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Clause 1

Volume 357: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2000

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Principal Definitions For Part I

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 13, after ("includes") insert

(", subject to the following definition,")

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Mr. Chris Mullin)

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. 2 and amendment (a) thereto, and Lords amendments Nos. 3, 34, 38, 153 to 157 and 171.

This group of amendments refines the concept of access land and exclusions from it. Before I go into them, let me say that almost all the amendments were tabled that we will be discussing today in response to proposals by one or other of the Opposition parties—whose attention I hope to attract in due course.

We have bent over backwards to meet the concerns of right hon. and hon. Members and their noble Friends to address the genuine concerns of landowners. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will celebrate the fact that they have helped to make what was already a good Bill even better. That was acknowledged by Opposition Members in the other place. Lord Glentoran, for example, said that the Bill
is developing into a first-class piece of legislation.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 November 2000; Vol. 619, c. 480.]
Baroness Byford, also on the Opposition Front Bench in the other place, said on Third Reading:

The Bill will now give access to millions of people—safe access, because that is what we have been after. It preserves our fauna, flora and wildlife. It improves rights of way. It has added … the areas of outstanding natural beauty. We welcome all that.
She concluded:

It has been my great privilege to have taken part in the shaping of a Bill that will give great pleasure to millions of people in the future.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 November 2000; Vol. 619, c. 1065-66.]
All the amendments made in the other place have improved the Bill—almost all in ways that Opposition Members have wanted. I hope that they will welcome them with open arms. I thought that I detected a trace of nit-picking yesterday in one or two Opposition arguments, but I am sure that we are past that stage now.

Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 2 will specifically provide that
"mountain, moor, heath or down" does not include land which appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist of improved or semi-improved grassland.
The amendments will achieve two aims: they will put it beyond doubt that agricultural land other than unimproved and semi-improved grassland will not be treated as mountain, moor, heath and down; and they will enable such land to be excluded from maps of open country at the draft and provisional stages, so that both landowners and walkers can benefit from reasonable clarity as to what is open country.

When my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment set out on this legislative procedure, he estimated that the Bill would open up access to about 4 million acres of mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. Does the amendment make a significant difference to that estimate?

I do not expect that the amendment will make a significant difference to the estimate. However, it will, as I said, provide some clarity, which is what walkers and landowners wanted.

Part I provides for a right of access to all common land registered as such under the Commons Registration Act 1965. Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 38 will ensure that access to common land would be preserved if it was de-registered after the Bill had been enacted. They will ensure that any land removed from the registers by virtue of an application made after the date of Royal Assent will continue to be treated as registered common land for the purposes of the statutory right of access. That will not affect access to common land that is removed from the registers as a consequence of powers of exchange or compulsory purchase.

Lords amendment No. 34 will enable regulations to be made to avoid possible undesirable consequences arising from access land being treated as a public place under other legislation. We do not envisage many circumstances needing to be addressed in this way, but the power is likely to be useful in certain cases.

We have also recognised the concerns expressed about the impact of the right of access on occupiers' obligations under section 162 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. The Act provides that certain mine shafts and quarries that are accessible to, and pose a danger to, the public are to be regarded as statutory nuisances for the purposes of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 unless they are fenced.

Issues of occupiers' liability will be addressed later, in the fourth group of amendments that we shall consider. However, Lords amendment No. 34 will enable regulations to be made that would provide that access under the new statutory right may be disregarded in determining whether a disused mine shaft or quarry is a statutory nuisance. Such regulations would, in effect, relieve the owner of any burden to fence it under the 1990 Act, when that might arise under the new statutory right.

I do not seek at this stage to cast aspersions on either the purpose or the likely effect of the regulations to which the Minister has just

referred, but it would be helpful if he explained whether they will be subject to the negative or the affirmative procedure.

I am being advised that I am wrong, and that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure. There has been a lot of debate on these matters.

Lords amendments Nos. 153, 154 and 156 except from the right of access any land within 20 m of a dwelling or a building used for housing livestock—that is just over 65 ft, to any Euro-sceptics. I do not think there are many present. Oh, yes, I see that there are. The amendments reflect the Government's response to genuine concerns about the impact of access on the privacy and security of people living on or adjacent to access land, and on the security of farm buildings. However, the exclusion of access from around farm buildings will not apply where the position of such buildings would effectively frustrate access.

Lords amendments Nos. 155 and 157 recognise the special needs of the racehorse training industry. We accept that there are real concerns about how best to reconcile the new right of access with the training of racehorses on land that qualifies as access land. We have listened to the racing industry and tabled the amendments to target action where it is needed. I believe that there is common ground between the Government and the racing industry that the exclusion of access from training gallops should not be more than is required to ensure the safety of employees, their horses and the public. The amendments therefore provide for land used for training racehorses to be excepted from access between sunrise and midday and at other times when the land is in use for that purpose.

Schedule 13 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 imposes an obligation on the Countryside Agency to make an annual report to the Secretary of State on the exercise of its functions arising under the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949, the Countryside Act 1968 and the 1981 Act. Lords amendment No. 171 extends those obligations to require a report on the exercise of those functions under the Bill.

I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced the amendments and I place on record my appreciation of the courteous note that I received from the Minister for the Environment to explain his absence at the beginning of our proceedings.

I do not wish to repeat last night's debate, but the Opposition are concerned that the fractionally under five hours allowed for this large number of amendments is inadequate if we are to give them the attention that they deserve. The Minister rightly said that many of the amendments had been tabled in response to views expressed in Committee, but, as I shall show in a moment, the Government vigorously and robustly rejected many of those views, but did a U-turn when the Bill got to the other place.

We welcome the amendments. As hon. Members will have seen, we have tabled a few amendments to the Lords amendments and we will deal with them as we proceed. The purpose of our amendments is to clarify or refine the amendments made by their Lordships, which in general we welcome.

As the Minister rightly said, Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 2 exclude improved or semi-improved grassland from the definition of mountain, moor, heath and down. I think that the Minister used the phrase, "It will put beyond doubt" the fact that improved and semi-improved grassland is not included. In Committee, the Minister for the Environment said clearly:
the cultivated land exception is not intended to be the mechanism for excluding improved or semi-improved pastures and fields from a right of access. Such land will not qualify as open country and should not appear on the statutory maps … If cultivated land were given a broader definition, to include any improved grassland, for instance, that would result in a considerable uncertainty and confusion as to whether such an area was excepted land or open country.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 6 April 2000; c. 167-68.]
There seems to be a gulf between the remarks made by the Minister for the Environment in Committee and the warmth with which the Under-Secretary introduced the amendments today. Their purpose, he said, was to clarify and put beyond doubt.

The Opposition welcome the decision clearly to exclude improved and semi-improved grassland. The issue was debated at length in Committee with reference not only to England but to Wales, although the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is not with us this evening.

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Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 2 is intended to press the Minister. The amendment would replace the words
appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist
with the word "consists". The purpose of the amendment is to allow us to investigate with the Minister what is meant by "appears to" consist of improved or semi-improved grassland, particularly in the case of legal challenge. Not being a lawyer, I can approach the matter only as a layman. If the law states that it is sufficient for land to "appear to" or, conversely, not to "appear to" the relevant countryside body to be improved or semi-improved grassland, it is difficult to see how that could be challenged, whereas if that body ruled that the land consisted or did not consist of such grassland, that could be challenged.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I am sorry to interrupt him, but I hope that he will draw attention to the fact that the definition in the amendment flies in the face of the other definitions in part I. "Mountain" is described as including

any land situated more than 600 metres above sea level.

Nowhere in the Bill is it described as land which appears to the Countryside Agency to be above 600 m. The Minister must explain why the "appearing to the Countryside Agency" definition applies to open grassland, when no other definition in clause 1 is similarly phrased.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point, which demonstrates the validity of my argument. In fairness, there are parts of the Bill in which the phrase "appears to" occurs. In the debate in the other place, the noble Lord Whitty supported the choice of phrase by saying:

We are talking about "improved or semi-improved" grassland, but there will be some semi-natural grassland which is essentially unimproved. It is grassland which, theoretically, might be able to produce a crop of hay but would not be included in this definition.—[Official Report. House of Lords, 23 November 2000; Vol. 619, c. 955.]
That is the justification that Lord Whitty gave—

Let me finish the point, please. That was the justification given by Lord Whitty for the wording

appears to the appropriate countryside body.

As I said in my opening remarks, I shall not make a great deal of the matter. I am simply concerned about whether the definition will be contestable if the wording "appears to" is used.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that most people can tell whether grassland has been improved or not? That is what the Bill suggests. The danger with the old definition is that someone will say, "In the old records, the War Ag at some point insisted that a piece of inby land or ffrith were ploughed up." Sixty-odd years afterwards, it can be argued whether that still counts as improved pasture. The common-sense approach is that one can tell by looking where it has been improved or not.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I do not dissent from the general view. We hope that many people will use the rights given by the Bill—many who are not entirely familiar with the differences. Those of us who have lived and worked in the countryside will be able to appreciate the distinction that the hon. Gentleman has made. My concern is whether the decision that the Countryside Agency will make in the mapping process will be contestable. If the matter rests on how matters appear to the agency, I question whether there can be a contest. I hope that the Minister will respond.

I accept entirely what the Minister said about Lords amendment No. 3. Lords amendment No. 34 relates to the reference to "public places" in existing enactments. The Minister referred to redundant or former mine workings. I must draw his attention to the concern expressed to me by the Country Landowners Association this morning. It comes under the heading of occupiers' liability, but it is appropriate to raise the matter now, given that the Minister refers specifically to the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. The CLA states:
It is important to be clear that while Government amendment No. 19—
it is in the second group—

to clause 42 would provide for regulations to exclude liability for mines and quarries under the Mines and Quarries Act, it will not remove liability in respect of these features under the Occupiers Liability Act. If this latter liability is not removed, owners will still have to undertake risk assessments and to fence off mines and quarries on access land.
The CLA refers to the costs of compensation, for example, that would stem from that.

The Minister referred specifically to Lords amendment No. 34 as it relates to the Mines and Quarries Act. Perhaps he will explain more fully how he sees the relationship that I have outlined being established, and whether liability under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 will remain.

Lords amendments Nos. 153 to 157 relate to schedule 1, which we debated at great length in Committee. Again, Ministers were not prepared to take time to consider our amendments and rejected the arguments advanced by myself, my hon. Friends and hon. Members representing other Opposition parties.

The first issue relates to curtilage. We tried to define its meaning in Committee, and the Government resisted intensely our every attempt to do so. The Minister for the Environment said:
I, too, have the advice of learned lawyers. They say that a recent judicial decision on curtilage was given in the Court of Appeal in February in the case of Skerritts of Nottingham Ltd. v. the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
The right hon. Gentleman concluded:
Curtilage therefore has a meaning that can be flexibly applied to the facts of each case. There is no reason to suppose that a statutory definition of curtilage will be any more helpful than the court's interpretation.
However, the Government have introduced a statutory definition, by including 20 m, or, as the Minister kindly told the House, 66 ft in imperial language. What has happened between 4 April—

That I would happily accept if I genuinely believed it, but I do not. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] As the Government Whip is kindly saying from a sedentary position, I am a cynic in these matters. In Committee, Environment Ministers did not say, "That is a point worth thinking about", as they did in other cases. They did not say that they would think about it. Some of the amendments that we shall deal with later are definitely the result of further consideration by the Government. Instead, the Minister quoted legal justification for resisting our amendment. I am interested to know what has changed since then.

Other amendments to which the Minister referred relate to horse racing and training grounds. The House is familiar with my constituency interests. I represent a large proportion of the Newmarket training grounds as well as the racecourse. Again, my hon. Friends and I repeatedly advanced in Committee the risks associated with allowing the right of free access to training gallops. Ministers resented that and resisted as hard as they could. Unfortunately, the Minister for the Environment is not here to rebut his assertions, but perhaps that is why he has conveniently found something else to do at the beginning of our proceedings. However, in Committee he said:
Opposition Members seem to be unwilling to accept that access might be compatible with the training of horses. They should visit Epsom Downs, where the training gallops are situated on land to which a statutory right of access applies.
Despite the numerous examples that my hon. Friends and I adduced, the Minister went on to say:

Newmarket, however, has a vastly greater number.
That refers to the number of trainers in comparison with Epsom. The Minister continued:
That is why the same rules should not apply, irrespective of the size of the enterprise.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B. 4 April 2000;c. 143-521
Now, however, an amendment has been tabled that does precisely that and makes rules, irrespective of the size of the enterprise.

The Government are right and I do not understand why they did not accept our argument at the beginning. Why did they perform a volte face? Later groups of amendments will provide several examples of how the Government changed their mind, not because they went away and considered the issue but, perhaps, because it was expedient. I hope that the Under-Secretary and the Minister for the Environment will apologise to Committee members for all the time that was wasted while they resisted amendments only to roll over and accept them in the other place.

We support these sensible amendments and, with the exception of amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 2, to which I hope the Under-Secretary will respond, we shall not oppose them. At the risk of repetition, it beggars belief that so much time was wasted in Committee on amendments that were considered again in the other place before the Government were persuaded to accept them in the face of the power of their lordships' arguments. However, I welcome the amendments—with the exception that I mentioned—and look forward to the Minister's response.

Coming to debate Lords amendments to a Bill of this nature and size, which took so long to consider in Committee, is almost like revisiting an old friend. In this case, the old friend appears to have changed since we last saw him or her, having undergone major cosmetic surgery that has been all to the good. In the Bill's long Committee stage and later stages in the House, we gave admonitions that it should to go away, smarten up and put on new clothes. It is as if all those admonitions had been taken to heart and, I am pleased to say, the Bill is much better as a result.

There may be several reasons for that, as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said. We made substantial arguments in Committee and during the Bill's later stages, but perhaps their effect was delayed and it took time for Ministers to see the good sense of our proposals. Perhaps we should accept the possibility that the greater skills of advocacy of Members of the other place were responsible. I should like to put on the record a tribute to Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer and my other noble Friends who did an admirable job on the Bill. I should also like to record my thanks to Ministers for listening to us. It would be otiose to list all our amendments that were accepted, but had they not been, the Bill would have remained deeply flawed. It is much less flawed now, and I wish it well. Some points of contention remain, but on the whole, it is a much better Bill.

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The group of amendments that we are currently considering includes a new definition of agricultural land, and exemptions from the definition of open country. We pressed for that in Committee. I am not persuaded by amendment (a), which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire tabled, because—contrary to the comments of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—it would introduce a new anomaly.

It was suggested that there was no qualification of amendment No. 2, which includes the phrase,

appears to the appropriate countryside body.

However, the next definition of open country in the Bill uses exactly the same formulation. Removing those words from amendment No. 2 would differentiate between the two provisions. I am not sure whether that is helpful. Although I understand the spirit in which the amendment was tabled, I do not believe that amendment (a) would add to the clarity of the definition.

Amendments Nos. 153 to 157, which apply to the area immediately surrounding dwelling houses, and—following moves by my noble Friends and others in another place—extend the provisions to cover buildings in which animals are kept, are extremely welcome. They will do a great deal to allay the fears of those who are worried about night access. I stress that the original measure needed to provide for a right to challenge someone who acts suspiciously near a property or domestic animals. The amendments would allow that because the land that immediately surrounds the buildings will not constitute part of the land to which people have access. That is an important consideration, which is now incorporated in the Bill.

1 welcome amendments Nos. 155 and 157, which deal with racehorse gallops. Those sensible provisions should have been included in the original measure. The matter could have been tackled quickly in Committee; that would have been preferable to the protracted process that occurred. However, we got them in the end. Racehorse trainers in my constituency, as well as in that of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, will welcome the amendments because they improve safety and will allow them to carry on their business appropriately and safely.

We are considering a good group of amendments, which improves the Bill. The amendments were tabled largely at the suggestion of Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members. I hope that they will be incorporated in the Bill.

The amendments constitute an improvement, as far as they go. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), I have some anxieties about them. Of course, one welcomes an amendment that exempts "improved or semi-improved grassland". However, I am worried that such exemption will be at the discretion of the appropriate countryside body, which would be the Countryside Agency.

The Countryside Agency is skilled in many ways and has some expertise; it would have more expertise if the Government were less parsimonious with funding. It is currently suffering dire cuts. Perhaps proper funding would enable it to be the "appropriate countryside body" and to exercise perfect discretion in determining what constitutes "improved or semi-improved grassland". However, the Minister could be laying himself open to legal challenges in future.

The right hon. Gentleman may know that an extra —17 million has been announced for the Countryside Agency today. Some —10 million will be used for initiatives that were announced in the rural White Paper, which was published today. Additional resources include —2.2 million for rural transport and —3.5 million for areas of outstanding natural beauty and for preparations for the introduction of access to open country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that, far from facing cuts, the Countryside Agency will benefit from a substantial increase in its budget.

The Countryside Agency has been thrown a few sweeties and bawbees today, but they do not make up for the cuts that it has suffered during the past three years under this Government, especially since the previous bodies were amalgamated. The amalgamated agency did not have double the budget of the two agencies that it replaced. I shall not discuss the —2.5 million rural transport budget because I do not want to stray from the amendment. The new transport initiative of —15 million, which was announced today, involves about —300,000 per county, which should buy us a few scooters and mopeds in Cumbria, but that is all.

As for improved and semi-improved grassland, I suggest to the Minister that there will be many circumstances—I can think of hundreds in my constituency—in which it would be a matter of dispute whether grassland was improved, or semi-improved. The land around many hill farms is flat, or flatter, land—it may not be low-level land—and it is clearly improved or subject to cultivation. It may even be arable. At the tops of the mountains, one clearly reaches completely unimproved mountain land. However, there is a grey area, which in Cumbria is known as "inby" land.

The lower level of such inby land certainly looks like improved grassland. Anyone could see that bracken had been controlled and stones removed and one could guess from the difference in the grass quality that nitrogen had been put on it at some point during the past 30 years. However, it would probably not have been improved during the past few years, because farmers have had no money to make such an input. Higher up, however, inby land has not been improved, particularly during the past few years, because of the dire situation in farming. Grants would have been given in the 1950s and 1960s to deal with bracken, take the land in hand and improve it and to turn more of the mountainside into better quality grassland. However, if land is not touched for 20 or 30 years, bracken makes a quick comeback, as do brambles, whins—or gorse, as I should say in England—and birch trees.

To the uninitiated—to many people—inby land will resemble cleanish mountain land; it will certainly not resemble arable fields or the grass fields that many people expect to see in the countryside. The question is whether such land is improved or semi-improved grassland. Unless the Countryside Agency allows experts from the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service or other qualified organisations and farm advisory services to say, "Yes, that is improved or semi-improved grassland," and allows a nitrogen reading or a soil sample to be taken, how will it determine the matter?

The appropriate countryside agency will have to determine whether land is improved or semi-improved grassland, and I would be content to leave it to make that judgment if the Minister guaranteed that, even if the agency were minded to say, "No, it ain't," representations would be heard or evidence taken that, at some point in the past 30 years nitrogen had been put on the land in question, the brambles and bracken had been cut or other measures had been taken to improve it.

In my part of England, where we refer to gorse rather than whins, although I like the latter word, there has been an increasing tendency for grassland—or, for that matter, shrubland or woodland—to be converted into golf courses. I have no great objection to that because golf is a game that I like, but the number of courses is increasing at an alarming pace. Does my right hon. Friend have a view on that, in terms of ecology, habitat and the use of the natural environment?

I certainly have, and I could expatiate on it at length, but I shall not do so in the context of the amendment, except to say that schedule 1 deals with golf courses. In Cumbria, we have some golf courses that are quite high up the hillside and, because they are 1,800 ft above sea level, they might almost fall under the definition of "mountain".

Courses, not gorses.

I want an assurance from the Minister that the Countryside Agency will not reach a judgment relating to improved or semi-improved grassland merely by looking at a map, or by looking at the land in question. Yes, in many cases it has been possible to tell what is a mountain and what is improved grassland; but that is not true of thousands of acres of inby land in Cumbria which are halfway up the fell sides, between the farm buildings and the fell tops.

An uninitiated person, or someone having a cursory glance, would say, "That is not improved or semi-improved grassland. Look at the gorse bushes; look at the trees; look at the bracken. That is wild mountainside". Nevertheless, 10, 15 or 20 years earlier, the farmers owning the inby land might have put considerable resources into making it improved or semi-improved grassland. We need to hear from the Minister whether evidence of that nature will be acceptable.

I do not want the Minister to say, "It is what the land looks like now that counts". I do not want to be told that it does not matter that five years ago farmers improved the land by cutting down all the bracken and gorse and spending a fortune on nitrogen, and that now, because nature has partly reclaimed the land, the agency will say, "Tough luck. It does not look like improved grassland to us, so it has not been exempted."

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and it is rare for me to cavil at anything he says in the Chamber; but what he is describing, at least on the face of it, suggests to me that a great deal of labour-intensive activity will be required. Is he confident

that that activity will be feasible, even in the context of the largesse for the Countryside Agency about which the Minister boasted a few minutes ago?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention—and I would cavil with him. The largesse of which the Minister boasted would certainly not cover the cost of the additional civil servants who would need to be hired to draw up the maps required to implement the legislation, and to inspect all improved or semi—improved grassland that is the subject of dispute—and there may be hundreds of thousands of acres.

The difficulty that the amendment poses for the Minister and the Countryside Agency is that it would insert a clause dealing with some of the most contentious land. There can be little dispute about what constitutes a mountain: according to the definition, it is land situated more than 600 m above sea level—whatever that is in proper measures of height. That definition is clearly indisputable: it is possible, through the Ordnance Survey—and by means of certain navigation equipment that some Members may possess—to reach an exact determination of the height of any piece of land above sea level.

The amendment, however—although I welcome it in general—introduces an area of potentially great dispute. Many of my constituents will be willing to testify that they have improved their grassland over the years. They may not have improved it much over the past few years, because they are suffering: the Government have driven them into crisis in rural areas, and they have no money to make improvements. However, we need to ensure that all the work that they, and their fathers and forebears, did to improve the land will not be discounted because some hard-pressed official from the Countryside Agency, suffering under the grossly inadequate funding provided by the Government, has to give that land a cursory glance and then reach a decision that he might not have made had he been allowed to hear proper evidence and representations from farming organisations and properly qualified country and soil experts.

Under Lords amendments Nos. 153, 154 and 155, land more than about 66 ft away from a building will not be regarded as open access land. I think that that is about the length of the Chamber. You will be pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that if you lived in a little cottage or a house on a hillside in Cumbria, the world and his dog—or dogs—would be allowed to roam at a distance about the same as that from where you are sitting to the main entrance of the Chamber, but could get no closer. You are welcome to visit my constituency, and I hope that you will be reassured to know that on a dark winter's night in Cumbria people will be allowed to ramble at night on land but will not be able to get any closer to a building than the length of the Chamber.

5.45 pm

This is when an Englishman might be able to help a Scotsman. A length of 66 ft is better known as 22 yd, which is also known as a chain. It is precisely the length of a cricket pitch. I say that as someone who played cricket for well over 20 years.

It is always helpful to have experts. My hon. Friend is a lawyer and that was the first helpful intervention I have had from him in 20 years in the House. Although it seemed to have been given for free, no doubt we shall get a bill in due course.

Is it not too hilly to play cricket in my right hon. Friend's constituency?

I do not wish to go down that route, but we have champion cricket teams in Cumbria, and that includes my constituency. It is a pretty good team that can play cricket in the hillier areas. We do not play on the flat lands of Gainsborough.

I do not want to labour the point. Although it is good that an exemption is built into the Bill so that people who wander over someone else's land in the dead of night are prevented by the new access rules from coming close to someone's home, a distance of 66 ft, or one chain—the length of the Chamber or a cricket pitch—is inadequate. It will not reassure country people.

If I understand the Minister correctly, the exemption will not apply when a house is at the entrance or main access to the land. Open moorland is on the other side of stone walls and fences. If the main route or stile to it is beside someone's home, the 66 ft exemption will not apply. If the main access, or one of the most convenient routes of access, on to open land is 2 yd from someone's house—and may mean brushing up against its wall—the exemption will not apply and people will be allowed to get that close, which worries my constituents more than anything else.

The vast majority of my constituents who live in upland areas or on footpaths have no objection to people properly using footpaths or walking sensibly on open land or hillsides. They have no objection to people passing through their fields provided that they do not let dogs roam or leave rubbish that pollutes the area and harms their animals. My constituents' one objection is when people push right past their windows and kitchens or go through the middle of their farmyards to get on to land. That is not a rare occurrence. It happens in hundreds if not thousands of cases.

When the so-called definitive map was drawn up years ago, the footpaths on it were mostly private paths between one farm and another, between the farm and church and between the farm and the village hall. They formed a network of little paths between farm buildings, farm workers' buildings and rural communities—the school, church, pub and hall. All those private paths are now public footpaths on the definitive map. It is understandable that, in the vast majority of cases, the public are able to walk through someone's farmyard and past someone's front door when they are exercising their legitimate right to use a footpath.

We can do nothing about it now. That grave injustice was created 30 years ago. It is difficult to move a footpath out of someone's garden or backyard, or away from someone's kitchen window. When you come to Cumbria, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can take you to homes where the public footpath goes right past the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom window. With the Bill and the amendment, we are creating a new problem. We are saying that the public will not be allowed to roam all over someone's home or building and must be kept 66 ft away—unless the building happens to be situated where the public want access to land.

There is one other difficulty that always arises in my constituency in respect of access to land. If people who wished to climb mountains and hills—I try to do so a little occasionally—used the Pennine way, for example, and spread themselves out evenly over it, there would be little damage and few problems. If all the people who used the Pennine way entered it at fairly spread-out points along its route, there would be little difficulty.

The problem is that people honey-pot. They go to areas where there is a nice little village and a pub that is close to an access point to the Pennine way. The same occurs on our hills and mountains. There is a heavy traffic problem in the Lake district. It is not that the traffic is spread out everywhere: it concentrates on the small roads that give easy access to the mountains. Those idle people who wish to walk on hills, but who are not properly dressed and have no proper footwear, drive halfway up the hillside, park at someone's farm gate, in someone's yard, at the school or at the mountain rescue station and enter through the nearest convenient route. Those areas become honey pots.

Some buildings are probably situated at the convenient entrances to open land and moorland. Those are the places where people go at night to park their car and to stroll up the hillside, or they park elsewhere and enter the land, going right past someone's house. That is the difficulty with the amendment. That is why it does not go far enough. People are allowed to come too close to someone's house at night. The distance should be much more than 66 ft. Those homes should still have an exemption, even though the pathway that runs past them is an access point. They should not be penalised just because people want to walk through their garden or right past their house at two in the morning to climb a hill.

Is my right hon. Friend suggesting, for this is what I construe from his last remark, that the restriction on people going past other people's windows should apply only at night? At least arguably, a good case could be made for a comparable restriction during the daytime, especially in so far as we are concerned about elderly people at home who could be fearful of what they regard as an unwarranted intrusion.

My hon. Friend is right. I would argue for the exemption and for the distance to be increased during the day as well as at night. I would argue, too, that pushing right past a home even if it is on the access route should be forbidden during the day as well as the evening. However, it is much more frightening for rural people during the evening or during hours of darkness. [Interruption.]

I hope that my hon. Friend will have a chance to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I wish to conclude my remarks, if he does not mind. I have taken more interventions than I had intended.

I have made my points as forcefully as I can. They are serious. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me.

I shall not go over the previous debates in Committee about inby land, ffridd, coed cae land and all the other esoteric definitions that we might come across. Suffice it to say that I give amendment No. 2 a guarded welcome because it is likely to include much land that is used for hay and silage making, an issue that many Opposition Members were concerned about in Committee. Unfortunately, however—in my view anyway—other areas of permanent grassland will not be covered under the definition. I seek an assurance from the Minister that all land used for hay, permanent grassland and silage will be outwith the new right of access. That is important.

In the interests of brevity, I say that amendments Nos. 153 to 155 are a step in the right direction. I believe that 66 ft is three chains, not one, but that is perhaps an esoteric point—

Indeed. I would expect nothing else from the hon. Gentleman.

Those amendments are a step in the right direction. Some of us on the Committee were concerned that, during the lambing season, for example, or during inclement weather, animals would need to be brought into the buildings near the farmstead, or perhaps even into the farmyard for a limited period. During the first discussions of the Bill, that situation was not exempted, so it was open to anyone to walk through and do as they wished, but at least there has been a move in the right direction.

Some of the fears expressed by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) about the countryside body may be without foundation. I say that to try to be helpful. The access forum—I have one local access forum in shadow form in my constituency—is extremely important. It is important that not only the farming unions but all interests are on the forum—individuals, too. If the quality of the discussion in the forum is adequate, that will inform the countryside body in due course. However, even if I am wrong, there is a right of appeal if the countryside body gets it wrong. The right hon. Gentleman is right—there is concern, but I am trying to offer some explanation that I have picked up during the passage of the Bill. I may be wrong. The Minister will no doubt give the definitive answer, but I give the amendments a guarded welcome.

I echo what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said. During the passage of the Bill, time and again the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and I raised those points. As both hon. Gentlemen have said, much time could have been saved had concessions been given in Committee. It was a rather pleasurable Committee all in all, but unfortunately, whenever a reasonable point was put, we were met with either a blank stare or the reply, "We will go away and think about it." [Interruption.] Well, possibly not a blank

stare. We were met with an animated stare from the Minister—it was not at all blank, to be fair, but often there was not much progress. That is the point. With that guarded welcome, I accept that the amendments are a step in the right direction, at least.

I am a keen walker. I live in the countryside and there is nothing I enjoy more than walking. Country people are reasonable about these issues. They recognise that, increasingly in the modern world, many people who live in cities want access to the countryside, particularly the beautiful countryside represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—the Lake district. Country people understand that, but there must be a sense of balance.

The point that has been made about the concentration of visitors in certain spots needs to be borne in mind. I understand the difficulties under which the Government are labouring. Rightly, from their point of view, they want to open up access, but I emphasise a point that is of particular concern to country people, who respect the rights of city dwellers to walk in the countryside.

A point has been made about people walking close to isolated houses or visiting the countryside during twilight, or perhaps even when it is getting dark. In the city, there is no difficulty: everybody closes their curtains and people are accustomed to street lights and to people walking up and down the pavement. However, the House must be aware that there is a far greater sense of isolation in the countryside. I live in Lincolnshire in a completely isolated spot, so I know that rural people—perhaps unreasonably—have a fear of people walking close to their houses.

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I know of a house that has a footpath running right through the garden: Chequers. I do not know whether the Government have taken that into account, or whether my hon. Friend and I might take a walk through the garden of Chequers next weekend.

I suspect that if my hon. Friend were to take a walk at night through the garden of Chequers, he would find the long arm of the law clobbering him in rather severe fashion.

My point about the sense of isolation is a serious one. In addition, many who live in isolated rural cottages do not close their curtains. After all, why should they? They do not overlook anyone and no one overlooks them. Most of the ground floor windows of my home do not have curtains. At night, one cannot see out because there is complete blackness outside, but there is a not unreasonable concern, especially among elderly people, that the world outside may be looking in on them. The House must be sensitive to such feelings, although I do not know what the solution might be.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is part of the rationale for the access forum? Finding the right access points to land will require considerable sensitivity. We want the forum to take all such matters into account and to propose access points that will not give rise to such problems.

That is reasonable. I am sure that, with good will on all sides, it will be possible to achieve both access to the countryside and preservation of the sense of privacy of those who live in isolated cottages and farmhouses. Unfortunately, we all know from personal experience of the difficult positions that various countryside interests sometimes adopt, how difficult it is to re-route paths; doing so often becomes a long and complicated procedure. I do not know what the solution is.

We know that the fear of crime is greater than the likelihood of it affecting us personally, but does my hon. Friend agree that the concern felt by people in the countryside at the prospect or the approach of unwarranted intruders is heightened by their knowledge that one of the side effects of the successful use of closed circuit television in town centres in the past few years has been that career criminals tend to seek new and better opportunities in outlying villages? Although we do not want to exaggerate the problem, that concern is justified and should be respected in public policy.

That is a serious point. In discussions with rural Members of Parliament, local chief constables make the point that they have to put their resources where most crime takes place, which is in cities. Therefore, country people feel that local police are withdrawing from the countryside—which, in fact, they are. Such a feeling, coupled with access points, gives rise to concern.

I do not want to over-labour the point. I am a keen rambler and I want to have increased access to the countryside. However, if there is to be greater access and the distance from houses that people can walk is to be only 60 ft or so, I hope that there will be better procedures for re-routing paths. In areas such as the Lake district, there is plenty of room to do so. With good will on both sides, it should be possible both to ensure access to the countryside and to reassure country people. That is all I ask the Minister to try to achieve.

I shall try to deal with the points raised in the debate. I do not want to get bogged down in who said what to whom in Committee. True, there are some issues on which the Government have changed their mind—we received an enormous numbers of representations—but there are others on which we are anxious to reassure those who are worried. In some cases, we believe that their fears are exaggerated, but we still want to reassure them, so we have erred on the side of caution.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said that, in some cases, we have changed our mind. Well, in some cases, while the sentiments underlying the Opposition's proposals were reasonable, the amendments, they tabled were not helpful. Curtilage is one example of that. What we have done is quite different from what was discussed in Committee, but if we had done nothing, we would have been accused today of not listening, whereas in fact, we have taken into account people's concerns—indeed, we have bent over backwards to reassure them and to take account of the interests of all the relevant parties. There has been some acknowledgement of that in the debate, but I should like to hear a little more from the official Opposition.

I assure the Minister that however late the sinner repenteth, we are pleased to hear of it, so the fact that the Government have changed their mind on several issues is important. However, on the issue of curtilage, in Committee—I have quoted the relevant passages—the Minister said that defining curtilage in any form would not be helpful, yet that is what the Government are now doing. It is not that our form of words was inappropriate; our entire approach was rejected by the Government—but they now concede it.

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Amendment No. 153 does not define curtilage, but provides a separate exclusion around certain buildings. We were convinced of the need for such an area, but that is quite different from curtilage. The curtilage may extend further than 20 m or not so far, but it will still be accepted.

The hon. Gentleman asked about mines and quarries. We must not dwell on the matter now, as we shall debate occupier's liability in due course, but it is correct to say that a minimum level of liability remains in respect of mines and quarries on access land, and we believe that it should remain. We shall address the matter further at the appropriate point.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we received strong representations from the horse racing industry regarding horse training and gallops. Our amendment does not exclude people permanently from horse training areas, only from areas that are habitually used for training, and only in the morning and when the areas are in use. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) provided an example of the sort of filibuster that might have faced us had we not had the foresight to impose a guillotine. In an intervention, he asked why there was a clear definition of mountains, but not of improved or semi-improved grassland. The answer is simple: unlike some other categories of open country, mountain terrain can be simply defined. Such land is clearly shown in the Ordnance Survey map by reference to the 600 m contour.

As for the Countryside Agency, we believe that that is the right body to make the necessary decisions. It is an expert, neutral body. We are leaving it neither to walkers nor to landowners to decide what land falls into which category. The countryside body will examine any relevant evidence when deciding whether land constitutes open country and it will be for that body to draw up the relevant criteria.

I thought that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) made his points very reasonably, and he touched on the fears of some people who live in isolated areas. Many of the amendments that we are making are an attempt to reassure those people.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border made quite an issue of people who live in remote parts of his constituency—which I, too, have walked from time to time. Most people in the United Kingdom live within a metre or two of a public road, and they are happy to tolerate occasional intrusions on their privacy. Nevertheless, I do understand and accept the point.

I think that the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough is really the one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—it is for the access forums to try to take some of the issues into account. As the hon. Gentleman conceded, there are no simple solutions. In any case, these problems would arise regardless of whether this Bill existed. Countryside access has usually not caused much problem in areas where it has long existed, and we do not believe that it will cause much problem in this case—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire trying to intervene?

I am always willing to help the Minister find his place. He has dealt with the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) on the agency's role in deciding what is improved or unimproved grassland, but he has not dealt with my amendment (a).

I should be grateful if he would explain whether the agency's opinion will be contestable by, for example, landowners who may believe that their land should not be mapped as open country.

Yes, a legal challenge is still possible. The courts could quash any decision if irrelevant considerations are taken into account or the conclusion is wholly unreasonable. I shall deal in a moment with the hon. Gentleman's amendment (a).

I am grateful for the guarded welcome given by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) who, like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), played a very intelligent and constructive role in our Committee proceedings. I am glad that they accept that we have attempted to deal with many of their concerns.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked about all land capable of producing a crop of hay. We do not believe that it would be satisfactory to exclude all such land from maps of open country, as potentially that would disallow access to most areas of traditional semi-natural down. In practice, because unimproved grassland tends to be of low productivity, there is very little downland that is used for hay.

We understand that there is a small number of unimproved grassland sites that are cut for hay, or that are periodically cut for hay, that may qualify. We do not, however, believe that the potential for generating a crop of hay on downland makes it inconsistent with the right of access. Where, infrequently, farmers intend to take a crop of hay, they may use voluntary measures to promote the use of paths, or use their discretionary 28 days to require the restriction or exclusion of access. If such measures are insufficient, farmers may seek directions under chapter II of the Bill for the purposes of land management where a hay crop is regularly taken from the land, and the relevant authority can make a direction

which has effect for the appropriate period every spring or summer. Therefore, there is not really any reason why problems should arise.

Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 4 provides that, in deciding whether land consists of improved or semi-improved grassland, the test should not be whether the land appeared to the countryside body to so consist, but simply whether it was improved or semi-improved grassland. The Bill already provides, in clause 1(2), that open country is land which
appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist wholly or predominantly of mountain, moor, heath or down.
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It is both important and desirable for the bodies charged with mapping open countryside to be able to take sensible decisions about the extent of open countryside on the basis of careful and reasoned analysis. In the same way, it is sensible for the same principles to apply to the identification of land that does not form part of mountain, moor, heath or down because it is improved or semi-improved grassland.

Lords amendment No. 2 is, therefore, consistent with the Bill. We envisage that the countryside bodies will publish the criteria that they will use to identify improved and semi-improved grassland in the same way as they have already published draft criteria for the identification of mountain, moor, heath or down. However, the identification of such land is not an automatic exercise, and involves more than the simple application of a set of rules.

The countryside bodies will need to exercise a degree of expert judgment. The words of the Bill reflect that, and—incidentally—are derived from similar expressions used in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968, both of which were much quoted in Committee. To miss out the words "appearing to them" might well mislead people into thinking that no element of judgment is involved. The countryside bodies will exercise their discretion impartially, favouring neither landowners nor walkers.

Landowners will, however, also have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales if they do not believe that their land consists wholly or predominantly of open country, including if they believe that the land is improved grassland and therefore not mountain, moor, heath or down at all. That right of appeal—which, of course, is not available to walkers—will provide a safeguard for their interests.

Therefore, Lords amendment No. 2—I think that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire is satisfied on this point—is intended to provide reassurance to land managers that the right of access is primarily about access to unimproved, semi-natural and open countryside. I suggest that amendment (a) is therefore unnecessary, and I should be grateful if he did not press it.

Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 2

Rights Of Public In Relation To Access Land

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 2, line 35, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

("(4) If a person becomes a trespasser on any access land by failing to comply with—

  • (a) subsection (l)(a),
  • (b) the general restrictions in Schedule 2, or
  • (c) any other restrictions imposed in relation to the land under Chapter II,
  • he may not, within 72 hours after leaving that land, exercise his right under subsection (1) to enter that land again or to enter other land in the same ownership.")

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

    With this it will be convenient to take amendment (a), Lords amendments Nos. 5, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17 and 18, Lords amendment No. 19, Amendments (a), (b) and (c) thereto, Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 23, Lords amendment No. 24, amendments (a) and (b) thereto, and Lords amendments Nos. 25, 28, 29, 35 to 37 and 158 to 170.

    This group of amendments deals with restrictions on the right of access, the behaviour of those exercising the right of access, and the consequences of a breach of any restriction.

    Lords amendment No. 4 and consequential Lords amendment No. 5 extend the period during which those who breach restrictions lose the statutory right of access. The amendments will ensure that a user who fails to comply with clause 2(1)(a)—by damaging a wall or fence and so on—or who breaches a schedule 2 restriction or any other restriction imposed under chapter II, will lose the statutory right for 72 hours after leaving the land. We believe that 72 hours is a reasonable time for the right to be lost in those circumstances.

    The Bill provides a power in clause 16(6) to enable an owner dedicating land as access land to lift any of the restrictions in schedule 2 in so far as they relate to the land dedicated. Similarly, paragraph 6 of schedule 2 allows the relevant authority, with the consent of the owner of the land, to remove any of the restrictions in schedule 2.

    Lords amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 170 make it clear that, in either circumstance, as well as the removing entirely of any restriction, it will be possible partially to lift that restriction.

    Lords amendment No. 14 enables access authorities to make byelaws in anticipation of the right coming into force. It provides that the Secretary of State may not confirm byelaws until the land is access land.

    Lords amendment No. 15 allows parish and town councils to enforce byelaws made on access land under clause 17 by another authority—either the access authority or a district council. We believe that it makes a modest improvement to the Bill, and we agreed to accept it. It was moved from the Opposition Front Bench on Report in another place.

    Lords amendment No. 17 provides that wardens may be appointed to secure compliance with any restriction or exclusion imposed under chapter II. It is sensible that access authorities should be able to appoint wardens for such purposes and the amendment makes it clear that it is possible.

    Lords amendment No. 18 provides that, before an access authority erects a notice on access land under its powers in clause 19, it should, where reasonably practicable, consult the owner or the occupier of the land.

    Lords amendment No. 19 introduces a new clause intended to ensure that the public and landowners have adequate information about their rights and responsibilities under the new right of access. It gives a duty to the countryside bodies to issue a code of conduct for the guidance of those exercising the new right, and to take the steps that they believe are necessary to ensure that the public are informed of the extent of, and means of access to, access land. It also places a duty on them to take the necessary steps to ensure that the public and landowners are informed of their rights and obligations under the new right of access and in relation to rights of way and nature conservation on access land.

    The code of conduct issued under the new clause may also contain information that goes beyond the new right of access, relating to national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and long-distance walking routes.

    We concluded, not without considerable deliberation, that within the 28 days allowed in clause 21 for discretionary closures, we should include a number of days on which closures can take place at the weekend. Lords amendments Nos. 21 and 22 provide that, as part of the discretionary allowance, those entitled to that allowance should be able to restrict access or close their land, without seeking approval, on up to four days at the weekend, although not on Saturdays between 1 June and 11 August and not on Sundays between 1 June and 30 September. I believe that this represents a sensible compromise between the needs of land managers and the interests of those wishing to benefit from the new right of access.

    As well as entitling landowners to exclude or restrict access on up to four days at the weekend, Lords amendment No. 21 removes the regulation-making power set out in clause 21(7), which would have enabled the days on which the discretion to exclude or restrict access may be exercised to be varied. This fulfils a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation.

    Lords amendment No. 23, which was moved by my noble Friend Lord Dubs on Report in another place, is a useful amendment that allows regulations to be made to ensure that the discretion is applied in relation to properly identified units of land. We consider that it will help to ensure clarity and certainty in the exercise of the discretion under clause 21.

    The question of restrictions on dogs exercised us somewhat in Committee. Lords amendment No. 24 provides new targeted measures to protect fully the interests of land management, particularly in relation to grouse shooting and lambing. Landowners will be given a new power to exclude dogs from grouse moors for specified periods of up to five years. That is intended to protect the economic interests of those who manage the land for grouse shooting. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is not here to express his gratitude, as he pressed the Committee hard on the matter. We will take his gratitude as read.

    Farmers will be able to exclude dogs from fields or enclosures of up to 15 hectares if they believe it to be necessary in connection with lambing. They may seek exclusion for a period of up to six weeks in a calendar year. In notifying restrictions under the new provisions, landowners will be required to follow procedures that will be set out in regulations. Lords amendment No. 29 provides for the making of those regulations under clause 30. Lords amendment No. 20 is consequential on No. 21, and provides that the discretionary power to exclude dogs from grouse moors is exercisable by the landowner.

    Lords amendment No. 25 relates to closures because of the risk of fire. Clause 23 allows for directions to be made excluding or restricting access for the purpose of fire prevention, by reason of any exceptional weather conditions. The amendment provides that directions may also be made by reason of any exceptional change in the condition of the land. We believe that this will go a long way towards addressing concerns expressed both here and in another place about the risk of fire on access land.

    Lords amendment No. 28 requires the Secretary of State for Defence to prepare and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on all reviews of defence directions under clause 26 that have been undertaken in a given year. This is a response to an amendment tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath).

    Lords amendments Nos. 35 and 36 were tabled in the light of advice from the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. They require that regulations made to vary the list of general restrictions in schedule 2 must be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The addition—and, more important, the removal—of activities should be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses.

    Lords amendment No. 37 relates to the definition of livestock in Clause 41. It is a technical amendment, consequential on an amendment made on Report in the Commons.

    Lords amendments Nos. 158, 164 and 167 are intended to bring greater clarity to the effect of the restrictions in schedule 2, by making the wording more consistent with that in clause 2(1). Lords amendment No. 159 adds the feeding of livestock to the list of restricted activities under schedule 2. Lords amendment No. 160 adds trapping to the list and Lords amendment No. 161 ensures that a person on access land who has with him an "engine, instrument or apparatus" used for trapping will also be in breach of the restriction in paragraph 1(i). Lords amendment No. 162 adds a restriction on tampering with mine shaft covers, protective guards and fences used to enclose livestock.

    Lords amendment No. 163 extends the period during which dogs must be on leads to five months, so that it covers the period from 1 March to 31 July. The issue was hotly debated, but that should be satisfactory to all who expressed their views in Committee. The amendment was tabled after further consultation with English Nature, in the light of concerns that the Bill did not provide adequate protection to deal, in particular, with lambing and the breeding season for ground-nesting birds.

    6.30 pm.

    I welcome the amendments. They respond to a very reasonable debate earlier in our proceedings. However, it has come to my notice that the constitutions of some ramblers groups contain a rule that they do not take dogs with them. If such groups were to be represented on local forums and were to agree with landowners and other interested parties that they would not take dogs into the countryside, what would be the Government's response? That is likely to happen in one area in my constituency.

    The Bill does not provide for that. It is quite restrictive in relation to dogs, and we have made it a great deal more restrictive. For example, dogs will be excluded from grouse moors altogether, and I was about to come to yet another restriction on the use of dogs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will settle for that: we will just have to see how things work out when the Bill is implemented.

    Lords amendments Nos. 165, 168 and 169 provide that, where dogs are required to be on leads under schedule 2, those leads must be of a fixed length of no more than 2 m. The Bill therefore contains plenty to satisfy those who raised that legitimate point in Committee.

    Lords amendment No. 166 implements the recommendations of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation in relation to the period when dogs must be kept on leads. The Committee recommended that the regulatory power to vary that provision should be deleted, as the power could be used to skew the balance of the Bill. We are content with the Committee's recommendations, and are happy to implement that recommendation in full.

    I give a considerable welcome to the amendments. I shall not go through them all, but the Minister should not imagine that Opposition Members do not appreciate what lies behind them. Many of the amendments are minor, but they are steps in the right direction. However, there is still room for improvement, and that is why we have tabled some further amendments.

    As the Minister said, Lords amendment No. 4 changes from 24 hours to 72 hours the period of banishment for someone who breaches the regulations under schedule 2. I do not want to tire the House, but I refer hon. Members to what the Minister for the Environment said on 13 June on this matter:
    It is not realistic to assume that landowners will know whether a walker has breached restrictions in the previous 72 hours on someone else's land; nor would it always be appropriate to impose such a sanction on a walker whose breach of restriction might be extremely minor. Therefore, there is no reason why the ban on returning to access land should extend beyond the rest of the day, or to access land in different ownership.—[Official Report. 13 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 826.]
    We are grateful for the Minister's repentance, but it is a complete volte face from the position that he used to hold. The change is welcome, but some shamefacedness would be appropriate.

    Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 4 would change the period of banishment and increase the extent of the land from which a person would be banished. It would ensure that he would be banished from a particular parcel of land, and from other land in the same ownership. That was resisted in Committee, but the fact that it has been accepted now is welcome.

    However, that is not enough. As the Minister said in the statement that I read out earlier, it is not going to be easy for a person to know what land belongs to whom. That is why we suggest that the application of Lords amendment No. 4 be increased, marginally, to cover adjoining land. That would put beyond doubt the area of land from which a person was banished. By definition, a person walking over open country will see no obvious delineation of ownership, so stipulating all adjoining land would remove the possibility of a person unwittingly continuing to walk on land owned by the same person as land from which he had been banished. The National Farmers Union has strongly supported the amendment.

    Information is another important matter. A question widely debated in Committee concerned how people who want to use the rights enshrined in the Bill can be informed about the various minor regulations that apply to particular pieces of land. Such regulations would have to do with when the land was closed, or whether dogs had to be on leads or were forbidden. The Minister noted that some of the later amendments are very specific to pieces of land, and another matter that caused debate in Committee was whether an owner would be able to close off parts of his land.

    There is a clear need for potential walkers to know what rules pertain to a piece of land on any given day. That is why our amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 19 would incorporate into the amendment the phrase
    and appropriate points of access to, …
    The result would be that the Countryside Agency would have the duty to ensure that the public were informed of

    the situation and extent of, and means of access to, and appropriate points of access to, access land.

    That would be a sensible and small addition, and would require merely that the Countryside Agency tell people the location of the main access points.

    In Committee, we argued that access should be restricted to certain points. Although amendment (b) does not go so far, it concentrates the mind on the concept that access is preferable at certain points. Those are the points about which information would have to be provided. I hope that the Minister will accept that that amendment is sensible and worth while.

    Our amendments (a) and (c) to Lords amendment No. 19 deal with the requirement for consultation in the information provided by the Countryside Agency.

    We welcome the Government's change of heart with regard to Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 23 and the question of Saturdays and Sundays. We did not press for Sundays to be included, as field sports do not take place on Sundays. The Minister has been more generous than we expected, but although we would be happy to trade all the Sundays when access is restricted for more Saturdays, that option is not on the table. The move to allow four Saturdays of exclusion is welcome: it may not be as many as we would have preferred, but it is a step forward. I spoke earlier about information and the need for access points. This is another example of how, day by day, the rules governing access to a piece of land may change.

    Lords amendment No. 24 concerns dogs, and I welcome the Minister's change of heart on this point. Owners of grouse moors—and gamekeepers, who take such pride in their role—will welcome the amendment. However, I am puzzled by the significance of the five-year period. Does it mean that after five years, the grouse moor in question can never again be closed off? The Minister shakes his head but perhaps he could clarify that issue.

    Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 24 seeks to change the word "lambing" to "livestock breeding". The inclusion of lambing and the exclusion of dogs for the period of six weeks is welcome. But in Committee, we discussed other forms of livestock farming which are becoming more common in the hills of this country. Mention was made of llamas, alpacas, angora goats and deer, and yesterday I attended the launch of the bison industry in this country. On top of that, there are cattle. [Interruption.] The Minister of State laughs, but the point is that the Deputy Prime Minister earlier was exhorting people to diversify. Many farmers are diversifying into different forms of livestock.

    The sensible decision to exclude dogs from fields of up to 15 hectares during the lambing period should apply to the period when cows are calving, deer are calving and llamas are doing whatever they do. [Interruption.] Goats are kidding—that is one I do know. I have no idea what llamas and alpacas do, but it no doubt consists of the same motions. This is a time of immense sensitivity for livestock, when baby animals are at considerable risk—as a walker would be. Some animals are exceptionally good mothers and would resist and resent any intrusion into what they see as their territory by someone walking, let alone someone with a dog. [Interruption.] The Minister suggests that people could walk around them, but a field of 15 hectares is not particularly large and the scope to walk round could be limited.

    We propose also that the period of six weeks be increased to eight. The principal lambing period should be over in six weeks but, with any flock, it will straggle a bit. However, we should not assume that once every ewe has had a lamb, the risk is over. Those first few days are a period of great risk to the lamb—and, with some breeds, there can be a risk to anyone else who appears. Cattle breeds such as the Galloway can become extremely fierce in protection of their young. It would be very unwise for someone to take a dog into a field where a herd of Galloways had recently calved.

    Nowadays many farmers stagger the breeding season to try to catch the market. Also, some farmers have a variety of breeds.

    I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has come to my rescue and he is right to refer to a point that I omitted.

    Lords amendments Nos. 158 to 170 are generally welcome. The Minister referred to trapping and the rather quaint language that has been inserted in the Bill; he will find that references to engines and instruments go back to the 19th-century poaching Acts. Obviously Ministers were convinced in Committee by our arguments for including interference with fences, and extending the dog ban to 31 July, and I am grateful for that.

    6.45 pm

    The proposals for short leads came as a welcome surprise to me. In Committee, Ministers seemed to resist strongly the idea of fixing a lead length, and spent time saying why it was not necessary to define a short lead.

    Overall, we welcome the Lords amendments, although some could be improved. We have put genuine propositions to the Government. I hope that Ministers feel that they are serious and worthy of inclusion in the Bill to add the final refinement to the improvements made by other amendments.

    In this group, some of the wording of some of the amendments has a certain familiarity to it, which I welcome. I am pleased to see a formulation for closures at weekends; it bears more than a passing resemblance to amendments that I tabled in Committee and on Report. I welcome its inclusion, as I do the provisions on the condition of land and the issue of reporting to this House on Ministry of Defence land.

    As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has said, we had an engaging debate in Committee on the thorny question of short fixed leads. Our proposals were stoutly resisted, but have now been accepted. I am pleased about that.

    Lords amendment No. 4 refers to exclusion for a period of time after an "offence" against the code of conduct. That is a move in the right direction. I always thought that the 24-hour exclusion was nonsense, and effectively unworkable. The 72-hour period is better, not least because it can cover the weekend. If people go off for a weekend and cause trouble, they will be excluded from the land in question for the remainder of the weekend. That is clearly understandable.

    What is not understandable is why the amendment refers to land within a particular ownership. I cannot for the life of me see how people who are excluded in that way can know whether the land they are on is under the same ownership. It would be far more sensible if they were excluded from any access land during that period. That is simple and readily understandable. It is no less workable than the Government's formulation, and would be clearer. It has not been proposed, which I regret, but even at this late stage, perhaps the Minister will explain why he prefers his wording.

    Codes of conduct are a crucial aspect of the Bill. During proceedings on the Bill, I, and others, have argued for the need for good communication and clarity of purpose, for the benefit of landowners and those who wish to have access. As long as everybody understands what the rules are, how they will be applied, what the land in question is and how it is defined, there will be no trouble. If people are not clear about those matters, however, that is a recipe for confrontation. That is why it is so important that we deal with the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire.

    Having particular identified points of access is not a new notion—we have pursued it throughout our consideration of the Bill. We have accepted that it is not the Government's intention to make a designated point of access that is obligatory for those seeking access. However, identifying somewhere as the point of access will make it easier for people to have access to land safely and sensibly and to put up signposts and notices about restrictions that may apply because of temporary closures. The codes of conduct provide a way of doing that, so if the hon. Gentleman presses his amendment at a later stage, I will advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

    I have little to say about grouse moors—I do not have the expertise of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) on the subject. However, I am sure that the Government's proposals are sensible.

    Finally, I welcome the prohibition of the feeding of livestock. We did not cover the subject properly in Committee, and I give the Government credit for having picked it up. With regard to the communicable diseases of livestock, such a prohibition is clearly one of the precautions that should be taken to prevent animals from being fed who knows what by who knows who, when people have access to open countryside.

    All in all, I strongly commend the amendments to the House. This is a sensible group of amendments and would be improved still further if the Government, even at this late stage, were to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire.

    I too broadly welcome the amendments. Lords amendments Nos. 4 and 5 increase to 72 hours the time for which a trespasser can be banned from land. How will the ban be enforced? I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—it would be far better to ban trespassers from all access land, because there will be problems of definition. If people behave reprehensibly on one parcel of land, what is to stop them behaving in the same way on the land adjoining? I prefer the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but that is not to say that I disagree with the Conservative amendment (a) to cover adjoining land. That would improve the Bill; in fact, either suggestion would improve the Bill. As it stands, it needs improving, because otherwise there will be problems.

    We should be thinking about problems of definition throughout the Bill. Much work has been done over the past few months, and the Bill has been greatly improved, but I honestly think that there is still a potential area of conflict. A person banned from one small parcel of land may well hop over on to the next and carry on doing what he or she should not have been doing in the first place.

    I shall try to explain, very succinctly, why we decided to refer to adjoining land rather than all access land. We felt that "all access land" would include all access land throughout England and Wales. That may be stretching a point, but there is nothing to say that someone banished from access land in the hon. Gentleman's constituency on a Saturday might not appear in the Lake district on a Sunday. The provision would be unenforceable—nobody would know, or could be expected to know, whether that person had been banned from land in Snowdonia. So we chose the phrase in the amendment to mean, effectively, a particular whole parcel of access land.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. I believe that his wording is preferable, and I do not know why the Government do not adopt it. If not, there will be an area of conflict, which is, I am sure, the last thing that anybody here wants.

    I welcome Lords amendment No. 18, which places a duty on an access authority to consult the owner or occupier of the land before erecting notices. That subject was also hotly debated in Committee, and I am pleased that at the eleventh hour the Government have seen the good sense of the suggestion.

    It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is not here to speak about closures on Saturdays for shooting. However, I am sure that he is here in spirit, and that he will be delighted when he finds out that his well reasoned and well presented arguments have found favour with the Government, even at this stage.

    It is important to improve the Bill, inasmuch as access points would mean that people did not have to scramble over walls. We have been through this before. We know that people using access land should not interfere without reasonable excuse with any fence, barrier or other device, including stone walls. However, amending the Bill so that some access points would be identified would not only make things simple for those using access but would contribute to what the Deputy Prime Minister referred to earlier today as diversification. Farmers could charge for car parking, and perhaps provide other services, at access points. It might be a way of earning extra income and providing a service at the same time. That is a further argument in favour of the amendment.

    I welcome the Opposition's amendments (a) to (c) to Lords amendment No. 19, which aim to increase consultation between relevant bodies. Consultation is one of the mainsprings of the Bill. The quality of consultation is very important, as is the need to ensure that it is as wide as possible.

    Lords amendment No. 24 would allow an occupier or owner to exclude dogs from a field or enclosure of not more than 15 hectares for a period of up to six weeks in any calendar year. I am not restating what has been said, although the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has already made the case. I suggest, as he did, that six weeks is not very long if various types of sheep are breeding at different times. Mountain sheep, lowland sheep and other breeds all go on to the ffridd and inby land at some point. It is important to look at that again.

    I know that the Minister will say that it will be possible to apply for an exemption at that stage. I certainly hope so. If that is the case, and if the hon. Gentleman is confident that an extension of, say, another couple of months would be possible—[Interruption.] Seriously, there are farmers in my constituency for whom the lambing season lasts four and a half months. That is the point that I am getting at. I hope that a missive will arrive from some corner of the Chamber with some information on that matter. No doubt it will be possible to apply for an exemption.

    7 pm

    The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that 15 hectares did not make a very large field. In my neck of the woods, that is a huge field. Often, ffridd land will stretch from one farm to another, and not be fenced, as in the idea of community farming, joint sharing, and so on. There are many places in Wales where such land will consist of considerably more than 15 hectares, but will not necessarily be enclosed. Such land might not be a field as such, but would still be subject to the Act.

    I seek an assurance from the Government that there will be some effort—be it a publicity campaign or something else—actively to discourage people from taking dogs on to the land during the breeding season. The Minister will know how important it is for young or pregnant animals not to be disturbed.

    Will the Minister please respond to a point that I made earlier, which I shall restate now? I, and other Opposition Members, argued in Committee for a 2 m lead to be required—as proposed in Lords amendment No. 169—and I am pleased that the Government have given way on that issue. As I said, there is an access forum—albeit in shadow form—in my constituency, on which the Ramblers Association is represented, as it should be. The association has an internal rule that its members do not take dogs with them when they ramble. Obviously, farmers and occupiers would find such a rule preferable, as it would do away with any question of danger during lambing. If that forum were to decide, totally of its own free will, that it wished to ban dogs on those lands, what would be the Government's response? That question must be addressed, because the problem might also occur in other areas.

    It is important to consider the definition of livestock again. I shall not go through the whole gamut of alpacas, llamas, buffalos and even wild boars, but we are dealing with more than simply deer, sheep and cattle. With those remarks, and subject to my questions being answered, I welcome the amendments.

    I shall be brief. I have sat through the whole debate and I have only one query that I would like the Minister to elucidate. It relates to the five-year limit for the ban on dogs on a grouse moor. Obviously, that will be either possible or not possible to implement. I happen to believe that if one is to manage a grouse moor sensibly, it will not be possible. I cannot therefore understand the proposed limit of five years. The Minister appeared to shake his head when my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked whether there would be such a limit. I should be delighted if the Minister explained why.

    I shall not detain the House much longer. Any Government who guillotine debate on 280 amendments are expecting a great deal of the House. I speak as someone who was Chairman of the Procedure Committee for many years. No Leader of the House believes that such guillotines are good. Every Leader of the House, whatever his or her party, would attempt to ensure that legislation was not dealt with in that way.

    On the final point made by the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), the guillotine is rather fortunate for the Conservative party, because he is its only Back-Bench Member present.

    At this moment and through most, although not quite all, of the debate. We have spared Opposition Members the embarrassment of having to scrutinise us in too much detail. I believe that the time allocated will be quite sufficient.

    On the question of the five-year limit raised by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), every landowner will have to take certain steps after five years to renew the exclusion—for example, by notifying the Countryside Agency that the moor is still used for grouse. We would not want suddenly to find that the moor had stopped being used for grouse some time ago, but that the exclusion still prevailed. The landowner will have to demonstrate that the restriction is still needed, and, provided that he can do so, it can be renewed. I do not think that Opposition Members—who are as keen as we are to dispose of unnecessary regulation—would want that to happen every year. We therefore chose a period of five years. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire at least agrees that that is reasonable, and I am grateful for that.

    The Minister makes the point that if the moor has ceased to be a grouse moor, the restriction will be lifted, and that is absolutely right. However, if the same conditions exist as existed when the licence was originally granted, would the Minister expect it to be extended?

    Yes, I would.

    Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 4 would provide that the loss of a statutory right of access following a breach of the general restrictions in chapter II would extend not only to land in the same ownership but to adjoining land. Our concern is that the approach should be fair both to users of the new right and to landowners, and that it should be practical to enforce. The exclusion is going to be difficult to enforce in any case—let us be realistic about that.

    The amendment is both impractical and unenforceable. It is very unlikely that the owner of the adjoining land would even know that the walker had breached a restriction on other land, and he would therefore have no reason to ask him to leave. Even a walker might not know of the breach, if the owner of the land on which the breach took place was not bothered by it and allowed the person to remain on the land. Let us remember that a breach of a restriction may amount to no more than giving a carrot to a horse or bathing in a stream. These are going be some of the most regulated walkers on the planet, and we do not want to extend the degree of restriction under which they will be placed.

    Is the Minister really saying that if a landowner has not apprehended somebody committing a misdemeanour, that the individual is unaware that he has committed one, and that there has therefore been no banishment, that would be a justification for not including adjoining land? Obviously, we are discussing circumstances in which someone has engaged in one of the forbidden activities and has been apprehended by the landowner or his agent, who has told him that he must get off the land for 24 hours. The reason for our amendment is not so much so that adjoining landowners will know whether someone has been banned, but so that the individual who has been banned knows that he must get off all of that parcel of open country. As I tried to explain to the Minister, it is difficult—often impossible—to tell where ownership changes in open country.

    We are in danger of making fairly heavy weather of this. We want to ensure that the restrictions—penalties, one might call them—are both practical and enforceable, and that there is some clarity about them. We honestly think that if a walker moves on to land in different ownership, he must continue to abide by the restrictions or he will lose his rights on that land, too. It is a practical requirement that both landowners and walkers will understand. We cannot go further.

    I understood that the hon. Gentleman was anxious to get on. We are making awfully heavy weather of this.

    Any heavy weather is because the Minister does not seem able to accept what is blatantly obvious to us. If a landowner apprehends someone on his land who is contravening the obligations and he says, "Get off my land for the rest of today", or for 72 hours, and the chap wanders off across Snowdonia, how does the walker know when he has got off that landowner's land?

    No doubt the landowner will tell him.

    Amendments (a) and (c) to Lords amendment No. 19 would give a duty to the countryside bodies to consult representatives of landowners and relevant conservation bodies before issuing codes of conduct under clause 19. We do not need to prescribe the way in which the countryside bodies should go about producing codes. They have considerable experience in producing such material. The Countryside Agency, for example, already has a duty to prepare a country code relating to national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and long-distance routes. Clause 19 allows the agency to use the new code of conduct to fulfil the existing duty in section 86(1) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, in addition to providing new information about the right of access. Similarly, the Countryside Agency is already under a duty to provide information about the countryside, including information about prevention of damage and a proper standard of behaviour on the part of those visiting the countryside.

    The new countryside access forum will no doubt have views on the code, and the countryside bodies will undoubtedly want to listen to those views. Were we to give the countryside bodies a specific duty to consult landowners and conservation groups, we would invite questions as to why the Bill contained no duty to consult other groups, such as those representing walkers or local authorities. They, too, would have an interest in ensuring that the code was balanced and comprehensive. I believe that the countryside bodies are best suited to decide who should be consulted. We shall expect them to consult as broadly as possible. They are extremely experienced in undertaking duties such as that imposed by clause 19 and in consulting the relevant bodies. Amendments (a) and (c) are unnecessary.

    I am pleased to be able to offer the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire reassurance on amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 19, relating to appropriate points of access. Lords amendment No. 19 is explicit in placing a duty on the Countryside Agency to take steps to ensure that the public are informed of the situation, extent and means of access to access land. The term "means of access" is given a wide meaning in the Bill. It comprises
    any opening in a wall, fence or hedge
    whether or not such an opening has a stile or gate. Means of access therefore include any appropriate points of access. We expect the Countryside Agency to promote the most convenient and suitable means of access when it provides information to the public about how they might benefit from the new opportunities offered by the new right of access. I hope that that reassurance will enable the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment.

    I am grateful to the Minister for the conciliatory way in which he has approached our amendment. Will he explain a little more? The purpose of our amendment on points of access was that the information should indicate the best places to access the moor. That is where the code of conduct and all the rules and regulations would be displayed for the information of the public. As the Minister rightly said, the term "means of access" is much more widely defined. There may be many means of access. On an open moorland with a road through it, the whole lot is a means of access. We tabled the amendment to provide suggested, not statutory, access points at which walkers could be given information. I am not sure that the Minister has fully taken that on board.

    7.15 pm

    It is perfectly sensible to direct people to the most logical points of access. I can only repeat that we expect the Countryside Agency to provide information about the most appropriate access points. The hon. Gentleman will have to think about it, but I honestly think that we have met that point.

    Amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment No. 24 would amend the provision in clause 23 for landowners to exclude dogs from fields and enclosures if they believe it to be necessary in connection with lambing. Amendment (a) would broaden the exclusion of dogs for the purposes of lambing so that dogs could be excluded for the purposes of any livestock breeding. Amendment (b) would extend the six-week period to eight weeks.

    I shall deal first with amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 24. It is not necessary to provide blanket powers to exclude dogs where livestock breeding takes place. The Countryside Agency has recently produced a report on the impact of public access on livestock management. The report supports our view that sheep are significantly more likely to suffer disturbance from the mere presence of dogs at sensitive times of the year than are other livestock such as cattle. The cattle are much more likely to pose a danger to walkers and their dogs than the other way around. Sheep are by far the most common livestock to be found in open countryside. It is inconceivable that bison or alpaca would be raised in open country rather than on improved pastures, but if restrictions are needed, directions may be sought from the relevant authorities.

    I am not clear about the logic of the Minister's argument. It does not seem a strong argument to say that sheep and lambs will be more affected by interference than cattle and that in the latter case the danger would be to walkers. That seems a strong argument for widening the restrictions, as we propose. To do so would protect walkers. I am puzzled that the Minister advances that argument in favour of keeping the restrictions narrow.

    :or of the female variety when they have calves, I steer a wide circle round them, and I recommend any other sensible walker to do the same.

    The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked whether the local access forum could extend the restriction to ban dogs. I repeat that it would be for the relevant authority to impose tighter restrictions on dogs, but it must have regard to any representations made by the local access forum.

    Let me emphasise that, under schedule 2, dogs are required to be on leads in the vicinity of all livestock at all times. We have introduced an amendment that provides that leads should be short; so on any access land on which livestock was present, dogs would already be under tight control. Where there is a genuine case for stronger restrictions, or even a complete ban, the Bill provides for local arrangements to be put in place.

    Clause 23 is intended to provide a simple and quick mechanism for those landowners who are most likely to need to exclude dogs to do so with the minimum of red tape. It is not the only mechanism whereby dogs may be excluded, and I believe that it is right that it should be targeted. Therefore, if the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will forgive me, I cannot support that amendment.

    As for amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 24, I do not believe that it is necessary to extend the period that dogs may be excluded from six to eight weeks, but I think that I can answer the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I appreciate that six weeks is not sufficient to cover the entire lambing season, and it is not intended to be.

    I understand that the way in which lambing is managed means that sheep in any one field or enclosure would have been grouped according to their likely delivery date, and would be expected to lamb within a three-week period. In any one field or enclosure, therefore, it would be rare for the entire six-week closure allowance to be needed, and it would, of course, be open to farmers—this is the key point—to close different fields for different six-week periods.

    We believe that the provision is more than adequate to allow farmers to continue with existing lambing practices unhindered by walkers' dogs. As I have already said, where, exceptionally, closure beyond six weeks was required, landowners could apply to the relevant body.

    We believe that clause 23, in conjunction with the other controls on dogs for which the Bill provides, comprises an effective package of measures for the control of dogs near livestock. We do not believe that it is necessary to go further.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fear that some of those responses were wholly inadequate. When the appropriate moment arrives, I should like formally to move amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 19.

    Lords amendment agreed to.

    Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.

    Clause 11

    Regulations Relating To Maps

    Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 6, line 44, after ("authorities") insert (", local access forums")

    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. 13, Lords amendment No. 16 and amendment (a) thereto, and Lords amendments Nos. 27, 127 and 128.

    These Lords amendments together deliver the Government's commitments, expressed in another place, to give statutory status to local access forums. This is a matter to which the Liberal Democrats gave high priority.

    We had from the outset intended that forums, whether statutory or non-statutory, should play a key role in helping to improve public access to the countryside. We were persuaded, however, that unless we made them statutory, there would be concern that forums would not be set up everywhere they ought to be, and that the weight accorded to their views might be less. We accordingly tabled an amendment on Report, writing local access forums clearly into the Bill.

    The role of local access forums will go wider than part I. They will have a key advisory role in helping access authorities determine how best to make the countryside more accessible and enjoyable for recreation, in ways that take proper account of social, economic and environmental interests. Forums will, for example, be involved in improving the rights of way network and in the development of local recreation and access strategies.

    We are keen to ensure that forums should be sufficiently flexible in their make-up and operation to take account of varying circumstances and needs in different areas of the country. For example, the issues relevant to a heavily populated area with relatively little open countryside might be very different from those in a more remote rural area.

    The amendments place a duty on access authorities to establish forums in their area. Forums will need to include a balanced representation both of users of the right of access under part I and rights of way generally, and of landowners, managers and occupiers of land.

    Due weight will be given to the forums' advice. The amendments require relevant decision-making authorities to have proper regard to forums' views in reaching decisions—for example, in relation to draft maps, the imposition of byelaws, proposals for long-term restrictions and closures of access land, as well as on wider access issues contained in new right of way improvement plans.

    In providing their views, forums will need to take into account relevant guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. The amendments demonstrate the central role that we intend forums will play in advising on the operation and implementation of the new right of access.

    I shall comment briefly on the wider issue of local access forums and speak particularly to amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 16.

    Broadly speaking, we welcome the improvements that their Lordships have made to the Bill. Local access forums will provide a useful injection of local knowledge into the administration of access land and will help the access authorities to ensure that decisions are taken at a suitably local level.

    Amendment (a) calls for the local access authority to consult the local access forum about the adequacy of the provision of wardens.

    It was widely agreed on both sides in Committee that adequate wardening is an extremely important part of ensuring the success of the new access regime. The local access forums can thus play a valuable role in what will otherwise become the weak point—or the weakest link, as we topically say—in the arrangement, simply because there will not be funding for adequate wardening, unless people argue forcefully for it at a local level.

    Clearly, different areas will require differing amounts of wardening, and that will be an easy cut for a local access authority to make, as wardening will be one of the more expensive procedures involved in creating an adequate new access regime. In local authorities that cover both urban and rural areas, the focus on the rural areas may well go by default.

    It is crucial for a wardening system to be adequate not just in the early stages of the new regime, but throughout. If the Bill is successful, many new people will be attracted to walking in open country.

    "Warden" is an unfortunately negative term. Perhaps we should have spoken of rangers throughout.

    I hope not warders, although the Minister seems to take a rather insouciant view of people committing offences, as his reaction to the previous group of amendments showed. Perhaps he thinks that warders may be necessary, but rangers would have been a better word to use, as it gives the impression of help, rather than control.

    Whatever the terminology, it would be helpful to have experts around the access areas, and local access forums would be a powerful voice encouraging that.

    The Minister will know that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has stated that so far, in land where there is access, one warden for every 400 hectares is a sensible use of resources. It is equally clear from all our debates on previous stages of the Bill that the amount of money that the Government have put aside for implementing the new system would not allow such a wardening effort.

    In most national parks that have a ranger service in place, a large proportion of that service is provided by volunteers. Although there is a cost in training and supervising, it is not the same as the cost involved in paying wages to those people.

    The hon. Gentleman is right. However, the number of volunteers is, by definition, limited, and those who are most enthusiastic have probably already volunteered. The new access regime will cover an enormously expanded area of land. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is unlikely that people will volunteer to the extent that they do for national parks.

    The hon. Gentleman almost encourages me to argue that if one wanted to pay small sums to encourage people to volunteer—they would be semi-volunteers, semi-paid—the minimum wage legislation would prevent that. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I expect that you would not want me to go down that route.—[Interruption.] The Minister says that he would be happy with that. I think that other hon. Members would be less happy.

    Wardening is clearly an issue. We will need far more wardens than previously. With due respect to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I suspect that there will not be enough volunteers. Therefore local authorities will have to find the money, or the Government will have to subsidise them. We need a powerful local voice to say, "To make this work properly and to encourage people to behave safely and well, a large-scale effort should be made to provide wardens"—or rangers, or whatever we wish to call them. That would be yet another practical improvement.

    Throughout the passage of the Bill we have sought to improve it in small, practical ways. The amendment is just another effort in that direction, and I hope that the Government can accept it.

    7.30 pm

    I am delighted with the Government for accepting the proposition that local access forums should be referred to in the Bill. I am even prepared to forgo the opportunity of a debate on what is the proper plural of forum—a matter which we considered at some length in Committee.

    It was obvious to me from the start that we needed to have a statutory reference to local access forums if they were to be established throughout the country and to succeed. That reference has been put in place, and that I wholeheartedly welcome, although it might have been nicer if it had been included a little earlier.

    Since we last discussed these matters, I had the opportunity to attend the local access forum for the Exmoor national park at Dulverton. It was extremely useful to exchange with its members experiences of how they work. It was clear that there was no unanimity of view. People were representing different interests, some of which were occasionally in conflict with those of others. However, there was respect between landowners, land users and those seeking to use land for recreational purposes. Surely that is at the core of what we are trying to achieve.

    I admire the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) in finding an opportunity to discuss the important issue of wardening and ranger services at this stage in our deliberations. I do not think that anything will stop local access forums talking about warden and ranger services in their areas. That issue will be at the forefront of their considerations, and much of the discussion will be led by people who are employed or who volunteer to do the work. That is the experience in the national parks. However, there is real concern about whether local authorities throughout the country will be able to devote sufficient resources to enable a specific job to be done if we are to make a success of the Bill.

    I suspect that we shall not see the amendment pressed to a vote, but I hope that the Minister will clearly understand the concerns that have been expressed by Members on both sides of the House about the adequacy of warden services and the adequacy of the funding that will underpin those services, and about whether it will be possible to achieve the results that we want to see. I wholly welcome this group of Lords amendments.

    I add my voice to what has just been said. Statutory life has been given to the concept of local access forums, which I welcome. However, the Government should ensure that authorities are guided to implement proposals in consultation with key interests such as farmers and landowners within a pre-determined time scale. Experience of the Countryside Agency's so-called name-and-shame approach has not proved an effective method of maintaining implementation pressure on authorities. For example, in preparing rights of way improvement plans, authorities are not required to consider the potential for creating, diverting or stopping-up, or otherwise improving the network on a local scale. That is a significant omission.

    Individuals should be able to propose such works during the preparation of plans. It is vital that local authorities consult farmers and landowners, especially as the status of the plans is to become a material consideration in highway authority decision making. I am pleased that the argument has prevailed and that local access forums appear in the Bill. They must work properly if the Act is to work properly. Proper consultation will ensure the minimum potential for conflict, as we would all wish to see when the Act is implemented.

    I fully support Conservative amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 16, which seeks to implement occasional consultation between the access authority and the local access forums about the provision of wardens. It is eminently sensible and most desirable.

    I am grateful for the general welcome that has been accorded to the amendments. It will not come as a surprise to hon. Members that the Government will resist amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 16. It is not necessary. Lords amendment No. 16 places a duty on access authorities to consult the relevant local access forums before exercising their power to appoint wardens to help manage the right of access, and from time to time after that. That ensures that local access forums will be appropriately consulted. We do not need a further duty to consult access forums on the adequacy of the provision of wardens. We would expect consultation between forums and access authorities about the provision of wardens as part of the normal consultation about the operation and management of the right of access. That is already provided for in the Bill.

    There has been debate in the House and in another place about whether the access authorities should be under a duty to appoint wardens. We have made it clear that authorities should have a power, not a duty, to decide whether to appoint wardens, and if so, how many.

    The amendment would not impose a duty, but I suspect that it is yet another attempt to exert pressure on access authorities to appoint wardens, even where they may not be needed. We must remember that the sort of land that will be subject to the new right of access is often in the more remote areas, which will remain inaccessible to all but the most adventurous. We do not want or need a veritable army of wardens in such areas. Instead, all that may be needed is a few signs or information boards placed at the appropriate entry. I am sure that the party of deregulation, the Conservative party, would not want me to labour that point.

    In the areas that are subject to the most pressure from walkers, more intensive management measures may be appropriate, including wardening services. We intend to provide adequate funding—I mentioned some figures earlier—to help to ensure that the right of access is managed effectively and avoids interference with day-to-day management. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will accept that the amendment is not necessary.

    Lords amendment agreed to.

    Clause 13

    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.

    Clause 66

    Sites Of Special Scientific Interest

    Lords amendment: No. 105, in page 41, line 38, at end insert—

    ("() A notification under section 23 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (notification to local planning authorities of areas of special scientific interest) which by virtue of section 28(13) of the 1981 Act as originally enacted had effect as if given under section 28(1)(a) of that Act, shall cease to have effect.")

    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. 107, 111 to 113, 133 to 135 and 238 to 268.

    These Lords amendments relate to clauses 66 to 70 in part III and to schedules 8 to 10, which together will deliver better protection for sites of special scientific interest.

    The Government used the opportunity presented by the discussion in the other place to introduce amendments to enable new powers to be used within the large number of sites—there are some 5,000 in England and Wales—that have already been notified. The conservation agencies are required to prepare a statement of views about the management of the land and to bring existing SSSIs into line with the new notification procedures. Also, when a notice of intent was served in the past, but no consent was given, and no management agreement has been made, the agency has a new power to serve a stop notice, against which there is, of course, a right of appeal.

    The Government also introduced provisions ensuring that full information about SSSIs may be passed on when an interest in SSSIs changes hands. We also sought and received agreement to a number of other minor and technical Lords amendments, which will ensure that the provisions for improving the procedures for notifying, protecting and managing SSSIs, which have been generally welcomed, are proportionate and workable.

    We also considered arguments about the effect of the provisions on public bodies and introduced Lords amendments responding to those concerns and clarifying procedures, particularly for the restoration of an SSSI following activities by public bodies. That issue was raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper). Once again, we have listened to the argument and responded.

    I want to discuss not Lords amendment No. 105 but Lords amendments Nos. 240 and 241—the Minister will concur that there is much similarity between them. The proposed clause heading in Lords amendment No. 240 is "Notification of additional land"; that for Lords amendment No. 241 is "Enlargement of SSSI". The wording of the amendments is very similar. I am puzzled about the nature of the difference between the two—not

    the textual difference, but the difference in impact. One would add land to an SSSI, while the other would enlarge the SSSI. Those strike me as amounting to one and the same thing.

    Can the Minister tell us whether, in the case of Lords amendment No. 240, the additional area will be described as part of the SSSI? If so, why is that not the same as enlargement, as specified in Lords amendment No. 241? Will he also confirm that the new area will itself be of special scientific interest—that it will not just be a question of enlarging the existing SSSI, perhaps to protect it? There seems to be considerable doubt about whether the extra land described in Lords amendment No. 240 is itself of any special interest, or whether it will simply enhance the existing site.

    Lords amendment No. 256 seems rather draconian. It obliges the owner of land that is included in an SSSI to notify the Nature Conservancy Council—or rather, given the point that we have reached in the Bill, English Nature—if he disposes of any interest in the land, or

    becomes aware that it is occupied by an additional or a different occupier.

    We must ask, what is an occupier? Does the amendment refer to land that is legally
    occupied by an additional or a different occupier?
    If the occupier lets part of the property to a fanner or a sporting syndicate, the owner will presumably know about it, and will be in a position to notify English Nature. But what if it is illegally occupied? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have experienced the problems of illegal occupation of land by itinerants. Does that count as occupation? Must the owner notify English Nature in that event?

    Moreover, subsection (4) appears to criminalise the offence of not telling English Nature that an SSSI has been sold. That strikes me as incredibly draconian. I accept that we are talking about level 1 on the scale of fines, but we are nevertheless talking about a conviction. Surely making someone who simply neglects or omits or, indeed, forgets to tell English Nature that he has sold his land liable for a criminal conviction is incredibly heavy-handed. I hope that the Minister can tell us a little more.

    New section 28R would empower English Nature to make byelaws
    for the protection of a site of special scientific interest.
    The National Farmers Union contacted me today. Although it supports the amendments in principle, it is very concerned about the issue of byelaws. Its briefing states:
    In practice bylaws have not proven to be an effective means of controlling damage, not least because rural police forces are already over-stretched.
    We have heard enough about the subject today to know the strength of that statement. The NFU went on to say:
    In this context what provision would be made to enforce these byelaws?
    We believe that byelaws should not be developed unless consultation and the approval of relevant owners and occupiers is first obtained. In the absence of alternative enforcement agents, owners and occupiers are likely to be the only persons able to enforce byelaws.
    9.45 pm

    Many SSSIs are in relatively remote areas, and the landowner or one of his employees is most likely to come across damage or someone breaking the byelaws. How will the prosecution process proceed? Will we expect landowners and their staff to be responsible for enforcing byelaws made by English Nature? The gist of the NFU's concern is that it does not believe that byelaws will protect a site, however well meaning the intention behind them.

    Of all the groups of amendments that we have discussed, this group gives me the least joy to support. Some of the amendments are good, but amendments Nos. 240 and 241 appear to duplicate each other, and three aspects of amendment No. 256 give rise to serious concerns. I am inclined to think that it is massively draconian to suggest that someone should be convicted of a crime simply for not writing a letter, which is the gist of paragraph (4) of the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to allay my concerns or at the very least explain the difference between amendments Nos. 240 and 241.

    I agree with the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) about amendment No. 256. It is inappropriate to bring the panoply of criminal law to bear in this case. There is another way to deal with the problem. The SSSI designation is registerable under the Land Charges Act 1972, and if it is registered for local government searches there is no need to place an onus on the landowner to notify a change. That is a more fail-safe procedure and it is straightforward and easy to implement.

    Apart from that misgiving, I welcome most of the amendments. Extra protection for SSSIs is important throughout the United Kingdom. It is of special significance in Wales where 11 out of 16 SSSIs are managed for sporting purposes. We have a diverse and significant range of land that is eligible for SSSI status. It reflects the dedication of land managers, the shooting fraternity, falconers and others beyond the pressures and constraints of the agricultural economy.

    Various bodies lobbied on this matter when the Bill was in the other place, and I am pleased that some progress has been made. The Countryside Alliance welcomes in particular the Government's inclusion of an amendment to exempt persons being charged for the offence of recklessly or intentionally damaging an SSSI if they have planning permission or are part of an emergency operation and the Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Council for Wales have been notified as soon as possible. That sensible amendment will allow greater flexibility for land management practices. It also demonstrates an understanding that conservation aims have to be realistic and take account of local livelihood needs.

    I also welcome the amendment that excludes a person from imprisonment if an offence was committed in the course of, or was incidental to, the carrying out of a lawful activity. That, too, is sensible and provides a safeguard for land managers who are going about their day-to-day activities. I utterly share the misgivings about amendment No. 256 detailed by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. I suggest respectfully to the Minister the course of action to which I have pointed, which may be preferable without placing an undue onus on any landowner.

    The group of amendments illustrates probably better than most others the difficulties in which we find ourselves due to the Government's arrogant attitude towards the legislative process and the House itself. I reckon that there are 12 pages of text in amendments Nos. 238 to 268 alone—the group of amendments within the main group—which we are being asked effectively to nod through the House at this late stage. The Government are saying to us arbitrarily that they will limit the time available for considering the amendments to 10 o'clock. There is no reason for that, but that is what the Government have said. We find ourselves with only 10 minutes to go and amendments Nos. 238 to 268 take up 12 pages of text.

    I shall not attempt to wade through all those amendments because I cannot, but I want to follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) have said about amendment No. 256. Before I do so, I pause for a moment on amendment No. 240. It refers to the Nature Conservancy Council and its powers of notification. It says that it must notify the local planning authority, every owner and occupier of the "extra land" and the Secretary of State.

    There is provision—the Minister touched on it in his brief remarks—for an appeal mechanism, but that is not good enough. For a bureaucracy or quango such as the Nature Conservancy Council, or any other, to have the power conferred by statute—in this case, by an amendment—simply to say, "It is all right; there is an appeal mechanism" is not good enough. The onus is then always on the hapless owner and occupier, presumably at his own expense, to seek to defend his interests, where necessary, against the depredations of the quango. It does not matter that the quango may sound warm and good and no doubt wants to do excellent work. It is still a bureaucracy and it is given extensive powers within statute—through an amendment—that must be watched closely.

    The Secretary of State can look after himself. He has unlimited taxpayers' money and unlimited officials to look after him and teams of junior Ministers to support him. The local planning authority can more than ably look after itself, too. It also has taxpayers' money, officials and endless resources with which to do battle with the bureaucracy. Who is the odd person out? Surprise, surprise, it is the owner and occupier, who may be sitting on what is called extra land. He may be subject to some ghastly bureaucratic notification, feel aggrieved, seek to exercise his right to appeal, and then find that he must reach deeply into his own pocket to do so. For the Minister to say, "Do not worry, chaps; there is an appeal mechanism," is not necessarily the whole story. I hope that he might already be feeling a bit guilty about that, although it does not look as if he does.

    When I come to amendment No. 256, I think that guilt would be a modest term to apply to what I hope the Minister will feel. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire drew the House's attention to the fact that there is a new set of powers—it seems that the Nature Conservancy Council is again the relevant body—where the owner of the land becomes aware that his land is occupied by an additional or a different occupier. I imagine that if the area of land is relatively small, the matter will appear fairly straightforward, although, as my hon. Friend pointed out, some of the additional or different occupiers may not be there with the consent of the owner of the land. I wonder whether that gives rise to a different or new set of circumstances.

    I suppose that it is also quite likely, if the land is a reasonably extensive holding, that someone could occupy part of it without being noticed by the owner for some time. It would therefore be fairly easy for the owner to fall foul of the provisions in proposed new section 28N(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which sets out a 28-day time limit, and then fall even further foul of proposed new subsection (4), which states:
    A person who fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirements of this section is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.
    That appears to me to be an extremely tough sanction facing a number of innocent people who, in certain circumstances not of their own making, and in some difficulty, may not be able to comply with the requirements of the new section. It appears straightforward enough and, no doubt, it is drafted with the best of intentions, but one can easily envisage circumstances in which individuals would find themselves severely disadvantaged by the provisions.

    A heading that is found much later in the 12 pages of text—it appears at the beginning of Lords amendment No. 268, which proposes an entirely new schedule to the 1981 Act—is "After Schedule 9" and the following amendment runs to several pages. I do not have time to detain the House with a detailed examination of the amendment, which tells its own story—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Labour Members appear to find this amusing, but it is their Government who are denying the House of Commons, of which they are Members, the opportunity properly to examine pages and pages of detailed statutory requirements which have come to us from another place and which are not going to be properly examined. I have the opportunity only to flag up to the Minister for the Environment, who I hope will answer the debate properly, the provisions set out in paragraphs 19(1) and (2) of the new schedule under the heading "Compensation and grants". Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the provisions will be adequate for the purpose? Given the imbalance between the powers available to the bureaucracy and those available to individual landowners, matters such as compensation and grants become of the greatest importance.

    That is even more important in connection with a provision that is almost hidden away at the end of the pages and pages of detail: our old friend "Powers of entry". Is the Minister satisfied that that provision is necessary to fulfil the objectives of this part of the Bill and that proper protection is given to individual citizens against powers of entry? Those are important questions, but we do not have the time needed to deal with them properly. I must conclude now, because of the artificial time limits that have been placed on our consideration of the Bill.

    The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked some detailed questions about Lords amendments Nos. 240, 241 and 256. I shall try to answer in the time available to me.

    Lords amendment No. 240 relates to minor changes to the boundaries of existing SSSIs which involve no change to the list of damaging operations for the SSSI. Owners of land proposed to be added to an SSSI may object under new subsection (4) and English Nature is obliged to consider the objection. In that case, owners of the pre-existing part of the SSSI are unaffected and so have no right to object.

    By contrast, Lords amendment No. 241 relates to significant enlargements to an SSSI. In such cases, the whole area of the SSSI—that is, both the pre-existing part and the proposed addition—must together form an area that meets SSSI criteria. English Nature is likely to want to change the list of damaging operations in such cases, so all owners of both the pre-existing part and the additional land will be affected, therefore the whole procedure for making an SSSI and considering objections applies. It was English Nature which asked for the provisions, and it is happy with them.

    On amendment No. 256—if I have a minute, but I shall have to cut short my remarks—I want to reassure the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, and confirm that, by virtue of section 20 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, there are limits on the operation of byelaws—

    It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [27 November].

    Lords amendment agreed to.

    MR. SPEAKER then put the remaining Question required to be put at that hour.

    Lords amendments Nos. 106 to 281 agreed to.

    Transport Bill

    Commons reasons for insisting on disagreeing to certain Lords amendments and Government amendments in lieu, considered.

    10.1 pm

    The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions
    (Mr. John Prescott)

    I beg to move, That this House insists on its disagreement to Lords amendments Nos. 27 to 29.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.

    I do not know where my opposite number, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) is for this debate—perhaps one statement was enough for him today. One might have expected him to attend the debates on either the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill or the Transport Bill—presumably he has responsibility for both—but we shall have to make do with his second in command—[Interruption.] Yes, perhaps he is away—tired, exhausted and unable to deal with the details of this Bill.

    When the Transport Bill first returned to the House, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning gave a full and clear explanation of the Government's reasons for opposing the Lords amendments. I shall not repeat those reasons at length, but I should briefly remind the House of them, particularly as the debate will last only approximately one hour.

    First, we do not agree that the public-private partnership needs to be deferred until after the next general election. We made our policy clear before, during and after the previous general election campaign, in which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we had to bring together in partnership the public sector and the private sector to give us the infrastructure that we need in the transport system.

    A month before the general election, in April, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that we would consider National Air Traffic Services for a public-private partnership. We were faced with a situation in which the outgoing Government had already calculated the receipts from a full privatisation of NATS and taken them into account in the subsequent two years' spending plans. All Labour Members fought on that policy at the general election.

    Since the general election, we have consulted at great length on the PPP proposal and listened carefully to the replies. All the issues have been debated at length, not least during passage of the Bill in this House and in another place, and in the Select Committees. We remain convinced that the public-private partnership is the right solution for NATS. Indeed, the Bill itself is a better Bill for the discussions, and the changes that they brought about.

    If my right hon. Friend remains so convinced, why has he been unable to convince the British Air Line Pilots Association?

    I think that the only threat to safety comes from the constant visits that my hon. Friend makes to the pilots' cabin during the flight.

    Secondly, delays would be damaging—

    No; I have to get—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Give way."] No, I am not giving way.

    Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not intend to give way. [Interruption.]