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Lord Grantchester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate on access. It is clearly time to consider the practical implications of the access Statement last March. I declare an interest. I am a land-owning dairy farmer in Cheshire.
Everyone is agreed on the need for more access in general. Opinions vary on how we are to achieve it. I support the thrust of the proposal for a statutory right of access to mountain, moor, heath and down. That will provide a stepped change in the amount of countryside permanently available for people to explore and will create the opportunity to increase the quality and diversity of areas where walkers can enjoy the countryside. It will not be dependent on voluntary agreements comprising a diversity of access arrangements often combined with poor publicity which only cause confusion to the walker at best or the likelihood of increasing resentment.
Voluntary access arrangements can extend the areas made available through statutory right to include lowland areas and forests and even some agricultural land around towns. But they cannot be relied upon to provide a consistent framework. Indeed, the amount of areas could decrease rather than increase should some unfortunate access experience, a change of landowner or simply a timed end of agreement lead to a withdrawal of access. I urge the Country Landowners' Association and other interested bodies to continue their dialogue and to work with the Countryside Agency to provide voluntary access to further areas in addition to the statutory areas. The management of access is vital, and the input of landowners and local communities will be invaluable. Proper account of the sensitivity of the environment to withstand the pressures of the volume of
Public demand needs to be better assessed and made more aware of existing provision. For example, in the Countryside Commission's national survey in 1994, only 42 per cent of rights of way were signposted. Local post offices and notice boards could easily display footpaths and access areas. The quality of access can initially be easily improved where rights of way are not clearly defined, publicised or maintained. This will highlight the need to structure the network better and to modernise the legislation to allow flexibility through alterations and modifications to the rigidity of the footpath legislation. In the Minister's Statement of 8th March, the undertaking was given,
The key to the success of this measure is land management, and although access does not include access to agricultural land in its strict sense it will clearly impact on the livestock sector, mostly the sheep farmer and to a lesser extent beef farmers in the uplands. Agriculture is in a state of crisis at the moment, suffering falls in income throughout all sections of the industry of the order of 25 to 30 per cent. Will my noble friend the Minister recognise today that management of access will have costs? Will he undertake an assessment of the impact on the upland livestock farmer who will have no means of meeting these costs?
There must also be recognition that here is an opportunity for rural areas to develop services. The Minister's Statement made clear that provision of access will be free to the user. Nevertheless, a key ingredient will be how to deliver value. I am reminded that if something is free, it is of no value. I should like to think that as policy develops on the practicalities of access arrangements, it must be borne in mind that access provision has to be of value not only to the walkers, but also to the provider, or nothing much will be improved. As it is to be free to the walker, the management costs can be recognised in various ways. First, there are already pilot schemes on countryside stewardship.
I understand that this is already the case in Wales under the Tir Gofal scheme. The targeting of access elements of agri-environment schemes can contribute to the gradual development of rural areas away from production support of the common agricultural policy. Secondly, there is the opportunity of the New Opportunities Fund of the National Lottery perhaps to defray much of the costs of provision of information or even the provision of additional routes.
Furthermore, access provision must become integrated with local strategy plans on tourism. Although not producing income to the access provider in itself, the quality provision of leisure walks will help economic activities in predominately agricultural areas under severe economic hardship at the moment.
Access is not a threat to rural areas. It provides an opportunity to integrate leisure pursuits within a working countryside where costs must be recognised. I trust access measures will receive the full encouragement of this House.
Much of my walking experience has been in North Yorkshire, although I do stray into Durham from time to time. Home is in Moulton, a village which lies between the Dales and the North York Moors. Both have national parks and there is much other attractive walking country all around. Access is a subject of great interest to anyone who regularly walks.
The Government's Framework for Action, published in March, outlines an approach to access using the definitions "developed land" and "agricultural land" in contrast to "land extensively grazed" and "open countryside". One issue which arises may be illustrated by a walk in Swaledale, which is to be found on the Yorkshire Dales North map. Here I acknowledge with thanks the excellence of the Ordnance Survey mapping. Its maps are of vital assistance to walkers.
The walk begins in the centre of Reeth, where the parking of cars is well organised. After a spell in the village, the route takes you more than half a mile through 14 allotments with dry stone walls, which are easily damaged. There are angled slits in the walls which allow human legs to pass but not a sheep's shoulders. Thereafter, you reach the steeper open slopes of Calver Hill and, beyond, High Reeth Moor. It seems logical that the Countryside Agency and the national park would decide that Reeth was developed and the allotments, agricultural. Here, as now, we would continue to keep to the footpath.
Marking the point at which walkers reached open countryside would not be too difficult on the four footpaths out of Reeth to the west towards Calver Hill. But on the way back, bowling down the hill, avoiding
In Swaledale there are some 15 villages of substance and many other scattered pockets of agricultural land close to dwellings. The surroundings of each would need to be studied and the map would need to be modified. The mapping, the deliberations of the relevant authorities and the local forums, and the appeals procedures seem likely to be very time-consuming.
To illustrate the issue further, I would tell your Lordships that we also walk near Marske-in-Swaledale and here sometimes meet a Dales farmer's wife who makes it plain that walkers are not her favourite people and that she dislikes their cars even more. She also forcibly points out that the farming life in her dale is difficult. Many would agree.
I move on to a quick plea for dogs. Framework for Action says that legislation will specify that dogs should be on leads. If enacted, that would frustrate both dogs and owners. Many dogs, with their inbuilt equivalent of four-wheel drive, go several times as far as their owners, and the owners take their dogs to get them well exercised and satisfactorily tired. It is certain that the great majority of Yorkshire dog owners respect both nesting birds and lambing sheep. Their dogs are well trained; if not, they are left at home.
Upland walkers in Yorkshire already have a fine range of country to choose from. One set of the many guide books describes 90 Dales walks. They include the coast-to-coast route, the Pennine Way and the Cleveland Way. However, walkers in the agricultural lowlands would certainly be helped by a strengthening of the rights-of-way system, as foreshadowed in the framework. Many footpaths were naturally established to take walkers straight from A to B and not necessarily to provide a satisfying round trip. Maintenance and strengthening of the system are already a responsibility of local authorities. They have a difficult task.
I know of one set of exchanges concerning the correct alignment of 200 yards of a path which 50 years ago was in the middle of a drovers' road, now abandoned. The matter is unresolved after three years of discussion and correspondence involving more than 10 parties. It is no isolated example.
No doubt in the search to improve access the manner in which existing legislation works will be carefully taken into account. After all, rights of way, with their long and detailed history, give rise to strongly held and conflicting opinions, and a satisfactory balance is difficult to find. Therefore, the eventual proposals to legislate for greater access will generate much interest and discussion. But I suppose there may be some doubt as to whether I will here to comment upon them.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to congratulate on behalf of all your Lordships the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on his maiden speech. I was a great admirer of his father, his predecessor, who wrote an extremely good book called Half-Way to Faith which I have on my bookshelves and read from time to time. In my view, he was a very great man, and I am delighted to welcome his son to his place in this House. Indeed, the quality of the speech we have heard, which contributed greatly to your Lordships' debate this afternoon, particularly through its detailed knowledge of the situation and of the subject we are talking about, almost persuades me that there is a virtue in hereditary peerages--almost.
The noble Viscount's experience as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, is something that he will be able to bring to bear in your Lordships' House in dealing with the kind of subject that we have before us today. I hope we shall have the chance to listen to him many times more before he leaves the House in one way or another.
I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for having initiated this debate. He gave us a wide-ranging summary of the various situations and provided a great deal of thought and material for the rest of the debate. My only complaint is that, unlike the noble Viscount, he was to a certain extent taken away from what he might have told us from his personal experience. Your Lordships will know that the noble Lord is a noted walker himself, a noted leader of walks throughout the countryside and a noted writer about walks and walking. It was from that background that he was able to introduce the debate.
There is a general principle that almost everyone accepts, although landowners from time to time tend slightly to forget it, that individuals are not the owners of land. They hold it as stewards under the Queen, who holds it as steward under God. The rights of individual landowners are severely limited by the rights that those superior landlords hold on behalf of the community. In a way, the land of this country belongs to the people of this country. The Government are to be congratulated on their attempt to put some of that principle into practice.
The right to roam is a principle, and a very good principle. But, like all principles, it needs some limitation. It is subject to the need to protect the legitimate interests of the land's occupants, among whom I include not only the stewards who hold it as landlords and the farmers who farm it, but also the wildlife that actually occupies it.
It would probably be a very good idea if whatever legislation is finally introduced has a timescale that takes into consideration the nesting and breeding seasons of the wildlife and the life of the farmed animals in the areas dealt with, because much of what we are talking about is land where sheep graze, and where we must hope sheep may continue safely to graze.
One point which has not been seriously raised has been brought to my attention by the Small Farms' Association: the need for dogs not just to be kept on leads but to be healthy when they are taken into the
The Government have taken on a very complicated and difficult issue. We must ask them today about their timetable. Adam Nicolson commented in the Sunday Telegraph, not for the first time, on the right to roam proposals and on the absence of any timetable. He said:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I am happy to add my congratulations to those that have been paid to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on his maiden speech, and again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for his magisterial survey of the issues confronting the House and the Government in preparing such legislation.
I should like to put in a word on behalf of the working tenant farmer, but to do so against the background of that Statement of vision of 8th March, which stated that there are glorious parts of our heritage which should be the delight of the many rather than the preserve of the few. It is towards the fulfilment of that vision that I hope that the Government will continue to work.
I do not have a personal interest to declare in the sense that I am not a tenant farmer, but I live in the historic house of the Bishops of Carlisle which is set in the middle of an estate of 25 tenanted farms, so I am regularly in touch with the tenant farming fraternity and have considerable contacts with those on the hills and fells of the Lake District.
Tenant farmers working on the high ground have a living to earn. They are among the hardest working, but the least well financially recompensed of that very hard-pressed sector of society. They are already the often unacknowledged, unpaid wardens of some of our areas of outstanding natural beauty. We owe it to them to take their concerns seriously. I am grateful to Mr. Peter Allen, the chairman of the Less Favoured Areas Committee of the National Farmers Union, for
Perhaps I may cite the example of a tenant farm on the fells above Ullswater where there happens to be a camping site. The area will therefore receive between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors each year. If only 1 per cent of that number causes any kind of problem or damage, that will present considerable difficulties for the tenant farmer and be at his personal cost. It is the tenant farmer who repairs the walls while on the fells shepherding. The damage is usually incidental and is not necessarily deliberate. People tend to go the shortest route from A to B, and if that goes over a wall which is already beginning to crumble, gradually the wall will come down. The tenant farmer frequently encounters the taking off of gates, usually for fun and just occasionally for firewood when the barbecue season is upon the camping fraternity.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for people who think that they are walking through open country and long grass to realise that they are helping to destroy the fell farmer's winter hay. Such points need to be borne carefully in mind. Uninstructed and unwary walkers can also easily subject themselves to danger. They may see an apparently contented herd of cows grazing on the high fell, but if they do not know that the herd is newly calved, with the calves at foot, perhaps hidden by the long grass, the walkers may be in serious danger of physical damage. It is the farmer who has to solve all such problems--and at his own personal cost.
Should access, therefore, be statutory or voluntary? I do not want to disturb the distant memories of those of your Lordships who struggled with Latin at school. Nevertheless, noble Lords may remember that there are three ways in Latin of asking a question, two of which concern us now. One way is to use the word that anticipates the answer "yes" and the other is to use the word that anticipates the answer "no". So, should access be statutory or voluntary? I have no doubt that the Ramblers' Association would use the word anticipating the answer "yes" and I would be very surprised if the Country Landowners' Association did not at least start to phrase the question with the word anticipating the answer "no". In the current climate of openness and personal liberty, I am inclined to think that the answer should be "yes". I hope that the Government will press ahead, but there need to be important provisions and safeguards.
I have already referred to some of the experiences that may await the unwary walker. There needs to be a serious programme to make readily available detailed information, not to say education, about those aspects of life in the countryside which town-dwellers cannot be assumed to know. Without such a programme, there are problems and dangers.
I wonder whether we should abandon the phrase "the right to roam". It has a wonderful feeling of liberty about it, but sadly it is the sort of liberty that leads to irresponsibility. Perhaps we could use a term such as
Various references have been made to the cost of all this, but we must also provide a time-scale for monitoring the effectiveness of whatever legislation is put in place. Without that, we shall continue not to know its effect or effectiveness. Getting this right will take much persistent hard work. We may need to provide for deliverable sanctions so that the unwilling can be assisted on their passage towards willingness.
I should like an assurance from the Minister that a serious attempt will be made to take account of the proper interests of those who are tenant farmers on the hills and who work so hard in ways which we so readily fail to appreciate.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Eccles on his excellent maiden speech. I found it quite moving to hear him describe hills of Swaledale, which are very close to the area from which I travelled down here this morning. Indeed, his description made me wonder why I bothered! I did so for a very good reason: this is an extremely important debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating it. I must apologise most profusely to the House. I shall have to leave before the winding-up speeches because I have a long-standing engagement in Newcastle which I sincerely hope that I can make. I shall read carefully in Hansard what the Minister has to say.
As a member of the Country Landowners' Association and an estate owner in Swaledale, I declare an interest. I am also a member of the Moorland Association and, as such, I have been involved in the access argument for something like 20 years now.
Therefore, perhaps it is not altogether surprising that I am very concerned about the Government's proposals. I say that for three basic reasons. First, in ideological terms, I regard the proposals as one of the most savage attacks on basic property rights that has ever been seen in this country. Secondly, despite wide consultation, the Government appear to have ignored virtually all the evidence received from the vast majority of organisations which were consulted. Thirdly--in some ways this is perhaps the most important reason--what is on the table at the moment is a recipe for confusion, conflict--we do not want that under any circumstances--and a lawyer's paradise. In other words, those are the very best ingredients for the very worst legislation.
I have no doubt from my own experience that the majority of walkers respect the countryside and its traditional management and do not want to compromise its well-being. Furthermore, I do not believe that the majority of walkers actually want open access and the right to roam. The CLA evidence certainly substantiates that view. However, there are always exceptions. Unfortunately, I had an encounter last weekend with a lady who had a pair of Dobermann pinschers rampaging around the moor at perhaps the most vulnerable time of
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