Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those comments. In relation to Amendments Nos. 129 and 133, if the relevant agency--essentially the Environment Agency and not the access authorities--behaves in a sensible way, takes account of these problems and understands that access may be required through or past land which is subject to a direction, then I accept that amendments on the face of the Bill are not required. However, I felt it was important to raise the matter.

As regards the discretionary closures, I am grateful for what the Minister has said. I shall read that in Hansard carefully and in the meantime I am prepared to withdraw my amendment and support that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 117B:

("(8) Regulations may provide that any exclusion or restriction under subsection (1) of access by virtue of section 2(1) to any land must relate to an area of land the boundaries of which are determined in accordance with the regulations.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 118:

    After Clause 21, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The owner of any land consisting of moor managed for the breeding and shooting of grouse may, so far as appears to him to be necessary in connection with the management of the land for that purpose, by taking such steps as may be prescribed, provide that, during a specified period, the right conferred by section 2(1) is exercisable only by persons who do not take dogs on the land.
(2) The owner of any land may, so far as appears to him to be necessary in connection with lambing, by taking such steps as may be prescribed, provide that during a specified period the right conferred by section 2(1) is exercisable only by persons who do not take dogs into any field or enclosure on the land in which there are sheep.
(3) In subsection (2) "field or enclosure" means a field or enclosure of not more than 15 hectares.
(4) As respects any land--
(a) any period specified under subsection (1) may not be more than five years,
(b) not more than one period may be specified under subsection (2) in any calendar year, and that period may not be more than six weeks.
(5) A restriction imposed under subsection (1) or (2) does not prevent a blind person from taking with him a trained guide dog, or a deaf person from taking with him a trained hearing dog.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 not moved.]

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1480

Clause 22 [Land management]:

Earl Peel to move Amendment No. 121:

    Clause 22, page 13, line 21, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to speak to our Amendments Nos. 123 and 124. It may be for the convenience of the House if I say that I shall not move Amendment No. 127. Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 speak for themselves. Amendment No. 123 suggests that utilisation is necessary for the future commercialisation of the land management practices. During the weeks in which we have been debating the Bill, we have been looking at the way in which land is currently managed and at future land management practices. Amendment No. 123 is aimed at that.

Amendment No. 124 is intended to cover the many countryside schemes which are already in place but which might not fall within the ambit of the Bill. It also recognises that future land management may differ from existing practices. We need to be able to have due regard to the preservation of flora and fauna, or geological and physiological features.

I am speaking to Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 and I shall not move Amendment No. 127. I apologise, I am speaking to Amendment No. 121, which turns "may" into "shall". That makes the provision more positive and I apologise to noble Lords for not making that clear. In fact, I am not speaking to that amendment because it stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel.

I need to start again. Amendment No. 121 is my noble friend's amendment but when it was called I rose to speak to the others. With the acceptance of the House, I shall sit down and let my noble friend Lord Peel move his amendment.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I think I am in order. Amendment No. 121 is the first in the group, so with the leave of the House I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 121, 122 and 125.

With regard to Amendment No. 121, Clause 22 currently provides that the authority, the Countryside Agency, the CCW and the national park authorities may grant a direction when they are satisfied that it is necessary for land management purposes. But, surely, if the authority is satisfied that a direction is necessary it must make the direction. Otherwise, it would be failing to respond properly to the requirements of the owner to manage the land.

In Committee, (in the debate on Amendment No. 243 on 5th October, at col. 1774 of the Official Report) the Minister said that consent for directions would not unreasonably be withheld. I suggest that the logical response is to provide that the authority "shall" make a direction where it is satisfied that the exclusion or restriction is necessary. As we have heard many times during debates on the Bill in your Lordships' House, the closure periods for land management purposes are an essential safeguard under the Bill and the system cannot be compromised. Surely, if the access authority decides that such a request for closure is appropriate,

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1481

why should there then be an element of discretion? That seems to me to be illogical and Amendment No. 121 seeks to remove that contradiction.

I turn next to Amendments Nos. 122 and 125. Despite assurances from Ministers that access authorities may take an enlightened approach to requests for closures under Clause 22, some comments that I have heard indicate that on occasions that ideal may be questioned. It is also possible that the various access authorities will take a rather different approach among themselves. The purpose of Amendment No. 122 is to remove "necessary" and insert "expedient".

However, there is another reason why I believe this may be necessary. I have been alerted by the agreement drawn up between English Nature and the Countryside Agency entitled Nature Conservation of Access Land. I believe that my amendment has a bearing on the agreement for the following reasons. In the agreement both organisations explain their statutory roles and how they will affect the workings of the Bill. The agreement states that English Nature is the statutory advisory body on nature conservation. In the context of the agreement much is written about closures for the purposes of nature conservation. I very much welcome that. I raised this matter several times in Committee and sought an assurance that the Sandford principle would prevail. This agreement clarifies the position.

The agreement also states that the Countryside Agency is responsible for taking action for the economic and social well-being of the English countryside. However, there is nothing in the agreement to say that closure restrictions will be imposed specifically for those purposes; it refers only to nature conservation purposes. I realise that the agreement is related specifically to nature conservation access land and not necessarily to other matters such as the economic and social well-being of the English countryside. None the less, I remain concerned about the absence of similar guidance from the Countryside Agency to ensure that access land is not permitted to compromise land management and local economic well-being. It may be that something to that effect has been issued by the Countryside Agency but I am not aware of it.

This raises a suspicion in my mind as to how the access authorities will view requests for closure orders when dealing with economic matters. I believe that if "expedient" replaces "necessary" it is more likely that the access authorities will take a realistic and practical approach to this very important part of the Bill. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am slightly concerned about some of these amendments. I refer first to Amendment No. 124. It could be argued that to conserve very large areas one would not allow people access at all because they might injure wildlife. It has some similarity to the amendment which I moved last week. (I lose track of the time because of late sittings.) I suggested that it should be possible to prevent access

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1482

in nature reserves for the purpose of protecting endangered species. The Government did not accept the amendment and said that adequate capacity existed through an approach to English Nature. It may be desirable for those responsible to have a little more capacity to act immediately, without having to proceed through another agency, at least in emergencies. However, it would be interesting to hear the Government's response to the amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 124A. The point in that amendment which I found rather striking is that it would refuse access to prevent harm to an animal. We have been talking about preventing access in order that these animals can be shot. We cannot have one and not the other.

The Government have made substantial concessions. I have sympathy with those who seek to defend the rural interest; those who say, "Save country sports". But if those who are practising country sports then make life difficult for the urban majority--for example, by saying to responsible people who want to keep their dogs on a lead that they cannot even go on the land--they will stimulate a hostility that may not have existed. Those involved in country sports, as they look at the Bill and seek to persuade the Government to make further concessions, may be acting in a way that is disadvantageous to their interests and irritating to those in urban communities who respect their role and recognise its importance but also want to enjoy the countryside.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page