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banner Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Lords workload threatens 'roaming' bill
Poll claims 83% of the population backs Countryside Bill
A large backlog of work facing the House of Lords as it returns from recess could give the government problems in getting measures such as the controversial Countryside Bill through Parliament.

The Lords return on Wednesday - a month ahead of the Commons - to deal with work which was not completed before the start of the summer recess.

People like me fought for this freedom and I urge lords to think twice before they wreck this long-awaited Bill

Alan Gaskell, war veteran

The Conservative leader in the Upper House, Lord Strathclyde, said Tory peers would not skimp on scrutiny of bills to help the government rush the backlog through in time for the Queen's Speech, expected in November.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The problem has been created entirely by the government, because they put too many bills into the programme.

"They were ill thought through and badly drafted, and ministers failed to make decisions."

But Baroness Jay, Labour leader in the Lords, said the government's programme could be completed if opposition peers co-operated, and insisted that no bills would be dropped.

Among the bills facing the returning Lords are the Countryside Bill, which grants ramblers the right to roam, the Freedom of Information Bill, a bill on funding of political parties, the bill limiting the right to trial by jury, a crime bill and Northern Irish legislation.

Freedom to roam

More than 80% of people back the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill which includes the contentious "right to roam" proposals, a survey suggested today.

A poll carried out by the RSPB found that 83% of voters said it was more important for the bill to become law before the next election than any other legislation still before the Lords.

War veterans joined representatives from green, wildlife and outdoor groups at the House of Lords to plead with peers to back their call for a right to roam.

"People like me fought for this freedom and I urge lords to think twice before they wreck this long-awaited bill," said former RAF navigator Alan Gaskell, 78.

The bill, which has already been passed by MPs, introduces a legal right to roam over mountain, moorland and heath and strengthens wildlife protection in England and Wales.

But landowners want the government to answer their worries over night-time access, dogs not on leads and the expense of extra security.

Proper debate

Matt Phillips, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Lords should not be able to scupper a bill that has enthusiastic public support.

"Of course it must be properly debated, but our wildlife needs better protection and this bill must not be lost."

Lord Strathclyde said: "The Lords will do their job, which is to give [the bills] full scrutiny and try to make sure that this government and future governments learn the lesson that you can't cram too much law-making into a session of Parliament."

Baroness Jay said Labour was finding it more difficult than previous Tory governments to force its programme through the Lords because the opposition had a large majority in the Upper House, even after the removal of most hereditary peers.

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See also:

31 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Countryside bill 'under threat'
17 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Ramblers rally for right to roam
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