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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I apologise once again if I have not put my point as accurately or precisely as I would have liked, but I think that I said that the Government have taken the view that ample opportunity has been provided for the discussion of these issues in both Houses. What seems to have been demonstrated is a fundamental incompatibility. As regards that position, as is always the case, the elected House must be pre-eminent.

Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

3.45 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [Principal definitions for Part I]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 35 and 37 standing in my name within the grouping. The first two amendments deal with the issue of improved and semi-improved land.

During debates in this House, noble Lords have repeatedly voiced concerns about the impact of the right of access on farmland. On Report, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred to improved and semi-improved grassland and acknowledged that,

    "it will not be the express intention of the access authorities"--

I believe that he meant the countryside bodies--

    "to include such land within access provisions".

He continued that,

    "we are trying to define the areas in question in a way that will not lead to confusion".--[Official Report, 1/5/00; col. 958.]

We have gone some way towards meeting that point. We have listened to those concerns and have brought forward Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which we hope will directly address them.

The amendments will specifically provide, on the face of the Bill, that mountain, moor, heath and down do not include land which appears to the relevant countryside body to consist of improved or semi-improved grassland. The amendments will achieve two things: they will put beyond doubt the point that

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agricultural land other than unimproved grazing will not be treated as mountain, moor, heath and down; and they will enable such land to be excluded from maps of open country at the draft and provisional stages, so that both landowners and walkers can benefit from reasonable clarity about what is and what is not open countryside.

Perhaps I may also refer to Amendment No. 35, which deals with exclusion zones around buildings. On Report, noble Lords welcomed a government amendment to except from the right of access any land within 20 metres of a dwelling. I proposed that amendment on the basis that widespread concerns had been expressed as regards the privacy and security of individuals living on isolated access land.

However, at that stage, some noble Lords expressed the view that an exclusion area should go wider, to apply to all other buildings. I rejected the view that all buildings on access land should have an exclusion zone of 20 metres. We would certainly oppose introducing zones around dwellings which simply stand unused in the countryside. However, I did take to heart the case made as regards buildings in which livestock is housed. It is clear that there could be risks of disturbance and the protection of livestock is an important qualification as regards the access provisions. Amendment No. 35 will except the right of access from land within 20 metres of buildings used to house livestock.

We have also tabled Amendment No. 37 which deals with circumstances where the position of such buildings would effectively frustrate access. One of my other concerns was that if we did provide for a 20-metre exclusion zone, then in some cases access to certain areas of countryside would be frustrated. For example, there may be cases where the only feasible means of access to an area of open countryside is via a track which happens to run alongside a cattleshed or a dwelling. In such circumstances, we believe that walkers should be able to follow that track without losing their right of access. Of course, it would be open to the farmer to provide an alternative means of access nearby. However, where that is not the case, walkers should be able to use this extended right.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the amendments create the right balance in this area. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we very much welcome these government amendments. We felt that the Bill was rather light as regards how much help it offered to farmers in upland areas, given that it is generally acknowledged that they are experiencing a difficult time. In Committee, several noble Lords tabled amendments to deal with the matter of improved grassland. I am glad that we have finally been able to persuade the Government to take action on this issue.

Our main reservation on the question of night access turned on the matter of buildings used to house animals. We felt that that would make life extremely difficult for those farmers with buildings in upland

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areas. Again, creating such a cordon sanitaire is an extremely helpful move. We welcome all the amendments.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I spoke at some length about the improved grassland that is frequently to be found between a farmstead and the open moorland. I am slightly disappointed that the amendment includes the word "appears"--in the reference:

    "appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist of improved or semi-improved grassland".

That seems to leave an element of doubt; whereas all farmers would have no doubt as to what was improved grassland-- bearing in mind that it has probably been re-seeded and carefully fertilised over the years for hay and, of course, in the early bite before it is closed up for hay and for ground-nesting birds, etc. The word "appears" introduces a note of doubt about grassland.

I hope that the Minister will bear in mind--the wording of Amendment No. 37 suggests that he does see this--that most farmsteads are a closely knit collection of buildings, including the farmhouse, byres, hay sheds and so on. It will be very difficult to know whether walkers are within 20 metres of livestock buildings. Some form of clarification will be required. I am glad that by and large the Minister has listened to the remarks that were made on Report and has introduced Amendment No. 2, which is right.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, perhaps I may speak briefly to my Amendment No. 36 which is included in this group. It is similar to an amendment that I moved on Report but did not press. It is intended to ensure the small degree of flexibility that may be desirable if a rare or endangered species is to be properly protected.

On Report, my noble friend suggested that there was no problem, since those running a nature reserve could contact English Nature and secure the appropriate response, which would be helpful. I then wondered what would happen at weekends. My noble friend Lady Young will be able to tell me whether English Nature is staffed on Saturdays and Sundays, when nature reserves tend to be most frequently visited. If on a Friday evening someone involved in a reserve notices a rare plant just coming into bloom, or observes a ground- nesting bird starting to lay--bearing in mind that ground-nesting birds do not usually spend much time preparing a nest--it may be appropriate for someone in the reserve to have the right to prevent access in the immediate vicinity of that rare plant or rare bird. It would be sensible to provide that degree of flexibility. The Government will probably disagree--I am not sure that they like amendments--but this would be a tool in the armoury of organisations such as the county trusts which operate reserves, and which depend to a large extent on the efforts of volunteers. It would be sensible to provide the right to ensure that a

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particular species is protected for what may be a short period time when the matter is relevant. I support the amendment.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing Amendment No. 2, although I share the reservations of my noble friend Lord Monro about the word "appears". It may be an obvious point, but improved and semi-improved grassland will become excepted land; I assume that we can have an assurance that that land will not be mapped by the mapping authority--otherwise, I suggest it would lead to total confusion. I should like to say how much I welcome Amendment No. 35 dealing with the main issues that we raised last time.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, in adding my voice to the general welcome for the amendment, perhaps I may ask a question about Amendment No. 35, which is not entirely clear. In the Yorkshire Dales, and certainly in the Lake District, there are scattered buildings where small barns are used to store hay in the early part of the winter. When they have been emptied, because the hay has been fed to animals, those buildings are made available, particularly in very hard weather in the early months of the year, as shelter for those animals.

I assume from the wording of Amendment No. 35 that if the building is used for part of the year to house livestock, it would fall within the 20-metre cordon sanitaire for the whole of the year. It is important that it does, and that it is understood that, where a building is used for housing livestock for part of the year and for storing hay for the early months of the year, it will be exempt from the provisions of the Bill; otherwise, people would not know whether there were animals in the building at the time or whether it contained only hay. The only way they could find out would be to go up to it and look through the door. I hope I can assume that such buildings will be exempt for the whole of the year.

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