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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I look forward to seeing the government amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 226:

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we are dealing with the erection of signs and notices and the duty to consult owners. The amendment would require the countryside body to consult owners before putting up notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

This would parallel the requirement for consultation in relation to signs and waymarks placed on rights of way, provided for in Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968. The aim is to maintain good working relationships between those with an interest in land and the countryside bodies. Signs should be put up in places which are convenient for owners as well as for walkers.

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In Committee in another place, the Minister said that:

    "I do not consider it necessary to require authorities to consult those with an interest in the land before erecting notices. Access authorities will be able to ascertain the precise location of boundaries and restrictions applying on the land. However, I agree that authorities will usually want to discuss their proposals with landowners and, perhaps, other interested bodies such as local access forums and walkers' associations. Those with an interest in the land may well know which sites are used most. It would be in the interests of the authority and those involved with the land to liaise with each other to ensure that an adequate number of notices are erected in the right places. Indeed, authorities may often act in response to specific requests from landowners. It is unnecessary to provide for that in statute; again, it is more a matter of good practice. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will withdraw the amendment".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 2/5/00; col. 444.]

The Minister asserted that access authorities would liaise sufficiently. It remains to be seen whether this will happen in practice. Why are the Government set against this duty if the precedent already exists? Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968 places an obligation on a local authority to consult the owner or occupier when erecting signs on rights of way, for example, to indicate where footpaths leave metalled roads. It seems wrong and inequitable that consultation required where there is one type of statutory public access is considered unnecessary in relation to another statutory right of access.

It should be stressed that the requirement is for consultation only. The authority does not need to gain the consent of the owner as to the location of the sign. In practice, consultation on signs on rights of way is often important in avoiding problems caused to occupiers by poorly located signs. Examples include signs placed so as to block field gates and private vehicular access.

If the Government are still not disposed to include this provision in the Bill, firm assurances would be welcomed that the codes of practice being drafted by the countryside bodies for local authorities will contain guidelines, as suggested by the Minister himself. They should, first, discuss any proposals for signing with the necessary interests; secondly, liaise with occupiers as to the positioning of notices; and, thirdly, pay due attention to and deal fairly and responsibly with, any requests for signs from an occupier.

Earlier on we debated at considerable length the issue of signs. For that reason, I do not believe that I need to explain further this side of the argument.

Amendment No. 232 inserts at the end of Clause 19(3) the words:

    "(4) A notice under this section may only be erected or maintained on land with the permission of the owner of the land."

This amendment prevents access authorities from placing or keeping notices on private land without the consent of the owner. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Amendment No. 226 seeks to give a duty to access authorities to consult persons with an interest in the land before erecting

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notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

We have already indicated that we think that authorities will generally wish to consult landowners and others such as local access forums on their plans for erecting notices, as they will on a range of local access issues. However, I accept that it may be desirable to provide for this in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, told the Committee, under Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968, highway authorities must consult owners and occupiers of land before erecting signposts. We propose to follow that example. On that basis, we shall return to this issue with appropriate amendments.

The reason why I cannot accept Amendment No. 226 as it is drafted is that it requires consultation with,

    "persons interested in the land".

The Countryside Act 1968 refers to owners and occupiers. "Interest in the land" could include people with rights of commons, sporting rights or even the right to graze sheep or hang-glide on the land. We think that that would be going rather far.

I shall turn now to Amendment No. 232. This proposal would require access authorities to obtain the landowner's consent, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, rightly pointed out, was not the case with Amendment No. 226. The amendments are somewhat in conflict.

What would happen if permission were to be withheld? If we have agreed to consider giving the countryside bodies a duty to provide information about the new right of access, we could be considered perverse were we now to consider measures that would make it difficult for them to do that.

I hope that, with the assurances that I have given as regards Amendment No. 226, the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Before the Minister sits down, can he clarify for me whether people who have been granted a right of access under the Bill will then qualify as people who have an interest in the land?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not think that it matters, because the amendments I propose to bring forward would restrict themselves to addressing only owners and occupiers. For that reason, I believe that the answer to the noble Earl's question is no.

Lord Glentoran: Again, I have a smile on my face and I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. I look forward to seeing his amendments at the next stage of the Bill.

I understand completely the difficulties he would have had in accepting Amendment No. 226 and I shall wait to see the wording which will be brought forward by the Government to cover that situation.

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As regards Amendment No. 232, I am quite content with the Minister's response here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 227 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 228:

    Page 11, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) An access authority shall take such steps and carry out such work (including the erection and maintenance of fences, signs or notices) as appear to it requisite for protecting the public from any source of danger on access land or on adjoining land.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would place on the Government a duty to erect "fences, signs or notices" to protect the public from any source of danger on access land or adjoining land.

Where legislation dictates that unsafe areas should be made safe by the owner or occupier, it is obvious that that obligation should be carried out. However, where a new right suddenly imposes additional costs on an occupier because there has been no compulsion to make safe certain features, it is unreasonable to expect the occupier to incur such costs. We discussed this point to a certain extent on an earlier amendment.

The amendment would ensure that any expense incurred as a result of the need to protect the public from a source of danger above and beyond that which would be incurred in honouring statutory responsibilities would be borne by the public purse, not by the owners of the land affected. This issue arises with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, which relates to the duties imposed on the owners of abandoned or disused mine or quarry workings.

The Mines and Quarries Act 1954 requires all mines not used for a period of 12 months or more to have an efficient closure, barrier, plug or other device to prevent any person from accidentally falling in or entering the outlet. All such devices must be properly maintained. The provisions of the Act do not apply to mines unused since before 9th August 1872--I do not believe that many of us were around then!--where the minerals mined were not coal, ironstone, shale or clay. Some workings for minerals such as lead and tin used before 1872 could still be dangerous, but apparently would not be covered by the existing legislation. There are many such workings in some of our moorland areas.

Similarly, a quarry, working or otherwise, can be defined as a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if it does not have a properly maintained barrier to prevent persons from falling into it and if, by reason of its accessibility from a highway or a place of public resort, it constitutes a danger to members of the public. Will the owner of a disused quarry which is unfenced because it is not readily accessible, have to fence that quarry once this Bill has established a right of access to land around it?

These cases--where certain mines and quarries on potential access land are not covered by existing legislation which requires them to be fenced or

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otherwise protected to exclude the public--could give rise to additional costs to the owners and to increased risk to the public. One way of reducing this would be to exclude land containing such mines and quarries from the right of access at the outset by not mapping it as access land, as another amendment provides.

Another approach would be to require the local authorities to make safe any areas where the users may injure themselves. That is the approach taken in the amendment. There is a precedent for the authorities to fence dangerous land or to erect warning notices under Section 80(4) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. A similar provision is needed to provide safeguards in a situation where far more land will be open to the public under the current Bill.

As I said in our earlier discussions, we readily acknowledge that there will be many more people visiting our rural and remote areas. This is a worrying problem. I beg to move.

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