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Earl Peel: It may not surprise the Committee to know that I robustly oppose the amendments. I deal first with Amendment No. 107. Apart from the potential interference into water areas, which are quite clearly in many cases of enormous importance to wildlife sanctuaries, it would be a great pity if many of those inland waterways, which provide a tremendous sense of tranquillity which is much appreciated by walkers, were to be littered with canoes, kayaks,
As regards Amendment No. 110, we must not lose sight of the fact that in general many lakes, streams and waterways are water supplies. They supply farms, dwelling houses and holiday cottages. There are still quite a number of dairy farms--unfortunately, not too many--on the edge of those areas which require clean water in order to abide by various regulations.
On Amendment No. 114, I dread to think what members of the farming fraternity would have to say if they were told that they had to put up a sign on a gate if they wished it to be kept closed at all times. I suggest that it should be left for the farmer to decide whether or not he wishes to put up a sign. It seems to me that that is by far and away the most sensible way to deal with that particular suggestion.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I could join with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in urging the Minister not to accept this amendment on two counts. The noble Earl has already mentioned the issue of the disproportionate disturbance that swimming or manually propelled boats can have on these often rather isolated inland waters where water birds have found sanctuary as they are unable to do in many other bodies of water. There is a conservation issue and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister shares that view.
There is a more fundamental issue here. We are trying to promote a Bill that is about access and quiet enjoyment of the countryside. I was trying to envisage the prospect of quantities of people carrying skiffs, boats and other manually propelled objects across the countryside. Somehow swimming and boating, particularly in remote upland waters, does not seem to gel with the idea of quiet enjoyment and recreation. Having breached the list of exclusions in Schedule 2 for this reason, I suspect that there will be grounds for looking at many of the other things that are excluded in Schedule 2 as being disruptive. This is the thin end of the wedge so I hope that the Minister will reject this amendment.
The Earl of Caithness: Does the noble Baroness agree, given her concern for the protection of these isolated bodies of water, that the mere presence of human beings near such water will be enough to drive off any wildfowl that are there?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I hesitate to play ping-pong across the Committee, but disturbance on the shores of larger bodies of water is not necessarily hugely disturbing, but having boats and people swimming in the water is disturbing.
At this point I should declare an interest as Vice-President of the Lancashire Scouts. Therefore I am committed to extending access to activities such as canoeing. To noble Lords who have commented on the fact that such activities, particularly when practised by young people, are not always quiet, I can say only that in my experience I could not agree more.
We thought hard about what restrictions on access to include in the Bill. Our first priority was to meet the clear demand for more access for walkers. We took advice from the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales on what other activities to include. Both recommended a more vigorous use of existing mechanisms, such as voluntary agreements for extending access to land adjoining canals and waterways. We would expect much to be achieved by a similar approach to activities on water which lies within access land.
We have already started to promote voluntary access in a number of areas. The Environment Agency has published a guide to developing voluntary agreements. The booklet, which was produced in conjunction with the Angling and Canoeing Liaison Group, provides information for all parties who are seeking to achieve new access for canoeists.
In addition to that, the department has recently issued an updated code of practice on conservation, access and recreation for the Environment Agency and for water and sewerage companies. The code gives practical guidance to those bodies on their access and recreational duties, including the availability of water for recreational pursuits such as those mentioned by the noble Earl when moving the amendment.
We also introduced amendments to the Bill during Report in another place so as to retain on the statute book Part V of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which provides a mechanism for local authorities to secure area access to canal and riversides by agreement, or in default of agreement, by compulsion. Those powers can also be used to provide access over water for users of canoes and other unpowered craft.
The powers of compulsion in Part V have been used very rarely, and we do not expect that they will be used much more frequently in future. But they can be useful where local authorities would otherwise find it very difficult to secure access agreements.
We are not complacent but, where there are problems, we think more will be achievable using existing and proposed powers. Following useful discussions with representatives of those with an interest, we are considering further what steps should be taken to investigate and remedy any problems. We expect to make an announcement shortly.
I have some sympathy with Amendment No. 110, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and with the point of view that, where activities do not cause damage, we should not seek to restrict them. The amendment would allow bathing in waters on access land. But the new right is intended to provide for only the most modest forms of open air recreation, principally walking. That is part of the balance underlying Part I of the Bill between the interests of the public and the rights of the landowner.
Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and along with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, the Government are not convinced that bathing is always harmless. As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, upland watercourses can sometimes provide an untreated water supply to isolated dwellings. As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, bathing may cause disturbance to some wading birds such as the common sandpiper. I cannot speak for the Government on the issue of the fear of nudity. All I can say is that I have reached the age where it is a spectator sport that I find most pleasant, rather than a participatory sport.
We do not see bathing as part of the statutory right. However, I can reassure the noble Earl once again that, where the landowner is in agreement and existing access rights are granted by the landowner, we do not expect that toleration to cease in future. Those in breach of restrictions under Schedule 2 to the Bill will lose that statutory right. But it is a matter for the landowner to decide whether or not to permit extensions of such permission. Nothing in the Bill makes a contravention of any restriction a criminal offence where there is agreement all round.
Turning to Amendment No. 114, we have provided in the Bill that anyone who leaves a gate open will be in breach of the restrictions, except where it is reasonable to assume that the gate should be left open. Again, I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, that it would be wiser and would impose less hassle on landowners and managers and be reasonably practicable, for users to follow the proposals in the Bill. It is easy to make clear when a gate should be left open and when it should be closed. A loop of bailer twine tying back the gate should make it perfectly obvious that the gate should be left open.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I am tempted to say that my attempts to include water sports have been sunk without trace; or at least suffered broadsides from both sides of the Chamber, which is better than some of my amendments achieved in the past.
I accept what the Government and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, say about the gates amendment. I am pleased to hear that bathing can still take place if the landowner agrees. As regards water sports, I was pleased to see that the Great Britain team won a gold medal for canoeing but I cannot see that access to rivers in England and Wales helped a great deal. We are asked to seek voluntary agreements for access and I understand that in England and Wales 2 per cent of canoeable water is available. Therefore, England and Wales do not strike me as being serious about canoeing, a sport at which we do well. I am unhappy about the view that canoeists and other small boaters are disruptive. It is possible to carry out the activities silently and not disrupt everything.
Legislation was promised but that promise has evaporated. That is true for England and Wales, and the Scottish Executive is having the same problem. However, the Minister made several positive comments which I did not fully understand. I shall attempt to do so when I read Hansard, when it is eventually published, and in the mean time beg leave to withdraw the amendment.