Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page



("( ) In this Part "access land" means any land which is shown as access land on a map in conclusive form issued by the appropriate countryside body for the purpose of this Part.
( ) Land may be shown as access land on such a map if--
(a) it is open country,
(b) it is common land, or
(c) is dedicated for the purposes of this Part under section 16,
but does not (in any of those cases) include excepted land or land which is treated by section 15(1) as being accessible to the public apart from this Act.").

The noble Lord said: There will be inevitably some repetition in this debate. Despite the detail of many of the amendments, they are meant to be objective and helpful and not destructive or obstructive.

I spent much of the early part of my life introducing young people to the delights, dangers and excitement of the countryside; my heart is in that. However, I also learned that if people are not properly educated there is risk, hazard and--a matter which we must avoid--misunderstanding leading to conflict.

This group of amendments refers to mapping, which is the key to this part of the Bill. If the mapping process is understood clearly by all, and is undertaken fully, positively and with great clarity, it will be a tremendous bonus for future generations. Amendment No. 2 refers to mapping. The Bill does not provide for maps showing access land. The mapping

27 Sept 2000 : Column 817

exercise merely shows registered common land and open country--"excepted" land, that covered by development--and land subject to other regimes is not marked or excluded.

The Bill should provide for mapping of access land. That provides certainty to walkers, farmers, landowners and public bodies. The benefits of this approach include the fact that walkers will be able to see from their maps where they can or cannot go. They will not have to apply difficult legal concepts such as "What is the curtilage of a building" while going for a relaxing walk because it will be clear from the map. Farmers and landowners will know which land is and is not subject to access. That reduces the prospect of mistakes and disputes about notices deterring access. In the Bill a genuine dispute about land being excepted will be determined on a criminal prosecution in the magistrates' court. Such mapping reduces the prospect of appeals on the mapping of open country. The present maps do not exclude excepted land. All a farmer concerned about the proposals can do is dispute the open country designation. Many of those concerns would be assuaged if farmers knew which of their land was excepted. Deleting the subsection is consequent on the new access land provision. Amendment No. 3 is consequential upon Amendment No. 2.

Amendments Nos. 6, 9, 28 and 30 are probing amendments about the application of access to common land. The Bill gives a right of access over registered common land. However, some common land is not registrable and so not registered; or is not common land for the purposes of the Commons Registration Act 1965. These exceptions include common land in the New Forest, Epping Forest and the Forest of Dean and common land subject to highway rights. Ministers said in another place--reported at col. 24 of the Official Report of the Standing Committee of 28th March--that historic laws provided for free access in the New Forest. How are those laws accommodated in the Bill? Do the access provisions apply in the Forest of Dean or Epping Forest? Are there other access rights? Do the access provisions apply to common land that is also a highway? Is the position different if the common land is also open country--if it is a heath, for example? Are Ministers satisfied as to why such land is excluded from access rights?

Amendment No. 7, tabled by my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Peel, relates to fast-track access. I shall leave it to my noble friend Lord Peel to speak to that. By deleting subsection (1)(c), Amendment No. 8 would provide that a right of access to common land should arise only when mapping has taken place. By deleting paragraph (d), Amendment No. 10 would make the same provision for mountains.

There is a great danger in rushing in partial implementation of the access regime. I was relieved to hear some reassurances from the Minister in his reply to my noble friend Lady Byford on the previous amendment.

27 Sept 2000 : Column 818

If access is to work, it must adjust to local circumstances. That requires by-laws to be made, access points and signs to be provided and wardens to be appointed, trained and equipped. I hope that Ministers agree that that should be done before access is granted. Paragraphs (c) and (d) contain some of the provisions that rush in the regime before local mechanisms are in place.

Mr Meacher recognised in the other place that there should not be immediate access to land over 600 metres. On Second Reading, he said in response to James Gray:


    "I did not say that access to mountain land over 600 m would be available immediately. I said that that land is most easily mapped, but the hon. Gentleman is right--one must take account of accessibility".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/00; col. 725.]

He later said in Standing Committee on 28th March:


    "It was a slip of the tongue. I meant to say most easily identified rather than mapped".

The Bill currently provides access to such land without mapping. Mr Meacher's explanation still begs a question about identification.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are somewhat technical. Amendment No. 11 would define "sea level" in paragraph (d). Sea level varies with tides from place to place. It is worth noting that Ordnance Survey uses mean sea level at Newlyn in Cornwall as the base for mapping. It is easier and clearer if the Bill adopts that standard. Ministers in the other place appear to have accepted that 600 metres would be measured from mean sea level at Newlyn, but that should be made clear in the Bill.

Amendment No. 21 relates to the definition of a mountain as higher than 600 metres. It is marginally out--I think that we heard that 600 metres is 1,975 feet, whereas I always thought that a mountain was 2,000 feet.

Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 follow on from Amendments Nos. 9 and 7. Amendment No. 84 would insert a subsection in Clause 2 saying:


    "Subsection (1) does not entitle a person to enter or to be on any access land unless the appropriate countryside body has issued a map showing the land as access land".

All those amendments would make the situation clearer through the mapping process. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe: I support Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 84, which relate to mapping. I shall not speak to the other, more technical ones. Indeed, I am not sure why they have been included in this group, but be that as it may.

I entirely agree that there must be definitive maps of all access land before access is allowed. I have two reasons for saying that, one particular and one more general. If there are not definitive maps of, let us say, a mountain of more than 600 metres, people will range. They may come into an area and start up a mountain at 600 metres, but when they come down the other side, unless they have a very accurate altimeter in their hand, how on earth will they know when they have passed from 610 metres to 590 metres? There must be

27 Sept 2000 : Column 819

a definitive map before we start the process. The mischief is that if people start exercising such rights before there is a definitive map, they will get used to wandering over the hill and down the other side into the glen at a lower level. By the time the map comes along, they will not need to look at it because they will think that they know where they always go.

The issue is symptomatic of a lot of the problems in the Bill. There are many pious intentions, but no method of communicating them to the walkers who will be exercising the new rights. The Government have not thought out how a walker will know whether it is one of the 28 days when access is forbidden. He will not know whether there is a local order excluding extra access. Unless every walker carries a Bill, an altimeter, the local paper and a website with him, he will not have the capacity to obey the pious intentions that the Government have expressed.

Much of the debate on the Bill will relate to such issues. This is one good example of an area in which we could start with clarity and then let people in, rather than letting people in first and trying to secure clarity later. I hope that the Government will appreciate the problems that they are creating and show their good will by accepting the principles of the amendments.

Earl Peel: Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I have some doubts about the grouping, but since all these amendments have been grouped, perhaps it would help the House if I were to speak to my Amendment No. 7, which would remove the fast-track approach. It would preclude land above 600 metres and all registered common land being brought forward for access provisions. All such land would be treated in the same way as other land.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was right to talk about pious intentions. The Government hope that the issue will be resolved on a wing and a prayer. It is symptomatic of many provisions in the Bill. The people on the ground will have to pick up the pieces when the Government have gone away and forgotten about the Bill because they have satisfied their conscience and their manifesto. There is a real danger that owners and occupiers of land that would be covered by the fast-track procedure will be short-changed. It is fundamental that, before access provisions are put in place, every owner and occupier should have an opportunity to negotiate with the access authority on whether there will be by-laws or closure orders and what sort of management structure there will be for the land.

I believe that there is a danger that if the fast-track approach is implemented the opportunities for negotiation will be lost. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said quite rightly, the danger is that people who wish to walk on those areas will assume that they can do so. They will go across land which perhaps under the Bill will be accepted because the footpaths to those areas have not been negotiated.

Therefore, quite frankly we shall end up with only muddle and conflict. I say to the Government in all sincerity that such a move would put the access

27 Sept 2000 : Column 820

provisions of the Bill in a bad light and would lead to the kind of conflict that I believe we all wish to ensure does not occur. I believe that the good will which the Minister attaches to the Bill could be very seriously compromised. Therefore, my amendment removes the opportunities for fast tracking land above 600 metres and registered common land.

I believe that it would be helpful to receive an assurance from the Minister that the maps will be produced and published before any access is implemented and that owners and occupiers will have a full opportunity to discuss with the access authority the type of management regimes that ultimately will be imposed upon their land. Perhaps the Minister can give an assurance that there will be proper opportunities to discuss access footpaths to areas where no footpaths exist at present. Perhaps I may leave those questions with the Minister; I shall be very interested to hear what he has to say.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page