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Earl Peel: My Lords, before the noble Lord continues with his response, would he be kind enough to pass comment on the question I raised about the agreement between English Nature and the Countryside Agency where they made it perfectly clear that the Sandford principle would apply for nature conservation purposes? However, to the best of my knowledge, I do not think that the Countryside Agency has released any form of statement declaring, in effect, that closures for land management for the
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall move on to the points raised on nature conservation when dealing with another amendment. Perhaps I can respond to the question put by the noble Earl at that time.
Amendments Nos. 123, 124, 124A and 125A would expand on the use of the expression "land management". Clause 22 is vital to the interests of those involved in managing land--that is what it is there for. We have made clear our intention that it should be treated flexibly. It should take into account less common or new forms of land management activity. We want Clause 22 to be flexible, responding to the legitimate needs of land managers. We believe that it should be interpreted generically, including both the active management of the land and also its use for events and activities not traditionally associated with the use of land for agriculture or country sports. Such activities include car rallies and pop festivals, as well as ploughing matches and sheep trials.
That is not to say that we think that directions would always be needed, but we agree that such purposes would be eligible for directions under Clause 22. We do not see any need for Amendment No. 123, since its aims have already been achieved.
It will be for the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales to draw up criteria to indicate the kinds of activity which would be included under the term "land management". Both bodies will be able to issue guidance to other relevant authorities, and they will wish to consult on the criteria. I should add that the relevant authorities will not be able to make a direction under Clause 22 if it would be possible to make a direction for the same purpose under Clauses 23 or 24--that is, for the purposes of avoidance of fire risk, safety, nature conservation or heritage preservation.
That brings me to Amendment No. 124, which would allow for directions under Clause 22 to be made also in the interests of conservation of wildlife. Clause 24 already allows that. There is no formal right to apply for a restriction or closure on nature conservation or heritage grounds, but anyone can ask the relevant authority to consider doing so. The conservation bodies will advise the relevant authority on the merits of a direction under Clause 24, and the relevant authority must have regard to advice given to it by the conservation body.
To a great extent, this is already covered by Clause 22. But it would also seem intended to allow for directions to be made for the purposes of nature conservation and generally for the purposes of security and perhaps privacy. The word "diminution" in this context would mean that any application could be successful if it were able to show the likelihood of some diminution in "harm", however slight.
Having made our concession about excepting land within 20 metres of a dwelling, we believe that directions under Clause 22 should be justified for the purposes of land management, and that this is wide enough to cover all reasonable requirements.
Returning to the guidance issued by the Countryside Agency, the agency will be consulting the National Countryside Access Forum over criteria and guidance for land management closures. I hope that that answers the question of the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
Amendments Nos. 126 and 128 concern the problems of small or part-time farmers who can undertake land management activity only at weekends because they work during the week. Clause 22(3) of the Bill already ensures that the relevant authority has a sufficient discretion to take these matters into account. Where the farmer has exhausted or otherwise made provision for the use of the discretion to close at weekends, and has good reasons for undertaking the work at weekends--for example, because he has another job during the week--it would be entirely proper for the relevant authority to make a direction excluding or restricting access. As to the letter that my noble friend Lord Whitty sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on 30th October, yes it is true that under paragraph (c), which refers to purposes, this is a legitimate purpose and could well be the basis of an application. There may be other cases also where the limited opportunity to restrict access at weekends under Clause 21 means that it is necessary for the authority to make directions under Clauses 22, 23 or 24, restricting access at the weekends. Nothing in Clause 22(3) or any other provision of Chapter II prevents the exercise in this way of the relevant authority's discretion. We do not believe that Amendments Nos. 126 and 128 are necessary or desirable.
Amendment No. 124B in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, would amend Clause 22, making it explicit that the closure might apply to a specified part of the day or of certain specified days. I can assure the noble Viscount that the specification that land may be closed for a specified period does not mean a specified period of a year. There is nothing in the clause to prescribe that a specified period must, as a minimum, constitute a complete day. So the amendment is not necessary. If access at night presents problems for land management or nature conservation, then restrictions on closures may be approved under Clause 22 or Clause 24.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I responded to Amendment No. 121 together with Amendment Nos. 122 and 125 right at the very beginning. That is when I first made the point about not increasing the 28 days by stealth. In other words, it is proper for the authority to consider whether the application is being made because the first 28 days were used simply on the basis that the landowner did not want walkers on his land.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, perhaps I may add to that. The noble Earl's point is already governed by subsection (3). In deciding whether it is necessary, one looks to see for what purposes he has used the existing 28 days. Having decided that he has used them properly and needs more, surely the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is right to say that it should be "shall". I believe that the Minister's point deals with that.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one has to read Amendment No. 121 with Amendment No. 122 in particular as well as Amendment No. 125 unless the noble Earl really means to move Amendment No. 121 without moving Amendment No. 122. I appreciate that they are separate amendments, but the effect of what the noble Earl wants is to change Clause 22(1) to say,
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that they are separate amendments and that it is perfectly open to the Government to say that they do not accept the point about substituting "expedient" for "necessary" for the reasons given by the Minister, but that they do accept
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I responded to the way in which the amendments were spoken to--as a coherent whole. I accept that the noble Lord is right and that I could separate them out. If the noble Earl, Lord Peel, wishes to do so, then let me say that I do not accept Amendment No. 121 or Amendment No. 122--because this retains the discretion for the authorities.
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