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Baroness Strange: I support the amendment and I wholeheartedly agree with everything said by my noble friends Lady Byford, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Carnegy. I say to the right reverend Prelate that scouts and guides are quite different because they ask for permission. We have had both scouts and guides camping in our garden and fields. They have discussed their various nocturnal activities with us. We have in fact joined in some of them and had great fun too!
Those of us who live in the country, in whatever size house, may be miles from a police station. We are terrified of having people trampling lawfully all round our houses in the dark. We do not know who they are and we do not know why they are there. We can only assume that it is for some not good purpose. Not only are they a cause of alarm and upset to the people who live in the country but they are also alarming and upsetting to birds and animals that are not nocturnal. Some birds may be frightened off their perches at night if they hear people underneath them. They may be unable to return to their perches because they cannot see in the dark.
I hope that the Minister is listening to what is a very reasonable argument because, for a tiny amount of pleasure and a great deal of pain, what is proposed by the Government does not seem worth while.
Lord Marlesford: A few moments ago the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, commented--I almost said complained--that this amendment had been degrouped against the strong advice of the Government. As I understand the position, the grouping of amendments is not a matter for the Government. To some extent it may be a matter for the usual channels but, ultimately, it is a matter for Members of the House. I really do suggest that that kind of comment is not the best way of directing or choreographing our proceedings.
I am glad that the amendment was degrouped because it has focused the debate on precisely the point we are trying to make. I am one of those who support the Bill. It is a good Bill and I hope that it becomes an Act. But I am surprised that the Government did not recognise that, by including in it an apparently unlimited right of night access to all land to which the Bill gives general access, they were being foolish. There is already a great deal of night access to the countryside. First, there is de jure night access on public footpaths. Our whole country is covered by them, and quite right too. I was on the Countryside Commission for 12 years. One of our main objects was to ensure that all the footpaths in the country were open. Secondly, there is a good deal of de facto access. On many occasions, access is given by consent. The right reverend Prelate made a somewhat confusing point when he implied that his boyhood experiences as a venture scout would not have been possible if the amendment had been passed. I think that my noble
Furthermore, a great deal of access to the countryside is made available by silent consent. I suspect that there are only few occasions when legitimate, decent, reasonable and harmless access meets any protest from landowners or farmers. However, with this legislation, the Government will be introducing a measure that will be used by the kind of people whom I am quite sure they do not wish to encourage. It could be used by those who seek to approach private premises in remote areas to defy the police or anyone else who attempted to challenge them. They will say, "An Act of Parliament says that I can be here. Be off with you, not be off with me!". That is foolish in the extreme.
My noble friend Lady Byford commented on the safety of people utilising night access. Many noble Lords will recall the story of the Hound of the Baskervilles. The wicked Mr Stapleton owned the hound with which he hoped to frighten to death Sir Henry Baskerville, thereby gaining the estate. He came to a sticky end because, having released the hound which was subsequently killed by Sherlock Holmes by emptying his revolver into its flanks, Stapleton sought to gain refuge in Grimpen Mire. However, he was swallowed up by the mire because he became lost in the night. The point that new dangers will arise is extremely valid.
Lord Carter: Will the noble Lord give way? I know that the noble Lord is a stickler for protocol. Given that, would he please take care not to wander into the gangway? Strictly speaking, that is against the conventions of the House.
Discussions have taken place as regards the liabilities faced by landowners and occupiers for people having access to land. To put it mildly, those negotiations on liability could be much muddied when the element of night access is introduced.
The Bill introduces a great many steps forward, but this step is, frankly, a step too far. I hope very much that the Government will realise that this House, which undertakes the task of scrutinising in great detail--clause by clause, line by line and, if necessary, word by word--this and all other Bills, has an opportunity to make this a better Bill. I hope that the Government will not alienate a large section of rural opinion by not recognising the insanity of this particular provision. I must warn them that they are in danger of doing exactly that.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: A number of years ago I was chairman of the Forestry Commission. In my day, and indeed to this day, the Forestry Commission operates a policy of open access. That leads me to the belief that some of the fears, apprehensions and terrors that have been expressed in this debate may be somewhat exaggerated.
It has been stated that no research has been undertaken on this subject. The Forestry Commission was responsible for 1 million hectares of land and as such is the largest landowner in this country. It has been operating for 60 years. Earlier today I telephoned the commission to ask whether any change in policy had been introduced as a result of the public discussion on the provisions of the Bill. I was told that the commission had no reason to change its open access policy. It further stated that, "We have not heard of any cases of the difficulties that have been outlined in those debates". Therefore we do have a degree of research to consult in relation to this subject; namely, 60 years of experience of governing 1 million hectares--although unfortunately that figure may have shrunk to 850,000 hectares--of land.
Baroness Byford: I do not wish in any way to be rude to the noble Lord or to interrupt his remarks. However, would he be kind enough to speak across the Chamber? This side of the Committee is having a little difficulty in hearing what he has to say. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me.
I wished only to state that the argument that no research has been undertaken on this matter is not quite true. The research is in place and may be read, gathered after 60 years of good and sensible land management. The Forestry Commission is concerned not only with planting trees, but also with wildlife conservation. I mention that because many speakers have expressed apprehension about the dangers to wildlife which may arise from this measure. In the light of that long experience, we have something upon which we may draw and perhaps diminish some of the worst fears that have been expressed.
Earl Peel: I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I have listened with great interest to the words of the noble Lord and I have enormous respect for his long experience. However, does the noble Lord agree that access to forested areas is a rather different issue from access to open country? I hope that the noble Lord will address his remarks specifically to the kind of land that will be affected by the Bill.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: As regards the rights of ramblers and public access, when I read the terms of the Bill I do not see that a great deal of difference exists between the rights of people to wander through the vast estates of the Forestry Commission--estates that are not exclusively covered by trees--and the right of
A number of noble Lords have been recalling their youthful experiences as ramblers, hikers and climbers. To that end, I am glad to see in his place the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. That is because, around 30 miles outside Glasgow on the noble Duke's estates stands the great Ben Lomond. To climb that mountain and see the sun rise is a marvellous sight. However, to enjoy the vista, the hiker must commence his journey at 3 a.m. in order to reach the summit and so witness that wonderful panorama. Cases do arise where people require night access and it would be most unfortunate if they were restricted by the provisions of the amendment.
Lord Renton: For many years I have been very familiar with the work of the Forestry Commission in south-west Scotland. It may interest the noble Lord to know that, over recent years, the Forestry Commission has posted notices and closed gates so as to stop access after dark. How far those measures apply to the rest of Scotland or, indeed, to the commission's estates in England, I cannot say. However, I can confirm that that has been taking place in south-west Scotland.
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