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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The kind of assurances that the noble Earl seeks are contained within the proposed provisions. I shall deal later with the point which I believe the noble Earl is leading towards; namely, a precise definition in percentage terms. In drafting this legislation we seek to ensure that we do not include areas that would be impractical and create difficulty and uncertainty for users and landowners alike. I can assure the Committee that the test of "wholly or predominantly" will most definitely not lead to the wholesale inclusion on maps of land which is not open country, but will enable the mapping to be carried out in the most sensible way. I have already referred to the right of appeal to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly should the landowner claim that the countryside body has exercised its discretion unreasonably.
Amendment No. 25 would define "predominantly" as at least 75 per cent in area. Specifying an arbitrary percentage is not the right approach. Seventy-five per cent of what area? For example, it might be entirely appropriate and sensible to include, say, a clump of trees within a much larger area of heath, but the same clump of trees might well be excluded if it was located at the edge of the same heath or the heath was very small. In another place the honourable Member for Cambridgeshire South East, Mr James Paice, happily accepted that a percentage figure would be too specific. I believe that that also deals with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan. The reality is that often there will be a gradual transition from one type of land to another rather than an obvious hard and fast line. However, I reassure the Committee that if any sizeable area of land is to be mapped as open country it will need to be entirely, or almost entirely, mountain, moor, heath or down. I hope that that reassurance goes some way to clarify the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
It is in everybody's interest that minor adjustments should be possible so that the boundary makes sense on the ground and preferably coincides with recognisable features for ease of identification and navigation. I assure the Committee that we do not seek to allow the inclusion of vast tracts of otherwise ineligible land. It is a common-sense provision to deal with the reality on the ground, which may vary from place to place.
Before issuing provisional maps, the countryside bodies will consult very widely on where the boundaries of access land should be and will consider the advice of local interests, including local access forums. Therefore, I can reassure the Committee that in exercising this discretion the countryside bodies will be at pains to be fair and objective in their judgments, and the opportunity for landowners to appeal exists. I apologise to the Committee for replying to this group of amendments in detail. I was concerned about
The Earl of Caithness: Will the noble Baroness confirm that the argument which she used with regard to the amendment of my noble friend Lady Byford regarding common land does not apply to my Amendment No. 4? She specifically said to my noble friend Lord Brittan that three-quarters of registered common land would be included under the 10 hectares point. That would appear in line 10 of the Bill as now printed. My amendment is in line 12. Therefore, the argument she used would not apply to my amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It is obviously the case that where a large group of amendments are together there may be matters relevant to only one particular amendment. I apologise to the noble Earl if that has happened here.
The Earl of Caithness: What I am seeking from the noble Baroness is clarification that the argument she used in relation to a comment made by my noble friend Lord Brittan does not apply to my amendment, Amendment No. 5.
Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her response. Indeed I meant her no discourtesy. The grouping has been somewhat confusing. I accept the point she made in her response to my noble friend the Earl of Caithness. In response to one of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Brittan, she said that she felt it was right that flexibility should be in the hands of the agency and not defined by Parliament. That concerns me greatly because there will be great differences around the country. Perhaps that is something which the Government are seeking and think will be a good idea. But some of us have reservations about the degree of flexibility involved. I had in mind that I might divide the Committee on that matter. At this stage I shall not. That is why we appeared to be slightly discourteous to the Minister. I was trying to clarify which parts were relevant. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
The Earl of Onslow: Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, something has arisen in this short debate which is extremely valid and interesting. My noble friend partly touched on it. There are different circumstances in different parts of the country. That does not take away from the fact that the land ought to be able to be defined more clearly. It must be possible to define rules for land which was enclosed early on in small, tight areas as against larger areas of land which were enclosed later, with bigger fields and so on. It must be within the wit of man. Please, please, oh Government, do not leave wishy-washiness about, because it will cause trouble as it always and invariably has.
Baroness Byford: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may follow on the comment made by my noble friend Earl Onslow and pick up her point about flexibility. My noble friend indicated that not only would we rather have the matter more closely defined on the Bill but also, if legal challenges do come as a result of interested parties not agreeing, the fact that there is so much flexibility without set guidelines will make it difficult for the courts to decide who is right and who is wrong. I hope I have that right. Perhaps my noble friend would like to add to that? Allowing such flexibility will actually bring problems when the Bill is enacted.
The Earl of Onslow: That is exactly the point I am trying to make. Of course there are variations in the countryside. Everybody accepts that. That is the glory of the English countryside. What I suggest is that the rules should be sufficiently tightly drafted so that those variations can be taken into account and there is not room for wishy-washy, half thought-out appeals and so on. That is the point I make. Of course there are differences between Surrey and Yorkshire. We know that. We should be able to draft sets of rules--by regulation if you like--which will take those matters into account.
The noble Earl said: I beg to move the amendment, to which I have spoken already. I shall not rehearse the arguments again. Perhaps I may respond to the points the Minister made, which I thought were helpful. I am not concerned about the timing. What I am concerned about is that those people with land areas greater than 600 metres and with registered common land should not be disadvantaged. I think I am right in saying that the Minister did give a firm assurance that anybody owning land of that type would be afforded exactly the same levels of negotiation with the access authority, that the maps would be published before access was implemented and that the opportunities for discussing by-laws, disclosure orders and general management practices would be dealt with before access was implemented. I seek confirmation that that was the assurance the Minister gave to the Committee.
Perhaps I may raise two other points which I think are relevant to this amendment. First, on the question of access points; presumably there will be opportunity for access points to be on the land, even though the fast-track system is implemented. I think that is an essential part of the whole information service to the general public. Secondly--a point I was not quite certain about but I am sure must be right--if any of this land is not serviced at the moment by footpaths, that those footpaths will be fully negotiated with the landowners and farmers concerned. Assuming that I get those assurances from the Minister, I shall withdraw the amendment. I should like to hear what he has to say.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden): I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 7 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 8 to 13 inclusive.
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