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Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble Viscount for his comments. I shall attempt to speak a little more briefly, if that is required. I trust that the Committee is following the amendments line by line. Therefore I shall not read out Amendment No. 265.
Amendment No. 265 concerns land management. The provisions of the Bill are imprecise and vague. The amendment sets out what activities should be included for the purposes of land management. I beg to move.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: Perhaps I may ask a question on paragraph (c) of Amendment No. 265. I do not think that I am deviating; I want clarification. What relationship will the Countryside Agency have with MAFF, for instance over a stewardship scheme? Will there be conflict over the control of invasive plants? As regards the way herbicides are used, might there be a muddle, with different messages?
The Earl of Caithness: I speak to Amendment No. 264 in this group. It addresses the same problem as that addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran: to find some suitable definition of land management. It is nice to see that the noble Lord the Chief Whip is in the Chamber. He has a great deal of experience on the agricultural side of land management. I am sure that he has come specifically to hear this debate, as he will doubtless have sympathy with my noble friend and me in trying to define this subject.
I am attacking this definition from two angles: first, from the point of view of those who have to make the Bill work; and, secondly, to try to stop a lot of stupid and fruitless applications going forward, thus saving time. As drafted, the Bill does not define land management. I have attempted a limited but not exclusive definition of what it might include. It is now recognised, and the Government have said, that shooting can clearly be within the list of activities which could be classed as for land management purposes. It would be impossible, I believe, to have a definitive list. However, I believe that we should give the managers of land and the appropriate authorities a more workable definition than the words in the Bill at present.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, got to the heart of the issue when he said that there is no statutory definition of land management in the Bill. If I may say so, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, attempt to increase the precision of the Bill rather than to reduce it.
We have considered carefully whether we need the statutory definition of land management in Clause 22. We have come to the conclusion that leaving the definition open will enable the bodies making the decisions about restrictions of access and exclusions--the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the national parks authorities--to do so on the basis of the information before them without being constrained by a statutory definition of the activities and purposes that land management may cover.
In another place, Chris Mullin said that we wanted Clause 22 to be interpreted as flexibly as is necessary. If we define in the Bill the activities that might be included as land management, as the amendments would, we might prevent the decision-making bodies from approving a restriction for an activity that did not fall squarely within the statutory definition, despite the body being of the opinion that the restriction was justified.
It is for the countryside bodies in the first instance to indicate the criteria for land management restrictions. They will draw up draft guidance. I know that they will wish to consult widely, including with the relevant national access forum. We expect them to adopt criteria that fully protect the legitimate interests of the owners, occupiers and managers of land. I expect their interpretation to include provision for any of the activities listed in Amendment No. 265 if directions can be justified on a case by case basis.
We firmly believe that few activities will conflict with the new right of access. Listening to the comments of some noble Lords during some of our debates--although not necessarily on these amendments--you would imagine that the farming of and walking on open country were mutually incompatible. We do not subscribe to that view and we are not prepared to allow directions under Clause 22 to be used as a mechanism for excluding access to land on the flimsiest of pretexts. We do not expect that there will be widespread applications for additional restrictions on enclosures. Shooting is one example for which closure of the land would be likely to be necessary, but other activities might require only restrictions to the right of access, such as a requirement to keep to paths or to keep dogs on leads or to ban them altogether.
Clause 22 provides for the decision-making body to approve the minimum restriction necessary for the activity to take place, in order that the relevant countryside authorities may enable full use of the right of access consistent with the legitimate needs of land management, conservation and public safety.
Amendment No. 258 would allow a direction to be made on the grounds of land management and use. It is intended to clarify that directions may be made to restrict access while activities take place on the land that are perceived to fall outside traditional land management, such as shooting or motor trials. We are happy to confirm that, as was said in another place, in this context "land management" has a wide application, embracing not only agriculture, but other activities on the land that intrinsically require the use of the land to be managed, including sporting and connected activities, as well as commercial activities, such as the use of the land for motor sports. The amendment is not needed, because its purpose has already been achieved in the Bill.
Amendment No. 260 would allow for directions under Clause 22 to be made in the interests of conservation of wildlife. Directions on the grounds of nature conservation are dealt with under Clause 24 and do not need to be repeated here.
On the question of pest control, perhaps I may answer the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. I am confident that the Countryside Agency will wish to consult MAFF on the need for restrictions to allow landowners to address animal and plant health problems. Any closure of land under the plant and animal health Acts will take precedence over the right of access. I believe that that is the assurance that the noble Baroness required.
We certainly believe that the right of access should not interfere with the proper economic interests of landowners; nor, indeed, do we expect that it will. We consider that the clause as drafted allows for that.
I am happy to assure all Members of the Committee who tabled the amendments that land management will cover less traditional forms of activity such as car rallies, pop festivals and war games as well as farming and shooting. That may be unwelcome to some Members. However, that is certainly the way we view the matter and we do not intend to have any restrictive definition of land management. We fear that the amendments would be restrictive in a way that I do not believe their proposers would wish.
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