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Earl Peel: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way for a moment. I do not wish to be pedantic, but I believe that I am right to say that much of the allotment land on the edge of the open fell which is used for lambing would be included in the access areas.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: These matters can be addressed in the course of the mapping process. That is why I am--perhaps at inordinate length--pointing out the importance of the mapping process in the Bill as constructed. There are examples of problems. For example, a sunny south-facing downland slope may be planted with vines or other crops which do not need to be sown afresh every year. If land is planted with multi-annual crops, the exception for cultivated land in paragraph 1 will cease after the first year. But, again, the farmer can apply to the relevant authority for a direction restricting or excluding access where he can show that that direction will be necessary for the
Lord Roberts of Conwy: The Minister says that the farmer can object to particular areas being mapped. Hundreds of farmers will see no reason why areas such as ffryd land, coed cae, lands used for lambing purposes, and so on, should ever be declared open country. To them it is not open in any sense.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: They will have the opportunity to put that case in the course of the mapping process. The fundamental point I seek to make is that this is a highly focused task. It is very difficult indeed to produce definitions on the face of a Bill. Amendments are proposed to the definitions of excepted land. The mapping process will have to consider individual parcels of land and individual fields in different parts of the country. That process will provide the opportunity to farmers to do exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, seeks.
Lord Marlesford: My concern is that the Government have the emphasis wrong. Instead of making clear the land for which the presumption is that it should not be available for access, the Government are providing for the mapping of a great deal of land and then making exceptions. That will cause unnecessary problems with the rural community. It will increase the suspicion of rural people that the Government do not understand their problems. That is the warning I give the Minister.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hear that warning. I do not deny that that assertion has a good deal of resonance in the countryside, but anybody who looks objectively at the Bill cannot sustain that charge.
We need to achieve a reasonable level of certainty about the right of access. The maps of open country will provide that certainty. If we were to go further and allow for improved or semi-improved grasslands to be excepted under Schedule 1, as Amendments Nos. 49 and 52 would provide, or for land to remain excepted for five years after cultivation, as Amendment No. 50 would provide, or for substantial areas of land in Wales to be excepted without reference to their particular characteristics, as Amendment No. 36 would provide, we would severely limit the value of the maps and call into question the fundamental operation of the right of access in practice. That would mean that, notwithstanding the inclusion of land on maps of open country, every walker would need to consider for himself whether that parcel of land was improved or semi-improved. That would place an impossible burden on the public, greatly increasing the risks of confusion and argument about where people could go.
Earl Peel: The Minister has given an encouraging account of how the system will work. I was interested in what he had to say, but I am bound to reflect on our earlier discussions when we tried to take the words "wholly" and "predominantly" out of the Bill. In view of what the Minister has said, I should have thought that the Government would have been happy to have let them go. The fact that they did not makes me very suspicious. I suspect that the Minister's interpretation of the mapping process does not represent what will happen.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for his conscientious and full response to the amendments. The views that have been expressed around the Committee tonight at nearly half-past 12 show how important the amendments are. I suspect that the Government have underestimated the importance of the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 50, if I may say so about one of my own amendments. The pattern of agriculture has changed enormously. I urge the Government to reconsider Amendment No. 50 before we come back on Report.
It is late and I have agreed not to call a vote, but there are one or two things that I would like to say. My brain is a bit addled at this time of night, but I think that we have already moved from headage payments to area payments in the less favoured areas. That will help to relieve the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, mentioned.
Lord Hardy of Wath: Members of various political parties have argued that we need to sustain people in upland areas without them having to engage in overproduction. It is not natural for ewes to produce triplets in areas well above sea level. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees that the population of those upland areas needs to be maintained and can be maintained without agricultural provision for the same sort of money that the taxpayer is already forking out.
I have two other issues to raise. The Minister said that walkers would know the difference if they came across a one-year ley. I smiled slightly to myself and wondered how many walkers would know the difference between a grass field and a newly sown and growing cultivated crop of wheat or barley. There are problems attached to that, but they are for another day.
The Minister said that the Countryside Agency will decide what is or is not open country. For the third time today I find myself asking, "My goodness, what are we doing?" Are we legislating or are we merely enabling the Countryside Agency to interpret the Bill as it wishes at various stages? I believe that this is a
My noble friend Lord Marlesford and one or two other noble Lords behind me referred to the fact that, as we all know, agriculture has been through very difficult times. Mischievously, I wonder whether that is why the Government are passing the buck to the Countryside Agency so that it is the agency which must decide on some of these very important issues. I hope that that is not true.
Other noble Lords have raised very important points with regard to the definition of access land and I am most grateful to them. I suspect that we shall return to the issue on Report. I hope that between now and then the Minister will be able to take away the matter and give it further thought.
The Earl of Caithness: Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may support her request for the Minister to think again on Amendment No. 50, which changes "twelve months" to "five years". I believe that it is a particularly important amendment and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will consider the possible consequences of advice that will be given to farmers should the Government not change their mind. The Government got the issue of hedgerows fearfully wrong a year ago. The advice to farmers then was, "Don't trust the Government; cut your hedgerows". Of course, that was proved to be right, unfortunate though it was in so many cases.
I ask the Committee to think of the consequences of the advice that will be given to farmers in getting their land excepted because they dare not risk the Countryside Agency getting the mapping process wrong. The very land that my noble friend Lord Jopling mentioned will be put under cultivation. The five-year leys will be ploughed up more quickly than they should have been. The whole farming structure will be changed because farmers do not trust the Government. This is the one opportunity that the noble Lord could take to give some reassurance, particularly with regard to those delicate uplands.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am duty bound to say that it is not for me to give advice to farmers about how they protect their own interests. However, the mapping process provides a substantial opportunity for consultation and objection by farmers. It would not seem to be wise for farmers to do things that they would not otherwise have done in advance of the mapping process. I discussed in some detail the issue of multi-annual crops. I do not believe that I can go further than that.
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