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Earl Peel: I can see where the Minister is coming from but if a walker climbs over a wall and knocks it over--and I know from experience that the damage can extend for 20 metres--the farmer is left with the job of having to rebuild it. That is a time-consuming business. Surely it would be better to try to prevent people from climbing the wall in the first place rather than placing onerous tasks on others who already have far too much to do.
Lord Whitty: It may be that where there is other means of access and egress guidance should state that walkers should not climb over a wall. However, if damage is done that person loses all rights of access. If we were to make it an offence to climb over a locked gate or a wall we must, in order to balance that, put requirements on landowners to ensure alternative access or to keep their gates unlocked. We believe that on both counts it is better to have a light touch and that is the approach that we have adopted. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that it is a sensible approach.
Lord Whitty: The question of owner/occupier's liability will be covered later in this debate and I am sure that there will be a wide-ranging debate at that point. Where a person suffers a mishap climbing over a hedge or a natural feature, that is excepted from liability. How other boundary features will be treated is yet for discussion. It would be better to have that debate at a later stage.
The Earl of Caithness: I did not follow the Minister in his reply when he said that my Amendment No. 78 was otiose given Clause 2(b). Given that Clause 2(b) is in the Bill, it is logical that my amendment is accepted.
Lord Whitty: That reference is there because these are new procedures for restrictions. Clearly, the ability to make by-laws applying to land, which is reflected under Clause 17, would be covered by all other law which covers the making of by-laws. Therefore, there is no reason to refer to it at that point.
The Bill recognises by the 28-day provision that a landowner has a legitimate interest in excluding people for that period of 28 days. His interest is in that exclusion operating, not in people coming on to his land as trespassers and being turned off. If people are not to be required to go to an access point to see the rules when they go on to the land, how on earth is the person who is driving around, thinks it is a nice day for a walk and looks at his map and says, "This is access land" and starts walking on it, expected to find out that that land is closed? How is the landowner to be protected against that person walking across his land even though it is closed for 28 days? It is pie in the sky unless he has to walk past a notice which tells him that the land is "Closed from 1st March to 28th March"?
Lord Whitty: I refer to the provisions which the Countryside Agency is working on, and which will be worked up in the local access forum. It would be desirable if there was that information in the locality and if even a casual visitor was aware of it. It is not possible to cover all such contingencies. With respect I do not think that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, would cover all such contingencies and it would certainly be unenforceable.
What the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is proposing is that everyone should be confined to a particular access point. That completely misses the nature of the land that we are talking about, and the nature of the boundaries of that land, and would be a very severe restriction on the right of access.
Regarding Amendment No. 72, I can accept at this stage that that is too clear cut for what the Government want, but I hope that as we progress through Committee and Report stages we shall end up with something very similar to that in terms of the management of access that the Government are going to provide.
In relation to Amendment No. 71, Clause 2(1)(a) virtually says that without actually stating it. Changing the provisions of Clause 2(1)(a) to my amendment would make it more clear, I suggest, to the would-be climber exactly where he stands and what is meant. As has been pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, Clause 2(1)(a) has no impact because someone could climb a fence, knock a wall down, and disappear into the mist and until somebody tells him the poor farmer may not know that his sheep have run a mile or two down the road. The contents of this Bill will be well known and well understood by those who go wandering. This change is not a big deal but it will significantly help to give comfort and to let both sides of the argument know what is meant. I do not like to take both sides because if I do, I am on both sides. This provision would let the would-be rambler know what is meant and what his duties are.
The Minister has already accepted, as I understand it, that there is a responsibility on the would-be rambler, if I can use that word very broadly, to understand the country codes and what he is doing. He should take the trouble to find out where he is.
I am interested in the contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about access to future technology. With respect, I suspect that for the general masses such technology is a lot of years down the road. There is a serious role, as we have discussed before--it is not directly relevant to this amendment--for the Government in terms of getting their act together with regard to how they are going to inform the general public and where the money is going to come from for it. I read a piece this morning from an association of local authorities which said that the Government's estimates of the costs of this Bill are way out. Clarification is required on that point.
Before deciding what to do as regards these amendments, whether to press them or to beg leave to withdraw them, I ask the Minister, in relation to Amendment No. 70, whether he will give the House an undertaking that before Report stage he will table an amendment of his own which does something similar: which puts on the face of the Bill the need for the would-be rambler to be acquainted with and to
Lord Whitty: I thought I would be able to respond to that positively, but the noble Lord then said that would-be ramblers should have a legal responsibility--which is effectively restating what was in his amendment--to take reasonable steps. The practicality of enforcing that is difficult to see. I indicated earlier that in terms of information and publicity the Government would take into account what was said in this debate and what may well be said in the debate on Amendment No. 103, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. We shall no doubt return to that on Report. I cannot give an undertaking in the precise terms or phraseology for which the noble Lord has asked.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.