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Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I suspect that we shall return later to that issue. But it is a problem that people may be walking around fairly close to those buildings.

It is difficult to make comparisons. There are those of us who live in larger villages and those who live in very remote parts of the country. One or two Members of Committee have put forward the argument that crime is committed also in the cities and, indeed, in some cases crime rates are higher in the cities.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. We have spent two and a quarter hours discussing her amendment. We are now listening to a detailed winding-up. As someone with some experience of this House, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness that it would be useful if she could get the business over.

Baroness Byford: I bow to the noble Lord. I felt that the Minister was rather brief in his reply to my amendment. At this stage, I hope that the Government will reflect on the major debate that we have had and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe): Is it your Lordships pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords: No, no.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Question is that this amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Not-Contents have it.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 2, line 24, at end insert--
("( ) before doing so, he informs himself, so far as is reasonably practicable, by means of information provided at designated access points, or otherwise, of any restrictions imposed (under Chapter II) in relation to the land,").

The noble Lord said: After that very serious debate, we shall move on to another one which is, I suspect, equally serious. However, I believe that as a result of the previous debate to do with access which we had both on Second Reading and on Amendment No. 9, the Minister has some understanding of this point.

I should like to make the point clear at the beginning of today in Committee that my party and I are still behind this Bill. I have said to the Minister that personally, I am now, and always have been, very committed to greater access. But most of our amendments--and these amendments are no exception--are to do with the management of access. Without wishing to make a pun on something else which is somewhere to the forefront of many people's minds, a well-managed project is a good and enjoyable project; a badly-managed project is usually disappointing and not much fun.

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This Bill is an important and exciting project. In most of the amendments that I shall be moving, it is my aim to ask the Government to improve their plans for the management of this access on a countrywide basis. The previous debate has already highlighted the danger of dealing with access on a totally open, nation-wide basis. The lands, communities, geography and needs that we are talking about are so different.

After the words "a person entering access land", Amendment No. 70 seeks to insert the words,

    "before doing so, he informs himself, so far as is reasonably practicable, by means of information provided at designated access points, or otherwise, of any restrictions imposed ... in relation to the land".

It is an oft-repeated truism that rights must be matched by responsibilities. If we are to give a public right of access to private land and, more important, a working environment, that access must be responsible and managed. Thus, it is wholly reasonable that those wishing to exercise that right should check the restrictions on the land which they are intending to visit and use the appropriate access points and so on. Unless there is that basic assumption, all the regulations and restrictions in the Bill are largely irrelevant and unenforceable on the ground. We are talking about practical happenings.

While the overwhelming majority of walkers will be keen to avoid trespassing and will seek to obtain relevant information on closures and restrictions, others may not. Relevant information can also apply to safety: to the condition of fords, ice and snow and future weather conditions to be expected over a period, particularly if night access is allowed.

The amendment would ensure that responsibility to be informed about the land being accessed is promoted in the codes of practice and other publicity information. The access authorities will need to develop comprehensive, up-to-date and readily accessible systems for making available such information; for example, the hill phone system for stalking in Scotland, as noted by the CLA in its briefing, appears to work well.

There also need to be designated access points which appear on all Ordnance Survey maps so that numbers can be controlled if necessary, information posted and so on. I shall not dwell on that. We had that discussion previously and I have had further discussions since.

The onus must be on those exercising the right and the access authorities. You cannot infringe on a person's right to the free enjoyment and control of his private opportunity and then impose burdens on him without the necessary support or compensation for costs incurred by new obligations. To do so would be a gross attack on property rights and freedom in this country.

It is worth noting also that increased access should provide an opportunity to educate people about the countryside, the way of life and the often brutal realities of nature. In doing so, much can be done to bridge the gap between town and country. I hope that we shall later have a greater discussion on education and what the Government propose to do about that

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because I believe that it is an absolutely vital and integral part of access. It would be a terrible lost opportunity if the Government did not find ways--and there are plenty of them--of improving the education of people about the countryside.

Amendment No. 71 provides that while making access, the rambler or would-be walker does not climb over any wall, fence, hedge or gate. That is a process of encouraging the would-be walker or visitor to use the access points.

The maintenance of walls, fences, hedges and gates is a major expense for landowners and managers. Damage to them is hugely expensive. It is important also for the protection and security of livestock. Persons wishing to exercise a right of access under this Bill should not do so, nor should they need to do so, by clambering over walls, fences, hedges or gates with the very real risk of damage to property or, indeed, to themselves, which would inevitably result.

This amendment also ties in with two other aspects of the Bill; namely, the occupier's liability and the importance of notification, both of which we shall hear more about later.

As the Bill stands, landowners are still liable for injuries arising from non-natural features. Such a person who suffers an injury from falling off a gate, for example, could bring a case for compensation against the landowner. I shall leave that point because, strictly, it does not apply to this amendment.

The second point is that if this Bill is to work in a way that is enforceable and fair, access to the land designated by the Bill needs to be controlled. In using the word "controlled", I mean managed; I do not mean controlled in a policing sense. I mean managed for the benefit of the people who gain access as well as in terms of land management.

It is no good people just pulling the car over and heading over the nearest wall or gate, possibly causing damage on the way and then finding that they are in an area where access is restricted or even forbidden at that time for legitimate reasons of land management. Anyone who knows about the country knows that when crossing a locked gate one should cross at the hinge where the gate is the strongest. However, frequently in the countryside one can observe people out for the day crossing a gate at the wrong point or even swinging on and doing gymnastics on a gate.

As is the experience in the national parks, the key problem is that it has been seen that, in principle, appropriate restrictions are in place but without adequate wardens it is virtually impossible to catch those breaking the rules. Thus, while the landowner picks up the Bill, those abusing the right of access cannot be held to account. By restricting access to clearly identified points one can ensure that information is efficiently dispersed and incidental damage kept to a minimum. This amendment is tabled to encourage people to do the right thing for themselves as well as in terms of the management of the land. It is probably a different matter if there is no

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fencing, as in many parts of moorland countryside, if there are adequate safe places to park the car and if people know exactly where they are.

Amendment No. 72 seeks to add the words:

    "he enters by means of a designated access point".

Again, that asks for access points. These amendments are about management, communication and education. They point to one of the best ways--I suggest one of the only ways--for communication with the general public to be carried out by access authorities. That communication with the general public is necessary so that they do not break the law, do not enter areas that are restricted at a particular time and do not cause serious damage to wildlife, to the countryside or to themselves. I believe, as an experienced walker and climber, that people who are genuinely interested will come to welcome that kind of regime--rather a strong word--of access points, provided they are clearly marked on the maps that they are able to acquire. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Peel: I speak to Amendment No. 70 to which I have put my name. I entirely subscribe to what my noble friend has said. It seems to me that the success or failure of the Bill will depend on a number of key factors. It is absolutely paramount that owners and occupiers have confidence in the by-laws, closure orders and restrictions in general that will be adhered to by those wishing to enter access areas. I am sure that the Minister agrees with that.

It is equally important that visitors have a clear understanding of their rights and where they can go. That will provide them with confidence. There will be nothing worse than people wanting to enjoy the countryside and not being absolutely clear where they can go, what they can do and what the rules and regulations are. These access points are an essential part of making the Bill work and avoiding conflict. At all costs we must endeavour to do that.

I have raised this point a number of times and I have spoken to the Minister about it. Passing this information to the general public is a major difficulty. I go so far as to say that it is a major flaw in the Bill. We talk about getting messages across to people through newspapers, post offices, websites and so on. That is all very well, but many who visit the countryside will be casual, impromptu visitors. They will stop their cars and start to walk. Therefore, their ability to find out about what is taking place on the land will be restricted. We shall have to address the point carefully.

I realise that later in the Bill we shall deal with the codes of guidance. I attach a huge amount of importance to those as well. That is a crucial way of getting information across to the general public and indeed of reminding landowners, farmers and occupiers what their responsibilities will be under the Bill.

So far we have talked about access points, but I should like to refer to them as information points. They will provide a wonderful opportunity for

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providing people not just with the rules and regulations of where they can walk, but also with more information about the land itself, such as why it is managed as it is, and will try to explain to them what is happening. My experience of dealing with walkers on my land--I know others share this view--is that the more one explains to people, the more they understand and the less confusion and conflict there is. I attach great importance to the information points.

I agree with the principle set out in Amendment 70. In relation to the wording,

    "so far as is reasonably practicable",

I accept that it is a difficult point. I have always understood the law to be that ignorance of the law is no defence, and I am sure that that will be an integral part of the way in which the regulations, particularly under Schedule 2 and Chapter 2, will be formulated. In relation to people informing themselves of the information, I believe that having the words,

    "so far as is reasonably practicable",

in the Bill, will help landowners and farmers to deal with what will be the thorny matter of those people who persistently ignore the regulations or do not pay much attention to them. The thrust and the general meaning behind the amendment is obvious. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate us trying to achieve all the matters that have been mentioned.

In principle, I support Amendment No. 71, to which my noble friend Lord Glentoran referred. Clause 2(1)(a) prohibits people from being entitled to enter access land if they damage gates, walls and so on. It seems more sensible to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the first place by preventing anyone climbing any of these particular obstacles. This is a common sense amendment. There is no question but that people will take risks and that if something goes wrong they will hope to get away with it. I need not remind noble Lords that farmers are under enough pressure and they do not want to fix fences and walls after people have clambered over them.

Where I slightly disagree with my noble friend Lord Glentoran on this amendment is that I am not sure that I would use the word "gate" because if a farmer firmly closes a gate which is a genuine way of someone entering an access area, that person would have no option but to climb over the gate. I should be inclined to leave out the word "gate".

Amendment No. 72 is a fairly straightforward measure. People would have to go to designated access points. The Minister has already told me that he will resist that. I understand his reasons for doing so, but the group of amendments gives us an opportunity to discuss the real issue of how to get the message across to the public and of how to avoid conflicts so that people have the confidence to go where they want. I welcome what my noble friend has said.

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