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Clause 13

Volume 357: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2000

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Occupiers' Liability

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 8, line 6, leave out ("("the 2000 Act")").

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 8, Lords amendment No. 9 and amendment (a) thereto, and Lords amendment No. 10.

I am conscious that time is moving on fast, and I will be as brief as I can be.

The group of amendments deals with the extent to which occupiers should have liability for harm sustained to other people exercising a right of access to their land. Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 9 remove liability in relation to personal injuries suffered by people climbing over, through, or under a wall, fence or gate, except by the proper use of the gate or stile.

The amendments respond to the concerns that have been expressed by landowners that there would be problems with people hurting themselves when climbing over man-made features that are extremely common in open country, such as dry stone walls. We do not believe that the courts would hold landowners liable in such cases, but we accept that in this increasingly litigious age there might be people who tried to bring cases, however unjustified. It is therefore reasonable that we should reduce the risk of the consequent hassle by excluding from liability particularly common features that are unlikely to cause injury to anybody but the careless.

Lords amendment no. 9 removes liability regarding any river, stream, ditch or pond, whether or not it is a natural feature, and addresses concerns expressed by landowners

and conservation interests that occupiers should bear no responsibility in relation to such features, even when they have been made or changed by man. In particular, we accept that it may often be difficult to tell whether a pond was originally man-made or is partly man-made.

Lords amendment no. 10 does two things. It confirms that an occupier retains a minimal liability when he does something that creates a danger on his land with the intention of creating that risk, or is reckless as to whether such a risk is created. The provision requires the courts to have regard to the particular importance of not placing an undue burden—whether financial or otherwise—on the occupier. It also requires the courts to take into account the need to maintain the character of the countryside, including features of historical, traditional or archaeological interest. We want to make it clear that we do not want the countryside littered with forests of signs and miles of fences.

Finally, the courts are required to have regard to any code or guidance issued by the countryside bodies—for example, a warning in the code to walkers to inform themselves about hazards and be on the lookout for them. That should make it even more unlikely that a landowner would be held liable except in the most exceptional circumstances. I hope therefore that the amendments are acceptable.

May I express our general support for this group of amendments and for the considerable distance that the Minister has travelled from his obsession with the term "natural features", which we debated in Committee? I welcome unreservedly the moves that he has made. However, we have tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 9, which would add to clause 13 the words

a risk resulting from a feature of historic, traditional or archaeological interest.
That was discussed widely in the other place, but after reflection on that debate—I do not doubt that the Minister was closely involved in that consideration—it is worth pushing the matter once again. Many features of open country, such as iron age forts, do not fit the Minister's expanded criteria to absolve occupiers from liability. The terminology of amendment (a) would not widen massively the exemption from liability, but would reflect the reality of what is situated in open country. I hope that the Minister will find that constructive and be prepared to accept our amendment.

Very briefly, I too welcome the Government's move from their original formulation, which was unnecessarily restrictive. The amendments helpfully expand the Government's intention from what it was in the initial stages of the Bill. I share the concern of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) that a bias against Celtic and Saxon Britain may be maintained. As we explored in Committee, those features could cause problems, but the hon. Gentleman's formulation, which was discussed in another place, as he says, is an open-ended definition that is also open to an enormous amount of legal challenge. Lords amendment No. 10, which refers to the code of conduct, deals with the matter. However, if it does that insufficiently in future, Parliament will clearly need to return to it.

7.45 pm

Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has expressed a view that is shared by the Government. Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 9 would extend the exclusion of liability to any historical, traditional or archaeological feature. I have already referred to the guidance in Lords amendment No. 10, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and will require the courts to have regard to the importance of maintaining such features. That will ensure that the probability of liability arising from those features is very low indeed. However, there is no reason why we should make a special case for the exclusion of all liability from such features, especially if they have been buried, either partly or completely, when they would be virtually indistinguishable from any other access land.

There has been much complaint about the need to identify natural features. However, a rigid rule automatically excluding all historical or traditional features would be impossible to apply. I give great credit to Conservative Front Benchers, Liberal Democrat Members and Plaid Cymru, as they have influenced us. Under the pressure, we have moved a considerable distance from our original argument. Despite all that we have done to reduce liability to a bare minimum, and given the lack of evidence that there is a problem, the issue of liability will remain a concern unless the Bill eliminates liability totally. For the reasons that I have already given, we do not believe that that can ever be right. We have gone as far as we reasonably can. To remove all liability of occupiers of access land to those responsibly exercising the right of access, including children, would be a step too far and could not be justified.

Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 8 to 18 agreed to.

After Clause 19

Lords amendment: No. 19, to insert the following new clause— Codes of conduct and other information

".—(1) In relation to England, it shall be the duty of the Countryside Agency to issue, and from time to time revise, a code of conduct for the guidance of persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1) and of persons interested in access land, and to take such other steps as appear to them expedient for securing—
  • (a) that the public are informed of the situation and extent of, and means of access to, access land, and
  • (b) that the public and persons interested in access land are informed
  • (i) of their respective rights and obligations under this Part, and
  • (ii) with regard to public rights of way on, and nature conservation in relation to, access land.
  • (2) In relation to Wales, it shall be the duty of the Countryside Council for Wales to issue, and from time to time revise, a code of conduct for the guidance of persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1) and of persons interested in access land, and to take such other steps as appear to them expedient for securing the results mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1).

    (3) A code of conduct issued by the Countryside Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales may include provisions in pursuance of subsection (1) or (2) and in pursuance of section 86(1) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

    (4) The powers conferred by subsections (1) and (2) include power to contribute towards expenses incurred by other persons."

    Amendment proposed to the Lords amendment: (b), in subsection (1)(a), after "means of access to", insert

    'and appropriate points of access to,'.—[Mr. Paice]

    Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made—

    The House divided: Ayes 156, Noes 327.

    Division No. 358]

    [7.47 pm


    Allan, RichardGreenway, John
    Amess, DavidGrieve, Dominic
    Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesGummer, Rt Hon John
    Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyHague, Rt Hon William
    Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Hammond, Philip
    Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hancock, Mike
    Baker, NormanHarvey, Nick
    Baldry, TonyHawkins, Nick
    Ballard, JackieHayes, John
    Bercow, JohnHeald, Oliver
    Beresford, Sir PaulHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
    Blunt, CrispinHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
    Body, Sir RichardHoram, John
    Boswell, TimHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
    Brady, GrahamJack, Rt Hon Michael
    Brand, Dr PeterJackson, Robert (Wantage)
    Brazier, JulianKeetch, Paul
    Breed, ColinKey, Robert
    Browning, Mrs AngelaKirkbride, Miss Julie
    Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Kirkwood, Archy
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Lait, Mrs Jaacqui
    Burnett, JohnLansley, Andrew
    Burns, SimonLeigh, Edward
    Butterfill, JohnLetwin, Oliver
    Cash, WilliamLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
    Chidgey, DavidLidington, David
    Chope, ChristopherLivsey, Richard
    Clappison, JamesLloyd, Rt Hon sir Peter (Fareham)
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Llwyd, Elfyn
    Clarke, Rt Hon KennethLoughton, Tim


    Luff, Peter
    Cotter, BrianMacgregor, Rt Hon John
    Cran, JamesMacKay, Rt Hon John
    Davey, Edward (Kingston)Maclean, Rt Hon David
    Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)McLoughlin, patrick
    Day, StephenMadel, Sir David
    Donaldson, JeffreyMaples, John
    Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMaude, Rt Hon Francis
    Duncan, AlanMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
    Duncan Smith, IainMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
    Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMoore, Michael
    Fabricant, MichaelMoss, Malcolm
    Fallon, MichaelNicholls, Patrick
    Fearn, RonnieNorman, Archie
    Flight, HowardOaten, Mark
    Forth, Rt Hon EricO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
    Foster, Don (Bath)Öpik, Lembit
    Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanOttaway, Richard
    Fox, Dr LiamPage, Richard
    Gale, RogerPaice, James
    George, Andrew (St Ives)Pickles, Eric
    Gibb, NickPrior, David
    Gidley, SandraRandall, John
    Gill, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
    Gillan, Mrs CherylRendel, David
    Gorman, Mrs TeresaRobathan, Andrew
    Green, DamianRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)

    Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Townend, John
    Ross, William (E Lond'y)Trend, Michael
    Ruffley, DavidTyler, Paul
    Russell, Bob (Colchester)Tyrie, Andrew
    St Aubyn, NickViggers, Peter
    Sanders, AdrianWaterson, Nigel
    Sayeed, JonathanWebb, Steve
    Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Wells, Bowen
    Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Whitney, Sir Raymond
    Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Whittingdale, John
    Soames, NicholasWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
    Spelman, Mrs CarolineWilkinson, John
    Spicer, Sir MichaelWilletts, David
    Spring, RichardWillis, Phil
    Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWilshire, David
    Streeter, GaryWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
    Stunell, AndrewWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
    Swayne, DesmondYeo, Tim
    Syms, RobertYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
    Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
    Taylor, John M (Solihull)Tellers for the Ayes:
    Taylor, Sir TeddyMr. James Gray and
    Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.


    Abbott, Ms DianeClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
    Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Clark, Dr Lynda
    Ainger, Nick

    (Edinburgh Pentlands)

    Alexander, DouglasClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
    Allen, GrahamClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clelland, David
    Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryClwyd, Ann
    Ashton, JoeCoaker, Vernon
    Atherton, Ms CandyCoffey, Ms Ann
    Austin, JohnCohen,Harry
    Bailey, AdrianColeman, Iain
    Barron, KevinColman, Tony
    Battle, JohnConnarty, Michael
    Bayley, HughCook, Frank (Stockton N)
    Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
    Begg, Miss AnneCooper, Yvette
    Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Corbett, Robin
    Bennett, Andrew FCorbyn, Jeremy
    Benton, JoeCorston, Jean
    Bermingham, GeraldCousins, Jim
    Berry, RogerCranston, Ross
    Best, HaroldCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
    Betts, CliveCryer, John (Hornchurch)
    Blackman, LizCummings, John
    Blizzard, BobCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
    Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDalyell, Tam
    Boateng, Rt Hon PaulDarling, Ft Hon Alistair
    Borrow, DavidDarvill, Keith
    Bradley, Keith (Withington)Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
    Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Davidson, Ian
    Bradshaw, BenDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
    Brinton, Mrs HelenDavis, Rt Hon Terry
    Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)

    (B'ham Hodge H)

    Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Dawson, Hilton
    Browne, DesmondDean, Mrs Janet
    Buck, Ms KarenDenham, John
    Burgon, ColinDismore,Andrew
    Butler, Mrs ChristineDobbin, Jim
    Byers, Rt Hon StephenDobson, Rt Hon Frank
    Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Donohoe, Brian H
    Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Doran, Frank
    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Dowd, Jim
    Campbell-Savours, DaleDrew, David
    Cann, JamieDrown, Ms Julia
    Caplin, IvorDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
    Casale, RogerEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
    Caton, MartinEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
    Cawsey, IanEdwards, Huw
    Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Efford, Clive
    Chaytor, DavidEllman, Mrs Louise
    Clapham, MichaelEnnis, Jeff

    Fitzpatrick, JimLeslie, Christopher
    Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaLevitt, Tom
    Flint, CarolineLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
    Flynn, PaulLewis, Terry (Worsley)
    Foster, Rt Hon DerekLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
    Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Lock, David
    Foulkes, GeorgeLove, Andrew
    Galloway, GeorgeMcAvoy, Thomas
    Gardiner, BarryMcCabe, Steve
    George, Bruce (Walsall S)McCafferty, Ms Chris
    Gerrard, NeilMcCartney, Rt Hon Ian
    Gibson, Dr Ian


    Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcDonagh, Siobhain
    Godman, Dr Norman AMacdonald, Calum
    Godsiff, RogerMcDonnell, John
    Goggins, PaulMcFall, John
    Golding, Mrs LlinMcGuire, Mrs Anne
    Gordon, Mrs EileenMcGuire, Mrs Anne
    Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Mackinlay, Andrew
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McNamara, Kevin
    Grocott, BruceMcNulty, Tony
    Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Macshane, Denis
    Hanson, DavidMactaggart, Fiona
    Healey, JohnMcWalter, Tony
    Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mahon, Mrs Alice
    Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Mallaber, Judy
    Hendrick, MarkMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
    Hepburn, StephenMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
    Heppell, JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Hesford, StephenMarshall-Andrews, Robert
    Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMartlew, Eric
    Hinchliffe, DavidMaxton, John
    Hodge, Ms MargaretMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
    Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyMeale, Alan
    Hope, PhilMerron, Gillian
    Hopkins, KelvinMichael, Rt Hon Alun
    Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
    Howells, Dr KimMilburn, Rt Hon Alan
    Hoyle, LindsayMiller, Andrew
    Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Moffatt, Laura
    Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Moonie, Dr Lewis
    Humble, Mrs JoanMoran, Ms Margaret
    Hurst, AlanMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
    Hutton, JohnMorley, Elliot
    Iddon, Dr BrianMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
    Illsley, Eric

    (B'ham yardley)

    Ingram, Rt Hon AdamMorris, Rt Hon Sir John
    Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)


    Jamieson, DavidMudie, George
    Jenkins, BrianMullin, Chris
    Johnson, Miss MelanieMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)

    (Welwyn Hatfield)

    Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
    Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
    Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Norris, Dan
    Jones, Ms JennyO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)

    (Wolverh'ton SW)

    O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
    Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Organ, Mrs Diana
    Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Osborne, Ms Sandra
    Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Palmer, Dr Nick
    Jowell, Rt Hon Ms TessaPearson, Ian
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPendry, Tom
    Keeble, Ms SallyPickthall, Colin
    Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Plaskitt, James
    Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Pollard, Kerry
    Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Pope, Greg
    Khabra, Piara SPowell, Sir Raymond
    Kidney, DavidPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
    Kilfoyle, PeterPrescott, Rt Hon John
    King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Primarolo, Dawn
    King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Prosser, Gwyn
    Kingham, Ms TessPurchase, Ken
    Ladyman, Dr StephenQuinn, Lawrie
    Lammy, DavidRammell, Bill
    Laxton, BobRaynsford, Nick
    Lepper, DavidReed, Andrew (Loughborough)

    Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
    Robertson, JohnStringer, Graham

    (Glasgow Anniesland)

    Stuart, Ms Gisela
    Roche, Mrs BarbaraSutcliffe, Gerry
    Rogers, AllanTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
    Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff


    Rooney, TerryTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
    Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
    Rowlands, TedTemple-Morris, Peter
    Roy, FrankThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Ruane, ChrisThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Ruddock, JoanTimms, Stephen
    Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Tipping, Paddy
    Ryan, Ms JoanTodd, Mark
    Salter, MartinTouhig, Don
    Sarwar, MohammadTrickett, Jon
    Savidge, MalcolmTruswell, Paul
    Sawford, PhilTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
    Shaw, JonathanTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
    Sheerman, BarryTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
    Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTurner, Neil (Wigan)
    Shipley, Ms DebraTwigg, Derek (Halton)
    Short, Rt Hon ClareVis, Dr Rudi
    Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Walley, Ms Joan
    Singh, MarshaWard, Ms Claire
    Skinner, DennisWareing, Robert N
    Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)White, Brian
    Smith, Angela (Basildon)Whitehead, Dr Alan
    Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Wicks, Malcolm
    Smith, Miss GeraldineWilliams, Rt Hon Alan

    (Morecambe & Lunesdale)

    (Swansea W)

    Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
    Smith, John (Glamorgan)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
    Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wills, Michael
    Snape, PeterWinnick, David
    Soley, CliveWoolas, Phil
    Southworth, Ms HelenWray, James
    Squire, Ms RachelWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
    Starkey, Dr PhyllisWright, Tony (Cannock)
    Steinberg, GerryWyatt, Derek
    Stewart, David (Inverness E)
    Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Tellers for the Noes:
    Stinchcombe, PaulMr. Mike Hall and
    Stoate, Dr HowardMr. Robert Ainsworth.

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Lords amendment No. 19 agreed to [Special Entry].

    Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 25 agreed to.

    Clause 24

    Nature Conservation And Heritage Preservation

    Lords amendment: No. 26, in page 15, line 29, leave out ("the Nature Conservancy Council for England") and insert ("English Nature")

    8 pm

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 103, 106, 108 to 110, 139, 212, 214 and 237.

    The Nature Conservancy Council (England) was one of the three country councils established by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. They replaced the former Nature Conservancy Council, which exercised powers in relation to Great Britain. Since the Nature Conservancy Council (England) came into existence in 1991, it has been known colloquially as English Nature.

    The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised in Committee the question of English Nature's name. Government amendments introduced in another place respond to that and will formally change the name of the Nature Conservancy Council (England) to English Nature. They will also make the necessary consequential amendments elsewhere.

    I welcome the amendments. A peculiarity that struck many of us, led by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), in the early stages of our consideration was that the Bill did not accept the colloquialism whose use had grown up during the past nine years. The Nature Conservancy Council (England) is referred to as English Nature, so the amendments are entirely sensible and we welcome them.

    It falls to me to thank Ministers for listening to my arguments. My first work in this place, as an employee of the World Wide Fund for Nature, was on the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I have seen that element of the nomenclature of English Nature through from beginning to end. I am glad that the change is being introduced. It will make life a lot simpler for the organisation itself and for those who work with and for it.

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 27 to 29 agreed to.

    Clause 35

    Provision Of Access By Access Authority In Absence Of Agreement

    Lords amendment: No. 30, in page 21, line 21, after ("land") insert

    (", or to other access land,")

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 31, Lords amendment No. 32, amendment (a) thereto, and Lords amendments Nos. 33 and 129.

    This modest group of amendments was moved in another place and modifies the provisions relating to improving and securing public access to access land. For example, Lords amendment No. 30 clarifies the fact that access authorities may serve a notice of intention to carry out works relating to a means of access where it is needed to facilitate access to any access land. The Bill currently provides that such a notice may be served only to secure means of access to the access land in question.

    Lords amendment No. 31 provides an additional ground of appeal for owners and occupiers against notices under clause 35(1) that a different means of access, such as a gate rather than a stile, should be provided.

    Lords amendments Nos. 32 and 33 make consistent what public bodies may do under parts I and III in carrying out their legal responsibilities, and what provision should be made for compensation if they cause damage. Lords amendment No. 33 reflects our agreement to address points raised by the Opposition in another place and our acceptance of the principle that, if damage is caused by a public body in carrying out its legal responsibility, a person suffering such damage should be entitled to compensation. It is phrased in similar terms to an amendment that we accepted in the House in relation to part III. Lords amendment No. 32 clarifies what an authorised person may do in exercising his or her powers under this part of the Bill. The provision is similar to clause 70(6).

    Lords amendment No. 129 makes a minor modification to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 39(1) of that Act allows local planning authorities to enter into management agreements with landowners. Clause 72 will allow the countryside bodies to enter into such agreements and enable them to help protect open countryside, so ensuring the permanence of the right of access. The amendment allows section 39 agreements to be made in relation to any land, not just that in the countryside. It means, for example, that the Countryside Agency, in particular, can enter into such agreements to provide permanent protection for millennium greens in towns and villages.

    We welcome some of the changes, although the Minister set off some warning signals when he described them as minor. He was here yesterday, during our debate on the Bill's guillotine motion, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made the salient point that whenever amendments are described as minor or technical or he is told that they will clean up legislation, his hackles rise and he instantly reads the legislation particularly carefully because he is sure that an imposition by the Executive is involved.

    Heaven forfend that I should accuse the Minister of having unworthy motives in describing the amendments as technical. Amendment No. 32, to which we have tabled amendment (a), will give an agent of the authority the power to enter private land. The matter is therefore worthy of scrutiny by the House and, we believe, of improvement; that is the point of our amendment. Amendment No. 32 will give the agent of the authority the power not simply to enter the land, but to use a "vehicle" to do so, to take police with him, to take
    equipment and materials needed for the purpose for which he is exercising the power of entry
    and, finally, to
    take samples of the land and of anything on it.
    By any standards, those are draconian powers. Anyone who might be on the receiving end of them should feel that they were being exercised only with the degree of force absolutely necessary for the purpose for which the entry was made. That is why we have produced the brief but, I hope, helpful amendment (a), which would insert the word "relevant" in proposed new subsection (4A)(d). For an agent to be able to take samples of land—or of anything—under any circumstances involves extending what may be necessary powers, although the Minister chose not to explain the circumstances under which the powers would be exercised. Even so, the Bill would be improved if it was made clear that the only samples of land that could be taken away would be those relevant to the particular purpose.

    Apart from the general consideration about giving people only the absolutely minimum powers necessary to enforce the law, a wider point is involved. The Minister will be aware that, throughout our debates, there has been a natural tension between landowners whose rights will be removed by the Bill and those who will benefit from it. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have sought to avoid conflict. We have sought, by improving it in practical ways, to minimise any tension that could arise following its implementation. As the Minister will know, there have been sporadic outbreaks of class warfare among Labour Members who consider it moral and dutiful to cause pain to landowners. Conservative Members have tried to be much more inclusive, and to reconcile those involved in any conflicts.

    A simple practicality is also involved, however. If we give too much power to those who trample over private land, resentment will build up and there will be a possibility of problems in the future. I hope that the Minister will explain what kind of warrant will be needed for the exercise of power of entry, and in what circumstances he envisages the exercise of that power.

    As I said at the outset, I consider this to be a draconian power. Our amendment seeks to focus it much better, so that there can be no doubt that it is being exercised reasonably and sensibly.

    I am happy to reassure the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) that his concerns have already been dealt with. He is right to say that it is important for any samples taken to be relevant to the purpose. We have used the same wording as is used in part III, to which no objection has been made. I have no doubt that if the samples taken were not relevant to the functions for which an authorised person was exercising his power of entry, that would be unlawful. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured by that.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me why samples might be taken. They might be taken, for example, if it was necessary to check the status of grassland, in circumstances that we discussed earlier. I am advised, however, that an irrelevant sample would not be lawful in the first place. The hon. Gentleman's amendment is therefore unnecessary.

    It is not clear to me how the Bill can include words permitting behaviour that would be unlawful in another Bill. Can the Minister tell me which Bill would make taking irrelevant samples illegal?

    I cannot do so off the top of my head, but I am advised that samples taken that were not relevant to the functions for which an authorised person was exercising his power of entry would be unlawful—so, presumably, the answer is "this Bill".

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 31 to 38 agreed to [some with Special Entry].

    Clause 43

    Redesignation Of Roads Used As Public Paths

    Lords amendment: No. 39, in page 26, line 29, leave out subsection (3).

    8.15 pm

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 40 to 70, 102 and 172 to 189.

    This group of amendments deals with provisions relating to restricted byways, definitive maps and the extinguishment of rights of way. Most are technical, or correct minor errors, and in view of the time I propose to deal only with the most substantive.

    Lords amendments Nos. 48 to 56 relate to the powers in clause 48 enabling the Secretary of State to make regulations amending a wide range of primary and secondary legislation to take account of the creation of restricted byways as a new category of highway. Lords amendments Nos. 181 and 186 include measures to streamline the process of recording rights of way on definitive maps. Lords amendment No. 181 provides a regulation-making power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to require local authorities to keep and make available to the public and other local authorities relevant documents about the status of rights of way.

    I want to say something about Lords amendment No. 186, because the issue arose in Committee. The amendment is intended, inter alia, to filter out irrelevant objections to orders modifying definitive maps. Decisions on definitive map orders are a matter of fact and law: they do not call for judgments on whether, for example, the recording of a bridleway on a definitive map would cause environmental damage. However, schedule 15 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 requires the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to hold a public inquiry or hearing into any opposed definitive map order, even if the only objections are objections that are not material to the decision on whether to confirm the order.

    The amendment requires any objection or representation in respect of a definitive map modification order to include particulars of the grounds on which the objection or representation is made. It also empowers the Secretary of State or the Assembly to decline to hold an inquiry or hearing into an opposed order if either considers that the only objections or representations that have been made, and not withdrawn, are not relevant to a decision on whether to confirm an order. That, I think, closes a loophole identified in our lengthy discussions in Committee, and I hope it is acceptable.

    The remaining amendments are technical.

    I appreciate what the Minister has said, especially his remarks about the closing of the loophole. I merely wish to challenge him on Lords amendment No. 40. What does it actually mean? It would insert a subsection referring to a highway beside

    a river, canal or other inland navigation.
    It says that such a highway should not be excluded from the definition of a restricted byway

    because the public have a right to use the highway for purposes of navigation.
    It puzzles me how it would be possible to navigate a highway. I know that some people's driving might be construed as navigation, but the word clearly relates to the use of a waterway, so the reference to using a highway for the purposes of navigation makes no sense. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain that.

    As I understand it, the Government originally intended to simplify the law on rights of way. I am not certain that they have managed to achieve that and still believe that a cut-off date for historic paths is wrong. However, they are committed to that approach and have said that they will provide extra resources to enable local authorities to carry out their work. How will that money be allocated to local authorities?

    It should be borne in mind that some local authorities—perhaps because of earlier neglect in that regard—have more to do than others. In addition, various parts of the country have different problems. As president of the Ramblers Association—that is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests—I recently went to Suffolk on its behalf. It was concerned about a historical backlog and wanted to know what extra help the Government would provide to enable it to carry out its work. Is my right hon. Friend able to say how much money will be available and how it will be allocated?

    If there is one aspect of the Bill that has clearly not been thought through, it is the part that deals with rights of way. The fact that many amendments have been tabled to it suggests not only that it is technically incorrect but that it is something of a mess. I am disappointed that they do not deal with some of the issues that I had hoped would be raised.

    The Minister will know that we discussed bridleways when I came to see him. There is an event in my constituency that attracts 500 people from all over the world, but they have been prevented from cycling on a bridleway for the past 12 years because of the Highways Act 1980. Such matters need sorting out.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation because it is an example of what the Bill and the amendments do not address. There would have been no problem dealing with the cycle race that he mentioned. In addition, the amendments do not deal with the relationship between cycling and recreational riding, which should have been properly addressed, or with the carriage riders who do not have access to appropriate roads. Having made that cavil, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for listening to the argument about the difficulties of discounting irrelevant objections. Some objections, although relevant to the objector, are, in law, irrelevant and have to be passed to the Secretary of State. I hope that the relevant amendment will be accepted.

    In so far as I understand the question that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked about amendment No. 40, I think the answer is that it ensures that highways with a right of towage are not excluded from the definition of a restricted byway. I believe that a similar provision in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Highways Act 1980 relates to other highways. I shall write to him if that is not correct.

    As for the more substantive policy points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I was not sure whether he wanted to reignite the issue of the 25-year time limit. We believe that there is a fair balance between the desirability of giving certainty to landowners and ensuring that all evidence of historic rights—given the extra assistance that we have promised—should be made available within that time scale.

    My hon. Friend asked about resources. We estimate that part II will cost local authorities a maximum of £19 million a year. The Department will cover that cost. The main element of local authority funding will be provided probably in 2002-03 to coincide with the implementation of most of the provisions in part II and in line with the so-called new burdens arrangements.

    However, in recognition of the time limit on completing the historic record of rights of way, we are not waiting until 2002. Some £750,000 of the £3.5 million allocated to areas of outstanding natural beauty—access to which is to be channelled through the Countryside Agency next year—is to assist non-governmental organisations to research rights of way. Those are considerable sums. Local authorities are unlikely to face a significant increase in applications for such work during the next financial year. However, an extra £400,000 for recording rights of way has been included in the local authority settlement for England that was announced yesterday. As we have committed extra resources, I hope that my hon. Friend will be assured that we are implementing the provisions.

    I was trying to find out how far the allocation of the extra resources will take into account the needs of particular areas. Some areas might be in greater need of assistance, because of the poor state of their definitive maps, than areas that have almost completed their definitive maps.

    I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. It is common sense that not all local authorities will need an equal allocation of resources. We need to take account of the areas where more resources are needed because much more work needs to be done. I could mention one or two local authorities for which that is the case. I assure him that the allocation will take account of the requirements of research and archival work, according to our best knowledge.

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 40 to 70 agreed to.

    Clause 54

    Application For Path Creation Order For Purposes Of Part I

    Lords amendment: No. 71, in page 33, line 38, leave out from ("any") to end of line 39 and insert

    ("local highway authority whose area includes land over which the proposed footpath or bridleway would be created.")

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 72, 190 to 211, 213 and 215 to 233.

    The group of amendments deals with provisions relating to the creation, extinguishment and

    diversion of rights of way. At the risk of arousing the suspicions of Opposition Members, I have to say that the amendments are for the most part technical, or for the correction of minor errors. I have several pages of explanation, which I am happy to read to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), but if he is satisfied and will accept my word about the technical nature of the amendments, I shall desist. Otherwise, the time threat will hang over the debate.

    8.30 pm

    The Minister's invitation is irresistible, but I will relieve him of any question in his mind that I do not believe him when he says that the amendments are technical. 1 am, however, puzzled by one of the technicalities. Amendment No. 72 is:

    in clause 55, page 34, leave out line 27.
    We are talking about stopping up and diversion. Line 27 as it currently exists in the Bill says that
    `highway' includes part of a highway.
    On the surface, that seems a sensible provision as, clearly, one would not necessarily wish to stop up or to divert an entire highway. One can easily envisage circumstances in which it would be useful to divert part of a highway. I am therefore puzzled as to why the Government have chosen to leave out the provision.

    I thought that rescue might be arriving for the Minister. Sadly, it is not, so I shall keep questioning why the amendment should have been tabled. As I say, on the surface, it seems to make life too inflexible for the implementation of that part of the legislation. I should be grateful if the Minister would reply on that amendment.

    It may be that help will not arrive in time. In the event that it does not, I shall undertake to provide the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) with a written explanation of his query. If that is not acceptable, I will be happy to read out the three pages I have in front of me. [interruption.] Here comes some help. The provision is replaced in a new interpretation clause at the end of part II. I hope that that makes as much sense to the hon. Gentleman as it makes to me.

    Lords amendment agreed to.

    Lords amendment No. 72 agreed to.

    Clause 56

    Rights Of Way Improvement Plans

    Lords amendment: No. 73, in page 34, line 43, leave out ("which local rights of way provide") and insert

    ("provided by local rights of way (and in particular by those within paragraph (a) of the definition in subsection (5))")

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 74 to 79 and 100.

    This group of Lords amendments relates to the rights of way improvement plans which the Bill requires local highway authorities to prepare and to publish. Lords amendment No. 73 places additional emphasis on the recreational opportunities provided by footpaths, cycle tracks, bridleways and restricted byways in the context of local authorities' assessment of the opportunities for open-air recreation provided by local rights of way.

    Lords amendment No. 74 provides that, when local highway authorities are assessing the opportunities provided by local rights of way for open-air recreation, particular emphasis should be given to exercise. Lords amendments Nos. 75 and 76 bring cycle tracks, other than those which form part of, or run alongside, a made-up carriageway, within the ambit of rights of way improvement plans.

    Lords amendment No. 78 requires local highway authorities, when preparing their rights of way improvement plans, to consult the local access forums whose establishment is proposed under Lords amendment No. 127.

    Lords amendment No. 100 relates to clause 64, which currently requires local authorities to have regard to the needs of people with mobility problems when authorising the erection of stiles, gates and other stockproof barriers on footpaths and bridleways under section 147 of the Highways Act 1980. Section 147 is concerned solely with approvals for the erection of new structures. Lords amendment No. 100 enables the authorities which at present have the power to authorise new stockproof structures to enter into agreements with owners or occupiers to alter or to replace existing structures to make them safer or more convenient for people with mobility problems.

    I welcome the gist of the amendments, especially the last one, whose genesis lies in discussions we had in Committee about ways to improve access to rights of way for people with mobility problems.

    How does the Minister construe the amendment that makes a distinction between exercise and other forms of open-air recreation? How does adding the words
    exercise and other forms of
    assist our understanding of the purpose of the improvement plans? If it means that the plans will make a significant effort to improve the network of bridleways for recreational riding and available rights of way for carriage driving, so allowing cycling and riding to co-exist, I wholeheartedly welcome it. However, if there is another meaning, I ask the Minister to tell the House what it is, so that we can arrive at a view.

    As I said, Lords amendment No. 74 provides that when local highway authorities are assessing the opportunities provided by local rights of way for open-air recreation, particular emphasis should be given to exercise. I think that that means exactly what it says—healthy outdoor activity.

    Is the Minister saying that open-air recreation can be something other than exercise for the purposes of using a right of way, or can exercise be something other than open-air recreation? Perhaps the distinction should not detain the House at this time of night, but I merely want to understand the meaning of the amendment, and interpretation has so far been lacking.

    If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I think we will have to follow the matter up later. He is pursuing me down all sorts of alleyways where I am not currently equipped to travel. May I get back to him at an appropriate moment?

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 74 to 79 agreed to.

    Clause 59

    Enforcement Of Duty To Prevent Obstruction

    Lords amendment: No. 80, in page 37, leave out lines 26 to 31 and insert—

    ("(a) it is or forms part of—

  • (i) a building (whether temporary or permanent) or works for the construction of a building, or
  • (ii) any other structure (including a tent, caravan, vehicle or other temporary or movable structure) which is designed, adapted or used for human habitation,")
  • I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 81 to 98, 101, and 234 to 236.

    Because of the time, I shall speak only briefly, and to the more important amendments.

    Lords amendments Nos. 80 to 95 relate to clause 59, which enables a person to trigger action by a local highway authority to remove obstructions from rights of way, if necessary by seeking an order from the magistrates court. Buildings or structures are excluded from clause 59. Lords amendments Nos. 80 and 92 make clear which buildings or structures are excluded and remove the rather extraordinary possibility that someone might block a right of way with an empty vehicle, not designed as a dwelling, and argue that it could conceivably be lived in and was therefore exempt from the provisions. I am sure that the whole House is delighted to learn that that is now preventable.

    Lords amendments Nos. 82 to 91 and 93 to 95 give a person who is responsible for the obstruction, including its owner, a right to give evidence to the court on those matters on which it must be satisfied before it can make an order. The aim is to ensure that the court is provided with as much relevant information as possible when deciding whether to make an order. The Lords amendments also give the person responsible for the obstruction a right to appeal to the Crown court against a decision of the magistrates court. Of course, the complainant and the highway authority already have such a right.

    I shall briefly deal with Lords amendment No. 234, as it relates to the Grimsell lane case, which was of interest in Committee. Lords amendment No. 234 relates to section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which is amended by schedule 7 to the Bill. Among other things, schedule 7 extends to restricted byways the current offence of driving a motor vehicle without lawful authority on a footpath or bridleway. For the purposes of prosecutions under section 34, a new subsection (2) creates a presumption that a way shown on a definitive map as a footpath, bridleway, or restricted byway is to be treated as such a way unless a defendant produces evidence to the contrary.

    Lords amendment No. 234 also raises the evidential burden from a prima facie one to one of the balance of probabilities, which is the same level as that required to secure a modification to the definitive map. That is the highest evidential burden placed on a defendant in criminal proceedings.

    The effect of Lords amendment No. 236 is to make it an offence, in certain circumstances, to drive on a way shown as a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway, regardless of whether it carries full public vehicular rights of way. It inserts a new section 34A into the Road Traffic Act 1988 requiring a defendant, in addition to proving the existence of full vehicular rights of way, to show that it was reasonably necessary to drive the vehicle to gain access to land in which he has an interest or on which he is a visitor but not a trespasser, or that it was reasonably necessary for him to drive the vehicle for the purposes of any business, trade or profession.

    The amendments deal with a vexed issue that has concerned both the courts and the Committee, and I hope that the issue is now satisfactorily addressed.

    I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the amendments and for mentioning our lengthy debates on the Grimsell lane case. This is an opportune moment to pay tribute to one of the groups that has provided so much information for our debates, GLEAM—the green lanes environmental action movement—which is quite rightly concerned with the preservation of green lanes. I declare an interest as a GLEAM member.

    The measures that the Minister has described sound adequate. However, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that GLEAM itself has said that, although progress was made in the Bill's early stages, it was not at all convinced that sufficient progress had been made in protecting green lanes from inappropriate vehicular use. We shall have to see how the legislation pans out in practice. Although I am aware that the Minister has, as he just said, strengthened many of the provisions, I suspect that, at this stage, we can only hope that enough has been done and that we will not have to revisit the issue in future legislation.

    The Minister also said that the legislation does not permit someone to park an empty vehicle across a right of way and thereby claim that there is a building obstructing the way. One wonders what would happen if someone parked a caravan in such a location and lived in it very occasionally. Would that constitute a building under the legislation? Could the legislation be obstructed by that particular ruse?

    The hon. Gentleman has asked a very interesting question, to which I am not sure of the answer. I should have thought that, because a caravan is mobile, that would not constitute entitlement to exemption from the provisions. However, although that is my opinion of

    what would make common sense, the law is never quite the same as common sense. If I am incorrect in that opinion, I shall let the hon. Gentleman know by letter.

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 81 to 98 agreed to.

    Before Clause 64

    Lords amendment: No. 99, to insert the following new clause— Vehicular access across common land etc

    "—(1) This section applies to a way which the owner or occupier (from time to time) of any premises has used as a means of access for vehicles to the premises, if that use of the way—

  • (a) was an offence under an enactment applying to the land crossed by the way, but
  • (b) would otherwise have been sufficient to create on or after the prescribed date, and to keep in existence, an easement giving a right of way for vehicles.
  • (2) Regulations may provide, as respects a way to which this section applies, for the creation in accordance with the regulations, on the application of the owner of the premises concerned and on compliance by him with prescribed requirements, of an easement subsisting at law for the benefit of the premises and giving a right of way for vehicles over that way.

    (3) An easement created in accordance with the regulations is subject to any enactment or rule of law which would apply to such an easement granted by the owner of the land.

    (4) The regulations may in particular—

  • (a) require that, where an application is made after the relevant use of the way has ceased, it is to be made within a specified time,
  • (b) specify grounds on which objections may be made and the procedure to apply to the making of objections,
  • (c) require any matter to be referred to and determined by the Lands Tribunal, and make provision as to procedure and costs,
  • (d) make provision as to the payment of any amount by the owner of the premises concerned to any person or into court and as to the time when any payment is to be made,
  • (e) provide for the determination of any such amount,
  • (f) make provision as to the date on which any easement is created,
  • (g) specify any limitation to which the easement is subject,
  • (h) provide for the easement to include any specified right incidental to the right of way,
  • (i) make different provision for different circumstances.
  • (5) In this section—

    "enactment" includes an enactment in a local or private Act and a byelaw, regulation or other provision having effect under an enactment;

    "owner", in relation to any premises, means—

  • (a) a person, other than a mortgagee not in possession, who is for the time being entitled to dispose of the fee simple of the premises, whether in possession or in reversion, or
  • (b) a tenant under a long lease, within the meaning of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987;
  • "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations;

    "regulations" means regulations made, as respects England, by the Secretary of State and, as respects Wales, by the National Assembly for Wales.

    (6) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and no such regulations shall be made by the Secretary of State unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."

    8.45 pm

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following: amendments (a) to (c) and consequential amendment (d), and Lords amendment No. 132.

    I support Lords amendment No. 99, but I believe that the legislative landscape would also be enhanced by the planting of amendments (a) and (c). When we debated this matter on 14 June, I described the plight of my constituents in Newtown common, who suddenly found that the common had changed hands and that the new owner was seeking to charge them between 6 and 10 per cent. of the value of their homes—tens of thousands of pounds—for the privilege of driving a few yards from the main road to their front doors across common land, which they had been crossing for nothing from time immemorial.

    Both Government and Opposition Members spoke in favour of the amendments that I had tabled, because the problem goes far wider than Newtown common. People who had done all the necessary searches when they bought their homes were confronted with unexpected, and in my view unjustified, bills. At the end of that debate, the Minister was clearly moved by what he had heard. He used language even stronger than the language that I had used. He spoke without restraint, and the words "outrageous", "spivvery" and "blackmail" crossed his lips—and, indeed, appeared in Hansard at column 975.

    The Minister then looked down at his script, prepared for him by his civil servants, and discovered to his dismay that he was briefed to resist the amendments that would have ended the outrage that he had condemned. He told us that none of the options was straightforward and said:
    If I could think of a solution to it now, I would offer it.—[Official Report, 14 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 978.]
    He then invited the people's party to vote for this indefensible feudal practice, which it did.

    Happily, the injustice has been put right in another place, thanks to my noble Friend the Earl of Selborne. The Labour party may find it odd that two old Etonians, one an hereditary baronet and the other an hereditary earl, have had to do battle with the Labour Government on behalf of those living in the old cottages off Newtown common, to defend them against its rapacious owner. Life is full of paradoxes.

    In fairness to the Minister, I must say that he has played a key part in finding a solution, for which I thank him. He patiently listened to a delegation that I brought to his office and he gave me encouragement at crucial stages.

    On 2 October, the Government began consultations on a solution that would have capped at 4 per cent. the charges that people had to pay to drive over common land. After the consultations ended—I commend the Newtown Residents Association for its representations—the Government made further welcome concessions, and on 3 November they proposed that post-1930 houses would attract a charge of 3 per cent. and pre-1930 houses 1 per cent. Those are welcome steps in the right direction.

    I tabled amendments (a) and (c) to tidy up two loose ends. I am no longer pressing the proposal to defer the payment of the charges until the property next changes hands, nor am I seeking further to lower the percentage, but I must press the Government on the date by which the regulations under Lords amendment No. 99 are to be introduced.

    Without the regulations there is no protection, and people will find it difficult to sell their houses until the problem is sorted out, because the purchasers will not want the uncertainty. Amendment (c) gives the Government six months in which to make the regulations. We must maintain the momentum and not let the issue run into the sand. I hope that the Minister will give us some comfort on the crucial question of the timetable.

    Amendment (a) would require specific provision to be made for those living in pre-1906 houses. My noble Friend Lord Selborne made the case well in his speech last Thursday. In my view, those with pre-1906 houses will have acquired a prescriptive right to drive back and forth before 1926, when the law changed—but I am not a lawyer, and there may be some doubt about the matter.

    Ideally, those with the older houses should have their position made clear in the regulations by its being made explicit that nothing is payable. The clarity of everyone else's position, thanks to the Lords amendment, now contrasts with the lack of clarity about the pre-1906 houses.

    There is another matter that the Minister in another place said that he would consider sympathetically: the length of time that people have before they serve a notice on the common owner. Six months may be all right for the 1 per cent. and 3 per cent. people, but those who believe that they may have to pay nothing may need a little longer to resolve the uncertainty.

    If the Minister can say something helpful about the amendments, we may be able to move on and make progress with the remaining stages of the Bill.

    I support the amendments. Yarningdale common, in the village of Claverdon in my constituency, is owned by the parish council. The Minister has been helpful with regard to the problem there, and I hope that it can be resolved by means of local government legislation, as he has suggested.

    I did not expect that a clause and draft regulations would be available by this time to deal with the difficulties that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) described, and I am grateful to the Minister on behalf of about 26 of my constituents. They are quite seriously affected and are being held to ransom by the parish council. Sums of up to £30,000 have been demanded from some of them, although some settlements have been lower.

    I have a few small questions about the draft regulations, about which I hope that there will be further consultation. What is the timing for the regulations? I do not see why we should have to wait six months for their introduction, given that they already exist in draft form. Amendment (b) would change the period to three months, and I hope that the Minister will say why that is not appropriate.

    I am also worried about the requirement that applications be made within six months. That should be relaxed slightly, especially, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire noted, in the case of houses built before 1906. They belong to a different category. At least 25 of the 27-odd houses on Yarningdale common were built in the 1880s. They were sold by the then lord of the manor to their tenants in 1885 or 1886. It is difficult to see how the new owners could not have acquired a prescriptive right by the time that the Law of Property Act 1925 came into effect.

    Those people would have had nearly 40 years of adverse possession by the time the 1925 Act came into effect, but that is, of course, impossible to prove now. Many of the properties have been through four, five, six or more owners since then. Those changes of ownership limit the potential for gathering the necessary evidence, and a person would have to be more than 100 years old to be able to give first-hand evidence.

    Although it is almost impossible for the people involved to prove that they acquired the prescriptive right of way, it is also almost impossible to argue that they did not. For that reason, I believe that a special category should be drawn up to cover pre-1906 houses. It is difficult to imagine that their owners should have to pay anything in relation to the value of the property. I suggest to the Minister that perhaps they should pay some administrative fee instead. They should certainly be expected to cover legal expenses, and perhaps to pay something to the landlord for his time and trouble. Basically, however, those people should be able to get their title confirmed and acquire a rectifying deed for nothing.

    My final point has to do with a reference in the draft regulations to land where the number and use of buildings and land served by the access is materially unchanged. Most of the properties around Yarningdale common are well over 100 years old, and change has probably taken place there—for example, a barn may have been converted into a house in a place where previously there was only one dwelling.

    In many cases, too, houses may have been rebuilt. Although a house may have one access to a piece of land, there might originally have been a cottage built in the early 19th century that was knocked down and rebuilt. The same provisions should apply in those circumstances, because in the context of the Law of Property Act 1925, the time for which the right of access has been used will depend on when the original house was built, not on when it was rebuilt.

    I hope that the Minister can deal with those points. I hope, too, that the regulations can be brought into effect as soon as possible, and that we can consult on them in advance. That will probably represent our only opportunity to deal with the problems that have arisen, so we must ensure that the regulations cover all eventualities.

    I end by thanking the Minister again for his extremely constructive and open approach to the matter.

    I echo what has been said by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). This is a welcome move on the part of the Government to deal with a long-standing problem. A great deal of effort has been put into finding

    an appropriate solution. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman both talked about the early introduction of the regulations, and I support their view that an early introduction is to be desired.

    I am also concerned about the tiered structure of compensation, which will be a matter for further discussion when the regulations are introduced. There is an argument that 3 per cent. for a post-war house—although modest in comparison with what might otherwise have been levied—may still represent a substantial amount for a householder to find. Perhaps 2 per cent. might be more appropriate. However, now is not the time to debate that in detail. Now is the time to welcome what the Government have done, and to support the inclusion of the provision in the Bill.

    I, too, thank the Under-Secretary of State for what he has done to bring about the amendment. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for all the work that he has put into this matter. The regulations are not ideal and give the Minister enormous discretion, allowing him to make different provision for different circumstances. However, given the complexity of the status of common land and vehicular access over it, that is perhaps not surprising.

    I do not understand the difference between the 1 per cent. compensation for properties built before 1930 and the 3 per cent. for properties built thereafter. Three per cent. is still a big figure; it is a windfall to the owner of the access and a liability that the property owners had no idea they had. Could that 3 per cent. be reduced—perhaps to 2 per cent.? Also, could part of the consideration we are talking about be set aside to help pay for the upkeep of access roads across common land?

    Reference has been made to when the regulations will come in, and it is extremely important that they come in as soon as possible. A number of my constituents in West Runton are considering selling their properties, while other people are considering buying and taking out a mortgage. They all find that their transactions are effectively frozen for the time being.

    We have discussed the definition of property. The regulations do not address that problem, although it was addressed in another place. It is important that it is made explicit that "property" includes agricultural land, market gardens and other similar properties. We have heard today about deferring payment, and I hope that it will be deferred until the property is sold. It is often only at that point that the owner has ready cash to make the payment. There has also been talk of making payments by instalment. Given that in some cases payment will be being made for the first time for hundreds of years, I do not see why the owner of the access way cannot wait until the property is sold.

    Finally, it would be helpful for the Minister to confirm that those who had access to property prior to 1906 acquired a prescriptive right thereby. When we are looking at records that go back through the mists of time—perhaps over 200 years—it is important to know exactly where access paths of right went; often these would be cart tracks to farms. It may not be easy to establish where the prescriptive right exists, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that there is such a right.

    I, too, welcome the fact that the Minister has taken on board, appreciated and acted on the representations made when this matter was last debated. Lords amendment No. 99, to be inserted before clause 64, goes a long way to meeting all the points that I raised on the previous occasion.

    9 pm

    I should simply like to endorse two important points. The first is about properties built before 1906. I do not believe, and I do not believe that the Minister believes, that people should get something for nothing, yet that is what will happen if some percentage is levied to grant the easement. It should be able to be granted simply on payment of the legal fees. Under the Law of Property Act 1925 and its associated legislation, Parliament, quite intentionally, deprived people of an existing right. It is for us to put that wrong right today.

    I hope that the Minister can provide reassurance that for properties built before 1906, no charge will be levied. That would be justice in a situation that has been riddled with gross injustice. Some landlords, particularly in Gerrards Cross in my constituency, have effectively sought to blackmail the owners of properties, many of which predate 1906.

    Secondly, may I urge speed on the Minister? This problem has caused a lot of real hardship. Some of the people who occupy such properties are not wealthy. They may have a capital asset, but that does not mean that they have ready cash. Some cannot sell their property because of the difficulties of obtaining the easement. I very much hope that it will not be long before the legislation is introduced and the regulations made.

    I repeat my thanks to the Minister for having listened to and acted on the representations that many right hon. and hon. Members have made on this matter.

    I echo the words of my hon. Friends the Members for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in thanking the Minister for listening to our pleas and for coming forward with this solution.

    I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). He is the general in this campaign and has argued the case with great dexterity. I am but a mere spear carrier who has supported his army in this debate. I know that my constituents who had lived in sweet innocence in Chorleywood common for a number of years until this bombshell burst on them are grateful for the reduction that has been obtained.

    My parish council is also grateful for what has happened. Its members found themselves in the difficult position of having to charge inflated and increased prices, to the detriment of people in Chorleywood common. I know that they are glad that a much more reasonable figure can be charged. A number of people feel that even the figures involved now are too high. Nevertheless, compared with what the percentage was, and what it could have been, they are much better.

    On my right hon. Friend's amendment (c), which I support, I put it to the Government—again in the sweet innocence that characterises my approach to life—that if they are prepared to offer three months for consideration of a change in the air traffic control regulations and rules, the proposed period of six months is positively generous. I am sure that the Minister will have no difficulty in accepting the amendment.

    I, too, join my hon. Friends in thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for the work that he has done in this matter and for bringing us to this stage. In doing so, I support his amendment (c) which would provide for a six-month period. That is not only more realistic but would probably give the optimum opportunity for proper consultation. Frankly, it would be better to give right hon. and hon. Members and those with a legitimate interest the opportunity for further discussions with the Minister and his Department to ensure that we get this matter right than to rush at it. I thus prefer a six-month time scale to one of three months.

    I am slightly—in fact, more than slightly—worried about the percentages that have been bandied about. Is a uniform percentage appropriate, given the enormous variation in property values up and down the country? It might not be untypical for a property in Chislehurst in my constituency to be worth —400,000 or —500,000. If one applies a 3 per cent. rate to such a property value, people in their later years, who are on fixed incomes, have already made proper provision for their retirement and thought that they could look forward to a comfortable if modest existence, could suddenly find themselves facing rather unexpected hardship. Most people looking at the setting and the houses involved might find that rather difficult to believe, but such circumstances have been brought about by means completely outside the owners' control. Not just the percentage rate but the very variable effect of its application across the country requires careful consideration.

    I join others who believe that the Government have been prepared to look sympathetically at the issue. The Minister has played his part. I hope that, having reached this stage, we can make progress and find a resolution that, as far as possible in such circumstances, balances all interests involved.

    I add my thanks to those of others, both to the Minister for the way in which the Government have shown a degree of flexibility, and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who has indeed marshalled his troops with skill and aplomb, as one would expect.

    There is still a point at issue about the appropriate period before the Government implement the regulations. As has been said, the draft regulations are now out for consultation. So, on the surface, a three-month period seems preferable to a six-month period. If, however, the Minister gave some cogent reasons why a six-month period would be preferable, we would of course listen to him.

    The underlying point that must be made is that some end must be included in the provision. Clearly, the many people who are affected by the matter will want to know how long the uncertainty will last. As has been said, many of them will be elderly people. Therefore, such uncertainty stretching for months and years will cause them particular distress.

    To some extent, the issue of whether the period lasts for three or six months is secondary, but the matter of urgency is clearly a first-order issue. Since the Government have so far acted so constructively, under the influence of the persuasive arguments of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I urge them to take that final step to reassure people about when the new rules will be implemented.

    It gives me particular pleasure to agree with the Lords amendments and to respond to Opposition amendments. From the moment the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) raised the subject with me, I was alive to the iniquity of the situation. As he will recall, I attempted, by meeting those involved in his constituency case, to reach a solution to the problem as it then stood. I am particularly pleased that it has now proved possible, as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's assiduous and skilful campaigning, to amend the law to ensure that the circumstances with which his constituent and others were faced cannot be repeated. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the way he has conducted his campaign.

    The purpose of Lords amendment No. 99 is to protect property owners who have been driving across common or similar land for many years, and who are now faced with having to pay an excessive fee to the landowner for acquiring the right to do so. I think that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that we are not talking only about cases such as the one in Newtown, in which someone was in business to make a lot of money as quickly as possible. That is not the only circumstance. Local authorities and the National Trust also manage commons, and they have some rights that must be considered. Therefore, we have tried to arrive at a solution that is fair to everyone. In other cases, the sort of problem that arose in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency has never arisen.

    The solution that we are considering—this is why it is not possible entirely to write off the charge—has to take into account the interests of those commons that have been properly managed and about which there is no particular complaint. The Lords amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that will contain the details of the scheme. The main elements of the scheme will include establishing that the access way has been used in such a manner and for such a time that the prescriptive right of access through long use would have been acquired, a limit on the amount of compensation that the property owner has to pay the landowner, and comprehensive dispute resolution procedures.

    I am glad to say that there is welcome agreement on both sides of the House about the need to provide such protection, although there is some dispute about the details. We shall return to the details in subsequent debates on the regulations, so this is not the final say on the matter. There is still scope to affect the drafting of the regulations. They have yet to be drafted, and they will require consultation with all the affected parties. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, it will be necessary to draft the regulations carefully. We want to get the matter right, and once we have done so, I hope it will no longer be a source of grievance for the constituents of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire and others.

    Lords amendment No. 132 clarifies the definition of "town or village green" contained in the Commons Registration Act 1965 and provides for regulations to be made that will clarify when the applications for registration have to be made. I repeat that the Government will consult widely on the content of the regulations.

    I shall try to respond to some of the points raised. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that 3 per cent. was too high. That is something that we can consider when the regulations are drafted, but we are trying to reach a fair balance between the parties and take into account the interests of those commons where there is no dispute and the National Trust or local authority has a perfectly acceptable relationship with the people who live around the common. The upkeep of access roads was also mentioned. We can certainly consider that as part of the regulations, which will be subject to the affirmative procedure so that there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter in more detail.

    The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) mentioned the definition of a property. The Bill uses the word "premises", which relates to buildings, land, and land and buildings. The possibility of deferring payments can also be considered in drafting the regulations. As for older houses, for which the right has existed for longer, property owners have to provide evidence of prescriptive rights. I appreciate that it is difficult and that we are talking about houses that may be 100 or more years old. I am advised that to change the situation would be at odds with the laws on prescription and would put a small number of property owners in a very advantageous position. I appreciate that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire will wish to return to that point, but I hope that I have said enough to show that there is plenty of time to get the matter right and deal with each of the issues that hon. Members have raised.

    On the question of timing, as I said, we shall have to consult first. The regulations do not exist yet; this is new territory. I share the desire expressed by all hon. Members that they should be dealt with as speedily as possible, and I can give an assurance that we shall do so. In view of their kind remarks about my approach to the problem, I hope they will accept that that assurance can be taken seriously.

    9.15 pm

    Is it possible for the Minister to say that by the end of June 2001, for example, he expects the regulations to have been made? Is that a target with which he could identify himself?

    I do not want to get trapped into giving any specific target date, but I would be extremely disappointed if we had not sorted out the matter by then. On the basis of those sentiments, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment.

    Lords amendment agreed to.
    Lords amendments Nos. 100 to 103 agreed to [Some with Special Entry].

    Before Clause 66

    Lords amendment: No. 104, to insert the following new clause— Conservation of biological diversity—

    —(1) It is the duty of—

    (a) any Minister of the Crown (within the meaning of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975),

  • (b) any Government department, and
  • (c) the National Assembly for Wales,
  • in carrying out his or its functions, to have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biological diversity in accordance with the Convention.

    (2) The Secretary of State, as respects England, and the National Assembly for Wales, as respects Wales, shall each publish a list of, or lists which together comprise, the living organisms and types of habitat which in the opinion of the Secretary of State or the Assembly (as the case may be) are of principal importance for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1).

    (3) Without prejudice to subsection (1), it is the duty of a listing authority to take, or to promote the taking by others of, such steps as appear to the authority to be reasonably practicable to further the conservation of the living organisms and types of habitat included in any list published by the authority under this section.

    (4) Before publishing the list or lists required by subsection (2) the listing authority shall consult the appropriate conservation body as to the living organisms or types of habitat to be included in the list or lists.

    (5) Each listing authority shall, in consultation with the appropriate conservation body—

  • (a) keep under review any list published by the authority under this section,
  • (b) make such revisions of any such list as appear to the authority to be appropriate, and
  • (c) publish any list so revised.
  • (6) A duty under this section to publish a list is a duty to publish it in such manner as the listing authority thinks fit.

    (7) In this section—

    "appropriate conservation body" means—

  • (a) as respects England, English Nature,
  • (b) as respects Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales;
  • "biological diversity" has the same meaning as in the Convention;

    "conservation" in relation to a living organism or type of habitat, includes the restoration or enhancement of a population or habitat;

    "the Convention" means the United Nations Environmental Programme Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992;

    "habitat" has the same meaning as in the Convention; "listing authority"—

  • (a) in relation to a list which the Secretary of State is required to publish under this section, means the Secretary of State;
  • (b) in relation to a list which the National Assembly for Wales is required to publish under this section, means the National Assembly for Wales.")
  • I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    This is one of those happy occasions when there is a concurrence of views among all parties on the subject of biodiversity. The Lords amendment responds to the concerns expressed in the Standing Committee of this House and repeated in the Lords and by the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs in the interim report on its investigation into UK biodiversity. There was very strong support for statutory underpinning for the conservation of biodiversity outside designated sites.

    The Government are committed to the conservation of biological diversity wherever it occurs. We tabled Lords amendment No. 104 to give new duties to Government Departments and the National Assembly for Wales to have regard to the purpose of biodiversity conservation, in accordance with the convention on biological diversity.

    The Lords amendment also requires the Secretary of State and the Assembly to maintain lists of living organisms and habitat types of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity, and to take steps, and promote others to take steps, to further their conservation. The amendment provides a comprehensive and effective statutory basis for the current partnership approach to the biodiversity action plan, while allowing flexibility for the future. It also encourages the integration of biodiversity conservation into policy across the Government, which is a central element of the convention's provisions.

    I thank all those who have been involved in discussion of the issue. I believe that the resolution will be satisfactory to all parties.

    I concur with the Minister that, through all the stages of the Bill, many of us on the Conservative Benches and on other Benches have demanded statutory backing for biodiversity action plans to be part of the Bill.

    As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have argued all along that there are good and bad parts in the Bill, and that its main use will be in improving the protection of wildlife in Britain. That is why we were so much in favour of this measure, and we are delighted that the new clause will appear in the Bill.

    Pursuing the line of thought that there are good and bad parts in the Bill, I am sure that the irony will not be lost on the Minister and his colleagues on the Labour Benches that all the good parts were introduced or significantly enhanced in another place. If the Bill had only gone through another place and never touched this House, it would be the ideal wildlife protection Bill.

    However, we have what we have before us, and it would be churlish not to welcome the parts in which the Government have taken steps forward, as we requested. I expect that the clause will make a substantial long-term beneficial difference to the preservation and enhancement of wildlife of all kinds in this country, so we welcome it.

    I suspect that it is slightly spurious logic to suggest that amendments introducing improvements to the Bill have come about entirely because of what happened at the other end of the building, rather than because of a delayed reaction to arguments advanced in Committee and in the Chamber. However, I welcome what the Government have done in this instance. It is an extremely significant move on their part. The argument was advanced in Committee that there should be statutory underpinning of a biodiversity action plan.

    The Government have gone further than that by enshrining the convention on biological diversity in law. That is to be welcomed. It will give a tremendous boost to conservation outside protected sites. It will encourage species recovery programmes and habitat restoration schemes. Congratulations go to the Government on doing what was essential if the Bill was to meet its conservation objectives.

    I add my congratulations to the Government on this important part of the Bill; it was the subject of considerable debate in Committee. I differ from what the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said. I am not sure that those in another place were able to get things entirely right. There were some pretty good and persuasive arguments advanced by Opposition Members in Committee. I know that the hon. Gentleman might have been jocular; I too am not without a sense of humour.

    It is patently obvious that there is a need for what has been done. In Wales, for example, there are 222 species and habitat action plan areas that are relevant. In other words, there are 222 species and habitats in Wales that are currently endangered. The Countryside Council for Wales is the leading body in the UK on biodiversity, and its contribution is important. I am not sure to whom I am pleading, but that body, like other similar bodies, says that it is extremely underfunded. At present, it is able to work on only 120 of the 222 action plans. Knowing the Minister's sincerity and his interest in these matters, I am sure that I have made the point sufficiently clearly.

    I am extremely pleased that the Government have seen fit to introduce proper statutory underpinning. I pay tribute to some of the bodies that lobbied during our earlier consideration of the Bill, particularly the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which was persuasive in its support and the definite need that it saw for the underpinning of the biodiversity action plan. I am pleased that the Government agree with the amendment, having agreed with the other place.

    Clause 74 goes slightly further than the RSPB agenda in that, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, it enshrines the convention on biological diversity which was signed at the Rio summit in 1992. It is a substantial breakthrough for the conservation of wildlife outside protected sites. It must be a much needed boost to the implementation of species recovery programmes.

    I have been in this business long enough to know that one is entitled to a modest degree of suspicion when there is unanimity and mutual self-congratulation, especially among politicians. The present situation is a good example of that. I am made even more suspicious when I see that everything started with something that glories in the name of the United Nations environmental programme convention on biological diversity of 1992.

    I can imagine that a well-meaning group of politicians probably got together in an exotic location, and in a spirit of mutual self-congratulation signed up to something that they thought was rather wonderful. They probably trumpeted what had happened on their return, as

    politicians are wont to do, and then left others to pick up the pieces and pay the bills. I want to pursue that theme for a few moments.

    I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that one of the leading politicians who negotiated the treaty in the exotic location of Rio was our right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean).

    That makes me even more suspicious. Anything that could have persuaded my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) to go as far as he did must have been pretty significant. No wonder my right hon. Friend is not here—which is unusual for him. He would probably be ashamed to account for the result, which I shall now examine in some detail.

    It is all very well for well-meaning politicians, including my right hon. Friend, to go off and then return in triumph waving a piece of paper and saying, "Biological diversity in our time." However, the reality of that becomes plain years later when we look in detail at what is required to give effect to the well-meaning aspirations of the politicians who gathered on the occasion in question. In a different context, we have just seen our beloved Deputy Prime Minister try to pick up the pieces of another great moment in international environmental history. To use his own term, he returned "gutted" from an unfortunate disagreement with someone with whom he was supposed to be enjoying an ever closer union. We had better not go into that too closely, but Members will know what I mean.

    We are now looking at the detailed provisions that will bring the aspirational convention of 1992 into effect. The reality is that Lords amendment No. 104 starts to put the details of the convention in place, and we hope that it will give effect to its aspirations. According to the amendment, Ministers of the Crown, Departments, and the National Assembly for Wales will,
    so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of
    their functions, be obliged to conserve

    biological diversity in accordance with the Convention.
    What happened to Northern Ireland? I could ask what happened to Scotland, but I assume that I would be told that the Scottish Parliament will have to give effect to the convention in its own way. I take that as read, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister comment. I can, however, see how the National Assembly for Wales, which has a rather different relationship with the House and the United Kingdom statutes, fits in with the provision. However, there remains in my mind a question about whether Northern Ireland is not mentioned in the amendment by omission. Do we not care about biological diversity in Northern Ireland? I would have thought that we did. I hope that there is not a lacuna in the amendment, and that that matter has not been overlooked or forgotten. Will the Minister reassure me that Northern Ireland is properly catered for and that biological diversity is safe there?

    Subsection (2) of the new clause deals with the publication of lists of living organisms and types of habitat which
    in the opinion of the Secretary of State and the Assembly…are of principal importance for the purpose
    of giving effect to the convention. We now start to get into the nitty-gritty of the mechanisms whereby effect will be given to the convention's aspirations. To the casual observer, it may appear that it is fairly straightforward to produce a list. Indeed, that is easily achieved. However, have any estimates been made of the scale of the lists and the number that will be required? In principle, that should be easy to estimate. Ministers, Departments and the National Assembly for Wales will be involved, so it should be easy to put a figure on how much is involved in the production of lists of living organisms and types of habitat, the very obligation laid upon them by the amendment.

    Subsection (3) of the new clause might impose greater costs. Not only are the lists to be produced, but there is a duty
    to promote the taking by others of…such steps as appear to the authority to be reasonably practicable to further the conservation.
    That provision could take us into some interesting territory. The new clause deals not only with the production of the list, but also the promotion effort. Such provision could have extensive organisational, staffing and cost implications, to say nothing of the steps that other bodies would be obliged to take in response to action taken by the listing authority. Another element of cost has appeared, to which an estimate should be attached at this stage.

    The new clause goes on to deal with consultation, having already provided for listing and promotion. [Interruption.] The Minister finds that amusing. He would. To him the expenditure of taxpayers' money is nothing—a mere bagatelle. If he thought it appropriate, the words "biological diversity" would be sufficient to spark an orgy of public spending. But a simple question remains. The Minister is the custodian of taxpayers' money as well as an enthusiast for biological diversity.

    9.30 pm

    Am I right in thinking that the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that it is worth while to spend taxpayers' money to preserve endangered species?

    I cannot make a judgment until I know how much money is involved. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) for making that point more clearly than I seem to have done. However wonderful biological diversity may be, and however anxious we are about endangered species, it is legitimate for hon. Members—indeed, it is our duty—to take an interest in what is involved in achieving the aims set out by the convention, for which the hon. Gentleman is, no doubt, a keen enthusiast. I do not accept that it is legitimate for Members of Parliament, who are responsible in different ways for the raising of public money through taxation and then its expenditure, to exercise that responsibility without knowing anything of the cost involved.

    The new clause imposes on the public bodies duties to create the lists and to persuade others to take appropriate measures. A consultation process, to which reference has been made, is also to occur. In addition, however, subsection (5) of the new clause states:
    Each listing authority shall, in consultation with the appropriate conservation body—
    (a) keep under review any list published by the authority

    Furthermore, authorities must keep those lists under review and continue to revise them.
    Those are serious requirements, and I have no doubt that the Minister wants them to be fulfilled responsibly, thoroughly and comprehensively, to ensure that the convention's aims can be properly fulfilled. Thus it is surely reasonable for us to ask what cost is involved. Does the Minister believe that the provisions can be properly and easily effected within existing organisational structures and with existing staff, or that extra expenditure will be necessary? If it is necessary, roughly how much will be needed? It is not right to expect hon. Members to sign up to the provisions blindly and regardless of cost.

    I remind hon. Members of what has occurred in the past few days, during which the Government, in the person not only of the Deputy Prime Minister but of the Minister for the Environment, were present in The Hague. They went there following an international beano a few years ago in which everybody cuddled up to each other and expressed warm thoughts about what they wanted to do, but the wheels came off when it came to detailed implementation. The detail caused the difficulties, not the grandiose pronouncements, lavish meetings or mutual self-congratulation to which Ministers are prone. It is such detail that we are considering under amendment No. 104.

    My query is whether we, and the Minister, are satisfied that he knows enough about the costs of the staffing and organisational implications of Lords amendment No. 104 to believe that they will be carried out, and whether all the authorities involved have the means and the ability to manage them in a way that will give effect to the convention's aspirations.

    Those are the questions that arise in this context. I do not believe that I am making an unreasonable request. Any responsible Government, and any responsible Minister, would already have made all that clear, but the right hon. Gentleman has not yet chosen to share the information with us, although I hope that he is about to do so. Unless we know the costs, we are unable to make a proper judgment—I am trying to answer the spirit of the question that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked me a moment ago—about how far we can go, with regard to public expenditure and commitment, to meet the convention's objectives.

    That is a very simple point, and I am sure that the Minister will give me a straightforward and, I hope, comprehensive answer; after which we can move on.

    In the almost certainly mistaken belief that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is searching for real information and elucidation, I shall answer his questions. First, the Bill will apply not to Northern Ireland and Scotland, but only to England and Wales. Secondly, on the question of cost, the measure will put on a statutory basis what happens already, and will not lead to any increased public expenditure.

    Lords amendment agreed to.