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Wednesday, February 25, 1998 Published at 17:54 GMT

UK: Politics

Meacher apologises for leak
image: [ Michael Meacher leaked documents concerned with the right to roam ]
Michael Meacher leaked documents concerned with the right to roam

The Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, has apologised to the House of Commons for leaking government documents.

Mr Meacher admitted that he had given a copy of proposals to extend access to Britain's countryside to four groups.

He had done this "in view of the complexity and detail of the issues" but expected the leaked documents to be for private use only.

[ image: Michael Meacher: unreserved apology]
Michael Meacher: unreserved apology
When a member of the Ramblers' Association brandished his copy at a meeting to discuss the plan, Mr Meacher realised that he was in trouble.

"I have discussed this matter with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and apologised to him," the Environment Minister told the House.

"He made clear he regarded what happened as unacceptable and I share that view.

"He accepted my wish to make a full and unreserved apology to the House."

As well as the Ramblers' Association, Mr Meacher gave copies of the document to the Country Landowners' Association, the Moorlands Association and the National Farmers' Union, on the understanding they were "for personal use only".

Mr Meacher was responding to an emergency question tabled on the issue after Tory protests.

The Conservative environment spokesman, Tim Yeo, said the leak was an insult to the House and "an insult to every one of the men and women who elected us".

He added: "Spin-doctors and soundbites may be what the government depends on, but parliamentary debate is what democracy depends on."

In the same debate, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, confirmed the substance of the leaked document.

The government would introduce legislation to allow the right to roam unless a voluntary code worked, he said.

"If we can by voluntary means establish a greater access to the countryside we can have that access far earlier and more easily. If it can be done by voluntary means so much the better, if it can't we stand ready to legislate."

Mr Blair added: "There is no intention to have people roaming through land that is cultivated or developed. The vast bulk is open countryside like moorland."

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