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Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps the Minister could clarify one point. Will noble Lords be able to ask questions once he has finished his response or should we seek clarification before then? He says that the responsibility will be on the landowner to ensure that people know whether there is access or not. How are they supposed to do that if there is no particular access point? I apologise to the Minister but I am in a dilemma on the procedure. Perhaps I should look to the Clerk.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not saying that the landowner will be required to put up signs all over the place, but there is no responsibility on the access authority to provide signage for temporary closure. Therefore, if the landowner feels that there is a need for further information, that is the responsibility of the landowner or other entitled person who has requested the closure and not the responsibility of the access authority.
Clearly, we wish the procedure to work not in a regulated way, but in an informal and partnership manner between the access authority, the local landowners, the Ramblers' Association and others through local access forums and through local arrangements. There may be ways established locally that will give better guidance and, in addition to the website, there may be an individual point in an area where people can consult. We were talking about such matters for a more permanent scheme but they could also apply to temporary closures. The agency intends to establish a central restrictions unit, so there will be different ways in which members of the public can obtain details of restrictions and exclusions. That is not provided for in the regulations, but it is part of the invention of the Countryside Agency, whichto answer another of the questions of the noble Baronessmay well include in its final form a telephone hotline.
It is true that in certain circumstances the access authority may well decide that it should issue notices. But that is not an obligation on the access authority for every closure. Clearly, the authorities have the power under the Act to issue notices. That is slightly different from just putting up notices, and there is a slightly different situation, for example, where for a conservancy reason the closure is being sought on behalf of the authority itself. That is not at the landowner's initiative but at the authority's. So there are different situations.
The noble Baroness also referred to defence land. Under present arrangements the Ministry of Defence can of course make restrictions for defence purposes on what is otherwise accessible land. The Act and the regulations do not change that. Although a great deal of defence land is fencedand that is clear as there are only a few access points and red flagsmuch defence land is normally open accessfor example, Salisbury Plainand the Ministry of Defence when carrying out exercises has to sign to the public that access is not available. That applied before the Act and will apply after it.
The final point relates to finances. We need to ensure that the access authorities and others involved have adequate finances so that they can manage the scheme as a wholeclosures and so forth. We have made generous settlements to the national park authorities in the past two financial years. Those settlements take account of the need to prepare for the new right of access in national park areas. We are also considering the authorities' bids for funds in 200405, so that they do not lack the resources to meet these challenges.
On local authorities, the Countryside Agency has produced outline proposals for a grant scheme. The agency has been asked to spell out how its ideas would work in practice. We await its proposals, so that it can assist local authorities in carrying out their powers under the Act.
So funds are available to the national park authorities, the Countryside Agency itself and of course to the local authorities via the Countryside Agency to ensure that we have adequate provision for implementation.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, will the funds given to local authorities be in proportion to the amount of open access land they have; in proportion to the amount of people using that open access land; or just on the normal funding formula? An answer in writing would be fine.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I may be able to give the answer to the noble Baroness in writing, but not now. Clearly, the Countryside Agency is considering how the grants should operate. They will be grants and not part of the general settlement, except in so far as general provision has been made. So they will not be based on some other formulae. I am at this point unable to specify the precise formula. The Countryside Agency is still working on the matter.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not think that I should get into the last part of that question of relative liability. It is clear that the entitled person is either the landowner or, in certain circumstances, the agricultural tenant. If the landowner should say in either his outline restriction or more generally that for shooting purposes someone acts on his behalf, provided that is made clear in the outline arrangements, the shoot might in certain circumstances be the person to trigger the closurealthough "trigger" is probably not the right word in this respect. But in most circumstances the agricultural tenant, if it is a farm business tenancyso not any old agricultural tenantwould be the appropriate person. If he had not sought the closure it would not be a legal closure under these restrictions, as I understand it. However, I am getting close to the liability question, so I think that I had better shut up at this point, and, if necessary, write to the noble Baroness.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this little debate on the regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, quite rightly referred to the situation in Wales as being somewhat more pragmatic than that which the Minister and his officials have come up with in this country.
My noble friend Lady Byford was so right when she said: "We want the Act to work". She went on to say that resources must be made available. The Minister spoke about resources at the end of his winding-up speech. I am bound to say thatif I can use this termthe word on the street is that resources are somewhat scarce. I am far from convinced that the access
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, talked about the importance of informing the public. She was absolutely right when she saidand I understood it to be sothat the website is a secondary mechanism. The prime objective is to inform people on the ground what is actually happening. I maintain that this is the only effective way to let the public know what is happening and to safeguard the interests of those who have to look after and manage the land. I am bound to say that the Minister's reply did not exactly fill me with confidence.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy raised a very interesting point. It was right at the nub of the whole difficulty of the interpretation of who can apply for a closure order under Section 22. I think that the technical answer to her question is that if it was tenanted land, the tenant was an owner under the Act and the tenant did not wish for the shooting syndicate to have any of the available 28 days, the syndicate would have to apply under Section 24. That of course is at the discretion of the local access authority, which could turn it down. So we have a very real problem here. My noble friend was absolutely right to raise the matter as she did. It was a very succinct way to demonstrate the real problems and difficulties that we have in the Actand indeed through the regulations.
I hear what the Minister says about partnerships. "Partnership" is a great word, and it can work if there is genuine desire by all parties to make it work. But it comes down to the fundamental question of whether the resources will be made availableit is there that I fear the Government will let us down. I will read the Minister's remarks with great interest. Equally, I hope that he will read with great interest what I and other noble Lords have said, in the hope that he might consider that some of the issues that we have raised point towards future difficulties.
I repeat the most important point of all: if the legislation is to work, we must avoid conflict. That is the key. Unless the regulations are considered much more seriously, conflict will occur and the legislation will be deemed a failure. I hope that that does not happen. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
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