Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bledisloe: I share the view of the noble Baroness that this is an important provision and topic. I venture to suggest that she is wrong to say that it is correct for Section 18 to say "may" appoint. I support the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which is grouped with this amendment; I hope that he will speak to it in a moment. It changes "may" to "shall".

The noble Baroness is right that it shall be for the authority to decide how many wardens are needed. But if "may" remains in the provision, perhaps I may explain to her that if the local authority decides that it needs four wardens, it does not have then to appoint them. The discretion should be to decide what is needed. If there is only a tiny area of access land in one's area one may not need a warden. Having decided that, there should be the obligation to appoint them. Unless there is an obligation on the local authority to supply them, her amendment does not achieve what it intends. The noble Baroness wants funds to enable local authorities to comply with this section. If they have a discretion as to whether to appoint a warden, no funds are needed to comply with the section. It is only if they have to appoint wardens that funds are needed to enable them to comply. Having done a little lawyerly nit-picking, subject to that point the noble Baroness's amendment is not only important but also vital.

Without wardens, the Bill will be a farce and a con on those whose land is subject to the new access right. It is full of things that walkers should not do, but if there is no one there to see that they do not do them, they will happen and the poor landowner will have to put up with it. Unless the Government can assure us that wardens will be in place and, taking up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, will continue to be in place for longer than just the initial period, the Bill is doomed to cause trouble and to be deeply unfair to landowners.

It is wholly right that the necessary funding should come from central sources. The areas we are talking about--the Lake District and, to make sure that I do not offend the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, Snowdonia--are in relatively poor rural areas. Rights are being given so that the urban or semi-urban dweller may spill out of his city and walk over the land. The costs of that should be funded nationally, not by the local authorities that happen to have the pleasure of having Snowdonia, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales in their area. They probably do not have the funds to take all the measures that are needed to control the urban dweller when he comes out. Going back to my point about the noble Lord, Lord Greaves,

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1713

it is the urban dweller wandering around in his plimsolls and jeans, not the well equipped noble Lord, with his proper walking shoes on, who will cause trouble and need assistance. I strongly support the amendment and Amendment No. 222 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

5 p.m.

Lord Greaves: Does the noble Viscount accept that, except in major honeypot areas such as the Peak District, the majority of people who walk in a given area of countryside are relatively local, many of them living in the countryside themselves? I cannot say whether they always wear plimsolls or sandals.

Viscount Bledisloe: That may be so at the moment, but surely the point of the Bill is to give rights and encouragement to a whole lot of other people to whom that does not apply.

Lord Bridges: I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, funding is very important. That applies not just to wardens, but to a range of activities covered by the Bill. If we are to be convinced that the Bill will work, it would be helpful to have some reassurance about the Government's intentions. For example, local authorities already have responsibilities for footpaths, which we will deal with later in the Bill, but they often do not act on them because they are inadequately funded. I take note of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, about ring-fencing or earmarking funds, presumably in the rate support grant. These issues are fundamental to the success of the Bill.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said that this was one of her most important amendments in this part of the Bill. It is certainly a very important subject. I, too, have seen the letter from the Local Government Association, which hired a consultancy group-- I believe that it is called ENTEC--whose figures differ considerably from the estimates provided by the Government. The LGA rightly points out that authorities have not done a great deal about their responsibilities for footpaths because they do not have adequate resources. Like many of us, the LGA fears that authorities will not be provided with adequate resources for the purpose specified in Clause 18.

The appointment of wardens will be at the discretion of local authorities, but they will be key to the implementation of the Bill and ensuring that by-laws are respected. When I moved an amendment at our last sitting that would have required those taking advantage of night access on the hills to give prior notification to the access authority, I imagined them telling a local warden on behalf of the authority. They would know the area where the night walker or climber intended to go and would probably be able to give guidance.

Earl Peel: Is the noble Lord suggesting that the warden should be on night duty as well as day duty?

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1714

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I certainly suggest that. We have agreed to the Government's proposal for night access, so surely the access authority must take some responsibility for what happens on the land during the day and the night. It cannot avoid the responsibility of knowing who is on its access land day and night.

I acknowledge the importance of wardens to the access authority, but we do not want too much multiplication of appointments. We want an adequate supply of wardens, but not a glut of them. Many local authorities with access land will be on the borders of national parks. They may wish the parks to take certain responsibilities from them for access land. I anticipate that in my area of north Wales, Snowdonia National Park will exercise substantial responsibilities on behalf of the bordering local authorities, even to the extent of securing warden services for them.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: From my background in managing nature reserves over the past 10 years--in some cases very extensive nature reserves that will have extended access provisions under the Bill--I should like to put a little caution into some of the statements that have been made.

The successful implementation of Part I will depend on adequate management of access and proper dissemination of information. Wardens will have a role to play in many areas. In some circumstances, it will be difficult to police the access conditions without wardening arrangements. However, in many other areas wardening will not be required. Much will depend on the pressure of access, the nature of the land and the conditions that are laid on by by-laws or by restrictions under Part II. Therefore, if we are to use money cost-effectively in this area, I believe that we need to be realistic about where and when wardening will be appropriate.

I turn to another cautionary point. Governments of all complexions have an unhappy knack of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It would be unfortunate if budgets in the same department for the countryside and conservation agencies--budgets intended for the improvement of the conservation status and management of those areas--were to be raided disproportionately in order to enhance considerably the funds available to local government for wardens. It is not an unknown phenomenon which governments provoke from time to time. I believe that it would be unfortunate if, in extending access to those wonderful areas, we were inadvertently to precipitate a situation whereby the conservation status of those areas suffered due to lack of funds.

Earl Peel: Before the noble Baroness sits down, does she accept that, when one is dealing with a national nature reserve, one is dealing with a different land type from the ones that we are discussing in this Bill? Generally speaking, people who enter national nature reserves do so from fairly fixed areas where it is

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1715

possible to put up signs and do all the things that we believe this Bill is so short of. At the same time, one can manage the access in a much more restrictive and effective way, if one so wishes. Therefore, I note what the noble Baroness says, but I believe that it is a little disingenuous of her to compare a national nature reserve with the type of land that we are talking about under the Bill.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I may clarify the matter for the benefit of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Some national nature reserves are, indeed, quite restricted in size, and access is available only through a small number of points. However, I am not speaking simply from a background of management of national nature reserves. I am also talking about the extensive management of large-scale nature reserves in the voluntary sector where the type of scale that we are talking about in relation to upland and moorland areas is replicated. They do not have a single point of access. They are very lightly wardened because the voluntary sector is of course, as the Committee knows, excessively poor.

Generally speaking, the problems experienced are not substantial. Therefore, my point is that we must be realistic in differentiating between areas where wardening will definitely be required and will be essential and other areas where, I suspect, the type of light supervisory arrangements that exist in many extensive reserves in the voluntary sector is satisfactory.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page