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Bodmin Moor Commons Bill Lords (By Order)

Volume 278: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1996

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Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill's provisions are modest. The Bill is essentially about land management and conservation. Its principal proposal is to establish a Bodmin moor commoners council on a statutory basis. All other objectives in the Bill relate to the functions, work and operations of the council.

The Bill does not seek to deal with the wider question of access. I must emphasise, however, that nothing in the Bill alters the availability of public access to the commons. Public access was discussed extensively when the Bill was considered in the other place, but at that stage the clause relating to wider public access was withdrawn.

Why is there not, under the Bill, a right of access to Bodmin moor for horse riders? May I remind my hon. Friend that a similar lack of provision under the Dartmoor Commons Bill in 1985 led to its defeat neck and crop?

In view of my hon. Friend's experiences with the Dartmoor Commons Bill, I am pleased and relieved to tell him that the two petitions that were lodged against the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill have been withdrawn because the promoters have been successful in reaching an accommodation with the petitioners in respect of horse riding.

Although this Bill's objectives are limited, they are of real significance to the people who live and work on the moor. Local Bodmin moor communities are looking to the House today to give its support to what they seek and have asked their elected representatives to deliver.

The origins of the legislation go back to January 1992, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. At that time, he was considering extending the number of environmentally sensitive areas and many of us were anxious that Bodmin moor should be included in that list.

My right hon. Friend kindly agreed to receive a delegation from Cornwall, which I arranged and led. Those attending included the then hon. Member for North Cornwall, and I am pleased to see his successor here today in support of the Bill because—as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will know with your west country links—since the redistribution of constituencies in 1983 the majority of Bodmin moor is now located in the North Cornwall constituency rather than in mine.

Members of that delegation included representatives from Cornwall county council, the two district councils that cover Bodmin moor—North Cornwall and Caradon—the Bodmin Moor Commoners Association, representatives from both the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association and the co-ordinator of the Minions Heritage Trust project.

Irrespective of the merits of the case for Bodmin moor to be designated an environmentally sensitive area, which we presented on that occasion, my right hon. Friend was unable to agree to our request. His reason was succinct and understandable. I recall vividly his saying to me on that occasion, "Bob—much as I would like to designate Bodmin moor an ESA, I am afraid that I cannot do this because there is no organisation or body in place with which I can treat"— a lovely old-fashioned word that is appropriate for my right hon. Friend to use. That was the sole reason for the rejection—that no statutory authority could guarantee to deliver the obligations that ESA status demands. I mention that small, but significant piece of political history because it explains concisely why the House is considering this Bill.

It may help if I say a brief word about the geography of Bodmin moor and about the nature and extent of present-day economic activities. From that, I hope that the House will recognise how important it is that the Bill should obtain its Second Reading today—so that in time, I hope, Bodmin moor can be designated an environmentally sensitive area.

Bodmin moor is the most south-westerly upland area in the United Kingdom. It is an unglaciated granite area with a distinctive topography. Although characterised by large tracts of semi-natural habitat, there is considerable landscape diversity. It almost goes without saying that a great variety of wildlife is found on the moor.

Those physical components are reflected in man's response to that environment over the centuries. Farming has undoubtedly always been the principal economic activity and has helped shape the environment as we know it today. The traditional land use of the commons is grazing by cattle and sheep belonging to occupants of moorland farms and to people who live adjacent to the moor and have grazing rights.

My hon. Friend kindly supported me when I piloted the Dartmoor Commons Bill through the House in 1985 and I pay tribute to him for his support, but my concern about this Bill is that it excludes the statutory right of access for members of the public and the statutory right of the horseman. Other than that, I am entirely with him on the Bill, but why have those two important ingredients been left out? In Dartmoor national park, every walker has a statutory right to walk and every rider to ride across the moor, despite the landowners. As Bodmin moor is not a national park, my hon. Friend has a double duty to include such a provision in the Bill.

Perhaps my hon. Friend was not here when I responded to a similar intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). As a result of an accommodation agreed by the Bill's promoters— Cornwall county council—the questions of access for horse riding are covered. The promoters initially tried very hard to accommodate the issue of pedestrian access. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—if I may refer to him in such terms in this debate—will deal specifically with the sequence of events in respect of the more general question of access. In the end, the promoters took the view that access was a national issue and that it would not be appropriate to deal with it in a Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who has been listening very carefully, will know, provides for a statutorily based authority to deal with conservation, land use, and so on with respect to Bodmin moor. Bodmin moor is not within a national park; it does not have such a statutory basis.

I have been present since the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech and I found the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) very vague and imprecise. I am not certain that the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) has strengthened his assurances greatly in answering the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). We do not know what accommodations have been agreed with the petitioners. Will the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall give us an absolute guarantee that the Bill will not lead to a reduction in access to Bodmin moor for pedestrians and for horsewomen and horsemen?

I am glad to be able to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Nothing in the Bill in any way reduces the existing rights of access. The fact that the two sets of petitioners have withdrawn their respective petitions as a consequence of accommodations agreed by the promoters shows that the petitioners are now satisfied that there will be no depletion of existing rights.

The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about "rights". As I understand it, there are very few rights to go on to the moor. It is simply custom and practice that enables people to go on to the moor. If the hon. Gentleman were able to guarantee that people could go on to the moor without restriction, it would go a long way to meet the concerns. He knows that the question of rights is somewhat doubtful. I am particularly interested in a commoner giving me the right to go on the moor. The hon. Gentleman referred to national legislation. Nationally, if I ask a farmer whether I can walk across his fields and he gives me permission, that is all that I need. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a commoner on Bodmin moor could give me such a right?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the great majority of land historically and euphemistically referred to as commons is in private ownership. The House should be addressing the fundamental point that nothing in the Bill in any way reduces the existing practices—if the hon. Gentleman does not like my use of the word "rights"— concerning pedestrian access.

I shall turn to the powers of the new statutory body in a moment. It will be incumbent on that body to draw up certain proposals and plans of action to exclude certain activities which currently take place on the moor, and I am certain that the hon. Gentleman, the promoters and I are all anxious that those provisions should be put in place, as they will prevent the moor, which is already fragile, from deteriorating any further. As I said, one of the Bill's purposes is to promote conservation of the moor.

Before my hon. Friend moves on, may I thank him for his great generosity and customary patience? The Bill is obviously important to the west country, and my hon. Friend's experience of all the west country moors is well known to the House. My hon. Friend differentiates between Dartmoor and Bodmin moor, both of which are owned by commoners, on the basis that Dartmoor is a national park while Bodmin moor is open moorland. National parks have national park authorities to protect walkers and riders. Surely walkers and riders need statutory rights to Bodmin moor, the more so since the moor is not under such authority. Bearing in mind that recreation and the environment are so important to hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, should we not be giving walkers and riders some statutory rights? That is the trend; it started on Dartmoor. Surely with a little fine tuning such a right could be achieved in respect of Bodmin moor as well.

I respectfully point out to my hon. Friend that I was born and bred on Dartmoor—indeed, my mother still lives in the Dartmoor national park. National parks legislation is national legislation. I f6rget the date of the original national parks legislation—

That national legislation was passed by the House in 1947 or 1948. This Bill is a private Bill, promoted by Cornwall county council, to deal with a specific difficulty. That is why, for totally understandable reasons, the promoters feel that it is not appropriate to encompass the wider national question of access. Perhaps I may be allowed to make some progress.

I was saying that farming has undoubtedly always been the principal economic activity and has helped to shape and modify the environment as we know it today. The commons have traditionally been used for grazing sheep and cattle belonging to the occupants of moorland farms or to those who live adjacent to the moor and have grazing rights. Today, about 30 parcels of common land—large and small—are separately registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965.

I should also inform the House that Bodmin moor is classified as a less-favoured area under a European Community directive, and it lies in the Cornwall area of outstanding natural beauty. Other parts are recognised as areas of great landscape value, and many more specialist designations cover smaller areas such as sites of special scientific interest, or particular features including ancient monuments and archaeological sites, under the jurisdiction of statutory bodies such as English Nature and English Heritage.

I hope that that brief description of the moor will provide sufficient evidence to establish not only that it is crucial for the correct legislative framework to be put in place to safeguard the conservation and enhancement of the commons, but that that objective is compatible with— indeed, complementary to—a management of the commons that will allow those who live and work there to sustain their economic livelihood and thus to continue with both their traditional and their newer ways of life.

I thought that my hon. Friend would be generous. I knew that his customary generous habit would not desert him, even under great provocation.

I want to clarify one point. My hon. Friend differentiated between Dartmoor and Exmoor on the basis that the arrangements for Dartmoor are part of national legislation. But may I remind him that the Dartmoor Commons Bill of 1985 was introduced by Devon county council, just as this Bill is being introduced by Cornwall county council? It happens that the categorisation of the moors is different, but the type of promoter is the same. As Devon county council introduced a statutory right of access for walkers in its legislation, surely Cornwall county council can do the same.

I am tempted to pass on to the House what my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) muttered to me—that the great deregulator is now apparently intervening to try to introduce greater regulation into our legislation. [Interruption.] No, I am not "screwing it up", as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams so bluntly puts it.

I was hoping that I would not have to bore the House by telling hon. Members so, but I happen to be a geographer by training. It is more than 26 years since I was involved with the subject, but I still remember that the original designation of Dartmoor as a national park resulted from national legislation. The Dartmoor Commons Bill, promoted by Devon county council, came later.

Perhaps I may be allowed to move on now. The Bill is being promoted by Cornwall county council and has the support not only of the two district councils affected, North Cornwall and Caradon, but of all the political groupings on all three of those councils—Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat, plus Mebyon Kernow and the independents.

Equally important is the fact that the Bill enjoys the support of the commoners and the landowners, who are clearly the key participants in the proposals, as well as organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and local community and recreational groups. Especially significant is the fact that to the best of my knowledge there have been no objections either formal or informal from local people or groups who form part of national amenity and recreational organisations.

There is a strong conesnsus in Cornwall in support of the Bill—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams is listening when I say that. Indeed, many people throughout the duchy have been surprised and disappointed by the fact that the Bill has taken so long to reach the House, especially as it had its Second Reading in another place on 7 June 1994, almost two years ago. If it were to fail at this stage, people in Cornwall would be astonished and annoyed that Parliament, for whatever reasons, had failed to respond to their legitimate needs and aspirations.

As I have already said, the most important provision in the Bill is the establishment of a commoners council. Membership is defined in clause 3. The commoners would form the largest group on the council, but it would also include representatives of local authorities and landowners, as well as one or two other special categories. The remainder of the Bill is concerned with the structure, funding, functions and operations of the council.

I remind the House that one important duty of the council is to prepare a management plan after consultation with Cornwall county council, with statutory bodies such as English Nature, English Heritage and the Countryside Commission, and with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for the Environment. Furthermore, the management plan and any amendments will have effect only when approved by those two Ministers.

The council will also have the power to make regulations designed to control the exercise of common rights in the interests of the commons as a whole. The precise nature and purpose of those objectives are set out in clause 6. As well as having those statutory responsibilities to protect and manage the commons, the council will have powers to repair damage and to provide for open-air recreational uses of the land. Those provisions are the subject of the proposed amendments to the Bill that I have already mentioned, which have been negotiated with petitioners who have now withdrawn their objections.

It would be a tragedy if the Bill were not given a Second Reading tonight. Its provisions are what the local communities have asked for. I say unashamedly that in this day and age it would be extraordinary if the House were to deny a Second Reading to a measure that would protect and enhance the environment, promote the economic well-being of the local community of Bodmin moor, and facilitate public access, as well as rendering such access a more enjoyable experience.

Imust announce to the House that Madam Speaker has not selected the motion for an instruction.

7.27 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. It would be helpful if I gave the Government's view.

We welcome the Bill, which we believe will do a great deal of good. Both my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food strongly support the principle that common land should be subject to proper and effective management. The House will notice that the Minister for Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), is also present this evening.

Although comprehensive legislation along the lines of that proposed in 1986 by the Common Land Forum is neither feasible nor practical, in the White Paper, "Rural England", the Government undertook to support solutions tailored to local circumstances, such as those provided by the Bill.

I congratulate the promoters on their efforts to provide the means by which proper management of the commons of Bodmin moor can be accomplished.

Will the Minister explain something to the House? He said that the Government had decided to drop the idea of national legislation on access to and regulation of the commons—a decision that disappoints many people. As I understood it, the argument was that such matters should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. So surely when we are dealing with a particular case, the Minister cannot justify failing to make access provision in the Bill.

The Government are firmly of the view that there should be local solutions tailored to local needs. We welcome the Bill as an example of something that will give rise to a local solution. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) has clearly set out the position on access in response to repeated interventions, and has dealt with the effect that the legislation will have.

With respect, I do not think that the matter has been dealt with satisfactorily. There is a national park in Dartmoor and a similar, although smaller, landmass some 50 or 60 miles away at Bodmin. Your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, is very close to Dartmoor, and you will be aware that some 8 million people enjoy the beauties of Dartmoor, an increasing number of whom travel across Bodmin moor. Can the Minister explain why the public haye no right to leave their cars and go on to the private land at Bodmin moor, but have a statutory right to do so on Dartmoor? I fear that the Bill will bring the landowners together, and will exclude the public who have no right to go on the moor. The Bill may protect the commons from overgrazing, but will not allow the public to have the same free access to Bodmin that they currently enjoy on Dartmoor.

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, but he must realise the current position that was explained clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall, who made it clear that local solutions had been suggested for this case. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is interested in local solutions, will appreciate the importance of seeking such a solution in this case.

I want to come to the aid of the Minister. For six years, I was a member of the Dartmoor national park committee, and I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steer) has answered his own question. Dartmoor was designated as a national park, and one of the reasons for that was that it was necessary in national legislation to provide for specific rights of access on Dartmoor.

Some might think that Bodmin moor should also have been designated as national park, but the Bill is not a national park designation Bill. If it were, it would come from the Treasury Bench and we could discuss it in those terms. However, the Minister is absolutely right and I support him—this is a local response to a local problem, and it is a private Bill for that reason. If the hon. Member for South Hams wants to join me in looking at the case for making Bodmin moor a national park, we can do so on another day, as it is a separate issue.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the local question, and I made it clear at the outset that the Government are in favour of local solutions in this context. Among the local solutions that will be put in place, the Bill will seek to provide a comprehensive basis for the management of grazing on the commons and the promotion of the conservation of wildlife and habitats. I am sure that that objective will command wide support in the House this evening, and I therefore recommend that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee for detailed consideration.

7.32 pm

Although this is a private Bill, I wish to put on record the position of the official Opposition. We very much support the Bill in principle, and we accept that it is important for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks). There is a need for proper management of the moor, particularly grazing management. That is an important conservation tool, although it can cause problems in terms of other grazing. Grazing can also be important in protecting plant species if managed correctly. There is a sound argument for the introduction of a commoners council, and we agree that it should be given the duty to draw up a management plan in consultation with the county council and the various statutory bodies. That will be a great advantage in bringing together the disparate ownership of the land, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall outlined.

For all those reasons, we think that the main thrust of the Bill is absolutely correct, and we would like to see it proceed. We have noted—and perhaps I can speak on a more personal level—the concerns about public access and the points that were reasonably made by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). I recognise the issues and the differences between Dartmoor and Bodmin, but the Bill is being promoted in a similar way to the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 and I would have thought that it was not unreasonable to expect that the Bill would contain a provision for public access.

I am sorry that there has not been more agreement between the promoters and the considerable number of organisations which have petitioned against the Bill. These organisations are well respected, and include the Open Spaces Society, the British Mountaineering Council and the Youth Hostels Association. These are national and responsible organisations, and I am sure that their representations on access provision have been constructive and reasonable.

The 1985 Common Land Forum recommended that there should be access to common lands, and Labour thought that the recommendations were sensible and constructive. We are sorry that they have not been acted upon, and although it seemed at one stage that the Government were going to implement them, that has not taken place to date. I also note that the Countryside Commission has expressed great disappointment that the access arrangements have been withdrawn from the Bill. The commission has made it clear that it believes that such arrangements should be included if at all possible, and again that is not unreasonable.

In the discussions on the Bill, the issue of the right to roam—and whether it should be dealt with by a national policy or by legislation of the kind we are debating—has been raised. I understand the arguments, and the Labour party is committed to a qualified right to roam. The Country Landowners Association today published the document "Access 2000", which has a bearing on the Bill. The document contains a number of sensible suggestions, although I confess that I was surprised to see in the document and in some sections of the farming press that Labour is promoting a universal right to roam. I would like to state for the record that that has never been a right.

The CLA document contains a reference from the Liberal Democrats' submission—I do not know who provided it—saying that Labour is promoting a "near-universal" right to roam. That seems to suggest that we are advocating that people should go through other people's gardens or crops, or appear in their back yards. That was never the case. Our proposals on the right to roam apply to common land and to open moorland, but that right would have to be qualified in terms of sensible restrictions for land management and conservation management, and for the various rural activities which may require areas to be closed at times. There is a question as to whether we should wait for the next Labour Government to bring in the national policy or whether we should take this opportunity to ensure that there is adequate legislation at present. I am in favour of the former, but the House has been given an opportunity by the Bill and it should be taken.

I am concerned about the powers of the commoners council—I do not know whether the sponsor of the Bill can deal with this—because it appears that the council has the power to restrict access. While one could argue that it also has the power to encourage access—I do not dispute that—the fact remains that the majority of places on the council will be filled by landowners. They may well want to be reasonable and to encourage access in a balanced way. I am sure that that is so, but it may also be that, for whatever reason, that body may restrict access at certain times or to certain parts of the moor. I would welcome some clarification on that as it is a matter of concern, particularly for some of the petitioners.

Is not the point that the hon. Gentleman is making this: if a Bill is brought before the House for a particular area of the country, it must be a special and definable geographical area, not just a group of fields. Bodmin moor is definable and, that being so, special considerations apply. It is not like anyone's back yard or field—like Dartmoor, which happens to be a national park—Bodmin moor is a geographical area. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be rights for people to roam and walk in the area and that they should not be barred by a commoners council technically erecting a ring fence around it and saying, "You have no rights"?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who knows the issues very well. I pay tribute to his involvement with the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985. Bodmin clearly is a definable area and it is not unreasonable that people should have access to it. Indeed, there is a long history of access to many parts of the moor and I am sure that local groups recognise that. The concern is over what may, or may not, happen and whether there is a legal right of access or a right that might at some stage be blocked for whatever reason. I think that I am right in saying that access to Dartmoor is governed by byelaws, which may well be a better regulatory approach.

The House gave a statutory right for riders and walkers to walk in the national park—I think that the Dartmoor Commons Act was the first private Bill to give such a right and it was introduced by a county council. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support my view that it is a slightly retrograde step if, 12 years later, we do not have the same rights for Bodmin.

I understand that and I agree. In that 12-year period, I imagine that the demand for public access has grown and that more groups now want such access. In that respect, the provision certainly seems a retrograde step. Given all the sensible measures in the Bill and all the worthwhile things that it is trying to do, this seems to be an opportunity to tackle the issue of public access.

With a commoners council and a Bill of this type, an application can be made for Bodmin to become an environmentally sensitive area. Again, that is a sensible move and the Opposition would support it. ESAs have a valuable role to play in supporting local farmers, particularly in the less-favoured areas where incomes are low, and ensuring a proper management regime within which they can operate within. That will involve such things as maximum stocking densities, which are very important. Such schemes have worked well. ESAs involve public money, however, and if we are putting public money into land management schemes it is not unreasonable for the public, who are paying, to derive some benefit. One of the benefits is access to the moor. I accept that environmental management is also a benefit.

There are two arguments about letting people go into environmentally sensitive areas. The first is that people can see that the money is being well spent. The second concerns balance and, if one is reducing stocking levels, it ought to be possible to allow more access.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I know of his long-standing interest in rights of access. I strongly endorse the need for balance. We are talking of a balance between the needs of landowners, farmers, the local community and national recreation groups. We very much support that balance and I am not sure that it is quite right in the Bill as it stands.

I have walked over Dartmoor for many years and occasionally over Bodmin moor. If the promoters fear that, by putting in a statutory right of access, they will be swamped by charabancs of tourists, they should realise that Bodmin is even more inhospitable to walk over than Dartmoor—it is the most difficult and treacherous moor. The hon. Gentleman and the landowners will be relieved to know that giving the public a statutory right of access would not result in the place being covered with thousands of tourists.

The hon. Member knows the area well and I am sure that he is right. I have been researching statutory access to help with Labour's policy formation. I had talks about the New Forest, which is very much a honeypot area, with the Forestry Commission. The commission's surveys show that a high proportion of people do not stray far from their cars when they park in the car parks provided, another group of people might walk further, but do not stray from the footpaths and only a comparatively small number of serious walkers go into the more remote and difficult areas—they are responsible people when it comes to having regard to the environment.

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman by giving him the figures for Dartmoor—the figures for Bodmin would not be dissimilar— 70 per cent. of the people who travel across the moor do not stop, but admire the view while driving slowly and carefully, 28 per cent. stop their cars and walk up to 100 yd and only the remaining 2 or 3 per cent. go beyond 100 yd. If that figure is the same for Bodmin, the promoters and the landowners have nothing to fear.

The hon. Gentleman's figures are similar to those of the Forestry Commission and that puts the issue into perspective.

There are honeypot areas that attract large numbers of people and require management because of the pressures on the environment, but I am not sure that Bodmin moor is one of those areas as it is remote. In that respect, I am surprised that the promoters have not reached some accommodation with the people who have been petitioning against the Bill. The Opposition want the Bill to progress and to become law. We want an accommodation between those groups.

In environmentally sensitive areas, an element of public subsidy is involved. It is not, therefore, unreasonable for access to be one of the criteria that is taken into account. One can achieve a balance between the not unreasonable desire for recreation and the management needs of local farmers and landowners. If access were a problem for environmental or management reasons, perhaps the commoners council could deal with it. We do not disagree with such an approach. We want a constructive approach.

There are not many opportunities to promote legislation such as this Bill, which contains so many worthwhile elements. It is also an opportunity to give people a right of access. I would have thought that Cornwall county council would have jumped at that. I understand that originally the landowning interests were not especially averse to it.

The Country Landowners Association document that was launched today makes it clear that it wants to promote increased access. That is a worthwhile objective. The CLA has the opportunity to support the principles outlined in its document though a Bill such as this. I hope that its promoters take note of the points made by the groups that have petitioned against it and especially those by the hon. Member for South Hams, who put his case very well. The Government should bear them in mind, especially as they originally said that they would support the findings of the Common Land Forum. If they once thought that the forum's 1985 recommendations were reasonable, this is an opportunity to incorporate some of them in a measure that would meet with universal support.

7.50 pm

I had hoped to be able to speak at the end of the debate so that I could respond to as many as possible of the points made by hon. Members. However, I was forewarned that if I did, I might be squeezed out by hon. Members with a different agenda. I shall try to respond to the points that have been raised so far.

I must declare an interest—not financial, but personal. I live on the edge of Bodmin moor and I walk on it almost every weekend. Some weekends, I spend more time on it than in my garden, which results in calamity for the latter. I have had a long association with the moor and with Dartmoor, as I was previously a councillor in Devon. My mother unfortunately emigrated to England and married a Devonian. When I returned to Cornwall, I spent much time getting to know the moor. I have a long family association with the area going back to 1066.

I have also had a long association with the various access organisations in Cornwall and nationally. I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) about the value of the Common Land Forum. If his statement is a commitment that an incoming Labour Government will promote legislation on the basis of the forum's proposals, I very much welcome it.

As the Minister said, legislation to promote access to common land must be national. It would be inappropriate to use a local private Bill as a stalking horse. However, I welcome on behalf of the promoters the fact that both the Labour Front-Bench spokesman and the Government have committed themselves to the Bill's principles and to its passage to a Second Reading. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks), who eloquently promoted the Bill, both today and on many previous occasions locally, will join me in welcoming that.

Clearly, there is a problem with the Bill, but I believe that it can and should be resolved. The Bill and the environmentally sensitive area status that we hope that it will permit are primarily concerned with the conservation, and the environmental and agricultural management of the moor.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe made copious references to ESAs. I share his concern that public money should not only be invested wisely but seen to be invested wisely. He and the Minister for Rural Affairs, who was also in the Chamber and supports the Bill, would agree that ESAs are not inherently about public access. Several of them preclude public access because the ecology of their habitats is so sensitive and vulnerable that public access would be improper. Neither in national nor in European Union terms does ESA status inherently increase or change rights of public access, and nor should it. Its primary purpose is environmental enhancement.

The statement that the promoters released to coincide with the Bill clearly sets out its purpose and meets some of the objections that have been made this evening. First and foremost, it would grant powers to promote grazing management and conservation of the commons. The target is specific and carefully defined. As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, it has had the full rigour of examination in the other place over a long period. It has been the subject of petitions and much local consultation. He and I have met many organisations and individuals during the Bill's passage through the other place and I endorse his statement that it enjoys the widest possible support in Cornwall—including support from both environmental and access organisations.

It is true that the commoners council is empowered to regulate the exercise of common rights in the interests of the commons as a whole but, as the promoters' statement says:
"In discharging that duty the Council is to have due regard to the conservation of the commons and to the existing permitted use of the commons as a place of resort for open air recreation."

What does "due regard" mean? Does it not mean that as long as the council considers the present access carefully, it will be entitled to alter it?

I will come back to that as my speech unfolds.

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has just slipped out of the Chamber but I assure him that it is recognised that there are growing pressures on the moor from peaceful recreation. However, there are also pressures from less peaceful recreations. I know, from my experience as a member and vice-chairman of the Dartmoor national park committee for five years, that Dartmoor has already experienced major problems. It is important that powers should be available, for example, to control access for four-wheeled vehicles which not only damage the moor's ecology but make it difficult for other people to enjoy peaceful recreation such as my weekend walks.

There is considerable anxiety in Cornwall about the state of the commons on Bodmin moor. Some suffer from overgrazing while others are insufficiently grazed. As a result, environmental quality is visibly deteriorating in several parts of the moor at an alarming rate. It is intended that the primary purpose of the commoners council should be to take action to correct that deterioration. Such action will involve considerable restrictions on the activities of some local commoners, but they accept that in the interests of the wider community and of the long-term stewardship of the land.

I emphasise that there is nothing in the Bill that alters the availability of the commons for public access. It may be that a better definition of open country, as the Common Land Forum has suggested, would, in the long term, greatly benefit Bodmin moor and other parts of the UK. However, it would be inappropriate to use a private Bill to pioneer such a new definition. I reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall that the petitions against the Bill lodged by the British Horse Society and the owners of a riding establishment on the edge of the moor have been withdrawn because they have accepted that the promoters have met their concerns.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned public access. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that discussions have taken place, not only during the passage of the Bill through the Lords and locally, but in the past few days, in anticipation of this debate, and in recognition of the concerns that gave rise to the attempt to lay an instruction before the House and therefore the Committee.

Last week—I am sure that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish will not mind me saying so, because it is material to the discussion—there was a useful meeting, at which I was present, between the promoter and the hon. Gentleman, and at that meeting we sought to find a way to meet his concerns. It was suggested that a voluntary agreement on access might be in place before Royal Assent or before the Act came into operation. That was the subject of some discussion locally. I understand that, yesterday, the promoter, Cornwall county council, agreed that it would seek to achieve that in whatever form was appropriate to the legislation, to enable the Bill to proceed.

I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said about the need for balance. That balance is well understood by the promoter and all the organisations that have promoted the Bill. That is why I am delighted to tell the House that I understand that the promoter is able to put on record tonight that it agrees to seek a voluntary access agreement with the landowners and the commoners of the Bodmin moor commons.

What the hon. Gentleman says goes 90 per cent. of the way towards what we want. We now need evidence of the good intent of the county council. All we need to hear from the hon. Gentleman is that the county council will not seek Royal Assent until the access agreement is in place because, if it goes that far, we can simplify the procedures tremendously. I do not doubt the good will of the county council, but if one or two of the more awkward commoners were to refuse to go along with an access agreement, there is little that the county council can do as things stand. If, however, the county council were to give an undertaking tonight, or very soon after, that it would not go ahead with Royal Assent until the access agreement were in place, I do not say that we could all go home, but we could all go home without saying much more.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he will appreciate that I am a Member of the House, not the promoter. It would be much more appropriate for the specific wording of the statement that he requires to be dealt with in Committee, which is the right place for petitions to be heard; the hon. Gentleman is not a petitioner in his own right.

Following the meeting that I mentioned, at which the hon. Gentleman was most generous with his time—and his coffee—and during which we made good progress, I am able to convey to the House the assurance that the promoter, Cornwall county council, has agreed to seek a voluntary access agreement along the lines suggested at our meeting last week, and the county council has already set in motion the appropriate machinery to make that action take place forthwith.

I accept, as I am sure does the promoter, that that may not meet all the wishes of the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society, which have lodged petitions against the Bill and which, if the Bill is read a Second time tonight, will be entitled to appear before the Committee. However, the Bill is not about compulsion, and Cornwall county council does not propose to embody compulsion in the Bill. That is borne out by negotiations that the promoter has already carried out, as I have said, with the two other petitioners—the British Horse Society and the T.M. international school of horsemanship.

Amendments have been suggested by those two petitioners, and will be submitted for the Committee's approval if the Bill is read a Second time tonight. The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that the passing of the Bill and the coming into being of the commoners council will not change the position to the detriment of the British Horse Society or its members on or near Bodmin moor or of the T.M. international school of horsemanship. As a result of that agreement, those two petitions have been withdrawn.

The amendments would provide that the commoners council, when preparing the management plan that the Bill requires to be prepared, must have due regard to the existing permitted use of open-air recreation. That includes any existing permitted use by ramblers. Were that not to be the case, I should not be supporting the Bill tonight, because I believe, as do many others in and around Bodmin moor, that that existing permitted use is of great importance.

The hon. Member for South Hams is probably right that only 2 or 3 per cent. of people who visit Bodmin moor walk miles, as I do. Nevertheless, sometimes we have invasions. Only a few years ago, about 30,000 people came for the so-called White Goddess festival on Davidstow moor, on common land in my constituency, and caused chaos to farmers and everyone else in the local community. It is not inappropriate to be aware that such possible threats can not only destroy the habitat and environment and prevent the quiet enjoyment of the moor by people who walk or ride, but cause immense damage to the local community as a whole.

The suggested amendments would also ensure that the commoners council makes certain that unlawful interference with the commons is precluded, but also ensures that recreational access on foot or horseback does not cause material damage. There is no intention to destroy the sensitive balance that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe rightly mentioned.

There is almost unanimous support for the Bill throughout Cornwall, as the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said. Conservationists and farmers alike are looking to the House to create an effective framework for more sensitive management of the commons on Bodmin moor. I hope that they will not be disappointed.

8.6 pm

I should first declare an interest that does not need to be included in the Register. It is only fair to tell hon. Members that I am an honorary life member of the Ramblers Association and vice-president of the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society. I have spoken on behalf of walkers many times in the House, but I have also spoken several times about the private Bill procedure, which I find very, very unsatisfactory indeed.

As a result of efforts in the House on occasions to delay Bills, it was possible to pass the Public Works Bill, and we have substantially reduced the number of private Bills that come before the House, so we now deal with private Bills rarely. Nevertheless, it is a very unsatisfactory procedure for dealing with the Bill before us.

Traditionally, Bills were used to promote railways, canals and other major works. The tradition grew up that, as the Bill progressed through the two Houses of Parliament, it had to become progressively narrower. In other words, no one's rights could be taken away as the Bill progressed; all that could happen was that people could be exempted from the Bill.

In this case, we have a very odd procedure. When Cornwall county council started to promote the Bill, there was a balance in it. The rights of access were balanced by the right of the commoners to regulate the legislation. By a procedure that I have never quite understood, which is not quite a lottery—I suspect that it is more Machiavellian than that—some Bills start in the House of Lords and some start in the Commons.

In the case of a public Bill, if the Lords remove something from the Bill, it is easy for us to disagree with them and put it back in; or, if the Lords put something into the Bill, we can remove it. If necessary, the Bill can shuttle backwards and forwards, until eventually a meeting takes place between the two sides, at which usually one or other gives way.

With a Bill such as this, however, if the House of Lords has removed a provision from it, usually the House of Commons cannot put it back. Rather foolishly, the House of Lords removed the provision that guaranteed access. The question is do we have the right to put access back in the Bill as it goes into Committee? At some stage, that could become a major point at issue.

I hope that we can find a way around the problem and thereby avoid some fraught proceedings in this House. I have a suggestion to make. I have talked to the promoters, and proposed that we need not have an access agreement on the face of the Bill. It is perfectly possible for county councils to draw up access agreements, just as it is possible for national parks to make access agreements under legislation dealing with the countryside and dating from the late 1940s.

It would be quite possible for the county council in this case to put in place an access agreement to cover the relevant area before the Bill received Royal Assent. That would restore the balance that we began with. If we do not restore that balance, the people in Cornwall who did not oppose the Bill originally because it contained access provisions will feel cheated because they will not have had the opportunity to petition the House of Lords, assuming as they did that the Bill contained measures of which they approved.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that to my knowledge—I do not know whether the hon. Member for Soufh-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) can confirm this—there are no petitioners or objectors from Cornwall to the Bill in its present form.

The hon. Gentleman is misled. I am assured by the ramblers and some of the other petitioners that some local groups still object strongly. More to the point, one commoner and two other people telephoned me this afternoon, all claiming to come from Cornwall. Their accents served to confirm that. I rang one of them back, and he was certainly on a Cornwall number, so I have no reason to believe that they were not ringing me in good faith. They said that they had been cheated, and would never have supported such a Bill without the access provisions.

When the county council published notices about the Bill, it still contained the access provisions. These people therefore did not realise that they should petition the House of Lords to strengthen the access provisions. Now the latter have been taken out, so a group of people's rights have been disregarded. I suggest that that is a serious matter.

All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that the exclusion from the Bill has been widely known about in Cornwall for many months—as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it was in the Lords for a long time. I have met innumerable organisations and people in Cornwall during that period—I suspect that the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall has, too—and no doubt the promoters have had representations as well. I find it extraordinary that the only person in the House who seems to have received these complaints is the hon. Gentleman. We certainly have heard nothing about these people.

I will not pursue the issue now. I merely suggest that there is a way out of an impasse that might involve a great deal of argument and procedure. I have met the promoters we are very close to a deal which would virtually eliminate the problems.

The Bill is being debated today. It will then go into Committee, where no doubt petitioners will want to make their case. Members of the Committee may be sympathetic to the petitioners, so there will be some discussion as to how far access can be reinstated at that stage.

My guess is that the Bill will emerge from Committee just before the summer recess. If it does, it is possible that the Chairman of Ways and Means will find time for it to be debated before the recess—but I am doubtful. There are rumours that there may be no carry-over in the autumn. If there is no carry-over, that may present difficulties. There will have to be a revival motion, either in the autumn or in the next Parliament. Everyone knows that revival motions are debatable, and can prompt a great deal of discussion and argument.

I can see this Bill stretching out a long way into the future. For my part, I do not want to be involved in stretching it out. I hope that the county council can thrash out an access agreement and get it in place so that the promoters can tell the Committee that an access agreement has been reached with the county council, using the powers that it already has. The petitions can then be withdrawn, the Bill can become an unopposed Bill, and it can return to the House in late June or early July. The Bill can then proceed unopposed to Royal Assent by the autumn, and management procedures and access arrangements can be put in place.

There is a good prospect of some sort of agreement being reached. We are asking the promoters to go only a short distance further. The county council has said that it will seek an agreement—it need only take one more step. I admit that that will change the balance of power, but if the county council is keen to get the Bill through at the moment, objections to it from just one or two commoners can stop it; whereas, once the balance of power is changed and restored to what it was when the Bill arrived in the Lords, there is a good chance that agreement will be reached.

I strongly contend that the promoters have a chance now to get their legislation quickly and cheaply and to satisfy the commoners and local people who want their access guaranteed. National groups such as the ramblers would also like to witness a local agreement that has been sensibly reached.

I understand the local problem. I am aware that some— not all—of the commoners are on low incomes and are under pressure to put more stock on the parts of the moor to which they are entitled. They see people in other parts of the country being paid taxpayers' money not to put stock on land but to manage environmentally sensitive areas better and with less stock—thereby preserving the countryside. These local people rightly ask why the same cannot apply to Bodmin moor.

What is preventing that is the fact that no commoner can enter into agreement with the Government about stock levels, because any other commoner can wreck the whole procedure. That is why the legislation is needed. But if the land is to be managed for the benefit of commoners by limiting stock numbers, access must also be successfully managed.

What is the point of paying out large sums of taxpayers' money to protect environmentally sensitive areas? The answer is that they are part of our heritage, and the argument goes that people should be able to go and look at their inheritance.

I got out the two maps that cover the area in question. I once walked over Bodmin moor, although I admit that it was a wet, misty day, and I saw little besides the footpath in front of me.

I certainly did not see the beast. When I walked the moor, the stories about the beast had not yet surfaced. I do not think that it would have frightened me off, but it might have added some amusement to the walk, especially in the rain. My hon. Friend may have all sorts of ideas about Bodmin moor, but I shall not be sidetracked.

I took the trouble to look at the maps of Bodmin moor, and I was disappointed to see that very few footpaths had been recorded. As many people visit it and it has obvious attractions, particularly in good weather, why are so few footpaths recorded on it?

Clearly, over the years the custom and practice has been that people have walked on the moors and have not been stopped. When rights of way had to be recorded as a result of the legislation in the 1940s, few people found it necessary to claim a right of way, because, de facto, they could walk on the moors. As there is de facto access, one might ask why we need an access agreement.

The practice appears to have changed, however. I can think of large areas of the countryside that used to have de facto access. I am particularly conscious of the Berwyns and the Arans in north Wales, where for more than 100 years people could walk without restriction, until a small group of farmers decided that there should be no access and no right of way, and that people could not walk on that land. We cannot continue having merely de facto access to the moors. It has to be in legislation or an agreement that is worked out by the county council.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, access agreements have worked well throughout the country. There was a tremendous amount of conflict about the peak district in the 1930s, and some of it lasted until the 1950s when people were denied access, but the Peak District national park managed to get access agreements in place. By and large, those agreements have worked.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the peak district, where there is intense demand for walking and recreational pursuits because of the huge conurbations in the surrounding areas, access agreements have not damaged walkers' access to the open moorland?

I was making that very point, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The more access is agreed, the better it works. Many farmers have said to me, "Twenty years ago, I was a bit worried about the access agreement, but it is now working well. I am pleased to see the walkers on my land, and I prefer them to use the access land rather than the footpaths, as one or two of the footpaths are being worn away. It is much nicer to see them striding out on to the moor."

I have to say to those who are concerned about Bodmin moor—and the commoners who may be doubtful about them—that access agreements work well. Another important consideration for the commoners is that the county council will pay them a little money. I shall not say that too loud, because the county council does not have a great deal of money, but it will pay for access agreements.

I understand that the commoners originally supported the idea of a statutory right of access. Can my hon. Friend explain say why they have changed their minds during the Bill's passage?

I am puzzled about that. One of the people who telephoned me today was a commoner. He told me that he thought access was a good idea, and that other commoners wanted it. He was trying to put the blame on some of the bigger landowners who have some rights to the common. He said that Bodmin was caught up in a national argument and that, because the ramblers and the Open Spaces Society argued that access should be granted, one or two other organisations had advised the commoners not to agree to an access agreement, as it might undermine their national stance.

It is disappointing that the commoners, having initially supported access agreements, have now backed off, and some would prefer not to have them. My evidence is that access agreements work and could benefit local people who would be getting a little money not just from the Government for using lower stocking levels, but from the county council for letting people walk on the land.

I now turn to de facto access. Local people have told me that there is no problem because they can get on to the land. I have mentioned the problem in the Arans, where there was de facto access but it was revoked. In most parts of the country, if one wants to get access to land, one can use rights of way or access agreements. One can also say to the landowner: "Do you mind if I walk across your land?" I have often asked the farmer whether I could walk through his farmland either to go for a walk or to look at a historic or archaeological site. Farmers very rarely refuse access.

I know that there can be problems and that people are not always made welcome, but my experience is that, if one asks nicely, one is normally allowed onto the land.

What happens on Bodmin moor? Presumably one would have to find one of the commoners and say, "Please may I go on to the land?" and one would then be able to walk across it. The commoner I spoke to today— Mr. Budge—told me that he was not quite sure. He said, "I always tell people that everyone goes on anyway, so you don't need permission, but I do not think that I have the right to give permission, because I am not the landowner. I have only commoners' grazing rights."

So who is entitled to grant people permission to go on to the commons? Mr. Budge, as a commoner, could ask me to look at his stock, round it up or do something else, and I would then have the right to be on the common, but if I just wanted to have a look at it, I am not quite sure how the de facto right would work.

My hon. Friend may wish to lead me in that direction, but I know nothing about Prince Charles, and would not wish to involve him in the debate.

I am sure that, if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will be able to develop that argument further.

Did the hon. Gentleman say that the commoner who had been in touch with him today was a certain Mr. Budge? If so, perhaps I should let him know that Mr. Budge is no longer a commoner, as he no longer farms on the edge of the moor, so he no longer has any common rights. He may also have a somewhat different agenda from that of the hon. Gentleman.

I shall not go into detail. Mr. Budge raised a particular point with me. If the hon. Gentleman disputes it, I understand that the commoners originally agreed to access. If the hon. Gentleman is denying that the commoners originally agreed to access, I shall gladly give way to him. As I understand it—I think that Mr. Budge was perfectly correct on that point—the commoners agreed to access when the legislation was first proposed. If that is wrong, will the hon. Gentleman please intervene?

It is perfectly true that everybody tried to find acceptable terms in which the access problem could be resolved. I and the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall did our very best to find such terms. We found it impossible to approve and support appropriate terms for the Bill. If we could have done so, we would have been delighted, but it became increasingly apparent that such terms were appropriate only for national legislation, and not for a private Bill.

The hon. Gentleman attended the negotiations last week, when he said that the county council—in good faith—would seek an access agreement. He cannot have it both ways. Either an access agreement is impossible because the commoners cannot agree among themselves, or we can negotiate an access agreement. We should put that idea to the test: let us delay the Bill's progress and put the access agreement in place. The Bill could then race through the House. The hon. Gentleman has said that the county council will use its best endeavours to reach an agreement. That is one approach.

It is a funny county council—I think that there is no overall control. However, I do not wish to go into the composition of the council. I want to concentrate on the question of access, and particularly the problem of guaranteeing de facto access.

As the Bill stands currently, the commoners will have the right to regulate access. I approve of that provision. If a part of the moor is being damaged through over-use, or should be burnt in line with heather management, it is logical that people should be denied access to that area for a specified period. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has powers to prevent people from entering certain areas where diseased animals have been discovered. It would be logical for an access agreement to contain the right to suspend access in certain circumstances, such as in the event of a fire risk.

However, the rules regarding fire are quite odd. The Environment Committee found that almost all the access agreements in the peak district prevented people from roaming on the moors when the fire risk was high. However, the attitude in the New Forest is to allow as many people as possible on to the moor when the fire risk is high, so that they may give an early warning of fire and almost certainly assist with fighting it. An access agreement should address such issues, and I argue strongly that we should try to put such an agreement in place.

Some of the blame must lie with the Government. A proposal emerged from the Common Land Forum to deal with commons up and down the country. The Government were so impressed with the forum's recommendations that they made a manifesto commitment in 1987—which I think was repeated in 1992—to legislate in that area. That legislation would involve recognising grazing rights and allowing access to commons. Sadly, the Moorland Society nobbled the Government. The big landed interests—I suppose that they are still the Tory grandees—said no, and the Government stupidly gave in to them.

As a result of that backdown, there have been continuing problems with our commons. It is interesting to note that the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association have begun to realise that it is not in the interests of those who work on the land to keep others out. I do not approve totally of the Country Landowners Association publication that was released today, but it is now talking about encouraging access. It says that access should be negotiated locally.

In the case of Bodmin moor, access could be negotiated locally. If organisations such as the Country Landowners Association and the NFU want to argue that access should be negotiated locally and agreed on the basis of existing access provisions in earlier legislation, they must demonstrate that the agreements are working. If we cannot have access agreements on Bodmin moor, perhaps we should take a different approach—for example, right to roam legislation, or perhaps a walkers charter. That approach would have many advantages, because it gives the walker rights and responsibilities. Anyone who cares about the countryside would favour that approach.

I do not like going into the countryside carrying a pair or wirecutters in my back pocket to cut barbed wire that has been placed across a footpath. I do not like having to telephone or write to a county council to report obstructions on footpaths. I do not roam the countryside looking for conflict: I go to the country to enjoy the peace and quiet. That enjoyment is spoilt by arguments and problems about access.

I want to see a way out. Nothing would please me more than if the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the Moorland Society were to rush to put access agreements in place across the country in the next 12 or 18 months. Perhaps that would reduce the need for right to roam legislation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe will introduce right to roam legislation as a Minister in the next Labour Government. However, both the NFU and the Country Landowners Association say that they support this Bill. Therefore, they must demonstrate that access agreements can be successfully negotiated locally.

The next question is, who will serve on the Bodmin moor commoners council? I understand that the Bill contains a fairly complicated procedure for appointing people to that council.

I suppose it is. However, its members are also shareholders—those who have grazing rights have a right to participate in the election of commoners who can serve on the council. We should ensure that the access groups are represented on that body, and have a veto over restrictions on access.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) said that I would approve of some of the powers to restrict activities on the moors. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and I would like to stop four-wheel-drive vehicles with bull bars entering moorland. However, if we deny access to four-wheel-drive vehicles, to people on mountain bikes, trail riders and so on, how will we differentiate between those powers and the powers that allow access to people on foot? What about those people who enter moorland on foot with the intention of engaging in other activities, such as hang-gliding, para-gliding and so on? We should have in place a management access agreement in order to regulate those activities properly.

There is another question regarding archaeological sites. There are traces of early civilisations all over Bodmin moor, and people like to visit those sites. Some of the sites and structures have been nicely preserved by English Heritage. But it can be more interesting and more fun wondering whether a shape on the ground is a geological formation or is the result of human activity— one can use one's imagination.

Currently, there is no legislative provision to allow people to visit such sites, and I should like to see those rights enshrined in access agreements. However, we must again consider regulation. Many people who like to visit historical sites take their metal detectors. I have seen them on many occasions: as soon as something sets off their metal detector, they begin scrabbling around and digging to try to find the object. Usually they find a penny or 10p piece that another metal detectorist dropped earlier; but on some occasions they start to dig things up. I certainly do not approve of people just digging around on those sites. It should be properly regulated.

I hope that commoners will have the opportunity to represent all those interests and that they can put into some access agreement a balance between all those different groups.

I should like to return to the point I made at the beginning of my speech. There is an opportunity for a deal that satisfies everyone—a statutory access agreement in the current legislation that would be set up by the county council on a voluntary basis, which would then allow quick passage by means of this Bill, and let the graziers get the management in place.

I think that the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall suggested that it is now five years since he first went to Ministers to plead for this to be designated an environmentally sensitive area. I can understand how commoners who are on low incomes are aggrieved that it has taken so long, but I must tell him that, if the matter continues to drag on through the House for any length of time, it will be because of the failure of those same commoners to agree an access provision.

I hope that, even at this late stage, people who are promoting the Bill will appreciate that there will be sustained opposition to it unless concessions are achieved. Sustained opposition will cost the promoters money and will delay the Bill. For all those reasons, I hope that we can get an undertaking very quickly that will satisfy the petitioners—the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society—that we can have an access agreement, and that the commoners can get the proper management that they deserve. Before the Bill progresses very much further, I hope that some sort of agreement can be reached.

8.42 pm

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who speaks with such authority on this matter. I think that all hon. Members enjoyed his succinct speech. I hope to be equally brief.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned the private Bill procedure. There was a young hon. Member who said that the private Bill procedure is archaic, slow, inefficient and long overdue for reform. His name was Benjamin Disraeli. There have been some changes in the private Bill procedure since then, but much of his criticism is still valid.

Many hon. Members will remember the painful experience of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, which was in the House for longer than the first world war lasted. I think that it occupied more of the House's time than any Bill since the repeal of the Corn Laws. I do not say that as any form of threat to anyone. I remember a time during that Bill's passage when I was in the Chamber at 5 am, passionately advocating the cause of retaining the habitat of the barking Grangetown rat. Of course many hon. Members were talking on behalf of other forms of wildlife, such as the bird. There is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, but no society for the protection of the barking Grangetown rat, and, if there were, it certainly would not be a royal society.

There is a concentration on certain attractive forms of wildlife and not on those equally rare forms of wildlife to which we should pay attention.

I remember very well those debates late through the night. I inform my hon. Friend that the black rat that he mentioned is a protected species.

I am delighted to hear that, but the species that I mentioned is fictitious. I mentioned it in the early hours of the morning to make a point about the attempts that were being made to protect creatures that were reduced to their last 28 billion in the world. I should return to speaking about the Bill.

I call on the hon. Gentleman to tell us something about the Bill.

I shall not try your patience any longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We must examine the Bill and consider the concession that is sought by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish. All hon. Members would say that we are in favour of the Bill's general purpose, but that we have misgivings about what is absent from it—the guarantee of rights of access to all those who use this wild and beautiful part of the country, which is part of our heritage.

I was enthusiastic about the suggestion that access must be denied to those who abuse our countryside with noise pollution, light pollution and—the worst pollution we have seen in recent years—the barbarous, four-by-four vehicles that have caused so much damage to our green lanes and countryside. They should be denied access. There is a particular mindset among the people who buy those vehicles. They usually had Tonka cars when they were children, and they grow up to want those great, chunky, inefficient and unsafe vehicles. Their effect on green lanes is disastrous, leaving huge ruts and great damage. Some roads in Wales have suffered greater damage in the past 20 years because of four-by-fours than they have suffered since they were built by the Romans. One of those is Sarn Helen.

One may ask why a Welsh Member of Parliament should have a keen interest in this Bill. We see the area as part of our common heritage of national life, but I also have a particular interest in the relationship between Wales and Cornwall. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) used two words of the Cornish language: Mebyon Kernow. I remember tabling a question about the future of Brythonic languages. Many of the names on Bodmin are Brythonic names. The Department inquired what I was talking about. I made it clear that I wanted an answer about the Cornish language, and the answer was given to me by the Secretary of State for Wales.

I do not know whether the Government have some secret agenda to annex Cornwall to Wales and to reunite those two ancient nations, which were once united but, unfortunately, divided by the immigration of Saxons, who came to these islands and divided those two groups of people. In Wales there is a legitimate interest in those groups.

A great amount of play has been made about what is claimed to be the Bill's universal support, but that is not so according to the information that I have. I know that the Ramblers Association has complained and has many misgivings about it. Members of that organisation have told me that they know of no local access bodies that agree with the view that the Bill is without fault. The most prominent access bodies are of course the Ramblers Association, the Open Spaces Society and the splendid Youth Hostels Association. They have all petitioned against the Bill. To suggest that the local branches of those organisations are somehow in favour of it is, as I understand it, untrue. I hope that that point will be answered by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall.

May I clarify my remarks, which are on the record? I said that no local amenity or recreational groups, organisations or societies, to the best of my knowledge, have expressed their opposition to the provisions in the Bill.

I should be happy to improve the hon. Gentleman's knowledge, because my understanding is that there are local branches of those organisations and that it is entirely misleading to suggest that they disagree with their national organisations in any way.

We are opposed to access to all parts of the moors by those who would damage them, but other groups that have a keen interest in the flora and fauna of Bodmin moors should have open access to them. For the sake of brevity, I shall mention only one such organisation—the Butterfly Conservation Society. Earlier this year, I had the great privilege to present the prizes in its annual photograph competition. The taking of such photographs requires generous access to the habitats of the butterflies and moths that are part of the life of Bodmin moor.

We must not treat this as a matter of no importance. We all love butterflies, which are beautiful, living jewels of nature: we love the enormous variety and subtlety of their colours, and note the differences that occur from one area to another only a few miles away. Butterflies are important for another reason, however, which makes them the subject of considerable study: they are a prime indicator of biodiversity. Any reduction in the number of species is an accurate indicator of the extent to which biodiversity is deteriorating, or becoming less important.

Certain groups are very well protected by the Bill. Clause 16 contains firm guarantees, stating:
"Subject to the provisions of this section (and without prejudice to the general law concerning the application of statutes to the Duchy of Cornwall), nothing in this Act shall prejudice any of the rights, powers, privileges or authority attaching to the possessions of, or exercisable by, the possessor for the time being of the Duchy of Cornwall in relation to land belonging to the said Duchy and nothing in this Act shall apply to the said possessions or possessor by virtue of an interest in land belonging to the said Duchy without the consent specified in subsection (3) below."
There we have a copper-bottomed guarantee, which cannot possibly be breached, in favour of—whom? In favour of the person who received the income from the Duchy of Cornwall. We all know who that person is, and I do not want to break the rules of the House by identifying him. There is a strong case for saying that, given the extraordinary history of the land of the Duchy of Cornwall—the income from which now goes to just one person—that land actually belongs to the people of this country. Clause 16 gives an absolute guarantee that those rights will be protected.

The Bill goes on to say that certain other rights are protected. For instance, the protection of the trustees of the recreation ground of P. R. Blarney is enshrined in it. Clause 17 makes it clear that the commons and grounds of P. R. Blarney will be protected under what will become section 5, and there is no doubt that the draftsmen took the issues fully into account and were prepared to include the measure in the Bill. Why on earth will not the promoters agree to the modest request made by my hon.

Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish during long meetings? Why are not the small concessions that, it has been suggested, will be forthcoming tonight included in the Bill? Why should we not be given a chance to prove tonight that they will be made? I am sure that we all consider such a development desirable.

I apologise for not being present during the first part of my hon. Friend's speech. I have read the Bill, however. May I make a plea? As the Bill is generally acceptable to the House, will my hon. Friend try to persuade the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks)—whom I respect—to establish whether an access agreement that is generally acceptable to the various parties could be negotiated? If that could be done, I think that the Bill could be passed in two minutes flat. That is a challenge; can the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall and others rise to it? Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the nub of the issue?

I agree entirely. I am sure that many of us can think of other ways in which we could be using our time tonight. The Bill is important, but, as one who has not been involved in the negotiations, I sense that there is little space between the two sides.

It has been claimed that the Countryside Commission gave its blessing to the Bill, but in its most recent letter it expresses many serious misgivings. It speaks of a "strong preference": although it wants to continue to back the Bill, which deals with matters of some importance, it wants more attention to be given to public access, regarding that as one of the most important and accepted uses of Bodmin moor. In a letter to Cornwall county council, it says:
"We regret that it has not been possible for you to achieve a negotiated settlement of the petitioners' concerns."
Its position has always been that it wants the Bill to succeed—as we all do—and it believes that
"such a settlement would have assisted the passage of the Bill through Parliament."
I think that we would all agree with that.

Misgivings have also been expressed by the Ramblers Association, which represents a great many people. Its interests have not always been respected. The Country Landowners Association and the commoners have not always been friendly towards ramblers, and there is a continuous history going back to the beginning of the century—possibly beyond that—of ramblers having to fight for their rights of access against selfish landowners who have sought to restrict the access that we should all enjoy. The Ramblers Association has said that it believes that, if the Bill is passed, it could lead to a loss of access on the moors. That right of access should be enshrined in the Bill.

I do not know whether any of those who speak for the Bill's promoters are willing to grant us any extension, or any reaffirmation of what they are saying, or whether the matter must be left until the Committee stage—if that takes place in the near future. There is a suggestion, however, that the Bill goes against the long-held view that access to and management of common land should go hand in hand. That point was made in the 1958 report of the royal commission on common land, which we all remember so well. It was then endorsed by the Common Land Forum in its 1986 report, which was signed, and has long been supported, by interests including the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association, the Association of County Councils, speaking with the support of Cornwall county council, and many others. The important point is that recreation and amenity organisations should support the two main principles. They should be part of the principles of the Common Land Forum and govern our use of the wonderful wild habitat in this countryside.

Bodmin moor has been preserved in its wild state while we have seen encroachments into other beautiful areas. It is the task of everyone in the House to ensure that the Bill does the best that it can for wild areas and the habitats of creatures, but there is no excuse for leaving out of the Bill the right of access to the moor for those with an interest in nature. The Bill could provide for that access to be regulated by the county council and others to protect the area sensibly, reasonably and practically. I urge the promoters to strengthen the right of access in the Bill.

8.58 pm

I understand the concerns that have been expressed in the House today about the lack of agreement over the right to access in the Bill. I have listened to much of the debate, and I have read about the Bill, and it seems to me that—in the preliminary planning stages of the Bill—all concerned intended to settle the issue of access for recreational purposes to Bodmin moor at the same time as the other elements of the Bill, such as common grazing rights and the establishment of the commoners council. We support those interesting measures, but if there is a reluctance to include a small clause about access on the face of the Bill, we must conclude that the promoters and some landowners are deeply reluctant to allow sensible access agreements for Bodmin moor.

I decided to speak in the debate partly because the day before yesterday I participated in a re-enactment of the 1932 Abbey Brook mass trespass over Strines moor in my constituency. As a result of that, and as a result of many years of pressure, access was gained to one right of way across the moor, but the land was owned by the Fitzwilliam estates on one side of the right of way and by the Broomhead estates on the other. When 40 people re-enacted the Abbey Brook event on Sunday, I was struck by the disadvantages of having not an open access agreement covering the whole moor but only an access agreement covering the rights of way.

I went to the Library today and looked carefully at the areas covered by the moor. The problem is that few of the historic rights of way were recorded. Local people thought that they could go where they wanted on the moor and that they did not have to stick to paths. Unfortunately, because the paths were not recorded as rights of way, there is only de facto access. As the Bill is now worded, the commoners could stop that access. There is the example of the Arans where de facto access existed for years, but suddenly people were restricted to one or two paths.

It is a further cause for concern if the powers that the Bill could give to the commoners council could be used to restrict even further the rights of way of people over the existing paths and tracks over Bodmin moor. If access is officially restricted to one or two paths and access is denied to the general moorland, that puts more pressure on those paths and tracks which could then be more open to the damage caused by four-wheel-drive vehicles. If there is general access, hikers and walkers will use the moor more for recreational purposes and they will constitute a strong lobby to prevent four-wheel-drive vehicles or other noisy activities from taking over and destroying the peaceful environment of the moor.

When we discussed in the Select Committee the countryside leisure activities and the environmental damage that they could do, one of the issues that was raised time and again was that most problems could be solved and a satisfactory way forward could be found by careful management and negotiation and by obtaining agreement from all the bodies concerned.

I agree with my hon. Friend, but does she accept that it is important to increase the areas to which people have access so that the crowds are spread out? One of the things that came out of the inquiry was the advantage of making more and more areas available for people to walk over.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I well remember the evidence that we received in the peak district, which is a heavily used open area with many conurbations around it. It was crucial to maximise the area to which people had a right of access and to ensure that there was good negotiation about who should be allowed to undertake their various leisure, agricultural and community pursuits. When the various bodies work in harmony, it is invariably possible to achieve a satisfactory and well managed way forward.

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's last statement about getting all those people together. How on earth can one get together the Country Landowners Association, the fanners, the commoners and all the ordinary, run-of-the-mill people who demand a right of access? I have listened to the debate for the past hour and I think that what we have here is a classic case of market forces versus planning agreements. It looks to me as though we are not battling against something tiny: it is the old-fashioned battle between those with property and rights and the rest of the people who want access to this part of Bodmin moor. For the life of me, I cannot say that I am too keen on travelling there, but it is obvious that many others want to do so.

I suspect that there is some truth in my hon. Friend's point, but I also suspect that it is an oversimplification in this case. I was interested to read the letter from the Country Landowners Association suggesting that it is important to obtain environmentally sensitive area status for Bodmin moor—such status will be brought nearer by the Bill—partly because it

"would encourage the conditions in which further voluntary access agreements could be reached"

I would like to believe that, but I have just been reading a letter from the Ramblers Association which says that we should not believe everything in the letter from the Country Landowners Association because it is full of misleading statements. We all know what the crack is in this place: the Government are at it every day, trying to gloss over what they are up to. I think that the letter from the Country Landowners Association needs to be read over and over again because it is a sprat to catch a mackerel—although not on Bodmin moor.

There is great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend says. Unless we have this agreement at this stage, before the Bill receives Royal Assent, we cannot guarantee that a small clique of landowners among the Common Land Forum will not put in place the restrictive measures which we have experienced over many years in the peak district in Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

There is a suspicion that country landowners have a double function in this. We started off with agreement that there would be access, but between patches of common there are landowners' holdings, some of which are substantial. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned one. Landowners' interests are different from those of commoners. Landowners would like to have environmentally sensitive area status, but if commoners gain access to the commons, the logic is that they can gain access to the big landowners' land by the side of them. I suspect that that is where the country landowners, among others, started to change their attitude from supporting access to saying, "Hang on a minute—if we give access to the common, we shall have to give it on surrounding land."

I suspect that my hon. Friend may be right. I do not want to keep harking back to last Sunday, but on Strines moor in my constituency the large landowner, Fitzwilliam estates, which has owned that moor for generations and which has been so stubborn that it will not give an inch—

Order. The debate is about Bodmin moor, not the hon. Lady's constituency.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was just that larger landowners were mentioned and I was making a point about my experience of them and their possible intentions in relation to Bodmin moor.

My hon. Friend has mentioned large landowners. I think that she has studied clause 16, referring to allegedly the largest landowner in Cornwall: he owns the Duchy of Cornwall. My hon. Friend will notice that the Bill has the normal preamble referring to the Royal Assent that it will need. As we know, that is on all Bills. It is done in the name of Her Majesty, according to our unwritten constitution.

Indeed. There might be unforeseen circumstances. But is there not a conflict of financial interest here? We have just had Lord Nolan's recommendation on declarations of financial interest. Is it inconceivable, as there is a family connection between the sovereign and the person who has the—

Order. That was all very interesting, but it was a very long intervention.

That was an interesting intervention, but it perhaps stresses only my general point: the crux of the issue is that, if a negotiated settlement about an access agreement were in the Bill, we would not be debating it at such length as all parties would be agreed.

I was especially interested in the letter on this issue from the Countryside Commission, which is financed with Government grants. Dated 10 February 1995, the letter said:
"We regret that it has not been possible for you to achieve a negotiated settlement of the petitioners' concerns. Our position has always been that we want this Bill to succeed"—
which the Opposition want as well—
"and we believe that such a settlement would have assisted the passage of the Bill through Parliament."
That is obviously true. If there had not been an attempt in the House of Lords to rule out the inclusion in the Bill of clear access provision, there would be no problem.

I am further concerned that there are not sufficient safeguards to ensure the establishment of rights of access for recreation through the commoners council. Clause 5 covers access to leisure but does not mention or specify rights of access of ramblers, walkers and people who want to enjoy the open countryside or go off the beaten track to enjoy the very special wildlife and vegetation that I am sure one can find on Bodmin moor.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) talk about the council. When he was asked whether it was a quango, he said that it was not quite, but sort of. I want to know exactly how the council will be formed. Will people be nominated? Will there be a lot of patronage? Will there be wealthy people on it per se? Will some people be elected, and if so, will the elections be first past the post, the Liberal Democrats' proportional representation system, or what? My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, who is well versed in such matters, did not give the proper information. Can my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) shed any light on the matter?

My understanding is that the commoners council will comprise people who have an interest in grazing, farming or otherwise using parts of Bodmin moor. If the sponsors of the Bill have any further information, I am sure that they would want to explain the matter.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the moor consists of parcels of land in what most people would call Bodmin moor, the physical area? For each parcel of land, selective groups of people have commoners' rights which go back to the middle ages. The intervening bits of land were taken away by the Enclosure Acts. Anybody who has a right to use the common for grazing—I think that there are other rights, but I am not absolutely certain—is entitled to elect representatives. One of the people who was complaining about the Bill explained to me that the process was not particularly democratic. I can understand the argument that one piece of land might have two representatives and another might have three and that, like parliamentary constituencies, it is very difficult to establish fairness between—

Order. That is an awfully interesting point, but the hon. Gentleman is taking a long time to explain it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). As what one might call the grazing industry reorganises itself, the commoners council could easily become one, two or at the most three people over a number of years. The same people might therefore be involved in different pockets of land and the crucial issue of access would again be determined by a very small number of people who have grazing interests on the common areas of Bodmin moor. That would concern us all.

Will the hon. Lady admit that there is a perfectly good footpath network throughout the moor? Is she merely rehearsing arguments for a wider right to roam over the whole of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber while we have been discussing the paucity of rights of way over Bodmin moor that are shown on maps. The danger is that even the existing footpaths, which are few and far enough between, may be affected by the Bill.

As I explained before the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) came into the Chamber, I looked at the Ordnance Survey maps of Bodmin moor in preparation for the debate and was disappointed to find few rights of way recorded. I counted 16 ancient monuments and other archaeological sites on the map, none of which was linked to a public footpath. As I asked earlier, how does one get permission to look at those sites if there is no one with the right to say that one can go there?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), too, will be aware that ancient monuments in open country are rarely close to public footpaths. My father liked to look at archaeological remains, including those on Bodmin moor, and probably the first and last time that I went rambling in that area was as a fairly small child looking for archaeological sites. I do not remember their ever being close to public footpaths.

As we were saying earlier, such leisure activities are of interest only to a minority. There are not millions of people desperate to explore every archaeological site and trace of ancient history on Bodmin moor, or on any other moor. As has been argued through the ages, and certainly here today, an access agreement for areas of open country such as moorland or woodland—by no means across the whole country, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury suggested—would enable the relatively small number of people who want to indulge in such recreations, or to make academic studies, to do so without having to approach a rather nebulous body such as a commoners council, from which it might be difficult to get permission.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, the Opposition do not suggest that landowners and farmers are unreasonable people—perhaps one of us might, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not suggesting any such thing at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish described how in his experience, if farmers are approached nicely for permission to walk across land and look at something that one finds interesting, there is usually no problem.

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that most people who work with their hands are proud of their skills. Most working farmers are proud of the land that they till and look after, and they are pleased to let other people go on to it. The problem arises with some of the people who own land but never do a day's work on it. They often want to keep people out so that they can use the land occasionally for shooting or some other such activity.

I agree. I do not know whether that now happens on Bodmin moor, but to speed the progress of the legislation through the House, all we ask is that an access agreement be negotiated with all the parties so as to satisfy the petitioners from the Ramblers Association and the other organisations that have petitioned against the Bill. That is a small problem, and an easy one to solve. Once it has been solved, we can then allow this excellent Bill to go forward through the House.

9.24 pm

I was going to start by referring to that matter. I apologise to the House for being a late entrant to the Chamber for the debate, although I have watched some of it on the screen in my room. I have thus heard speeches from some of the hon. Members who are sitting near me now.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the arguments regarding hon. Members watching debates in their rooms is that no one would come into the Chamber? Does he agree—

My hon. Friend is correct. The availability of television broadcasts of the Chamber debates can have two effects. It can make Members lazy, but it can make people realise that an issue is important.

Order. We are discussing the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill, and the hon. Gentleman should get back to that subject.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have not managed to get on to the Bill yet. My connection with Cornwall is as a tourist, and it is clear that tourism is an important aspect of the Cornish economy. Any members of Cornwall county council who are listening will accept that it is important that Cornwall gets its share of the tourist industry. As someone who is in favour of as much public access as possible, I thought it important to speak in the debate. That is my direct connection with Cornwall. I have no relatives in the area.

Tourists are interested in access, and some people will go to the moorlands because it gives them an opportunity to see a particular kind of habitat. They may, like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson), have a particular interest in archaeological sites. But others want to visit Bodmin moor to get away from things. Those people's views are represented by various organisations, whose briefings I have read since I became interested in the Bill.

The interests of landowners and farmers are represented on one side, and the interests of ramblers on the other. The Countryside Commission seems to represent one side of the argument, but if one looks carefully at its letter, one realises that it is on the other side. The letter has been referred to in the debate, and it is not necessary to quote from it again.

The Country Landowners Association and the farmers obviously have legitimate interests in the land, but they are not the only people with an interest. Judging by the words and works of the Countryside Commission, access to the countryside and to this particular stretch of countryside is important to people. I submit that it is also an important aspect of tourism. Most people go to Cornwall to visit the coast. The coastline is an area of outstanding natural beauty, but many also welcome the opportunity of a mixed holiday that enables them to visit the moor.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the coastal paths in Cornwall are extremely attractive but very popular? Many people go to the countryside for peace and quiet and to look at wildlife. One does not see much wildlife when there are hordes of people. The attraction of Bodmin moor is that there are far fewer people there. So, if one wants a balanced holiday, it is good to spend some time on the moor, if one gets good weather, and some time on the coastal footpath.

I entirely agree. I come from Yorkshire and my family home is near open countryside, so I appreciate being able to walk there. I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker has the same view of access to the countryside in Yorkshire as is being presented—

Order. I welcome walking on Bodmin moor, which is what we are talking about.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is important none the less to point out that the way in which we view the matter depends to some extent on our upbringing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we come from Yorkshire, we understand that boggy moors have attractions, contrary to some of the sedentary comments that I have heard? Moors that may on the face of it seem boggy have significant attractions and a wealth of wildlife and interest.

That is correct and there are people who study particular habitats and who will particularly want to see the type of habitat available on the moor—to see the flora and creatures that live there—which is of particular interest to them.

While my hon. Friend is discussing the Bill, he should bear in mind that he represents a chunk of a city. I sometimes get the impression that city people lord it over people who live in rural areas. I was born and bred in a rural area—in most of the mining areas, the pit villages are surrounded by loads of fields, as Mr. Deputy Speaker will know—so I know. One of the problems that we always face with such Bills is that we can give the impression that people from the city somehow know best.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying hard, but I doubt whether there are any coal mines on Bodmin moor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is correct.

The availability of open countryside is extremely important to my constituents, who are very concerned because their open land is being spoiled by opencast mining. Six opencast sites have been agreed in my constituency, but I can see that I am making you restless, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend is too modest to mention the fact that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) are distinguished photographers and need access to beautiful sites to take the sort of wonderful photographs that are now on exhibition in Bradford. Perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us how access is important to him to take those wonderful pictures.

That is true. The law in many other countries allows better access than does ours and would not let a collaboration of landowners and farmers—and many people belong to organisations of both and so have two votes, so to speak—to cut off public access.

I think of the years that I spent in the United States, which I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) were important to me for taking the photographs that he mentioned. I spent time in the national parks there. Access to them in the United States is different from that which we are discussing. It is almost open access. One cannot advertise in such areas. People have the freedom to go where they want, which is limited only by national park rangers who can decide whether an area is unsafe because of—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is testing my patience. We are debating the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill. He must confine his remarks to its contents. If he does not, I shall have to ask him to take his seat.

I was brought up in Birmingham, so I am fortunate that my interest in the countryside was stimulated when I was an evacuee during the war when my aunt used to take me into the country.

I have walked regularly on Bodmin moor with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and I have a great love for it. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Labour party will never be forgiven in Cornwall for its disgraceful tactics in trying to talk out and destroy this important Bill? He should remember what he is doing to the Labour party's reputation in Cornwall.

I am given to understand that I have been in the Chamber for longer than the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff). I have apologised to the House for not having been able to be here at the start of the debate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that our whole argument is that if the Bill's promoters give us an access agreement, they can have the Bill quickly? The people in Cornwall who want regulation must accept a balance between control of the moor and control of access to it. It is they who are delaying the Bill. We will have petitions and arguments on Report. Give us the access agreement and get on with it.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that clear. The Bill's position on access is more restrictive than hon. Members have been led to believe. Some clauses have been taken out from the Bill as originally drafted. A Bill that it was thought would give access to the public for rambling has been reduced.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) was here at the start of the debate or he would have heard that the Opposition support the principle of the Bill. He knows that concern has been expressed on both sides of the House about access.

When a tourist visitor intervenes in a measure that is specifically geared to an area, he enters a controversy. I should say why I am prepared to speak tonight. It is because I believe that public access is very important.

I believe that that issue has not yet been determined. Many people would share the view of hon. Members like myself, who have spoken in the debate, that access to that land should be as open as possible, and that at the moment the proposals in the Bill are too restrictive. As I understand it, it is also agreed that Cornwall county council did consider the issue of more open access.

It should be placed on the record—I ask my hon. Friend to comment—that, earlier in the debate, the Tory hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made a speech opposing the proposals in the Bill, and other Back Benchers have done the same.

What I am saying has nothing to do with the Labour party's position. Some of us, having read the Ramblers Association document, have taken the view that it has made a strong case, and the Ramblers Association has people in every constituency, including Worcester.

We are not here to try to prevent someone getting decent rights; we are here to ensure that everyone gets rights, and by a small amendment and an access agreement we can get satisfaction for everyone. Let us make it absolutely clear that that is what the business is about tonight.

I thank my hon. Friend for describing the position so clearly. I had recognised that to be the position. There is no intention of preventing the Bill's passage entirely. It is recognised that there is much in it of value. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] No; I will not. I understand that, in order for that to happen, and in order for both parties to be satisfied—especially those who want a greater degree of access—there must be further discussion. There must be a proper—

Order. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I must say that he is getting very near to tedious repetition. I have heard it time and again, so we are getting pretty nearly there.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly would not want to be guilty of repetition of the type that you have described. Admittedly, only one important issue in the Bill concerns Members, so there is a certain amount of repetitiveness in what hon. Members are saying. They are saying that, currently, access is too limited and in the control of too few people.

It is uncertain how many people serve on the commoners council, how they get there, and who determines how long they keep their places; so one does not know whether the matter will ever be reopened if the Bill passes as it is structured. We do not know whether the opportunity for public access that people strongly feel is necessary, and which many people feel is necessary, will be available if we allow the Bill to pass in its current form. There is no intention, as I understand it—

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that, if he had heard—he probably did hear part of it on the teleprompter or whatever—the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), he would have known that he, with all his views and knowledge about rambling, felt that we were close to an agreement? We are talking about something that will last for a terribly long time, and it is important that we get it right. It is well known that, in private Bill procedure in the House of Commons, the way to get things done properly is to hold the Bill up and have further discussions. There are countless examples of private Bills that have emerged better as a result of long discussions and the chance to get people round a table again.

I thank my hon. Friend for explaining that, as the hon. Member for Worcester may agree, the process in which we are engaged is not obstructive but constructive. To make possible the constructive dialogue that I believe will follow tonight's debate, there must be the necessity for it, and that necessity will be found only if the Bill as it stands is not accepted by the House. There will follow negotiations that will result, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, in a better Bill.

I think it right to play my part in such a cause. Access is important and should be determined democratically. It may be argued that Cornwall county council is a democratic body. I used to be the leader of West Yorkshire council. I dare say it was not our countryside policy that led to our abolition; that resulted, rather, from our radical view on certain other matters—notably public transport. The Peaks park, a national park, was part of our area. We believed in providing access to the public—

Order. The hon. Gentleman continues to test my patience. We are talking not about west Yorkshire but about Bodmin moor. I would be obliged if he confined his remarks to the latter. I do not want to have to interrupt again.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This Bill is but one of many such Bills. The restrictions placed on access to Bodmin may reverberate around the country in the form of other private Bills—

Order. That may be so, but we are still debating the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill.

Some of the local bodies say that they do not want a local agreement—there must be a national agreement. But national bodies such as the Country Landowners Association and the NFU say that they do not want a national agreement—agreements must be reached case by case. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the problem? Does not his west Yorkshire experience show that in this case we have to go for local negotiations?

Order. I have already made my ruling. I am fully aware of the hon. Gentleman's familiarity with west Yorkshire; I just wish he understood this Bill a little better.

I shall speak just a little longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will give you no cause to tell me to be quiet again.

I believe it possible to reach a local agreement if the Bill in its current form is rejected. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would understand that if the land concerned were on your doorstep.

While the hon. Gentleman was watching his television monitor in his office, he may have missed the reference to assurances that have been given by Cornwall county council, the promoter of the Bill. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) confirmed earlier that, following discussion, the county council has agreed to seek a voluntary access agreement with the landowners and commoners of Bodmin moor commons. Furthermore, the county council, as of today's date, is setting the necessary machinery in motion forthwith. That is precisely what Opposition Members have been asking for during this debate, especially during the past hour or so. The positive dialogue for which the hon. Gentleman has called will be denied, as will access agreements, if the Bill fails to obtain a Second Reading this evening.

I was about to do so. There is a great difference between a provision appearing on the face of the Bill and a commitment that an issue will be addressed in future. I have served on a number of Standing Committees in which hon. Members raised important matters that were not mentioned in the Bill concerned. Ministers were sympathetic and suggested that those issues could be dealt with later. In practice, however, it is rare that those issues are addressed.

It is important that certain issues appear on the face of the Bill. I hope that the discussions that I believe will take place will make the Bill more positive. I am also concerned about the cost to the county council of promoting the Bill.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could contemplate the consequences if the Bill does not get its Second Reading here in the House. There will then be no discussion and no access agreement on Bodmin moor. If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would know that I am a regular walker on Bodmin moor. If there is no Second Reading, there will be no discussion and no access agreement.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one or two of us have dealt with many private Bills in the past— sadly, too many? We all know that if the Bill does not complete its Second Reading tonight, it can be scheduled for Second Reading on another day. If it is unopposed, it will go through on the nod at 2.30 pm. If we can achieve an agreement, the whole process will be extremely quick.

I am aware that my hon. Friend has worked on a number of private Bills in order to improve them from the public perspective. I know that he has been successful in a number of cases.

I assume that Cornwall county council is not prepared to bury its head in the sand. Promoting a Bill costs a considerable amount of money as I am well aware, having taken the Leeds Supertram Act 1993 through the House. I took over the responsibility for that measure from my predecessor, now Lord Merlyn-Rees.

I recognise the there are important costs associated with promoting such a Bill. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made it absolutely clear that the matter can be corrected in a very simple manner, provided that there is access. As there was access when the Bill was originally conceived, it would seem to me that Cornwall county council does not wish to stop access to Bodmin moor. I accept from the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that there is a degree of access already, but that access appears to be put at risk by the framework of the Bill. As do not know the constitution of the body on which it depends, we do not know how the matter will be handled. I accept that Cornwall county council has put the Bill before us with the best of intentions. It is not the intention of hon. Members to thwart that Bill and to make it spend the money again.

We intend to put in place a satisfactory access agreement. I understand that the present agreement is in the hands of people to whom the House, and perhaps Cornwall county council, cannot dictate. Therefore, it is important that proper access provisions should appear on the face of the Bill. We should participate in a constructive process and reach an agreement that makes good sense to the local people and to the tourists who visit Cornwall.

In my contribution tonight, I have tried to keep closely to the remit of Bodmin moor as we are considering a private Bill. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber recognise the issue on which the debate is based. I am anxious that there should be legislation that allows people appropriate access to the moor and that those provisions should appear on the face of the Bill. We should not allow another body to determine that when we do not know what its intentions might be. Perhaps it would limit access and the hon. Member for North Cornwall would not be able to continue his walks across the moor.

Therefore, I do not believe that I have been part of an obstructive process. As a consequence of our debating the legislation tonight, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Hicks) has a distinguished record in this area—and I have been unable to attend a cricket dinner.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that the Labour party is involved in a filibuster in order to prevent the Bill's Second Reading.

This will be the last time that I stand up as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I have made my point clearly: I do not regard this process as obstructive. I do not believe that it is inimical to the interests of the county council which represents the people of Cornwall and is responsible for the local economy. Perhaps we have upset certain country landowners and some farmers who believe that their land should be inviolate. I believe that we should spell out what sort of access is permissible.

9.57 pm

It is important to remember that, apart from the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) who spoke in support of the Bill, one of the main contributions to the debate came from the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). We may not agree about some issues, but tonight he made it abundantly clear that he opposed the Bill in principle because it is not good enough. It is not a party political issue. Another major contribution to the debate came from my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Hon. Members who have been here for some time know that my hon. Friend understands the British countryside better than anyone.

Mr. Hicks rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 19.

Division No. 130]

[9.58 pm


Alexander, RichardForman, Nigel
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Foster, Don (Bath)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertGale, Roger
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Gallie, Phil
Bates, MichaelGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Booth, HartleyGarnier, Edward
Boswell, TimGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Bowis, JohnHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandreth, GylesHarvey, Nick
Bright, Sir GrahamHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs AngelaHeald, Oliver
Burns, SimonHendry, Charles
Burt, AlistairHicks, Robert
Butcher, JohnHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Jenkin, Bernard
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)King, Rt Hon Tom
Carrington, MatthewKirkhope, Timothy
Chapman, Sir SydneyKnapman, Roger
Chidgey, DavidKnox, Sir David
Clappison, JamesKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyLawrence, Sir Ivan
Congdon, DavidLegg, Barry
Conway, DerekLidington, David
Dafis, CynogMacKay, Andrew
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)Maitland, Lady Olga
Day, StephenMalone, Gerald
Deva, Nirj JosephMarlow, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMates, Michael
Dover, DenMerchant, Piers
Duncan, AlanMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Duncan Smith, IainNeubert, Sir Michael
Elletson, HaroldNicholls, Patrick
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Norris, Steve
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Oppenheim, Phillip

Ottaway, RichardThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Patnick, Sir IrvineThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTracey, Richard
Pearson, IanTredinnick, David
Porter, David (Waveney)Tyler, Paul
Richards, RodWalden, George
Shaw, David (Dover)Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Waller, Gary
Skeet, Sir TrevorWaterson, Nigel
Spencer, Sir DerekWells, Bowen
Spink, Dr RobertWhittingdale, John
Steel, Rt Hon Sir DavidWilkinson, John
Stephen, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Streeter, GaryWood, Timothy
Sweeney, Walter
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Mr. Peter Luff and

Thomason, Roy

Mr. Archy Kirkwood.


Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Bayley, HughJenkins, Brian (SE Staff)
Bennett, Andrew FJones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Callaghan, JimLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLoyden, Eddie
McAvoy, Thomas
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Pickthall, Colin
Flynn, PaulPike, Peter L
Gunnell, John
Hanson, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Hoyle, Doug

Mr. Dennis Skinner and

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Mr. Terry Lewis.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put accordingly, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.