Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: Clause 4 imposes a duty on the countryside bodies to produce maps of open country and registered common land. These maps will provide the certainty that is required about what should be grouped under the definitions for the purposes of Part I. For that reason, safeguards have been built

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1436

into Chapter I which provides for landowners and others to be consulted on draft maps and to appeal against provisional maps.

I believe that the noble Lord seeks to ensure that the Countryside Agency will work closely with English Nature. I have no doubt that that will happen. Furthermore, I am confident that English Nature and, indeed, other bodies will help to ensure that accurate and up-to-date maps of open countryside are produced.

What lies behind the noble Lord's amendment may be a slightly more complicated matter. That is because the issue of conservation is not of itself relevant to the identification of the land. Land identification may well be helped by English Nature, which should be able to supply information on the qualities of the particular land, such as vegetation and cover, which will assist the Countryside Agency in classifying the land as mountain, moor, heath and so forth.

However, at that point it would not be conservation issues that would be taken into account. English Nature will need to engage in a separate process under Clause 24 in establishing the conservation dimensions. The mapping itself concerns the nature of the landscape rather than conservation issues. Nevertheless, it is important that the Countryside Agency should engage in consultations with English Nature. That will be done and it will form an essential part of the mapping process. For that reason, I do not believe that it requires an amendment to be put on to the face of the Bill.

We have therefore met the noble Lord's point, but I should sound a note of caution in order that he understands exactly what I am saying.

Lord Kimball: I believe that it is important that farmers and land managers should have a real voice during the early stages and development of the production of the maps. At present I have an awful feeling that we shall see a report from English Nature and its Welsh equivalent which overrides the powers of the people who have to manage the land.

I should be most grateful if the Minister could give the Committee an absolute assurance that farmers and land managers will be given a voice in the process to be put in place to produce accurate maps.

Lord Whitty: English Nature will not be producing the maps, although it may well be one of the consultees, as required by the terms of the amendment. The Countryside Agency in England will produce the maps. That agency is required to consult landowners about the draft maps. Furthermore, landowners have the right of appeal against those draft maps. Their interests have been considered and carefully built into the process.

Lord Glentoran: I understand the thrust of the Minister's argument. However, we should consider the two agencies; namely, the Countryside Agency and the Nature Conservancy Council for England, and project forward into the future. The

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1437

Countryside Agency has a role in promoting access and recreation for the people and so forth, whereas the Nature Conservancy Council for England has an equally clear remit to look after our precious wildlife sites and our flora and fauna.

Depending on the personalities involved--obviously I shall exclude all present personalities--I can foresee a time when there might be a temptation to lead these two agencies in different directions. I can see in that a serious danger. I do not think it would make much difference to the face of the Bill at this stage, but some years down the road--maybe five years, maybe 10--with different governments, different people, we may be very glad that the requirement for the two organisations to consult one another on mapping is on the face of the Bill. I do not think that mapping will be a one off; if the process is successful it will continue for many years. One hopes that more land will become available for access, that things will change and the process will go on.

I can see some dangers--I may be overstating them--in not having the amendment on the face of the Bill. I can see many advantages in having it. Perhaps the Minister will give the matter some thought before Report stage and look into the future a bit more. Perhaps he will look at the way in which these two organisations may go in different directions under different governments and consider what we may lose as a result. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 156:

Page 3, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) Before determining whether land is open country the appropriate countryside body shall consult the local access forum.").

The noble Baroness said: I can be very brief in moving this group of amendments because the Minister said on the first day of Committee that the Government would be looking at the whole issue of local access forums.

The first three amendments of this group deal with the start and preparation of the draft maps. The local access forums will play an important role in building consensus around the difficult area of whether land falls into a certain category, especially around the margins. We have debated at great length whether it will be easy to decide some of those difficult issues. Having local access forums should reduce the number of appeals and make the process quicker and easier, and certainly one that local people are signed up to.

The other amendments in the group seek to build in local access forums throughout the process, including the provision that forums should be consulted before by-laws are made, on closures generally, and particularly on MoD closures. I should be grateful if

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1438

the Minister would indicate which of these he feels less keen on at this stage, or whether he will generally take them all away and think about them. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I presume that the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, refer to all the amendments in this group.

When we debated the issue of local access forums, we were very grateful to the Minister for being willing to go away, think about it and come back with some kind of amendment on Report. I think I raised at that stage, if not at Second Reading, my concern that in many areas local access forums will not be established--yet here we are, already into the process of mapping. If access forums are not established, obviously they will not have an input into what is happening. That is a matter of concern to me.

I also asked the Minister at one of the earlier stages--I suspect that my question got lost in the midst of everything that was happening--what progress had been made on mapping from Second Reading until today. I hope that when the Minister responds he will update us in regard to how far the process has progressed. We know it went out to tender in July, but we do not know how much further along the line it is. If it has gone a little way further down the line and these local access forums may not be set up for some time, obviously the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, will not apply. I hope that the Minister will respond to the points I raised earlier and clarify them for us now.

Lord Whitty: I can respond to that point immediately. I thought that I had indicated this, but perhaps I did not. We tendered in July for the pilot efforts. The contracts will be awarded very soon and we expect a feedback early next year. The full mapping process would be informed by the experience of the pilot efforts.

As the result of an amendment being accepted on the first day of this Committee stage, a responsibility is established in terms of local access forums. They would be established in parallel with mapping technology being developed but would be in being in time for the main stages of the mapping process. Therefore, it would be appropriate for them to be involved in commenting on the draft map.

The first group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 156, 158 and 168, deal with that process. It is important to recognise that there are others who must be consulted in addition to the local access forum. However, I am persuaded that there is a good basis for those amendments and that there is a case for requiring the countryside bodies to consult local access forums at the same time as inviting comments on draft maps from the other people who will have to be specified, landowners in particular. We shall bring forward amendments to meet the point of the first batch of amendments.

Baroness Byford: The Minister is right. We did discuss the pilot projects. But those are going ahead and the local access forums are not set up, even in the

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1439

pilot project areas. I was coming to that point. Will the Minister clarify when the pilot projects will finish and when the access forums are likely to be set up, or whether he envisages that the pilot projects--four, I believe--will actually happen before any access forum will be set up. That was the point that was not clarified previously and which I am attempting to clarify now.

Lord Whitty: It is unlikely that the access forums will be established by the time the pilot projects are completed. The pilot projects, however, feed in to the mapping proper process and the local access forums will be established during the early stages of that process. Then, if we adopt the approach in the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, of which I have, broadly speaking, accepted the first three, at the draft process the mapping authorities will be required to consult with the local access forum. That is where the feed-in would come.

I have just received a slight correction to my previous estimate. There was a slight delay in the tendering process due to a requirement to re-advertise in the European Journal, of which I was not aware until this point. The process is slightly delayed but we still expect the pilot projects to begin in the autumn and to conclude in nine to 12 months' time. That puts back slightly the date that I gave earlier. Nevertheless, the same will apply. It will take some time for local access forums to be established. I do not expect many to be established in 12 months; however, it is hoped that they will be in place shortly after that.

The next batch of amendments consists of Amendments Nos. 185, 186 and 187 and deals with the next stage in the process. They would require local access forums to be consulted on statutory maps after the appeals process has been completed. We are not enamoured of that position because it would reopen a process that ought to have been concluded and would, in effect, give local access forums a veto over a process involving other people with appellate rights. Notionally, the process could continue for ever. Therefore, we are not attracted by that group of amendments.

Amendment No. 218, which deals with consultation on the making of by-laws, is something that we would wish to consider further and about which we feel quite positive. That also applies to Amendment No. 257, which would provide for consultation with local access forums on land management closures and restrictions. However, I do not believe that every application for a day's restriction would be appropriate, but it seems sensible to give forums a role in respect of closures that have long-term effects.

We would not, however, go along with Amendment No. 279, which would effectively make access forums statutory consultees on closures in the interests of national security and defence. We have to draw the line there. I hope that my response has given the noble Baroness an indication as to which of her amendments we favour and which we do not. I hope that she will agree that we can return to such issues on Report.

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1440

3.30 a.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for his reply. There were no great surprises there as regards which of the amendments are acceptable to him. However, I am especially pleased about the ones involving the mapping process and the preparation of its draft form. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important for the access forums to be in place before any such work is completed. But there are bodies in many areas that are more or less access forums. They will be easily adapted to fit in with the spirit behind these amendments.

As regards the unacceptable amendments, we shall consider what to do about such issues when we debate Amendment No. 176, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page