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Column 1102read. He marched away with 100 people here and 100 there, in front of the Nazi guards. The same story was repeated in the death marches to the Austrian border.
Wallenberg's greatest skill was in negotiating with the Germans. At one time the Hungarian Nazis--the so-called Arrow Cross--in their desperation decided to exterminate the general ghetto. People had been herded into the area and put into star-marked houses as a last stop before Auschwitz. Families were separated and no food or clothing was provided. People were at a level of exhaustion and despair. As the Soviets closed in on the city, the Nazis decided to blow up the ghetto. Wallenberg heard of the plan. He confronted the Nazi leaders and told them that he personally would see them hanged as war criminals if they proceeded with their outrageous action. The plan was stopped, thus sparing an estimated further 70,000 lives. Wallenberg was only 32 years old. He was viewed by Hungarian Jewry as a saviour--a white light in a horrible darkness. In those nightmarish days, he was already a legend. The fact that he existed was passed among the Jews in whispers through the streets of Budapest.
After the Russians took Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg mysteriously disappeared. The Russians said that they had taken him into protective custody. Then a curtain of silence fell on his fate. Efforts to obtain his release, or any information about him, have been ignored by the Russians. Andrei Gromyko informed the Swedish Government in 1957 that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack 10 years earlier in a Soviet prison. He would have been only 36 years old. No prison records have ever been produced. However, over the years, continued reports from former prisoners of the Gulag, independently and without knowledge of each other, have consistently testified to the fact that he was still alive in the Soviet prison system.
The flagrant disregard by the Soviets of Wallenberg's diplomatic status--in violation of international law--is a fact that cannot and should not be ignored. Whether he is alive or dead is, of course, of utmost importance, but that has no direct relevance to the decision to bestow upon him honorary British citizenship. Bestowing honorary citizenship is not only the greatest recognition that we could give Raoul Wallenberg, but the action would be our most appropriate. Raoul Wallenberg was not the head of state of a great Government. This act is not a self-interested national investment in future political alliances. This man's life shows the heroism, willing self-sacrifice and dedication to a cause that is unparalleled in our time. He has illuminated our history.
We need to take this unprecedented action to let the Russians and the world know that in a civilised society the violation of international law and human rights will never be ignored, that we do not forget and that Raoul Wallenberg will not be abandoned by Britain.
It would be fitting and appropriate if, on 9 July 1989--45 years to the day after he began his mission in Budapest--we could announce that Raoul Wallenberg is, from that day forward, an honorary citizen of Great Britain.
Undoubtedly Raoul Wallenberg is deserving of limitless praise for his selfless and courageous action. Unlike many others who preferred to remain indifferent in the face of the unspeakable horrors of the holocaust, Raoul Wallenberg refused to ignore the perverted evil of the Nazi regime. He acted; we can do no less on his behalf. I commend the Bill to the House.
Column 1103Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Ms. Diane Abbott, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Peter Archer, Mr. David Atkinson, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. Alistair Burt, Mr. Cecil Franks, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Ivan Lawrence and Mr. Rhodri Morgan.
Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the award of honorary British Nationality to any individual for outstanding humanitarian services in Hungary during the period July 1944 to January 1945 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 May and to be printed. [Bill 108.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
or relating to any land to which this section applies'.
No. 116, in page 7, line 41, at end insert--
or relating to any land to which this section applies'. No. 110, in page 7, line 42, leave out paragraph (a) and insert-- (aa) to preserve and maintain public rights of access to areas of woodland, mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff, water areas including reservoirs, or foreshore and other places of natural beauty.'. No. 117, in page 8, line 17, leave out and'.
No. 118, in page 8, line 18, at end insert--
or of any other land to which this section applies'.
No. 121, in page 8, line 24, at end insert--
with the exception of access on foot by the public to the land'. No. 119, in page 8, line 26, at end insert--
(6A) This section applies to any land which was owned before the transfer date by a water authority.'.
The amendments are to clause 7, which relates to :
"General environmental and recreational duties"
and which has caused concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We all acknowledge that it is important to get this part of the Bill right. When we discussed this matter in Committee, the Minister for Water and Planning gave us many assurances and said that we were worrying unduly about the restrictions on access that might come about as a result of the Bill. He told us that all was well and that there was no need for us to worry. He did not convince us then and he did not completely convince himself, because since our discussions in Committee--not that long ago--the hon. and learned Gentleman has reconsidered the issue.
I do not want to anticipate later debates, but we welcome the Minister's change of heart, as shown by some of the amendments that he is introducing, particularly Government amendment No. 57 on the rights to roam. We raised that issue in Committee and he told us not to worry, but I am glad that he has accepted that there were problems with the Bill as originally drafted.
The Minister for Water and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard) : I am sure that the hon. Lady will recall that during our discussions of these matters in Committee I said that I would keep an open mind and would listen to the argument and that if I was persuaded by the argument I would act accordingly.
Mrs. Taylor : I repeat that I welcome the Minister's amendments. I hope that we shall be able to persuade him to go a little further and that he will be able to reassure us about some of our other concerns about access.
Three main problems still exist with clause 7. The first concerns the weakness of the phraseology in the Bill, in particular the phrase
"have regard to the desirability of"
in clause 7. We are still convinced that that phrase does not afford proper protection for the recreational rights now enjoyed by many people.
The second problem is the need to discover to whom the duties in the clause apply. Will successor companies be included? Amendment No. 119 is aimed at ensuring that the successor companies and any subsidiaries of the new privatised water companies are caught under the obligations that the Bill imposes on water undertakings. The third problem is about charging. Amendment No. 121 deals with that problem and with the pressure on new owners of land to introduce charges even for access on foot.
When we discussed these issues in Committee, it was pointed out that the Water Act 1973 put duties on all water authorities and on statutory water companies to make their land available for recreation. Since then some progress has been made ; many water authorities have opened up more of their land to the public. Conflicts still arise in some places. For example, the Yorkshire water authority sometimes gives priority to grouse shooters rather than to ramblers. But in general the situation since 1973 has improved and it has been easier to persuade water authorities to open up some of their land.
We pay tribute to those who piloted that measure through the House, including the present Secretary of State for Wales. It is ironic that another Conservative Secretary of State should be sweeping aside that measure, which has worked over the years in the public interest. The Bill contains two main recreational duties. The first appears in clause 7(2), which states that every relevant body must "have regard to the desirability of preserving public rights of access to areas of woodland, mountains, moor, heath, down, cliff or foreshore and other places of natural beauty".
When the matter was debated in Committee on 31 January, we interpreted the phrase "public rights of access" to mean just that. But the Minister said that it was wrong for us to conclude that "public rights of access" meant public rights of access, and he said that a wider interpretation covering concessionary routes was necessary or the provision would be an absurdity.
We agreed with the Minister ; unless "public rights of access" meant more than simply rights of access, the duty to protect those areas would be meaningless because public rights of access already exist in law and are not in need of special protection. There is agreement on that, it seems.
We are pleased that the Secretary of State has tabled an amendment to end that absurdity. We welcome his move to extend the provision, even though it gives only nominal protection, with the change from "rights of access" to "freedom of access". However, that will be meaningful only if the whole clause has bite and strength. Unfortunately, clause 7 does not have any bite because the duty imposed is only
"to have regard to the desirability of"
Column 1106preserving for the public any freedom of access. That means that nobody need do more than simply think about whether something is desirable. If the new profit-seeking companies decide that the preservation of access is not desirable or that it in some way conflicts with their enterprise activities, the duty will be meaningless.
The second main recreational duty is to be found in clause 7(3). Under the 1973 Act, public bodies managing land owned by the public were told to do what they could to open up their land to the public. Now, what appears to be a similar duty is being placed on the new private water companies.
It is important to remember, however, that private companies are answerable not to the public but to their shareholders. Their priorities will not be those of a public authority. Clause 7(3) states that the National Rivers Authority, water and sewage undertakers and internal drainage boards have a duty
"to take such steps as are--
(a) reasonably practicable ; and
(b) consistent with the purposes of the enactments relating to the functions of that body,
for securing, so long as that body has rights to the use of water or land associated with water, that those rights are exercised so as to ensure that the water or land is made available for recreational purposes and is so made available in the best manner."
Those bodies do not have to open up their land if they consider that it is not reasonably practicable or if they think that it is not consistent with the purposes of the enactments relating to their other functions. We accept that there will have to be operational restrictions and that some will be justified in some uses of some of the land. That is bound to be a small proportion of the land, but there will be nothing that the public can do to ensure that these bodies open up the remainder of their land, whereas under the present system the public can publicly press a public body to open up public land to the public, as is right. The ability to pressurise and to make sure that land is opened up will be reduced in future. There is an important intrinsic difference between a public landowner and a private landowner. While public landowners do not have a perfect record, they have a far better record than private landowners. We have only to consider the record of the statutory water companies, who were under the same obligation under the 1973 Act, to see that they have not opened up their land in the same way that water authorities did in the past. Therefore, we think that the recreational duties are very weak, and we hope that the Minister will accept our point that they should be strengthened.
That brings me to the second question. To whom do these duties apply? Who, exactly, will have to have regard to the desirability of protecting for the public any freedom of access? That is the main point of disagreement between the two sides of the House. I do not think that we disagree on our objective but only on how to achieve it.
In Committee the Minister stated that the extent to which land could be disposed of free of the duties imposed by clause 7 would be severely limited. That conflicts with the advice and the information given in a letter on 4 January from the Department of the Environment to the chairman of Thames regional recreation and conservation consultative committee, which said :
"These statutory duties will only apply to the plc core business since it would be impossible to justify a blanket extension to subsidiary companies."
Column 1107That worried my hon. Friends and many organisations outside the House. The Ramblers Association, the Open Spaces Society, the British Mountaineering Council and the Youth Hostels Association were so convinced that the Minister was making incorrect statements to the Standing Committee, and that he was misinterpreting the Bill, that they clubbed together and paid for counsel's opinion out of their meagre resources to clarify the legal position. Counsel's opinion stated clearly that the Minister's statement in Committee was wrong. Counsel went on to say--I am sure that the junior Minister has seen this opinion ; I know that the Minister of State has--
"The Minister turns out to be wrong to say that it is not possible, merely by disposing of ownership, to free the use of land from the clause 7 duty."
The opinion goes on :
"The Minister speaks as if the clause 7 duty attaches to the land when in reality it does nothing of the sort."
The basic question remains : do the clause 7 recreational duties apply to the land no matter who owns it, or do they apply only to the limited list of relevant bodies defined in the Bill? That is the core of the discussion on this clause.
The purpose of amendment 119 is to ensure that all the duties in the Bill apply to subsidiary bodies. I hope that the Minister will accept that point, because water authorities that are gearing up for privatisation are acting as if the duties will not apply to all the land. I look, for example, to the Yorkshire water authority, which has announced its post- privatisation structure. It intends to split its activities into three divisions, only one of which will be the water undertaker as licensed by the Secretary of State. If the land is owned by either the main holding company or the enterprise division that Yorkshire Water is establishing, which will have a duty to make a profit, that land will escape completely the recreational duties provided for in the Bill. The Minister tells us that the Bill will achieve something that we want it to achieve, but the very clear legal opinion is that it will not.
In a letter of 6 February to Members of Parliament, the Under-Secretary, who will be replying, has made his position clear. I hope that he will accept that amendment No. 119 fulfils the obligations which, in that letter, he spelt out as being necessary. Our amendments make it very clear that clause 7 should be extended so that its provisions will apply to any land owned by the water authority before the transfer date, I hope very much that the Minister will accept that point.
Finally, I want to say a few words about charging, which is the subject of amendment No. 121. Clause 7(5) clearly enables the new owners to introduce charges for public access to open spaces. It says :
"Nothing in this section or the following provisions of this Act shall require recreational facilities made available by a relevant body to be made available free of charge."
The Under-Secretary of State, in his letter, said that he saw no reason to believe that, in practice, access would be made subject to considerations of competition and profit. He said that he found it difficult to envisage circumstances in which the companies would find it sensible or cost- effective to make charges.
However, it is obvious to all of us that, once these private companies are established, their main priority will be to maximise their profits, and they will be under considerable pressure to do so. Therefore, charges will be introduced, and they will be set at a very high level--or at the highest level possible in accordance with the workings of those companies. Obviously, charges cannot be
Column 1108introduced for walking where there are rights of way, or for walking over land where there is a right of access. But most public access to water authority land is not as of right. That is the nub of the debate. In the majority of cases, access is enjoyed only by the permission of the water authority, and it is that access which is under threat and for which charges might be introduced after privatisation.
If the Government have no intention of allowing or encouraging charges to be introduced for rambling, I see no reason why they cannot support our amendment No. 121, which states that if charges are to be made for recreation, they should be made
"with the exception of access on foot by the public to the land". We are talking about large areas of land in areas of outstanding natural beauty which are enjoyed by the public who own it and who have rights of access that have been granted on a concessionary basis by the water authorities. That access is seriously threatened both by the provisions in the Bill which could deny any access and by those that could allow charging.
The new water companies will be operating under considerable pressure to maximise their profits. The access that we have all enjoyed for so long could become a thing of the past if the Bill is enacted unamended. I therefore hope that the Minister and the House will accept our amendments.
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton) : I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) on amendment No. 119 in particular. I have no pecuniary interest, but I should declare an interest as a vice- president of the Association of County Councils. My hon. Friend mentioned several organisations, such as the Ramblers Association. On an all-party basis, the Association of County Councils is worried about what the Government are doing in terms of recreation and conservation as the water authorities are major land owners in this country.
The Association of County Councils is especially concerned about what happened in Committee. It feels that the greatest potential weakness in the draft code proposed by Ministers in Committee was the suggestion that it should apply only to land directly related to water supply and works. I stress the words "directly related". In Committee, the Minister accepted that the vast areas of land currently owned by the water authorities but not used in their core water operations might not be covered by the code, so the water plcs set up by the private companies to manage their non- operational lands will not be covered by the proposed duties in relation to conservation, recreation and public access.
Clause 6 places a duty on those private companies--understandably, because they are private companies--to be concerned with economy and with profit- making, but we are dealing with institutions which hitherto have had a public responsibility. Clause 6 conflicts with anything that the code may state. The private companies can say that they have a duty under clause 6 to make a profit and that any code in operation must be secondary to that.
The Association of County Councils is worried because several councils are affected, including national park land in Cumbria, north Yorkshire, Devon, Somerset and the Peak District. In all those areas, water authorities own large amounts of land, some of which is not directly related to their core activities. The Secretary of State has tabled
Column 1109amendments to maintain public access to certain areas in the Lake District and the Elan valley, but they do not go nearly far enough and they neglect and ignore all the other areas to which the public now have access and where conservation is an issue. Such land is not exactly public land, but the public have rights over the land because it is overseen by a responsible public body rather than one designed purely to make a profit for its shareholders.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is my right hon. Friend fully aware of the Secretary of State's comments yesterday when he made it clear that one of the main objectives of the Bill is the privatisation of the 500,000 acres of land at present owned by the water authorities? My hon. Friend's fears about the future of recreation and access are therefore justified because the lands will obviously be flogged off to make money for the water authorities.
Mr. Oakes : My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) is absolutely right. The clear object of the Bill is to make money for the shareholders because they will face great difficulties with the European Community and the standards of water purity and sea pollution. The only way for this rip-off to take place and for shares to be sold is by selling the land. I mentioned Devon, Somerset and north Yorkshire. Conservative Members should not think that I am talking about Labour-controlled councils because those are all solidly Conservative controlled, but they are worried about the Bill, as is the Association of County Councils.
I do not want to delay the debate because we face the guillotine, but I plead with the Minister to accept amendment No. 119.
"To preserve and maintain public rights of access to areas of woodland, mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff, water areas including reservoirs, or foreshore and other places of natural beauty." It is essential that that right should be continued and protection given to those areas after privatisation has taken place, as I fear that it may.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to an anachronism in my constituency, about 10 per cent. of which, under the Bill, is to be flogged off. We have heard that the Elan valley is apparently to be given some protection. I certainly welcome that because it is an improvement on the present position. That area is particularly important because, since the Water Act 1973 and the rights that have been mentioned came into being, there have been developments at Llanwrtyd Wells in my constituency, to which thousands of walkers on international walks have been attracted. Very often, at the weekend, there are 300 or 400 of them using the rights of way in that area. A tourist industry of considerable importance has grown up in this remote area. People from as far away as New Zealand come to walk there and enjoy the Welsh countryside. It is important that they should have continued access to this part of the world. I assume that continued access will be ensured, partly through the
Column 1110Birmingham Corporation Act 1892. The Victorians were far-sighted enough to ensure that people would have the right to enjoy the countryside and fresh air.
We should compare that area with another part of my
constituency--the 21,000 acres that the Welsh water authority owns in the Brecon Beacons national park, where there are a number of reservoirs at Talybont, Dolygaer, Pontsticill, Taf Fechan and other places. At present, people have access in those places to go to the foreshore for fishing and other recreational pursuits. There are rights of way through the area, which is on the edge of an area with a population of 1 million people in south Wales--mainly in Glamorgan--who make great use of those access facilities at the weekend for their enjoyment. If subsidiary companies are formed for recreational purposes by, for example, Welsh Water plc, it is absolutely vital that access continues to be allowed to that land. I am pleased that Government amendments Nos. 61 and 62--I realise that we are not discussing them now--indicate a considerable change of heart on the part of the Government in relation to allowing more access, which I welcome. However, we must also consider charging, and the desirability to have regard, as the Bill puts it
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley) : I entirely sympathise with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Is he not aware that substantial safeguards on precisely the points that he raises are already built into the Bill?
Mr. Livsey : The Bill contains some safeguards, but we have tabled our amendments because those safeguards are insufficient. That is certainly the view of many people outside the House. There is no doubt that the interpretation of the Bill, after privatisation, will be vital in determining whether people will have ready access to the land. Concern has been expressed by the Countryside Commission, the National Trust and the national parks about such problems. It is to be hoped that the Government will accept the amendments as improvements to their own and ensure cast- iron guarantees of access so that people may continue to enjoy areas that they have previously enjoyed, especially areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I shall press the amendments of my hon. Friends because I am keen to ensure that conflict does not return to the countryside. As a young person I went out walking and climbing from Manchester virtually every Sunday for 10 years. I remember the end of an era when there was considerable conflict between walkers and climbers, and between gamekeepers and water bailiffs. Fortunately, most of that conflict has disappeared from the countryside as a result of access agreements and a more enlightened attitude by water authorities and others.
I still remember when we had lumps of peat thrown at us by one of the water bailiffs who wanted us off the rock climb. I also remember when we were taken off Stockport water authority land on the banks of Kinder Scout simply because we brewed up with a primus stove. I shall not recount to the House all the tricks that we got up to as teenagers in order to get revenge on the water bailiffs and gamekeepers, but certainly some of them had nothing to do with maintaining water purity.
I do not believe that the Government deliberately want to bring back an era of conflict in the countryside, but I warn them that if sufficient people find that their rights of
Column 1111access to the countryside have been diminished, they will fight hard to protect them. I fear that, perhaps as a result of the misdrafting of the Bill, or the Government's failure to put the case clearly, there is much confusion. Many people feel that, as a result of that confusion, and the inaccuracies within the Bill, that conflict may return. It is the duty of the House to ensure that the Bill-- however bad--is clear and does not encourage future conflict in the countryside. People's rights of access should be clearly set out.
I am concerned about three major points. First, existing rights should be absolutely guaranteed for the future. Secondly, anything that people have previously enjoyed free of charge should not be charged for. Thirdly, the legislation should encourage the establishment of new rights.
There will not be much problem about recorded public rights of way, but in many parts of the country there are many public rights of way which have never been recorded. Although they might be put on the map at some point, on the whole no one has argued about them because they are de facto rights of way--one can see the path clearly--and for 10 or 15 years no one has stopped people using them.
In the Peak district and increasingly in other national parks and in areas within them that are owned by the water authorities there are areas that are subject to access agreements which have played a major part. I want an absolute guarantee from the Minister that all such areas are protected in the legislation, not only in the context of the new water companies but in that of any subsidiary bodies to which they may give rise. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said that the Minister claimed in Committee that the new bodies would be bound to protect public rights and that any subsidiary bodies or new companies resulting from changes of ownership of the land would be so bound.
It seems that counsel's opinion suggests that the Minister was wrong, and we need to clarify whether the Minister still believes that his opinion was right and why he thinks that the legal opinion is wrong--if he does. We need a guarantee at the end of the debate that all existing rights will be continued by the water companies in their water activities and in any other use or sale of the land into which they enter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan) : In order to assist the hon. Gentleman on this specific point, may I tell him that counsel's opinion, to which he referred, said that in certain circumstances the duty might not be effective. These limited and technical circumstances are being considered carefully, but generally speaking, if the undertakers continue to use the land transferred for their functions, the duties will bite in full.
Mr. Bennett : The Minister said that the Government are reviewing the position. Is that an undertaking that if he cannot give us a clear statement today a clear statement will be given to the House of Lords where, if necessary, the Government will table amendments? Would the Minister like to give us that assurance?
Column 1112the representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) and the Ramblers Association, it is right and proper that we should consider the limited and technical arguments that have been put forward. If we see the need to return to the House and take the matter further, we shall. We do not believe that the position of the Ramblers Association, as set out in its press release, is accurate, but we accept that counsel's opinion referred to specific circumstances which we need to review in detail. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
Mr. Bennett : The Minister has not made it as clear as I should like that he will table an amendment, but I think the gist of his point is that, if necessary, he will. I am sure that the other place will examine it carefully.
The Minister talked about water undertaking activities. The bodies about which I am concerned, such as the Ramblers Association and the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, want a guarantee that the duty will apply not only to land retained for water gathering but to land which may be passed on to other bodies. In large areas in the west Pennines, where water gathering was established in the last century, water-gathering activities are no longer particularly economic because of the better use of water and the bigger reservoirs at Hirlmere, Hawes water and Vyrnwy have come into use. Some of those reservoirs might be taken out of use--I know that there are safety arguments, and so on. I am determined that not only the water authorities but any bodies to which they dispose of land will have this duty.
Access must be free. I hope the Minister will make it absolutely clear that there is no intention to charge people who go on foot. I accept the argument for charging for some services such as car parking.
I want to press the Minister on new rights. I am sure that he is well aware that one of the problems, particularly in the Pennines but also elsewhere, is that the overuse of some footpaths has led to severe problems of erosion. There is a great deal of concern about the Pennine way, some sections of which have to be protected artificially because of the large numbers of people who use them. One of the best ways of protecting paths is to encourage people to use alternatives. By developing access agreements the Peak District national park has enabled people to go to areas such as Kinder Scout, where they can choose where to go rather than follow a specific footpath that might suffer dramatically from erosion.
I want a guarantee that there will be clear powers to ensure that new access agreements can be created on water land in cases in which that would clearly be in the interests of the conservation of footpaths or of an area in general. There must be no charges for such access agreements. All the national parks make the point that the Government have not been overgenerous with their funding, and that there are problems with paying for access agreements. At the moment the Peak district park makes only modest payments, which usually go to local farmers rather than to the water authority or the large landowners. I should not like any restrictions on the development of new access agreements because the new water companies demanded large sums of money.
I want a guarantee that the Minister will introduce clarity and ensure that conflict in the countryside does not arise. I want him to guarantee that existing rights are preserved and that no system of charges will be