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Baroness Byford: I rise to support the amendment. Like other noble Lords, I have been written to by several horse organisations about their concerns that they will be the losers if the Bill goes through in its present form. I shall not go into further details tonight. I suspect other noble Lords will. It is a problem that needs to be addressed. I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Mallalieu: I first declare an interest. This is the first time I have spoken in relation to the Bill. I apologise to the Committee that I was unable to speak at Second Reading. My interest is as president of the Countryside Alliance and also in connection with this amendment, which I support, as someone who lives on Exmoor and enjoys riding and having open access to that moor. I am quite sure it was never the intention of the Government, certainly in anything we have heard so far, to restrict or control access which currently exists. Yet a great many people who ride, expressing their concerns through the British Horse Society, worry that the present drafting of the Bill, unless it is made absolutely clear, may lead to a situation where, having ridden for years over open moorland, they are suddenly stopped by a ranger who says,


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As I understand the present position, in many of the areas of open moorland, such as Exmoor, Bodmin and parts of Dartmoor, and on much common land too, people can ride virtually wherever they wish. The position is not enshrined in any enactment, although I understand that as far as concerns registered commons Section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925 governs that access. But in most places it is not permissive. It is not covered by any enactment. The fact is that from time immemorial people have ridden. If you ask on Exmoor, "Where can I go?", you are told, "You can ride anywhere except where you can't", which is a very sensible way of putting it. However, the reality is that under the Bill as currently framed, and in particular under Schedule 2(1)(c), there is prohibition, which will be included in the maps, from taking with you on this land any animal other than a dog. That would prohibit people like me, like my neighbours and like many visitors to these areas who go down to ride and are very often accompanied by a dog as well.

What we ask is that the Bill should make it absolutely clear that nothing in it is intended to take away the de facto rights which are currently enjoyed and which currently cause no problems whatever. I hope the Minister will feel that this would be a sensible and beneficial way of dealing with some real worries about the Bill which need not arise.

Lord Whitty: The Government's intention in introducing the Bill has not been to restrict anyone's existing rights. Those existing rights, in so far as they are statutory rights, are clearly protected by the Bill when they go further than the rights of access either in geographical location or in terms of what one is allowed to do. What the amendment seeks to do is rather difficult to achieve by law. It seeks basically to protect rights which exist only voluntarily and have no legal basis. It is certainly not the Bill's intention to do that.

My noble friend Lady Mallalieu used the term "prohibition". It is not a prohibition. The right to access does not extend to the bringing of horses onto land. It covers a new right to access on foot. That is not a prohibition. If a landowner has hitherto tolerated access by horses and if there has been by custom and practice access by horses from, as my noble friend Lady Mallalieu put it, time immemorial, there is not a requirement on that landowner then to prohibit horses. Nevertheless, it is slightly difficult to provide by statute that he should continue in all circumstances to operate in the same way as he has hitherto done. It would be imposing what was a voluntary and consensual arrangement between the landowner and other users. I am not sure that one can do that by statute. On the other hand, I do not think that many of those landowners would, by virtue of the Bill being passed, alter what is their long-term practice of allowing access by horses or access to land which is not mapped as access land.

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The problem can be exaggerated and can be referred to in a way which is not the intention or effect of the Bill; that is, to prohibit such activities on access land. If the landlord is happy for the arrangements to continue and a consensual understanding is in place, those arrangements can continue. However, I am not sure that statute law can be used to go further than that.

However, I recognise that this matter has caused anxiety and I have no doubt that we shall return to it on Report.

Baroness Hamwee: I understand entirely the point made by the Minister as regards translating a practice into statute. However, could it be approached by making a requirement that such a de facto situation should be taken into account during the mapping process; namely, that the principle should be applied to the mapping procedure rather than to the restrictions? Perhaps the Minister would like to consider that suggestion and return to it at the next stage.

Lord Whitty: I believe that the point is worth exploring, but I am not sure that the mapping process is the right way to approach it. It may well be that the local arrangements made through local access forums--I have lapsed into my "classical" mode--are more appropriate. Those forums may be better placed to address the issue.

At this stage, my advice is that we could not legally provide for the freezing of such rights because they are not rights, but rather voluntary tolerations on the part of the landowner--however long they may have been in place.

I shall be happy to return to the matter if noble Lords can think of another approach. However, I am clear that we cannot legislate in a blanket fashion. Such matters are best dealt with at the local level.

Baroness Mallalieu: Before my noble friend sits down, while I appreciate what he has said, can he state

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for the future record that it was not the Government's intention, when introducing the Bill in its present form, that existing arrangements should be affected?

Lord Whitty: I thought that I had said that already. However, if I have not stated that it was not the Government's intention that the Bill should cause the end of existing arrangements, I hope that I have now made it clear. If the grammar of my statement needs to be tidied a little, I shall ensure it is done. I hope that the requirements of my noble friend have now been met.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: While obviously not in anything like the same league in legal matters, my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I are grateful for the support given by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu.

I wonder whether the Minister has yet received final authority for his advice on this issue. From my admittedly rather more naive point of view, I still find it difficult to understand why such a provision could not be put on the face of the Bill. I shall research the matter further.

In the meantime, we should bear in mind the reference made to the European Court of Human Rights and its judgments on tradition and practice and whether--this was referred to at length earlier this evening--ignoring people's rights to practise in their customary manner constitutes an infringement of their human rights. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at fourteen minutes past one o'clock.


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