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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I shall speak only briefly, because the Bill affects England and I am a Welsh Peer. I do not wish to speak about areas where legislation is frankly rather different, as we have been told by the noble Earl. The regulations have been applied somewhat differently by the Countryside Council for Wales in relation to certain measures of access.
I have been a farm manager where there was a grouse moor. I have also been a farm manager in situations where heather burning took place regularly at certain times of year. Trying to speak objectively, no doubt there is a need for notice when such activities take place. In the management of grouse moors, for example, in the situation in which I was involvedit was in Scotlandwe deliberately had a very much lower stocking rate to enable the heather to grow. That was to ensure sufficient cover for the young birds. We also produced some fantastic lambs as a result of that low stocking rate.
Flexibility is clearly required, but I support the CROW Act and its access provisions, which are in the process of creating much better access for the public. I understand the noble Earl's plea for management. I have some doubt whether it is necessary to pray against all the regulations. I should have thought that common sense and compromise would prevail where certain situations demanded it.
I know that the younger generation of the farming community is into computers in quite a big way. However, I recently attended a meeting of commoners where 86 commoners turned up. A national park officer said that the information had been put on their website. I stopped the officer from saying any more and asked the audience how many of them had computers and could access the Internet. The answer was that only six out of 80 could do that, so we must be very careful about putting information on the Internet. We live in a twin technology societythe haves and the have nots.
Mention was made of statutory entries on to land, which is foreign to me. For many years in Scotland and in Wales, open hills have had access. I cannot comment on the situation in England, except to say that often there is a point where people gain access on to land and notices are placed there. I make a plea for flexibility in accommodating management, which is important, and the needs of commoners in particular must be taken into account.
I shall not go into the full detailsmy noble friend has done so and has spelt them out clearlybut I want to highlight one or two issues. First, my noble friend rightly said that a balance must be struck between the management of the land and the safety of the public. When we took the CROW Bill through the House, we fought hard at all stages to ensure that the public would be safe. My noble friend spoke of the Animals Act and the fact that if a closure is in place the farmer is not liable. The closure relates not only to dangerous animals, and my noble friend mentioned calves at heel with cattle.
Perhaps I may share an experience with the House. Earlier this year, my niece, Julia, was walking through a field of cattlethere were no young at heeland she had a dog. For whatever reason, the cattle were startled and I am afraid she was trampled underfoot. She managed to get up again, but her hand was broken and her shoulder badly damaged. They were not dangerous animals, but something had obviously upset them. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of hanging on to the dog rather than letting him go, in which case the cattle would have chased the dog. As it was, she was badly trampled. Fortunately she is now all right. My noble friend raises a real problem.
I want to return to some of the discussions we had in the House. My noble friend raised the issue of cost, and I understood from days of debate that the relevant authorities would have money provided for signaging in order to inform the public when land was open and closed. I have looked through the statutory instrument and I am still not clear about the matter.
When we debated the matter in October 2000, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, clearly said that the duty of the access authority to provide visitor management facilities would be established, but I have not seen that happen. We are talking about closures, not day-to-day management. We could not persuade the Government that it would be helpful to have a central telephone point so that people could ring in order to find out where access land started and finished. But we are not talking about that today; we are talking about closures and how people will know where they are.
Furthermore, why had England decided to go down a route different from that taken by Wales? It seems illogical. It appears that exemptions are given to the owners or the tenants, and that people who have sporting or grazing rights do not have any say. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify that.
In relation to Section 25 and fire and danger to the public, what will happen on defence land? If there has to be an exercise on defence land where access is normally available, how are the public notified? I understood that there were to be red flags at certain points around the area. That is fine if people are accessing the land on walks or at normal points, but the right to roam means that there are no such places. People can access from any point. Are there any lessons we can learn from what happens on MoD land and was that considered when the statutory instrument was raised?
I believe that I have covered most points and I shall not repeat what my noble friend said. If I remember correctly, in discussing signage or a central access point where people could obtain information, we talked about a telephone helpline. Can the Minister say what has come of that? It was discussed during the passage of the Bill but has it since been ignored?
Finally, will the Minister confirm that access is likely to kick in at the end of 2004? That is slightly earlier than we had expected as I believe that the date was brought forward. If that is the case, there is a great need to get the statutory instrument right. I believe we all agree that it is vital that the statutory instrument should be workable for land managers and tenants and, more importantly, so that protection is afforded to the public, who should be able to enjoy the countryside safely and with full security.
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