Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Byford: My Lords, it is important that the amendment is accepted by the Government. Over the past 40 years attempts have been made to broaden access to the countryside. Those attempts have been fairly successful, despite the fact that many of the jobs given to local authorities, both under the 1949 and the 1981 Acts, have not been completed, not through any lack of desire but mainly for lack of adequate funding.

I have serious concerns about the funding for the Bill, especially as I feel that a well trained and qualified warden force will be essential to ensure that its provisions are observed by walkers and others. Even now the Government could reduce the workload significantly by removing some of the demands which will inevitably result following the decision to allow dogs to roam freely on access land. As the noble Viscount mentioned, the amendment puts a duty on the authority to appoint wardens where it considers it is "necessary" or "expedient". I hope that the Government will have regard to those two words.

The Local Government Association, which I am sure has written to many noble Lords, is particularly concerned about the funding of many aspects of the Bill. One such aspect is the provision of wardens. Perhaps I may quote from the Local Government Association's briefing:

I could not put it better.

A number of individuals and well-known organisations have been in contact with Members of this House, particularly with regard to dogs. The wardening responsibilities in the Bill will reflect on dogs. During debates on earlier amendments we discussed the whole question of controlling dogs, particularly in areas such asthe Peak District National Park. We heard that dogs are kept on leads but are let off as soon as someone is around the corner. Difficulties then occur. As our debates have proceeded we have done our best to try to show the Government what needs to be done to ensure that the Bill works correctly. I do not know about other noble Lords but up to this point I certainly have had no communications asking me to support access for dogs. Indeed, there was no such proposal in the manifesto.

Wardening is crucial to the success of the Bill. Last week the House decided that night-time access will not be banned. As a result people will be wandering around in the dark and may get into difficulties. We also have the spectre of dogs not being sufficiently restricted and the consequent damage to livestock, wild fowl and wildlife. It is important that we have

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1430

adequate wardening services. It should not be a matter of discretion. We believe that wardens should be appointed where it is necessary or expedient.

The Bill provides no criminal sanction for trespass and few restrictions on dogs. There is no real statutory requirement for the appointment of wardens. We want people to enjoy the countryside but, sadly, as we have said in the debates on the Bill, there are those who will not have respect for the restrictions set out in the Bill. If we do not put on the face of the Bill a statutory responsibility for the provision of wardening services, the Bill's provisions will be unenforceable. In those circumstances, people who would like to enjoy the countryside will have some of their enjoyment spoilt. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will support the amendments, which are crucial if the Bill is to work. I support the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am in favour of the appointment of wardens. I can think of a number of reasons for their appointment, one of which follows on from the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I have already mentioned my honorary membership of the Kennel Club, although I should point out that I am expressing my own opinion and not, as far as I know, that of the club. I take the view that the proportion of responsible dog owners is much higher today than used to be the case. Last week I spelt out the reasons for that. Wardens could be useful in identifying, discouraging and deterring the minority of people who do not control their dogs properly. That would be a very good thing. It might persuade the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench that dogs are not necessarily vile and evil and that they are very good, not least in promoting human health. I would be a good deal less fit if I did not walk my dogs.

I have one question for my noble friend the Minister. I trust that it will not be one he does not like. Last week I suggested that the owner or occupier should be able to give permission to a responsible dog owner to let his dog off the lead for the purposes of training. My noble friend said that there was no need for the amendment because the agreement of the owner or occupier could be given tacitly or otherwise. In a situation where the owner had been given tacit approval by the owner or occupier, the warden would have to be sure of the position before he became enraged by the owner letting loose his dog. Can my noble friend tell me how the warden should be informed that the dog owner has the tacit permission of the owner or occupier to train his dog to come when he lets if off the lead and to stay when it is so ordered?

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 92, which stands in my name. There is nothing I need add after what has been said today and what was said in Committee. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I have rephrased the amendment to take account of comments made by noble Lords. I do not think that there is much between the noble Viscount's Amendment No. 91 and my

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1431

Amendment No. 92. I think that it is very courteous of us to give the Government a choice of which one to accept.

Earl Peel: My Lords, perhaps I may offer the Minister another choice in speaking to Amendment No. 93, which stands in my name. When in Committee we discussed the issue of wardens, the Government seemed to be somewhat uncertain as to how they would resolve the matter. It was my impression that the Government were basically sympathetic to the principle of having wardens wherever it was desirable to have wardens but felt constrained by the likely financial implications. The argument was successfully made from all sides of the Chamber that if the authority considered it necessary or expedient to appoint wardens, it should be required to do so. It would be a dereliction of duty on behalf of the access authority to decide that wardens were needed and then not to appoint them.

It is worth pointing out that wardens do not need to be employed full-time by the authority. They could be part-time or they could be volunteers. That could go some way towards reducing the resource implications. However, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, if the Bill is to work and we are to reduce conflict, wardens will have an extremely important role as the interface between those who wish to come on to the land and enjoy access and the owners and occupiers who are responsible for the management of that land. My amendment simply requires that an access authority must appoint wardens once it has determined how many are needed.It is somewhat unsatisfactory to give the access authority the duty to determine the number of wardens but then no duty to appoint them.

Having said that, there is not a great deal between my amendment and the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. I would be happy with any of the amendments. I sincerely hope that the Government will look sympathetically on them.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I wish to make only a brief intervention. The warden system will be crucial to the impact of the Bill. We have heard about their training and so on. A warden's salary and the cost of any transport he will require will come to about £20,000 a year. But will access authorities be able to offer that kind of money? An access authority may need several wardens. If the power to appoint wardens is only discretionary, one can well see that a number of wardens will disappear like snow off a dike when the authority starts looking at the salary and transport implications of financing wardens, who will be crucial to the working of the Bill's provisions.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, as a landowner and manager, I know full well that when one goes to employ someone on the land one tends to get a good person if that person comes to the job knowing that it is a long-term job. The personcoming to the job will probably end up thoroughly skilled and well trained.

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1432

If the positions of wardens, whether they are part-time or full-time, are to be subject to annual budgetary reviews and thus become subject to other priorities within those budgets, then I foresee that those wardens on whom we would all wish to rely; namely, highly skilled and highly trained wardens, will probably not be forthcoming. They will apply only if they can be sure that their jobs will be long-term positions. I hope that the Minister will be able to move some way to deal with the concerns expressed by all noble Lords.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was correct to say that he has drafted his amendment very carefully. I can confirm that I find it more appealing than the other amendments which have been tabled in this grouping. The noble Viscount has taken care to leave in place sufficient flexibility to enable the access authority to choose ways other than the direct appointment of wardens to solve the problems that may arise.

On these Benches, we believe that all the difficult issues on which we have held detailed discussions in Committee--night access, dogs and the enforcement of closures and restrictions--need to be managed. For that reason, I am pleased that the noble Viscount has been able to draft an amendment which provides enough flexibility for local authorities to choose how to put in place these necessary management tasks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that the amendment, to which she has added her name, imposed a duty on local authorities to appoint wardens. However, I do not believe that the amendment does that. It imposes a duty on the authorities to take the necessary steps to manage the land, and that is why I find it more attractive than the other amendments tabled on this issue.

Access authorities operate under strict budgetary constraints and the ruling groups have to make difficult decisions at budget time. The fact that proper countryside management has already been practised by access authorities has, on occasion, been called into question by Members from all the Benches in this House. However, by putting it on to the face of the Bill, countryside management will become a valid reason for spending money. That duty will be extra to the duty of, for example, maintaining countryside roads. In the past, difficulties have arisen where countryside management has been perceived by the opposition party as an add-on--that may well have been the case as regards the county of which I am a member; namely, Somerset. Sometimes it is important to make it absolutely clear how essential is countryside management.

I have only one extremely small caveat. Indeed, when the noble Viscount introduced his amendment he said,

    "Every access authority [or] district council",

although his amendment refers to, "and district council". I query that only because I do not think that the county and national park and the district authority must take these steps. Much as we all agree on how necessary it will be to have wardens, that would

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1433

represent something of an overkill. In these days of joint working and best value, I am sure that the access authority and district could agree between them the steps to be taken. I hope that the noble Viscount will accept that, when he spoke, he referred to "or". I feel that that would provide the better solution here. The matter should be settled by agreement between the different authorities.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page