Labour denies block on walkers

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The Independent Online
A Government consultation paper on the right of people to roam the countryside is expected "shortly", a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said yesterday.

But No 10 said it "did not recognise" a suggestion made in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, that Tony Blair had intervened, at the request of landowners, to ensure that Labour policy was introduced by voluntary agreement rather than statutory right.

Labour's election manifesto said: "Our policies include greater freedom for people to explore our open countryside." But it added: "We will not, however, permit any abuse of a right to greater access."

Intervention by the Prime Minister's office, and by Peter Mandelson, minister without portfolio, is in policy-making, and it would not be unusual for No 10 to have put its own imprint on a consultation paper.

But Labour MPs have already warned that any attempt to water down the party commitment to greater access to the countryside, through voluntary agreements that have failed in the past, would be unacceptable and would provoke backbench outrage.