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Lord Whitty: In any particular case the Countryside Agency's actions are ultimately challengeable in court, as is any agency of the activities of Government. Part of that might either be in the definition itself or the way in which the definition is described. There is a consultation period taking place now with all the bodies involved in the national forum. Therefore, hopefully we can reach a consensus on the basic definitions. The fact that that basic definition is being used would normally be regarded as sufficient by the courts. That is not to say, however, it could not be challenged in the courts. For example, I should think that if the forum comes up with a definition of downland that all the parties to that forum accept, then that is a fairly good definition. That is not something we are going to determine here this evening.

The Earl of Onslow: Should not that be done before you bring in an Act of Parliament rather than after? Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted I was told a million years ago. If you do not know what heath/downland is, you cannot pass an Act giving people access to it. I do not understand why we cannot have a Bill before us which actually gives a proper definition. Otherwise it is a muddle.

Lord Whitty: Most people have a fairly good idea of what we are talking about. The question of fine-point definition will be a matter for the agency, as it is in many other areas of legislation. I think that Members opposite are making a meal of this point for purposes I do not totally understand. I have indicated that I agree with the noble Earl that this should be a central responsibility of the agencies. Those agencies will have to consult all interests involved in drawing up those definitions and implementing them. That is the normal way in which responsibilities of agencies operate under

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statute. I therefore do not accept that we should have done any more by this point for the Bill to be effective when the agencies have fulfilled their obligations under that provision.

Earl Peel: When earlier we discussed the fast-track approach, the noble Lord robustly defended his position largely, I think, because he wanted to ensure that access areas were up and running as soon as possible. If the noble Lord does not accept the amendment or something similar to it, the possibility of litigation and delay will increase enormously. That will lead only to bad feeling when the provisions of the Bill start to be implemented, which is surely the last thing the Government would want. I should have thought that my noble friend's amendment was totally logical and one that the Government could accept without difficulty. We could then get the thing off to a good start.

Lord Marlesford: It is a basic principle of legislation that the courts have to determine points of which Parliament has not thought in the process of legislating. But when a question is raised during the consideration of legislation it is not good practice for a government to say, "We do not know the answer to that. We must leave it to the courts". That is not the right way to legislate. There was a period during the consideration of Finance Bills when, if difficult questions were asked, Ministers used to say, "We shall have to leave that to the courts". I am glad to say that in recent years that tendency has greatly diminished. It is totally legitimate for Parliament to say to the Government that a word in legislation needs to be defined. If the Countryside Agency or other agencies are to produce a definition in the future, which will not necessarily be the definition the courts will accept, surely the Government can say now that they will expedite the preparation of the definition and come back at Report stage with a definition to put into the Bill.

Lord Whitty: I think that noble Lords are getting the wrong end of the stick. First, broadly speaking, I agree with the objective of the noble Earl's amendment that the countryside agencies should have the responsibility of drawing up a definition as part of the process of defining access land.

Secondly, those agencies are already engaged in that process. They are working together in the forum, which should maximise the degree of consensus around the initial definition that was proposed in the consultative document published last February. Everyone has been feeding into the process, so the agencies, within the forum, should be able to produce something approaching a consensus on the definitions. That is the process in place. It is robust and should ensure that the final decisions cannot be overturned in the courts.

We do not intend to leave these matters to the courts; the agencies have a responsibility for taking the lead in drawing up the definitions and they are doing so in a way which ensures that all the major interest

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groups have an opportunity to contribute. In that way, it is most likely that a consensus will be reached. That seems to me to be the most sensible way to proceed.

However, it would certainly not be sensible for this Committee to attempt to arrive at a definition during our discussions this evening and then to put that definition on to the face of the Bill. As I have said, the process is in place. I acknowledge that it is reflected in part in the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, but, because the total process is not reflected, I cannot accept his amendment. Having said that, I believe that we share the same objectives; namely, to see the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales carry out this task. For that reason, I hope that the matter can now be put to one side. However, if Members wish to return to the matter on Report, I may be able to consider it a little more.

Lord Rotherwick: I do not wish to be difficult, but this is an important point. I believe that we all agree that it is perfectly acceptable for the Countryside Agency to establish the correct definition. It is probably the best agency to undertake that task. However, the point that I and other noble Lords have been trying to make is that that definition should be brought forward, as a part of the Bill, to be agreed by Parliament. Parliament, rather than the agency, should have the ultimate say on whether the definition is correct. That is the point here.

Lord Whitty: With respect, I do not believe that that is the point lying behind the noble Earl's amendment. His amendment places a responsibility on the agencies and puts that responsibility on to a statutory basis. I would say that I can agree with that, but that particular responsibility is not the totality of their responsibilities as regards the drawing up of the final boundaries of the various different kinds of land.

As I have said, we can consider further whether there is an appropriate way in which that process can be put into the Bill in more detail than at present, but I certainly would not move as far as the noble Lord has suggested--namely, to put the full and fine detail of the definition on to the face of the Bill. That would not be helpful or in line with the manner in which such matters are approached in other legislation.

The Earl of Caithness: I thank the Minister for many of his remarks. It is obvious that we are now very close in how we are considering this matter. Perhaps I may ask him two further questions. First, does the Minister think that it is important to write on the face of the Bill that this is the duty of the appropriate body? Secondly, if he does think that, will he agree to bring forward at a later stage an amendment that will cover the point he seeks to settle, as well as my intentions--with which he agrees? I can only reiterate that we now have found common ground between us here.

The Minister can call upon his experts to draft the amendment to cover the specific points. I shall be happy if he can bring forward such an amendment

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because I am firm in my belief that it is important to put this on to the face of the Bill. If the Minister agrees, will he agree to bring forward his own amendment?

Lord Whitty: Hitherto I have not been convinced that we need an amendment to cover what appears to me to be the obvious responsibility of the agencies in this area. However, in view of the anxieties that have been expressed over the past 31 minutes on the issue, I shall have to reconsider that. I cannot give an absolute assurance that I shall come forward with an amendment, but no doubt, in one form or another, we shall consider this issue again on Report.

The Earl of Caithness: In view of that reassurance, I think it would be churlish of me now to divide the Committee. I had intended to do so, but, given the reassurance that the noble Lord will think again on the matter, I believe that it is only right to allow him to do so. I hope that he will come forward with an amendment, which I believe will find support from all around the House--including support from noble Lords sitting on the Benches behind him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Excepted land for purposes of Part I]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 34:


    Page 48, line 5, at end insert--


(". Land used for gallops or other exercise grounds for racehorses, during recognised restricted times.").

The noble Baroness said: I wish to move the amendment standing in my name. It seeks to enable those training racehorses to utilise gallops and exercise grounds, but recognises that that use may be restricted to particular times. I understand that the Minister has indicated that we may have a certain amount of common ground here, especially as regards an amendment to be moved in due course by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. However, it is important that people who use the facility of free access know that when they are on those grounds they are safe and secure, a point raised earlier. Amendment No. 34 seeks to insert:


    "Land used for gallops or other exercise grounds for racehorses during recognised restricted times".

Perhaps I may speak briefly to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. Both amendments concern the issue of safety--not only the safety of an individual who may wander across exercise grounds not knowing that a horse may be galloping down very shortly, but those of us who are used to riding know very well that any sudden movement can scare or startle horses. So it is not just an issue of the safety of the walker--although that is my main concern--but also the safety of horses in training and their riders.

At the moment, both Epsom Downs and Newmarket practise restricted timings. We urge the Government to consider extending such a provision to other areas known as "gallops". The Government have given this matter due consideration so I shall not

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labour the point further. My amendment seeks to facilitate the gallops taking place. Most take place in the morning but in some areas they take place at different times. Presumably the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will speak specifically to that matter. My amendment seeks to ensure the safety of the general public, of the horses and of those riding and exercising them. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: I support the amendment. I live only a few miles from Newmarket and I am very familiar with the training gallops there. They have been well established for centuries. It would be a serious interference with the training of racehorses if there were to be the interruption of people with a right to roam. It would not only interfere with the training of racehorses in a serious way but could sometimes endanger human life. An exception needs to be made in the way suggested by my noble friend's amendment.


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