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The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I speak to Amendment No. 68 which is concerned with the banning of night access. We shall come later to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, which, as I understand it, is concerned with seeking permission. Although I believe that that is somewhat unworkable, that is an argument for another amendment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I can assure the right reverend Prelate that it is not unworkable at all if part of one's job is to give people experience, which is often spiritual, and help the leaders of such organisations, or the Army, to carry out various operations at night. That very important activity should be allowed, and on that I absolutely agree with the right reverend Prelate.
We have already heard a number of arguments, many of which are extremely interesting and true. Those who live in remoter areas all over the country are astonished at the suggestion that people should be allowed simply to roam about at night. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has put it much better than I. It is terrifying to see torchlight and hear voices near one's cottage but to be unaware who is there. For that reason, the Association of Chief Police Officers is strongly against the Bill as it stands. I should have thought that the Government would agree that the interests of those who want to go about the countryside without permission should be overridden by the interests of the people who live there.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: For ease of debate in the Committee, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that, against the Government's considered advice, these amendments have been de-grouped. Therefore, the amendment that the Committee is now debating concerns a ban. I hope that Members of the Committee will take that in the spirit in which it is meant in the light of concerns expressed about the debate being too long.
Viscount Bledisloe: The noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate have fallen into the same error as the Ramblers' Association, which suggests that these amendments seek to diminish current opportunities for open air recreation. That is wrong. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, makes plain, organisations which at present go into the countryside at night do so having first sought permission from the landowner and being granted it. Nothing in this Bill can possibly detract from the right of any individual landowner to continue giving consent to people to go onto his land at night. The amendment does not say that permission cannot be given but that it cannot be done under the right given in the Bill.
There is a great difference between obtaining permission and going onto the land. Permission will normally be sought by a responsible organisation which will, in its own interest, ensure that its members behave themselves properly. In that case the landowner and those who work and live on the land know that those people are coming. If so, one does not have the terror spoken of so well by the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Carnegy of Lour. The problem arises where people come onto land as of right under the Bill and one has no idea that they are to come but one sees and hears their movements. One does not know whether they are amiable people who are exercising their rights under the Bill or their intent is less noble and they are there to steal vehicles, cause trouble and so on. Those who talk about this measure in terms of a total ban misconceive the situation. All that is being said is that the Bill of itself will not enable one to walk on land at night without asking.
I hear the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, say that that is a different amendment. It is not. I have tabled an amendment which provides that if the present amendment fails consent must be sought and that consent should not be improperly withheld. Any landowner has always been entitled to give permission, and nothing in this Bill prevents that. When the right reverend Prelate ventured onto land in his boy scout days he did so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said, either on a public right of way or
If one does not know that somebody is coming and one lives on the land, what does one do? Does one get up, go out and see whether they are people of evil intent? Does one return to bed annoyed that one has been disturbed by some perfectly respectable hikers? Does one assume that they must be hikers and do nothing, only to find in the morning that they are rustlers and all one's sheep have gone?
The justification that has been advanced for night access is trivial compared with the interests of the people who live on the land. It was suggested at Second Reading that somebody might want to see the night sky. The night sky will be very much the same from the right of way as half a mile away in dangerous moorland. The right reverend Prelate told us how funny it was to be lost in Surrey. Being lost in Surrey may well be a joke but to be lost on mountains or open land when one has not been warned by the owner about the location of the pits and moors is nothing like a joke. To try to extrapolate semi-urban Surrey to moorland and mountains is a total confusion of thought. I strongly support the observations of the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Mallalieu, although I suspect that when the Committee comes to consider a provision to this effect Amendment No. 75, which allows access one hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, is preferable to the amendment that the Committee is now debating.
One of the great sadnesses about the Bill is that it appears to have polarised the two sides in such a way that the practical difficulties which the Bill produces tend to be pushed aside on the back of ideology. The question of night-time access appears to have become a cause celebre for the access groups, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, quite rightly said, it is a matter of very deep practical concern for those who live and work on the land concerned. At the moment there is nothing to prevent a person or a group of people entering at night what will become access land, provided that they remain on a footpath. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, rightly said, the idea of solitude or the ability to enjoy the night skies will not be compromised in any way, shape or form.
In a brief which I received, as I am sure did other noble Lords, it was suggested that a number of traditional fell races will be prevented. I cannot understand why that has been suggested because there is nothing which says that if night-time access is precluded, any of the existing night-time activities should not continue. Clearly, they have been negotiated with the owner, in conjunction, no doubt, with the local authority, which have consented. Why should that practice stop now? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn referred to his
There is one important aspect of the whole question of access about which we need to be clear. It is easy to talk about access land as being "the same". It is not. I have a great deal of affection for the Lake District. The environmental impacts on the Lake District have been fairly great. Many of the traditional ground-nesting birds are no longer there. Sadly, the area does not have the same level of wildlife resource that it once had. As a result, the impact of access on that area would be far less than it would be on, for example, the north Yorkshire moors, the Pennine dales or the Durham dales where the tradition of game management has kept many species in place. I speak for the majority of those responsible for the management of those areas when I say that they have a very, very deep concern indeed about the implications of night-time access.
My noble friend Lady Byford referred to the potential impact of night-time access on ground-nesting birds, many of which are Schedule 1 birds. She was absolutely right to do so. It seems to me extraordinary that we should allow people, even with the best intentions, to go on to the ground and affect birds of that importance. One should also bear in mind the game factor. The grouse moor interests have an enormous economic value to those areas. I believe that they should not be compromised by those who would wish to exercise this new right if they were given it.
My noble friend also referred to the importance of controlling foxes at night. That activity goes on all the year around. I cannot believe that the Government are seriously considering compromising that because of a few people who might wish to exercise a right of night-time access. I need hardly remind the Committee--it has been mentioned so many times before--that the Minister, Mr Meacher, has on a number of occasions made publicly clear that there is nothing in the Bill which should compromise the local economic well-being of the countryside or its management practices. As the Bill proceeds, those words seem to be becoming hollower and hollower.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy rightly drew our attention to the effect of night-time access on the security of houses next to access areas. I do not wish to dwell on that. That is a problem which has been expressed to me by a great number of people.
I also make a plea for those managers on the land who have worked hard during the day. They then go to bed at night not knowing what is happening to the areas in which they work. I do not believe that it is reasonable to put on them this additional onus and concern, which would now in effect last for 24 hours and not just 12 hours. That is totally unreasonable.
I think it is fair to say--I do not think this is an unreasonable supposition--that the Ramblers' Association has been given virtually everything that it could have dreamed of in the Bill. Fair enough, that has always been its objective. I respect that. Surely there must come a point when enough is enough and when common sense and pragmatism must prevail, particularly when such important wildlife management issues and local economies are concerned. Therefore, it is incumbent on the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to justify, as I am sure he will, the inclusion of night-time access in the Bill and to give very thoughtfully indeed his reasons for doing so. It is incumbent on him in trying to justify this measure to answer all the points that have been made by noble Lords.
When we discussed Amendment No. 1--it seems like a long time ago--I asked whether the Government were satisfied that the proper level of research had been undertaken to ensure that the impacts of access on ground-nesting birds would not have a serious effect. I shall not rehearse those arguments now. I believe that the Minister gave me a wholly unsatisfactory answer. Therefore, I ask him again whether he is satisfied with the level of research that has been undertaken to ensure that the measures will not have an impact on the important Schedule 1 birds.
As English Nature states in its brief to the Committee, it is essential that measures for protecting wildlife under Part III of the Bill and those for managing Part I are compatible. I believe that that is absolutely essential. However, I suspect that measures such as giving night-time access will not help in that regard.
Finally, I am bound to say--I make this as a general point, not necessarily referring specifically to access--that I believe that it has now become abundantly clear that there has been a conspiracy of silence among some of the main conservation groups towards Part I of the Bill. They have done so exclusively to get Part III on to the statute book, regardless of the implications of Part I. Many of us find that not only disappointing but thoroughly irresponsible, particularly because of the severe management implications of the right to roam on wildlife and conservation.
I pose this final question, and I do so with some sadness. Where is the RSPB in all of this? We are talking about issues affecting birds. The RSPB is the leading bird conservation body in Europe. But from the RSPB there has been a sinister silence on the Bill. In fact I could say that we have not had a dicky bird from it. I think that it is about time the RSPB came out of the closet. Either it is with those who manage land for the benefit of wildlife or it is not. So far, I have to say, I am completely unclear.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should like to rise to the challenge of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I had not intended to speak on this amendment but I feel that I must respond to the point that he unfairly made. He said that many of the conservation bodies are trading off the downsides of Part I in order to secure Part III of the Bill. I should declare an interest as chairman of English Nature, the statutory body concerned with nature conservation, and as vice-president of the RSPB.
I shall restrict my comments entirely to the issue of night access and conservation. It is undoubtedly the case that night access could cause damage to nature conservation interests, but there has as yet been remarkably little empirical or research information to that effect. As has been said, extensive areas of land are already open at night, including the great majority of English Nature's national nature reserves and the National Trust's land. In general, very few problems are associated with night access. That is the case not because of the research base or the biological issues but for two reasons. First, few people choose to visit the countryside at night and those who do are often content to utilise rights of way. Secondly, it is rash for people to wander off tracks and paths at night and over difficult terrain. Therefore, I believe that it would be disproportionate for there to be a general restriction on night access purely for nature conservation reasons.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made valid points about grouse management and pest management and other noble Lords referred to rural crime. I shall not comment on those points. I shall comment on conservation issues. It is unfair to say that conservation bodies have not stood up to be counted on the issue of night access. There will be areas where night access is a problem. There will be vulnerability because of the sensitivity of the nature conservation interest and because of the degree of demand for access, particularly locations where night visiting becomes popular but which are near local population centres. Where there are difficulties because a site is sensitive or is particularly attractive, it will be possible through a variety of provisions--Chapter II of the Bill, existing SSSI legislation, the strengthened SSSI legislation in Part III of the Bill and the habitats regulations under European legislation--to apply local restrictions.
I really do wish to make the point that the conservation bodies are not trading off the downsides of Part I for Part III of the Bill; and that is particularly so on the issue of night access.
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