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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 84, in page 9, line 3, after "land", insert--

'for a period of not less than 20 years or in perpetuity'.

No. 111, in page 9, line 4, after "Part", insert--

'for a period of not less than 21 years or in perpetuity'.

Mr. Paice: The amendments seek to press the Government to encourage landowners voluntarily to dedicate their land as access land. We debated that in Committee when we tabled an amendment for a shorter period of 10 years, when the Minister said:

which is the relevant clause--

That I accept, but we then come to the definition of long term.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no facility for anyone to dedicate land for a period of 20 years or more, and if we want to encourage voluntary dedication, we need to consider that period. Obviously, if someone is prepared to dedicate land for 90 years, which is the effective period in the Bill, that is to be welcomed, and we obviously hope that that will happen. But our experience in Britain is that the more one regulates the less opportunity one creates. Many landowners who might be interested in dedicating access for 20 years, which is a long time in any individual's life and in terms of the management of any property, would not consider dedicating it for a minimum period of 90 years, or even on a permanent basis. If he did that, he would be imposing those dedication rights on his heirs and successors, who may have different priorities for the property.

The amendments reduce the period of ownership to 21 years and propose a dedication period of not less than 20 years. They are a good balance between the short-term opportunities--the Minister will doubtless repeat them; we accept their existence--and the very long-term opportunities, for which the Bill provides. I doubt whether those long-term opportunities will lead to much voluntary access. As I said in Committee, if we consider the past 90 years, we can think of all manner of historic events that have occurred globally and in agriculture and land use. The world has moved on dramatically. Who can

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foresee the events of the next 90 years? I suggest that few people would be prepared to commit their land for that length of time.

There is no better example than the 1975 legislation that the previous Labour Government passed to protect three generations of inheritance of tenancies of agricultural land. As anyone in the land industry knows, farmers consequently stopped letting their land because they were not prepared to do that for the period that three generations could cover--possibly 90 years. When the Conservative Government removed that right and reduced protection for tenants, the farmland that was leased increased significantly. The 1975 example is clearly analogous to clause 16.

The Minister was right to suggest that there were other ways in which to encourage farmers to lease their land in the short term. However, the long-term period for which the Bill provides is excessive. We need a sensible balance between regulating or protecting the right of access, albeit voluntarily granted, and creating opportunities for people to do that. The amendments would provide a great opportunity for landowners to dedicate their land.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Does my hon. Friend the Minister remember that, in Committee, I mentioned two possible obstacles to dedication? Dedication is a good idea, which may lead to expansion of the areas of land over which the new right of access can be exercised. The two possible statutory objections relate to local authorities and similar public bodies, and to trustees of the land.

If a dedication is perceived as a disposal of land, local authorities are under a statutory duty to obtain the best price for the disposal. That would prevent them from giving away the land as a dedication. I suggested that the Bill might include a provision that would ensure that a dedication did not count as a disposal for other statutory purposes. If trustees dedicate the land rather than selling it and realising its full value, their action may be perceived as a breach of trust, unless the Bill provides that a dedication is a charitable purpose.

My hon. Friend the Minister kindly said that he would consider those two issues. We are on Report, yet no amendment has been tabled to deal with those matters. I should be grateful to know whether my hon. Friend believes that they are not worthy of attention, or whether he is still considering them.

Mr. Mullin: Clause 16 provides an opportunity for landowners voluntarily to dedicate land to the statutory right on a permanent basis. Once the dedication has been made, the land will be treated in the same way as open country and registered common land. The dedication will also bind successors in title.

The amendments propose dedications that are not in perpetuity, but for a minimum of 20 years. That is not the purpose of the clause. The short answer to the points that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) made is that there are already many other routes by which landowners may provide access to land, and receive grants or incentives for doing that, such as the countryside stewardship scheme, which is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the woodland grant scheme, which is operated by the Forestry Commission.

If landowners wish to allow access to their land on a less permanent basis than that offered by clause 16, such opportunities are available to them. Indeed, landowners

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may, if they wish, throw open their land to the public with no formality. The Bill is about providing permanence and security of access.

If a freeholder dedicates land, it should be in perpetuity. If a leaseholder dedicates land, it should be for a minimum of 90 years. The Bill provides for that. I therefore ask the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire to withdraw the amendment.

We are still considering the two points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made. The Bill has some way to go, and we shall come back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bennett: What about those people who got relief on taxation--I believe on death duties--by promising access? Will the clause resolve that?

Mr. Mullin: I do not believe that that is the clause's intention. However, if someone tells me that I am wrong, I shall let my hon. Friend know.

Mr. Paice: That was one of the least convincing replies to a debate that the Minister has given in Committee or on Report. Perhaps he will improve on that, and provide an even less convincing reply later.

I made it clear that I accept the existence of the short-term measures, such as the countryside stewardship scheme and the woodland grants scheme, but they are only for short periods. We were trying to establish right of access for a longer period, which is not as long as perpetuity or 90 years. If I challenged the Minister, he would not be able to give an example of a scheme that allowed dedication for as long as 20 years. The schemes to which he referred last from five to 10 years, not 20 years, for which we would provide.

The amendments were tabled in the spirit of the Bill and were intended to encourage voluntary access. I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept them. However, as he said, there is some way to go. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17


Mr. Bennett: I beg to move amendment No. 65, in page 10, line 23, at end insert--

'(6A) The relevant confirming authority shall publish guidance to access authorities as to the matters which may be included in such byelaws and the purpose thereof with the intention that byelaws in the areas of each access authority shall be consistent with the byelaws in any other access authority.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 112, in clause 18, page 10, line 30, at end insert--

'(1A) The access authority shall review under this section the adequacy of warden arrangements in respect of any access land in their area.
(1B) A review under this section must be undertaken--
(a) in the case of the first review, not more than one year after that land became access land, and
(b) in the case of subsequent reviews, not more than five years after the previous review.'.

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Amendment No. 85, in clause 19, page 11, line 6, leave out "may" and insert--

'shall, where appropriate or expedient, at the request of the owner or occupier of any access land, or of land adjoining access land, or otherwise,'.

Government amendments Nos. 148, 149 and 212.

Mr. Bennett: The amendments have been tabled to ascertain what will happen to the byelaws. Walkers can consider schedule 2 and work out their duties and responsibilities on access. They must then examine the byelaws. We should not have a large variety of byelaws throughout the country so that walkers are subject to one restriction in one area and a different restriction in another area. Most people who enjoy access will not examine byelaws carefully.

The Peak district national park used to be good at putting up notices stating that it was a national park. All the byelaws were printed on the back of the notices in small print, which was difficult to read. As far as I can see, no one ever read them.

By and large, we want byelaws to be consistent throughout the country, with differences applying only in exceptional circumstances. The amendment is very similar to an amendment tabled in Committee--I think the Government said that they would have another look at it--aimed at finding out exactly what would be in the byelaws, and whether we would be better off with a set of model byelaws presented by the Government. That might have the particular benefit of ensuring that, if people wanted to do the same thing in two areas, they did it in the same way.

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