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Lord Taylor of Gryfe: Perhaps I may confirm again to the noble Lord that I telephoned the Forestry Commission only a few minutes before we commenced our proceedings today. I asked whether any restrictions have been imposed on Forestry Commission land. I was assured that there are no such restrictions.
Lord Renton: Whatever may be the case as regards the Forestry Commission, I believe that the point made by my noble friend Lord Peel about the position of the commission should be borne in mind by the Government.
I shall be brief in my comments on this vital amendment. I wish only to put forward two arguments. My first point must be made because, alas, we already suffer from a great deal of rural crime and that crime has increased over recent years. That is especially the case in East Anglia, where I live for most of the time. If we allow the right to roam to continue after dark, surely rural crime is certain to increase. Indeed, I hope I am not exaggerating when I say that it would be an invitation to poachers, to burglars, to cattle thieves and to those who steal sheep. We should bear that in mind.
My other argument is that it is in the interests of people given the right to roam--especially young people and inexperienced townspeople--that they should not fall into danger after dark, which they could easily do. If a mist or fog comes down in a remote place where people have a right to roam and members of a group being led by an experienced person get scattered, they may lose their way and could
If I may say so, I was very surprised by the case put forward by the right reverend Prelate when he argued in favour of young people. It is young people more than those who are older who may fall into the dangers I have described. I hope that the Government will heed the powerful arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and by noble Lords from both sides of the House. In my opinion, it would be a tragedy if this amendment were not accepted.
Lord Judd: Before the noble Lord sits down, would he not agree that the point he has made about mist is exactly the kind of argument that the mountain rescue people put forward about the dangers of this amendment? It would encourage people to take risks in coming out of the countryside when they would be much better advised to stay where they are until the atmosphere clears and they can see their route. There are great dangers in this from a practical point of view.
Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may venture my opinion on that point before I turn to the few brief points that I wish to make. On one occasion I was walking in Skye; the mist and the darkness came down and it was not safe for us to climb back to safety--so we stayed where we were. That was my one direct experience. It would have been dangerous for us to continue the walk because the mist was low, the weather was bad and darkness had fallen.
Turning to the main substances of the debate, a number of speakers have mentioned that there are areas where there is already access at night--the national parks, the Lake District, Forestry Commission land and so on. If the consequence of allowing night-time access to the other areas covered in the Bill is going to be so appalling, as has been suggested, surely the onus is on those Members of the Committee who are putting that case to demonstrate why there are problems in the Lake District, on Dartmoor and elsewhere. Yes, there is crime in the Lake District--but is it such that if access at night to the Lake District were stopped the crime rate would fall? Would the safety of walkers be that prejudiced if they were not allowed to walk on the hills in the evening or when darkness falls? I suggest not. Unless someone can demonstrate clearly that the consequence they are foretelling for other parts of the country have already taken place in those where there is access, I would suggest that there is no argument for this amendment.
I concede that there are some parts of the country where, possibly for limited periods of the year, it may be appropriate to have local restrictions judiciously and sensibly applied. Whether this should come about through by-laws or through the countryside agencies'
As regards safety, I have the feeling that there is a tendency to nanny those of us who want to walk or climb in the hills by saying that it is for our own good that we should not be there after dark. Hill walking and climbing have some dangers and there is a need to educate hill walkers and climbers so that they behave sensibly. But, please, let us not nanny our young people--or even people of my age. We know what the risks are and we are prepared to take them. For heaven's sake, let us accept that there are risks but that they can be minimised, not by this kind of amendment but by educating and encouraging young people.
When the noble Baroness moved the amendment she spoke about ramblers being uncertain about safety and being asked to keep a record of where they planned to go. That is good safety practice in any hill or mountain area, day or night. One should keep a record of where one is going--back at home, in a hotel or wherever--so that if there should be an accident the mountain rescue people can find one easily. It is nothing to do with any concession by the ramblers to the dangers of night-time walking.
Finally, as regards permission--which I know is the subject of a later amendment--for the life of me I do not know where I would ask for permission. One walks across many farms, hills, moorland and so on, where there are many different owners; to find a way of asking permission is too difficult. If one wants to camp on a person's land, yes, of course one would ask for permission; but to ask for permission only to walk there would be far too difficult.
Lord Greaves: I speak in support of my Pennine neighbour, the right reverend Prelate, and of other noble Lords who have spoken to oppose the amendment. This will obviously be one of the major debates in the Committee; it is right that it should be. This is a vital debate and an extremely important amendment. I say that because I believe that the amendment will do more than any other to undermine the fundamental basis of Part I of the Bill.
I, too, used to be a scout. When I was a scout, I went on the moors and the hills at night--but I cannot remember ever asking permission of anyone. The reason I never asked permission of anyone is because we always went on rights of way, recognised access land or the kind of land which one noble Lord described as "land with access by silent consent". I cannot remember who said that, but it is a very good phrase; it sums up the position of a lot of land in this country where there is not formal access but de facto access. There is a real concern that the de facto abilities that people have to go on such land at the moment will be destroyed if the Bill is too restrictive.
I have been lost on a hill at night; I have been benighted and I have been in some fairly desperate situations in my time--but, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I do not want her charging over the horizon to stop me. Going on hills and mountains is, by its very nature, subject to a certain degree of danger. There are obviously extremes. A walk over Ilkley Moor on a sunny Sunday in July clearly carries a lot less danger than tackling difficult and demanding routes on major crags in winter conditions. There are extremes, but between those extremes there are circumstances in which a great number of us quite frequently find ourselves.
A large part of the experience of being on a mountain or on moorland is finding oneself in situations of danger and being able to cope with them by using skill, experience, and often courage. That is what it is all about. The activities are different for different people, but the experience, which might be broadly termed "mountaineering", is the same. Certain Members of the Committee seem to want to prevent people putting themselves in positions of danger in order to tackle them. That is nannying. I should not be happy with any such provision in the Bill.
The amendment attacks the principle behind the Bill--for the important reason that it would, by definition, restrict the amount of access that would be available through the year. To restrict access at night would be to cut the access time provided under the Bill by 50 per cent. In more remote, higher areas, it would also prevent effective access in winter. I have in front of me a list of sunset times for Newcastle upon Tyne; I have been unable to find a timetable for the mid-Pennines. In Newcastle, in the middle of December the sun will set at 15.38 p.m. for a week just before Christmas this year; on Christmas Day it will set at 15.42 p.m.--the right reverend Prelate may not approve of my going out on the hills on Christmas Day, but I sometimes do. That would mean that people would have to be off the hill by 20 minutes to four in the afternoon. Frankly, that is not practical or realistic. Even if a later amendment were to be agreed, access would end at 20 minutes to five. Even if there is to be a night-time curfew on the hills, to set it for that time is simply not realistic.
Walking and climbing on the moors, hills and mountains takes place in spring, summer, autumn and winter, morning, afternoon and evening--and at night; and we do it in all weathers. People may think us mad. I happen to think that hitting a little white ball around and trying to get it into holes with flagpoles in them is a mad activity. The point is that we each do our own thing. The mountaineering and hill-walking experience is one which cannot be constrained to particular times of year or particular times of the day or night. I should have thought that the fear of what people might get up to would be far greater in relation to conditions of thick fog--when they can creep around without being seen far more easily than they can on a nice, clear, moonlit night when the moon casts its shadows and the whole landscape is magical. Why do not the proposers of the amendment suggest
People undertake such activities for reasons of physical recreation and activity, and for intellectual stimulus, including observing and being among the wildlife in an area. They do so for the spiritual experience, as the right reverend Prelate rightly mentioned. The greatest spiritual experiences that I have ever had have been on the mountains in the middle of the night. They do so in order to pit their skills and abilities against the conditions in which they find themselves. That is what it is all about--and much of that takes place at night.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, indicated that the Bill allows every individual to walk where he chooses. I know of no other part of Europe where there is open access to the moors, hills and mountains but where they are closed at night. There is a general principle that if access is available during the day, that is also the case at night. Denmark has been mentioned. I am not sure that it has any moors, mountains or hills; and the highest point in Denmark is lower than the height above sea level at which I live in the middle of the Pennines.
Points have been raised about crime and policing. It beggars belief that someone who intends to burgle a house will not do so because it would mean trespassing on his way to the house. It is astonishing to hear that put forward as a rational and sensible argument. If it is the intention of burglars, poachers and other criminals to go into, for example, the moorland areas of the Pennines, they will do so now. Passing legislation allowing law-abiding walkers and climbers to be there will not affect the situation at all.
Lord Glentoran: Will the noble Lord give way? I fear that he has completely missed the point when it comes to crime. It is one thing to know that anyone outside is there with criminal intent; it is quite another to be filled with total uncertainty on a much larger scale because one expects that there will be many more people in an area.
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