Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, in relation to Amendment No. 138. The second part of his amendment contains a great deal of good sense. I emphasise the need for comprehensive information once areas of access come on stream, particularly in relation to restrictions and the closure of land at certain times. It is vital that such information is easily available to anyone who wants it. As part of the amendment suggests, the obvious way to do that nowadays is via the Internet. As to that, there is a great deal of experience. I do not apologise for again drawing on the experience of the British Mountaineering Council. If one wants to climb on any

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1460

open crag in the British Isles one can discover what restrictions are in force, whether they relate to birds or access, or obtain information about how to reach it, where to park and so on, on the appropriate website. Not only do an increasing number of people have access to the Internet, but it is a very good way to provide details at local information points which many people will visit. It is crucial that that information is available nationally and is comprehensive and up to date. Having said that, I do not believe that that needs to be on the face of the Bill. It will be helpful if the Minister indicates whether he is thinking along those lines.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 104. I was one of those who in the earlier stages of the Bill pressed the case for the availability of information as an essential element to ensure that when enacted the legislation could be implemented in good spirit and without contention. I am pleased that we have a new clause which builds codes of conduct into the Bill. I am also pleased with the wording of the clause which refers, in particular, to the public being,

    "informed of the situation and extent of, and means of access to, access land".

That will give rise to a better situation, and I thank the Government for it.

The question of timing is raised by another important amendment in the group. I describe it as the final fling of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in that Amendment No. 264B is the penultimate amendment at this stage of the Bill. To assist the implementation of this Bill, it is essential that the codes of conduct, which are well provided for in Amendment No. 104, are available as soon as possible. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness makes a direct link between codes of conduct and the implementation of Clause 2 of the Bill, which in many ways is desirable. I do not insist on building that into the Bill, but it is important that codes of conduct are quickly available because that is what the public and all those concerned with the right to roam need.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I too welcome Amendment No. 104, which deals with the question of informing the public about the permanent situation; namely, what is access land, where it is and how to get to it. However, how do the Government intend to inform the public about more transient matters, such as exclusion periods and so on? Clearly, they cannot be included in a code of conduct which no doubt will be a permanent document like The Highway Code that is printed and in circulation. However, the public need to be informed in some way of exclusions and so on. Amendment No. 138, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, does not begin to deal with that since Clause 31, which he seeks to amend, relates only to areas within the governance of the National Parks Authority or the Forestry Commission. These organisations are probably the best placed to deal with the situation. I should like the

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1461

Minister to say how he sees information being promulgated with regard to temporary situations such as exclusion orders and so on.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, I do not want to repeat what my noble friend Lord Bledisloe has just said. That would be a waste of time. I believe that Amendment No. 105, standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is absolutely essential. I hope that the Government accept it. The amendment makes behaviour in the countryside relevant not only to access land--in which I have no personal interest whatever--but highly relevant to lowland walks and much of the footpath network, in which I have an interest. It also helps to protect wildlife. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on it.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I welcome government Amendment No. 104 which requires the Countryside Agency or the CCW to draw up a code of conduct. Perhaps I may also draw attention to another element of that amendment which refers to "other steps". I believe that it is important that the contents of that code are widely promulgated. A major exercise should start soon in order to get the public clued up about the requirements of this very different set of access provisions which will come into force when the Bill becomes law.

Amendment No. 105 standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has one slight inconsistency. I understand the wish to have a code of conduct that covers all the elements of access to the countryside. But it would be rather rash to ask the Countryside Agency to have responsibility for a code under Part III, which deals primarily with nature conservation. The Countryside Agency is a wonderful organisation, but, alas, not entirely au fait with all the provisions under nature conservation. I should declare an interest and say that if such a code were to exist, English Nature would have the responsibility for drawing up Part III.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I, too, support Amendments Nos. 104 and 105, perhaps with the reservations given by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I should like also to endorse what the noble Baroness said about the need to disperse this information as widely as possible.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he would consider the possibility of leafleting households throughout the country. It is a quite simple procedure these days. We get leaflets about all kinds of matters. The leaflets could have a brief resume of the code and tell people where the code will be available. Perhaps the Minister could consider also whether the Government propose that the code should be available in bookshops and various countryside stores; for example, farm shops could have copies of the code.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, this has been the happiest afternoon of the proceedings on the Bill. I am beginning to believe that at the end of the proceedings

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1462

we may have an Act which is enforceable and workable. I strongly support--with one reservation to which I shall come in a minute--Amendments Nos. 104 and 105. I should like to speak also to Amendments No. 264A, 264AA and 264B, although they do not all stand in my name.

Perhaps I may turn first to Amendment No. 138, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Rotherwick. The amendment in its present form it is not ideal. It has been good to hear the debate again around the House. It is a debate that we had quite early in Committee. Noble Lords were told that the amendment is an absolutely necessary basis for the functioning of the Bill--the spread of information, the method of getting the message across and of informing the general public of restrictions of rights and of all the matters that go within the Bill.

On the first day in Committee I made the point to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, that the Government needed to promote at an early stage a serious education programme. If my memory serves me right, which it very rarely does nowadays, she said that the DfEE would be working with the DETR and that we would see another example of joined-up government. I find it encouraging that that has come through.

Amendments Nos. 264A, 264AA and 264B are critical to the management of the process. As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson pointed out, they are essentially about timing. While we support Amendments Nos. 104 and 105, it is important that the structures, the codes of practice, the information systems and so on should be in place before the Bill becomes law and access is available on a nation-wide basis.

In summary, we support Amendments Nos. 104 and 105 with the proviso that codes of practice, management structures and structures for the dissemination of information are in place before the Bill becomes law.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, first, I wish to address the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Amendment No. 105 would extend the terms of Amendment No. 104 to Parts II and III of the Bill. At first sight, it seems a very sensible amendment and certainly the spirit of it and the intention to require the Countryside Agency to provide a comprehensive guide to all of these matters seem highly desirable. However, there are some difficulties.

Whereas Part I of the Bill is in effect the totality of law on access, Part II is only part of the law in relation to rights of way and, as my noble friend Lady Young implied, Part III is only part of the law in relation to conservation, biodiversity and AONBs. There is also the question of which is the authoritative agency in this respect. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I shall have another look at the matter to see whether there is a better way of achieving what she wishes in this context--that is, trying to combine existing duties on the Countryside Agency to provide such guidance,

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1463

including the Country Code, and a clear statement that it must provide this code of conduct in relation to Part I and put it within a broader context of advice on the countryside. Perhaps I may speak to the noble Baroness between now and Third Reading about how best we could do that.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the Country Code and the national curriculum. We have already started on that in a sense. The Countryside Agency via the national forum has produced an access information plan which will produce a range of leaflets and information for use in schools. Further than that, stipulating what is in the national curriculum is probably beyond the scope of the Bill. Nevertheless, it is our clear intention to deliver that.

Perhaps I may turn now to Amendment No. 138, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. I accept the spirit of what he intends to achieve. Certainly, the Government are committed to the need to ensure that, as far as possible, adequate information, including some of the particular information to which the noble Lord referred, is provided to the public and to other bodies. Furthermore, it is right that the guidelines for local authorities should be as transparent as possible.

However, Amendment 138 is based on something of a misinterpretation of the scope of Clause 31. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, Clause 31 relates only to the role of national park authorities and the Forestry Commission as relevant authorities. The other issues to which the noble Lord's amendment refer do not relate to Clause 31. Guidance under this clause is likely to address such matters as the criteria for assessing applications for directions under Clauses 22 and 23 and the desirability of making such directions under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2.

The broad aim of the amendment is correct, but I do not think that it is appropriate at this point in the Bill. The greater scope of Amendment No. 104, which will require the countryside bodies to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the public are fully informed of matters relating to the new rights, is a better of way of proceeding. That is because, in a sense, it will cover not only the standing rights but also what have been described by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, as transient rights. There is an obligation to try to maximise the information in various ways. That includes all means from websites to leaflets and notices in car parks. The obligation will be all-embracing.

Again, I appreciate the intention behind the amendment to Amendment No. 104 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller; namely, a requirement on the countryside body to provide information on the totality of the Bill and on other aspects of countryside law.

For the reasons I have given, and while I sympathise with the intentions that lie behind the amendment, I believe that these areas are covered largely by Amendment No. 104 or by existing legislation. I hope

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1464

that noble Lords will accept the reassurances that I have given as regards information and that the amendment will not be pressed.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran--amendments referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, as "Baroness Byford's last fling", although I am sure that that was uncharitable and that the noble Baroness still has plenty of "flings" to go--relate to the question of timing and again to the requirement to produce information. They would require that the new right of access could not be brought into force until the agencies had fulfilled their duty under the "code of conduct" amendment. The requirement under Amendments Nos. 264A and 264B to produce a Countryside Code already exists under Section 86 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and will be augmented by the adoption of Amendment No. 104.

The code of conduct will also provide information for those interested in the land about the use of discretionary closures under Clause 21 as well as restrictions and exclusions generally covered by Chapter II. The countryside bodies will need to have such systems in place before the right comes into effect. We do not anticipate any possibility of the right of access coming into effect before both the relevant regulations are in place and the code of conduct has been produced. I do not think, therefore, that it is necessary to put those restrictions on to the face of the Bill. I hope that, with those assurances, the noble Baroness or the noble Lord will not pursue the amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page