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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on avoiding his usual habit of offering to write to noble Lords, on a wall or otherwise. Do the Government have any targets which will measure their success or otherwise in reducing graffiti?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is tempting to dream up a target for the removal of graffiti. But it should be tackled locally. The partnerships set up under the Crime and Disorder Act are the way to do that. We should encourage that and suggest that people work together to tackle those problems.
I like some of the local schemes where there is an element of reparation involved and where offenders who have been caught undertaking acts of graffiti are involved in removing it. I believe that we should encourage and try to stimulate such measures.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, since 1990-91, the annual grant to the English National Parks and Broads Authority has increased by almost £9 million, or 33 per cent in real terms, including a 10 per cent increase last year. We are considering in the spending review what additional resources may be made available. In doing so, we shall take account of the recommendations of the Countryside Agency.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government have responded well to the representations made following the Edwards report. We accept the point made by my noble friend that the national parks will be at the forefront of delivering new access in their areas when the Bill becomes law. If the new access gives rise to additional funding needs, we shall take that into account in future grant settlements.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, will the noble Baroness use her undoubted influence with the Treasury and with the governors of the National Assembly for Wales to address the problem of the historic imbalance in funding between English and Welsh park authorities, much to the disadvantage of the latter?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it would come as a surprise to the Treasury to know that I have the degree of influence attributed to me by the noble Lord. There is no agreement on either side of Offa's Dyke as to which set of national parks fares better over a longer period of time. There are circumstances in which the English claim that they have been less favourably treated. In 1991, the Welsh parks received £3.43 million, rising to £7.2 million in 2000-01. Ultimately, while enjoying the national parks in Wales, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, does, this is a matter for the Welsh Assembly.
Lord Walpole: My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that the extra cost associated with "best value" for the national parks will be met in full? The noble Baroness hinted that that would be so, but she did not give an assurance.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I was not aware that I had hinted at that. I shall place on record the fact that the Government's position is that the process of "best value" leads to a reduction in costs and better use of money as well as to delivering a higher quality service.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the national parks have a valuable part to play as role models for sustainable development in the wider countryside? If she does agree, is she satisfied that that is sufficiently recognised in their allocation of money?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important aspect of the role that national parks play in terms of all aspects of development and processes in the countryside. I am sure that, like me, my noble friend shares the view that we must make strong representations, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to ensure that the global amount available for national parks is adequate
Lord Renton: My Lords, are the Government aware that for a good many years our green and pleasant land, especially in England, has been disappearing owing to our ever-increasing population? Are they also aware that we need more national parks in order to protect our green and pleasant land, but that cannot occur unless more money is made available?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, designation of new national parks is the responsibility of the Countryside Agency. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is aware that the agency has started the process in respect of the New Forest and the South Downs. Were that process to lead to two national parks being confirmed, by 2002 at the earliest, discrete representations would need to be made to consider the appropriate funding.
Lord Bridges: My Lords, when considering further increases in grants to national parks, will the Minister take into account the fact that there is a social aspect to the grants in that so many national parks are to be found within easy reach of our largest conurbations, in Wales, in the industrial Midlands or in the industrial north, where the inhabitants enjoy those facilities?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as someone whose home is in Preston and who lives within easy reach of both the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, I agree that the point raised by the noble Lord is valid. It is one that will be borne in mind by the Government.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I can move further south, to Exmoor, and ask whether the Minister is aware that the settlement for the current year is causing severe financial difficulties for the Exmoor National Park, including a reduction in several key work areas, particularly in conservation and footpath maintenance?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I accept the point raised by the noble Baroness that allegedly there are discrepancies between the funding that is allocated to individual parks. In 1998, the Countryside Agency, together with the DETR and the Association of National Park Authorities, commissioned a study that looked at the distribution of funding. In the light of that study, work is going on between the Countryside Agency, the national park authorities and the department to develop a robust, new formula. In producing a new formula, there will be losers as well as gainers and, therefore, I do not expect that it will be too long before there are questions from those who have lost.
This Bill implements two important commitments given in the Government's manifesto at the last general election: to provide "greater" freedom for people to explore our own countryside; and to strengthen protection for our natural heritage. The Bill is, therefore, designed with the objectives of protecting our beautiful countryside and our natural heritage and giving us all the opportunity to enjoy them more fully.
I hope to be able to reassure all sides that this is a balanced and measured package which offers benefits to millions of walkers and other recreational users; which provides a more effective protection for wildlife; and which brings benefits to landowners and farmers. In debating this Bill it is important that we do not lose sight of the balance of the Bill as a whole.
I accept that Part I of the Bill is the most controversial, particularly among those landowners affected. Like my right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment, I want to place on record that the access provisions in the Bill do not amount to an unfettered "right to roam", as some have implied. The provisions create an important limited measure to increase access to upland areas and other areas of open countryside. Therefore, there is no question of the right applying to intensively farmed land or to gardens. Clause 1 makes it clear from the outset that the right will apply only to mountain, moor, heath and down and to registered common land.
The nature of the right is set out in Clause 2. That right is balanced. It is balanced because that right will be limited to those on foot; it is balanced because there are comprehensive restrictions (mainly in Schedule 2) to avoid interference with other legitimate uses of the land; it is balanced because the public may, under the provisions of Chapter II of Part I, be excluded altogether on up to 28 weekdays in each year, for any reason, and for longer periods, including weekends, on application to the countryside bodies or national park authorities; and it is balanced because the landowner will remain entirely free to farm, fence, improve, or develop his land, within the constraints of existing law, and will be under no obligation to facilitate or improve public access on to his land.
We believe that the access provisions of the Bill strike a reasonable balance between the aspirations of millions of walkers, and the understandable concerns of landowners, farmers, and others with an interest in the land affected. The Bill meets all the justifiable concerns that were expressed when it was first introduced in this House during our discussions on the White Paper. The Government have done much, both before the production of the Bill and since introducing it in another place, to ensure that the introduction of the statutory right of access will not have a negative impact on those who live and work on the land affected.
The Bill provides that walkers who are in breach of any restriction will lose their right of access to land in the same ownership for the remainder of the day. Such walkers will, therefore, become trespassers and may be dealt with just as landowners deal with trespassers at the moment--by requiring them to leave. In some cases, a breach of a restriction, such as causing damage or disrupting lawful activities, will also constitute a criminal offence for which much tougher penalties are rightly available. The Bill grants access authorities extensive new powers to make by-laws and appoint wardens on access land where these are required to meet local circumstances.
Some concern has been expressed about protecting the interests of the landowner and farmer in so far as decisions may be made that are contrary to their interests. We have provided for extensive rights of appeal for landowners, and others, with a legal or financial interest in the land. For example, anyone with an interest in the land will be able to appeal under Clause 6 against provisional maps of access land, and under Clause 28 against adverse decisions by relevant authorities on applications for the exclusion or restriction of access. Owners and occupiers will also be able to appeal under Clause 36 against notices to secure a means of access.
Clause 13 ensures that occupiers will have no liability to walkers for risks arising from the existence of natural features of the landscape, and only the minimal duty currently owed to trespassers in respect of man-made features. This will significantly reduce the exposure to liability of many landowners who currently permit access on the basis of toleration or concession, and, in law, will place occupiers of access land in a more favourable position than other property owners.
Where the discretionary 28 days' right to close land is insufficient, consideration will be given to applications from landowners for directions in the interests of land management, so that such directions will be available where public access poses real problems for land management. In view of all these qualifications on the new right, and the extensive provisions to minimise any interference with landowners' interests, we do not believe that any demand for compensation is warranted.
Finally, this part of the Bill extends the right of access only to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. Therefore, the Bill takes account of advice we received last year that we should not seek to extend the statutory right to woodland and riverside. However, owners of any such land should still be enabled to dedicate it permanently to public access. That situation is covered in Clause 16.
We were also advised last year to extend the right of access to coastal land. However, the Government believe that more work and more public consultation are needed before we do so. Accordingly, Clause 3 provides a power to extend the right of access to the foreshore and land adjacent to it by order. That will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament
These measures demonstrate how the Government have taken into account the legitimate concerns of those who will be most affected by the legislation. For many, this is a regime with a light and common-sense touch, which fairly balances the interests of those who may exercise the right with those who manage the land on which it is to be exercised.
I turn now to Part II of the Bill, which sets out a number of important changes to the law relating to rights of way. The rights of way system is immensely complex. It reflects the varied origin of different routes over many hundreds of years. Many rights of way have historic associations. However, the network as a whole does not always match the needs of people today. A key priority of Part II of the Bill is that it should do so. As the system is so complex, I shall go through it in a little detail.
Clauses 43 to 48 designate roads used as public paths--or RUPPs, to those of your Lordships who are familiar with rights of way jargon--as a completely new category of highway called "restricted byways". These will carry statutory rights of way for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. All will have the certainty that comes with the statutory creation of public rights of way over these routes.
Clauses 49 to 52 build on proposals in the Government's consultation paper aimed at encouraging completion of the historic record of rights of way. Local authorities are required to record rights of way in their areas on definitive maps. However, in reality, few of those maps are anywhere near complete. This reduces certainty for users, owners and land managers. In our consultation paper, we proposed a 10-year target date for recording rights of way created before 1949--the date of the legislation which introduced definitive maps. It was clear from many of the responses we received that that 10-year period would not be long enough. We continue to believe that a deadline is important to the effective implementation of these proposals, but have extended the deadline to 25 years.
Broadly speaking, footpaths and bridleways created before 1949, which are not recorded on the definitive maps, will be extinguished if claims have not been submitted by the 25-year deadline. The same applies to higher rights over ways that are shown on the maps. There are savings for certain rights of way and powers for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to extend the deadline and to make regulations excepting other rights of way from the provisions; for example, those which give access to premises,
Clauses 56 and 57 of the Bill require local highway authorities to draw up rights of way improvement plans and to keep them under review. We want to encourage active provision of new routes where they are needed and to extend access through rights of way for horse riders, and others, to whom the right of access under Part I of the Bill may not be available.
In addition, the Bill provides stronger powers for dealing with obstructions on rights of way. People will be able to serve notice on local highway authorities where a right of way is obstructed and, if necessary, seek an order from the magistrates' court requiring the authority to secure the removal of the obstruction. Magistrates' courts will also have a new power, when convicting a person of wilfully obstructing a highway, to order that person to remove the obstruction.
There are also new powers to divert rights of way to protect sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and to close, or divert, rights of way to prevent crime in designated areas and to protect children and staff in schools. Land managers will be able to apply formally to a local authority for a footpath or a bridleway to be closed or diverted. If the local authority refuses to do so, there will be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales.
There are also powers for occupiers of land to divert temporarily a footpath or bridleway in order to undertake works that could endanger the public. Therefore, we aim to provide in Part II a balanced package of measures that will ensure the genuine improvement of the network of rights of way. I believe that the balance is about right and that the provisions of Part I and Part II of the Bill work well together.
I turn to Part III of the Bill, which represents a major contribution to giving greater protection to wildlife. Part III combines strengthening the powers to prevent damage and, more positively, to manage sites of special scientific interest with substantially increased penalties for wildlife offences.
Our proposals for SSSIs, as set out in Schedule 8, are underpinned by a clear objective; namely, that the strongest protection for SSSIs should be associated with a productive partnership with land managers, who share our appreciation of the national assets for which they are responsible. The conservation agencies already encourage and support positive partnerships, sharing good practice and achieving conservation gain. Those relationships generally work well and we wish to build on them. We expect the conservation agencies to engage in a constructive dialogue with everyone who has a responsibility for the management of these very special sites.
The Bill also substantially strengthens the powers of the conservation agencies to protect SSSIs and to provide for their more effective management. The new powers include the ability to refuse consent for damaging activities; to serve management notices requiring action to combat neglect; to enter land where that is essential for the protection and management of sites; and to purchase land compulsorily where, in the
The conservation agencies' new powers are balanced by significant improvements to their accountability, including the requirement to prepare management schemes and new appeal procedures for owners and occupiers where rights have to be curtailed. In addition to creating the legislative framework, we are currently consulting on revised guidance on the basis for payments under the conservation agencies' management agreements. That places a new emphasis on positive management and value for money whilst reflecting changes in European rules for state aids and agri-environment funding. We are also taking views on a code which will guide the agencies in the exercise of their new powers.
Finally, Schedule 10 introduces tough new measures to strengthen the enforcement of wildlife legislation. It increases the penalties for offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which contains controls on our native plants, animals and birds and it clarifies and strengthens the powers of the police to investigate and prosecute wildlife offences. For the first time, the courts will have the option of putting people in prison for up to six months for such offences. On top of that, they will be able to impose fines of up to £5,000.
The Bill provides stronger powers for enforcers to require tissue samples for DNA analysis. DNA has proved to be a break-through in solving crimes against people. It is showing the same promise for offences against wildlife and there have already been a number of successful prosecutions where that technology has been used as evidence.
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