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Lord Luke: I am very grateful to the Minister. I look forward to seeing what has been put in the Library. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 169:


Page 3, line 37, at beginning insert ("by the end of the period of 32 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed,").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I should declare an interest. Apart from being a member of the Ramblers' Association and similar organisations, I am a vice-president of the Council for National Parks and a member of the north-west regional committee of the National Trust.

I hope that it will be in the interests of the Committee, and that the Committee will give me leave, if, in moving Amendment No. 169, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 170, 172 and 195.

There is real concern lest the process for preparing maps proves to be unacceptably protracted. The amendments address this danger. Of course it is essential to get the maps right, but the time-scales proposed in these amendments give ample space for this. It is worth remembering that the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 set up a similar scheme for the production of a definitive map of public rights of way. It was intended that the process should take about five years but, in the end, some surveying authorities took upwards of 20 or 30 years.

Without a timetable, the production of even the draft map as the basis for representations as stipulated in Clause 5 will be open ended and could once more take far too long. It may be years before the freedom to walk, which we are debating, is in some cases actually enjoyed. The amendments seek, therefore, to establish a timetable for the first two stages of the three-stage process which it is envisaged will produce the conclusive map showing where the public can in fact walk. In other words, the amendments deal with the situation up to the issuing of the provisional map.

I should emphasise that once a provisional map is published, people interested in land will then have the opportunity to object to the inclusion of land on the map. That is right and fair. However, it is clearly not possible to set a time limit on the outcome of those objections because this will depend on the speed at which the appeal procedure moves. This in turn will depend on many factors, such as the number of adjudicators and the complexity of the issues. It is

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therefore, I recognise, not practical to set a deadline for this part of the process or to set a final date for the publication of the conclusive map. These amendments concentrate on a time discipline for the preliminary stages.

The proposals in these amendments were raised in the deliberations in the other place and were rejected on the ground that they were unnecessary. The argument, as I understand it, was that the Secretary of State had the power under Section 3(1) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to order a relevant countryside body to produce the map by a given date. However, on the basis of counsel's opinion given to the Ramblers' Association, it seems that the ministerial response may not have been well-founded.

There is real concern lest the Secretary of State does not in fact have this power, lest his powers are general in nature, and that instructions on a particular map would be too specific. It is not really enough to be told that the Government believe that the Minister has the power. Either he has that power or he does not.

The amendments do, therefore, I submit, strengthen the purpose of the Bill. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to agree. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees: As Amendment No. 107 is also being spoken to, I must point out that, if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 171.

4.45 a.m.

Baroness Gale: The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has already spoken on the reasoning behind the amendments; namely, to ensure that a timetable is in place for the mapping of open land where none presently exists. Until the maps are produced, large areas of open land will remain closed, so it is a matter of grave concern that the process could be protracted and the Bill contains no provision to ensure that the process will be treated with urgency. If there is no timetable, even the production of the draft maps could be open-ended. There is a possibility that it could take several years before there is access to, or the freedom to walk over, much of the open countryside in England and Wales.

As my noble friend Lord Judd said, the amendments seek to set out a timetable for the first two of the three stages which will lead to the preparation and publication of conclusive maps showing where the public can walk. After the publication of the provisional maps, we shall reach stage three: the appeal process. It is difficult to set a timetable for this process because of the differing nature of the appeals; but at least if the draft and provisional mapping can be within the statutory time limits, this will safeguard against the kind of delays experienced in the past.

Baroness Byford: I support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in raising this issue. At Second Reading and again in Committee, I, too, raised the matter because I could see it continuing and being unsatisfactory. I pressed the Minister on one or two points on which he might reflect in responding to this amendment.

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My purpose clause highlighted the problem. As I said, the general public believe that they will have access once the Bill completes its passage. The reason for the purpose clause was not to be difficult, as some people suggested, but to highlight the problem. The Minister took the matter on board and said that he hoped to return with a proposal and was well aware of the difficulties that were caused.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has put his finger on the pulse. Perhaps I may pick up on three or four issues that he has raised. The first relates to the timetable. We have spoken about the timetable in relation to an amendment that we have just debated. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has acknowledged that even the pilot timetable has already slipped, which is worrying, because it will obviously have a bearing on the others.

The second issue is the whole question of costings, about which I should like to hear more--as, I suspect, would other noble Lords. It is a very big project that is being undertaken. What we should like to know is how much money has been put aside for the project and how much it is anticipated will be needed; also, perhaps the Minister can give a little more direction on the timetable--I know that it is difficult for him, but the amendments require that.

I should like to add a further point. Although the noble Lord, Lord Judd, put his finger on the pulse, I do not think that he asked for any inclusion of penalties if these requirements are not complied with. I wonder whether that is a matter that the noble Lord considered but then decided against. Indeed, perhaps this is something that the Minister and his team have not even considered. It is all very well talking in genuine terms about the need and urgency for this to be done if there is no penalty clause applicable. If we were in business, I suspect that every project would have a back-up proviso so that if certain things were not completed by such and such a date the project would be penalised. As far as I can see, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, do not include that provision. Indeed, from the way that the noble Lord is nodding his head, I believe that that is correct. Perhaps he may like to comment on that point.

I hope that the Minister will not say that these amendments are unnecessary in his response. I support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I believe that they are necessary amendments. If we look at what has happened over the years as regards rights of way, even though money has been put aside to enable them to be brought up to date we can see that the process is years behind. It is taking such a long time to catch up. These requirements are so important to the actual success of the legislation. Access will not happen until such maps are produced.

There is a great deal of urgency here, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, has just said that she is anxious that access and freedom to walk are made available as soon as possible. We all wish it to be thus. However, the nitty gritty has to be there. The noble Lord's

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amendments highlight the fact that some of us still have reservations in that respect. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Lord Greaves: The amendments of the noble Lord get to the heart of one of the issues about which many of us are worried: if and when this legislation becomes law, how soon will it be before the access provisions come into effect? As the noble Baroness said, we all know that many people have high expectations of being able to walk in places where they cannot walk at present. When responding to the previous amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, referred to the paper on mapping that went to the National Countryside Access Forum on 26th September last. That paper includes a suggested timetable for mapping that, as I read it, is in accord with the kind of timetable proposed in these amendments.

Can the Minister tell us whether the Government support the proposed timetable that was sent to the forum in that paper? Do they think that it is practical? If they do, and if it is in accord with the proposed amendments, will they accept the noble Lord's amendments and put those proposals on a statutory basis? In particular, the paper refers to draft maps in the two pilot areas, which are very large areas in the South East and in what is called the "North West", although it is a great chunk of the North of England and includes much of the Pennines on both sides. It suggests that the draft maps for those pilot areas could be published as early as February 2002. Can the noble Lord say whether that is in line with the Government's thinking? Do they seriously think that we might actually get the final maps and the access situation set up towards the end of 2002? If that is possible, it is a great deal earlier than many of us had expected.

We ask the Minister to consider such matters most carefully, especially those relating to the programming and the timetabling of the mapping, as well as the production of firm timetables. Perhaps he can bring forward a story on Report that we can all believe as to what will happen and when.


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