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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Peers complete marathon sitting
Julian Cope tours British Isles
Walkers say the bill is a dream come true
The House of Lords completed a marathon session of more than 17 hours on Wednesday morning - its first overnight sitting since 1988.

Peers were considering the committee stage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, a controversial measure giving the public the 'right to roam' over thousands of acres of open land.

Government business managers decided the overnight session was necessary to help to clear a backlog of legislation before the next Queen's Speech.

In addition, Conservative and other opponents of the bill had tabled more than 500 amendments, mainly to do with the rights of landowners and country dwellers.

Concerns

The bill, which also provides extra protection for wild animals and birds and rare habitats, has already cleared the Commons.

The Countryside Bill aims to:
create a right to roam on more mountain, moor, heath, down and common land
include landowner safeguards to protect wildlife and land use
introduce new powers to end the obstruction of rights of way
better protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest
At the start of proceedings, cross-bencher Viscount Bleddisloe said it was "wholly unacceptable" for the committee stage to be debated in this way.

Lord Bledisloe warned that, if the details were not properly looked at, the bill could reinforce tge feeling that the government did not care about the countryside.

However, government chief whip Lord Carter said it was the first all-night sitting since Labour came to power in 1997 and pointed out that the previous Conservative government had also needed all-night sittings.

Curbs on dogs

Among the decisions made during the sitting was the acceptance of a government amendment to extend the period during which ramblers will have to keep dogs on a lead to protect animals.

This will now last from March 1 to July 31, rather than up to June 30.

Lord Whitty, the junior environment minister, said the government recognised that further curbs might be necessary to "deal with the impact of dogs on sheep, game birds, ground-nesting birds, and other wildlife."

Tory peers had wanted a year-round ban on dogs, but Lord Whitty rejected this approach.

He also promised to amend the bill at its report stage to ensure that landowners were not held liable for injuries to walkers climbing through or over boundary walls, fences or hedges.

The committee stage continues on Thursday.

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See also:

17 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Ramblers rally for right to roam
31 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Countryside bill 'under threat'
13 Jun 00 | UK Politics
MPs row over moonlit walks
14 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Cash boost for footpaths
03 Mar 00 | UK Politics
'Right to roam' to become law
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