Right to roam Bill may run out of time

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Indy Politics

A landmark Bill to givewalkers the right to roam and toughen up protection for wildlife could fail to become law before the election, ministers have warned.

A landmark Bill to givewalkers the right to roam and toughen up protection for wildlife could fail to become law before the election, ministers have warned.

Opposition peers and ministers have tabled 306 amendments to the Countryside and Access Bill, raising substantial fears among Britain's biggest wildlife and ramblers groups that the Bill will run out of time before the Queen's Speech.

One minister has privately admitted the Bill is "at risk" through a lack of parliamentary time. Environment groups fear that ministers could jettison the Bill if the scale of opposition to it in the Lords this autumn threatens other legislation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, a Labour peer who chairs English Nature, said the most obvious risk was that the Bill could be "talked out" by opposition peers. Ministers would not, she claimed, then reschedule it until after the next election, expected in spring or summer 2001. "If it runs out of time, it's a dead duck," she said. "The Government could also just get windy about it and throw it off the side of the ship," she added.

Thirteen environment organisations, including the Council for National Parks, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth, the British Mountaineering Council and the Ramblers' Association, have written to Baroness Jay, Leader of the Lords, appealing to her to save the Bill. The letter, sent by their umbrella body, Wildlife and Countryside Link, said losing it "would obviously have serious implications for the ground-breaking provisions for better protection for wildlife and opening access to the countryside".

Their concerns were echoed yesterday by the Countryside Agency, the Government's rural regeneration and recreation body. "We're extremely concerned that the Bill won't get enough parliamentary time to get on to the statute book," a spokesman said.

The Bill introduces new offences and police powers inrelation to wildlife, but Labour's manifesto commitment to aright to roam is expected to meet intense resistance from backbench Tory peers, led byinfluential landowners. They claim it would threaten their privacy, increase crop damage and opportunities for poachers.

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