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Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 11 which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. In doing so I speak also to Amendment No. 13 which stands in my name. The grouping follows the usual mysterious practices of the House. However, I accept that and I shall speak to the two amendments.
The amendment which stands in my name reflects to a considerable degree an amendment which was put forward at an earlier stage by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. However, it has two important differences. First, it does not make reference to by-laws. Secondly, it inserts quite deliberately after the requirement for the access authority to take steps the words "if any".
The point of Amendment No. 13 is one which has already featured in our debates this evening in relation to Amendment No. 3 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. However, the way in which I approach it in this amendment is different. The substance of the issue, however, is the same. While we have established in the Bill the right to roam and the few necessary conditions for the exercise of that right in a proper balance with the interests of owners, occupiers and the land itself, we all know that in general this right will be exercised responsibly to the benefit of the public.
However, there is genuine concern about the few cases which will probably occur where someone repeatedly and persistently does not respect the conditions, for example, keeping a dog on a lead in the vicinity of livestock and so on. The question is: what is to be done in those circumstances? Are the current sanctions sufficient? They may be in the case of criminal law sanctions, but they will not apply in all cases. There will not always be by-laws. We have just passed Clause 17 which does not lay an absolute duty on the access authorities to make by-laws. They may make them but in some cases they certainly will not. Therefore the criminal law will not apply in all these cases and the only other sanction is the temporary banishment for 72 hours. Amendment No. 13 puts a duty on the access authority to act--it does not have to take steps but it is possible for it to do so--to prevent repetition of persistent failure to comply with the conditions of access.
I know that there are other possibilities in this regard such as the criminal law or injunctions. However, since I have been a Member of the House of Lords I have been much struck by the realisation that we are not a typical cross-section of the public. We in this House seem to believe that it is easy to apply to the criminal law and to take out an injunction. None of my friends will touch the criminal law if they can help it and nothing in the world will induce them to take out an injunction. Placing an obligaton on the access authority would be more effective than leaving it to an individual occupier who would probably suffer quite a lot rather than become involved in this morass. That is the purpose of the amendment.
Finally, the amendment does not create any new criminal offence. It is, therefore, quite different from the earlier proposal from the noble Earl, Lord Peel. And it does not criminalise trespass. So none of the objections to the noble Earl's amendment--I noted them carefully--arises in relation to Amendment No. 13.
Lord Judd: My Lords, when the Minister replies, I hope that he will take this final opportunity to dispel the real anxieties which exist with regard to Amendment No. 11. It is clear that, for example, on National Trust land, in national parks and so on, the absence of wardens could lead to a rapid deterioration of amenities available to the public. There is an issue here. After all our deliberations, anxiety remains about the apparent contradiction in the Bill as drafted. Clause 18 refers to the possibility that the appointment of a warden may be seen as necessary by the local authority; but it then provides that the local authority may respond to that necessity. It might be argued that if it did not respond to that necessity it would be guilty of a dereliction of responsibility. There seems to be a contradiction. In dealing with the amendment, I hope that my noble friend will be able to dispel the anxiety.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, puts clearly the difficulty. Anxiety has been expressed on all sides of the House on Report. Since then I considered carefully the issues surrounding the amendment and, in the light of those discussions, asked organisations for their views.
Some may believe that the Association of National Parks Authorities is exceptional because it has money dedicated to the organising of open access land. Nevertheless, its view is valid because it has the most experience of managing such land. It believes that the consensual approach that the local access forums will bring is right. The association also considers that each local access forum will have to decide on the appointment of wardens because, as we explained on Report, there are several different approaches. People may be appointed for the purpose; or agreements may be made with voluntary sector people or landowners.
I do not want to diminish the seriousness with which these Benches regard the proper management of open access land. However, we believe that at the end of the day those fine judgments on the use of resources must be left to local authorities. In a year when local authority grants have been increased somewhat, it may be easier to propose such an amendment. But should resources become tight, with similar budget cuts to those experienced by most counties over the past decade, local authorities alone will have to choose whether they put their resources into management of the countryside. That will be the choice of their voters in the area.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the Liberal Party seems able to find a difficulty for every solution. From what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said it appears that she will not support either amendment.
Amendment No. 11, moved so well by my noble friend Lady Byford, is a mild proposal. While it gives a local authority immense discretion, it gives a push in the right direction: to set up a warden or ranger service. In almost every other organisation in a similar position--it may be the Forestry Commission, a wildlife trust or a national park--rangers, wardens or gamekeepers are present, not in numbers or in a provocative way, but to help to manage the land and ensure that people behave in a reasonable way. Even private estates are prepared to employ a ranger so that visitors can be conducted around the estate, enabling children from the country and urban areas to understand how farms and estates work in the countryside. That can be done without enormous expense to the bodies involved. If we listen to the Chancellor, this country seems to be awash with money. Therefore, money spent on improving such areas--we are keen to see them improved--would be well spent.
I hope that the Minister will support Amendment No. 11, which is so mildly worded and encouraging in its result, and Amendment No. 13. Both amendments demonstrate the spirit that we want to see invoked. It will be a pity if the noble Lord allows this opportunity to pass.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 11. I am not convinced by the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Voting for wardens for access land is not analogous to wanting good schools and social services. A large
I agree that the amendment is modest. I cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to say that every access authority shall take such steps--possibly by the appointment of wardens. The cost may not be great. As has been said in debate, much of the work could be done by people who carry out the work enthusiastically, efficiently and effectively but not simply at the whim of the local electorate. That is a dangerous position to leave ourselves in. I hope the Minister will recognise the need to impose some obligation on the access authority.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have already provided powers for local authorities and said that we require them to carry out their duties in respect of information. One of their powers involves the appointment of wardens. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that, like me, she does not regard wardens primarily as enforcement officers, but the amendment seems to cast them in that role.
The amendment is deceptively modest, because as well as shifting from a power to a duty, it gives the impression that the access authorities would be responsible, via wardens or otherwise, for the management and enforcement of access land. We cannot expect every piece of access land to be policed by wardens.
We have said that we will provide funding. We broadly agree with the Local Government Association's estimate of the cost, including the cost of wardening. We have given the power to local authorities and placed the access regime in their hands. I have often heard the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, argue that local authorities should be able to choose how they spend their own money. I had thought that it was the prevailing wisdom in all three main parties that we should move further in that direction, not go in the opposite direction.
The amendment would inevitably lead to ring-fencing. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford explicitly called for that. I do not accept that argument. The amendment would be damaging to general local authority finance and would be misleading about the exact responsibilities of access authorities. We expect access authorities to take their duties seriously and we hope that they will appoint significant numbers of wardens, particularly in the honeypot areas, but also in many other places. The amendment would impose too great a burden on local authorities, constrain their action too much and give the wrong impression as to their duties.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, appeared not to be completely satisfied with the answer given on Report by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. My noble friend said that, under the Local Government Act, authorities already have powers to pursue civil actions.
Moreover, his amendment implies, although he sought to deny it, that local authorities would need to seek to enforce all cases of trespass arising under Part I. It is not our intention to force local authorities to take it upon themselves to pursue every relatively minor case of trespass at the behest of the landowner or anyone else.
The amendment would also give wardens or the agents of authorities the power to remove somebody from access land where they had been in breach of a restriction. That power is not conferred directly by the Bill, but only as a result of landowners giving wardens such authority. Surely that is the right balance to avoid the potential for conflict between landowners and the access authority; otherwise, wardens could try to remove people from access land even though the landowner had invited them on. That is a recipe for confusion and conflict.
I therefore hope that the noble Lord recognises that the amendment would create more problems than it resolved and that they will not pursue it. I strongly oppose Amendment No. 11, despite the noble Baroness's good intentions and despite the fact that we all agree that local authorities should appoint wardens when appropriate and make sure that they are properly serviced.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am sure the Minister is not surprised that I am not excited by his response. I have already acknowledged his efforts in trying to resolve the situation, but, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said, the amendment would not insist that a local authority had wardens. It would merely require an authority to,
The amendment does not call for ring-fencing. If the Bill is to work successfully, there should be wardens available to be put in place if they are needed. The amendment would merely give directions on that.
The Government do not appear to be worried about wardens. The Minister accepted that wardens might be necessary in some areas, but he does not think that provision should be made for them in the Bill. We simply disagree on that and I cannot do anything about it.
If some access areas run into difficulties and do not appoint wardens, who will pick up the difficulties? I assume that it will be up to the land managers, land workers and farmers to cope with something for which the Government should make provision. I do not
We have reached an impasse. Two days ago I expressed the hope that we would move beyond it, but I am no happier than I was before. I hope that on this occasion the Liberals will have the courage of their convictions and join us in the voting Lobby.
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