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Some years ago I was particularly impressed when driving in Sweden from Gothenburg to Stockholm. It was in the early spring just after the thaw. It was notable that every parish had schoolchildren out cleaning up the litter which had been thrown out of car windows during the winter. We should try to encourage voluntary activities of that kind. The new clause permits that kind of arrangement. Therefore, I support it.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We have considerable sympathy with the reasons behind the amendment. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are places where litter is too often found. We have considered the matter with great care. As Members of the Committee have recognised, much of the land concerned will be in relatively remote areas away from centres of population. Previous debates on amendments in the Chamber have identified that the overwhelming majority of people making use of the provisions proposed in the Bill will be responsible and respectful of the countryside.
I should like to add to the groups to which reference was made earlier those involved with youth organisations and children. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, was right to refer to the work done by young people, both informally and through the schools. I well remember a project on the foreshore at Lytham St. Anne's in Lancashire involving local primary schoolchildren who had an exhibition where they dated the length of life of the litter and the fact--as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said--that much of today's litter is non-biodegradable and lasts for a very long time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to the dangers to livestock and other noble Lords referred to mattresses, chairs and doors. This is a major problem. Perhaps we should all think back to the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is not in his place. When we were debating the subject of access to the countryside he referred to people who drove and ended
In addition, the department has been discussing with the Countryside Agency the whole question of how best to manage and encourage responsible access. One option we are actively considering is to fund the agency so that it can give grant aid direct to landowners and occupiers for work and facilities which help with that function. If there is a problem with litter in a particular area, funds could be made available through such a grant regime.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, we believe that channelling funds directly to people on the ground--for preventive measures such as wardening or litter clearance--is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. We are not attracted to the idea of local authorities having to make arrangements with owners and occupiers for the collection of litter as that could involve considerable bureaucracy and negotiation and might not be the most cost-effective solution, given the circumstances in a particular area. However, the local authority would have a responsibility to assist with the removal of litter; indeed, local authorities already cope with the removal of litter, such as that on the wayside.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Bill contains an amendment to the Local Government Act 1974, which means that the Countryside Agency and the agencies will be able to give assistance to anyone who has incurred expenditure in doing anything which helps to attain the purposes of the legislation. Clearly, the management and promotion of public access to the countryside fall within that.
We are in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that measures should be in place to prevent litter in the first place, but failing that, to provide resources for its collection. Such measures are best targeted to where problems might arise, rather than having a general requirement on all access authorities, irrespective of local needs and circumstances. Therefore, with those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will accept the Government's full commitment to
Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for that positive response. As we have heard, Members on all sides of the Committee are concerned about the problem. The Government have clearly stated that they are also concerned and that they are working on ways to solve it. I look forward to seeing what they produce at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 224 is to do with the erection and maintenance of notices. During the earlier debate about by-laws, we said how essential information boards and notices will be. We said that they should be at appropriate points, that they should not litter the countryside in an unsightly way and that they should be placed in such a way that the public are clear about their rights and responsibilities. I shall not rehearse those arguments again. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness: I am happy to support the noble Baroness on the amendment. It is a delight to me that she has now used the word "shall" rather than "may". Having voted against "shall" only a few minutes ago, I shall not be churlish and go back to "may". I shall continue to support her.
Lord Marlesford: I oppose the amendment for the reasons I gave earlier. I do not want to see a plethora of signs. I would much rather leave it to the discretion of local authorities to decide whether it may be necessary to put up some signs. If in due course the Act imposes an obligation to put up signs, I suspect that a good many unnecessary and undesirable signs will be put up. That is why I would much rather leave the Bill as it is presently drafted.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I had understood that Amendments Nos. 227 and 229 to 231 were grouped with this amendment. I thought that it would be preferable to debate the amendments together. Those amendments are very much on the same theme.
It may not be politically correct but I agree once again with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford--although this time it is against his colleagues. It is right that there should be signs and notices where appropriate to ensure that the public are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is also right that we should give careful thought to how they should be provided for. But if we were to accept any of the amendments, we would be in danger of promoting a landscape littered with signs.
Perhaps I may deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 225 and 224. Amendment No. 225 imposes a duty on authorities to provide notices without any indication of where to provide notices or when they might know that they had fulfilled their duty. They might find it quite difficult to defend themselves against pressure to provide notices in inappropriate places. Amendment No. 224 would allow access authorities rather more discretion in deciding where and when to erect notices. We would expect this to be one of the matters on which local access forums advise. We shall be bringing forward appropriate amendments to deal with that. The amendment refers to "appropriate points". Our concern would be the scope for litigation as to whether or not it was an appropriate point.
Amendments Nos. 227, 229, 230 and 231 would run the risk of putting an unmanageable burden on the authorities. They might find themselves obliged to erect a small forest of signs. That would be a blight on the landscape and it would also cost a good deal of money. I am not suggesting that the views and advice of landowners should be overlooked by authorities in deciding where notices should be provided. I would expect the authorities to consult as fully as practicable on matters of local concern. I see a role for local access forums in advising on these matters. But, ultimately, it is right for local authorities to use their discretion in assessing where and when notices are required. Those authorities that have already had experience of providing notices relating to public access may well be in a position to offer good practice for others to follow.