Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Peel: I appreciate what the noble Lord says; namely, that pieces of land over 600 metres in England are few and far between. But they do exist. I can think of one where there is no right of way.

But we must not forget that the fast-track approach applies not only to land over 600 metres but also to registered common land which is a different issue altogether.

Lord Whitty: There are two inter-related aspects here. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, dealt mainly with the definition of "registered common land" and most of the other comments have related to the fast-track procedure as such.

27 Sept 2000 : Column 824

First, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that we need to convey that there must be clarity before the right is triggered. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we should make sure that the timetable is understood. I cannot be more specific about the timetable than I was previously when I said that the totality of the mapping process may take up to five years. Nevertheless, in the Government's view it is sensible that where areas can be dealt with more quickly, and all the consultation and appeals procedures have been followed, the right should be triggered well before that.

The areas with which we are dealing in this group of amendments are registered common land and land over 600 metres and they are relatively easily mappable. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right that there is not a great deal of such land in England, although there is a great chunk of it in Wales. Those are easily identifiable by somebody marking a thicker line on the Ordnance Survey maps than currently exists. There is already a map register in relation to registered common land.

The amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred would remove the word "registered" from the term "registered common land". Therefore, that would remove the reference to the Commons Registration Act 1965. As I understand it, that Act was intended to end the anxiety about the status of common land and sought to finalise that position. I know that there have been subsequent criticisms of the Act but it has done quite a lot to clarify and codify what is common land in both England and Wales, and the corresponding rights, therefore, of commoners.

We issued a consultation paper earlier this year--Greater Protection and Better Management of Common Land--which set out the proposals for further reform. But in the mean time, the commons registration maps compiled as a result of the 1965 Act form a conclusive register of what is and what is not regarded as common land.

The amendments here would require the mapping authorities to reconsider each of those areas of common land to ascertain whether it should have common land status for the purposes of this Bill. Indeed, it could theoretically require the Countryside Agency to cast around and identify more common land which might have been omitted from those maps and registers. That is not the purpose of the Bill. Where common land may have been mistakenly registered and contains houses, gardens or similar developments, that land--this addresses a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran--would, in any case, be excluded from access by virtue of the categories of excepted land which are listed in Schedule 1 in relation to buildings, gardens and so on. So they may be within the contour of common land but those areas would be excluded. Therefore, I am not sure that I could go along with the noble Lord's suggestion that maps should show access land which identifies each of those buildings because Schedule 1 already ensures that the right of access will not extend to land excepted under

27 Sept 2000 : Column 825

Schedule 1. We should not expect the countryside authorities to map every building within that area because buildings in general are excluded.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also raised specific issues in relation to existing access rights as regards the Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Epping Forest. The current status is that the Forest of Dean and the New Forest are not registered as common land and are excepted from the 1965 Act, but they are likely to qualify under this Act as open country. There is already very substantial de facto access in those areas.

There are existing legal rights of access in Epping Forest. Therefore, that is excluded from the right of access under Part I by virtue of Clause 15 which effectively reflects the general approach of this Bill that existing legal rights of access are not altered or reduced as a result of the Bill. So someone who is exercising a right of way or a right of access would not have that right modified by the Bill.

It would be wrong, therefore, to delete the term "registered". We already have a basis for mapping in the maps arising from those registers. On that basis, if we wished, we could speed up the process of identifying the land to which the access provisions apply.

Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10, 84 and part of Amendment No. 2 would remove the option to fast track those areas of registered common land and also land over 600 metres. We have provided in the Bill for the right of access to apply to land which has been mapped as open country or registered common land. That will provide the necessary level of certainty for the future for both users and landowners. But the mapping process will take some time. The countryside bodies will need to identify whether areas of land fall into the prescribed categories. There will also need to be time for consultation before that right may come into effect.

That is why we have included a fast-track option for areas which can already be identified from existing sources. By definition, registered common land is shown on the registers. Mountains over 600 metres are already identifiable by contour lines on Ordnance Survey maps. We made amendments in Committee in another place which will enable applications for closure--and the directions which will give effect to them--to be made before the right of access comes into force. That procedure would also apply were we to adopt a fast track procedure in relation to land over 600 metres and common registered land. That means that, if we decide to use that fast-track option, if there are any concerns that land needs to be closed either on a temporary or permanent basis, it will be possible to ensure that such restrictions apply on the land immediately the right comes into effect. There will therefore be time for all the necessary arrangements to be in place on fast-track land just as on any other land.

Whether we decide to opt for fast-track proceedings will partly depend on the assessment by the Countryside Agency and the Government of how fast

27 Sept 2000 : Column 826

we can move to the general mapping of land. Clearly, if the mapping process seems likely to be completed slightly faster than we currently estimate and indicate, the argument for a fast-track approach would be somewhat less. Even with the fast-track approach, the provision cannot be brought in overnight. It will probably take up to two years before it can be brought into effect and the necessary restrictions and closures identified.

On the other hand, as has been referred to earlier, we also have to bear in mind that people expect progress. If it is relatively easy to map the land from existing sources, they would expect progress on that front. Those who have concerns and interests within those pieces of land will have exactly the same rights as those who have concerns and interests about the rest of access land.

There is a detailed amendment regarding how sea level is measured. Reference was made to Newlyn. I have referred to the Ordnance Survey provisions. I believe that the two amount to the same thing. We might have another look at that but we feel that the reference to 600 metres is fairly widely understood, and would be the provisions used in the Ordnance Survey.

With those clarifications, I hope that one would be prepared to keep in the option for fast tracking land where there are already identifiable maps and descriptions of land, and that the rights of the owners of that land and others who have an interest are protected under that procedure as with the rest of the Bill. I therefore hope that noble Lords will not press the amendment.

Viscount Bledisloe: Did I hear the Minister correctly? Did he state that the Forest of Dean is likely to qualify as open country?

6.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Parts of the Forest of Dean may qualify as open country.

Viscount Bledisloe: Does the Minister believe that the Forest of Dean is wholly or predominantly mountain, moor, heath or down? If he does so believe, has he ever been to the Forest of Dean?

Lord Whitty: My grandmother came from the Forest of Dean. I agree that there are parts which would not fall within that category. However, there may be land which does. Obviously, the final outcome will depend on the assessment by the Countryside Agency. I picked up the reference to the Forest of Dean from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is possible that parts would so qualify, but I agree not all.

Lord Greaves: Can the Minister respond to my request for a map of land over 600 metres, as it exists?

Lord Whitty: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I did say that he was right, broadly speaking.

27 Sept 2000 : Column 827

It would probably be sensible for me to write to him and put a copy in the Library, possibly with a highly-coloured map attached.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for his usual clear explanation, much of which I found encouraging. As regards the amendments concerning registered common land and the Forest of Dean, Epping Forest and the New Forest, I have no trouble in withdrawing them.

However, I am still concerned about fast track. As we have discussed before, there are significant dangers of growing misunderstandings, particularly among the general public and the land-owning community. I shall not press the amendment to a Division today. However, I hope that the Government will think carefully before pursuing the fast-track approach as a quick and easy way to deliver something to the public which we might later regret. I understand the Minister's comments regarding land over 600 metres. However, there are access problems in many places. It would lead to confusion to say that one section is okay because a road goes over it or it is a right of way, and another section is not because it is inaccessible legally and technically.

I wonder how the pilot mapping process is proceeding? As I said at Second Reading, mapping on the scale of which we are talking requires much time. However, the technology nowadays is so advanced that I cannot believe it is the massive job it was 20 years ago. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page