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Mr. David Taylor: I understand that there are substantial ancient woodlands in the forest of Dean. Does my hon. Friend accept that 85 per cent. of ancient woodlands are not covered by SSSI or AONB status and deserve particular attention in the Bill or in other legislation shortly afterwards?

Mrs. Organ: My hon. Friend is right. He represents a constituency that is part of a new national park, so he has a particular interest in conserving and protecting important woodlands.

We should not miss the opportunity in the Bill, as we have missed opportunities in the past, to preserve landscapes that are much prized by the local community and recognised nationally as needing extra management, care and protection. The Government are sympathetic, and I hope to see the Bill amended in Committee.

9.18 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I shall be brief because of the lateness of the hour. I am privileged to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ), who is such a doughty fighter for her constituency and who loses no opportunity to tell the world about the uniqueness of the landscape that she has the honour to represent.

My constituency is rather different because it is urban and suburban, but like many other constituencies it has many sites that are sensitive, unique and important. I very much welcome the measures to strengthen protection for sites of special scientific interest, but I join colleagues, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), in calling for the designation of urban wildlife sites. It is important to preserve the diversity of our habitats, and the Bill gives us a long-awaited opportunity to do so.

On Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, whom I was pleased to see in the Chamber earlier, visited my constituency to open the splendidly refurbished Victorian town hall and

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museum. While there, he took the opportunity to see displays about a unique geological feature of part of my constituency known as Emmer Green, after the emmer wheat that has been grown there. I am told that the area is unique in the south of England as an earthquake zone--owing not to mine workings or anything of the sort, but to the geological formation of a finger of London clay that extends a long way west to abut the Berkshire downs. The unique geology has been studied over the years.

I cite that feature as an example of the special areas everywhere in the country, whether urban, rural, suburban, moorland, woodland, beach or coastal. I highlight it because, in an urban area such as the one that I represent, it is arguably more important for people to be able to experience a variety of habitats.

Otters are beginning to return to the Thames and the Kennet. My constituents who walk along the riverside--where it is not closed off to them--are reporting sightings of otters or evidence of them. Sometimes, that is the only way we know that such wildlife is returning. There is no evidence that such sightings cause any difficulty for otters or represent any disincentive for them to take up residence. If the land is closed off, there will be no way to find whether otters remain or have been driven out by mink--as can happen, because the habitats are similar.

This is a Bill whose time has come. There have been campaigns for access, mass trespass and so on over many decades. We all acknowledge that the law on trespass is a bit of a mess. The Bill is about more than that. It is about our changing attitudes to the countryside and the land on which we live.

I grew up in Bedfordshire--I apologise to the area because I am sure that it has since changed--and remember the south Bedfordshire countryside as a monoculture of chemical-soaked onion fields. I remember the poisonous green foam that got into the brooks as they flowed past the brickwork outfalls. That was in the 1960s, when agriculture was somewhat different from today. There was then perhaps less of a conscience about the use of chemicals.

The Berkshire countryside around my constituency is much softer and, in many ways, more accessible to the rambler and bird watcher than the arable prairies of eastern England. There too, however, diversity is decreasing and the protection of species and habitats is insufficient.

It is only a few years ago that the late and unlamented Berkshire county council thought that it would be a good idea to build a dual carriageway across the mouth of the Kennet, where it flows into the Thames. That is one of the few places where the loddon lily, a rare and endangered plant, flourishes. A dual carriageway would clearly have not allowed it to do so. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) took the right decision in squashing the plan. It has gone and I trust that it will not return.

Measures that allow access to the countryside must be linked with wildlife conservation measures so that we can experience diverse habitats and so that seemingly insignificant life forms--whether butterflies, plants or larger animals--can continue to flourish.

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I shall not take up any more of the House's time except to congratulate all hon. Members who have had the opportunity to speak in this debate. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly, I know that my constituents do, and I wish it success in its progress through the House.

9.24 pm

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): The Bill comes during the Government's phase of delivery, as I believe this period is called. I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on Second Reading.

My Derbyshire constituency contains large areas of open access land, as much of it opened by voluntary agreement as is part of the Peak national park. About 60 per cent. of England's voluntary open access areas are in the national park and a large proportion of those areas are in my constituency. The Pennine way starts in my constituency, and many areas that are not currently covered by open access agreements are crossed by footpaths and rights of way.

I receive a great deal of correspondence on the subject of people using motorised vehicles where they should not, thereby making a nuisance of themselves and a mess of the landscape. My constituents and I therefore welcome the provisions to tighten up restrictions on the unauthorised off-road use of motorised vehicles.

I am told that, especially on Sundays, there are more mountaineers in my constituency than in any other English constituency. I am therefore pleased by the indications that the Bill will not only encourage and foster mountaineering opportunities, but will allow no ambiguity about the fact that those who want to climb or clamber over Stanedge and similar features should be able to reach such sites without let or hindrance.

The activities of mountaineers, climbers, ramblers and traditional users of the peak park and the open access areas will be facilitated by the Bill. Walking is one of the most common pastimes enjoyed by the people of this country, and millions of people participate in the activity every weekend. They respect the countryside and, by and large, they want to use it in a positive way. They respect this country's wildlife and landscape, acknowledge the legitimate needs of landowners and respect crops and livestock.

The Bill provides opportunities to enhance our use of the countryside for leisure, pleasure and study, and it gets the balance right by allowing nature to take its course in rural areas. I welcome the Bill and I wish it godspeed.

9.28 pm

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The debate has proved what a sad waste of opportunity the Bill is. It need not have been so. Every Member of Parliament wants better protection for wildlife and wants to promote responsible enjoyment of the countryside. If the Government had been both competent and sensible, they could have achieved what they and we want. Instead, they have produced a Bill whose welcome aspects are dragged down by anti-farmer ideology, ignorance of the workings of the countryside and sheer risible incompetence. The parade of complacency combined with an undertone of spite that has passed for argument among Government Members tonight shows why the Government are an object of

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derision in the English and Welsh countryside. I shall deal first with what is in the Bill but should not be, and then with what should be in the Bill but is not.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I am pleased to understand that the hon. Gentleman is broadly in favour of the Bill and thinks that it presents us with a great opportunity. He decries the Government's proposals, but does he acknowledge that, although the Conservatives were in power for 18 years, they never made any attempt to introduce constructive legislation dealing with these matters?

Mr. Green: The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Some of the best provisions in the Bill update and improve the 1981 Act. If he can contain himself for a few minutes, he will learn that, although I welcome the wildlife protection parts of the Bill, I think that too many of the measures on access are wrong both in principle and in practice.

To help the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, I shall start with the access provisions, which have been so well dissected by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick). I am in favour of greater access to the countryside, but I want it to be introduced in a workable form and in co-operation with those who live, work and farm in the countryside.

The access provided in the Bill is perverse. The Bill creates most access on the land that is least accessible to most people. When the vast majority of people say that they want the right to roam, they mean that they want well-signed footpaths in green areas near the towns in which 80 per cent. of us live. What they do not want is people wandering around land that may contain endangered species of birds or plant life, where one act by a single thoughtless person could create an environmental disaster. That is where the Bill focuses, however.

Even in its own terms, the Bill is inconsistent. For instance, the exceptions that it introduces to access land are limited and inconsistent. Access is banned in quarries, but allowed when the former quarry is being filled with waste. It is banned in buildings, but allowed in mobile homes. It is banned around mobile telephone transmitters, but allowed around television transmitters.

Access land is not shown on maps at present. Landowners and walkers will have to try to apply exceptions as they come to land. For example, a walker will have to work out what the curtilage of a building is. Last month there was a case in the Court of Appeal in which it was admitted that even lawyers often do not understand what a curtilage is. If the walker gets it wrong, he is a trespasser. If the landowner gets it wrong and puts a notice in the wrong place, he commits a criminal offence.

There are worse inconsistencies in the activities that are allowed or forbidden on access land. The activities allowed are anomalous. Paragliding is banned, but hot air ballooning is allowed. It is against the law for a person to swim in a lake, but letting a dog swim in a lake is allowed by the law. Playing football is banned; holding a political demonstration is allowed. Camping is banned, but holding a religious service at a stone circle to mark the spring equinox is allowed.

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The Bill is full of such anomalies. We are in the third year of the Parliament. The Minister said in his opening remarks that this is an historic Bill, for which many Government Members have been waiting for most of the century. One would have thought that when the Government produce such an historic Bill, they might try to produce a half-way competent historic Bill.

The ludicrous 28-day exemption introduced by the Bill was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray)--that is, the 28 days during which access may be denied. The Minister quoted Lloyd George in one of the oratorical flourishes in his speech. I shall quote back at him a real live Welsh farmer, farming in Caernarfon, Mrs. Karen Jones, who sent me a long letter pointing out a large number of anomalies and idiocies in the Bill.

Mrs. Jones notes, as many of my hon. Friends pointed out, that the right to roam would be allowed over the weekends and bank holidays, even inside the 28 days allowed for the owner. As she puts it,

It is not just lambing that will be affected. Presumably, the agencies that will be involved in taking the decisions can decide what forms of activity they will permit. I dare say that in different areas of the country, different kinds of activity will be allowed.

I am not clear whether the Minister is aware that if he gets the wrong kind of bureaucrats in some areas, he will threaten not just a few landowners, but gymkhanas, village fetes, occasional friendly cricket matches and other activities that many people who once thought of themselves as new Labour supporters will not want to be banned.

The Government claim that local people judge how access works, but Government agencies rather than elected local councillors will decide about exclusions and restrictions. The Government need to tell us what they mean by land management; they should publicise exclusions and restrictions at public expense.

Land management is central to the Bill, yet there is no attempt to define it. Such a definition is essential if the Bill is to be workable. For example, most of the heather moorlands are managed for and funded by sporting interests. Many are designated sites of special scientific interest because of the careful management they receive. Unless shooting, burning bracken, spraying, gamekeeping and related activities are recognised as land management, the Bill will render vast areas of moorland unsustainable. It must therefore fully define land management.

The Bill fails to explain in detail how notification will be managed, or the source of funding for the wardens who will be needed to police the new restrictions. The Bill currently states that local authorities "may" appoint access wardens. They must appoint such officers to make the Bill remotely enforceable and to minimise the burden and potential loss inflicted on landowners and managers of access land.

The access provisions include further absurdities. Many of my hon. Friends have commented on the curiosity of the provision for 24-hour access. All hon. Members agree that one of the glories of living in this country is the ability to enjoy the scenery and views of the English

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countryside. How many people want to enjoy them in the dark? The Association of Chief Police Officers supports the case for restricting access to daylight hours, simply because of the likely effect on crime.

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