Lords bill backlog endangers CROW
By Isabel Davies
THE government may be forced to drop its Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) bill because of a backlog of legislation in the House of Lords.
In an attempt to clear the logjam the Lords has agreed to end its summer recess a month earlier than the Commons. But ministers are believed to have been told that a major bill may have to be dropped from the governments legislative programme.
The bill would fulfil the Labour Partys manifesto promise to open up the countryside, but over 300 amendments have already been tabled to the bill which would create a statutory right of access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.
According to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the rumour is "entirely speculative" but senior government officials are believed to regard the bill as expendable.
There is general recognition that the bill still needs work and two days of detailed consideration were lost when the government pushed through its Football Disorder Bill in the wake of violence at the European Championships.
And it is believed the government, mindful of an election, regards the other bills still waiting to be cleared as more important. The Lords still has several major bills including two on Northern Ireland, two on criminal justice and one on transport.
Nicky Warden, campaign co-ordinator for the Ramblers Association, said: "It would be outrageous if the most important piece of countryside legislation for 50 years was to be lost because of timetabling problems in the House of Lords.
"Its disappointing that, despite an already tight schedule, Tory peers have tabled hundreds of amendments to the bill, many of which are ridiculous and designed to waste time."
A DETR spokeswoman said as far as the department was concerned the bill would be going ahead after recess. "The government has said it intends to push it through. As far as we are concerned it wont be dropped."
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party said one solution to the problem would be for the government to drop the part of the bill covering access and proceed with the parts that improve wildlife protection and Rights of Way.
Damian Green, shadow environment spokesman said the party was prepared to co-operate to make sure the parts on wildlife protection got onto the statute book: "A smaller bill would take up less parliamentary time, and would be much more useful." *