Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: Is the Minister sure that after dark or if there is mist or fog, none of the young people, who may be inexperienced in roaming the countryside, will ever come to any harm?

5.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: No, I clearly cannot guarantee that and neither can anyone else. I am saying that in those areas in which access already applies there has not been a significant problem and there is no reason to believe that there will be in areas that become open to access. I emphasise the clear responsibilities of those who organise activities, particularly for young people, to take safety precautions and to leave messages saying where they will be, as well as to avoid disturbing the countryside, the management of livestock or wildlife. We shall debate those issues later. It is vital that we register the responsibilities of ramblers.

However, the way to do that, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, is not to cut off 50 per cent of the access provided by the Bill--albeit a much smaller percentage of walkers would be affected. We should recognise that the Bill already makes provision for the serious problems relating to night access. The amendment would severely restrict the Bill in a way that the Government and the Bill's other supporters cannot not accept, so I hope that the Committee will not accept it.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his full response. I am slightly surprised that he said that he could not be persuaded by any of the arguments put forward by your Lordships today. Many purposeful arguments have been put forward for and against the amendment. I said earlier that there would be people who felt strongly on both sides of the argument. That is why I decoupled the amendment.

Before I respond more fully to the debate, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who spoke out clearly, as I knew that he would. I understand where he comes from on this and I accept that he holds his views in all sincerity. My husband has been involved for many years in work with young girls and boys with the Church lads' brigade and with the boys' and girls' clubs of Leicestershire. We are aware of the importance that groups play in giving children opportunities that they would not otherwise have. I should like to put that on the record, because I fear that the argument may end up with people on one side saying, "You don't understand" and those on the other side saying, "But we think you're missing the point".

Groups play a tremendously worthwhile role in our community, and long may that continue, but I should say straightaway that they all gain agreement in advance from the people whose land they will be on. I should be surprised, because of the great implications of so doing, if any such groups took out people willy-nilly. I respect the view of the right

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1305

reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I do not follow their line of thought right through, but I understand where they come from on this.

Reference has been made to mountaineers who need to stay where they are for safety reasons or because of mist coming down. I hope that your Lordships heard me clearly identify that issue in my opening speech. All sensible owners or managers of land recognise that if there is a problem, the safest thing is to leave people where they are. The amendment does not detract from that argument, and I hope that I have not dismissed it.

The National Trust and other big organisations that allow night-time access have wardens. Many of them employ people whose purpose is to have regard to not only the land that they look after but, I suspect, also the jurisdiction with regard to the people who are on their land. That will not necessarily happen if access is opened up to everyone. As we progress through the Bill, we shall come to amendments which raise the whole issue of wardens. It is stated that "wardens may be appointed". However, at present we do not know what type of financial support will be provided or whether local authorities will have the money available for such a service.

Perhaps I may pick up on the very wise contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Like me, she comes from a rural area and knows only too well of the difficulties which exist in some rural areas. Perhaps I may link her point to that of the Minister when he said that it would not make a difference. I believe that it would. At the moment, if one sees people in the countryside during the day or at night, one can challenge them if they are on areas where they are not supposed to be. With open access, there will be a whole range of people, some of whom are there for legitimate purposes such as walking and enjoying the land and others who may be, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, suggested, casing the joint to see where they can gain greater access. Clearly, where access is not allowed at present, it is easy to identify when people are on premises that they should not be on. Therefore, I do not believe that the Minister's argument carries weight.

I turn to the contribution made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. In my opening speech I did not refer to getting rid of existing permission where landowners or managers come together and allow people on to land. Unless the Minister tells me otherwise, I do not believe that my amendment takes that right away. I am happy to give way but the Minister is shaking his head, so I am correct in my line of thought that my amendment does not affect that right. Therefore, groups and organisations will still be able to enjoy the right, even though we suggest that the Bill should not lead to overall night-time access.

The Minister referred to the fact that there may be areas of open access which groups of people may not want to use. However, the Bill gives unlimited access to everyone. I do not object to that, but one must realise that particularly at night it may not be sensible to allow people to wander because injuries may occur. That is a possibility as there are boggy areas and many

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1306

other areas of land of which one needs to have a good understanding. That is an important point to bear in mind.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I interrupted him when he spoke, as I was struggling to hear him. I was very glad to hear his contribution. With great authority he referred particularly to the Forestry Commission and its land. My understanding of the Bill is that none of that land is being debated with regard to the question of access land. It is not part of what we are discussing. Unless I am mistaken, I believe that we are discussing mountain, moorland, heath and down. The noble Lord's contribution was well worth while, and this weekend I enjoyed walking through some of the forestry land at Dunwich, which is very beautiful. However, I believe that there is a difference between forestry ground such as that and open moorland, which obviously has its special and different areas.

I shall not reflect fully on the contribution of my noble friend Lord Peel because he speaks with such authority. I believe that it would be unfair to the House if I repeated all his arguments. I hope that, when we debate the matter later--possibly a good deal later--noble Lords will remember that on this occasion he spoke very clearly of his apprehensions from practical knowledge.

In my opening speech I touched on the question of research on ground-nesting birds. I shall perhaps pose the question again before I decide finally what we are going to do. Other noble Lords may also want to return to the subject. I wonder why the RSPB at Minsmere decides to close at nine o'clock at night or at dusk, whichever is earlier, if it is not to protect its wildlife. If it is done in order to protect wildlife, does that argument not apply elsewhere? Neither the Minister nor noble Lords from other Benches have given an answer to the relevant question that I put earlier.

Lord Whitty: I apologise to the noble Baroness. She appears to have missed completely the point that we made. In relation to the protection of wildlife and other conservation issues--undoubtedly this would apply to an area such as Minsmere if it were to find itself in the middle of access land--under the Bill it is possible to apply for a restriction. One of the criteria would clearly be conservation. Therefore, the procedure already exists in the Bill.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for his contribution. It is not that I have the wrong end of the stick; I am concerned that if we end up with a Bill which leads to many different and varying by-laws, how will an individual walker know when he has moved from one area to another and on to another? I believe that that represents a problem. Unless the mapping is exact and shows that a walker is going from one area to another which has a by-law, I believe that members of the public may have difficulty in knowing where they should be and what restrictions are in force. Perhaps I may return to that matter when we come to debate the issue of mapping.

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1307

My noble friend Lord Renton spoke very correctly about the whole issue of rural crime and about young and inexperienced people on open land. Perhaps I may also pick up on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in relation to mists and the safety point of view. I, too, met the British mountaineering group and told them that I was clear that they would not be prosecuted and that there would not be a difficulty in relation to safety issues. It would be unreasonable if they were told that they were committing a criminal offence, and I do not believe that that is what the amendment tries to do.

During the debate it was said, "Don't nanny us". It is quite difficult to know when nannying ends, but I certainly do not come from a party which believes in nannying. However, I believe that there is also a safety issue and the matter of what help should be given to young people. I should hate noble Lords to believe that all will be well. We are not talking about groups of people. We are talking about 45 million adults who, if the Bill passes, will be able to wander freely at night. I suspect that some of them will not be as well briefed as others in knowing exactly where the pitfalls lie.

I fear that I cannot refer to everyone who has contributed to the debate. However, I shall pick up one theme that has been raised by many noble Lords on these and other Benches. The Government used the argument that people will not be able to enjoy seeing lovely sunsets at night. However, they can already do that from existing rights of way and in many other ways where they know that they are safe and secure. My amendment does not take that away; that right still exists. We are talking about the overall freedom to roam across areas. In believe that in some cases those areas need to be examined carefully. I am concerned that the Minister's suggestion that we shall all have local by-laws will be confusing for the public unless the mapping is tied up in a succinct way.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he is not prepared to give way to my amendment. I hear what he says.

He spoke also about voluntary groups and the wildlife. I have mentioned the question of organised groups. The noble Lord mentioned curtilage and that the provisions of the Bill would not affect people in their homes. The obvious inference is that the house and garden would not be included. But we have not agreed--although we had a slight run around the issue earlier in Committee--what is included in the term "curtilage". It may well be that somebody's house and garden is very small but the barn next door, which we suggest should be included, is not included.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My understanding is that a barn is a building. It may not be attached to the curtilage but it is also surrounded by its own curtilage and, therefore, would not be part of access land.

3 Oct 2000 : Column 1308

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page