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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Our amendment, Amendment No. 130, should be grouped with this amendment. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, although I notice that, technically, we would allow one day fewer.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 132 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 133 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Lord Burnham moved Amendment No. 135:

Page 50, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) Any person who fails to comply with sub-paragraph (1) above, and who allows a dog--
(a) to worry species listed in Schedule 1 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, or
(b) to worry game,
shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
( ) In this paragraph, "worry" means to attack species listed in Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act, or game, or to chase species listed in that Schedule, or game, in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 135 stands in the name of my noble friend Lady Byford. It is grouped with Amendment No. 140, which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel. Furthermore, it should be possible to group it with Amendments Nos. 307, 308 and 309. I am in favour of doing that because those are the final amendments on the list and it may be better to address them at this point.

When he spoke to Amendment No. 108, I believe that the Minister gave an assurance that he would look again at these amendments, thus making us reasonably happy in the short term. Amendment No. 135 specifically addresses what should happen when dogs disturb wildlife or game. If these restrictions are breached, as the Bill is presently drafted, the only sanction that can be imposed is that the person in charge of the dog should lose his right of access for the remainder of the day. That is altogether inadequate to address the problem. Indeed, we have already discussed the fact that difficulties arise in attempting to enforce even the existing restrictions on dog owners.

The amendment aims to reinforce the provisions designed to protect game and other wildlife in the same way as was achieved for livestock through the Dogs

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(Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. Everyone knows that it is an offence for owners to allow their dogs to worry livestock. It should be an equal offence if an owner fails to keep a dog on a lead during the relevant period of the year. If we make such activity an offence, it will help to reinforce the requirements made of dog owners to ensure that, when walking on access land, dogs are kept on leads during the most sensitive seasons. That should help to avoid damage to the two vital interests with which we have to deal.

My noble friend Lord Peel is not in his place. His amendment, Amendment No. 140, covers very much the same points, whereby where restrictions on dogs are in place, a person who fails to comply is guilty of committing an offence and would thus be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1. Amendments Nos. 307, 308 and 309 largely cover the same points in greater detail. I do not feel that it is necessary to examine them any more closely because the Minister has assured the Committee that he will look at the situation as regards nesting birds, although the situation as regards livestock and game is even more serious. Having said that, I should point out that the best way to stop a dog from chasing sheep is to leave it in an open field with a number of rams. The dog will never chase sheep again.

Nevertheless, I feel that it is worth while to move the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I should have thought it might be better to delay discussion on this whole area until the Government return on Report with their amendments. In passing, I should point out that livestock is largely protected by existing law. Furthermore, at least some of the provisions in relation to birds will be brought into effect once the enhanced criminal offences listed under "disturbance" in Chapter III of the Bill are brought into effect. Those provisions would cover disturbance by dogs.

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to agree that we should return to this matter when we reach the Report stage.

Lord Burnham: I thank the Minister for his response. For the moment, that is quite satisfactory. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 136 to 140 not moved.]

2 a.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 141:

Page 50, line 25, leave out ("relevant") and insert ("access").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 141, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 145 and 147. At the moment the Bill refers to "the relevant authority"; in each amendment we suggest that the Government should consider changing that to "the access authority".

The amendments seek to transfer the power to exclude restrictions outside national parks from the Countryside Agency and the Countryside

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Commission for Wales to elected local authorities. In the national parks the power is exercisable by the national park authorities, which are trusted to exercise these powers. The majority of their members are drawn from local authorities. In our view, local authorities should be trusted with the power in the rest of the country.

Ministers have emphasised the need for local discretion in the access regime. The full transference of this power to local level is part of a workable local system. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Given my background, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will be willing to acknowledge that I am the first to defend the rights of local authorities--even down so far as parish councils--but I do not think that it is appropriate to do so in this case.

As the noble Baroness rightly said, the Bill states that, subject to the consent of the owner, the relevant authority--that is, the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales, national park authorities or the Forestry Commission--can make a direction excluding the application of one or more of the restrictions listed in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2, which we have been debating for the past three or four hours.

I stress that it is only with the consent of the owner that a wider range of activities can take place under the new right. For example, the owner might agree to a direction lifting the restriction on camping. A direction of that kind could lift the restriction indefinitely or for a specified period.

The amendments propose that the direction should be made by the access authority--that is, the local highway authority--instead of by the countryside body. We have provided in Chapter II that the countryside bodies are able to direct exclusions or restrictions of access; for example, for land management or conservation reasons. We believe that in considering whether such directions should be made, the countryside bodies will be best able to balance the interests of landowners, conservation and the public.

The argument works in both directions. If we are talking about the relaxation of restrictions under Schedule 2, the countryside bodies rather than the local highway authority will be better placed to handle it. This is all in the context of the owner having given his consent.

When we are considering whether a restriction should be removed or relaxed, it is less likely that there will be objections to which the countryside bodies will need to have regard. Even so, there could be objections from, for example, conservation bodies, and different user groups may have different views on the balance of advantage in a particular case. It would be strange if different bodies were to be responsible for issuing directions depending on whether they were under Chapter II or paragraph 6.

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1421

The relevant authorities, including the countryside bodies, will develop experience in the making of directions in relation to access land and in weighing up the competing interests. It makes sense for them to deal with both types of directions. They will, of course, have regard to the views of local people, including the local access forums, on the management of access in their area.

I hope that the noble Baroness agrees that the reasoning behind our decisions in drafting paragraph 6 is sound and that she will not press these amendments.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his explanation. First, however, it is not exactly clear to me how the role and definition of the relevant authority's responsibility compares with my suggestion of the access authorities. Where is the defining line between the two?

Secondly, we have talked about the local access forums. The Government have indicated that they intend to introduce amendments to establish these. However, I think the Minister will accept that in many areas a local access forum may not be set up, so it is important that local people have a direct input. My slight worry is that they may not. Before I go any further, I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify how he sees the role of the one and of the other not overlapping.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am happy to respond to that point. The key to what I was saying--I am sorry if I did not say it clearly enough--is that it is the countryside bodies, under Chapter II, which have the responsibility of directing exclusions or restrictions on access. These amendments are concerned with lifting restrictions on access, with the consent of the landowner. It seems common sense--a balance--to have the same people responsible for imposing restrictions or exclusions as those who are responsible for lifting them with the consent of the owner.

As to local access forums, we shall have to see what amendments are brought forward and the network of local access forums. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, acknowledged, there are local authority representatives on national parks authorities in particular. I cannot imagine that the relevant bodies--that is, the countryside authorities--will fail to have regard to the views of local people.

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