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Baroness Nicol: I shall be brief. We have already spent over one-and-a-half hours on the amendment. I am quite sure that Members of the Committee will want to take a decision on the issue quite soon. However, there are a few points that I must raise. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, called in aid the Association of Chief Police Officers, which, she said, supported a ban on night access. My understanding is that the British Mountaineering Council approached the association to find out whether that was its view. After it had inquired into the comments made both in the other place and in this Chamber, ACPO stated that no formal research into the issue had been undertaken, nor had any official statement been made to that effect. The president has now written to the DETR stating that,
Baroness Nicol: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put most of the arguments that I wanted to put and I promise not to repeat them. However, I add to his shopping list. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, homed in on the Ramblers. However, it is not just a case of the Ramblers. A vast number of organisations are involved, most of which have been listed. I am a vice president of the Youth Hostels Association which is dismayed at the prospect of a blanket ban. It points out that many of its hostels are situated in country districts and that walkers travelling between hostels cannot always arrive before dark, especially in winter, nor can they seek permission from the relevant landowner. That is simply not possible. They would be extremely upset if the amendment were accepted.
The Open Spaces Society takes a similar view. Dartmoor National Park emphasises the point that it would be in some difficulty if two different areas of the park had different rights of access. I appreciate the problem. If one is walking on Dartmoor at night, one does not know whether one is moving from land where there is night access to land where there is not. That provision makes no sense.
Someone mentioned the mountain leader training board. That board points out that it needs to train guides and dogs at night. Perhaps that body could negotiate its own access arrangements, but the measure is restrictive and should not be encouraged. I support what others have said: real criminals will not be affected by whether or not there is night access. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord
Earl Peel: At present if someone working on the land sees someone who, for want of a better term, looks suspicious, at least he or she has the ability to ask that person to return to the footpath. After the Bill becomes law--assuming that night access is accepted--the potential criminal can walk wherever he or she wants and another person cannot ask him or her to return to the footpath. There is a major difference there.
Baroness Nicol: I am puzzled at the assumption of some noble Lords opposite--I may have made this point before to the noble Earl--that vast hordes will suddenly rush out to walk in the dark who had never thought of doing so before. I do not think that that will be the case. I believe that those who will walk at night will be dedicated walkers or, if you like, the odd criminal. As I say, I do not think that it will be a case of hordes of people walking at night.
Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. If one follows her argument, one has to ask why access is being sought in the first place. Obviously we have no idea how many people will make use of night access, but it is illogical to argue that there will not be hordes of people walking at night and therefore there is no need for the amendment.
Baroness Nicol: My argument is not at all illogical. I hope that dedicated walkers will have access to more places than is the case now. I am anxious that they should not be inhibited by some of the amendments that are proposed.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, reprimanded my noble friend on the Front Bench. I had intended to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, why she had decoupled the relevant three amendments--perhaps the noble Baroness will reply to that point when she winds up--as the arguments are almost identical. Is it a case of having two bites at the cherry, or are there fresh arguments to be made?
Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She need not wait for me to wind up; indeed, she mentioned the matter to me earlier. The reason I asked for the amendments to be decoupled--the Government agreed to that; it was not a case of my saying, "Please do that"--
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Baroness does not understand the position with regard to the grouping of amendments. Amendments are entirely in the hands of those who propose them. It is not up to
Baroness Byford: I accept that. I am grateful to the noble Lord for correcting me. However, I decoupled the amendments for a reason of principle. Amendment No. 68 concerns night access. I did not want to try to tackle that matter in conjunction with a whole range of other amendments which concern slightly different matters. I do not intend to repeat the speech that I made earlier. I do not think that I would remember what I said anyway. As I say, I did not want to discuss the principle of night access in conjunction with other matters.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We live in a 24-hour society. We on these Benches were most surprised to hear the apparent suggestion that the right reverend Prelate did not make some valid points. In this Chamber we have often heard the wish expressed that young people will be employed constructively. I should have thought that the Committee would be impressed by the list of young people's organisations that seek night access. Therefore, I was surprised to hear some almost ridicule the points that the right reverend Prelate made. Young people like to face danger and challenge. If night access encourages them to participate in night hikes--that is certainly the case in Somerset with hikes organised by the brilliant organisation, Young Somerset--that will keep them off the streets, out of the pubs and off the roads. Such activity makes them appreciate teamwork, leadership and the countryside--attributes which noble Lords have in the past demanded in this Chamber time and again. On the issue of crime--
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I believe that my noble friend Lord Greaves answered that point when he asked why those few landowners who consent to access should always bear the burden. Why should not the burden be spread more widely?
As regards crime, does the Committee believe that the measure we are discussing will be enforceable? If people believe they have access to the countryside and someone reports seeing someone off a footpath two hours after darkness has fallen, will the police want to intervene? I concede that such a situation poses a threat but that applies everywhere in this country. It poses no less of a threat in the isolated hamlet or village than in the middle of access land. I admit that fewer people would be affected by it on access land. However, people who live alone in a small village feel as threatened as those who live in the middle of a moor. I do not believe that the crime argument is a valid one. It is certainly an argument for having more police in rural areas, but it is not an argument for denying access at night.
Cattle and sheep rustling have been mentioned. That is a problem but it is also a huge problem in lowland areas where sheep and cattle are conveniently corralled into fields which makes life much easier for rustlers. I believe that NFU statistics would show that at least an equal, and probably greater, number are rustled from lowland areas than from other areas.
The Earl of Erroll: We need to apply some common sense here. The previous two speakers mentioned the enforceability of the measure. One will not persuade a policeman to arrest a normal, law-abiding citizen who happens to want to go out for a midnight stroll on the moors. That will not happen. The police will not interfere with people going from youth hostel to youth hostel or bothy on a normal footpath.
However, we need protection against someone casing the joint. If unrestricted access is allowed, someone can sit and observe the property just outside the boundary. People who live in the middle of the land may be tenants; they do not own the rolling acres but perhaps a small area around the property. If one rings the police saying, "I think that these people are suspicious. They have been sitting on my boundary for days", the police will say, "We can do nothing about it. They are not breaking the law". You have to wait until they mug you. That is the difference. It is the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
If the amendment were passed, one would have the right to question that person's presence. Under the Government's proposals one will not have the ability to do so. No one will interfere with the ordinary individual on the mountain.
I spent 15 years with the Territorial Army wandering around moorland late at night. It is highly inadvisable to wander in such areas if you do not know where you are; sooner or later you will kill yourself. Occasionally school groups lose an individual because he does not know where he is. No one should wander around at night if he does not know where he is. It is highly advisable to stick to the tracks. On military exercises, we tended to do so.
The private householder should have the right to call out the police to protect himself without the police saying that the person involved is not committing an offence, and the householder ignored until it is too late.
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