The Labour Party in Blackpool: Cheers for pledge to enact right to roam

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A STRUGGLE with the lairds and landowners in the House of Lords was presaged yesterday as delegates cheered a commitment that a Labour government would legislate to give the public the right to roam over Britain's mountains, moors and countryside.

Chris Smith, shadow secretary for environment protection, said: 'We will enshrine that right in law - so that this land can be our land, and not just the Duke of Westminster's'

An open access Bill would mark a Blair government as more radical in at least one respect than the reforming post- war Labour administration. To the disappointment of campaigners, it backed away from a confrontation with landowners and dropped the right to roam from the 1949 countryside and national parks legislation.

Mr Smith believes an access Bill would be a fitting tribute to John Smith. The late Labour leader shared his green spokesman's enthusiasm for the hills. On Easter Monday the two were together on top of a mountain in the far north of Scotland.

'The snow was hard underfoot. The cloud was blowing across. We could see for miles. John looked and felt on top of the world. He would have wanted - as I want - everyone to know the exhilaration of such moments,' Mr Smith told the conference.

One obstacle to getting such a Bill through Parliament could be removed by a short measure to abolish the voting rights of hereditary peers in advance of comprehensive reform of the second chamber. Tony Blair said in his address that history could be made by ending the 'ancient and indefensible' practice of hereditary peers voting on the law of the land.

In the keynote speech of the environment debate, Mr Smith said much of the pounds 20bn to be spent on roads over the next eight years should be switched to trains, trams and buses: 'Then we'll begin to have a sensible transport policy, and we'll begin to clean up the air in our cities too.'

The conference avoided a clash over nuclear power, passing back a constituency party proposal for its phasing out to the party's review of energy policy. Paul Gallagher, of the electricians' union EETPU, said more than 150,000 jobs depended on the nuclear industry.

A Labour government would sweep away planned Government changes to homelessness legislation, restoring the right of homeless people to a permanent home, the conference pledged yesterday.

Plans outlined in July by the former Housing minister, Sir George Young, would replace councils' duty to provide permanent secure accommodation for statutorily homeless people with an obligation to provide reasonable and suitable accommodation for 12 months.

The resolution passed yesterday commits a Labour government to 'remove these changes to the homeless legislation and return at least to the position of the present time covered by part III of the Housing Act 1985.' But it was only pushed through at the behest of Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, supported by Tony Benn, MP for Chesterfield, after they clashed with other NEC members.