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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I want to comment on crime and link it to the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks about dogs on Saddleworth moor. I live very close to Saddleworth moor; I do not know who conducted the survey, but I assure right hon. and hon. Members that it would be impossible to conduct any accurate survey of the number of dogs on a lead.

I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I am one of the people whom my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment mentioned earlier as owning chunks of the countryside. Mine is about 60 sq m, not far from Saddleworth moor, and it has a right of way through it. What does the hon. Gentleman think has caused more damage to conservation over the years--people walking over the countryside or the common agricultural policy?

Mr. Norman: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and important point. There is widespread concern among Opposition Members about the common agricultural policy. I have already said that it is regrettable that, at a time when we are discussing radical changes to the European Union, the CAP is not even on the agenda. The Prime Minister is going to Lisbon this weekend, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be asking him to raise this issue, and so he should.

Finally, the fundamental problem in the practical operation of the Bill is cost. The Bill comprehensively fails to provide for the cost of implementation for local

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authorities or farmers. Most of the cost will undoubtedly fall on the farming community, the landowners and the conservationists. Those costs include maintenance of dry stone walls, restoration of stiles, provision of information on access, provision of car parks by the local authorities, the prevention of parking on land, signage to provide information for the enjoyment of individuals coming on to the moorland, repairs to damage, loss of livestock and the extra labour required in supervision to protect the wildlife species or lambs at sensitive times of year. The £2.2 million annual cost estimated in the Bill falls wildly short of any sensible estimate, such as those provided by the National Farmers Union and other bodies.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the Bill is being pushed through to meet the political agenda of the Labour party and the sincere socialist instincts of the Minister, despite the fact that the Treasury is not prepared to pay the price. Conservation costs money. The cost of the Bill will not fall on the Government. In practice, it will fall on the council tax payer, on the agricultural community, which can scarcely afford it, and on the well-intentioned conservationist.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the cost of the measure. Does he realise that one third of the land involved lies in Wales? If the Bill is passed, what will his party do to ensure that adequate payment is made to the Welsh Assembly to cover those costs?

Mr. Norman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point about Wales. I do not want to make any unwarranted commitments, but if we introduce a measure of such fiendish impracticality and complexity, I share his sentiment that it must be paid for properly. In the five critical respects that I outlined, the access provisions are inequitable, inadequate and unenforceable.

Some aspects of the Bill are welcome, but it represents a great missed opportunity. Worse than that, it contains provisions that are objectionable in principle and will undermine its own objective of bringing about greater access and enjoyment of the countryside. It will bring intrusive regulation and division to the countryside rather than partnership and unity. It will deal another body blow to the hill farmer, who can ill afford it. It tries to achieve conservation on the cheap, without proper funding from the Treasury. It will do precious little to address the real problems of the countryside and the rural economy at present.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I remind hon. Members that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

4.48 pm

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): The House can rarely have heard a meaner speech than the one made by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). It seems so sad, because it was the Conservatives who gave us the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There was some controversy over that measure at the time, but it was a landmark. It would have been much nicer if the Opposition had wanted to build on that achievement to make the Bill a success. I am disappointed.

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However, I rejoice in the fact that the Government have introduced the Bill. The access provisions will give much pleasure to a large number of people. Vast areas of forbidden Britain, such as the Berwyns and the Arans in Wales, the eastern Pennines around Sheffield and the forest of Bowland will be opened up for many people to walk in and enjoy. There might not be so much extra access for rock climbers, but I am sure that many of them will enjoy being able to climb on Bamford edge or Sype Land above Ranskill. The Bill will give people greater access.

The measure will not just give people access to areas of moorland where they are currently not allowed to go; it will give them confidence when they walk on footpaths where there are existing rights. Many people are frightened that, if they stray off the path, they will be in difficulty. Once the Bill becomes law, they will be able to use rights of way confidently, knowing that if they deviate slightly, they will not get into trouble. Let us welcome the Bill for providing extra access, and let us welcome it for giving people greater confidence to go out and enjoy themselves.

Let us also welcome the Bill for the fact that it will do something to reduce the overcrowding that occurs at so many of the honeypots in our countryside. As a result, there will be slightly fewer people on Snowdon, on the Old Man of Coniston and on Pen-y-ghent, and places such as Stanedge will not be quite as crowded with climbers. The Bill will give people a chance to spread out into the countryside, and ensure that, when they visit it, they can enjoy peace and quiet.

We should not only welcome the access provisions but very firmly welcome the protection that the Bill will give sites of special scientific interest. The destruction of SSSIs in recent years has been a scandal. I firmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment; he has done extremely well to get the Bill so far, and I look forward to its being law by the end of the year.

The Opposition and the Country Landowners Association have come up with a myth. First, they make the perfectly tenable argument that very few people want the right of access. However, they then say, "Ah, but it will cost a great deal because so many people will go out into the countryside." They cannot have it both ways. If very few people will take advantage of the new provision, there is no problem. If lots of people will, there is very good reason for introducing it. We should make it absolutely clear that a lot of people will want to enjoy access, and that we must facilitate it. The idea that there is no demand for it is rubbish.

The CLA has started working on the idea that the new legislation will be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, and that the passage of the legislation will in some way take away property rights. I suggest that the CLA should not try to reignite a conflict in the countryside. We want peace and harmony, not conflict, in the countryside. However, if members of the CLA want to develop that conflict, there will be lots of other people who will start to say, "We should question their rights of ownership," because for many people who own big estates in the countryside, their ownership actually came about as a result of successful war crimes. They were the people who benefited from the destruction of the monasteries. They often benefited from the destruction of a previous king, and they gained their ownership. We do not want to go back into that, but I would suggest that, if they question

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the rights of individuals to go out and enjoy themselves, other people will want to question the way in which some of those big estates were established.

Mr. Gray: It is, of course, nonsense to suggest that Conservative Members do not want people to go out and enjoy themselves. However, the hon. Gentleman is president of the Ramblers Association, which for a long time has lobbied for the right to roam in its full sense. Will he therefore say whether he is disappointed by the provisions in the Bill?

Mr. Bennett: I believe that the Bill has the makings of a very good compromise. It will allow people into the countryside in large numbers. I am amazed that Opposition Members do not want to encourage it, because, as I was about to say, if there is a demand for payment, there is a payment. The more people go out into the countryside and understand it, the more they will be willing, as taxpayers, to subsidise the agriculture that must continue there. It is obviously in everyone's interests to encourage people to go into the countryside and to understand it; keeping people out will simply increase misunderstanding.

Not only do farmers benefit when people visit the countryside and gain an understanding of it, but many farmers have diversified into tourism, which is an important part of the economy of many rural areas. However, we must find ways to compensate farmers where there are very real costs, such as the costs of creating footpaths to enable people to get up to access land, of building stiles and of putting in necessary features. I believe that there are the makings of a very good working compromise in the legislation.

I want to voice one or two concerns in the brief time that I have in which to speak. First, there is nothing in the Bill about marine nature reserves. One of the tragedies from 1981 is the fact that a provision that was put into the Wildlife and Countryside Act has hardly ever been used. The Bill should mention marine nature reserves.

Then there is the question of field boundaries. The report of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs leaves us in no doubt that hedgerows and walls need better protection. When he came to the Select Committee, the Minister for the Environment conceded that the present legislation was not adequate. We need to do something about that.

Headlands are another problem. It is useful that many landowners have been able to have wide headlands so that field birds and wild flowers can flourish. It is regrettable, however, that European Union auditors have said that a headland should be a narrow strip. That matter needs to be dealt with quickly.

I wish to make a couple of brief constituency points. Inland cormorants take fish from fishermen's ponds and there is the problem of raptors killing homing pigeons. Both those issues need to be examined.

I have described what I would like to have seen in the Bill, but I would not be too disappointed if the Government dropped the footpath provisions, which I do not think are ideal. The Government were sold a pup at some stage. They were told that footpath legislation would be easy, and that everybody would be pleased with it.

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I am afraid that it is not easy and I do not think that this Bill's provisions on footpaths will last for the next 50 years. I hope that we can find time in Committee and in the House of Lords to improve those provisions and to make them workable. However, if the Government are worried about the number of provisions in the Bill, they should drop the footpaths provisions and deal with issues such as field boundaries and marine nature reserves.

I welcome the provisions on the obstruction of footpaths, but it is important to record that footpaths are part of our history. Just as no one would believe in destroying stocks or any other artefact from the past, we should destroy or divert the footpath pattern of a village only for very good reason. We should be clear that footpaths are part of our history and we should cherish them.

I hope that the Bill will enable us to get on with mapping and that the appeals will be even-handed. I ask the Minister to consider the issues of high-level camping and bivouacking. The provisions for them need to be clear in the Bill.

For many years, the countryside has been subject to intensive farming activity. As a by-product, it has also offered sport for the aristocracy. We should pay tribute to all those people who have nurtured our countryside and made it a green pleasant land, with neat fields, vast heather moorlands, mile upon mile of stone walls, beautiful hedges, banks of wild flowers and a vast array of small animals and insects.

We must ensure that we protect the countryside and that it continues. I believe that the Bill will provide the opportunity to protect the countryside and to ensure that many people can get out and enjoy access to it.

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