Countryside and Rights of Way Bill — 20 Mar 2000

Oliver Letwin MP, West Dorset voted in the minority (Aye).

[Relevant documents: The Thirteenth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 1997-98, on The Protection of Field Boundaries, HC 969-I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 4200.]

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Madam Speaker:

Order. I had forgotten to mention the fact that there will be a 10-minute limit on the speeches of Back Benchers. [Hon. Members: "And the Minister."] I am afraid that I cannot do that.

in a form which will be damaging to . . . farmers and will threaten wildlife and conservation sites.

In the tiny handful of cases in which conservation needs will require no access to be permitted, the Bill will enable complete closure of the land.

I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

'this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill because, although it contains worthwhile provisions on protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and wildlife protection, the provisions on access to the countryside impose heavy-handed and unjustifiable infringements on the rights of private property owners, and provisions for compensation are negligible; because it introduces access to "open country" in a form which will be damaging to the interests of hard-pressed farmers and will threaten wildlife and conservation sites which other parts of the Bill are designed to protect; because it fails to provide sufficient improvements in the Rights of Way network which is a more important mechanism for improving access for most people; and because it gives no extra protection to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and misses the opportunity to deal with many of the real problems affecting the countryside in England and Wales.'

We are concerned that the Bill is a missed opportunity to deliver on numerous Government commitments to secure much needed improvements to the protection and management of England's valuable hedgerows, landscape features and AONBs.

That sentiment has been echoed by the Country Landowners Association, the Countryside Agency and other environmentalist groups.

If we don't redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, what's the point of having a Labour party?

and nobody doubts his sincerity.

travel aimlessly over a wide area.

Secondly, it is defined as to

We don't want all and sundry roaming our land, especially not criminals, drug pushers and vandals.

I am sure the House can imagine a drug pusher on top of the trough of Bowland, waiting for the walkers in woolly hats to come up and buy his illegal goods.

would apply to everyone, including the minority of vandals, sheep stealers, badger baiters, horse slashers, illegal hare coursers, poaching gangs, birds eggs thieves and those responsible for a rising tide of crime in rural areas.

Picture those people, staggering around the mountains looking for a horse to slash. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) summed up walkers as trespassers and hooligans.

is nothing more than the expropriation of private land rights and we would advise other owners of private property to take note.

Next, Parliament will legislate to allow people to wander through other people's gardens.

Much of the upland area that is to be mapped as open country also play an important role as water gathering grounds. As a result the risk of pollution must be increased by allowing increased public access to it.

That is just ridiculous; it is farcical. In the forest of Bowland, North West Water has a catchment area that is open to the public. Why does the NFU still peddle that rubbish and ask us to give weight to it?

this is an infringement of the basic rights of free and unfettered possession of one's property . . . Not even in the thankfully-departed Soviet Union was the public allowed access at will . . .

Over the last few years, people have broken down my fencing, allowed dogs to foul my land, and dumped their cans and rubbish. The last straw was when some men dumped an old three piece suite of furniture.

To protect my property I have had part of my boundary fence replaced with a four strand barbed wire fence.

Mr. Hunter asks what risk he runs of being taken to court for any injury that ramblers might do themselves on his barbed-wire fence. He rightly points out:

Surely, if people are allowed to roam over other people's land, they should do so at their own risk.

That is also my view.

is situated more than 600 metres above sea level.

Does that make sense? That environment is very delicate.

Any plans to improve rights of way must carry total commitment.

Section 56 needs to be amended to allow diversionary routes to be arranged.

I am not against . . . Open Access.

He continues:

I do believe that if we are not careful in a National Park the visitors will destroy the uniqueness and the charm of what they have come to see. Also in livestock areas like Meirionnydd it would ignore the public's need for way-marked routes because most of them are fortunately sensible to the dangers to livestock that their rambling can bring.

He says finally:

there . . . seem to be double standards . . . here. On the one hand Landowners face criminal prosecution"

and on the other, trespassers will be subject to the archaic law of trespass. I agree with him.

All I ask to-night is to bring forward the grievance and suffering caused to the people . . . by their exclusion from their right to enjoy the scenery of their own country, and to seek healthy recreation and exercise on their own mountains and moors.

Enhanced public access to the countryside is an invaluable mechanism for building public understanding and appreciation. In general, access benefits protection of landscape, wildlife and heritage.

Stopping up and diversion of footpaths for purposes of crime prevention etc.

There is clearly a real issue here, which the hon. Gentleman's Government recognise.

I have learnt recently that the proposed path goes by my back door, by the garage, then a further few yards by the workshop, then a few more yards past a free-range poultry house to the adjoining farmer's land.

I live outside the main residential area of the village. Walkers would have to come some distance to even begin the path. Many people walk their dogs on the quiet bye lanes of Asenby.

In the present climate this problem is causing me great distress, knowing of local burglaries, vandalism, etc. I have recently been widowed and feel very, very vulnerable.

Please consider my peace of mind and look fully into this case: To have the "path" stopped; To have the "path" rerouted.

I must tell the ewes not to lamb at the weekends.

fails . . . to deliver promised improvements to the protection of . . . hedgerows, landscape features and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Wildlife Trusts wants

greater recognition and protection to . . . wildlife areas . . . outside SSSIs;

legal underpinning to the UK biodiversity process; and

better protection for species.

The organisation Plantlife says that the Bill fails to safeguard

wild plants from non-native invasive species;

protection of the habitats of species which are in danger of extinction . . .

I am sure that the Minister will recognise that much more needs to be done--even to the wildlife protection provisions--in Committee. I do not wish to be churlish, but even the good parts of the Bill are inadequate and they are heavily outweighed by the badly thought out ones.

Question , That the Question be now put, put and agreed to .

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 334.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 138 (+2 tell)087.5%
Independent1 0033.3%
Lab308 (+2 tell) 0074.5%
LDem25 0054.3%
Total:334 138076.2%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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NameConstituencyPartyVote
no rebellions

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