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Lord Mancroft: I begin by declaring an interest. I regret to inform Members of the Committee that mine is among the "contorted faces" so disliked by the Deputy Prime Minister in Brighton. I am sorry about that; however, I am a board member of the Countryside Alliance, whose members naturally have a considerable interest in the Bill.
Unlike my noble friend Lord Renton, I am not a huge fan of purpose clauses, but there is no doubt that they are immensely useful in a big Bill which is not entirely clear. I use the phrase carefully. There is no doubt that the Bill as it stands is a muddle. It is a major piece of government legislation. It is referred to as a
My noble friend's amendment will achieve one or two important things. It will, for instance, ensure that an appropriate procedure is in place introducing the access provisions. That must be right. It will clarify the process for those wishing to exercise the new right of access and prevent it being abused prior to the completion of the mapping process. Other Members of the Committee touched on that important point. Already, over the course of the summer, we have heard instances of people thinking that the legislation is already in place and going on to private land in the belief that they already have the right to roam, and not understanding how the Bill is meant to work. If that is already happening, we can imagine what will happen in the future.
In order to guarantee user confidence in the right of access, it is important that completed maps of access should be freely available--obviously, that cannot happen if they have not been drawn. That would give walkers--and indeed landowners--the assurance that they are not trespassing and that they are not even liable to put safety at risk or inadvertently damage an SSSI, which no one who has spoken in this debate wants to happen.
The amendment will also enhance the confidence of landowners and managers. That is very important. The point was made by my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lady Carnegy. The issue of access has much to do with the confidence of landowners and managers. At present, the Government do not have that confidence; they need to work harder to achieve it. I hope that the amendment will go some way to help in that process.
Therefore, for all those reasons, even though, as I said, I am not in favour of such amendments on the whole, I believe that this would be useful; indeed, it would be a useful way of starting what I suspect will be some very long days during which we shall look through the details of the Bill.
Lord Whitty: I was most grateful to the noble Baroness for moving this amendment. She concentrated a good deal on the need for a purpose clause as such rather than widening the debate. By and large, those noble Lords who followed her did likewise. A number of other areas were also mentioned which may perhaps pre-empt later debate but upon which I shall not comment in detail. I shall focus, as far as I can, on the need for a purpose clause, or otherwise, and on the nature of the purpose clause. In so doing, I shall address some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness and echoed in subsequent speeches.
I completely understand the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that basically virtually all legislation should have a purpose clause so as to allow for greater clarity. Indeed, there is much to be said for that argument. However, despite the noble Lord's advocacy over the years for such a procedure, that is not the way that this Chamber has normally operated; nor is it the way the Parliament has operated. The question therefore arises: why should we have a purpose clause in this specific Bill as compared to other pieces of legislation? Why, for example, should the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, be convinced that we need one in this case and not in other such cases?
The main argument put forward is that this is a very complex Bill. I have to point out that this is not a complex Bill; it is a pretty straightforward piece of legislation. As the Committee will know, both I and my colleagues have been responsible for bringing various pieces of legislation before this place; for example, several local government Bills, education Bills, a Treaty of Amsterdam Bill and the GLA Bill. Much comment has been made in this House on those Bills, sometimes disparagingly. They are extremely complex Bills, but this is not. Similarly, it is not an over-long Bill. It deals with three issues upon which I believe there is a degree of consensus within the Chamber, at least in principle.
The Bill deals with the question of extending access to open countryside, subject to sensible restrictions. Indeed, the argument is about the restrictions and not about the principles. It represents a long overdue rationalisation of the rights of way provisions and deals with the protection of wildlife, including wildlife that might be threatened by some of the Bill's other provisions, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. There are three straightforward principles involved. It is a pretty straightforward Bill, with a limited number of clauses on each of those three parts and schedules--
Lord Renton: I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I am most grateful to him and have been following what he has said with great interest. In effect, he said that this is a fairly straightforward and simple Bill. However, is not the difficulty here--it is unavoidable, and I do not blame the Government for it--the fact that there are a number of conflicts of interest that arise within the Bill; for example, the desire of many people to roam the countryside at will, as well as the desire, and the need, for the protection of wildlife and of the environment? Such conflicts make
Lord Whitty: I am not saying that no difficulties or conflicts arise as a result of the Bill, as is the case with other pieces of legislation. It is the job of this Chamber to consider such matters in some detail. However, I am saying that it is not such an extraordinarily complex piece of proposed legislation as to require a different approach from other pieces of legislation. Many issues will be raised in the 567 amendments that have been tabled. I do not believe that the Bill is so complex as some of those amendments and the arguments behind them would suggest. Nevertheless, there are detailed areas, including issues of quite substantial conflict of interest, that will need to be addressed. I do not believe that there is a special reason for us to have a purpose clause in this Bill when such a clause is not present in most of our legislation.
The three main purposes of the Bill are reflected in the Long Title. Some considerable explanation of its effects when it reaches the statute book and the various parts of the Bill come into operation will be required and will be discussed later in the proceedings.
The point that I should like to address most strongly in relation to what the noble Baroness said is the concern felt in some quarters that immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent all its provisions will come into effect. Indeed, the noble Baroness stressed that that is already the case. If that is so, the matter clearly needs to be addressed. Much of the Bill will not be instantaneous. I imagine that we shall be discussing such issues at length when we discuss Clause 77, which deals with the commencement proceedings. Noble Lords will be able to address such issues at that time, but I should like to make a few comments at this stage.
The right of access to the countryside is dependent on the mechanism set out in the Bill both for bringing forward the right in the first place and for managing it once it is in force. I should like to make it clear from these Benches that the rights of access do not come into immediate effect; they are not there already. The Government and the other organisations involved in the process--local government, landowners and the countryside agencies--will need to make it clear to the general public that these provisions can come into effect only once the preparatory work has been completed. A very substantial part of that preparatory work regarding Part I of the Bill relates to the mapping process to which the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and the noble Lords, Lord Brittan and Mancroft, referred.
We expect that the overall process--that is to say, the totality of the mapping process--to provide for the implementation of right may take up to five years. That will allow for a full process of detailed mapping, for consultation and for appeals on those maps. It will also allow for owners and others with interests in land to seek directions to allow closures and restrictions to be in place before the right comes into effect. As noble Lords have said, there is a provision as regards the fast track that we will be debating when we reach the next
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, also referred to the financial side of the Bill. It may be convenient for me to say something now about the funding because I imagine that the issue will arise later in the proceedings. Members of the Committee may have noticed that the DETR has a public service agreement target of opening all of this land by the year 2005. During the current spending review--that is, the next three years--our intention is to provide sufficient funds to enable the mapping and the preparations to go ahead so that all categories of access land can be opened by that target date. It is to be hoped that some land will be opened before that time, but that date is the target for the totality of the land. Therefore, the provisions for the current spending period relate to the preparatory work rather than the administration of the system once in force. It is more difficult for me to give specific figures on the funding that will be required once access is opened because that is beyond the current spending review period and depends on the detailed decisions taken during that mapping process.
According to the regulatory impact assessment, the amount considered necessary to implement the statutory obligations of the Bill was identified as a cost to the public sector of up to £2.3 million. However, to ensure the successful implementation of the new rights when they come into effect after the period of the current review, we are thinking in terms of a figure four or five times that amount. I hope that that assures noble Lords that there will be adequate funding for the Countryside Agency, the access authorities, landlords and others to improve the management of access on their land once such rights come into effect. I hope that goes some way to answer some of the funding points.
A number of issues were raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, mentioned the important issue of human rights. I do not want to respond to that matter now because when we discuss the clauses which concern liability and compensation I am sure that it will be debated at length. However, I accept the central point that it is important for the Government to assure the Committee--and for the Committee to feel assured--that the provisions of the Bill do not conflict with the provisions of the Human Rights Act. I therefore accept the challenge that we should debate those important points in the course of these proceedings.
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