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Viscount Bledisloe: Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness that no one is suggesting that wardens should be appointed except where they are needed. It will be for the authorities to decide whether any--and, if so, how many--wardens are necessary or expedient. If they decide that none is required, they do not appoint any. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that when they decide that they are necessary, they do not then say, "But we can't afford it and therefore there won't be any".
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Viscount's point. I believe that the second point that I made was that we need to be very clear about the circumstances in which such wardening, if funded by central government, would be required. Inevitably, alas, governments do rob Peter to pay Paul. The same department is also responsible for the budgets for agencies such as the Countryside Agency and, indeed, English Nature, in which I must declare an interest.
I should hate to think that the value of the land and that some of the useful collaborative and funding arrangements undertaken by such bodies with landowners would be squeezed in order to fund demands from local authorities. In some cases, those demands will be justified but, in others, they will need to be examined with a degree of scrupulousness.
Lord Mancroft: What always appear to be relatively simple issues at first become more and more complex as the debates develop--I see that the clock shows that we have been debating this amendment for 28 minutes. However, there is no doubt that the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is extremely important. It is important for a number of reasons, most of which have been discussed. However, the one that I consider to be most important is that it is a test. It demonstrates whether the Government are to put their money where their mouth is.
During the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill, we established that, as in so many pieces of legislation, the devil will be in the detail. A few minutes ago we talked about the difficulties of publishing information. That has a cost implication, too. Now we are talking about the cost of wardens. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was immensely helpful when she said that costs will vary from area to area and that different types of land will require different levels of wardening and, therefore, of expense. That is quite right.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out entirely correctly that the level of costs is dependent on whether the Government will obligate the access authorities to appoint as many wardens as they need, whether the number be one, two or four. The next amendment, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, places that obligation upon them. Of course the obligation should be in place because it is the wardens, rather like the signage that we discussed in the previous batch of amendments, that will make the Bill work.
We must have wardens and the access authorities must be obliged to provide them. They must therefore have the funding in order to do so. In many ways, whichever way one looks at this particularly complex issue, at the end of the day it comes down to a question of whether the Government really mean what they claim they mean in regard to the Bill. Are they really prepared to allow such access? Of course, my noble friend Lord Roberts was absolutely right: if we are to have night access, which we shall now have--the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, described it as 50 per cent of the access--then presumably we shall need 50 per cent, or, in this case, 100 per cent more wardens. It is obvious that if one doubles the amount of access, one needs to double the number of wardens. Clearly, we cannot have people wardening 24 hours a day; that would be silly.
Therefore, whichever way one looks at this matter and from whichever angle one comes at it, this is a very important amendment. It asks whether the Government are prepared to back the principle that they regard as so important. It asks whether they are prepared to back it with their money and not to oblige local authorities or access authorities to strip their budgets elsewhere in order to pay for that principle. If central government is not prepared to pay for the principle, frankly it is worthless and the Bill will not work.
Baroness Byford: I rise to raise three quick points with the Minister. Before I do so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for putting forward the amendment. Those of us who took part at Second Reading will remember clearly two points that were raised. One related to the practicality of the Bill and the other to funding. This amendment hits on that very issue and I thank her for that.
First, when the Government carried out an assessment of the costs of access, did they include in their estimates a night-time provision for providing wardens? As my noble friend has just reiterated, if night-time access goes through, and the Government are obviously keen that it should, it will incur another 50 per cent of the costs. Therefore, if that was not accounted for, the estimate will be even higher than it was originally.
Secondly, presumably the Government will consider putting money through the SSA--the standard spending assessments. While I mention that, perhaps I may also remind the Government that virtually all access will be in rural areas. However, the very rural counties have had cuts recently in their standard spending assessments. I simply raise that as an issue. I do not know what the Minister wants to say about it.
Thirdly, what will the role of the wardens be? We have been talking about wardens acting purely as keepers of law and order. I believe that originally we talked about them helping the general public by providing advice and making sure that things were running in an orderly fashion. We also discussed the possibility of their having conservation responsibilities. Those are my three short points.
Lord Whitty: This has been an interesting debate. A number of assertions have been made. We certainly share the view that it is important that adequate wardening takes place, although I am not sure that wardens will solve all the problems to which Members of the Committee have alluded. A number of important, what I might call political, issues have been raised and perhaps I should begin with those. That is unusual for me because I am trying to deal with the Bill in its legal form.
First, I deplore the attempt by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, perhaps inadvertently, to open up a huge urban/rural divide. This is not the case. The majority of people who will benefit from these rights are not hordes from urban areas who have never been in the countryside before. They fall into two broad categories. In my experience, it is not people in the
The second group are those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have enjoyed many parts of the countryside and rambles of varying degrees of difficulty and strenuousness but have enjoyed the existing areas of vacant access. They want to go to other areas with people who are experienced in the countryside. The idea that we have to police the access areas heavily is not the case. Clearly, we want to extend the enjoyment of our countryside, but the people who will take advantage of the new acreage opened up to them are those who live in, and have knowledge of, the countryside or their friends who accompany them. That is one quasi-political point.
In response to the noble Baroness, I make a straightforward political point. The experience and suspicion of many people in relation to local government financing has been that over the past 20 years we have suffered from a severe restriction in the resources provided to local authorities, however it has been provided. That has been reversed very substantially and generously. Yes, it is all our money but it is money that is being deployed on behalf of all of the people. I refute directly the idea put by the noble Baroness--and the figures will prove it--that the rural areas have been squeezed by this Government. In fact, they have had some of the most generous settlements they have ever had. Unlike the period of government of her party, when the inner-city areas were severely squeezed to the detriment of society as a whole, we have been generous to the whole of the population of Britain, including in particular the shire counties and the shire districts. So we want to fund the access authorities in order that they can fulfil their obligations under this Bill.
I thought that I had made clear the position of funding twice on the previous occasion. Obviously, I was not clear enough, so I will try again. The £2.3 million that the Government put in the regulatory impact assessment is part of what will be required during the current spending review period of three years--that is, before the access rights come into play--for all the preparatory work required by access authorities, others and in particular the countryside agencies so we can build up to manage effectively the right of access. It is much more difficult to give specific figures on the funding needed once the access land is opened.
I cannot entirely tie the hands of future Chancellors of Exchequer or the present Chancellor who will probably still be in office. Nevertheless, we have made it clear that we will wish to fund the management of the right of access and that we would expect the cost of that to be four or five times the figure in the regulatory impact assessment. One can compare that figure and that estimate of what will be required with the estimate made in the report of the LGA. That was referred to by several noble Lords. It suggests that the access
Moreover, that larger figure would include some of the funding for the countryside agencies. So we agree with the LGA and its consultants that £5.5 million is the ball-park figure for the on-going management of this scheme required by local authorities. The cost of employment of wardens and the back-up would be paid from that figure. I hope that that makes clear and underlines the degree of commitment to funding that this Government are prepared to make now and our commitment to making this system work.
Exactly how the money will be conveyed may be a matter for future Chancellors. I am not absolutely certain that I would rule out a specific fund, although pressed to do so by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. It is more likely to come through the general funding of local authorities because that is a general approach. There would be obligations on local authorities requiring them to spend it, including on the employment of wardens where appropriate. We would not want wardens to be appointed with such a wide range of responsibilities referred to sometimes in this debate, but clearly wardens are required in order to make sure that the main provisions of the Bill operate.