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Earl Peel: I am a little confused about exactly which amendments we are discussing. Perhaps I may be allowed to make one or two general points about the whole question of sanctions, which I regard as being a terribly important part of the Bill.
It seems to me that the ability to impose sanctions can be divided into three parts. First, there is the time restriction. Secondly, there is the question of whether it should apply just to the access area on which the offence has taken place or whether it should be extended to include all access areas. Thirdly, there is the question of whether a criminal offence should be imposed on those who repeatedly ignore the request to leave. However, one point is clear. The sanction currently available to an owner--to ask someone to leave his land for 24 hours--is nonsense and will deter no one.
The restrictions which the access authority imposes are there for good reasons. They are there to protect the interests and the management responsibilities that fall on those who work in such areas. We have to take those restrictions extremely seriously. To ask someone who has transgressed any of the restrictions at, say, six o' clock in the evening to leave for the remainder of the day is no deterrent at all. It provides no confidence to owners and managers in the system itself.
As the Bill stands, the only action open to those owning and managing land is to resort to the civil courts--unless, of course, there is a transgression against a by-law, in which case criminality might be attached to it. However, a good many of these offences will not be covered by by-laws. We all know that resort to the civil courts is inefficient, time consuming and extremely expensive. I suggest that that is not a realistic deterrent and that we must look at something more stringent.
I wish to raise one other matter with the Minister. I may be digressing slightly but it is an important point. Some of the offences listed in Schedule 2 to the Bill come from the Peak Park access agreements, under which they are criminal offences. Why have those offences not been included in Schedule 2? Their worth has been proved through practical experience and it would be sensible to include them in all access areas. Amendment No. 95 would be an imperative part of the whole sanction system. It would criminalise those who in any way abused those who were trying to protect their property.
As I have said, a package of sanctions could be put together in different ways in order to produce the meaningful deterrents that I believe will be necessary to deal with those very few people--I acknowledge that this will concern only a few people--who persistently ignore requests to leave land. However, if that is not done, those who have the responsibility of management will have absolutely no confidence in the Bill.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should like to speak around this amendment rather than in support of it. That is because the grouping makes it difficult to explore the issues raised here without straying into the territory of other groupings.
I believe that some of the proposals made in the first group of amendments rightly focus on the issue of sanctions but are most probably not all that practicable in terms of their implementation. However, I urge the Minister to consider whether the Bill is in general somewhat deficient in respect of sanctions for persistent and wilful infringement, either under the provisions of Schedule 2 or Chapter II. The vast majority of countryside users will act responsibly when exercising their new statutory rights and it would probably be wholly disproportionate to introduce too stringent a set of sanctions for many of the infringements listed in Schedule 2, in particular where those infringements can occur inadvertently.
However, we are considering an entirely different set of circumstances where deliberate and persistent infringements under Schedule 2 or Chapter II take place. Those could have serious consequences on conservation grounds. For example, as regards restrictions and closures applied to individual areas on conservation grounds which follow submissions to the relevant authorities by advisory bodies under Clause 24, it should be remembered that such closures and restrictions will have been applied following full consultation and independent scrutiny. Local access fora may also have been involved. I am sorry but, despite the recent discussions on this point, as a classicist it would stick in my throat to refer to them as "forums". Subsequent to that raft of local consultation and advice, the restrictions and closures would be endorsed and then followed up with a wide dissemination of information about them. There could be no doubt that the decision was serious, that it had been reached as a result of full consultation and that any breach could have a serious conservation impact.
For those reasons, anyone who persistently contravenes such restrictions or exclusions after the necessary widespread independent assessment and scrutiny should be subject to rather more severe sanctions than is currently provided for in the Bill. A clear message must be sent about the consequences of such infringements.
Criminal sanctions are in place in existing legislation, but they can be applied only after the damage has already occurred. The whole point of applying closures and restrictions following consultation is in order to prevent conservation damage rather than to lock the door once the horse has long gone. In considering this group of amendments and, in particular, Amendment No. 98 to which we shall come in due course, I would ask the Minister to consider imposing stronger criminal sanctions to deal with the kind of deliberate and persistent infringements I have just described. Such sanctions
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: These amendments have caused me to wonder whether the law of trespass, which has been in existence for many years, is fully understood in this country. The relationship between trespass, aggravated trespass and criminal offences is absolutely crucial to the way in which the Bill has been designed. For that reason, I am surprised that a number of the landowners who have spoken appear not fully to understand the relationship. We all have a common interest. I am sure that we have all been trespassers in our time--except, of course, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who would have to go a very long way to get off his own land in order to be a trespasser. He declared his interest at a very early stage of the consideration of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Whitty was quite right when he said at the beginning that we have to be fair as between landowners and walkers. The range of penalties and sanctions in the Bill achieves that. The other consideration that we have to have is that any sanctions or penalties should be practical to enforce.
The loss of a statutory right as a consequence of a breach of a restriction is not intended as a punishment. That is not what it is about. It is intended as a mechanism by which landowners can ensure that they are not obliged to tolerate the continued presence on their land of someone who is in breach of the restrictions.
The Bill provides for the right of access to cease to apply to those who breach any of the restrictions in Schedule 2 or who fail to comply with a restriction imposed under Chapter II. This is intended to prevent someone who has been required to leave access land following a breach of a restriction immediately being able to walk back on to the land in renewed exercise of the right. Clause 2(4) is the most sensible way to deal with this. To go much further than this--as a number of these amendments do--either in the direction of extending the period of exclusion or extending the area of exclusion may well be out of proportion to the seriousness of the breach, bearing in mind the nature of some breaches. I was going to give the example of swimming in a mountain stream, but I think the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, of dropping a sweet wrapper is much better. We do not believe that this is desirable.
Trespass is not the only consideration. In cases of aggravated trespass, the public order Acts apply now and will continue to apply. When an offence of any kind has been committed on access land, criminal sanctions are available to deal with those cases. Surely the criminal law is the right way to deal with serious breaches.
My noble friend Lady Young spoke about persistent and wilful infringement. Surely the right way to deal with that is through the criminal law. It is perfectly adequate for the purpose; it has always been adequate for the purpose.
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