Parliament: Right to roam Bill is dropped

A LABOUR MP withdrew his backbench Bill to introduce a statutory right to roam yesterday after ministers promised to bring forward legislation on the issue later this year.

Gordon Prentice, the MP for Pendle, stressed that the countryside was not the "personal fiefdom of the country landowners".

Opening the second reading of his Right to Roam Bill, Mr Prentice said: "Ramblers haven't poisoned the countryside with pesticides. We haven't polluted the watercourses. We haven't silenced the countryside as the birds have perished and we are not responsible for grubbing up the hedgerows."

But Tories are likely to seek to delay a statutory right to roam when the Government introduces it alongside wider wildlife protection measures.

James Paice, the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire South East, gave an indication of his party's opposition, claiming the Bill "served to distinguish and demonstrate the divide between socialism and capitalism and property ownership.

"It is a totally socialist measure. It is based on one thing alone - that most evil of human traits: envy. Envy of private property, a belief that it should be available to everybody, that nobody should have the right to restrict access to it."

Gillian Shephard, the shadow Environment Secretary, added: "Voluntary agreements on the part of landowners are fast proliferating and we think that this Bill and the Government's own intentions should have built on this responsibility and co-operation, fostering trust by pursuing the voluntary approach."

But Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, confirmed he had spoken to the Countryside Agency to start mapping right-to-roam areas as soon as possible.

"We are certainly considering whether the right of access could be introduced in stages," he said.

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