HL Deb 05 October 2000 vol 616 cc1730-55

(".—(l) Access authorities shall make arrangements with the owner and occupier of access land for the collection or litter left by persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1). (2) The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons appointed by the access authority to collect litter or the making of payments to the owner or occupier for the collection of litter.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 223A, which is not dissimilar, seeks to insert the following new clause: (1) Access authorities shall make arrangements with the owner and occupier of access land for the collection of litter left by persons exercising the right conferred by section 2(1). (2) The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons appointed by the access authority to collect litter or the making of payments to the owner or occupier for the collection of litter".

It is a sad fact that when walking in the country all too many people bring with them their dirty habits and drop litter. We debated this matter the other night. Inevitably, it varies from area to area and in direct relation to the numbers of people in a particular part of the country.

I query the strength of the commitment to the environment of many people when they cannot even bother to take home their litter. We are talking about a minority of people. Litter is unpleasant and unsightly. I refer to sweet papers and cigarette packets. You can bet your bottom dollar that landscapes near towns are sullied by Coca-Cola paper cups and the wrappings of McDonald's vegiburgers, beefburgers or whatever else. I remember that when I frequented Snowdonia National Park several days a week for most of the year—because I was paid to do so, and loved it—there were voluntary litter collection days. People who regularly visited the park, for example climbers, members of local clubs and people who did the kind of work in which I was engaged, which was to deal with young people, set off with rucksacks and spent the day collecting litter. One would be amazed how much litter was collected in one day, usually after bank holidays, even in the 1960s when the number of people was not as great as today. I do not believe that life has changed that much. Litter will remain a serious problem. I am sure that those closer to the national parks than I am will be able to tell us something about that in a moment.

However, litter also consists of glass bottles, many of which break as they are thrown away. Shards of broken glass are dangerous and can pierce leather and rubber boots and cause serious injury to livestock and wildlife. Another danger which may arise that is directly attributable to broken glass is fire as a result of sun reflection. Whole heaths and forests may be set alight in times of strong sunshine and drought as a result of a bit of broken glass acting as a magnifying glass, with potentially devastating effects. We have seen plenty of examples of that recently on the western side of the United States. Believe it or not, I have seen heath fires caused in that way in my part of the world. Such conditions occur only in one summer in 50 in Northern Ireland; maybe that is why.

Litter will be a problem. We believe that if this amendment is inserted into the Bill it will improve the management of the litter problem. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Williamson of Horton

I rise to support the amendment. In a fairly long life in which I have walked, roamed and even rambled in the countryside I have probably seen more crisp packets than cowslips, or even grouse. Therefore, it is a little odd that we have before us a Bill of 114 pages—it is a rather heavy read—which is about the countryside but does not appear to include anywhere the word "litter".

Those who enjoy the benefits of the right to roam would reasonably expect this point to be covered in the Bill. We shall not change the situation in which, at least close to the designated access points, there will be a good deal of litter. That is a fact. I do not blame any particular group. The amendment has the advantage that, first, it is intelligible, which is very welcome; secondly, it does not give rise to the question whether it should say "shall" or "may". The amendment provides that the authority shall make arrangements for the collection of litter that is left in the countryside, which is quite clear. That is the main point that we seek to make. It goes on to say that those arrangements may include certain ways of doing it. Therefore, it is open to the access authorities to decide how to do it.

I believe that it is reasonable to make some provision to deal with a problem on which ordinary people walking in the countryside so often comment. We could clear that up by the amendment now proposed, and I support it.

Lord Judd

Whether or not this amendment is the right one, this is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. I have noticed in National Trust property that if wardens are not regularly working the situation can rapidly deteriorate. The problem is that if only a small minority of people—I believe it is a very small minority—abuse the situation the whole character of land begins to change. Then other people begin to slip. The only way to tackle the problem is to have very high standards that are maintained. They set the cultural pattern. There is a very important issue here. I am not sure that this is the right amendment. But I am certain that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Lord Monson

Perhaps I may support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in his amendment and say that the position is even worse than he has described. In country areas not only are Coca-Cola bottles, crisp packets and hamburger cartons discarded; so are syringes and needles. The danger posed can hardly be over-emphasised.

Lord Marlesford

I strongly support the amendment. There is absolutely no doubt that in terms of enjoyment litter is damaging to the countryside. As a large part of the Bill is about increasing the enjoyment of the countryside, litter is not something that can be tolerated. The Government have made it reasonably clear that additional costs arising as a result of imposing access on private landowners will be met from public funds. This is clearly such an additional cost. It seems reasonable that it should come into that category.

There is no doubt that if litter is not picked up more litter arrives. Litter attracts litter. I am the chairman of the Marlesford parish council. One of my main duties—self-imposed—is once a month to go around the village with a litter-picker. For a few days there is no litter. Then someone leaves some, and quite quickly the amount grows again. If this gets out of control the minority who dispose of litter will ruin everything for the majority who would not dream of so doing. It is a really important issue.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I support the amendment very strongly indeed. It must be welcome to the Government because, as we have heard, litter is currently a very considerable problem in the countryside generally. It is not the first time that I have spoken on this matter in the Chamber. Part of the problem is that so much of modern litter is indestructible. Plastic bags, tin cans, aluminium cans and so on have a certain capacity to resist all weathers and all attempts at disposal. In my own part of Snowdonia litter is such a problem that I have taken it in hand myself. Every walk I take I aim to pick up litter and dispose of it properly.

I am bound to tell the Committee of a recent experience. On an open road, close to my home, someone disposed of a canvas chair—a picnic chair— and simply left it there. I thought that that would be a one and only occurrence, but now someone has left a door. It really defies the imagination as to how anyone decides to dispose of these things at the roadside in the country. Heaven only knows where they come from.

I give those examples to show to the Committee what is likely to be an ever-worsening situation. Particularly with the increase in access land, we shall certainly have a great deal more litter. I, and others, will not be at all surprised if cars are disposed of on the mountainside. It is already happening. Our fear is that the situation will worsen. Something has to be done.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

I support the amendment. It has not been mentioned that rubbish is dangerous to stock. Cattle can graze around in a field and hoover up plastic bags or can lids. That can be very dangerous. I should like to add to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. On Tuesday, as I drove to the House, I saw that a mattress had been thrown over a hedge.

Lord Bridges

It is with particular enthusiasm that I mention the voluntary nature of subsection (2) of the new clause, which states: The arrangements may include the employment of wardens or other persons". Often this work can be done voluntarily. In our village on the edge of an estuary in East Anglia every spring a local association mounts a campaign. It divides up the river bank into sections. We all go out with plastic bags to collect the litter that has accumulated during the winter. That kind of activity can be arranged in communities.

Some years ago I was particularly impressed when driving in Sweden from Gothenburg to Stockholm. It was in the early spring just after the thaw. It was notable that every parish had schoolchildren out cleaning up the litter which had been thrown out of car windows during the winter. We should try to encourage voluntary activities of that kind. The new clause permits that kind of arrangement. Therefore, I support it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We have considerable sympathy with the reasons behind the amendment. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are places where litter is too often found. We have considered the matter with great care. As Members of the Committee have recognised, much of the land concerned will be in relatively remote areas away from centres of population. Previous debates on amendments in the Chamber have identified that the overwhelming majority of people making use of the provisions proposed in the Bill will be responsible and respectful of the countryside.

I should like to add to the groups to which reference was made earlier those involved with youth organisations and children. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, was right to refer to the work done by young people, both informally and through the schools. I well remember a project on the foreshore at Lytham St. Anne's in Lancashire involving local primary schoolchildren who had an exhibition where they dated the length of life of the litter and the fact—as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said—that much of today's litter is non-biodegradable and lasts for a very long time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to the dangers to livestock and other noble Lords referred to mattresses, chairs and doors. This is a major problem. Perhaps we should all think back to the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is not in his place. When we were debating the subject of access to the countryside he referred to people who drove and ended up depositing as litter a four-wheel drive vehicle in a lake. Perhaps I may remind Members of his words. He said: The problem is that the legislation for access to the countryside deals with the responsible. The irresponsible exist all over the place already and we must continue to tackle them as much as we can". For that reason, and particularly in response to the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Williamson—because of the irresponsible minority who can spoil things for the rest of us—leaving litter on access land will be a criminal offence. Those who drop litter will automatically lose their right to be there. The provision of wardens and the development of different projects in areas subject to greatest visitor pressure will help to prevent the problems arising.

In addition, the department has been discussing with the Countryside Agency the whole question of how best to manage and encourage responsible access. One option we are actively considering is to fund the agency so that it can give grant aid direct to landowners and occupiers for work and facilities which help with that function. If there is a problem with litter in a particular area, funds could be ma de available through such a grant regime.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, we believe that channelling funds directly to people on the ground—for preventive measures such as wardening or litter clearance—is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. We are not attracted to the idea of local authorities having to make arrangements with owners and occupiers for the collection of litter as that could involve considerable bureaucracy and negotiation and might not be the most cost-effective solution, given the circumstances in a particular area. However, the local authority would have a responsibility to assist with the removal of litter; indeed, local authorities already cope with the removal of litter, such as that on the wayside.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

If the local access authority is not involved, how will the channelling of funds directly to people on the ground operate?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The Bill contains an amendment to the Local Government Act 1974, which means that the Countryside Agency and the agencies will be able to give assistance to anyone who has incurred expenditure in doing anything which helps to attain the purposes of the legislation. Clearly, the management and promotion of public access to the countryside fall within that.

We are in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that measures should be in place to prevent litter in the first place, but failing that, to provide resources for its collection. Such measures are best targeted to where problems might arise, rather than having a general requirement on all access authorities, irrespective of local needs and circumstances. Therefore, with those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will accept the Government's full commitment to resolving the problem which this short debate has highlighted. I ask him to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Lord Glentoran

I thank the Minister for that positive response. As we have heard, Members on all sides of the Committee are concerned about the problem. The Government have clearly stated that they are also concerned and that they are working on ways to solve it. I look forward to seeing what they produce at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Notices indicating boundaries, etc.]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 224: Page 11, line 25, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall at appropriate points, after consultation with their local access forum,").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 224 is to do with the erection and maintenance of notices. During the earlier debate about by-laws, we said how essential information boards and notices will be. We said that they should be at appropriate points, that they should not litter the countryside in an unsightly way and that they should be placed in such a way that the public are clear about their rights and responsibilities. I shall not rehearse those arguments again. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I am happy to support the noble Baroness on the amendment. It is a delight to me that she has now used the word "shall" rather than "may". Having voted against "shall" only a few minutes ago, I shall not be churlish and go back to "may". I shall continue to support her.

Lord Marlesford

I oppose the amendment for the reasons I gave earlier. I do not want to see a plethora of signs. I would much rather leave it to the discretion of local authorities to decide whether it may be necessary to put up some signs. If in due course the Act imposes an obligation to put up signs, I suspect that a good many unnecessary and undesirable signs will be put up. That is why I would much rather leave the Bill as it is presently drafted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I had understood that Amendments Nos. 227 and 229 to 231 were grouped with this amendment. I thought that it would be preferable to debate the amendments together. Those amendments are very much on the same theme.

It may not be politically correct but I agree once again with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford— although this time it is against his colleagues. It is right that there should be signs and notices where appropriate to ensure that the public are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is also right that we should give careful thought to how they should be provided for. But if we were to accept any of the amendments, we would be in danger of promoting a landscape littered with signs.

Perhaps I may deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 225 and 224. Amendment No. 225 imposes a duty on authorities to provide notices without any indication of where to provide notices or when they might know that they had fulfilled their duty. They might find it quite difficult to defend themselves against pressure to provide notices in inappropriate places. Amendment No. 224 would allow access authorities rather more discretion in deciding where and when to erect notices. We would expect this to be one of the matters on which local access forums advise. We shall be bringing forward appropriate amendments to deal with that. The amendment refers to "appropriate points". Our concern would be the scope for litigation as to whether or not it was an appropriate point.

Amendments Nos. 227, 229, 230 and 231 would run the risk of putting an unmanageable burden on the authorities. They might find themselves obliged to erect a small forest of signs. That would be a blight on the landscape and it would also cost a good deal of money. I am not suggesting that the views and advice of landowners should be overlooked by authorities in deciding where notices should be provided. I would expect the authorities to consult as fully as practicable on matters of local concern. I see a role for local access forums in advising on these matters. But, ultimately, it is right for local authorities to use their discretion in assessing where and when notices are required. Those authorities that have already had experience of providing notices relating to public access may well be in a position to offer good practice for others to follow.

In the light of what I have promised to do about local access forums, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I look forward to seeing the government amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 226: Page 11, line 25, after ("may") insert (", after consulting persons interested in the land,").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we are dealing with the erection of signs and notices and the duty to consult owners. The amendment would require the countryside body to consult owners before putting up notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

This would parallel the requirement for consultation in relation to signs and waymarks placed on rights of way, provided for in Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968. The aim is to maintain good working relationships between those with an interest in land and the countryside bodies. Signs should be put up in places which are convenient for owners as well as for walkers.

In Committee in another place, the Minister said that: I do not consider it necessary to require authorities to consult those with an interest in the land before erecting notices. Access authorities will be able to ascertain the precise location of boundaries and restrictions applying on the land. However, I agree that authorities will usually want to discuss their proposals with landowners and, perhaps, other interested bodies such as local access forums and walkers' associations. Those with an interest in the land may well know which sites are used most. It would be in the interests of the authority and those involved with the land to liaise with each other to ensure that an adequate number of notices are erected in the right places. Indeed, authorities may often act in response to specific requests from landowners. It is unnecessary to provide for that in statute; again, it is more a matter of good practice. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will withdraw the amendment".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 2/5/00; col. 444.]

The Minister asserted that access authorities would liaise sufficiently. It remains to be seen whether this will happen in practice. Why are the Government set against this duty if the precedent already exists? Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968 places an obligation on a local authority to consult the owner or occupier when erecting signs on rights of way, for example, to indicate where footpaths leave metalled roads. It seems wrong and inequitable that consultation required where there is one type of statutory public access is considered unnecessary in relation to another statutory right of access.

It should be stressed that the requirement is for consultation only. The authority does not need to gain the consent of the owner as to the location of the sign. In practice, consultation on signs on rights of way is often important in avoiding problems caused to occupiers by poorly located signs. Examples include signs placed so as to block field gates and private vehicular access.

If the Government are still not disposed to include this provision in the Bill, firm assurances would be welcomed that the codes of practice being drafted by the countryside bodies for local authorities will contain guidelines, as suggested by the Minister himself. They should, first, discuss any proposals for signing with the necessary interests; secondly, liaise with occupiers as to the positioning of notices; and, thirdly, pay due attention to and deal fairly and responsibly with, any requests for signs from an occupier.

Earlier on we debated at considerable length the issue of signs. For that reason, I do not believe that I need to explain further this side of the argument.

Amendment No. 232 inserts at the end of Clause 19(3) the words: (4) A notice under this section may only be erected or maintained on land with the permission of the owner of the land.

This amendment prevents access authorities from placing or keeping notices on private land without the consent of the owner. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Amendment No. 226 seeks to give a duty to access authorities to consult persons with an interest in the land before erecting notices indicating the extent of access land or providing information on access closures and restrictions.

We have already indicated that we think that authorities will generally wish to consult landowners and others such as local access forums on their plans for erecting notices, as they will on a range of local access issues. However, I accept that it may be desirable to provide for this in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, told the Committee, under Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968, highway authorities must consult owners and occupiers of land before erecting signposts. We propose to follow that example. On that basis, we shall return to this issue with appropriate amendments.

The reason why I cannot accept Amendment No. 226 as it is drafted is that it requires consultation with, persons interested in the land". The Countryside Act 1968 refers to owners and occupiers. "Interest in the land" could include people with rights of commons, sporting rights or even the right to graze sheep or hang-glide on the land. We think that that would be going rather far.

I shall turn now to Amendment No. 232. This proposal would require access authorities to obtain the landowner's consent, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, rightly pointed out, was not the case with Amendment No. 226. The amendments are somewhat in conflict.

What would happen if permission were to be withheld? If we have agreed to consider giving the countryside bodies a duty to provide information about the new right of access, we could be considered perverse were we now to consider measures that would make it difficult for them to do that.

I hope that, with the assurances that I have given as regards Amendment No. 226, the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

Before the Minister sits down, can he clarify for me whether people who have been granted a right of access under the Bill will then qualify as people who have an interest in the land?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not think that it matters, because the amendments I propose to bring forward would restrict themselves to addressing only owners and occupiers. For that reason, I believe that the answer to the noble Earl's question is no.

Lord Glentoran

Again, I have a smile on my face and I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. I look forward to seeing his amendments at the next stage of the Bill.

I understand completely the difficulties he would have had in accepting Amendment No. 226 and I shall wait to see the wording which will be brought for ward by the Government to cover that situation.

As regards Amendment No. 232, I am quite content with the Minister's response here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 227 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 228: Page 11, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) An access authority shall take such steps and carry out such work (including the erection and maintenance of fences, signs or notices) as appear to it requisite for protecting the public from any source of danger on access land or on adjoining land.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would place on the Government a duty to erect "fences, signs or notices" to protect the public from any source of danger on access land or adjoining land.

Where legislation dictates that unsafe areas should be made safe by the owner or occupier, it is obvious that that obligation should be carried out. However, where a new right suddenly imposes additional costs on an occupier because there has been no compulsion to make safe certain features, it is unreasonable to expect the occupier to incur such costs. We discussed this point to a certain extent on an earlier amendment.

The amendment would ensure that any expense incurred as a result of the need to protect the public from a source of danger above and beyond that which would be incurred in honouring statutory responsibilities would be borne by the public purse, not by the owners of the land affected. This issue arises with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, which relates to the duties imposed on the owners of abandoned or disused mine or quarry workings.

The Mines and Quarries Act 1954 requires all mines not used for a period of 12 months or more to have an efficient closure, barrier, plug or other device to prevent any person from accidentally falling in or entering the outlet. All such devices must be properly maintained. The provisions of the Act do not apply to mines unused since before 9th August 1872—I do not believe that many of us were around then!—where the minerals mined were not coal, ironstone, shale or clay. Some workings for minerals such as lead and tin used before 1872 could still be dangerous, but apparently would not be covered by the existing legislation. There are many such workings in some of our moorland areas.

Similarly, a quarry, working or otherwise, can be defined as a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if it does not have a properly maintained barrier to prevent persons from falling into it and if, by reason of its accessibility from a highway or a place of public resort, it constitutes a danger to members of the public. Will the owner of a disused quarry which is unfenced because it is not readily accessible, have to fence that quarry once this Bill has established a right of access to land around it?

These cases—where certain mines and quarries on potential access land are not covered by existing legislation which requires them to be fenced or otherwise protected to exclude the public—could give rise to additional costs to the owners and to increased risk to the public. One way of reducing this would be to exclude land containing such mines and quarries from the right of access at the outset by not mapping it as access land, as another amendment provides.

Another approach would be to require the local authorities to make safe any areas where the users may injure themselves. That is the approach taken in the amendment. There is a precedent for the authorities to fence dangerous land or to erect warning notices under Section 80(4) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. A similar provision is needed to provide safeguards in a situation where far more land will be open to the public under the current Bill.

As I said in our earlier discussions, we readily acknowledge that there will be many more people visiting our rural and remote areas. This is a worrying problem. I beg to move.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I shall be interested to hear the Government's views on the amendment. I suspect that the Government will say that the majority of these hazards in open country are already covered by legislation and that there are fences, markers, caps on mines and so on. But it may well be, as my noble friend Lady Byford implied, that many new crevices and so on will be a danger to the public as a result of the creation of access land. It is those hazards, which are not clearly recorded and marked currently, that we wish to be sure are made safe for the public visiting access land.

I know that in South Wales, in the Brecon Beacons and elsewhere—perhaps where the noble Baroness, Baroness Gale, takes her spontaneous walks—there are many deep, unmarked crevices resulting from old mine workings going back to time immemorial. I also know the Halkyn mountain area in north-east Wales where there were many tin workings. Again, the majority of those old workings are properly capped. Nevertheless, it may well be that with these provisions in the Bill we are opening up new areas where such hazards are not properly fenced and will therefore be a hazard to the visiting public.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, concerns the safety of those exercising the new right of access and how that safety should be protected. I should say at the outset that we had understood there was a general consensus that the new right of access should not lead to the disfigurement of open countryside by excessive numbers of signs and fences. We have made it clear that those exercising the new right should take responsibility for their own safety. That is one of the reasons why the Bill removes occupiers' liability in relation to natural features of the landscape, and we are considering what further changes might be needed to Clause 13.

The noble Baroness's amendment would require access authorities to assess access land in their area to see whether there is any source of danger on it, or from adjacent land, and to take action where necessary by erecting signs or fences. We have said before that parts of access land are intrinsically dangerous—a high rock face half-way up a fell, for example. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and I thought of Pen y Fan, which has many natural hazards. I well remember my first visit there. To my amazement, I ended up having to call out the mountain rescue people to save a local farmer who had walked up but could not walk down. When he got to the bottom he explained that he was a Conservative county councillor. Some of my colleagues made comments that were not very kind.

I hope that the Committee will agree that such dangers are part of the reason that many people wish to explore open country, and it is their responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary training and equipment to enjoy their visit. The Committee will be aware that we are removing all occupiers' liability in respect of features such as rock faces, potholes and any other natural features. In the region of the country where I live, that reassurance needs to be given wide publicity. Some of the local farmers—particularly in the Yorkshire Dales—believe that they will acquire a responsibility to protect people from the existence of potholes.

Clause 23 of the Bill provides that exclusions or restrictions may be directed to protect the public from danger arising from anything done or proposed to be done on access land or adjacent land. This includes activities which have occurred in the past. So if, for example, a disused quarry is mapped as access land, the relevant authority may, if necessary, direct that the land where the quarry is situated is closed to access.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the 1949 Act, which contained provision for areas of access land to be fenced off on grounds of safety to the public. However, that Act did not contain a provision similar to that in Clause 23 of the present Bill, which enables exclusions or restrictions to be directed by the relevant authority on such grounds. Nor did it eliminate landowners' liability in relation to some features of the landscape. That is the approach we have favoured in the Bill and it will enable the public's safety to be protected where necessary without unduly littering the landscape with fences and signs.

Access authorities have the power under Clause 19 to erect notices informing the public of any matters relating to access land. Such signs might indicate at points of access that there were hazards on the land, or could he placed near to hazards as a warning—perhaps to explain that access is excluded from the land surrounding the site. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is as aware as I of the kind of circumstance that arises in Swithland Woods in Leicestershire.

This power is sufficient to enable warning to be given where it is needed without placing the access authority under a duty to fence off any land which might pose a slight risk to public safety. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that there will be clear areas, where everything is black or white, but that other areas will be more grey and local judgment will be needed. Owners and occupiers of land may well be under existing duties to fence off dangers—for example, most mines and quarries. There are duties under environmental protection legislation and under health and safety legislation which require landowners or employers to remove dangers. Local authorities have, in some circumstances, powers to remove dangers on land and to make payments to others who carry out work to prevent or remove danger to the public.

We shall discuss with the Countryside Agency, local authorities and others whether funding arrangements, including possible grant schemes, are required and, if so, how they would be established.

I hope that with that detailed response the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

7 p.m.

Baroness Byford

I am grateful to the Minister. She always responds fully and with due care to the amendments. Her reference to Swithland Woods is because that area is part of an old quarry and some of it is quite rightly clearly marked. I thank the Minister for commenting on that and I accept what she said.

The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that land managers will not incur extra cost. As I am sure the Minister will understand, sometimes not even the land managers know exactly where some of these areas are, and that is the problem. The amendment seeks to ensure that if, for example, someone has a mishap on the site of an old quarry or whatever, landowners would not be liable, nor would they have to erect fences. I hope that I am not misinterpreting what the Minister said.

I, like the Minister, am concerned that our countryside does not become littered with notices. It would be a great tragedy if that were the result of this legislation. However, it was not clear to me from the Minister's response whether the example I gave would be included. We debated natural features two days ago and I accept the idea; however, I am not sure whether the example I have given would come within (I shall not say "fall" within!) the definition of such features. I am happy to give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

On this point I should be very cautious indeed, because of the range of judgments that have to be taken locally about the circumstances. We are talking about circumstances in which grants may be available which may not be used by someone for some other reason. I should not like to give a blanket assurance. I should prefer to write to the noble Baroness with detailed advice from the lawyers because in that way I can answer her question fully without giving a misleading blanket assurance.

Baroness Byford

I am grateful to the Minister. That is a sensible suggestion. This matter is difficult. As the Minister knows, there are areas where one is not sure where such problems might arise. Under these circumstances, I accept the Minister's response. Perhaps between now and Report we may be able to examine the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 229 to 232 not moved.] Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Interpretation of Chapter II]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 233: Page 11, line 44, leave out ("Chapter") and insert ("Part").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may say rather cheekily that this is more of a tidying amendment, or an attempt at it, than something more substantive.

Clause 20(1) makes reference to the interpretation of exclusion or restriction of access in Chapter II. The amendment seeks to apply the definition of exclusion or restriction to the entire part, thus obviating the need for duplication elsewhere. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I am always grateful for drafting suggestions from the noble Lord; however, I am not sure that I share his concern. The amendment seeks to extend the definition to include all of Part I. The definitions of the exclusion and restriction of access are set out in Clause 20 at the beginning of Chapter II, which then proceeds to provide for how such exclusions or restrictions may be imposed. There is a special provision in Clause 19(2) which avoids any doubt that the exclusions or restrictions referred to in Clause 19(1) are indeed those defined in Clause 20.

Of course, it would have the effect that the noble Lord suggests if the definition in Clause 20 were to be applied to the whole of Part I; therefore, in one sense the amendment is entirely proper. But there is no particular benefit to be gained from such an amendment because the other parts of Part I refer forward to Clause 20 in any case. Therefore, the situation is already covered, albeit slightly more indirectly than the noble Lord would like. For that reason, his amendment would not make the provision any clearer than it already is. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that conclusion, and I should be grateful if he would withdraw the amendment.

Lord Glentoran

I thank the noble Lord for his explanation. I am sorry that he does not like my suggested improvement. However, I bow to his greater knowledge on this occasion and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 234: Page 12, line 2, after ("any") insert ("access").

The noble Lord said: All the amendments in this group refer to the proper identification of land which may or may not be access land.

In subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 20 there is reference to the exclusion or restriction of access to any land. The amendment proposes that for the sake of clarity specific reference should be made where it is necessary to identify that land as access land and whether reference is made to the whole of it or to part of it, and the amendment seeks to do just that.

Perhaps I may speak also to the other amendments in the group, starting with Amendments Nos. 239, 240 and 241. As with the amendments under Clause 20, this batch of three amendments simply seeks to clarify and make specific reference to land which is access land rather than any land, which must be helpful to all concerned.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 259 relate to Clause 21, and to the extension of time for exclusion or restriction at the descretion of the landowner. In this respect the Bill is vague and imprecise in its reference to land and the purpose of these two amendments is to clarify and identify the land referred to.

Amendment No. 263 relating to Clause 22 refers to an application regarding land that is not access land. The subsection attempts to provide for a situation where the relevant authority is able to forecast whether or not land will be access land at some point during all or part of the period to which an application relates. That is simply not practicable and our amendment ensures that applications deal not with conjecture but with reality.

Amendment No. 266 relates to Clause 23 and refers to access land. For the purpose of clarification the amendment proposes that relevant land shall be referred to as access land.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 270 to 274. Again, we say that the reference in the Bill is vague and unspecific in many cases. This batch of amendments simply seeks to make specific reference to access land.

The final amendment in the group refers to Clause 23 and to land that is not access land at the time when the application is made. This matter was referred to in relation to Clause 22, where the Bill was described as conjecturing what might become access land but is not access land at the time when the application is made. We believe that that is irrelevant and the amendment seeks to exclude that possibility. I beg to move.

Viscount Bledisloe

Many of the amendments tabled by the Conservative Front Bench have been most helpful. However, I venture to suggest that they are grossly over-doing it with this set of amendments. Clause 20(2) reads: A person excludes access … where he excludes the application of that subsection in relation to that land". How can one exclude access, which can only be given over access land, except in relation to access land? How can adding the word "access" make any useful addition to the wording of the clause, other than making it longer and taking up yet more of our time?

Lord Whitty

For reasons that I shall explain, I believe that the Opposition are being slightly inconsistent on this occasion. The effect of this group of amendments would be literally to reverse government amendments put forward on Report in another place, which were tabled as a result of representations that had been made. It would be helpful to allow applications for restrictions to be made and dealt with before the actual right of access came into effect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, argued quite strongly earlier that we should allow for a certain situation where we could anticipate the need for bylaws before the actual right came into effect. The earlier amendments allow for the directions to be made in relation to restrictions and for landowners to be allowed to exercise their discretion under Clause 21 in anticipation of land becoming access land. They provide a mechanism whereby restrictions on access could be directed before the right of access came into effect, so that not only the access but also the restriction would be in place on day one of the operation of the right. That is the equivalent position to the one we discussed earlier on by-laws. We accepted the principle of the noble Baroness's amendment on by-laws and, therefore, we are being consistent in resisting this amendment.

As I have explicitly explained the reason why the reference to "land" rather than "access land" was made, any other reading of those amendments is mistaken. I believe that virtually all of the cases here are the mirror image of the amendments made in order to provide for that contingency, which I believe we now all agree would be both appropriate and helpful in terms of managing the approach to access land and the access right. In the light of my explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Luke

I am sorry to displease the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe; and, indeed, the Minister. In view of that response, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 235: Page 12, line 3, at end insert ("or part thereof").

The noble Lord said: It is with some trepidation that I move Amendment No. 235. In doing so, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 236 and 238. Again, the issue here is identification. In Clause 20(2) and (3) reference is made to the exclusion or restriction of access to any land. For the sake of clarity, our amendment proposes that specific reference should be made, where necessary, to identify that land as access land and to clarify whether reference is being made to the whole or part of it. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Amendment No. 236 refers to the same argument in relation to Clause 21. Amendment No. 238 seeks to provide greater clarification as to how such land is identified. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I regret to have to tell the noble Lord yet again that this set of amendments is based on a misunderstanding of Chapter II of the Bill. The phrase "any land" means just that: any land. The exclusion or restriction of access does not relate to a predetermined area, such as all land in the same ownership or all land within a specific geographical boundary. For example, it would clearly make little sense to require that an owner of extensive areas of moorland wishing to conduct a grouse shoot on one relatively small part of that moor should be obliged to close his entire estate. Indeed, that would be contrary to the intention; namely, to allow maximum flexibility within the closure and restriction regime so that it is responsive to the widest range of land management, nature conservation and other needs that may well vary within the area of one ownership.

When assessing the need for restriction or for closure, we expect the relevant authorities to approve the minimum restriction or exclusion to protect those interests. I can, therefore, reassure the noble Lord that the concerns lying behind his amendments are misplaced and that they are fully met by the Bill. In view of my explanation, I trust that the noble Lord will not pursue these amendments.

Lord Luke

That was a rather interesting response. With regard to the 28-day exclusion, the Minister mentioned the fact that it could refer only to one part of an estate, all of which may be access land; in other words, another part of that access land could actually be excluded for another part of that 28-day period. I hope that I am correct in that respect. I beg Leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Exclusion or restriction at discretion of owner and others]:

[Amendment No. 236 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 237: Page 12, line 43, at end insert— ("( ) Subject to subsections (2) and (6), an entitled person may, by giving notice to the relevant authority in accordance with regulations under section 30(1)(a), exclude or restrict access by virtue of section 2(1) to any land on a Saturday between August 11th and February 2nd where that land is used commercially for shooting.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 248. This amendment would allow landowners to close land on Saturdays during the game shooting season. The majority of game shooting takes place on a Saturday, mainly because this is when most people can take the opportunity to shoot but also because, by law, game cannot be shot on Sundays.

The importance of shooting to the economy and conservation of rural areas is crucial. Over £653 million is spent on shooting per year and much of the countryside is conserved by shooting interests. It is important to note that much shooting takes place during the harsh winter months. The public are much, more likely to want to enjoy access during the spring and summer months. Further, the amendment would not deter the public from enjoying access on a Sunday during the period 12th August to 1st February—something that is denied by law to game shooters.

The rural economy often depends on sporting activities such as shooting during the winter months, especially as this is the very time when other tourists are less likely to visit remote areas. Therefore, the amendment seeks to strike an appropriate balance. It would allow those members of the public who wish to enjoy their right of access during the winter months to do so on Sundays, and it would not preclude land managers from shooting on the most popular day of the week during the statutory game seasons.

I turn to Amendment No. 248 which reads: Page 13, line 14, leave out subsection (6)".

It is not clear why access land should not be closed at weekends, given that the right to close it is limited to a specific number of days. Given that there is a limit to the number of days land can be closed, the public will be able to enjoy access land at the weekends for the vast majority of the year. But that right should also extend to those who wish to close access land for legitimate reasons. For example, shooting days often take place on Saturday. Removing that right would have severe implications for the viability of estates. I beg to move.

Viscount Bledisloe

It is a pity that the first amendment in this group, which deals with the important question of weekend access, should deal specifically with shooting which although important is by no means the whole of the matter. However, I should perhaps declare an interest as an enthusiastic participant in the sport of shooting who is likely to shoot on moorland on Saturdays. I hope that any noble Lord who owns a grouse moor and is present in the Chamber will take note of that! The general problem of weekend access is much more important. I shall concentrate my remarks on Amendment No. 248 which seeks to remove subsection (6) of Clause 21. Clause 21 provides that a landowner may exclude access to land on certain days. It is obviously intended that he should do so at critical times such as lambing time or when birds are hatching. If we assume that that is the main purpose of the closure provision, it must be utterly illogical, and indeed destructive of that whole purpose, if weekends are excluded from the 28 days when closure is permitted.

I suggest to the Government that they take a little advice from King Canute and recognise that nature's rules do not bend to the wishes of human rulers. It is unfortunate but true that sheep and nesting birds and their eggs do not read Hansard or even the statutes at large and do not carry with them calendars which enable them to identify when weekends occur. Therefore, unfortunately, they will not refrain from lambing or hatching over a weekend. If those processes are to be protected on Fridays, they also need to be protected on Saturdays and Sundays. Even New Labour cannot persuade sheep not to lamb over a weekend because the former would like to allow people on to the land.

An exemption for weekends at such critical times renders the power to exclude utterly illogical. As many of us have sought to suggest, countrymen consider many of the Bill's provisions unreasonable and unfair. The concept of a Monday to Friday period of closure to protect lambs, birds and so on at critical periods demonstrates to those who know about the countryside that the Bill was drafted in Whitehall by persons with no tittle of understanding of what happens in the countryside. If the Government truly intend that landowners or tenants should be able to close their land at critical times, such as lambing or hatching, they must concede that it must also be closed at weekends and allow nature to take precedence over the vagaries of the calendar.

The Earl of Mar and Katie

Amendments Nos. 244 and 245, which are grouped with Amendment No. 237, stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. These amendments have the purpose of extending the period of closure. The amendments propose that four weekends should be added to the period of statutory closure as laid down in Clause 21(4). In arithmetic terms this would increase statutory closure from 28 days to 36 days.

Amendment No. 244 adds four weekends to the relevant maximum; and Amendment No. 245 spells out how the weekend should be interpreted. It seems to me that the presumption behind the Bill is that closure is for maintenance purposes and also for the pleasure of those who do not have to work. This seems to be unfair to those who wish to shoot or stalk—which are particularly dangerous activities if you are not taking part in them—but can do so only on Saturday. It seems also to be unhelpful to those estates—this has been mentioned—whose income is derived from selling shooting days. As the Bill is presumably not intended to disadvantage the rural economy, I hope that these amendments can be incorporated into the Bill.

Earl Peel

I support what the noble Earl has just said. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I should hate these discussions to concern only shooting. However, I shall return to that matter in a moment. How owners, occupiers and tenants will utilise their 28 closure days remains to be seen. I cannot speak for them. However, I believe that a number of people will use their 28 closure days during the breeding season in May. That is my hunch. If that is the case, the noble Viscount's comments were absolutely right and proper because clearly birds will not cease nesting during weekends or bank holidays. This is an important issue which I hope the Government will take extremely seriously.

I turn to shooting. The noble Earl is absolutely right to say that shooting—we are talking here principally of grouse shooting—is of enormous economic importance to certain country areas. I venture to suggest—this is an extremely important point—that most of the money that is generated by shooting is used to support the management of those areas. I go so far as to say that if it was not for the shooting interests a great number of sites of special scientific interest— many of which will now be designated as SPAs and SACs under the European habitats and birds directive—would not exist in the first place. Therefore it would be disingenuous of the Government to ignore the goose which lays the golden egg. That is a most important point.

As regards shooting, difficulties would arise for many people if they could not participate in that sport on a Saturday. I am not talking about people with vast sums of money. Many members of shooting clubs enjoy their weekend shooting and have no other opportunity to do so. It is important to note that this matter affects people across the whole social spectrum. The income generated from shooting is of enormous importance not just in terms of the maintenance of hills or the wildlife benefits; it has a considerable knock-on effect in other industries such as the hotel industry and the transport industry. The Government need to bear in mind all those points when considering this matter. I very much welcome the opportunity to increase the number of weekends where access can be closed for whatever reason, not just shooting.

I go back to what I said at the beginning. We must not forget that some people may use these days to try to close these areas for the benefit of nesting birds. These are not just game birds but also Schedule 1 birds.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Perhaps I may ask two questions. If someone wanders through a drive on a foggy day while shooting is in operation and is shot, whose responsibility will it be? Will there be conflict between owners of land and tenant farmers? For example, will a tenant farmer be able to have 28 days for his lambing while a landowner has a different 28 days for his shooting?

Baroness Young of Old Scone

Perhaps the Minister will consider a degree of flexibility as regards weekend closures. It is not that I hate to think that upland landowners with shooting interests would be financially embarrassed by being unable to sell shooting days at the weekends, particularly on a Saturday. It is the more serious point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about the ecology of the uplands being heavily dependent on the income that shooting brings to those areas. It is a point that we need to emphasise.

I am less convinced by the arguments based on sheep or nesting birds. Birds set up territories. They nest; they hatch; and they breed and raise young over quite extensive periods. The odd Saturday or 28-day closure will not make much difference to nesting birds. Closures in order to protect nesting birds should be on the ground of conservation rather than discretionary.

On the sheep question, I am not convinced that there is evidence that walkers and lambing do not mix. As an ex-shepherd of 600 sheep, a horse and a dog, my ewes were concentrating on something else when lambing on the hill rather than whether walkers were close by. The odd Saturday closure will not help if the sheep are lambing on the open hill.

Nevertheless, perhaps we can prevail upon the Minister to be flexible. The points made about the economics of shooting are fundamental to our upland areas. I suggest that we should consider giving landowners more discretion about weekend closures within the proposed 28 discretionary days.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Let us consider the reason that the Government introduced the 28 day period. It was so that landowners would have a period in which to undertake those activities vital to their landholding without having to go through the difficulties of applying for closures to quangos which might argue the case. It does not seem unreasonable that they should have a block of time which is not broken up by these three or four weekends.

In Standing Committee B, at cols. 474 and 475 of the Official Report of 2nd May, Mr Meacher said: I am not sure that we can justify providing in the Bill for shutting open countryside to the public for a whole month without giving any reason". He continued: My problem is to find a way of reconciling the two views that does not severely or drastically undermine the purpose of tilt Bill". I suggest that closing for that useful 28-day block period does not, severely or drastically undermine the purpose of the Bill". The Government have said that people may abuse the provision and close the area for all the most popular weekends. On the other hand, landowners may say, "We can apply for closure orders in order to undertake those activities we have not had time to do and the quangos will make our lives difficult". If we approach the issue on the basis of scepticism, we shall not get far.

It is common sense for this to occur. At col. 475, Mr Meacher said: I accept that the 28-days' discretion gives landowners a simple way to close their land for any reason, without seeking approval". That non-bureaucratic route is important. That time should not be broken into because there might be possible abuse. It is a weak case. It is time the Government admitted it.

Baroness Mallalieu

Perhaps I may add my voice to those who ask the Minister to be more flexible, particularly about Saturdays. It was not the intention, of the Government that access would be increased at the expense of the livelihoods of those who work there. Indeed, when Mr Meacher was asked about the Government's intention regarding compensation, at col. 669 of the Official Report of 17th March 1999, he said that the independent study which the Government had commissioned indicated that there were unlikely to be any significant losses or costs to landlords because, among other things, there would be the continued ability of landowners, to develop and use their land after the introduction of the right". There is no question that commercial shooting—I am no expert; there are many in the Chamber who are—relies in many cases on being able to let days on a Saturday. There is equally no doubt that shooting provides in many upland areas the only income, and it is that which pays for the maintenance, heather burning and so on, as Members on all sides of the Chamber have said. I hope that the Minister will listen to their concerns and perhaps make suggestions.

Lord Monson

Although we are literally a long way from mountains or moorlands, I do not know anyone in my part of the world who shoots on any day other than a Saturday. Nearly all the guns work from Monday to Friday; and most of the beaters have other jobs from Monday to Friday. For that reason, I favour either Amendment No. 237 or possibly Amendment 250 which would seem to fill the bill quite well.

Lord Whitty

Let us go back to first principles. The right of access is to enable the people of this country to enjoy areas of the countryside which are currently closed to them. Most of those people, irrespective of whether they are ramblers or live in the countryside or town, work for five days a week. To extend the discretion to cover the weekends when the vast majority of people would utilise this right, without any check and without the authority of the countryside agencies, severely undermines a basic right.

The 28 days provides some flexibility to landowners without having to go through the Countryside Agency. That does not alter the fact that people who want to organise shoots on a Saturday, those who, for conservation reasons, during lambing, or whatever, need to close on a weekend or series of weekends still have the ability to obtain the authority from the agencies in addition to those 28 days. We are talking here about virtually total discretion for the landowner without reference to anyone else. If shooting is carried out on a Saturday, the Countryside Agency will be able to be persuaded that that is a sensible reason for closing the land on that day or series of days. Indeed, as I have said before, once agreed, the restrictions on the right of access can apply over a period of time.

Some of the amendments—this is certainly true of Amendment No. 237 and the subsequent ones—are a means of extending the 28 days. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, was explicit about that, although the others dodged the point. They would extend the discretion of the landowner to close access land without reference to the countryside authorities. Land could be closed for the whole of August, when most people take their holiday, or for seven weekends across the summer, restricting access for people whose only time for walking is at weekends.

Many of the points that have been raised can reasonably be met by landowners approaching the Countryside Agency to ensure that land management and access needs are appropriately balanced. If there is a need for weekend closure beyond the 28 days because of breeding, shooting or other land management purposes, the Countryside Agency will decide.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I find that quite worrying, because the Bill does not give the Countryside Agency much of a policy framework to determine when weekend closures are reasonable. No framework was laid down in the other place and nothing has been done here. It will be down to the whim of a local Countryside Agency officer to decide whether weekend closure is reasonable. That is unsatisfactory.

Lord Whitty

But neither are there any criteria in the amendments on how the 28 days can be used or extended. The 28 days could be used by an irresponsible landowner to exclude access for the period when people are most likely to want it. Some of the amendments, including Amendment No. 237, would extend the 28-day period considerably, without setting out any criteria for when those 28 days plus however many weekends applied. That could greatly extend the time that parts of the countryside are closed to the public.

As I pointed out earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, landowners also have the flexibility of applying one set of 28 days to part of their land and another set of 28 days to another part of their land. That also answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. A tenant's land could be closed for one set of 28 days and the rest of thefreeholder's land could be closed for a different 28 days. There is considerable flexibility in the Bill.

Earl Peel

There may be considerable flexibility in the Bill, but, although the Minister tried to assure us earlier that the access authorities would be reasonable, there is no guarantee of how they will behave, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has pointed out. If the Minister wants to assure us that the access authority will be reasonable, why is he not prepared to be reasonable? It amounts to the same thing. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the amendments would save all the bureaucratic nonsense of the owner having to go through the system. The Minister is arguing against himself.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

The income gained from shooting in the uplands is incredibly important to the ability to manage the area properly and to conserve wildlife. Shooting cannot be planned very far in advance. Very often, whether shooting can take place is determined by the keeper walking the hill to see the lie of the land, what the weather is likely to be and how the birds are. It is often not possible to seek agreement about closures through the Countryside Agency even modestly far in advance. The Minister should give serious consideration to allocating at least some of the 28 days to Saturday closure.

7.45 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe

The Minister has criticised some of the amendments because they would extend the 28-day period. Does he accept that Amendment No. 248 would do no such thing? It would leave the number of days at 28, but would remove the bar on weekend closure. If the Minister is worried that some landowners might abuse the situation by closing for 28 Saturdays during the holiday season or for the whole of August he should come back on Report with an amendment to limit the number of Saturdays or the number of days in August that can be taken as part of the 28 days allowed. Will he give serious consideration to that and come back with an amendment that deletes the wholesale ban on weekends but restricts abuses by those who cherrypick their days excessively?

Lord Whitty

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked me to be reasonable. I think that I am being reasonable, but I am also trying to avoid bureaucracy. The 28-day provision was included to avoid having to go through bureaucracy and to give a basic right of discretion over land management. The provision is flexible, because different parcels of land can be dealt with separately. There are also clear provisions for how the Countryside Agency is to assess applications for closure. If it does not act reasonably, it will be inbreach of its duty and the landowner will be able to appeal to the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 237 is an attempt, for whatever motivation, to extend the 28-day period. I cannot consider any amendment that would do that. Landlords have other ways of excluding their land for particular purposes outwith those 28 days. That is why we have included the application provisions. Applications for shooting on a Saturday would undoubtedly meet the Countryside Agency's criteria for the use of the land and the need to close the land for safety and management reasons.

Earl Peel

The Minister said "undoubtedly". Is he giving us a firm assurance that if somebody applies for an extension on the 28 days for Saturday shooting, they will definitely get it?

Lord Whitty

I did not quite say that. Each case will be taken on its merits, but clearly the need for shooting for land management purposes and the safety implications of shooting when there is public access will be pretty strong grounds for the Countryside Agency to take into account.

I take in part the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. There may be another way of looking at the issue, but putting restrictions on the way in which weekends can be used within the 28 days could make things even more complicated.

Amendment No. 237 is certainly an attempt to extend the 28 days and I shall continue to resist it. I have not seen an amendment relating to weekends within the 28 days that would be sensible and workable. There may be such an amendment, but I have not seen it yet. I therefore continue to oppose the amendment before us. I shall take into account the views that have been expressed, but I hope that the amendment before us will be withdrawn. Having considered the views, I cannot give a commitment as to how far we would go because I believe that we could still end up with a completely unsatisfactory situation. Nevertheless, I hear the voices around the Chamber and will, without commitment, consider the matter further.

Lord Glentoran

I am very disappointed with what I have heard. I am afraid that I shall change my attitude slightly with regard to this matter. I believe that the argument and the case put forward by the Minister are the first sign of real old-fashioned dogma. It is dogma that a Labour Government who are sensitive to the misuse of something such as this should believe that big landowners might do everything that they can to misuse their privilege. Yet the Government are willing to open up land to other groups of people, including the antis, to misuse the privilege of walking across the land and shooting grouse moors on Saturdays. That is dogma.

The commonsense parts of the arguments that we have heard are still in place. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made two pleas about the value of shooting. She and others have made pleas about the need for conservation. It may interest the Committee to know that some places are sensitive conservation areas. For 52 days a year the RSPB closes everything to the public. It closes every Tuesday. I repeat: 52 days a year.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

Will the noble Lord give way? I may be wrong about the current practice of the RSPB but, certainly when I was its chief executive, if we were closing on 52 days of the year, I was uniquely unaware of the fact.

Lord Glentoran

Minsmere closes every Tuesday for maintenance. It is also closed during its holiday periods. I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention and for correcting me on that point. I should have been more precise. My own knowledge was weak.

However, the point is made. I believe that the inability to close land over a block of time also presents a problem for conservation and farming. Under this proposal, if it is not possible to close on Saturdays and Sundays, there will never be a period of six or seven days when one can, by right, close one's land for a consecutive period. This regime allows only five days in a row on which to restrict access without going through the problems of bureaucracy.

I put forward another small argument. Members of the Committee are well aware that a serious battle is taking place over country sports. One end of it is violent; another end is seriously and professionally orchestrated so far as concerns lobbying. By transferring to the local access authority the decision as to whether the land on which a person who shoots may or may not be closed on a Saturday or Sunday, one is also transferring the burden of resisting the lobby groups, both serious and violent—activists and those who have considerably more money than one could dream of to run heavily orchestrated lobbying.

Perhaps I show a weakness, but I am nervous that the countryside agencies may give way to the lobbyists and the antis—occasionally a little, then a bit more. There may be sympathetic members within local access authorities. Having experienced violence from the antis myself, I believe that that is a serious risk. Such violence is not pleasant and it makes one wonder why sometimes one does not simply give in, particularly if one is elderly and weak. It is a very serious issue.

I have made several points, as have many Members of the Committee. I make a final point relating to dogs. As the dog issue has not been settled, we must assume that dogs will be allowed to go free on any Saturday of the year on any area unless we go through a bureaucratic process and think a long way ahead—I do not know how many months. Then the arguments that I have been making about the antis, and so on, come into play. I believe that the present situation is intolerable. We shall return to this matter on Report and I hope that the Minister and the Government—

Viscount Bledisloe

Before the noble Lord decides what he is going to do with his amendment, perhaps I may say that, far from being disappointed with the reply from the Minister, I am very disappointed with the ungrateful and intransigent attitude being taken by the noble Lord and the Conservative Front Bench. I believe that the Minister has gone some way towards recognising that there is a problem. I believe that we should gracefully give him an opportunity to consider the matter and to come back to us.

Lord Glentoran

I am sorry that the noble Viscount did not like the tone of what I said. That is the direction in which I was heading. However, I have every intention of withdrawing the amendment and hope that the Government will return on Report with something with which we can all work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 238 to 241 not moved.]

Lord Carter

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that that we do not continue with the Committee stage before 8.55 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Forward to