|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Whitty: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 would require the countryside bodies to set clear definitions of moor, heath and down. Some comments implied that those definitions should appear in the Bill, which would not be practicable or sensible.
The amendment's aim of ensuring sensible definition criteria for identifying moor, heath and down is sound. The Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales are engaged in drafting such material. The National Countryside Access Forum, which includes landowning and user groups, has already discussed the agency's paper setting out draft criteria--a copy of which is in the Library. The agency needs to consult more widely before reaching a firm and final view.
The requirement on the Countryside Agency will be to identify and map downland, for example--then as a separate exercise, to consider what is excepted because of its use or the other qualifications in the Bill. Much of the discussion has confused those two processes. Clarity of definition will not necessarily
We do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to set rigid definitions in the legislation. We need to leave the access agencies some flexibility in carrying out their tasks. The precise parameters for moor, heath and down require careful consideration. The current proposals relating to England--I believe that a similar process will be observed in Wales--will need to be reviewed in light of the pilot mapping exercises by the Countryside Agency. The Bill already requires the countryside bodies to determine whether land is open country by reference to various categories.
The mapping process, accompanied by extensive consultation and a right of appeal for those interested in the land, provides sufficient safeguards for ensuring that work is done in a sensible, consistent and equitable way. The amendment would constrain that exercise and is not useful, despite our shared objective of achieving clarity.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will clarify the following point. If definitions are to be delayed and the Countryside Agency will decide them, does the same apply to many of the other matters? We may be passing a Bill when we do not know what will happen at the end because definitions will not have been made.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, those matters would not be defined if we accepted the amendment, because the noble Earl is only asking for a requirement that the agencies define moor, heath and down. The criteria are in the consultative paper to which I have referred but neither the Bill nor the amendment places the definitions on the face of the legislation. Such a requirement might constrain the way in which the countryside agencies undertake their work of mapping. Definitions would not resolve problems such as those affecting hayland and haylage--which relate more to exclusions.
From the debate and the noble Baroness's last intervention, it seems that people are looking for more than the amendment would deliver. The process in which the countryside agencies are engaged will produce a degree of clarity, but it is not sensible to define how to achieve it. I hope that the noble Earl will not pursue his amendment.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, will the Minister answer my point that if it is not for the Countryside Agency to define "downland", under what power in the Bill will the agency do as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said and exclude improved grassland?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Viscount is confusing two separate processes. The identification of downland will be based on the criteria in the agency's draft paper and be subject to the results of consultation. Then there is the process of determining whether certain activities or the nature of what would
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I agree with the Minister that it would be totally wrong to seek a definition on the face of the Bill. I take his point that there are two distinct processes for the Countryside Agency--identifying and mapping the land, then considering exceptions from the general provision. However, unless there are clear definitions, how will the land be identified and mapped in the first place? There is nothing on the face of the Bill to say that that work must be done by one body or that it has been done. If what the Minister says is correct--I have no reason to doubt it as I have seen the effect of what he said--surely that should go on the face of the Bill. It will lead to greater clarity for all who will suffer under or receive the benefit of this Bill.
However, I am concerned about one point made by the Minister. He said that we must not be too clear in our definitions because the Countryside Agency must have flexibility to do this or that or to change its mind. We must bear in mind that, on 9th October 2000 at col. 25 of Hansard, the Minister said that there will be no compensation paid to landowners and occupiers because everyone will be treated equally. The words now used by the Minister put that statement in doubt. If there is to be flexibility, some people may be treated differently from others.
For that reason it is important to have a clear definition. I agree that it should not be on the face of the Bill. However, I believe that it should be clear on the face of the Bill that there is an instruction to one body to make clear definitions for the whole country. Therefore I intend to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|