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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes): I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 56A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 58 on grounds of pre-emption.

[Amendment No. 56A, in substitution for Amendment No. 57, not moved.]

[Amendment No. 57 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 58 to 60 not moved.]

Lord Hardy of Wath moved Amendment No. 61:



(" . Land within an established nature reserve where partial access would be likely to damage or destroy such fauna or flora which may be protected by statute.").

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief. I have no wish to press the amendment to a vote but it invites the Government to look at the position of nature reserves. My noble friend will be aware that the Bill has been described as being important for wildlife; the most important piece of legislation for 20 years. It is significant but it is not as relevant as I should like. We must clarify the position of nature reserves.

The national bodies are often happy about the Bill but people working in or connected with nature reserves still retain anxieties. I am pleased that my amendment was not grouped with others relating to restrictions, because people like me want others to go into nature reserves. We want people to have the opportunity to observe and learn but we do not want them to wonder all over a nature reserve.

For example, the relevant county trust could lay out a suitable trail or walk so that people visiting a reserve could see why it exists. There may be a hide where people can quietly observe nature. One does not want to see a family picnicking in front of a hide on a nature reserve, leaving behind half a dozen plastic bottles, three drink containers and 14 sandwich wrappers, as people often do. However, we need to ensure that people running nature reserves can do so properly.

There is another important aspect. The Government are devoting resources and attention to biodiversity. The important areas of nature conservation can be considered and species can be preserved and safeguarded and perhaps reintroduced. If we are to have proper provision for biodiversity, there must be a capacity to protect nature in order that it can survive and prosper. Therefore, there must be a capacity to control or limit the activities of the human race. After all, when the first Bill to provide such access was presented in Parliament the motor car had not been invented. When the legislation was resurrected in the 1930s the number of motor cars, the amount of leisure and size of our population were much smaller. Even during the 50 years which have elapsed since the 1949 Act the capacity of people to create havoc has greatly increased.

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In order to ensure that the wealth of our natural diversity is protected, and in order to provide adequate opportunities for people to learn and enjoy, we must preserve a capacity within the nature reserves of our island to serve that purpose.

I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment but I invite my noble friend to relieve the anxieties of those who are concerned at the sharp end of nature conservation, to provide the degree of protection for which I have called and to contribute to the Bill being regarded as an important wildlife measure. If that description is to be earned, we need to see adjustment. I beg to move.

The Duke of Montrose: The noble Lord's comments touch on the concerns expressed in my amendment. What does he see as the definition of an established nature reserve? Is it purely an SSSI?

Lord Hardy of Wath: No, it is not an SSSI. I can think of several sites in my region which are not SSSIs. One not far from my home serves that purpose but it is not, though it needs to be, protected. One can think of many definitions, but we should recognise the role of voluntary bodies in providing opportunities for the community as a whole. We should not take steps that weaken the capacity of a voluntary body, be it national, regional or county, to serve that purpose. If it means that the Government must recognise the need to encourage people to make a contribution to enjoy that provision, so be it. I do not wish to go into great detail, but it would be wise for my noble friend and his colleagues in government to look again at the need to retain the capacity to serve biodiversity and to educate. That means that we need to guarantee the capacity to protect.

Baroness Hamwee: We support the amendment. Like the noble Lord, I am not sure whether this is the right way to go about it. The noble Lord is quite right to say that this amendment goes entirely with the grain of the Bill. Our concern goes perhaps a little further. The noble Lord's amendment makes reference to established nature reserves. We have been pondering how to encourage new nature reserves, given the structure that the Committee is debating. I am glad that the noble Lord raises the point. I hope that the Committee can find a way to ensure that these very important resources, which go entirely with the grain of the Bill to support access and wildlife protection, are not damaged or prejudiced.

Baroness Byford: I rise to support in principle the aim of the noble Lord. The amendment highlights the difficulty of the Bill. We wish to allow people greater access--we have debated many exceptions tonight--while we conserve and, to a degree, extend wildlife areas and flora and fauna. The Government face a dilemma. Without going into the details tonight, I suspect that later in the Bill we shall consider the practical ways in which this can be dealt with. At this stage we understand whence the noble Lord is coming and add our support.

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Lord Whitty: Like other Members of the Committee who have spoken, I do not disagree with very much of what my noble friend said in support of the amendment. I am slightly puzzled by the precise wording of the amendment. There is a problem about referring to established sites and excluding others. I was also unclear about my noble friend's reference to partial access. I do not believe that this is the appropriate way to deal with the issue. The list to which this amendment would be added talks about activities which have an automatic blanket exclusion from the right to access. Many existing nature reserves positively encourage public access. With relatively few exceptions, access and wildlife can co-exist without significant problems.

Therefore, there should be no automatic presumption that the provision of access is incompatible with any wildlife centre. That means that we must deal with it on a case-by-case basis, which is exactly the requirement that is laid down in relation to nature conservation as a ground for making an exception or restriction. That is backed by Part III of the Bill, which reflects the commitment to the protection of wildlife and nature conservation. We believe that that is the way to approach it rather than a blanket exception which excludes some forms of access that may be welcomed by those who run wildlife centres.

We agree with the objectives of my noble friend. However, we believe that the Bill already makes provision for them. Part I is compatible with Part III and gives greater protection to wildlife and minimises the impact of access on the activities of wildlife centres. My noble friend indicates that he will not press the matter tonight. We take account of these matters. We hope that any further reassurances can be provided at a later stage of the Bill.

1 a.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: The reason I used the phrase "partial access" is that someone suggested that there are so many days which can be used to exclude the public in other areas. That would not be relevant in a situation of this kind. I should like my noble friend to look at that. It is important that we get the right balance. Otherwise, the intentions of the Government will not bring the credit deserved. For that reason I trust he will look at it. I am sure it will be a matter we return to, perhaps more than once, but not any more tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 62 to 65 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Rights of public in relation to access land]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 66:


    Page 2, line 22, at beginning insert--


("( ) Nothing in this Act shall affect existing de facto access.").

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The noble Baroness said: I rise at this unsuitably late hour to address a matter of great principle to the Bill. Our amendment seeks to insert in the Bill:


    "Nothing in this Act shall affect existing de facto access".

The fact is that, although the spirit of the Bill, the statements before the Bill from the DTI in its consultation papers and statements by the Minister before the Bill emphasised that the Bill is intended to improve access, especially for riders and cyclists, all the discussion in the other place about the Bill and all Schedule 2 emphasises is the fact that there will be a prohibition on, for example, taking an animal with one into open access areas. This would include a horse. There will be a prohibition on bathing; a prohibition on fishing; a prohibition on the use of canoes.

The issue is that in some areas--I address in particular riding--there has been a de facto access for years, established by tradition and custom and practice. On areas like Bodmin Moor it would be devastating if the Bill were to remove that access. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is not in his place, mentioned that farmers could diversify into riding and riding stables. So far as I can discover, many of those areas are not covered by the Bill. I am being brief because of the hour, but I would ask the Minister to make a definite statement as to whether or not the Bill reduces in any way the de facto access that people have enjoyed. If it does, he can be certain that we will return to the matter strongly at Report stage. To open up access to one group of people and remove the access rights of another group of people would be quite wrong.


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