HL Deb 23 November 2000 vol 619 cc1051-66

34A.—(1) Where a person is charged with an offence under section 34 of this Act in respect of the driving of any vehicle, it is open to that person to prove under subsection (2) of that section that a way shown in a definitive map and statement as a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway is not a way of the kind shown only—

  1. (a) if he proves to the satisfaction of the court—
    1. (i) that he was a person interested in any land and that the driving of the vehicle by him was reasonably necessary to obtain access to the land,
    2. (ii) that the driving of the vehicle by him was reasonably necessary to obtain access to any land, and was for the purpose of obtaining access to the land as a lawful visitor, or
    3. (iii) that the driving of the vehicle by him was reasonably necessary for the purposes of any business, trade or profession; or
  2. (b) in such circumstances as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State (and paragraph (a) above is without prejudice to this paragraph).

(2) In subsection (1) above—

5B. In section 195 of that Act—

  1. (a) in subsection (3), after "that section)" there is inserted "34A", and
  2. (b) in subsection (4), after "14" there is inserted ", 34A".").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Transitional provisions and savings relating to sites of special scientific interest]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 53: Page 145, line 43, at end insert— ("and as if, in subsection (2)(a), after "paragraphs (a) to (k)" there were inserted "and paragraph (n)"").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Amendments relating to Part I of Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981]:

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 54: Page 149, line 26, leave out from ("conviction") to ("to") in line 27.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are nearly at the end of this marathon.

The purpose of these amendments is to remove imprisonment, which the Bill, as drafted, adds through Schedule 12 to the penalties provided for by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in respect of a large number of offences listed in Sections 1 to 14 and Section 17 of that Act. These offences range from the unauthorised uprooting of any wild plant to the killing of scheduled birds or the taking of their eggs.

The Bill also provides for increases in the fines for these offences from the £200 to £1,000 provided for in the 1981 Act to level 5 on the standard scale of fines which is at present £5,000. My amendment leaves in the Bill this proposed increase in fines, which I am sure we all fully support.

My amendments are based upon, but move forward from, the amendment moved last week by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa. Unfortunately my noble friend cannot be with us today, although obviously he fully supports the amendments to which he has put his name.

It therefore falls to me to do my inadequate best to put forward the arguments. I say "inadequate" because, despite the fact that I have been an active member of the conservation movement in this country for over 20 years and should perhaps once again declare an interest as President of the Suffolk Preservation Society, Vice-President of the CPRE and a Suffolk farmer who has always tried to manage his land in such a way as to enhance its scenic beauty and care for the diversity of its wildlife, I cannot begin to compare with the distinction of my noble friend Lord Buxton as a scholar and conservationist.

The noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, who for reasons of health cannot be with us today, has asked me to say how strongly he supports these amendments. The noble Lord has perhaps uniquely, filled all the offices of the RSPB—council member, committee chairman, chairman of council, vice-president and president. Not even the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, can compete with that.

The amendment avoids some of the problems of unequal treatment of different people for the same offence. That was an objection the Minister understandably made to the original argument of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. The debate last week focused on the killing of raptors. That is a matter of great controversy among the experts of the bird world. Many respected authorities argue that the present schedule of protected birds has over the past 10 years become counter-productive to the objectives of nature conservation. I do not feel qualified to enter into that controversy, except to say that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that the right course is to examine the number of raptors to see whether they should continue to be included on the schedule—a view which was echoed by the Minister in his summing up last week.

The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, told me yesterday that he has discussed the balance of the Bill and the provisions for enforcement with Max Nicholson, who will be well known to many of your Lordships as a figure of world renown in the conservation movement. Aged 96, he is, I am told, as bright as a button and I am sure would be well qualified to be a Member of your Lordships' House. He is worried that the preoccupation with the role of enforcers rather than a commitment to conservation is now risking dividing the wildlife conservation movement.

While these controversies are unresolved, it would seem an inappropriate moment to introduce a prison sentence for a series of offences which are wholly unsuitable for such a sentence. The changes proposed provide for a prison sentence under Schedule 12 and add to the penalties provided for by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I take one example. Under Section 14 of that Act, items which normally would be punishable by a fine are to be punishable on summary conviction by six months' imprisonment and on indictment to two years' imprisonment. So what are these items? Section 14(1) of the Act states: Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person releases or allows to escape into the wild any animal which—

  1. (a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state: or
  2. (b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9,
he shall be guilty of an offence".

That offence can result potentially in two years' imprisonment. So what are these creatures which are so dangerous, referred to in Part I of Schedule 9 to the Act?

I entirely understand that if one has a Himalayan porcupine one might hesitate to release it into the wild; that might have unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances. On the other hand, we also have reference to "Dormouse, Fat" whose Latin name is glis glis. I do not know how many noble Lords know anyone who possesses a glis glis but it should not be released into the wild. The list refers also to melopsittacus undulatus. I do not know how many noble Lords know what that is; it is a budgerigar. This Bill proposes to make, on indictment, imprisonable for two years, the release into the wild of a budgerigar. I suspect that if a number of members of the RSPB knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had persuaded the Government to introduce such draconian penalties for releasing a budgerigar, a number of budgerigars would cease forthwith to be members of the RSPB!

I could go on, because there are many other strange things in the list. For example, anyone who causes a giant hogweed to grow in the wild can be subject to two years' imprisonment on indictment. I do not have any brief for giant hogweeds. They are nasty things and if one escaped from me I would regret it, but I am not sure that I would deserve to be subject to even six months in prison, let alone two years.

Such legislation discredits the conservation movement and alienates many rural people, who will be encouraged to feel contempt and resentment against it and the Government that enacted it. The suggestion that the courts would never apply such sentences for those offences merely strengthens the argument that Parliament should not introduce the sanctions.

I need hardly say that this is a time when all parties are seeking means of reducing the prison population rather than increasing it. Community service orders—or community punishment orders, as they are being renamed—might well be appropriate for some offenders, although not for the releasers of budgies. Unfortunately, they are currently available only for offences for which imprisonment is also prescribed. However, the Home Secretary announced in May a Home Office review of the sentencing framework in England and Wales. This morning I spoke to Mr John Halliday, who is directing the study, which is due for completion in May next year. I understand that he will he considering the possibility of decoupling community punishment orders from imprisonable offences. This is a particularly inappropriate moment to extend so greatly the offences for which prison can be prescribed.

Finally, in certain cases there could be custodial remedies for persistent offenders through the civil injunction procedures. It would be possible for an interested body, such as the RSPB, or a landowner to apply to a court for an injunction restraining an individual who had been a persistent offender under the Act from continuing to enter land to interfere with wildlife. Once such an injunction was granted, an offender who broke it would be liable to immediate imprisonment under the normal contempt procedures.

This is not a party matter. It is in the interests of all of us as legislators to ensure that the people of this country, urban and rural, support and co-operate with government measures to safeguard nature. As one who yields to no one in my determination to protect our natural environment, I ask your Lordships to prevent this excellent Bill being marred by the divisive, heavy-handed and ludicrous remedies in Schedule 12.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, having put my name to the amendment, it is appropriate that I briefly explain why. On Report, I pointed out that the provision could result in serious injustice. I am as keen on conservation as anyone in the House. However, we also have to be aware of the need for justice.

A gamekeeper could be sent to prison, whereas it is the employer who required him to pursue policies that brought him into conflict with the law who should be imprisoned, not the employee. A gamekeeper employed by a ruthless owner of a shoot who required a huge proportion of the birds that were released to be shot, would inevitably be tempted to kill the raptors to keep his job and possibly his house. I believe that we should be very careful before we put a man who is under enormous pressure into the dock, and perhaps into prison, when the person who employs him and who has required him to act as he did gets away scot-free. I should not like to see that happen, much as I should like to see those who are responsible for the situation being penalised. I trust that the House will consider this amendment most sympathetically.

Lord Monson

My Lords, when we supported the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, a week ago, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made the following criticism, among others: I cannot think of any other area of crime where the occupation of the perpetrator differentiates how they will be punished".— [Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 481.] That is probably a valid argument, hence the present amendment which makes no mention of occupation. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, although I do not object to higher fines and even community service orders, could that be in some way arranged, I remain very unhappy about the option of imprisonment and certainly imprisonment for up to two years. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said, everything has gone right without custodial sentences. Why in the name of God do they suddenly want to ratchet up the position and introduce such a provision when it has been proved to be completely unnecessary?".—[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 482.] Last week I asked, and do so again this evening, whether the Government want to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration, who introduced a record number of new offences for which individuals could be fined or imprisoned, and increase the number of maximum penalties for existing offences? If they persist in following in the footsteps of the previous administration in relation to this Bill, that must surely have something to do with their arm having being twisted by a minority in the conservation movement whom the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, described last week as, people with very extreme and … fanatical … ideas".—[Official Report, 16/11/00; col. 477.] It is extraordinary that that happened on the same day that we were told that the Government intended to use the Parliament Act to force through a Bill which would make it legal for the first time for a smooth-talking older man to persuade a gullible or besotted 16 or 17 year-old girl to submit to an act which is presumably uncomfortable and certainly harmful. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, informed us at col. 36 on 13th November, her life will be statistically shortened thereby. It is not a laughing matter. I suggest that the great majority of the public regard such behaviour as far worse and far more antisocial than shooting a raptor or releasing a budgerigar.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

My Lords, I find myself in a dreadful position because I can see that many noble Lords around the House are dying to go home.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Young of Old Scone

However, having had the gauntlet thrown down by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am afraid that I shall have to respond and noble Lords will have to suffer for a little while. I consider it to be incredibly important that the option of custodial sentences should be in the Bill. If noble Lords stay quiet for long enough, I shall tell them why in a moment.

First, perhaps I may match the list given by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, of the credentials of people who had advised him. I believe that it is important to lay out some of mine. This is not quite, "My list is bigger than your list", but it is something similar. I have been chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am currently vice president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am chairman of English Nature. I am vice president of Flora and Fauna International, and I am the vice president of Birdlife International.

The proposition in the Bill for custodial sentences comes about as the result of a recommendation from a broad-based partnership called The Partnership Against Wildlife Crime. It is composed of the Department of the Environment, conservation groups and the police. Therefore, the proposal is not simply a whim of the conservation groups; it comes from a wide-based and thoughtful partnership. It brings the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 into line with a great deal of other wildlife legislation.

Custodial sentences are important for a variety of reasons. First, they give a range of options—not only custodial sentences but also community service orders, probation and suspended sentences, which are necessary if we are to deter a number of repeat offending criminals. We are not talking about one-off cases; we are talking about people in organised crime who repeatedly offend and who at present receive ludicrously small fines that simply do not deter them.

The current penalties are inadequate, particularly for people such as persistent egg thieves and thieves of birds of prey. A thief can sell a peregrine in the Middle East for £10,000 and, if fined £250, would regard it as a business expense or a tax on profit. We have seen the judiciary complain about the currently inadequate sentencing options, including judges sitting in two appeal courts recently. They were strongly critical of the options available to magistrates and sheriffs under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The problem of persistent stealing of birds and eggs can often impact on the whole viability of the species. Amendment No. 56, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, concerns the serious issue of the introduction of exotic animals. Exotic plants and animals have a habit of becoming pests. I have not yet noticed budgerigars becoming pests. However, the problem is that we do not know what will become a pest until it does so. By then it is too late. Often, such introductions have an impact not only on national wildlife; but a huge adverse economic impact.

The fruit growers of Kent are terrified of the ring-necked parakeet, for example, which was introduced as a present to the Queen by the grateful people of Australia. Unfortunately, it is now eating fruit across the South of England. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared recently that the introduction of alien species was the second most important conservation threat after climate change. This, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, tells us, is inconsequential and not worthy of more serious penalties.

That is the serious response to these amendments. One could take the view that this is simply last week's amendment—to let offending gamekeepers off—dressed up with the result that everyone would get off serious wildlife crime. I hope that the Minister will strongly resist the amendments.

11.30 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, this is clearly an exercise in trying to demonstrate one's conservation credentials. I shall start by explaining that I used to be chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the body which advises government on exotic species and their release into the wild. I believe I am right in saying that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is still a member of that committee, although it may be that she retires tomorrow; I am not sure. I am also vice-president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. However, once I have said what I am about to say, I suspect that I shall be sacked tomorrow.

I am a fruit grower in Hampshire, not Kent. Having said all that, perhaps I may make it clear that as a fruit grower, I would not expect somebody who released a parakeet which created havoc in my orchards in Hampshire, to go to prison for the offence, much as I would like to see him punished. In all seriousness, I do not believe that the cause of conservation is helped by overkill. One can become wrapped up in the emotive language of raptors, gamekeepers and the like. However, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford reminded us, the amendment seeks to eliminate from the Bill the power to send people to prison for offences such as releasing into the wild a number of species, be they plants or animals.

Whatever we might think about killing raptors, we should accept, for the moment, that it is an outrageous extension of punishment to expect that to be an imprisonable offence. However often one released a budgerigar, hogweed or the like, I cannot conceive of any need to put this provision on the face of the Bill. I recognise, however, that the present fines, to which the noble Baroness referred, are inadequate. Short of imprisonment, many more draconian penalties are required if we are to prevent exotic species from causing havoc. In retrospect, I should like to have seen the noble Duke who, in the last century, was responsible for releasing the grey squirrel, have great penalties heaped on him. In that regard, I refer also to the muntjac deer and many other species. That is all behind us now. However much damage has been caused, I do not believe that, in hindsight, anyone would contemplate a custodial offence. I hope that the Minister can persuade me that I am wrong, but I do not believe that the case has been made today by any one that the cause of conservation will be served by making it an imprisonable offence to release into the wild or kill a protected animal.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I am humbled by the eminence in so many fields of the noble Lords who put their names to this amendment and by the credentials of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I do not claim any credentials and nor am I a lawyer.

What weighs heavily with me is that in 999 cases out of a 1,000 the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, will be correct. It would be regrettable if a gamekeeper, acting on instructions, is sent to prison. However, it is for the courts to make judgments as to whether wildlife crimes are truly serious or not. I have very carefully considered the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who has a very long and reputable record in countryside issues. I take particular note that the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime spent a great deal of time debating this issue, along with many others, and made specific recommendations. It was composed of wildlife groups and the police. If they debated these issues and came to the conclusion that custodial sentences for really persistent or very serious crimes were necessary, then I am sure they had a good reason. I respect their conclusions in this case.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. We are almost at the end, but not quite. Throughout 11 days this Bill has basically involved argument and debate where intellect, experience and commitment have won the day. The Bill is considerably better than it was when it came to this House. The Government and their team have done a huge amount to help to improve it, with the aid of criticism from around the House. There have been positive and objective amendments which have been well thought out.

The Minister's theme throughout has been justice and balance. We have taken that on board on this side of the House. It has been about creating a Bill which is good for everyone and in which everything is fair and emotion does not run. When I spoke to this amendment at Report stage I supported the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I understand her position. I told the Minister that I believed that on this occasion the balance was not right and that the Government should re-tune it.

We have heard again tonight of the need for increased sanctions against criminal acts where Schedule 1 species and floral and fauna are concerned. We have had some amusing anecdotal evidence, but I am being serious. All of us who are involved know that we are at a critical time for conservation. I hope that the new Act will have an enormous impact. There are huge risks involved in opening up vast tracts of the countryside to many people who have not been used to having access. It is right that they should have it. I hope that they will learn quickly to enjoy it, appreciate it and look after it.

But people in the countryside, conservationists and all those who are guardians of our environment, are on edge at the moment. They are on a tightrope. It is a very emotive act proposed by the Government tonight; namely, introducing a custodial sentence for the offences which have been outlined. My case is that it is unbalanced; it is edging on dogma. I say "edging" because I accept that sanctions need to be increased. But a custodial sentence is an emotional process to those involved.

This provision creates a serious risk of injustice. It puts a huge onus on the judiciary. It may well be magistrates in the magistrates' courts in the first instance. Then there are the costs of defence and legal aid, and all that goes with that, and the publicity that will surround the first person who is sent to gaol for killing a hawk.

The Government are putting a lot of the goodwill and good parts of this Bill at risk if they stick to their determination to force a custodial sentence on the judiciary. I am a believer in the Bill. Last time I spoke I said that up until now the Bill has gone well; at times it has been fun to debate and we have ended up with a super product. It would be sad if this legislation was put at risk, received the wrong headlines and sent the wrong messages into the countryside. As I said when I started, those people are not like noble Lords sitting on the Labour Benches—comfortable, happy and delighted to have the Bill. I feel the same; I am comfortable, happy and delighted. But local authorities, access bodies, ramblers' associations and climbing clubs have to live and move with the Bill and make it work in the countryside.

The timing of this sanction, coming as it does at the end of the Bill when it is about to hit the country and the headlines, is wrong. It has not been proved to be necessary. My noble friend Lord Buxton told us of the success of the protection scheme for many of the raptors and other species. That is another story. I am afraid that on this occasion—I say "I am afraid" because I see the problems and I share them—the case is not made for a custodial sentence for this crime. In the light of that, the timing is terrible and the Government are taking a very serious risk.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I suppose I should have been grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for accepting the logic of the first part of my argument last time, in that we cannot differentiate a crime by the perpetrator of the crime and the seriousness of the crime, and the second part of my argument that the seriousness of the crime within the penalties prescribed by Parliament is a matter for the courts. However, in accepting that logic he has now widened his case to taking out of the Bill a custodial sentence in all circumstances.

I make two points. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and my noble friend Lady Young said, this recommendation on custodial sentences arises not from some splinter group of jack-booted ecologists, but from a wide-ranging consultation involving conservation areas, local authorities, land-owning elements, the judiciary and the police. They recognise the kind of case we had a few weeks ago where somebody was found with several hundred birds' eggs, 70 dead wild birds, many of them endangered species, and the magistrate directly criticised Parliament for not providing for a custodial sentence in those circumstances. The man was let off with a conditional discharge and a £300 fine.

If we are serious about wildlife protection then we have to put on our statute books a deterrent which means something to such people. In the vast majority of cases, the custodial sentence will not be used. Many of the crimes, and many of the instances alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and others, will clearly attract a lower range of fines. That is a matter for the courts.

However, the wilful and serious attack on an endangered species or the destruction of a wildlife site is a grave matter and I believe that Parliament should now provide a custodial sentence for that. That view is backed by a wide-ranging recommendation. Indeed, I was surprised to hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, because the proposal was also backed by the Conservative Party spokesman in the other place. He said that his party strongly supported the increased penalties for the crimes for which there was no justification.

I am a little surprised that the multi-party support which the proposal received in another place has not been reflected here today. Nevertheless, I understand the strength of feeling on the issue and the possible effects on the countryside. I believe that if we explain it properly, country people will understand that the worst thing that can happen to the countryside is its destruction by wilful people, whether they live there or travel out from the towns. In order to deal with that, we need the deterrent of a custodial sentence. As always, the seriousness of the crime will be decided by the courts. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, when the 1981 Act was before Parliament as a Bill, great care and trouble was taken in drawing up the various schedules of creatures and plants to be protected. I know that because I was then a member of the Countryside Commission. The awful fact and truth is that, in applying a blanket custodial sentence to everything in those schedules, including the budgerigars and the fat voles, no trouble was taken to make a differentiation. I suspect that the Minister did not know that budgerigars were on the list—I had to do some digging to find out!

I fear that this is an example of sloppy legislation. It is a great pity that the Bill, which in general I support and which has so much good in it in terms of access and AONBs, should be spoilt by such a provision. Whatever the Minister says, the message will go out to people in the countryside and elsewhere that Parliament is unthinkingly, casually and carelessly proposing custodial sentences for a wide range of offences when that is clearly inappropriate.

I should be failing in my duty if I did not give every noble Lord the opportunity to decide in his or her heart whether it is right to have such a blanket and wide-ranging provision for severe custodial sentences. I am sure that few noble Lords realised that the Bill contained such a proposal. I should therefore like to test the opinion of the House.

11.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 54) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 82.

Division No. 7
Arran, E. Dixon-Smith, L.
Attlee, E. Glentoran, L.
Blatch, B. Hanham, B.
Byford, B. Hardy of Wath, L.
Luke, L. [Teller] Northesk, E.
Mancroft, L. O'Cathain, B.
Marlesford, L. [Teller] Peel, E.
Monson, L. Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Montrose, D. Selborne, E.
Acton, L. Hayman, B.
Ahmed, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Amos, B. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Andrews, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Attenborough, L.
Bach, L. Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seat)
Bassarn of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L. Judd, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Billingham, B. Lipsey, L.
Blackstone, B. Lockwood, B.
Brett, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
Burlison, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Carter, L. [Teller] MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Crawley, B. Mitchell, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Desai, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Donoughue, L. Puttnam, L.
Dubs, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Elder, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Evans of Parkside, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Sawyer, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Simon, V.
Filkin, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Gale, B. Thornton, B.
Goldsmith, L. Tomlinson, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Warner, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Grabiner, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Greaves, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Grenfell, L. Whitaker, B.
Hamwee, B. Whitty, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Harrison, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Haskel, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.


[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Whitty.)

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. At this point it is reasonable to say that the House can be proud of the Bill. It is a different Bill from that which arrived in the House. It arrived with aspirations and leaves as a better and more practical Bill. At times there have been some hard words from the Conservative Benches towards the attitude of the Liberal Democrats.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for acknowledging that we have all worked together to push through those improvements. I do not believe that any side of the House should claim to be the guardian of the countryside. We have all worked together on the Bill. It leaves the House with substantial improvements.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other Ministers who spoke. I thank the Civil Service team who have worked so hard, particularly when up against the clock on some of the amendments, which were clearly needed and desired. We have achieved them.

We, on these Benches, shall be keeping a close eye on the short-term, medium-term but crucially the long-term funding that the Government commit to the Bill. We do not just want jam today. We want to see funding in the countryside tomorrow and the years after that. Clearly, wildlife benefits most from the Bill. Part II improves the current situation somewhat. But success will depend very much on funding the rights of way improvement plans.

As regards Part I of the Bill, at a previous stage of the Bill, when we were debating the issue of compensation, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, was critical of our Benches when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke on some of the issues. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, said that John Stuart Mill and Gladstone would have turned in their graves to hear the contribution from the Liberal Democrat Benches. That is not so. John Stuart Mill was a founder of the Open Spaces Society, which is Britain's oldest national conservation body founded in 1865. It has consistently campaigned for the freedom that people should have to the open countryside every since. Gladstone, of course, used to go for long walks in the Highlands, as noble Lords will be aware. I think they would be proud of this day. We on these Benches are pleased to have been part of improving this important Bill.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I should like to reiterate what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. She is quite right. We have had our differences. It has been a long, hard struggle. But at the end I believe we have a considerably better Bill than the one which we embarked on all those weeks ago.

I have no problems with Parts II and III. I am delighted that we have sorted out our differences on AONBs. We started a long way apart. I am glad to say that we have now come to a sensible consensus on what could have been a very contentious issue. I am bound to say that my reservations about Part I of the Bill are still to a large extent in place. I believe that the Bill as it passed through your Lordships' House exposed some of the weaknesses that we identified at the beginning. What the Bill does—of that there is no doubt—is to throw out a challenge to the countryside. It throws out a challenge not just to those who live and work in the countryside but to those who will come to enjoy the countryside.

I realise that the Bill brings to fruition the aspirations of those who have fought for a long time for a general right of access to Britain's countryside. I recognise that. I respect them. I congratulate them on having fought the battle for so long and on having now achieved their aspirations.

There will be difficulties. The Bill will create a sense of determination to ensure that the conflicts which many of us feel may arise are dealt with in a commonsense and sensible fashion. That will require landowners, farmers, walkers, ramblers, access authorities and, in particular, the Countryside Agency to show a great deal of intelligence in the way they implement the provisions of the Bill. Much will depend on how they interpret and implement on the ground what are in many cases fairly loose terms.

Many walkers come and go, but those who manage the land are left there very often to pick up the pieces. I hope that that is not forgotten. After all, we are talking about people's livelihoods.

When we embarked on the Bill's Committee stage, the Minister was gracious enough to wish me a happy birthday. I never dreamt for one moment that I would be spending the whole night of my 53rd birthday with the Minister. What I can say is that that experience turned out to be much more rewarding and pleasant than I ever thought it could possibly be. I should like to say to the noble Lord and to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, that I am extremely grateful for the very courteous and fair way in which they have treated not only me but other Back-Benchers as well throughout the proceedings on the Bill. I appreciate it enormously.

The Bill presents a great challenge. I sincerely hope that we can get from it something of which we can all be proud.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the way in which they have worked with us through the Bill.

When we first started on the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said—I think that he will regret ever saying it—that this was not a complex Bill. It may not have been a complex Bill but it has certainly been a full Bill. We have all worked very hard. The Bill has shown that this House can make a difference because it brings together so much expertise. It brings together walkers—we have many in the House—climbers, those who have been rescue personnel, farmers and landowners. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke about horse riders. There are also noble Lords with wildlife interests. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, represented a large organisation. Many noble Lords who have spoken in the debates have brought their expertise to the Bill. The House has used that expertise to scrutinise the Bill.

We have worked together. We have attempted to solve some of the problems that have arisen during the proceedings on the Bill. Indeed, we have worked until the last moment, as noble Lords will know only too well. The Bill will now give access to millions of people—safe access, because that is what we have been after. It preserves our fauna, flora and wildlife. It improves rights of way. It has added, very much at the last moment—although we welcome it—the areas of outstanding natural beauty. We welcome all that. However, I was very upset to find on my desk a copy of a letter which was sent from my good friend—I regard him as a good friend—the noble Lord, Lord Carter. The fifth paragraph of the letter ran: On Thursday 23rd November there is the Third Reading of the Countryside Bill. This is the final stage in the long-running saga of the landed gentry versus the people". I think that that is very regrettable. The letter goes on to say: The Tories will try very hard to get important victories restricting the rights of access". I think that noble Lords will know only too well that we have not won a single vote throughout the whole of the Bill. However, that has not altered the way in which we have spoken to the provisions or how we have worked on the Bill. My only reason for reading out the letter—I do not know who put it on my desk, but there it was—is that all I can say in all sincerity to the Minister, and in particular to the Chief Whip, is that I hope that we do not hear that kind of language again in the future. It is not helpful. It does not matter so far as we in this place are concerned, but for people in the countryside it does.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I believe that I am the one Member on these Benches who is in fact a member of the landed gentry. I had intended to make an encouraging remark in a light-hearted way to my colleagues. I am sorry that the noble Baroness has not taken it in that spirit. I am sure that my colleagues on this side of the House understood exactly what I was saying.

I repeat that I did not intend to be derogatory in any way. Ft was a light-hearted remark. Furthermore, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, we have not had a single defeat on this Bill.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for intervening. He can see that I read it straight and that I took the remark for what it said. I hope that the record will show that the remark was not meant in that light. Although other noble Lords cheered when I read it out, I saw that the noble Lord the Chief Whip did not. However, I should like also to put on the record the fact that other noble Lords sitting on the Benches behind him did so.

Having said that, I have enjoyed enormously working with all my colleagues. I am only sorry that there are small areas where we have not managed to achieve as much as we would have liked. I refer to the parts we covered earlier tonight on vehicles, for example. Nevertheless, a great deal of hard work has been conducted with great courtesy. It has been my great privilege to have taken part in the shaping of a Bill that will give great pleasure to millions of people in the future.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I shall try to be brief. I thank noble Lords opposite for their kind words and I endorse their thanks to my colleagues and staff for bringing the Bill to this stage.

The Bill has always been a good Bill in principle. It achieves greater protection for wildlife and access to the open countryside for millions of our people. We have improved it in this House, and we have done so with a great deal of courtesy from noble Lords all around the House, along with great expertise having been brought to bear. Certainly there has been conflict. Some of those conflicts led to fairly die-hard struggles and some of them have not been completely resolved. But we have provided in the Bill the means to resolve some of those conflicts on the ground. We can be proud of that.

We have also achieved something historic tonight. We have achieved greater protection for wildlife, which is extremely important. We have achieved greater protection for our areas of outstanding national beauty. But the first part of the Bill is also important. Despite the fact that frequently I have been in dire need of the Liberal Democrat votes, I have never hitherto quoted Lloyd George in these matters, and I shall amend him a little tonight. That is because, in the spirit of compromise and balance—which I have advocated throughout the Bill—we have not taken the land away from the landowners, who have recognised their responsibilities. Tonight we have, to some extent at least, given the land to the people.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past midnight.