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Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Is not the real problem that this is not the right to roam but a highly qualified right to roam, with a whole lot of detail, which will be a lawyers' paradise? The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is right: the Countryside Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will find it very difficult to have the information at their fingertips. It is a racing certainty that the general public, who will have heard the phrase "right to roam" in relation to the Bill, will be unaware of all the exemptions.

Mr. Norman: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The sheer complexity of the legislation will make it a lawyers' paradise for years to come.

The Minister could easily have negotiated a voluntary and conservationist outcome before introducing the Bill, but he spurned the opportunity. Contrary to his claim, voluntary access had been increasing steadily and it is clear that, had the right legislation been introduced, that increase would have accelerated, as there was considerable appetite for it in the agricultural and landowning community.

It is no good arguing that the reason for introducing the Bill in this form is that it is popular. The real demand, as demonstrated by Gallup polls organised by the CLA, is for waymarked routes close to where people live. According to Gallup, 63 per cent. preferred waymarked routes to open access; 41 per cent. would use greater access if it were within five miles of where they live; and only 13 per cent. would travel five miles or more to get access to countryside.

It is hard to conclude that the motive for providing open, unfettered access in this form has anything much to do with the countryside or conservation: it has more to do with good old-fashioned, anti-landowners, gut-feel socialist vanity. The Minister once said:

and nobody doubts his sincerity.

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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) suggested, the problem with the Bill and the open access provisions is not just the principle but the fact that they are incredibly complex and unworkable. The Minister has argued that he has introduced adequate protections in the Bill, notably the 28-day closure period--weekdays only--the reduction in owners' liability for natural hazards and the requirement to keep dogs on a lead for four months of the year. In practice, none of those protections is effective or enforceable with open access, as opposed to restricted access or designated points of access. Without greater provision for practical implementation, those protections will prove so superficial as to be scarcely worth having.

Many points of detail in the Bill are unsatisfactory and will be extremely hard to implement and hard for simple farmers, landowners and others in the countryside to grapple with. They are not lawyers: they are people who want to get on with earning a livelihood, which is increasingly difficult.

Fundamental to our concerns are five basic points. The first is simple injustice: the Bill provides for total inequity of enforcement. If a walker gets it wrong, he is trespassing, and leaves for the day; but if a landowner gets it wrong, he is a criminal. If a walker misses a sign, it is bad luck; but if a landowner leaves the wrong sign up, it is a criminal offence. The landowner who abuses his rights could end up with a heavy fine or even in jail; but the hooligan who abuses his rights is at best off the land until tomorrow.

Furthermore, walkers who trip on a stile or hurt themselves on dry stone walls--presumably not natural hazards--can sue; but the landowner whose wall is destroyed has to rebuild it at his own expense. It is no good arguing that the liability is reduced from what currently exists by the provisions to which the Minister referred. At present there is no open access, so the issue of liability applies only in relation to trespassers.

The whole purpose of the Bill is obviously to increase access and the number of people walking across the land, which will enormously increase costs for farmers and landowners. That will be reflected, at the very least, in their insurance premiums, and in all likelihood in their ability to maintain their livelihoods and restore their walls, which is bound to affect their future appetite for conservationist measures.

Secondly, the Bill provides wholly inadequate protection for wild birds and for hill-farming livestock. Many access areas include SSSIs and many involve remote hill farming, where lambing takes place far away from the homesteads and supervision. The result will be that even towards the end of the lambing season, in June and July, lambs and other livestock will be at risk from roaming dogs and walkers crossing the land.

The 28-day closure provisions are wholly inadequate. They are too short and inoperable. How will people know when they apply, given the fact that access will come from all different directions, not one single point at which signage will be available? How will farmers pay for the costs of signage and information? The Bill is opaque on that point. How will the ewes know not to lamb at weekends or when dogs are around? How will the plovers know not to nest where people will tread?

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Does not the hon. Gentleman acknowledge, in all the criticisms that

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he is making of the Bill, the joy, optimism and hope that is felt by thousands of decent people who want nothing more at the weekends than to get out into the wild places and the freedom of open spaces and to get away from the black tarmac of the supermarket car park?

Mr. Norman: The hon. Gentleman will know that we already have one of the most extensive networks of footpaths in the world. It has always been the intention, on both sides of the House, to find ways to extend voluntary access, but all the evidence is that demand is for access close to where people live and along defined paths and waymarks.

The Bill's provisions in relation to dogs are especially worrying. Hon. Members will know that many farmers have already expressed great concern about the provisions for dogs to roam freely, and those remain a major threat. Whatever the Minister may claim, requests for dogs to be kept on a leash for four months of the year will be flouted. A recent survey on Saddleworth moor--which is near the Minister's constituency and he presumably knows it well--showed that 66 per cent. of dogs on the moor were running off the lead and 8 per cent. were effectively running wild. How will those dogs know where ordinary moor or mountain land ends and where an SSSI starts? What provision is there to ensure that landowners have the effective ability to keep dogs under control?

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to get round the question of the nesting and lambing season is to say that for that period no dogs should be allowed on the hill at all?

Mr. Norman: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and it is clear that the provisions on dogs could be greatly strengthened in several respects. The problem is not only that the provisions are loose, but that people coming on to the land will have no way of knowing when the restrictions apply and in what form, because open access means that they will arrive from many different points and the landowners will not be able to provide proper information.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that similar legislation on access already exists in Germany, Austria, Norway and Sweden. Is he aware of any significant problems in those countries with nature conservation or the impact on wildlife?

Mr. Norman: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is ludicrous to compare England and Wales with Norway where the population is much sparser and concentrated in the south. [Hon. Members: "Germany."] The land mass of Germany is more than double that of the United Kingdom. At risk of repetition--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. If the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) is seeking to catch my eye later, she is not going about it the right way.

Mr. Norman: There is already a much greater provision of footpaths and wayleaves in this country than in any of those that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) mentioned.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns about lambs.

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My constituency is in the Lake district, and for thousands of years people have spread across the fells. Hundreds of thousands of people go to the lakes every year, yet we do not hear from farmers about problems with their sheep or loss of lambs. In 20 years, I have never had a letter from a constituent complaining about any of the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I think that he is exaggerating.

Mr. Norman: I regret that the hon. Gentleman has never had a letter in 20 years from a farmer complaining about damage to lambs. I have managed to break his record in a very short time. One has only to listen to the remarks of the National Farmers Union to realise that this is a credible issue of widespread concern to those who live and work in the countryside at a time of crisis for rural incomes.

Our third major concern about the Bill is that it will be impossible to make any of the protections work without agreed points of access as opposed to open access to the mountain and moorland. Agreed points of entry and exit would at least create a chance to provide marked wayleaves and better information for walkers about how the moor is maintained, its special features, any SSSIs, the wildlife, the behaviour that is expected of them and the enjoyment that they can derive. Such defined points of entry would be better for farmers, conservationists and walkers.

Fourthly, on security and liability, the Minister will be aware of the rising concern about rural crime and the inability of the police, at a time of falling police numbers, to cope. People in the countryside feel helpless when it comes to rural crime and agricultural crime against livestock, horses and equipment. Tighter restrictions on night access and approach to buildings would help address the problem. However, it is a fundamental problem that derives from open and unfettered access, and is of great concern to the agricultural and rural community.

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