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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness, but some of my colleagues on these Benches are somewhat concerned. I am sure that the noble Baroness did not mean to sound offensive. Therefore, I am not suggesting that she did. But the number of people who spoke in this debate reflects the tremendous experience and expertise that is to be found among those on the Benches behind me.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, if the noble Baroness had allowed me to reach the end of the sentence, she would have heard me say that that fact gave a particular flavour to the debate and that I was particularly not being pejorative. However, it is a matter of note: we had a different mix of speakers today from that which we have been accustomed to hear on other matters--
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that all these Dukes, Earls, and so forth, are the ones who have actually been elected to the House, as opposed to the noble Baroness, and all those on the other side, who have not been?
The other point I was about to make on the mix of speakers is also notable. I have in mind the number of noble Lords who referred to their own experience of enjoyment of the countryside; for example, walking in the countryside. Indeed--this is the end of my paragraph and I hope the noble Baroness will agree, when I reach the end, that I have given it some balance--it shows that we have produced an interesting cross-section and that this House has something to contribute to the debate.
The Bill is called a "countryside Bill". I believe that that has raised expectations about its scope which are, inevitably, not satisfied. We are awaiting the rural White Paper and we should recognise that this is a relatively narrow Bill. I do not believe that it should be attacked on the ground that it does not cover every countryside matter; nor should we fail to support it because it does not address what I recognise are the very real issues of crisis in the rural economy.
The Bill is about rights and responsibilities and raises very interesting philosophical questions. It is a notable point in the development of British society--or English and Welsh society, at any rate, as it does not extend to Scotland. I agree with other speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that the Welsh aspects should have been left to the National Assembly for Wales, which has been properly devolved.
I turn to the question of access. As the Minister said, this is not about the right to roam; it is about managed access. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, one needs to experience the countryside in order to understand it. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer talked about the Bill building on the National Parks movement. I believe that the legislation rightly seeks a balance of interests of the urban and rural populations. The balance that we seek requires management. I agree with many of the comments that have been made about dogs and about closures. I regard taking 28 days as if weekends do not count as completely batty. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and other speakers about the proposal for a 40-day period.
I was interested in the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, to the effect of set-aside and, indeed, have begun to wonder whether the Bill could in some way disqualify land from subsidy. I should like to receive some reassurances on that issue at a later stage. We shall need to consider the definitions of "livestock" and "access land".
There has been much debate about information, education and a country code. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer talked of the need for local fora and the need for access to information. I believe that the issue is less about drawing up a code than about enforcement. I share the concerns that have been expressed about enforcement and about sanctions, including the exclusion from a locality until midnight on the day when one has committed an offence. I do not believe that that constitutes any real sanction at all.
One cannot criticise offenders too much if the restrictions are not clear. I agree with the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, on the need for statutory access points. I also agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on the need for clarity and for avoiding confusion, particularly if dogs are sometimes to be allowed to be off the leash but at other times must be on it.
Some noble Lords seemed to take the view that those who will be allowed access through the Bill will instantly become vandals. I take a less pessimistic view. It seems to me that if people are inclined to behave badly, they will cause damage now without any effective sanction.
The issue of night access made me pause when I read the provisions of the Bill. At first I thought that it would be wrong to allow night access. However, I have been persuaded by comments made during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, mentioned the night sky. My noble friend Lord Addington rightly pointed out that there should be access to footpaths at all times. It is clear that many noble Lords agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves as regards the need for local by-laws on this and other matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, said that urban parks close at night to reduce the incidence of crime. I believe that that crime is often related to drugs. It seems to me unlikely that criminals would travel deep into the countryside to pursue such activity.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I do not know whether the laughter that I hear from behind me is cynical or not. The difficulty I am discussing is particularly urban. I do not think that one can compare an urban park with an area of moorland in that connection.
The question of liability is an interesting one. The difference between manmade and natural features has been mentioned by several noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, in his welcome maiden speech. I believe that it is right to address the question of injury to visitors. I risk arousing further ire on the Conservative Benches with my next comment. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, used the term "nonsense" in regard to a comment of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, perhaps I may apply a similar comment in regard to his comment that if one moves a stone and then falls over it one would have the right to claim against the landowner involved. I believe that the difficulties we are discussing are a little more complicated than that. That is a distraction from the rights that we welcome in the Bill.
I have mentioned local access fora and the need for information and informed consensus, as my noble friend Lord Greaves mentioned. Finally, I refer to the significant costs associated with the Bill. I have noted the substantial differences between the estimates prepared by the Government and those prepared by the Country Landowners' Association. The Local Government Association, which has also contributed its two pennyworth on this matter, points out that local authority costs will be mainly discretionary but--I agree with this comment--the investment in access infrastructure, in the provision of information and in wardening will be key to the success of the Bill. We should also bear in mind that rural councils will bear the brunt of that.
I turn to rights of way. My experience in my local area is that these are highly contentious and that disputes surrounding them often give rise to enormous expense. I hope that this Bill will reduce the scope for lawyers' fees; there is certainly as much in this part of the Bill as there is in Part I. We need to ensure that members of the public and landowners are fully involved from the outset and consulted at every stage in order, one hopes, to reduce the number of appeals. At later stages of the Bill we shall seek assurances about signposting, about access for disabled people and, again, about resources.
Referring again to the estimates of the Local Government Association, it believes that the Government's figures of £12 million to £19 million per year are "a little light". I was happy to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, call from her Benches for
It is perhaps harder to be eloquent about rights of way than it is about wildlife and nature conservation. We welcome the additional powers in the Bill to protect SSSIs. We regret that there is no provision for making good the damage incurred previously, but at least we are starting positively from here.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to local wildlife sites. We should have preferred to see support of wildlife sites given a statutory position in the face of potential development. Like my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford I look forward to the Government amendments on areas of outstanding natural beauty. They, too, need better funding and better management. There may be an opportunity to look at the purposes of AONBs in the context of this Bill in order to reflect the modern environmental agenda and the wider sustainability agenda.
Biodiversity, of course, is not only a rural matter. Whether or not this is an early success on the part of the Greater London Authority, I do not know, but I heard last week that the Environment Agency held a meeting in the GLA building and that people came into the meeting saying "I must be going mad; I thought I heard a black redstart"--which, I understand, has a very distinctive call. Apparently those at the meeting ended up trooping around the building. They eventually found themselves in the gents loo on the third floor, where they pinned down the noise to a nest of these birds on the windowsill. So we are making a bit of progress in London.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, suggested that my noble friend Lady Miller had announced a team of opponents to the Bill, as if we were taking part in Euro 2000. We welcome the Bill, as I hope we have made clear. I hope that our team's efforts to improve it will be more successful and more sustained than those of the England team. As my noble friend Lord Bradshaw said, legislation is one thing, the resources for delivery are another.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I find myself in almost total agreement with at least 90 per cent of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said. I feel rather humble at the Dispatch Box because for almost seven hours we have had a fantastic debate in which an enormous number of knowledgeable speeches were made--from all sides of the House--by very experienced and well versed speakers on different parts of this subject. I have enjoyed it. I found it difficult to concentrate for seven hours--it is not something to which I have been used in recent years--but it has been a very interesting experience and I should like to thank all my noble friends and everyone else for their contributions.
In principle, we support the Bill. However, we would have preferred the voluntary approach. I declare an interest as a landowner in Northern Ireland, which does not come under the Bill. It is, I hope, separate and will stay that way. At one stage in my life I was involved in taking young soldiers into the countryside. I was an instructor in rock climbing, mountaineering, canoeing and all the other activities associated with outward bound. In order to do that I had to make private arrangements and private agreements for access virtually all over the kingdom. We operated in Snowdonia in North Wales and in the Berwyns. We climbed on the Edges in the Peak District, we potholed in Castletown, we went down to Dartmoor and so on. Throughout my military life I found that voluntary agreements with local landowners and farmers worked exceptional well. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In the well-trodden areas of the Lakes, Snowdonia and the other national parks, the standard of care and behaviour is immaculate. But that comes from years of use. In my day, if we saw someone behaving wrongly or badly, we would tell him so. If it appeared that he was a novice in that part of the world, we would take him on one side and explain the right way. We would have preferred the voluntary approach.
Part I of the Bill could be a fertile ground for division and long-lasting battles between landowners, managements and would-be visitor organisations. For the Bill to be successful, there cannot be divisions and running battles between various parties. My noble friend Lord Denham said that compulsory access means that the Government have responsibility for the management of that access. As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said earlier, Mr Meacher, the Minister of State, agreed with that concept. In general, we believe that Part I of the Bill is poorly conceived and thought through, and is clearly a piece of dogma following through manifesto commitments. However, having said that, the Bill is not past redemption. I have listened to speeches from around the House. There is much agreement about what needs to be done. The House and the Minister face a serious challenge over the coming weeks to make the Bill acceptable, functional and as good as it can be.
At the moment, Part I flies in the face of European human rights legislation, particularly in the area of non-compensation. We shall return to that point at the Committee stage. The Bill takes serious risks with the countryside and its management, a point made excellently by my noble friend Lord Arran. Traditional land management is being seriously distorted. After the passing of the Bill the landowner will no longer be in total control of his land. While land managers as a whole understand the requirements of further access to the countryside, the Bill is feared and the rural population is tending towards defensiveness and all that goes with that. We have a duty to remove that fear and to make people see that what comes out of the Bill will lead to harmony, albeit with change in the countryside.
A few specific points have been made by speakers on all sides of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, in his maiden speech, which was great to hear, referred to the problem of night-time access. I have spent many nights outdoors in the mountains and on the moors around this country. Those are not welcome places except for experts and specialists. It is easy to get into trouble and to put oneself at serious risk. Aside from that, arguments have been clearly put forward as regards increasing crime and increasing opportunities for poaching and so forth. We shall need to return to those arguments when we debate this issue in Committee.
The topic of dogs was mentioned by many speakers. My personal view is that dogs, if allowed into the countryside at all, should be kept on leads at all times, with no exceptions. I understand that people wish to walk their dogs. I am a dog lover and have owned working dogs of one kind or another all my life. However, nothing is more depressing for a sheep farmer--I am a sheep farmer--than finding someone's dog up on the hillside, harassing the flock. There is only one alternative; that is, to go out and shoot it. That is not what we want.
Perhaps I may turn to an equally sensitive subject; that of liability insurance. This has been mentioned by several speakers, including my noble friends Lord Peel, Lord Denham, Lord Caithness and Lady Byford. They have spoken eloquently about the need to improve the Bill in relation to personal and owners' liability insurance. It is clear from the debate tonight that the balance is not yet right. I do not say that it cannot be corrected; I hope that it will be.
Many noble Lords spoke of the need for clarity, referring in particular to the definitions of "cultivated land", "land management", "downlands", where margins are sited and so forth. The point has been made forcefully that clarity is needed for the comfort of the rambler so that he or she is equipped with sufficient knowledge of the area to relax and enjoy the countryside.
Closures and restrictions were touched on many times. We have heard the arguments turn both ways. In the end it appears that the notion of "weekends" is simply a joke. I do not know which civil servant came up with the idea of weekends, but clearly that term should not appear in a Bill about nature and the countryside. As we all know, wildlife does not observe weekends. Whether the restrictions should run for 28 days or 48 days can be decided later.
Mapping is a topic to which we shall return, because it is clear that more detailed work is needed here. Modern satellite technology offers tremendous potential for wonderfully accurate mapping. Let us not make excuses along the lines that not enough money can be found to utilise such resources. If the job is to be done at all, it should be done properly. Let us get it right.
I shall mention briefly the linked and detailed issues of education, communication, understanding and greater clarity. All these phrases have been used to underline a general message that the Bill does not offer sufficient clarity for all those who will need to work with it. The Government will need to promote a thorough process of education, both to give confidence to rural communities and to ensure that the aspirations and expectations of the general public are not overstated. As regards balance, my noble friend Lord Brittan and others expressed their anxiety that the balance is not yet right in the Bill. At this stage we do not feel that the needs of landowners and those who will gain extra access to land is correct.
There has been a suggestion about common by-laws, and there is something in that. There are a number of issues here that might well be covered by a common set of by-laws across the country, which have flexibility for different communities and different types of terrain. The night problem may be covered in that way.
My noble friend Lady Masham mentioned the difficulty, worries and fears of challenging wrongdoers. That raises the warden problem. How are we to manage and protect the people, the countryside and so on? Another set of problems.
Sanctions seemed to be a common denominator, and in that regard noble Lords have spoken strongly from all sides of the House. There is a feeling that sanctions for wrongdoing by visitors to the countryside are useless; they are too weak and need strengthening. I am not an expert on sanctions, but there must be such experts within the Government. We would ask the noble Lord the Minister to come back to us with suggestions for strengthened sanctions for wrongdoing in the countryside.
We do not have too many problems with Part II. I understand from friends and colleagues--although we do not have rights of way in Northern Ireland--the problems of the Rights of Way Acts, the bridle paths and so on. As many have said, total confusion has developed. We welcome the task undertaken by the Government to ensure that local authorities tackle and clarify, once and for all, the rights of way processes and the legislation that goes with that.
This is perhaps the time to turn to funding, which has been mentioned on all sides. It seems to me that the funding is between £150 million for five years and about five times £7 million--£35 million. I really have no feel, from the Bill or from what we have heard, for what is the Government's expectation of the funding. From what has been said this afternoon, however, if
Provided that the funding is made available, Part III is largely welcomed on these Benches. We have some reservations, and one area about which there is concern is the land next to SSSIs. Greater access to such land will inevitably endanger SSSIs because they cannot take an overload of visitors. I do not suppose the conservationists want that. I would not like to think that the Government will go in for compulsory purchase. That would be draconian and unlike a modern British government in the 21st century. It is a very old-fashioned process and there must be better ways.
However, there are financial problems regarding SSSIs. It is wrong for the Government to expect landowners to do things and to spend monies that are not there. SSSIs have to be affordable and, if they are not, decisions have to be taken about whether they will be made affordable as a result of public funding or whether something different has to happen to them. Consideration must be given to them in the context of the funds which are available.
I have spoken for long enough. This has been a long debate. I apologise to noble Lords whose contributions I have not covered, and for taking as long as 16 minutes--I do not think that I have ever spoken for 16 minutes in this House before.
I look forward to the Committee stage. I am sure that there will be some long, hard battles. I sincerely wish the Bill well, and I hope that we shall end up with legislation with which we can all live and of which we can be proud.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. We have heard a great many opinions. Everyone has claimed that there is a great deal of consensus, but there also seem to be some fundamental problems, particularly in relation to Part I of the Bill. So I am sure that the Committee and subsequent stages will be interesting.
I should like straight away to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brittan. He indicated that at present his principal recreation is walking in north Yorkshire. I trust that we shall see some of his recreational activity directed to this House. The noble Lord certainly managed to walk the delicate tightrope of a maiden speech by being non-controversial enough to mention compensation only in passing! He has my congratulations.
Other noble Lords have said that this is not the main issue facing the British countryside. The Government understand that. Indeed, we are developing a whole package of measures to bring forward in the rural policy White Paper. We understand the problems that the agriculture industry presently faces; we understand the consequences of that and of other measures on the countryside and rural dwellers as a whole. I therefore accept that this is very much only a partial picture.
I would say in passing, however, that the interests of the countryside and the people who live there are not synonymous with--sometimes they are not entirely in the same direction as--the interests of the large landowners. Part of the debate was in danger of falling into that trap. However, I do not want to be controversial at this point--
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