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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I understand that the Government wish to move in the direction of opening out the Countryside Code so that it will no longer matter which agency is responsible for it. What is important is that the public will be clear about what they can do, and where. If, between now and Third Reading, we can work towards that, I shall be very pleased. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment No. 105, as an amendment to Amendment No. 104, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 104 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Interpretation of Chapter II]:

10 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 106:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 107 had been renumbered as Amendment No. 117A]

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Clause 21 [Exclusion or restriction at discretion of owner and others]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 108:

    Clause 21, page 12, line 40, at end insert--

("( ) Subject to subsections (2) and (6), an entitled person may, by giving notice to the relevant authority in accordance with regulations under section 30(1)(a), exclude or restrict access by virtue or section 2(1) to any land on a Saturday between August 11th and February 2nd where that land is used commercially for shooting.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to the different and perhaps slightly more thorny subject of restriction days. I shall refer to the total amount of time available for restrictions and also refer to Saturdays and Sundays.

Before I speak to Amendment No. 108, I should like to thank the Minister for introducing Amendment No. 117 and for having moved so far with us. Perhaps I should not do so, but, regrettably, I am going to ask for more.

Amendment No. 108 seeks to allow landowners to close land on Saturdays during the game shooting season, although it is flexible enough to allow closure for other legitimate reasons during this period. The amendment is necessary because the Bill, as drafted, does not allow closure of land on a Saturday during the main part of the shooting season without the owner going through the bureaucratic hurdle of applying to the Countryside Agency. The majority of game shooting takes place on a Saturday, mainly because this is when most people can take the opportunity to shoot, and also because, by law, game cannot be shot on Sundays.

The importance of shooting to the economy and conservation of rural areas is crucial. More than £653 million is spent on shooting per year and much of the countryside is conserved by shooting interests. It is important to note that much shooting takes place during the harsh winter months. The public are much more likely to want to enjoy access to land during the spring and summer months. Furthermore, the amendment would not deter the public from enjoying access on a Sunday during the period 12th August to 1st February, something which is denied, by law, to shooters. The rural economy often depends on sporting activities such as shooting during the winter months, particularly as it is the very time when other tourists are less likely to visit remote areas.

The amendment strikes an appropriate balance: it would allow those members of the public who wish to enjoy their right of access during the winter months to do so on Sundays; and it would not preclude land managers from shooting on the most popular day of the week during the statutory game season--that is, on Saturdays.

During the Committee stage the Minister did not accept a similar amendment for three principal reasons. First, the Minister argued that the amendment was a way of extending the 28-day maximum period for the discretionary closure of land. This amendment does not allow that. Currently the Bill does not allow closure on Saturdays at all without

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prior permission from the countryside authorities. The amendment would allow Saturday closures at the landowner's discretion, but without exceeding the permitted 28 days. Indeed, there are only 25 Saturdays between 11th August and 2nd February. I bear in mind that the Government have already given us four Saturdays.

Secondly, the Minister was concerned that land could be closed for the whole of August, when most people take their holidays, or for seven weekends across the summer, restricting access for people whose only time for walking is at weekends. The amendment does not do that. Closure could only take place on a Saturday which, by law, is the only day of the weekend when shooting can take place. Walkers can enjoy their recreation on either day. It seems unfair that the Minister should argue against Saturday closures because he recognises that this is the time when most people enjoy walking at weekends. In doing so, he denies the same opportunity to those who enjoy shooting on the day when most people take part in the sport.

It is also important to note that closure in the vast majority of cases will relate to small parcels of land. It simply would not be in the interests of landowners to close more land than is necessary as that would use up the quota on other parts of the land. Therefore, walkers on the whole will encounter only minor closures on a Saturday. That is our submission as regards Amendment No. 108.

Perhaps I may now turn to Amendments Nos. 109 to 117. Amendment No. 109 concerns 28 days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and Bank Holidays in which, without having to cope with walkers, to carry out such operations as may be necessary to maintain the terrain, the livestock and wildlife. We suggest that that is not very much. To that there may have to be added matters such as lambing. I have listened carefully to the arguments on this from the government spokesman. I am still not clear whether the Government intend that the 28 days in the Bill should satisfy all normal land management needs, with extensions allowed only in exceptional cases. The fact that at this stage, and after all that has been said, Clauses 22(3)(c) and 24(4) are still in the Bill inclines me to believe that the Government intend the 28 days to be the normal closure entitlement for the year.

In addition, I also understand that the area closed for any period of 28 days may vary. I see the noble Lord nodding. As an owner or manager one may have a series of 28 days referring to different acreage and parts of the estate.

As regards Amendment No. 110, the wording as it stands seems to imply that there may be an intentional loophole whereby in certain unspecified circumstances another person having an interest in the land would deliberately not be counted or conceivably might be allowed their own 28-day portion. Either way, we believe that the law should not contain a doubt and the removal of the conditional conjunction is necessary.

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Finally, I refer to Amendment No. 116. Once again I wish to acknowledge what the Government have given in their own Amendment No. 117. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak briefly to the amendments standing in my name so that the Government's position is clear. Amendment No. 117, with the consequential Amendment No. 113, provides that, as part of the discretionary allowance of 28 days, a person entitled to that allowance should be able to restrict access or close their land without seeking further approval for up to four days at the weekend, although not on Saturdays between 1st June and 11th August and not on Sundays between 1st June and 30th September. That replaces the situation where none of the 28 days could have been used at weekends. It is a response to the anxieties expressed by a number of noble Lords both on the part of those who use the land for shooting and, more particularly, those who were concerned with the lambing season and who need to have a continuous period for land management purposes without the weekends being taken out and without the necessity of going through the process of making an application to the Countryside Agency.

We believe that that is a sensible compromise between the needs of land managers and the interests of those wishing to benefit from the new right of access, for whom obviously weekends and the summer are particularly important. For example, as regards grouse shooting it will allow closure for up to four Saturdays from 12th August, which will give considerable flexibility and should help address concerns in the shooting community. For example, there are concerns about giving saboteurs advance notice of when shooting is to take place. Similarly, by including four weekend days within the total, it will allow closures for farmers and land managers for a continuous period of up to 19 days without having to go through the application. That is 19 days outside the summer holiday period. In effect, that should cover most lambing periods. All these are extendable by application to the Countryside Agency. So, for example, shooting and grouse moors could have more than four days, but those over and above four in that period would be related to a particular application.

The Government's amendment represents a balance and reflects our determination to safeguard both the interests of walkers and the interests of those who manage the land. As well as entitling landowners to exclude or restrict access for up to four days at the weekend, the amendment also removes the regulation-making power set out in subsection (7). I should explain that. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation expressed the concern that that power could be used to allow weekend closure at one extreme or to restrict closure on any Friday, Saturday or Sunday at the other, or indeed Monday.

What we had in mind in that provision was the ability to be flexible in the light of experience. However, we have considered the advice of the Select

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Committee and we therefore propose to remove that power, which will leave greater certainty on how it might be used in future.

I also underline in this context the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that these provisions could relate to appropriate parcels of land and that, therefore, there is considerable flexibility built into them. I commend them to the House.

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