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Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for his response to the amendments and in principle accept most of his arguments, particularly as my honourable friend in another place, Mr Paice, made the point so clearly. The noble Lord referred to uniformity. I trust that noble Lords on the Government Front Bench will stick to that argument and will not wish to have it one way today and another way on a future occasion, which is what I think may be happening already. With regard to Amendment No. 74 and the legal lacuna,

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I accept the Minister's word. I am sure that he has investigated the matter and is right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 74 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert (", and
(c) he enters the land not earlier than one hour before sunrise on any day and leaves the land not later than one hour after sunset on the same day,").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak briefly to the amendment because we had a broader debate on the issue earlier today. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 77, which stands in the name of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Northbrook. I hope that the Government will listen to the argument about limiting the time to one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. I hope we are agreed that walkers, particularly if they have dogs with them, can unwittingly disturb ground-roosting birds at night. If birds leave their nests, especially at night, eggs may die through cold or be lost through predators such as foxes, which are more active at night. Given the importance of much access land for wildlife--some 70 per cent is designated as being of SSSI interest--it is essential that these risks are minimised.

I appeal to the Minister to look at the precautionary approach with regard to the amendments and to consider the position of wildlife. I hope that the amendment will be looked on favourably by the Government. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness: I rise to support my noble friend. Her amendment is similar to Amendment No. 77 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Northbrook. In answering Amendment No. 68, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that a huge constituency out there wanted a right to roam. There is also a large constituency of people who are directly affected by the Bill and by the provision on night access. They are extremely frightened by the proposal and are greatly concerned about its possible effect.

This part of the Bill is divisive. We are considering two very different types of landowners whose land will be affected. We have heard already about the National Trust. It is an extremely wealthy body which can afford to employ wardens and thus manage night access, as well as to take the appropriate preventive measures. Furthermore, it has enough land to channel people into areas where the least damage will be done to land, wildlife and, indeed, to walkers themselves. However, a huge raft of small landowners will be put to considerable extra expense. They do not have the privilege of vast resources and they will find it hard to afford to take such measures. Clarity is therefore of vital importance here.

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If blanket access is to be made available at all times, small landowners will be put to considerable extra expense and extra worry. However, if permitted access is clearly defined, it would relieve smaller occupiers of a considerable burden.

Lord Whitty: I find myself in the position of a Minister who may have upset his officials. I see that page 2 of my speech says, in effect, "You're on your own now". The official notes state that nothing new can be said in response to these amendments. I think that we covered this ground rather fully during the course of the earlier debate. I was not convinced then, but I shall say, in response to the noble Earl, that I do recognise the anxieties that have been expressed. Having said that, I believe those anxieties to be ill founded, given the experience of areas which do not belong to the National Trust but where voluntary access arrangements, including night-time access, are in place. No significant increase in crime has been noted and the security of remote dwellings has not been seriously endangered.

I do not believe that shifting the hours of access to one hour on either side of dawn and dusk would in principle make a significant difference to the arguments. In response to the noble Baroness and the point she made about the availability of restrictions when considering matters of nature conservation, those restrictions would also apply in this context. I hope, therefore, that, as happened earlier today, the Committee will not agree to this amendment.

Earl Ferrers: I find myself amazed at the intransigence of the Government over this point. Perhaps the Minister could explain something to me. What is the force of the argument which dictates that the public should be allowed to roam at will at night over land which does not belong to them and thus put at risk other people? What is the position for the folk who live in such areas? What will be the position for all the birds and beasts? Indeed, who would want to walk around at night?

I believe that a balance needs to be struck between the people who wish to walk around at night and the damage that may well be done. I say again that I find it extraordinary to see the Government issuing a piece of paper that will allow people to walk about over other people's land all through the night. I do not see any point in it and I do not see from where the demand will come.

Baroness Nicol: Before my noble friend rises to make his response, perhaps I may point out that the noble Earl was not present in the Chamber for the earlier debate. We spent two and a quarter hours debating exactly who such people were and why they should or should not be able to walk at night. A fair decision was reached by the Committee and I think it would be tedious to ask my noble friend to take another two and a quarter hours to explain the same points.

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Earl Ferrers: The noble Baroness is perfectly correct. I was not able to attend the earlier debates of the Committee and I apologise to noble Lords for that.

I did not ask the noble Lord to again rehearse the whole argument. I asked simply whether he would be kind enough to explain a point that I did not understand. What is the objective here? Given the noble Lord's capacity to be brief, I believe that he would be able to do that rather well.

Lord Whitty: When we debated Amendment No. 68, a number of noble Lords pointed out--rather more eloquently than I--the position as regards ramblers, naturalists, scout groups, those engaged in various forms of training and those who simply wish to be able to go out and look at the stars. We have received a wide range of representations from interested groups, organisations and individuals stating that night access forms an essential part of extending the right of access to the most beautiful areas of our countryside.

The noble Earl may not have heard the comment made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves; namely, that if we were to impose restrictions on access at night, then that access would be cut by something in the order of 50 per cent. It is clear that far fewer people will seek to take advantage of night access, but nevertheless many groups and organisations have expressed their interest. We believe that their rights should be safeguarded subject, of course, to the ability to apply for restrictions in particularly sensitive or unsafe areas. I covered the detail of such restrictions at some length on the earlier occasion. I hope that that provides a sufficient response to the question put by the noble Earl.

Earl Peel: I believe that the Minister stressed the need to put in place in certain areas restriction orders for nature conservation reasons. That is quite right. I presume that the Government intend to encourage restriction orders to apply also on land where there might be a threat to the economic value.

Lord Whitty: That would depend on what the noble Earl means when he refers to "economic value". It will be possible to impose restrictions for particular activities such as shooting or other events that might take place on the land. However, if the noble Earl is referring to a general assessment of the economic effect, then no provision is in place.

The Countryside Agency will look at the broad picture and may well take into account certain economic effects. However, the restrictions will apply primarily for reasons of land management, conservation and safety rather than for any generalised economic claim. I am not entirely clear what is the thinking that lies behind the noble Earl's question, other than reference to restrictions that would apply to particular events.

Earl Peel: One example that immediately comes to mind is game interests. Those could be seriously undermined by night access, in particular if dogs are involved. I hope that the Countryside Agency will take

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such circumstances into account when making decisions on whether closure orders would be appropriate on such land.

Lord Whitty: Representations can be made to the Countryside Agency on the basis that land management would clearly involve game management. However, I do not think that more general claims on the grounds of economic interests would be entertained.

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