaps the word should have been "enhance" or "ensure"; I shall try to think of a better word. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for pointing that out.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for raising so clearly the issue of mapping and the Government's need to give assurances on the timetable.

I thank my noble friend Lord Peel for his contribution. As he declared, he spoke from his practical experience of looking after areas which will now have a greater number of visitors. There is need for research into the implications for our ground-nesting birds, which we wish to preserve and protect. Mr Michael Meacher referred to that point in another place.

It would not be right to go through all the other points raised. I am grateful to every Member who has spoken. I hope that this purpose clause will not be dismissed. Although the wording may not be correct, I should like to reflect upon the issue. I do not intend to put the matter to a vote today. Although we have had good assurances from the Minister, I am not convinced that there is not a need for such a clause. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [Principal definitions for Part I]:

5.30 p.m.

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 2:


    Page 1, line 10, at beginning insert--


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