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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Before we become too definite about the timetable and the penalties for not adhering to it, we should press the Minister to say a little more about the costs involved. I am sure that the Countryside Agency is capable of adhering to the timetable and that it can undertake the job rapidly if it has sufficient resources. What resources has it been given to undertake the mapping? Does the Countryside Agency consider those resources adequate? I should not like to see the other areas which the Countryside Agency is responsible for funding--many of which are crucial to rural areas--being robbed in order to implement a timetable. We all agree that the timetable is important, but if we specify that on the face of the Bill we must ensure that adequate resources are available to meet it without taking resources away from community councils, village halls and so on.

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5 a.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am conscious of the importance which Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber attach to this issue. I am also conscious that there is a perception outside the Chamber that somehow when the Bill receives Royal Assent all the areas of open land we are discussing will become accessible by magic to walkers. However, the Committee is aware that that is not, and could not be, the case. I do not think that a purpose clause would help in that regard. Nevertheless, the motivation behind the purpose clause, which the Government share, is admirable.

Chapter I of the Bill places duties on the countryside bodies to produce draft maps of open country and registered common land, and to proceed, following extensive consultation, to the publication of provisional and then conclusive maps. We expect the countryside bodies to make the best possible progress in undertaking those duties, and we are confident that they will do so. I shall attempt to put some flesh on what I appreciate may appear a vague statement. Both the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales have undertaken research in preparation for the duties which will be imposed upon them. The Countryside Agency is shortly to let a contract for mapping of open country in two pilot areas in the South East and the North West. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the north west is widely drawn. The CCW has already undertaken pilot consultation exercises on draft maps. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that there has been some delay in the invitation to tender. That is entirely due to the need to readvertise the contract in the European journal. However, we are confident that the time that has been lost will be made up.

The important point to make is that the countryside bodies are entirely supportive of the new responsibilities which we shall place upon them. They are ready and willing to proceed as quickly as possible. Neither we nor they want any foot dragging or endless delays in the implementation of the statutory right of access. There are, however, two reasons why we think that there will not be endless delays.

First, the Countryside Agency works to an agenda which is agreed every year with the Secretary of State for the Environment in its corporate plan. In considering the agency's corporate plan, we shall be looking for evidence of a firm commitment to achieving a rapid implementation of the agency's duties under this legislation, and a proper allocation of resources. This is not a matter between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Countryside Agency. Public service agreements which the Treasury imposes on all departments require that the DETR should in turn impose agreements on the Countryside Agency. That is the case.

Secondly, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales have a power of direction over the countryside bodies' actions under Section 3(1) of the 1949 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to

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the fact that the Ramblers' Association has received counsel's opinion to the effect that the powers of direction are only general powers; and he doubted whether that was adequate for the purpose. We think that it is adequate for the purpose, if necessary to give a higher priority to mapping from mapping in general. We do not think that it would be necessary, and we recognise that it would not be lawful, to give directions for the speeding up of the production of individual maps. We believe that the general power which has been identified is sufficient for the purpose.

Fears have been expressed that there would be the kind of delays which have undoubtedly been seen with definitive maps of rights of way. Again, we have to consider the differences between right of way mapping and the mapping to which we refer here. Definitive maps for rights of way were drawn up by a large number of highway authorities, whereas open country maps will be drawn up by national countryside bodies which can be expected to have a greater control over the timetable, assuming, as they are, that they are fully committed to the task.

The other problem with definitive maps of rights of way was that they involved resolution of disputes about existing rights of way. That was complex and caused delays. In that respect, we think that mapping of open country would be more straightforward.

I was asked about the total cost of the mapping contract. We think that it will be of the order of £3 million to £5 million spread fairly evenly over the period 2000 to 2003. If more information can be made available--I appreciate the force of the demand for reassurance on this point--I shall write to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and ensure that my letter is placed in the Library of the House.

In terms of timing, our expectation is that a statutory right of access to open country and registered common land will be implemented within five years of Royal Assent. However, as has been recognised, Clause 1(1)(b) and (1)(d) of the Bill allow the Government to commence the right of access over registered common land and mountain land ahead of the production of maps having regard to the known extent of both of these categories of land. If we adopted that fast-track approach, we would look to the countryside bodies to provide guidance about the location and extent of registered common land to help the public in determining where they might or might not walk during this transitional phase. We think a fast track could deliver a statutory right of access to these limited categories of land as early as two years after Royal Assent.

I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Judd, wants to codify these expectations within the statutory timetable that he sets out in the amendments. However, in practice any slippage will not be attributable to a lack of will but to practical difficulties. Under these circumstances, surely the best way to influence the countryside bodies would be by discussion and negotiation, with the possibility of direction should all else fail. Including a timetable on the face of the Bill would do nothing to achieve the

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resolution of practical problems; nor is it clear what would happen were the countryside bodies to fail to adhere to the timetable set for them. For that reason I am not sympathetic to the idea of penalties on the countryside bodies. After all, penalties would have to come out of their budgets and their budgets will be used for the mapping process unless one penalises individual officials of the Countryside Agency. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, suggests that.

Indeed, imposing a statutory timetable could result in a worse outcome. The countryside bodies could end up being obliged to issue "conclusive" maps that were known to contain severe defects because of inadequate consultation, but those maps would give rise to a statutory right of access for up to 10 years. Surely it is better to get it right, relying on the authority that we have over the countryside bodies and on their known good will, rather than adopt the draconian timetables proposed in the amendments.

Lord Greaves: Will the Minister respond to my questions about the Countryside Agency document that went to the national access forum last week? It includes suggested targets of July next year for the draft maps for the North-West and the South-East and the following January for provisional maps, with the hope that the conclusive maps will be produced before the end of 2002. Do the Government associate themselves with those targets and do they believe that they are achievable in those two pilot areas?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That seems to conflict with what I have just said. I said that I expected that the process would be completed within five years. I recognise that that period will not give pleasure to anybody who is keen for the legislation to be implemented as rapidly as possible.

Lord Greaves: I am sorry to interrupt, but the point is that if those two pilot areas are to inform the rest of the process, the work there has to be carried out before the process substantially starts in the rest of the country. That is how I understand the document. If the work in the rest of the country is to be finished within five years, work in the pilot areas has to be finished substantially earlier than that. The conclusive map date for the pilot areas seems to have a great bearing on whether the whole operation will be possible within five years.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I understand that point. I have the document in front of me as well. Paragraph 15 says that the time period for the two pilot areas--which, as the noble Lord says, are very extensive--is up to month 22. That is consistent with the five-year deadline that I set for the process throughout the country. I do not know whether anything useful can be done as interim results from the pilot areas come in. That is a more detailed issue of procedure. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to write to him about it.

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