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Serle's House, Winchester

28. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on the future of Serle's house, Winchester. [113716]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Following a rationalisation study of regimental headquarters and museums in Winchester, a decision was made to co-locate those presently in Serle's house to Upper Barracks. Serle's house is a grade 2 listed building in the centre of Winchester with an attached memorial garden. My Department is keen to obtain best value for this property while ensuring that it and the memorial garden's future are taken fully into account. To achieve that, any open market sale will be subject to prospective purchasers being bound by a restrictive covenant or other legal agreement. This will ensure retention and upkeep of the garden together with rights of access thereto.

Dr. Lewis: I am very encouraged by the Minister's helpful answer. Is he aware that Hampshire county council is particularly concerned about the future of Serle's house and especially about the memorial garden, which commemorates the lives of those men of the Hampshire Regiment who made the supreme sacrifice for their country? Will he undertake that the Department will enter into discussions with Hampshire county council to ensure the future of Serle's house and the memorial garden once the Ministry of Defence no longer needs them for its specific requirements?

Dr. Moonie: As far as I am aware, that is part of the process. I shall certainly ensure that that takes place and that the memorial garden is properly safeguarded.

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Personal Statement

3.30 pm

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): In accordance with the report of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I wish to apologise to the House for breaching the rules on registration of interests and for not observing the principle of openness which the code of conduct requires.

When I was first elected to the House in 1987, I checked with the authorities that income from earnings paid into my firm, Localaction Ltd., did not need to be individually declared in the register. Following the new code of practice, I wrote in 1996 to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to clarify the position.

My outside earnings then developed in such a way that my registry entry was no longer adequate. I ought to have made a comprehensive entry covering all the services that I provide through Localaction, but I did not in fact do so. As soon as possible after the issue was raised with me by the present Parliamentary Commissioner, I amended my entry in the register in accordance with the rules.

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Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

[Relevant documents: The Thirteenth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 1997-98, on The Protection of Field Boundaries, HC 969-I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 4200.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.31 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Madam Speaker: Order. I had forgotten to mention the fact that there will be a 10-minute limit on the speeches of Back Benchers. [Hon. Members: "And the Minister."] I am afraid that I cannot do that.

Mr. Meacher: The length of my speech will depend on the number of interventions, but I shall try to keep my remarks within a reasonable compass to enable everyone else to speak.

This is an historic Bill. It finally achieves the aims and aspirations of the great post-war Labour legislation, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and it fulfils the yearnings of the British people, expressed often dramatically over the past century, for full rights of access to the beauties of our countryside to which we are all heir. It fulfils the Government's manifesto commitments not only to offer all people greater freedom to explore the open countryside, but--and just as importantly--to strengthen protection of our national heritage. It finally brings to reality the dream of Lloyd George that nobody should be a trespasser in the land of their birth.

There have, I recognise, been several worthy previous attempts to legislate, most notably the Law of Property Act 1925, which granted access rights to urban commons, and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Yet extensive areas of open countryside remain out of bounds to the public. Despite some commendable individual initiatives, the key fact remains that the voluntary approach has delivered relatively little new access over the past 50 years. Indeed, at the rate of expansion by voluntary means over the past 50 years, it would take something of the order of 1,000 years to achieve what we shall achieve through this Bill.

I remind the House that our decision to legislate has been supported by very substantial majorities in the responses to extensive consultations and opinion polls.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): The Bill will give the public the right of access to private property. When the right hon. Gentleman was framing the legislation, was he aware of any precedent for giving the public access to privately owned property and land?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman, unusually, was not listening. I said that there are precedents, most notably the Law of Property Act 1925, which granted access rights to urban commons. That was taken further in the 1949 Act

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passed by the post-war Labour Government, but that Act did not succeed in extending the right of access to all the land that it intended to cover, because it relied on the voluntary method. There are plenty of precedents for what is being achieved today, but the difference today is that we are ensuring that the aspirations behind those earlier Acts will now be brought to fruition.

The Bill is not only about access; we also recognise that it is time to bring our public rights of way system up to date for the first time in many years and to legislate for increased protection of our sites of special scientific interest. We want to prevent further damage to those sites and to redress the effects of the Tory legacy, which has left a large proportion of SSSIs in a serious and degraded condition. We do not intend to stop there. We are also increasing penalties for people who deliberately damage special sites, and we will be introducing the first custodial penalties for wildlife crimes.

On the broader front, we are taking the first step towards the designation of two new national parks, in the south downs and the new forest. They will be the first new national parks in England for over 40 years. We are taking steps to provide better management and protection for our designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, which cover twice the area of the national parks in England. I have already announced that I am more than doubling the funding available for those areas, and soon I will be making a further statement about measures to conserve and enhance those beautiful and important areas.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I share the right hon. Gentleman's concern to preserve these areas, but has he been to the New forest recently and seen the amount of litter and detritus produced by many visitors? Is he sure that his provisions for greater access to the countryside are compatible with the protection of the countryside?

Mr. Meacher: I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view that the amount of litter in our country is intolerable. That is not a recent development, and since the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, went around St. James's park putting carefully selected pieces of paper into a plastic bag, the nation has not noticed much improvement in the litter problem. I entirely accept that we need much tighter litter provisions and more stringent application of the law. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we intend to include those measures in the rural and urban White Papers which we shall publish later this year.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The right hon. Gentleman referred to the setting up of new national park authorities. Will they include parish council representatives, who were included in national park authorities by the previous Government--a measure that Labour then opposed?

Mr. Meacher: The composition of the authorities for the two new parks has of course to be decided. This is a long process; it will take two or three years to consider planning issues, the parameters of the parks' coverage and

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the composition of the authorities. I have much sympathy for the idea of parish council representatives on those bodies, but the decision has not yet been taken.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Does my right hon. Friend recognise the huge welcome that has been given to the Bill in the northern part of England because of access and the resulting enhancement of areas of outstanding natural beauty? Does he also recognise that many landscape features are an essential part of such areas? Will he consider granting features such as dry stone walls special protection under the Bill?

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