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Lord Williamson of Horton: At least I have come back refreshed after a weekend in the countryside. I should like to support the amendment. It is common ground that we need good information, not only about the new opportunities that are being opened up for walkers, which I support, but also about the management of the new arrangements, bearing in mind the interests of owners, tenants and other interests.
It is quite reasonable that within five years the access authorities should produce documents which set out conclusions on the adequacy of those arrangements. It is the spirit of the age that we continually have to
Furthermore, it would be useful for the public to see those documents because they cover matters of considerable interest to the public, including, for example, public transport arrangements and other matters not referred to elsewhere in the Bill. I believe that it would be sensible to include this provision in the Bill.
Lord Bridges: I have sympathy for and understanding of the purposes which lie behind the amendment. There is one matter which I should like clarified. That is the possibility of an undesirable overlap of responsibilities already exercised by the national parks and--under another part of the Bill--those relating to areas of outstanding natural beauty. I presume the intention is that the amendment refers to access land outside those two areas. It would be helpful if that could be clarified, possibly at a later stage, with a further amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I have some sympathy with the reasoning behind the amendment and with the point touched on by the Members of the Committee on the Conservative Benches that it is important that the public and landowners should know how the matter will be managed. However, I cannot support the amendment because I feel that it moves away from what local authorities have to do, which is produce community plans.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, touched on a local transport plan which would have to be tied in. The community plan would encompass the national park plans and the AONB plans. It would show how the access authorities' plans accorded with those plans. I should be very unhappy to see us adding yet another plan to the 40 statutory plans local authorities already have to produce. It would mean officers spending all their time writing plans--as the amendment says, preparing and publishing plans--and actually not doing very much, often those same officers who are supposed to be out in the countryside.
However, I would ask the Government to consider that the way an access authority's performance is measured in relation to the management of land--indeed in relation to Part II, to which we shall come--by the Audit Commission should be reviewed. I am happy for the Minister to respond at a later stage. At the moment the Audit Commission's performance indicators are very much geared to other statutory duties such as social services, education and so on. The matters covered in the Bill are new duties. These new duties will urgently need to be considered as areas equally worthy of being measured. Every authority is conscious of the fact that it needs to succeed in its performance indicator measurements. That area needs to be given sufficient weight by the Audit Commission. It would be more constructive than requiring authorities to produce yet another plan.
I know that there is reference in subsection (2)(a) to fire management. However, in a clause like this it is very important that the information should include the position of the nearest telephone. Not everyone on access land will have a mobile telephone. In the event of someone having a mobile telephone, it is very important to provide the information with regard to the number for the emergency services.
Presumably subsection (2)(a)--fire management--will include a telephone number for local fire services; for example, if someone is hurt. We discussed that last week when talking about the mountain rescue services. All these matters ought to be taken care of when producing and publishing a plan. Therefore, when people see a plan for a certain access area it should include at the first possible stage details with regard to all the emergency services so that people who read the plan before they go on the land will be able to take note of telephone numbers and the position of the nearest telephone. A good moment to start that kind of publicity would be at the time the plan is prepared and published.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The new clause in the amendment would place a duty on access authorities to publish "access land management strategies", setting out how they intend to manage access on land in their area, with specific reference to a number of matters. I do not deny that access authorities will play an important role in the implementation of the new statutory right. They will have powers to make by-laws, to appoint wardens and to secure and maintain means of access. But they will not have statutory involvement in a number of other matters mentioned in the amendment, such as, for example, fire management, provisions for closures and restrictions and the mapping of access land. All of these are the responsibility of the relevant authorities--the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the national parks authorities rather than the local access authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, made that point. We expect them to contribute to the consultation process, but that is not their responsibility.
We share the view that access authorities will have a key role in helping to ensure that access is properly managed so that users know where they may exercise their right and what their rights actually are. That is why we have given them the various powers to make by-laws where they are made aware of particular activities which may cause problems; to appoint wardens over access land to ensure that users are aware of their rights and enforce the restrictions on the land
Surely these powers are best exercised in response to individual situations and needs rather than through a statutory plan. For example, it may not be possible for an access authority to determine in advance where a means of access is likely to be needed. It will need to find out where the public are most likely to wish to go, the level of use and how they wish to get there. I suggest that that argument applies in particular to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. I do not think that we would wish emergency telephones to be set up according to some bureaucratic statutory plan, rather than according to the way that we propose it in the Bill, which is, as necessary. One cannot determine these matters in advance. They need to be targeted according to what actually happens on the ground. The same applies to by-laws and to the appointment of wardens.
We do not believe that it would be a good use of public money to require authorities to prepare access land management strategies. It is true, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, that under Part II of the Bill local highway authorities are under a duty to provide rights of way improvement plans. That is because, unlike in Part I, local highway authorities have wider-ranging responsibilities in relation to rights of way. They are not shared with the countryside bodies in the same way as responsibilities under Part I.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made a telling point when she referred to the number of plans and strategies which local authorities are already required to draw up. My list has 37 statutory duties. The noble Baroness's list has 40. I should be glad to know what her extra three are. Examples are the best value regime, air quality management plans, waste recycling plans, community care plans, health improvement programmes, pipeline safety plans, and so on. I am not suggesting that these duties are unnecessary, but we should think carefully before imposing further duties on local authorities, particularly ones which do not offer value for money.
We simply do not believe that it is necessary to place such a duty on access authorities. I agree that authorities will need to assess the access available in their area and ensure that they are making the best use of the powers in the Bill. But that is no more than we would expect of any local authority, all of which have a range of discretionary powers which they must exercise as they see appropriate. In this connection I respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the remit of the Audit Commission and reviews carried out by the Audit Commission. We are looking positively at that point.
We must bear in mind that the new right will be a limited one--primarily for walking. The activities which the Bill will enable will not have a significant impact on the countryside. It would not be appropriate for local authorities to have to draw up detailed plans and assessments of such a limited right. We have given the authorities powers to manage the new right and we
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