HL Deb 19 February 1981 vol 417 cc850-84

House again in Committee on Clause 46.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery moved Amendment No. 547A: Page 40, line 10, leave out ("to") and insert ("in the case of").

The noble Earl said: This is a small drafting amendment to change "shall not apply to any bull" to "shall not apply in the case of any bull". I take it that it is clear enough that a bull can be the occupier of a field or enclosure as mentioned in the second line of Clause 46(1), but it is not reasonable to suppose that he can be mulcted in a fine of £300 if he knocks anybody down. That is in fact how it reads if you analyse it carefully. In my submission it should read, as my amendment says, that the subsection, shall not apply in the case of any bull", rather than "to any bull". If that argument is sufficient I will sit down and save time. If it is not, I will enlarge upon it further. I beg to move.

The Earl of Avon

As the noble Earl says, this is a drafting amendment. I do not feel at the moment that it is quite necessary, but I will certainly take it back and have a look at it to see whether our draftsman agrees.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 548 not moved.]

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 548A:

Page 40, line 14, at end insert— ("( ) Nothing in any byelaws, whenever made, shall make unlawful any act which is, or but for subsection (2) would be, made unlawful by subsection (1).").

The noble Earl said: It has always been our intention that the proposed new statutory provisions regulating the pasturing of bulls in fields crossed by public footpaths should supersede the existing control by bylaws. This amendment seeks to put the matter beyond doubt. It would not of course affect bylaws in so far as they related to the control of bulls in streets and public places. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8.19 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 549:

Page 40, line 14, at end insert— ("(3) If on the application of the occupier a council, being a council with power to divert footpaths and bridleways under section 119 of the Highways Act 1980, is satisfied that it is expedient in the interests of good farming to do so it may order the temporary diversion of the path or way for a continuous period of not more than four months.

(4) On the making of the order the highway authority shall forthwith cause a copy of the order to be displayed in a prominent position at the ends of the diversion.

(5) Before deciding whether to make an order under subsection (3) of this section a council shall take into account the interests of the users of the path or way and shall consult such organisations representing the interests of users of the path or way as it considers appropriate.

(6) A council shall before refusing to make an order under subsection (3) of this section consult the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

(7) An order under this section diverting a path or way—

  1. (a) shall not affect the line of the path or way on land not occupied by the applicant,
  2. (b) shall not divert any part of the path or way on to land not occupied by the applicant, unless written consent to the making of the order has been given by the occupier of that land, and by any other person whose consent is needed to obtain access to the land,
  3. (c) may require as a condition of the taking effect of the order the provision of any necessary facilities for the convenient use of the diversion,
and the highway authority may enter into an agreement with the applicant for the provision of any such facilities by the highway authority at the expense of the applicant.").

The noble Lord said: So many noble Lords seem to have spoken in other debates on this question of the diversion of paths that I have not the slightest doubt that the Minister will feel he is able to accept it. It really is a compromise between the interests discussed in the debate we had before the adjournment, and I hope the Committee will feel likewise. The amendment provides a situation in which the farming interests and those of the people who use the footpaths can come together, because the amendment provides that where, for farming reasons, a farmer wishes to have a bull in a particular field which is crossed by a footpath, then the footpath can be diverted.

It is, as I say, a way of reconciling the interests of the farmers with those of the users of the footpaths. In view of the time I shall not go in detail through the various subsections in the amendment but, if this amendment is carried, it will enable the farmers to do what they would like to do in view of the previous amendment. It will also enable the walkers in the countryside to use footpaths with complete safety, because they can be diverted for the short period mentioned in the amendment.

I would draw attention to the provisions in subsection (6) because, before the highway authority make the necessary order, the authority shall consult representatives of path users and also the Minister of Agriculture. It may be argued that there is a cost involved; but it would be minimal because, in terms of this amendment, there is no necessity for the local authority to publish notices or to hold any inquiry; there is but a simple procedure of consultation which is set out in the amendment. I hope that the Committee and the Minister will consider this a useful amendment which could be accepted.

The Earl of Avon

The Government are not unsympathetic to this; but as your Lordships will see from what I am about to say, there are a number of difficulties. Careful consideration has been given to the possibility of having a system of temporary diversions but there was strong opposition from a wide range of interests (including not only the local authority associations but also bodies representing the farmers and the path users) to the department's 13th August 1979 consultation paper. The proposals included such a system administered by the local authorities. Subsequently, the Department of the Environment suggested a simplified system making the temporary diversion the responsibility of the farmer. This was also opposed by most parties on various grounds. The Association of County Councils had strongly opposed the previous proposal involving temporary diversions administered by the highway authorities because they were complex, time consuming and had no regard for the resource and expenditure implications for the highway authorities. None of the local authority associations considered it possible to have a temporary diversion system which did not involve some element of highway authority supervision. There were also significant differences between the National Farmers' Union and the Ramblers' Association on this matter.

The present amendment does not seem to make provision for the circumstances in which temporary diversions are regarded as impracticable. The proposals I have referred to did make such provision. Whereas the Ramblers' Association wanted "impracticability" to be defined sufficiently narrowly to ensure that the number of cases coming under this heading would be relatively small, the National Farmers' Union wanted it to be more generally applicable. Also there were disagreements concerning the possible provision for a public rights objection to proposed temporary diversions and concerning alternative proposals under which farmers might provide an additional alterantive path to the legal right of way. The Ramblers' Association wanted the legal right of way to remain open and the farmers wanted it closed.

We have been sympathetic to the idea of temporary diversions as an element in the solution to the bulls' problem; but after all these consultations we came to the conclusion that it was not possible to devise a system of temporary diversions or provision of alternative paths which would be uncomplicated, easy to administer and acceptable to the major interests involved. I hope that this will persuade the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that we have been thinking along those lines and have tried hard; but that at the moment we cannot find any effective solution.

Lord Melchett

If I may address myself as much to my noble friend as to anyone else, it would be useful for us to be able between now and Report stage to look at what the noble Earl has said and, in the light of the decision the Committee made on Amendment No. 547 (the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend) we might be able to come back to this at Report stage. I would say to the noble Earl that it seems odd to me, when the various interests most directly involved, the NFU, on the one side, and the Ramblers' Association, on the other, were so close to agreement—even though there were some minor points of difference that the noble Earl mentioned—that those points of difference were not felt by the Government to he something that they could make a decision on and to come to Parliament for Parliament to make a final decision. Instead of that, the Government went away and came back with a set of proposals which, to put it mildly, raised great public concern and a fair amount of public outrage. It seems to me, when one looks behind the Government's motives, one finds really quite small problems about the narrowness or width of particular exemptions in particular points. I am wondering whether the Government tried as hard as the noble Earl has suggested to find a sensible and reasonable compromise which, if not entirely satisfactory to all interests, was very much along the lines of something which would have been satisfactory. Having said that, I hope that my noble friend will be able to leave this now and come back to it at the next stage.

Lord Avebury

I want to make one suggestion. I realise the noble Earl has made every attempt to bring the interests together and to arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to all those concerned—the NFU, the farmers, the local authorities and so on—and that, with the best will in the world, this has not been possible so far. I would suggest to the noble Earl that a different situation now prevails in that all those interests must appreciate that unless they reach a conclusion now the opportunity will have been lost for ever. I suggest to the noble Earl that he immediately issues an invitation to the NFU, the Ramblers' Association and the local authorities to attend together at a meeting where they will look at Lord Underhill's amendment and bring forward any criticisms that they care to make, and that, if possible, they will suggest to him what changes should be made to the amendment so that he could bring back an agreed solution before Report. If he cannot do that, at least he can report to us on the nature of the discussions which took place and the differences which still remain.

The Earl of Avon

I take the noble Lord's point that if the amendment we have discarded before goes on—that is, the Government policy goes on there is now a new situation. This is a good point. I think that what the noble Lord has suggested on consultation will take longer than between now and Report stage. If they come to a solution satisfactory to all parties, this could be added in the other place on this particular issue.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to Lord Avebury for his comments about missing the opportunity. In the light of the noble Earl's comments—and a nod is as good as a wink—and that we may find his honourable friends will be putting something forward in another place, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Spens moved Amendment No. 550:

Page 40, line 14, at end insert— ("( ) If the occupier of a field or enclosure crossed by a bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic, permits a stallion to be at large in the field or enclosure he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200. For the purposes of this section "stallion" means any non-castrated male equine animal of two years or over.").

The noble Lord said: I put down this amendment at the instigation of the British Horse Society, who are getting worried about the numbers of incidents which are being reported to them of stallions attacking riders riding along bridleways or through paths. We heard a lot about bulls before the break, but I should like to suggest that stallions are very much more dangerous than bulls. They can attack you from either end and, secondly, they are much more aggressive and protective than bulls. Stallions will attack any male horse in their vicinity and also will try to bring under their control any mare that comes along. Any ridden horse is in danger—and not only the horse but the rider, too, suffers if such a contretemps occurs.

I should like to give an example which, although this clause would not have protected him, did happen to the father-in-law of one of my sons. He was riding a mare in the Quantock Hills last autumn when, out of the blue, a stallion came along and tried to mount the mare while he was still in the saddle. The result was utter confusion. He fell off. The mare bolted and eventually got home about three miles from where the incident had happened, closely followed by the stallion. Luckily someone was there and managed to keep the stallion out of the stableyard. My son's father-in-law had to walk the three miles home.

This afternoon I received another example of a case. A boy was riding his pony mare through a field in Essex. A stallion which was not normally vicious seized the child by the shoulder and flung him to the ground in order to get at the mare. Stallions are dangerous animals. The British Horse Society feels that this amendment would give a lot of protection to the very large number of riders who now ride for recreation. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I should like to support this amendment. Stallions are quite different from bulls, as the noble Lord said. A thoroughbred stallion can be very vicious. Arab stallions are never gelded for riding. They are an exception. You can usually trust them. They are not dangerous for riding and seldom dangerous to pedestrians. I have an Andalusian stallion, a Spanish stallion, who has a lot of Arab blood in him yet we would never let him out in any field at all which the public was going to cross. In Scotland—and this does not apply to this amendment—we have Highland stallions out with the mares on the hills, but that is quite different because they are not in a field or an enclosure. I heartily support the amendment.

Lord Melchett

We support the amendment. I am assuming, in view of the noble Earl's traumatic experiences as a child, that he will be supporting it, too. I hope we may hear from him to that effect.

Lord Burton

I see a little difficulty with this. On Exmoor, the New Forest and the Welsh mountains, where the stallions are running out with the mares, there is rather the same trouble as one might have with a beef herd. The mares are out in the wild there and I feel that we should not rush into this without further consideration. Many stallions, if they want to get to a mare, will jump out of a good many obstacles, so to have them shut in one field may not have the desired effect. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard said, Highland stallions run out with the mares. We will take a stallion out and bring in the stags. He goes out with a mare very often. If this is going to apply, I would ask the Minister whether he would consider it not applying in Scotland.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Is there a textual amendment needed? The amendment says: If the occupier of a field or enclosure crossed by a bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic, …". Should the first comma be removed or should the word "or" be inserted? Should it be: a bridleway or road used as a public path …"? The point I am getting at is whether the amendment is intended to prohibit the keeping of a stallion in a field crossed by a road on which horses may be taken. Is it intended that a footpath would prohibit the keeping, of a stallion in that field? I am not clear as to the nature of the right of way that is prohibitive to the keeping of a stallion in that field. That is the point that I am getting at. It seems to me that the longer these debates go on, the more we are convinced that all males of the species are dangerous animals.

The Earl of Avon

If I may intervene with the Government's view, we have an open mind on this. I understand that the informal Spicer Committee in another place has just produced a report on it favourable to the amendment of Lord Spens. We shall certainly consider the amendment in the light of the Spicer Committee; and if, on that undertaking, the noble Lord is able to withdraw the amendment, then so much the better.

Lord Spens

I am most grateful to the Minister. This afternoon I received a copy of the Spicer Committee's recommendations. I hope that the Minister will find himself able to accept them. Regarding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I did not draft this amendment, so the Committee is getting my own interpretation of it. We had to start with the lowest denominator of where a horse and rider can go, which is a bridleway. Then we get a road used as a public path and finally a byway open to all traffic. Those are three separate tracks over which a ridden horse can travel. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.

8.37 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 551:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Appointment of Wardens for Footpaths and Bridlewars

. A local authority may appoint such number of persons as appear to the authority to be necessary or expedient to act as wardens as respects a footpath or bridleway which is both in the countryside and in the area of the authority, and the purpose for which wardens may be so appointed is to advise and assist the public in connection with the use of the path or way.").

The noble Baroness said: I moved an earlier amendment—Amendment No. 460—which enabled the local authority to appoint wardens. This, I am glad to say, was accepted by the Government. I hope that this amendment will be accepted likewise. If I see a nod from the noble Earl opposite, I shall say no more. I see the noble Earl nods and so I therefore beg to move the amendment.

The Earl of Avon

If I may put something on record before I agree that the Government will consider this, we appreciate that, in places like urban fringes, some local authorities have to grapple from time to time with problems of misunderstanding by urban visitors about the care of the countryside; and that they might find it helpful to be able to appoint wardens with the object of increasing co-operation and mutual understanding between the users and the land-owning community. My noble friend Lord Bellwin said on Second Reading that the two wardening proposals had merits but that this is not the time to create new tasks for local authorities. That is right. But we recognise that this new clause would not oblige local authorities to appoint additional staff and I would not expect them to do so in current economic circumstances. We want to see reductions in their overall expenditure, not increases. The Government concede that a few local authorities might find it useful to be able to transfer staff to provide warden services of this nature, particularly in the fringe areas around our great cities where there may be compelling reasons for action to improve relationships between farmers and the general public using the land as a playground. And we certainly wish them to have as much freedom as they need. With this in view, I hope that we may be able to consider this amendment in a favourable fashion.

Lord Sandford

Before the noble Baroness decides what to do with her amendment—I am not sure whether it will be in the Bill or whether the noble Baroness is going to withdraw it so that the Government can propose something else—may I raise two further aspects? The amendment, as worded, makes it possible for a single local authority to appoint a number of wardens. There are a number of paths which will go through more than one local authority area—therefore that ought to be in the plural—even in respect of the fringe areas round our big cities, for which there is certainly a need.

I would suggest to my noble friend that there is also a case for appointing wardens on long-distance footpaths which go through the area of more than one local authority. There may be a case where a district council and a county council would, for different reasons, both want to be involved. All those considerations point to the need for using the plural.

Then there is the further consideration that a lot of this work has so far been done by the Countryside Commission exercising their experimental powers, so that a final version of this ought to make provision for them, in addition to local authorities, to have this power. Whether or not this amendment is accepted now, those are just a few refinements I should like the Government to consider.

Baroness David

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He has obviously raised a great number of important points. Had I spoken at length on this amendment I would have said that I thought probably voluntary wardens would be appointed for this purpose, so that it would involve the local authorities in very little expense. However, as the Minister has said he will take this question back to look at it in a very favourable light, as I understand the last one was taken back, I shall beg leave to withdraw this now.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 552 not moved.]

8.42 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 553:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of Highways Act 1980

.—(1) In section 134 of the Highways Act 1980 (ploughing of footpath or bridleway) subsection (3) shall be omitted.

(2) In subsection (4) of that section, for paragraphs (a) and (b), there shall be substituted "not later than 3 weeks from the time when the occupier began to plough the footpath or bridleway".

(3) Subsection (5) of that section shall be omitted and the following substituted— (5) A person who fails to comply with subsection (4) above—

  1. (a) is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding £200; and
  2. (b) where he is convicted of failing to comply with that subsection and the offence is continued after the conviction, is guilty of a further offence and liable to a fine not exceeding £1 for each day on which the offence is so continued."

(4) In subsection (6) of that section for "(3) to" there shall be substituted "(4) and" and the words after "authority" where it appears for the second time, shall be omitted.

(5) Subsection (7) of that section shall be omitted.

(6) In subsection (8) of that section for "subsections (6) and (7)" there shall be substituted "subsection (6)" and for "footpath or bridleway" there shall be substituted "highway"."

(7) In subsection (10)(b) of that section for "footpath and bridleway" there shall be substituted "highway".

(8) After subsection (5) of that section there shall be inserted a new subsection— (5A) A person who ploughs a highway other than in the exercise of the right conferred by this section or of any other right shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding £200." ").

The noble Lord said: I formally move this amendment and I propose not to speak on it at any length. I am certain the Committee will appreciate that, as it would require the explanation of the eight subsections. I propose to take this course of action because a number of speakers have referred to the Spicer Committee, which was considering a review of the whole question of rights of way. I have in my hand a copy of a letter which was sent to the Secretary of State dated only two days ago, which sets out the terms of an agreement which has been arrived at by all the representatives who carried out the review.

I should like to feel that the Government, though they may not be able to give me a clear answer now, will consider this agreement with very great care with a view to bringing forward some kind of amendment at the Report stage. I hope the Minister will feel he can do that: otherwise I shall have to explain the whole eight subsections of the new clause, which I would prefer not to do.

The Earl of Avon

Like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I understand that the Rights of Way Review Committee, under Michael Spicer's chairmanship, have discussed a number of these proposals. I put it in the past tense so that your Lordships will realise that we actually have got proposals on paper here which represent a package for dealing with problems caused by ploughing on public rights of way. The Government would certainly be willing to consider suitable amending legislation, but before going any further I should like to be satisfied that these amendments are generally acceptable. We will, of course, consult with farming and local authority interests, but we should like to have time to digest these and bring forward something on Report.

Lord Underhill

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 554:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Restoration of eroded highways

. When a highway ceases to exist due to natural causes, it shall be a duty of the highway authority to restore the continuity of the way, either by creating by agreement or order a new highway or by reconstructing that part of the highway which has ceased to exist.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to place upon a highway authority the duty of restoring the continuity of any highway which has ceased to exist due to natural causes. I am given to understand that it is a principle of law that if a highway ceases to exist physically because of the erosion of a cliff-edge or river bank, then it ceases to exist legally. One can see that a cliff top or riverside path could be rendered effectively useless as a through route by erosion on a short section, since there is no duty on any authority to restore the continuity.

The amendment gives authorities two options. Either they an reconstruct the highway or use their powers under the Highways Act 1980 to create a new highway by agreement order to link up the two severed parts. No doubt the former choice would probably be exercised in the case of a river bank or canal towpath, whereas the latter choice would be more appropriate where coastal erosion is concerned. This seems to be a common-sense amendment and I should like to think that the noble Earl can accept it on behalf of the Government.

The Earl of Avon

I can well appreciate the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has put forward this amendment. I hope the Committee will not feel me to be ungenerous at the moment if I say that we prefer not to have it, and I will explain why. When a highway ceases to exist, as the noble Lord has said, through natural causes, it is clearly right that consideration should be given to whether it ought to be replaced; but whether the highway authority should in all circumstances be obliged to replace or restore it is debatable. For example, there may well be cases of land-slip where restoration or replacement is impossible or pointless, having regard to the continuing nature of the problem.

However, I am now coming on to a further point about which the Government feel rather more strongly. The debate about this matter we do not believe should take place in the context of this Bill, because Part III is primarily concerned with public rights of way for walkers and horse riders and this amendment goes much wider than that and concerns itself with all highways. I feel, therefore, that it is really a matter for general highway legislation, which is not appropriate to this Bill. From the Government's point of view, this is a slightly more fundamental point, because we do not want to clutter this Bill on conservation more than we have to with other matters not strictly concerned with conservation. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Melchett

I have taken the noble Earl's two points on this amendment. First, I can see that it would clearly be unreasonable, if, for example, a highway had for some reason been built over the top of a volcano, particularly if it were active, for the highway authorities to rebuild it every time the volcano erupted. But it seems to me a little unlikely that there would be a highway in those circumstances.

Lord Avebury

If they accepted the last amendment, then they could have temporarily diverted it during the eruption of the volcano!

Lord Melchett

I think that if they had accepted the last amendment it would have solved all sorts of problems, including this rather unlikely one. But that difficulty raised by the noble Earl could be got round by the insertion of the word "reasonable" or some such qualification in the duty that is being placed on the highway authority. The noble Earl did not seem to place a great deal of weight on that first objection; so I wonder whether I could ask him a question about the second one. It is, after all, likely that if part of the M4 disappeared the highway authority concerned would set about replacing it pretty quickly. But what we were wanting to know was whether the Government would view with some favour a duty to replace, where it was reasonable in the circumstances specified by my noble friend, a footpath or bridleway. I do not know whether the noble Earl is prepared to consider that limited point, which would clearly fall within the terms of the Bill. As my noble friend said in moving the amendment, it seems to be an eminently sensible provision.

The Earl of Avon

I see the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and equally I hope that he will see mine. We are getting very nervous about things on the highway, and so on, coming into this Bill which we do not consider should be there. I take his point about the replacement of bridleways and footpaths, and we will see what can be done on that issue.

Viscount Hanworth

It seems to me there is a danger, when you ally a rather simple problem to a major one concerning other problems such as highways, that in the end you find that the problem is insoluble and precisely nothing is done. Now—

Lord Melchett

I wonder whether I may just intervene. The noble Earl very kindly said that he would consider the point, and I know how anxious the Government are, when they agree to consider something, that we should not then prolong the debate. That is a feeling with which I have some sympathy, so I wonder whether, if any noble Viscount wishes to add anything more, he will bear in mind that we are trying the noble Earl's patience.

Viscount Hanworth

Most certainly, but I hope that he will bear in mind what I said as well.

Lord Underhill

In the light of the assurance given by the noble Earl, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Spens moved Amendment No. 555:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Power to require removal of electric fences

. After section 164 of the Highways Act 1980 (power to require removal of barbed wire) there shall be inserted the following section:—

"164A. Where on land adjoining a highway there is an electric fence, and the electric fence is a nuisance to the highway, a competent authority may by notice served on the occupier of the land require him to abate the nuisance within such time, not being less than one month nor more than 6 months from the date of the notice, as may be specified in it.

For the purpose of this section—

  1. (a) the competent authorities, in relation to any highway, are the highway authority and also (where they are not the highway authority) the local authority for the area in which the highway is situated;
  2. (b) "an electric fence" means a fence capable of carrying a current of live electricity and an electric fence is to be deemed to be a nuisance to a highway if it is likely to be injurious to persons or animals lawfully using the highway.".

The noble Lord said: I put down this amendment, also, at the instigation of the British Horse Society. Section 164 of the Highways Act 1980 gives a competent authority power to require an occupier of land to take down a barbed wire fence which is a nuisance to the highway. This amendment seeks to give a similar power in the case of an electric fence. Having heard what the noble Earl the Minister said about highways on the last amendment, I wonder whether this amendment is drafted too broadly, and whether we ought to reduce it to the problem of a bridleway or something like that.

The point is that electric fences are quite dangerous to horses. Horses and ponies are thin-skinned animals and most of them are iron shod. Some of them may be sweating a little when they come into contact with an electric fence, and they will get a very much more violent shock than the cow against which the electric fence is probably directed. So that if a child is riding a pony along a bridleway, and touches an electric fence which borders it, there could be quite a nasty accident. The British Horse Society have had several reports of accidents of this kind. They are worried about it and would like to see some means of controlling the installation of electric fences along the border, or even across a public right of way over which horses and riders are allowed to travel.

The problem in numbers is quite considerable. I asked the British Horse Society to give me estimated figures of the numbers of horses and riders which they thought carried out their recreational activities inside the United Kingdom. They think that there are probably 1½ million riders and half a million horses, the difference being because there are a large number of riding schools where the same horse carries a large number of riders on its back during the course of a week. But even for half a million horses, which are not necessarily all out at the same time, but are out during the same period, this problem can be quite a severe one. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I do not think I can give the support to this amendment that I gave to the noble Lord's last amendment. Its effect would be very hard on farmers who, by putting up an electric fence, are trying to keep stock off the highway. I think I am right in saying that if you put through an electric fence a voltage that will be injurious to human beings it is illegal anyway. I quite see the noble Lord's point if horses touch an electric fence. Of course, the current is very low, but a highly bred horse would shy, and as in some riding schools you get a lot of people who cannot ride at all, they might come off. But I have very mixed feelings about this amendment. It is up to the horseman to prevent his horse from touching the electric fence. I agree that horses do not have four-wheel brakes or a steering wheel, but I cannot say that I really support this amendment.

Lord Melchett

May I try to encourage the noble Viscount to be a little more generous in his support? First, although the electric current in an electric fence would not be hazardous to a human being, the point of wanting some control—and it is only a limited control—over the presence of electric fences on bridle-ways is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said, horses are likely to come into contact with them. A horse will very often be sweating, unlike a cow, or a bull for that matter, and the current will therefore have a much more marked effect. That is without the fact that a horse has a thinner skin and would be more susceptible to shock.

That, in itself, though, is not a danger; it is the horse's reaction when it receives the shock and bolts and throws the rider. If the rider is young and inexperienced that is more so, rather than less so. I do not think we want to encourage anything in the countryside which deters young people from riding and learning to ride horses, nor to discourage them from using bridleways as opposed to motor-roads, where the dangers to them and to everybody else are so much higher.

As I understand it—and I do not know whether the noble Earl can help me with this—what the amendment does is to bring electric fences into line, as it were, with controls that already exist over barbed wire. It seems to me, if I am right about that, that it is quite reasonable, from the point of view of people riding, in particular, that electric fences should be treated in much the same way as barbed wire. Barbed wire has always been, to put it mildly, not liked by those who ride horses in the countryside, sometimes with a passion which I personally share, and I think it is reasonable that electric fences should be treated in law in the same way.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I feel that I should now support the amendment.

Lord Grimston of Westbury

I think it is fair to say that, in many cases, barbed wire fences are indistinguishable from electric fences these days. Therefore, I feel that this amendment should be supported as a matter of principle, to treat both types of wire on the same basis.

Lord Harvington

Before the noble Earl replies, may I say that I am perhaps the only one of your Lordships who has actually jumped into one of these fences, and it is an extremely disagreeable experience. It is much worse than jumping into barbed wire, because the horse suddenly goes mad with you. I thought for a moment that I might have detected a smile on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, but I have not detected that smile, so I cannot say that I did. Anyway, it happens at times that people jump into these fences and the effect is very bad indeed, and very hard on the horse. The bovine animal quickly gets used to it, because with its very wet nose the fence gives him the most awful shock and it is very careful not to do it again. But the horse is not quite like that and when he touches it he seems to suffer more than a cow. The real difference is that once a cow has touched an electric fence with its nose, it never does it again.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

We are all getting charged with a little electricity, I notice. But nobody has yet mentioned human beings. What about the thin-skinned humans who touch these contrivances? It is surprising to me that this matter has not been raised before in this connection, because these fences are a hazard. I am not sure, however low the voltage, whether some people would escape a shock which might be harmful to them. We have heard of children, in connection with bulls and so on.

Electric fences are altogether unpleasant things, and I hope that they are not as widely used as they were to begin with. I think that better improvisation of fencing is probably possible now than it was some years ago. But in the context of this Bill, we are clearly talking about electric fences near pathways and other rights of way in the countryside, and not especially, or even probably, in relation to the highway.

Are there no rules about this in existing legislation? I shall he surprised if there are not. The noble Lord said that he thought it was illegal to put above a certain voltage into an electric fence. Presumably there is a law about it somewhere. The idea behind the amendment is good. It would be desirable, if at all possible, to get electric fences away from where people go for a walk in the countryside. I am all for protecting farmers from having unnecessarily expensive fencing when they want to divide up pasture land or root crops so that grazing takes place over a limited area and not over a much wider area than would be economical. Electric fences ought to be barred from anywhere where people have the right of access for reasonable recreational purposes.

Lord Monk Bretton

The noble Lord's amendment relates to horses. It refers to highways which will include footpaths. I think, therefore, he has gone a little further than one might realise from first appearances. It is fair enough, in my view, about horses. It is reasonable to say, so far as pedestrians are concerned, that it is unreasonable to put them on a very narrow piece of land with an electric fence beside them; but sometimes it is justified, particularly if the distance left before the electric fence is wide enough to be reasonable. A good deal more thought needs to be given to this matter.

Lord Melchett

Would the noble Lord agree that the amendment does not ban electric fences? It simply allows some control if an electric fence is a nuisance to the highway, as he will see in the line where it says "164A".

The Earl of Avon

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was quite correct when he said that this would give effect to Section 164(1) of the Highways Act: a power to highway and local authorities to require operators on land to abate any nuisance caused by barbed wire fences. This would now do it with electric fences as well. The Government take much the same view as they did on the last amendment. We feel that this is too wide, in that it affects the Highways Act. Equally, however, as I said on the last amendment, if the Committee are referring to bridleways and paths, which we are discussing more in this Bill, I should be quite happy to take it back, though I am slightly less optimistic regarding this amendment than the previous one. However, we will certainly have a look at it.

Lord Spens

I am most grateful to the Minister. The reason why we put "highways" into the amendment was in order to parallel Section 164(1) of the Highways Act. I am inclined to agree that that is too broad a definition and that something a little lower down the scale would be better. With that in mind, I hope the noble Lord the Minister will consider the possibility of dealing with this problem, which is very serious. I will take it back to the British Horse Society and see what they have to say about it. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 555A:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Protection of hedges and trees alongside highway

.—(l) if a person wilfully cuts down, roots up or removes a hedge, tree, wall or bank alongside an unmetalled highway in such a manner as to be likely to destroy it, he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £250.

(2) A constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he sees committing an offence against this section.

(3) This section shall not apply to the cutting down, rooting up or removal of a hedge or tree which is dying or dead, or has become dangerous nor to the removal of hedge, tree, wall or bank whose cutting down, rooting up or removal is in compliance with an obligation imposed by or under an Act of Parliament.

(4) Where the owner, lessee or occupier of agricultural land, or of land which is being brought into use for agriculture, over which a highway runs, or which is adjacent to a highway, represents to the highway authority for that highway that for securing that the use, or any particular use, of the land for agriculture, shall be efficiently carried on, it is expedient to cut down, root up or remove a hedge or tree alongside the said highway in such a manner as to be likely to destroy it, or to remove any wall or bank alongside the said highway the highway authority may, subject to such conditions as they may impose for maintenance and for enabling the right of way to be exercised without undue inconvenience to the public, authorise the destruction of the hedge, tree, wall or bank.

(5) This section shall not apply to hedgerow trees of less than 50 centimetres circumference.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to protect hedges and trees alongside unmetalled highways. The need for it will be apparent to your Lordships when I say that since the end of the war the loss of hedgerows in our country has been estimated at something like 120,000 to 140,000 miles. It is still continuing at the rate of an estimated 1,000 miles a year, despite the fact that since 1977 Ministry of Agriculture grants for hedgerow removal have been brought to an end. It has been most serious in the arable counties. The Nature Conservancy Council estimate that there has been a 75 per cent. loss of hedgerows in East Anglia alone. But farmers in the arable counties say that the loss of hedgerows is now virtually complete, though instances of hedgerow and tree removal do still continue to occur.

I should mention that not all lost hedgerows included in the figures that I have mentioned border highways, but when highway boundary hedges and other features are removed, then ploughing out often follows and frequently is perfectly legal. The Countryside Act 1968 excludes from any right to plough paths which follow what are for the time being the headlands or sides of a field, but a farmer who owns both sides is at liberty to turn two fields into one. He has to reinstate the line of the path after ploughing by passing tractor wheels or rollers over it, but the resulting path is substantially worse to the user, both for ease of walking, for landscape value and for wildlife.

It so happens that the other day a rather vivid example occurred of the kind of thing which may happen. It was reported in The Times of 11th February under the heading "Woodland order is too late". This concerned the case of a 500 |yard greenlane known as Cow Pasture Lane, which is part of Rectory Farm, Mellis, near Eye, owned by a Mr. Battell. What happened was that the local authority decided to apply for a tree preservation order in respect of this greenlane and a copse at the end of it, but during the time that they were making up their minds and obtaining the order the farmer was too quick for them and cut down all the trees. So the tree preservation order was of no effect. This lane which the farmer has demolished is supposed to date back 900 years at least—probably to even before the Norman Conquest. That shows how it is quite possible, under present circumstances, for ancient trees and hedgerows to be removed by farmers without any penalty whatsoever. I think the need for some kind of protection is very vividly illustrated by that case. The amendment does not seek to protect hedges and other boundary features, even those bordering greenlanes, that are not connected with public highways. Of course as your Lordships will be aware, some greenlanes are wholly private and everybody would agree that the only acceptable way to conserve them is by management agreements or, in very rare cases, probably by designation as SSSIs.

We have the two options for protection. There is the carrot or the stick or a combination of the two. Clause 31 of this Bill allows authorities to make management agreements, and I understand that they can include hedges, banks, walls and trees, but I must emphasise that management agreements make heavy demands on local authority resources, not only in finance by way of compensation but in the time it takes the officers who have to conduct the negotiations. Neither is likely to be available immediately in cases such as the one I have mentioned, nor to the extent that is needed. The amendment of course does not preclude an agreement for future maintenance.

Another point I should like to mention is that it appears that the EEC conservation grants are only available to farmers who have been under compulsion in the first place. That is a point which the Government may like to take into consideration.

During an earlier sitting on this Bill, on 12th February, we were discussing another aspect of greenlanes and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, mentioned the committee under the chairmanship of the honourable gentleman Mr. Michael Spicer—the Rights of Way Committee which has been referred to so frequently during the course of our proceedings. He said that the Commission's proposals for greenlanes had been discussed there but that they had not reached the stage of agreeing on recommendations, regarding either greenlanes in general or the ones that were considered to be of outstanding importance on historical or other grounds, but that the Government were sympathetic to the need for some form of protection for these greenways and would need to give careful consideration to the procedure which would be most appropriate. He suggested that people should submit views and also that the Spicer Committee's recommendations on this matter would be carefully considered by the Government.

I ventured to hope then that the Spicer Committee might reach some sort of conclusions while the Bill was still going through your Lordships' House, because this matter of timing is crucial. It may be that another place is quite as well able to deal with it as we are here and I have no doubt that if the Spicer Committee came up with positive suggestions for the protection of boundary features on greenlanes it would be dealt with there just as well, but I should like some definite undertaking and assurances from the Government as to the time-scale that is involved in the Spicer Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that they had written on another matter very recently and I think it would be valuable if the noble Lord who is to reply could tell us when he thinks the Spicer Committee is likely to make recommendations on this matter and whether the noble Lord can give us some information about it before we reach Report stage. I do not intend to press this matter to a Division but I hope the noble Lord can give us that information so that we may decide whether we can do anything while the Bill is still in this House or whether we shall have to wait until it reaches another place. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I should like to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has proposed. I am not committed to the detail or the drafting of his proposed new clause, but I feel that he has made out a case for dealing with this problem of the further reduction of hedgerows. When we were discussing Clause 26 and the question of the protection of habitat of wildlife, I referred to the fact that in Huntingdonshire (which I used to represent) 88 per cent. of the hedgerows have been destroyed in the last 30 years. It so happens that a great many of the few surviving miles of hedgerow are along the roadsides and I think we should be sympathetic to an effort to preserve them, more especially bearing in mind that the reason why so many hedgerows have been destroyed is to make the fields larger. This proposal would not have a bad effect upon farming. It would merely mean that fields which cannot be further enlarged by cutting down hedgerows would not suffer because the hedgerows would simply remain at the side of the highway.

Also I am glad that the noble Lord mentioned the question of hedgerows along the sides of greenlanes. They are useful because they help to mark where the greenlanes are. Therefore, I hope that even if the detail proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is not acceptable, the principle he has proposed will find sympathy on the part of my noble friends.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I wonder whether I might set one matter straight because I think my noble kinsman has been rather unfair to Mr. Battell. When this question arose local farmers nearby—because the farming community was somewhat worried about it—did approach him, and it was found that certainly The Times had completely wrongly reported the incident. There was not a tree preservation order on there. There had been one, and Mr. Battell had appealed against it and had won. The order had not been put on. So I think we are being slightly unfair to him in this case. I am not saying that he was right or wrong, but the reporting was inaccurate. I am sure my noble kinsman would like to look into the case before he confirms that.

Lord Underhill

So much could be said on this amendment, which I am pleased the noble Lord has moved, but I will content myself with two or three points. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, mentioned figures relating to the loss of hedges. I understand that the Nature Conservancy Council has said that 75 per cent. of hedges have been lost in East Anglia. Therefore, there is a problem. I will not weary the Committee by going into details, but they have been mentioned in previous debates. My mind goes back to the debates on not only Clause 26 but also Clause 31, where I had to complain that we had no anwser to the position of farmers who either are not interested in conservation of this kind or do not make management agreements. Therefore, we are referring to a minority, and it may well be that we are referring to a minority here, but unless the minority is dealt with we can find some of these most delightful aspects of our countryside disappearing. I must say on this amendment, as we have said on many others, that we must not miss the opportunity provided by this Bill, which, after all, is a countryside Bill, concerned not only with the protection of the beauty of the countryside but in this case with the hedges that provide very valuable habitats. Therefore, we have to look at two aspects.

This amendment again is a compromise. I think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is to be complimented on it. There are some good provisos for the farming fraternity. Subsection (3) makes quite clear that any hedge or tree which is dying or dead or has become dangerous shall be removed. There is no argument about that. Then we have subsection (4) which says that if a highway authority is satisfied that in the interests of good farming these hedges or banks have to be removed, it can be done. Then there is the last provision, which concerns any hedgerow trees of less than 50 centimetres circumference, because that would assist the farming operations with the hedge cutting. I hope the noble Earl will feel that there are sufficient provisos, and if he thinks there are not sufficient provisos perhaps he would bring in an amendment with additional ones. But this is a most important point which should not be missed in this Countryside Bill.

Lord Sandford

The question whether one should leave the hedges in place in order to protect the footpath or should remove them in order to facilitate agriculture and farming is just one issue in the whole business of how, through management, to reconcile these two potentially conflicting uses of the countryside. This is an art which has been pioneered and developed in detail over the last decade by way of the Upton management experiment starting in the Lake District, starting first of all in one dale and then spreading to several, and now operating not only in the whole of the Lake District but in a number of other national parks. Whether it is concerned with grubbing or leaving in a hedge is neither here nor there. It can amount to that; it can involve other things.

The point is that it can involve the farmer in doing the work voluntarily or as part of a management agreement, or it can involve the work being done by a contractor and the cost being borne by the National Park Authority, or the other local authorities that might be involved; or it can be, and often is done by people who in the summer time, when the recreational pressures are at their peak, function as wardens. The role of the warden is more or less as stated in Amendment No. 551, which we saw a moment ago; namely, to advise and assist the public in connection with the use of the path or the way. During the winter time their activities are rather different and they find themselves engaged in a whole lot of minor estate management activities--like clearing footpaths, small drainage operations, clearing woodlands, and so on—sometimes on land which is in the ownership of a local authority or a national park authority, but more often on private land by agreement with the occupier.

What I should like my noble friend to consider, whether or not this amendment is accepted, is whether we can continue that kind of operation and develop it alongside footpaths with the use of the wardens for which Amendment No. 551, or another version of it, will make provision in the case of narrow strips of land represented by rights of way and bridleways. The kind of management involved is not only the management of hedges so as to minimise the hindrance to agriculture and at the same time protect the footpaths, but also the provision of such things as small parking bays so that visitors and pedestrians can park their cars without getting in the way of the farmers and so that rights of way are kept drained, foot bridges are kept in good condition and so on. I should like him to be good enough to look at that aspect as well.

9.21 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

The amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerns the preservation of boundary features to rights of way. The previous amendments of the noble Lord dealt with wide unmetalled tracks or greenways which were of special interest or value on landscape or other grounds. The clause which we are now considering, however, has much more extensive application. It applies to all hedges, trees, walls and banks alongside any unmetalled highway—namely, any footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic. No owner or other person could chop down or remove any such trees or hedges, et cetera, with the limited exceptions set out in subsections (3) and (5), without the approval of the highway authority. Such a requirement I think would impose a burden on highway authorities, farmers and landowners and would be hard to justify.

The long-standing tree preservation order system enables local authorities to protect trees in the interests of amenity, and these orders can be applied wherever the trees are situated. We appreciate that hedgerow saplings are vulnerable to destruction by the widespread use of mechanical hedge trimmers and I commend the advice about saplings given in the Countryside Commission press notice issued a year ago.

In responding to the amendment moved by the noble Lord on 13th February, I indicated that the department would be entering into discussions with the Tree Council concerning its recommendations for changes to the tree preservation order legislation, including its recommendations concerning hedges. My noble friend Lord Sandys in responding on 12th February referred to the Countryside Commission's advice concerning protection of greenlanes—and here of course we did give an undertaking to consider this point as regards greenlanes—and the Commission's strong preference for protection of the majority of greenlanes to be achieved by positive encouragement to local authorities, farmers and landowners and by appropriate management arrangements including the use of formal management agreements. That advice accords with the views that the Commission had previously expressed in its new agricultural landscapes policy statement, in which it expressed the view that action to stop the unnecessary clearance of features of landscape value including trees, shrubs and hedgerows was more likely to be achieved by agreement than by compulsion.

In particular, I commend the initiative which has been taken by the Countryside Commission in providing relevant advice to the farming community by means of its Countryside Conservation Handbook and in particular the hedge management leaflet which they issued fairly recently and which provides advice on the management of hedges, the factors to be taken into account before action is taken to remove hedges, and the desirability, where hedges are removed, of planting up in their place field corners and other places which are difficult to cultivate.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in particular mentioned the Spicer Committee. When I spoke to an earlier amendment I said that perhaps we could ask them to consider an amendment that might be tabled later in another place. I said that on that occasion only because I thought that consultation on that could not possibly be completed by the Report stage. I can give no undertaking that the Spicer Committee will discuss any of the problems that we are raising at the moment. Of course, they have already written a paper on the one which the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Spens, raised. Therefore, although we can ask them to do something, I can give no undertaking that that could be done by the Report stage.

In view of what we said to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his previous amendment about green-lanes, when we said that we would certainly consider it, and in view of what I have just said, I hope that I have persuaded the Committee that this amendment is too large in scope to be acceptable. I shall, of course, consider what has been said, and I paid particular attention to what my noble friend Lord Sandford said. As I have said on previous occasions, management agreements are perfectly able to cope with hedgerows.

Lord Burton

There seems to be no mention of forestry here. Whereas this amendment might be applicable on agricultural grounds, it seems to be totally impracticable as regards forestry. I think that it would be quite impossible for the Forestry Commission to have any forest walks if they were unable to cut down the trees.

Lord Avebury

I am afraid that the noble Earl, Lord Avon, did not really deal in toto with the points that I raised because I gave him an example of a case which occurred the other day. Whether or not the particular farmer contravened a tree preservation order is really neither here nor there. If I maligned this particular farmer, I apologise through my noble kinsman opposite. But the account shows that it was certainly in the mind of the local authority to make a tree preservation order in respect of the whole of Cow Pasture Lane and that the tree preservation officer, Mr. Dick Wassell, arrived at the farm with the intention of serving an order which, as I understand it, the local authority had made, only to find that the farmer and his son were in the process of cutting down mature trees along the whole of the 500 yard length of this lane.

Therefore, although I quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Avon, that wherever possible we want to work through voluntary agreements—and management agreements are to be highly commended and would work in the majority of cases—there will always be the occasional farmer who decides to take matters into his own hands and who decides not to accept an offer by a local authority to enter into negotiations for a management agreement, but rather to go ahead and cut down the trees along what may be a very ancient greenway so that he can bring the land into agricultural use.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I could give full details to my noble kinsman about what happened, but in fact the tree preservation order was imposed last year and was contested by Mr. Battell who managed to have the order cancelled by the Secretary of State for the Environment. In fact, he had been doing this work for three weeks. I am not saying whether or not he should have done it environmentally, but he was totally within the law and was wrongly reported.

Lord Avebury

If he was totally within the law that surely reinforces the point I made when speaking to my amendment. If we had something like this on the statute book, it would not have necessitated a tree preservation order, nor would he have had the power to go to the Secretary of State and appeal against the decision of the local authority. I do not think that the noble Earl made any attempt to answer that point. We are at a late hour, and obviously we do not want to pursue this ad nauseam.

I shall simply make one further suggestion to the noble Earl, which I hope will enable us to make progress. We all agree that the work of Mr. Michael Spicer is valuable and important in throwing light on these matters and helping us to decide what kind of legislation is necessary. We also agree, I suppose, that it is essential that whatever Mr. Spicer and his committee may advise, it should be available to Parliament before this Bill has reached the end of its tether; it is too late for either your Lordships or another place to do something about it.

What I would suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, if he would be prepared to do this, is that he writes to Mr. Spicer and draws his attention to the debates we have had, on both 12th February and this evening, and asks him to let those who are taking part in this debate know roughly what is the time-scale within which he will be able to make recommendations on the matters in question. I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Avon, nodding his head, and so with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.31 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 555B: After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of Countryside Act 1968.

.—(1) In subsection (1) of section 27 of the Countryside Act 1968 (signposting of footpaths and bridleways)—

  1. (a) the words "after consultation with the owner or occupier of the land concerned" shall be omitted;
  2. (b) the words "have power to" shall be omitted;
  3. (c) for the words "footpath or bridleway" there shall be substituted the words "footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic";
  4. (d) after the word "authority", in the second place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "subject to subsection (2), (3) and (4) below, and shall have power to erect and maintain the signposts where the highway authority consider convenient in or on the property adjoining the footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic".

(2) In subsection (2) of that section—

  1. (a) the words "subject to subsection (3) below" shall be omitted;
  2. (b) for the words "footpath or bridleway", in each place where they occur, there shall be substituted the words "footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic";
  3. (c) for the words "exercise of their power" there shall be substituted the words "carrying out their duty".

(3) In subsection (4) of that section—

  1. (a) the words "it shall also be the duty" shall be omitted;
  2. (b) for the words "exercise of their powers" there shall be substituted the words "carrying out their duty";
  3. (c) for the word "to" there shall be substituted the word "shall";
  4. (d) the word or "shall be omitted;
  5. (e) after the word "bridleway" there shall be inserted the words "road used as a public path, byway open to all traffic, provided that before erecting the signpost the highway authority shall consult with the owner or occupier of the land concerned".

(4) In subsection (5) of that section for the words "footpath or bridleway" there shall be substituted the words "footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic".

(5) In subsection (6) of that section for the words "footpath, or bridleway" there shall be substituted the words "footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic", and for the words "footpaths and bridleways" there shall be substituted the words "footpaths, bridleways, roads used as public paths and byways open to all traffic".

(6) In subsection (7) of that section for the words "signs or notices" there shall be substituted the words "signs, notices or waymarks" and for the words "sign or notice" there shall be substituted the words "sign, notice or waymark".

(7) In this section "road used as a public path" means a way which is shown in the definitive map and statement as a road used as a public path").

The noble Lord said: Throughout this part of the Bill there has been evident a sort of tug of war or tension between the interests of landowners and land occupiers on the one hand, and the rights and interests of the general public on the other. This amendment, I hope, strikes a correct balance between the two. The question at issue is that of "waymarking." The term "waymark" is defined in the OED as any object, whether natural feature or artificial structure, which serves as a guide to the traveller". In practice it generally takes the form of an arrow painted on a suitable surface.

One of the frustrations that confronts anyone who walks or attempts to walk in our countryside is that in some areas (I do not say all, but in many) the highway authority confines itself to placing a signpost at the junction of the footpath or other right of way with the metalled road and then washes its hands of the matter, leaving the landowner or occupier to put up as many fierce injunctions to keep out as he pleases. In my own area a case comes at once to mind. A spruce white on green signpost reading "public footpath" points directly at a metal gate, bearing the legend "Private Road Access to Brown's Farm only". Now is it not useless, indeed, a waste of public money, to erect a signpost if the general public have no idea what path, if any, it can follow beyond that point? There are many other instances of signposts pointing straight into waving fields of crops, with no further guidance; also, of wired-up stiles, making a mockery of the whole concept of rights of way.

In 1974 the Countryside Commission set up a study group on the question of waymarking, and not only the representatives of the Ramblers' Association and other users but also those of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association, I think I am correct in saying, generally accepted the benefits of a waymarking system. The study group led to the setting up of a project, and an excellent Public Path Waymarking Project Report published in 1979 by the Ramblers' Association—the project officer was Judith Ansell—from which I will quote briefly: The principle of waymarking rights of way is to enable users to follow the path accurately at points where they might otherwise have difficulty. Thus the advantage to users of footpaths and bridleways is obvious. But having made the route of the path clear, it follows that the amount of accidental trespass will also be much reduced. This constitutes the advantage to farmers and landowners".

In the eight project areas covered it is interesting to note that the majority of landowners and tenant farmers ended up in favour of waymarking once the system was explained to them. The greatest enthusiasts were those who suffered most from trespass. I think that reinforces my claim that our amendment seeks genuinely to reconcile the interests of all the parties.

Turning to the details, three main changes are proposed to Section 27 of the Countryside Act 1968. The first is to remedy the deficiency that the highway authority has no power to affix, place or paint signs or notices on private property against the owner's wishes, even where the property in question is a stile or gate on a public right of way. The amendment would give the authority power to erect and maintain signposts, including painting or placing other signs, where they consider convenient in or on the property adjoining the way in question—though only after consulting the owner or occupier concerned.

The second change is to exend the scope of the section to cover roads used as public footpaths and byways open to all traffic. I am aware that RUPPs, as they are called—roads used as public paths—are due to be phased out, but that may be a lengthy process and their inclusion here corresponds to the definition accorded to them in Government Amendment No. 484A which was agreed on Tuesday, 17th February.

The third change is to include the word "waymark" within the meaning of the word "signpost" to remove any doubt which might arise as to whether waymarks—which are normally, as I have explained, small painted arrows—are covered by this legislation. Incidentally, in case anyone is concerned with additional labour costs falling on local authorities, I should say that wherever an authority is sympathetic to way-marking, I am told it should not be difficult to find volunteers to carry out the job. Indeed, the Countryside Commission's Practical Guide to Waymarking says: Most of the labour is likely to be provided by voluntary organisations".

The amendment has the support of all the national organisations representing users of public rights of way. I will not spell them all out, but they must between them have well over half a million members. It is worth bearing in mind, furthermore, that the Sports Council has calculated that walking—that is, over a distance of two miles—is by far the most popular of all outdoor activities, involving more than one-fifth of the adult population during the summer months. The amendment therefore aims to go some distance towards meeting the legitimate aspirations of a large body of our fellow citizens to take healthy recreation in the open air, while at the same time minimising damage or nuisance to owners or occupiers of land. I think that is a fair balance, and I trust that the Government will give me some encouragement to hope for some progress in this rather neglected field. I beg to move.

The Earl of Avon

I fully recognise that the sign posting and waymarking of rights of way is of considerable benefit to path-users and that it also benefits landowners by helping to prevent trespass, which is often unintentional. I believe it was originally hoped that the task of signposting, required to be carried out in accordance with Section 27(2) of the 1968 Act, would be substantially completed within four to five years, but although some counties have now almost completed the task, others unfortunately have made very little progress.

It appears that the main intention of the amendment, ably explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, is to stiffen up the signposting duties imposed by the 1968 Act. However, the duty to waymark would still remain discretionary and there would be no effective change in the duty to signpost public paths where they meet metalled roads, except to remove the obligation to consult owners and occupiers and the provision that highway authorities may agree with parish councils that signposts may not be necessary at particular sites. The Government are sympathetic to extending the signposting and waymarking provisions of the 1968 Act to "roads used as public paths" and to "byways open to all traffic", but do not think that the other changes are necessary.

The 1968 Act makes provision for people, with the consent of the highway authority, to erect signposts along public paths. I appreciate that many authorities are finding it difficult to devote sufficient resources to carrying out the signposting task in a reasonable time unaided, and I hope that many authorities will co-operate with voluntary groups, who are often prepared to carry out much of the work. On the understanding that the Government will introduce an amendment to extend the provisions to RUPPs and byways, the noble Lord will, I hope, feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his forthcoming attitude to the amendment. I am glad he referred to the question of collaboration with voluntary organisations because that is the obvious way to go about it and, where there is good collaboration between local authorities and voluntary organisations, I am sure a great deal of progress can be made. I shall of course read carefully tomorrow in Hansard exactly what the noble Earl said, and perhaps I can get together with him before the Report stage. In view of what he has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 555C: After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Equestrian Traffic

.—(1) In the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967(a) the following subsection shall be substituted for section 1(3A) (by virtue of which the provision which may be made by a traffic regulation order includes any provision prohibiting, restricting or regulating the use of a road or any part of the width thereof by foot passengers):— (3A) The provision which may be made by a traffic regulation order shall include any provision prohibiting, restricting or regulating the use of a road or am, part of the width thereof by, or by any specified class—

  1. (a) of foot passengers; or
  2. (b) of persons driving, riding or leading horses or other animals of draught or burden,
either generally or subject to exceptions specified in the order, and either at all times or at times, on days or during periods so specified.";

(b) in section 12(1) and (2) (by virtue of which a highway authority may restrict or prohibit the use of a road or any part of a road by vehicles or by vehicles of any class or by foot passengers) after the words "or by foot passengers", in both places where they occur, there shall be inserted the words "or by persons driving, riding or leading horses or other animals of draught or burden"; and

(c) the following definition shall be inserted in section 104(1), after the definition of "street parking place" and "off-street parking place":— traffic" includes pedestrians and horses or other animals of draught or burden;").

The noble Lord said: Although a local authority can manage vehicles under the Road Traffic Regulations 1967 and pedestrians under the Transport Act 1968, it has no power to manage horses, and this amendment would correct that anomaly. It would help a local authority to manage horses on paths. For instance, it could temporarily prevent the passage of horses down a path, the surface of which had perhaps become a quagmire, due possibly to wet weather or excessive use. The amendment could meet many of the problems that we have been discussing, in particular those arising from misuse of footpaths by horses. It would also answer my problem of a horse rider riding down a footpath to the inconvenience of the walker, the rider's only excuse being that he had reason to believe that his grandfather rode the path many years ago. I raised that point in Amendment No. 508, and I hope that in fact it answers my question to my noble friend Lord Bellwin, who I think was somewhat at a loss as to how to reply. The amendment could also solve some of the greenlane problems. For instance, it could have been used to prevent the extinction of the scabious thistle in a greenlane in Cambridgeshire.

The power given by the amendment to local authorities—not to farmers or landowners, I emphasise—could help in a number of other ways to the advantage of walker, rider and farmer. I should add that the amendment contains no power whatsoever that would allow a local authority to discriminate against any particular section of the horseriding fraternity. Indeed, a look at the case in which Oxfordshire County Council tried, by means of a traffic regulation order, to ban motor bicycles from the Ridgeway will I hope reassure those concerned, in particular the riding schools, which I understand have been worried about the matter. In the Ridgeway case the inspector ruled against Oxfordshire County Council on all 10 reasons, and as we know, motor bicycles still travel along the Ridgeway.

When I moved a similar amendment to this—though it was a rather untidy one—during consideration of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, my noble friend Lord Bellwin replied sympathetically, but pointed out its technical weaknesses, which I have, I hope, tidied up. My noble friend also said that the Government wanted more time to discuss the matter with the various organisations. It may have been a case—it probably was—of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, because the result of my noble friend's reply was a tirade of abuse from some sections of the press, which fortunately for my noble friend landed on me. But after a particularly helpful article in Byeway and Bridleway, all parties—the British Horse Society, the ramblers, and the farmers—have made a very great effort to see one another's point of view, and a very real measure of agreement now prevails among us, and indeed with the Spicer Committee. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not delay implementing this provision, but will strike while the iron is hot before the trio of rider, walker, and farmer decide to have another family row. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

May I very briefly make a point? I think that owing to the tremendous volume of traffic now on the roads it would be a great mistake to exclude horseriders from any type of lane or bridleway. It is extremely unsafe to ride on horseback on tarmac roads. I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I must say that there has been a tremendous increase in riding, and in view of the great enjoyment that it gives people I believe that to pass the amendment would be a most retrograde step.

Lord Melchett

I must say that I have some sympathy with what the noble Viscount has just said. The thing which worried me particularly about this—and I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, can help me with this—is that, as I understand it, at the moment under a traffic regulation order there is no right of appeal whatsoever, so that if an order was made banning riders from a particular bridleway they would have no right of appeal. Just as I was complaining earlier, I think with some support from all sides of the Committee, that it would not be right simply for there to be an appeal to the local authority in cases of diversions, and so on, when they were the people who had initiated matters, it does not really seem to me to be fair on horse riders that if a traffic regulation order is made against them they should have no right of appeal to anybody. I would hope that before the Committee looked with favour on this amendment we could at least deal with that problem, if I am right about it.

Viscount Hanworth

I should like to support what Lord Melchett has just said.

Lord Renton

I, too, find great difficulty about my noble friend's amendment. I see that the rubric is "Equestrian Traffic", but foot passengers are to be controlled. Although one appreciates the motives expressed by my friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, I seriously doubt whether there is a mischief to be dealt with by statute arising from what he said. I do not think it would enhance the enjoyment of the countryside for pedestrians and those who ride if we were to have this kind of regulation becoming very general. Also, I can see that the use of the power given by the new clause could be easily abused by over-zealous officials or councillors. Therefore, I very much hope that it will not find sympathy, though I regret to have to say so to my noble friend.

The Earl of Avon

The proposed new clause covers highways, and is not confined to bridleways or similarly unmetalled ways. The amendment is therefore a matter really for general highway legislation, and, as with Amendments Nos. 554 and 555, the Government do not want to put these matters into the Countryside Bill. Having so said, the Government have been keeping a careful eye on this particular situation. They note that the Spicer Committee is now expressing its support, but equally that the British Horse Society has set out some counter-arguments. We shall look very carefully at what has been said today. I was going to ask my noble friend not to press the Government to put this amendment into the Bill because we would hope that it would be included in a suitable Transport Bill in the next Session. However, in view of a certain amount of criticism which came across the Floor, I think we should look at it in more detail. I am sorry that there should be a family row, particularly when his noble kinsman is not at the moment present.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I am sorry that we have not had a more helpful debate on this, but there are one or two points which I could perhaps answer. The first is that I think you can have an inquiry before a road traffic order, and I see no reason why you should not here. The second thing is something that my noble friend Lord Renton raised. The point that I think perhaps he missed is the great help that this would be in controlling abuse on footpaths, which we have discussed at considerable length. At the moment you have no way of stopping horses being ridden down footpaths. I have such a footpath on my own farm, which causes a great deal of aggravation. The horses come down it, and we are normally blamed for allowing them to do so. We do not, in fact, but there is no way in which we can stop them because they say that they have ridden down it, or their grandfathers did, for years. This could control that.

The other point I should make to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is that it would work in a manner similar to the way in which the attempt was made to bring in the road traffic order on the Ridgeway. There, it went to the inspector, and on all 10 counts he went against the local authority; so I do not think you could possibly say that a local authority would have undisputed powers to go on with this under this amendment. I shall not speak any further. I am glad to hear my noble friend say that he will look at it. In particular, may I remind him—and I hope that perhaps he will nod to save time—that the Spicer Committee I think meets again on 2nd March, and perhaps he may ask them to cast their mind over this once again.

The Earl of Avon

I think I said in my remarks that the Spicer Committee were supporting it already.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

In which case, I hope the Government will find that they are able to support it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 555D not moved.]

Clause 47 [Interpretation of Part III]:

9.50 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556: Page 40, line 21, leave out from ("means") to end of line 23 and insert ("a highway over which the public have a right of way for vehicular and all other kinds of traffic, but which is used by the public mainly for the purposes for which footpaths and bridleways are so used.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment amends the definition of "byway open to all traffic" by removing the reference to a road used as a public path, and specifies instead that it is used mainly for walking and horse riding. The amendment clarifies the meaning of the expression, but without any change of substance. I apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for duplicating his idea. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 556A and 556B not moved.]

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556C: Page 40, leave out lines 38 to 40.

The noble Earl said: Clause 47 contains a definition of roads used as public paths even though these are destined to become a thing of the past. It was necessary to have such a definition because in the Bill byways open to all traffic are defined by reference to roads used as public paths. In the previous amendment we changed the definition of "byways" to remove the reference to roads used as public paths. The definition of the latter is therefore no longer necessary. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556D:

Page 41, line 9, at end insert— ("(3) The provisions of section 30(1) of the 1968 Act (riding of pedal bicycles on bridleways) shall not affect the definition of bridleway in subsection (1) and any rights exercisable by virtue of those provisions shall be disregarded for the purposes of this Part.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment makes it clear that the right to ride a bicycle over a bridleway, granted by the provisions of the Countryside Act 1968, does not affect the definition of "bridleway" in Clause 47, and that the exercise of that right does not establish vehicular rights. I beg to move.

Baroness David

Can I ride my bicycle on a bridle-way? 1 should like to be quite clear.

The Earl of Avon

Yes. The amendment makes it clear that the right to ride a bicycle over a bridleway.

Baroness David

I support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 47, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 48 and 49 agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556DA: After Clause 49, insert the following new clause:

("Offences by bodies corporate etc.

—(1) Where a body corporate is guilty of an offence under this Act and that offence is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity he, as well as the body corporate, shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(2) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members subsection (1) shall apply in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with his functions of management as if he were a director of the body corporate.").

The noble Earl said: When the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, moved Amendment No. 339A, which was designed to make directors and others liable for the activities of their companies in appropriate circumstances, we promised to take away the proposal and give it full consideration with a view to putting down a Government amendment. This is the promised amendment. We have put it down as an amendment to Patr IV of the Bill, because it is relevant to offences nuder Part II of the Bill as well as to those under Part I. During the discussion on Amendment No. 339A, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about its application to partnerships. I am advised that there is no collective or corporate responsibility in respect of partnerships. Each partner is responsible as an individual. I beg to move.

Lord Melchett

I am very grateful to the noble Earl not only for accepting the point that we made but for managing to meet it before we finished the Committee stage. I only wish for the sake of us all—the Government, the Front Benches and everyone else—that we had managed to do a few more of the things while still in Committee that we have to come back to at Report stage. Nevertheless, that is not to be. It is wonderful that we have dealt with one amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clauses 50 and 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Minor amendments]:

9.56 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556E: Page 42, line 29, at end insert ("and in section 23 of that Act (areas of special scientific interest) the words "not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve" shall be omitted")

The noble Earl said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 556E, 557ZC, 557ZBA and 558ZA. The last two amendments are consequentials. There may be a small advantage in having Committee stages spread over such a long time—at least one is now beginning to deal with the amendments from the first two days!

The Nature Conservancy Council have a statutory obligation to inform local planning authorities and water authorities of any areas of land, not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve, which is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features. This duty is placed upon them by Section 23 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and Section 23(3) of the Water Act 1973.

But there are perhaps 600 areas of high scientific interest which are excluded from this duty. These are nature reserves owned or managed by the voluntary conservation movement and about which the local planning authorities and the water authorities need not know. They do know, because the Nature Conservancy Council tell them. But there is no duty on the Nature Conservancy Council to inform these authorities of these areas of land. Conversely, there is no duty upon local planning authorities to inform the Nature Conservancy Council if they intend to grant planning permission in such areas, when there would be if the land had been notified to them under Section 23. This is a loophole which we would like to block.

The Nature Conservancy Council in endeavouring to block the loophole by informing local planning authorities of such areas if they are of special scientific interest quality, can be said to have been acting ultra vires. We wish to regularise the position and make it a statutory duty for the Nature Conservancy Council to inform local planning authorities and the water authorities of all land in their areas which is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features, irrespective of whether it is managed as a nature reserve or not. This will regularise the position and I commend these amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Melchett

Once again I am very grateful to the Government and welcome these useful amendments.

Lord Chelwood

I should like to add my thanks. I had amendments down which would have had the same effect. I am extremely grateful for the action which the Government have taken.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 556F: Page 42, line 34, leave out ("37 of the 1968") and insert ("15(1) of the 1968 Act (areas of special scientific interest) the words "which is not for the time being managed as a nature reserve but" shall be omitted and in section 37 of that").

The noble Earl said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 556F and 557ZAB as they are linked. No. 557ZAB is consequential on No. 556F. The earlier amendment continues the logic of the argument that it should be possible to deal with nature reserves of the right kind in the same way as sites of special scientific interest. As the legislation stands at present, these high quality reserves are excluded from the benefit of Section 15 agreements. But at this point perhaps a word of explanation is necessary. Section 15 of the Countryside Act 1968 provides that the Nature Conservancy Council may enter into agreements with owners, lessees and occupiers of land which for the time being is not managed as a nature reserve, but which have been notified to the local planning authority. The agreements are made for the purpose of conserving those flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features which have been the subject of a notification.

The NCC can enter into agreements to conserve certain important features with owners, occupiers and lessees of land which is not a nature reserve. But many of the reserves are owned by the county trusts or by occupiers who would greatly benefit if they could reach a management agreement with the Nature Conservancy Council. These agreements would enable such owners to maintain the reserves, which may not be of national reserve status but nevertheless are of high scientific interest, in a satisfactory state. The effect of these amendments is to enable the NCC further to assist the county trusts and dedicated individuals who wish to see our nature conservation resource undiminished. I commend these amendments to you and I beg to move.

Lord Melchett

Again, we welcome these amendments.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord Middleton moved Amendment No. 557: Page 42, line 36, leave out ("Parts II and III of").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Stanley not being here, perhaps I might move this amendment. Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968 makes it a duty of every Minister, in the exercise of his function under the 1968 Act and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, to have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of the rural areas.

The effect of Clause 52(4) is to extend that duty to this Bill, but only to Parts II and III. It appears, therefore, to be intended that Ministers, in the exercise of their functions under Part I of the Bill, will not need to have regard to agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of the rural areas. That seems to me to be a strange omission. This amendment, therefore, would relate Section 37 of the 1968 Act to the whole of this Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Melchett

I must say it seemed to me that by the time we had finished Part I just about every possible exclusion for agriculture and forestry was allowed for at least twice over in the existing provisions of Part I. We were hoping in a number of respects that when we came back to the matter on Report we could at least have them allowed only once rather than twice. Unless there is some sensible explanation for leaving out Part I, I propose that it should be agreed here, and then perhaps we can get back to the actual drafting of Part Ito make it a little more sensible than it appears to be at the moment.

The Earl of Avon

It is drafted this way purely because we thought that only Parts II and III can have any relevance to Section 37 of the 1968 Act. Parts I and IV which we omitted deal respectively with the protection of birds, other animals and plants and miscellaneous and general matters. The Government submit that there is little or nothing to be gained by the amendment put forward by my noble friends, but if they are not prepared to withdraw it at this stage, certainly I will not fight against it.

Lord Melchett

Might I suggest to the noble Lord Lord Middleton that it might be a little more seemly if we at least waited until the Report stage, and see whether we cannot meet some of the very real worries about Part I and the exclusions that are there at the moment. I am thinking in particular of the problems about general licensing and the provision which allows people at the moment to do something at any time, although it was clearly the intention of noble Lords, at least on the Back Benches opposite, that this should simply be used for emergency procedures. If we can get some of thoss problems cleared up, we might not feel we were overdoing it quite so much as we would feel at the moment if this amendment were pressed.

Lord Middleton

I shall not press this amendment. But I really am not convinced. Why should not the Secretary of State, who has a function under every clause of Part I, have a Section 37 duty laid upon him for that Part, as it is he who exercises his function under the rest of the Bill? If it is to be argued that it is no part of the duty of the NCC to think about rural needs, then I would perhaps ask him to look again at Section 37, which I did not quote in full, which then laid the duty on what was then called the Natural Environment Research Council and which is now the NCC. I think they, too, should have this duty. I shall not press this, but I would ask my noble friend, if he will be so kind, to think about this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.5 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 557ZC:

Page 42, line 42, at end insert— ("(6) In section 22(3) of the Water Act 1973 (areas of special scientific interest) the words "not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve "shall be omitted.").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 557ZB not moved.]

Clause 52, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Schedule 14 [Enactment repealed]:

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 557ZBA:

Page 84, line 4, column 3, at end insert— ("In section 23 the words" not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve".").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Ridley had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 557ZA:

Page 84, line 7, at end insert—

("1951 c. 60. Mineral Workings Act 1951 Section 32.").

The noble Viscount said: I am tempted to move this amendment, but I do not think I will.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 557ZAB:

Page 84, line 16, column 3, at end insert— ("In section 15(1) the words "which is not for the time being managed as a nature reserve but".").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 557A not moved.]

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 558:

Page 84, line 25, at end insert—

("1972 c. 70. The Local Government Act 1972. In Schedule 17, paragraphs 22 to 33.").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 558ZA:

Page 84, line 25, at end insert—

("1973 c. 37. The Water Act 1973. In section 22(3) the words "not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve".").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 558A not moved.]

The Earl of Avon moved Amendments Nos. 558AA, 558AB and 558AC en bloc:

Page 85, line 10, column 3, leave out ("120") and insert ("118").

Page 85, line 21, column 3, leave out ("121") and insert ("119").

Page 85, line 31, colunn 3, leave out ("123(4)") and insert ("121(4)").

The noble Earl said: These drafting amendments take account of the last minute changes to the Highways Bill, which became the Highways Act 1980. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments No. 558B not moved.]

Schedule 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 54 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 559: Page 43, line 18, at beginning insert ("Sections 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 35, 38, 47, 48, 50, 51 and 54 of this Act shall come into force on the date on which this Act is passed and the remaining provisions of").

The noble Lord said: If your Lordships' remarkable patience is not yet exhausted, I beg to move Amendment No. 559. Clause 54(2) uses the familiar formula, as a result of which there can be a series of appointed day orders bringing different provisions of the Bill into operation on different dates. That is perhaps inevitable, but it frequently causes bad headaches for lawyers and other users of the statutes. The Law Society has produced a paper about it. The Statute Law Society, of which I am president, have also produced a paper about it. The trouble, especially with a long enactment like this one, is that even exhaustive inquiry cannot always enable one to be sure whether or not a particular provision of a long enactment has come into operation.

I realise that my amendment alone will not overcome those difficulties, but I am happy to say that the Civil Service Department—and I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Soames on the Front Bench, because he is head of that department—has recently issued new guidance to Ministries, which we hope will be of some practical help. However, we have this Bill before us and we shall see what we can do to mitigate the confusion caused by having a series of appointed day orders. Therefore I picked out those clauses which are of general relevance, such as interpretation clauses and purely formal powers which will need to come into force in any event, whatever appointed day orders there may be. We might as well have them brought into force when the Bill receives Royal Assent. Accordingly, I beg to move.

Lord Melchett

I should like to support the noble Lord. I had intended to put down an amendment which would have covered Section 21, one of the sections which the noble Lord has covered in his amendment. I did not do so in order to save time, for which I am sure the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be grateful. Section 21 covers the advisory bodies. In particular it struck me that it would be useful to see that they were set up straight away and that that section came into force straight away. However, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I should prefer his wider amendment and I hope that the Government will be able to accept it.

The Earl of Avon

It is very nice to have the noble Lord, Lord Renton, speaking as both alpha and omega. I believe that he launched Amendment No. 1, and here he is tonight with the final one.

This amendment would bring into effect the clauses to which it refers as soon as the Bill is enacted, rather than on the date or dates subsequently to be fixed by order. These clauses concern advice on the protection of birds, other animals and plants, the procedure for making regulations and orders related to such protection, interpretation, application to the Crown, general finance and interpretation and the Short Title, commencement and extent. They also cover the power of the Countryside Commission to vary national park designation orders.

Our initial impression is that there is no reason for us to object to any of the clauses becoming operative as soon as the Bill becomes law. In some cases, there might even be an advantage in this. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I am happy to say that the Government will consider the amendment and will bring in their own at a later stage if the noble Lord is prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Renton

I can only say that is an exceedingly happy note on which to end. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 560 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 54 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Melchett

I think this might be a suitable opportunity to thank first my noble friends Lady David, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge and those on our Back-Benches, in particular my noble friends Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Underhill and Lord Kilbracken, for their extremely brief but extremely valuable contributions at numerous stages in the Bill. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Avon, who has been so remarkably helpful and patient with noble Lords on all sides of the Committee. At times I dare say he has felt, as I have, that we were engaged in a process which was never going to come to an end. But it has, and I am sure we are very pleased about that.

I hope we shall be able to carry out a number of consultations and discussions between now and the start of the Report stage so that we can dispose of as much business as possible before we bring the Bill back to the Floor of your Lordships' House and also so that the noble Lord the Chief Whip and the noble Lord the Leader of the House do not feel quite so agitated during the next stage of the Bill as I have had the feeling they have been at some points during the Committee stage.

Lord Winstanley

Perhaps I, too, can thank my noble friends Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Avebury and his friends and relations in various parts of your Lordships' House for the indefatigable work they have done. May I join the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in conveying the thanks of noble Lords on these Benches to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, for the way in which he has listened to our arguments, and non-arguments, and for the way in which we hope he has taken on board many of the suggestions we have put to him. We are indeed most grateful to the noble Earl.

The Earl of Avon

I am very grateful for the remarks of both noble Lords opposite. I should also like to thank very much the team which has been helping me on the Front Bench and those wonderful people who provide me with all the information from the Box and who have worked so hard. While speaking about one's own supporters, I think I may have to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House if I can have some driving mirrors here so that I can see what is going on behind me—sometimes it seems to be applause and sometimes it is not quite so happy. I look forward to the Report stage.

Clause 54 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.