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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. At this point it is reasonable to say that the House can be proud of the Bill. It is a different Bill from that which arrived in the House. It arrived with aspirations and leaves as a better and more practical Bill. At times there have been some hard words from the Conservative Benches towards the attitude of the Liberal Democrats.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for acknowledging that we have all worked together to push through those improvements. I do not believe that any side of the House should claim to be the guardian of the countryside. We have all worked together on the Bill. It leaves the House with substantial improvements.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other Ministers who spoke. I thank the Civil Service team who have worked so hard, particularly when up against the clock on some of the amendments, which were clearly needed and desired. We have achieved them.
We, on these Benches, shall be keeping a close eye on the short-term, medium-term but crucially the long-term funding that the Government commit to the Bill. We do not just want jam today. We want to see funding in the countryside tomorrow and the years after that. Clearly, wildlife benefits most from the Bill. Part II improves the current situation somewhat. But success will depend very much on funding the rights of way improvement plans.
As regards Part I of the Bill, at a previous stage of the Bill, when we were debating the issue of compensation, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, was critical of our Benches when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke on some of the issues. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, said that John Stuart Mill and Gladstone would have turned in their graves to hear the contribution from the Liberal Democrat Benches. That is not so. John Stuart Mill was a founder of the Open Spaces Society, which is Britain's oldest national conservation body founded in 1865. It has consistently campaigned for the freedom that people should have to the open countryside every since. Gladstone, of course, used to go for long walks in the Highlands, as noble Lords will be aware. I think they would be proud of this day. We on these Benches are pleased to have been part of improving this important Bill.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I should like to reiterate what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. She is quite right. We have had our differences. It has been a long, hard struggle. But at the end I believe we have a considerably better Bill than the one which we embarked on all those weeks ago.
I have no problems with Parts II and III. I am delighted that we have sorted out our differences on AONBs. We started a long way apart. I am glad to say that we have now come to a sensible consensus on what could have been a very contentious issue. I am bound to say that my reservations about Part I of the Bill are still to a large extent in place. I believe that the Bill as it passed through your Lordships' House exposed some of the weaknesses that we identified at the beginning. What the Bill does--of that there is no doubt--is to throw out a challenge to the countryside. It throws out a challenge not just to those who live and work in the countryside but to those who will come to enjoy the countryside.
I realise that the Bill brings to fruition the aspirations of those who have fought for a long time for a general right of access to Britain's countryside. I recognise that. I respect them. I congratulate them on having fought the battle for so long and on having now achieved their aspirations.
There will be difficulties. The Bill will create a sense of determination to ensure that the conflicts which many of us feel may arise are dealt with in a common-sense and sensible fashion. That will require landowners, farmers, walkers, ramblers, access authorities and, in particular, the Countryside Agency to show a great deal of intelligence in the way they implement the provisions of the Bill. Much will depend on how they interpret and implement on the ground what are in many cases fairly loose terms.
When we embarked on the Bill's Committee stage, the Minister was gracious enough to wish me a happy birthday. I never dreamt for one moment that I would be spending the whole night of my 53rd birthday with the Minister. What I can say is that that experience turned out to be much more rewarding and pleasant than I ever thought it could possibly be. I should like to say to the noble Lord and to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, that I am extremely grateful for the very courteous and fair way in which they have treated not only me but other Back-Benchers as well throughout the proceedings on the Bill. I appreciate it enormously.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the way in which they have worked with us through the Bill.
When we first started on the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said--I think that he will regret ever saying it--that this was not a complex Bill. It may not have been a complex Bill but it has certainly been a full Bill. We have all worked very hard. The Bill has shown that this House can make a difference because it brings together so much expertise. It brings together walkers--we have many in the House--climbers, those who have been rescue personnel, farmers and landowners. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke about horse riders. There are also noble Lords with wildlife interests. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, represented a large organisation. Many noble Lords who have spoken in the debates have brought their expertise to the Bill. The House has used that expertise to scrutinise the Bill.
We have worked together. We have attempted to solve some of the problems that have arisen during the proceedings on the Bill. Indeed, we have worked until the last moment, as noble Lords will know only too
Lord Carter: My Lords, I believe that I am the one Member on these Benches who is in fact a member of the landed gentry. I had intended to make an encouraging remark in a light-hearted way to my colleagues. I am sorry that the noble Baroness has not taken it in that spirit. I am sure that my colleagues on this side of the House understood exactly what I was saying.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for intervening. He can see that I read it straight and that I took the remark for what it said. I hope that the record will show that the remark was not meant in that light. Although other noble Lords cheered when I read
Having said that, I have enjoyed enormously working with all my colleagues. I am only sorry that there are small areas where we have not managed to achieve as much as we would have liked. I refer to the parts we covered earlier tonight on vehicles, for example. Nevertheless, a great deal of hard work has been conducted with great courtesy. It has been my great privilege to have taken part in the shaping of a Bill that will give great pleasure to millions of people in the future.
The Bill has always been a good Bill in principle. It achieves greater protection for wildlife and access to the open countryside for millions of our people. We have improved it in this House, and we have done so with a great deal of courtesy from noble Lords all around the House, along with great expertise having been brought to bear. Certainly there has been conflict. Some of those conflicts led to fairly die-hard struggles and some of them have not been completely resolved. But we have provided in the Bill the means to resolve some of those conflicts on the ground. We can be proud of that.
We have also achieved something historic tonight. We have achieved greater protection for wildlife, which is extremely important. We have achieved greater protection for our areas of outstanding national beauty. But the first part of the Bill is also important. Despite the fact that frequently I have been in dire need of the Liberal Democrat votes, I have never hitherto quoted Lloyd George in these matters, and I shall amend him a little tonight. That is because, in the spirit of compromise and balance--which I have advocated throughout the Bill--we have not taken the land away from the landowners, who have recognised their responsibilities. Tonight we have, to some extent at least, given the land to the people.