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As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, there are two broad areas where there are rights given to one side but no rights given to recreational users of open country. One is as regards the provisional map. It should be remembered that provisional maps in some cases may turn out to be quite different from the draft maps on which they are based. There may be substantial changes between the draft map and the provisional map stage, and it is only fair that people should have that, and if they do not the problem is that if they do not there will be a substantial sense of injustice. We would join the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in hoping that the Government will find a way of providing an effective right of appeal at this stage which does not lead to considerable delays. We are certain it can be done; it is just a question of the will.
The second is in regard to closures and restrictions, where the potential for a great deal of aggravation on the part of users is greater because these will be closures and restrictions in all cases on land which has been mapped as access land and in many cases they will be restrictions which take place after access has been granted, certainly as time goes on. It is crucial that mechanisms are found for the organisations representing users, and, indeed, individual users, to make proper and adequate representations for this to be done in a transparent way and for justice to be seen to be done so that people understand what decisions have been made and why the restrictions are there. If that is understood, the likelihood is that people will adhere to the restrictions and closures which take place.
There was discussion about this matter in another place and at Second Reading in this House, and there was talk of the human rights legislation and the new Human Rights Act and the European Court and so on. Ministers seemed to be getting close to saying that, because the legislation gives proper rights to people with a legal interest in land, it denies those rights to other people. Surely that cannot be right. Just because legislation grants people rights, it surely does not mean that other people cannot have those rights, or at least cannot have adequate and commensurate rights which, among other things, would enable the legislation to work more smoothly.
We fully support the principles behind these amendments and ask the Government to go away and think seriously about what can be done about this and come back at Report stage with sensible amendments that we can all support.
Another related question, which is probably more a matter of regulation than primary legislation, is the conduct of inquiries into appeals against provisional maps and whether or not third parties will have the right of representation at them. The provisional maps will be issued and undoubtedly in many cases people with an interest in this matter--landowners and others--will appeal against the allocation of access land. As the Bill now stands, those appeals may be conducted by way of written representations, informal hearings or formal inquiries. That is very similar to development control appeals.
In another place there was debate as to what rights third parties would have at those appeals. At that time the Minister appeared to resist the idea that third parties would be able to make representations in writing or at informal hearings, or to represent themselves or be represented at inquiries. That is contrary to what happens at development control appeals, where it is quite usual for third parties to make representations. Often the views of third parties who object to planning applications in the first place are supported by the local authority which has refused permission. When the appeal takes place, in whatever form, those third parties are able to make representations again to the inspector.
As an absolute minimum, if there are appeals by landowners and other interests against the inclusion of access land, at that stage third parties should have the same rights to make representations as those involved in planning appeals. I see no reason why the same rules and regulations cannot apply. I believe that that is a matter for regulation rather than a provision in the Bill. Is the Minister able to give a commitment that the Government will do that? If the noble Lord has not thought about it will he do so and come back to the Committee, or perhaps write to noble Lords?
Lord Marlesford: I have considerable doubts about these amendments. Having read what was said earlier in the other place, I can understand why the Government are hesitant in this matter. We are talking about trying to give access within a reasonable time. As we have discussed this evening, inevitably it will take a long time anyway. This proposal will cause considerable delay. It is also based on a somewhat fallacious assumption. All the proposals provide for appeals against people having rights of privacy to their land being taken away from them. Quite apart from the whole human rights dimension, which my noble friend Lord Brittan so ably raised last week, there must be proper provision for a full appeal by those who believe that their rights are being unreasonably taken from them. However, I believe that that is a completely different concept from the public saying that they want more rights over a particular matter. That is much closer to the public lobbying Parliament, which has occurred over many years--this Bill is the result of such lobbying--for new legislation and rights.
But the example of planning is not a good one. Many of us would like to see better provision for appeals against planning consents. When I was chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, I very often believed that consents for planning applications should not have been given. As Members of the Committee will know, one of the only ways in which one could pre-empt that was by having things called in, and so on. There were always great difficulties in going down that route.
With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I do not think that the right of people--their rights are being taken away--to appeal against those rights being taken away is the same as the right of people who want more rights over other people's property. I do not think it is the same thing. That is why I do not think
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hate to say it in party political terms, but what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has just said finds some place in the arguments that I will put before the Committee. We have to look at the relative status of rights of appeal and rights to be consulted. My noble friend Lord Judd, in seeking--I understand and sympathise with this--a balance between the rights of the users and the rights of landowners, went too far in suggesting that there is no opportunity for users to be heard or consulted in the proposals that we are making. Indeed, there would be risks from the users' point of view in having a right of appeal of the kind that is proposed in the amendments.
I will consider first the amendments relating to appeals on mapping. Let us look at the practicalities of that. Giving the public in general a right of appeal could well result in delays in the maps being produced and the right coming into force. I would expect responsible organisations and responsible individual users to use the right sparingly and only to use the right of appeal in a case of real doubt. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, in order to delay matters a quarrelsome or vexatious neighbour could put in an appeal just to ensure that there was a delay in the right of access coming into force. There is a danger that the sheer number of such cases would add to the number of appeals that have to be considered before the right of access can come into force. It is important that the mapping process is carried out thoroughly and properly. It is also important--I do not know whether I am addressing the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, or the noble Baroness, Lady Byford--that the implementation of the right of access is not unduly delayed.
The practicalities are only one part of the argument. My noble friend Lord Judd argued that those who might enjoy the right of access need to be able to defend that right just as much as landowners need to be able to defend their rights. But at the mapping stage the public does not have a right of access. What is being discussed is the proposal to add to public rights. It is the landowners and others who have an interest in the land who have a right of appeal under the Bill; that is, those whose existing rights are being affected. However, we argue that they are being affected for a good reason and to a minimal extent. The fact that the land is not included in the map at the time the appeal is considered will not represent a loss to the public, only a lesser gain. Landlords have a current interest in the
So how are users' interests to be represented in the mapping process? The responsibility of the countryside bodies in drawing up the maps is to approach the process objectively in accordance with the statute and the criteria which are being developed and to balance the interests of landowners and potential users of the right. Users will have an important role in the mapping process. The countryside bodies are required to issue the maps in draft form and consider any representations received. So a full public consultation will take place on the draft maps.
I turn now to the amendments concerning a right of appeal for potential users against directions made by the relevant authorities on closures or restrictions. We have provided a right of appeal for those with an interest in the land where they have made an application for a direction excluding or restricting access under Clauses 22 or 23--for land management purposes and for the avoidance of risk of fire or danger to the public--where the application has been refused or conditions attached with which the applicant is not happy. Where directions under those clauses are varied or revoked, and a person with an interest in the land has made representations upon being consulted, he will again have a right of appeal.
We have limited the right of appeal to those with an interest in the land for a number of reasons. As with mapping, such people will be the most affected by any decision regarding a closure or restriction. We believe that, in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, they should have a right of appeal. Although the decision will have some impact on those intending to exercise the right of access to the land, they will not be affected to the same degree by a direction. As I said in relation to mapping, giving a right of appeal to the public would be likely to lead to excessive bureaucracy and lengthy delays. It is important that appeals should not be time-consuming so that a decision may be achieved in sufficient time for the purpose for which it is intended.
That said, we do want the public to be involved in the process; for example, by being able to make representations about long-term directions. Wherever possible, details of applications for restrictions will be made available to the public by the relevant authority, perhaps using the proposed Internet-based access database. We expect that local access forums will have a role to play, particularly in considering applications for long-term exclusions and restrictions, and they will be well placed to provide a balanced view at a local level.
We are aware of concerns that, without a right of appeal for the public, restrictions might be imposed without an obvious need for them. The countryside bodies will be consulting widely on the criteria for directions in order to ensure that the process commands public acceptance. The National Countryside Access Forum has already seen the draft
We believe that this consultation will result in criteria for assessing applications for directions which will be seen by all parties as robust, fair and justified. We believe that the Bill provides a framework for a system of closures and restrictions which will be widely acceptable to both landowners and managers and the public. The arrangements will protect users' interests fully and fairly without the risk of delay that the amendments, with their formal right of appeal, would give rise to. I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
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