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Baroness Young: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in such matters it is most important to take scientific advice and to listen with great care to what such a committee, under a most distinguished chairman, says rather than allowing many prejudices either way to run away with the case?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath : My Lords, I could not agree more. An important role of the FSA is to look at

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all the robust evidence and information that are available and to provide advice to Ministers and, importantly, to the general public. It is worth referring to the report of your Lordships' Select Committee which considered organic farming and the EU, published in July last year. It emphasised that the organic label certifies that a product has been produced in a particular way but that it is no guarantee that it has certain desirable qualities. In other words, the report states that organic standards are based on the method of production and not on the characteristics of the finished product. That report is consistent with advice recently given by the FSA.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the same report clearly highlighted the benefits to the countryside, which is one of the reasons why the Government continue to expand their grant aiding of the organic sector, and the substantial animal welfare benefits which result from the higher standards required by organic producers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not disagree. We must draw a distinction between what one might describe as the environmental factors in relation to organic farming and the issues which are the responsibility of the FSA. The FSA is concerned with safety issues and it reported on those issues.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, as the Minister said that the information available is insufficient to distinguish between conventional and non-conventional food production, what research is being undertaken and has the amount of such research been increased? Secondly, given that standards vary within the UK and between different shops, there is no clarity in our rules and regulations, so will the Government tighten up the rules relating to the conversion from conventional to organic farming because standards abroad are also different from those set by them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the FSA has a research programme and I understand that the budget for 2000-01 is £21 million. Within that we would expect the agency to prioritise and to ensure that where the need for research is identified, such research can be commissioned and effectively delivered. The agency can also undertake literature reviews and surveys of other research, which is what it has done in this case.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, does the Minister share the anxieties of a great many people that the description "organic" as applied to imported food is, to put it politely, highly questionable?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that all organic food production within the European Union must comply with standards laid down by the regulations to which I referred in a previous response. Countries outside the European Union can apply to be on a list of those which are judged to have standards of organic food

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production equivalent to those in the EU. Six countries are currently on that list: Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Israel, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill

3 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hayman, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the order of commitment of 19th July be discharged and that the Bill be committed to a Grand Committee.--(Lord Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 301:


    After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

ACCESS LAND MANAGEMENT STRATEGY

(" .--(1) Every access authority shall, within five years after the commencement of this section prepare and publish a plan, to be known as an access land management strategy, containing--
(a) the authority's assessment of the adequacy of the provision made in relation to each of the matters specified in subsection (2) and of any need for changes in that provision,
(b) a statement of the action they propose to take for the management of access land in their area, and for securing that any such land is managed without detriment to that land or any person interested in that land, and
(c) such other material as the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) may direct.
(2) The matters referred to in subsection (1)(a) are--
(a) fire management,
(b) byelaws,
(c) access points,
(d) warden services,
(e) regimes for closures and restrictions,
(f) the statutory map of access land,
(g) signs, notices and other forms of information provided in relation to access land,
(h) public transport services in relation to access land,
(i) any other matters that may be specified in regulations.").

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The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 301 is concerned with management. There are many issues related to the right to access which are an integral component part of managing that right. Management is the key to providing access to the public which does not unduly impose on land management interests, diminish the enjoyment of access rights by the public or damage the environment, including the flora and fauna, of access land. For management of access to work effectively for all concerned it must be proactive, not reactive. It is on that basis that successful public access to the countryside can currently be found.

Within the Bill numerous obligations are placed on local authorities, but there is no provision to encourage a proactive approach to ensure that the responsibilities are regularly reviewed to determine the success of their application. This amendment seeks to include a requirement that an authority must prepare a review of the Bill's provisions and the overall management of access in its specific area. Much like the obligation in Clause 56 in Part II for the production of rights of way improvement plans, an access land management strategy (ALMS) aims to make local authorities responsible for the operation of the right of access and to check that the access available meets the expectations of land managers, users and the environment.

Access land management strategies are already carried out in national parks. National park authorities see the need for access to be managed effectively and use management plans as a tool to achieve that. All local authorities should also undertake management plans where they have access land in their locality. How else will access land be managed efficiently and effectively? ALMS would be a practical tool to parallel strategic planning and review work to be undertaken in relation to rights of way.

At this Dispatch Box I have frequently pressed the Government on management issues when speaking to various amendments to this part of the Bill. I believe that the Government have a good understanding of that. This amendment seeks to ensure that we do not end up with an excellent Bill which has the right balance but no means to guarantee that the restrictions, privileges, access or various instruments contained in the legislation are carried out. I believe that this is a sensible amendment which, if accepted by the Government, will be a valuable fallback and confidence-building measure for all concerned with access to the countryside. I beg to move.

Earl Peel: I attach a great deal of importance to the amendment. Our deliberations on the Bill so far have shown the real possibility of major practical difficulties in trying to implement the legislation. The number of amendments that we have already debated, and the occasions on which the Government must return to unresolved issues at Report stage, are testament to that fact. The mapping process will, at the very least, provide an interesting challenge to the access authorities. I believe that that would be much more straightforward if at Report stage the Government tabled an amendment similar to that

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moved by my noble friend Lord Caithness which placed a duty on the Countryside Agency to define moorland, heath, down and all other access areas.

My view, which I believe is shared by many other Members of the Committee, is that the access provisions are ill-considered and there remain a number of important unresolved issues. For example, will there be access points? What information will they provide? How will the general public inform themselves about the restrictions, by-laws and regulations in existence? Will the public, landowners and managers have confidence in the system? Who knows? All of those matters must be resolved when the provisions of the legislation are implemented. I should like to know just how effective the closure orders under Clauses 21 to 24 are likely to be in protecting the management interests of those who have the responsibility for looking after the land. Furthermore, under the Bill there is no duty on an access authority to employ wardens or produce by-laws. We have yet to discover how efficient and effective the closure orders will be.

Some access authorities may wish to escape with the bare minimum of responsibilities through either a lack of funds or, frankly, commitment. Consequently, owners and users, like access authorities, may be dissatisfied with the practical workings of Part I. I believe that this amendment, which would place a duty on each access authority to publish an access land management strategy, makes complete sense and should be welcomed by all interested parties. There is no doubt that the provisions of Part I will have enormous implications for many people and the land in question. Under Part II there is a requirement on local authorities to prepare rights of way improvement plans. Therefore, it is quite logical that a parallel duty should be placed on access authorities under Part I.

This Bill enters new territory and it is inevitable that there will be difficulties and teething problems. Opportunities for access authorities formally to get together and learn from their experience will be helpful. If my noble friend's amendment is accepted, it will provide a real opportunity for managers of land and those who exercise the new rights of access to express their views and determine whether the legislation works effectively. This amendment makes total sense and I sincerely hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.


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