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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Clause 23(1)(b) enables the relevant authority to exclude or restrict access to land to protect the public from any danger by reason of anything done, or proposed to be done, on the land. The expression "anything done" in this provision refers to things done in the past, while "proposed to be done" looks to the future.

The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, would remove scope for directions to be imposed with respect to man-made hazards which already exist on the land but where there is no continuing activity. It would mean, for example, that directions could not be made if necessary to exclude access to land with disused mine shafts or a quarry which still constituted a danger.

There is no significance in the absence of an explicit reference to the present tense. As drafted, the Bill will cover things that are past, present and to come. In terms of legislation, "done" can mean "to be done", "having been done", "to be done" or "being done

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now". I hope that, at the very least, the noble Earl accepts that I have made the noble Baroness sound clearer in comparison.

Where land containing such hazards is open country we believe it is important that there should be discretion for the relevant authority to be able to exclude or restrict access to the land if it believes it necessary to avoid danger to the public. Of course, we do not believe that directions would be commonly required: in most cases, it would be reasonable for the public to take suitable precautions for their own safety.

Amendment No. 269 adds that directions may be made under Clause 23(1)(b) by reason of "conditions prevailing" on the land. I must inform the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that that is a very general and vague amendment. The Bill already provides that directions under Clause 23 may be made because of danger to the public by virtue of something done on the land. We do not believe that it is necessary to go even wider than that. The amendment might allow directions to be made because, for example, rain had made the ground a little slippery, or there was deep snow on a fell top. Those are not the kinds of reasons for which land should be closed. Instead, we have repeatedly made clear that users must take responsibility for their own safety in respect of such natural hazards. The Bill already provides that landowners owe no liability to walkers arising from any natural features of the landscape.

We believe that Clause 23(1)(b) provides sufficient flexibility to address the need to close land because of any man-made hazards and see no reason to provide for a mechanism to restrict access in consequence of natural hazards, which are part and parcel of the experience of walking in the countryside.

Amendment No. 272 would enable directions under Clause 23 to be made for an indefinite period. We have provided that such directions must be for a specified period, which reflects the circumstances in which directions under Clause 23 are likely to be needed. Where a closure is needed because of fire risk caused by exceptional weather there will be no need for closures to be indefinite. Similarly, if anything done on the land is likely to pose a danger to the public generally there will be a need to restrict access for only a limited period of time. If there are more long-term dangers, such as unprotected mine shafts, restrictions may be directed for a longer specified period, such as five or 10 years, and renewed if the direction remains necessary on its expiry.

I hope that I have covered the points raised by both noble Baronesses and, for the reasons given, ask that the amendments not be pressed.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: On the first day in Committee some noble Lords referred to their Latin teachers. I believe that my teacher would have been very upset to hear that a past tense could apply to the present. If, however, that is what legal jargon does in Bills I accept the assurances of the noble Baroness and seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendments Nos. 269 to 275 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Nature conservation and heritage preservation]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 276:

    Page 15, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) the purpose of protecting any dry stone wall;").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 276 extends Clause 24 of the Bill to cover certain matters that we consider to be of particular value. I refer to stone walls and water. Amendment No. 276 refers to stone walls and Amendment No. 277 refers to water. The Bill makes provision in the clause for excluding or restricting access land in the interests of wildlife and habitat conservation or to protect sites of historical or archaeological importance. Dry stone walls are a feature of historical and archaeological importance across the country, as is water which falls and collects over and above ground and on which much of our landscape and wildlife relies.

The amendments are designed to protect those features. There are areas that I personally know of where there are dry stone walls. They are beautiful. In the mountains of Mourne there has been a government scheme to encourage people to rebuild their dry stone walls. The effect of that is fantastic. The walls need to be protected. Noble Lords will know that if a person attempts to climb a dry stone wall, unless there are stones specifically placed, which there are by the shepherds and the sheep carers, it will fall down. It is as basic as that. They are solid to weather. They are solid to most animals but not to the two-legged ones. It does not apply in Northern Ireland, but in England and Wales there must be areas where there are particularly precious areas of dry stone walling which are hundreds of years old.

Water probably speaks for itself. Most of our water from reservoirs and so on ends up in someone's tummy sooner or later. Any form of water pollution or damaging of the water seams and springs where the water comes from is serious. I do not suppose there are many areas where the issue is particularly sensitive, but there must be some. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should like to defend Clause 24 against all comers. Clause 24 is the nature conservation clause in the Bill. It is specifically constructed to give a clear role to the advisory bodies if exclusions and restrictions are to be enforced. Muddying the water quality--if noble Lords will pardon the pun on water quality--may not be in the best interests of clarity in this case.

In Clause 2(1)(a) stone walls get their place in the sun on the face of the Bill. Clause 2(1)(a) specifically states that access is only permitted if a person does not break or damage any boundary area. I assume that stone walls are boundaries. Stone walls have had their go. Clause 24 is the opportunity for nature conservation to have its go. I have failed to think of an example of a restriction or an exclusion on behalf of water quality. Therefore, I feel justified in saying that

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Clause 24 ought to remain as it is, focusing on exclusions and restrictions for nature conservation and heritage.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Greaves: I was working out whether to speak on this clause or the next clause. What I should like to say is not directly related to dry stone walls--much as I love and live among them--and is not directly related to the amendments. It relates to the clause.

As the noble Baroness has just said, this is an important clause so far as concerns nature conservation and protecting wildlife in access areas. I should like to speak from the point of view of climbers. I do not disagree with the clause and would not wish it to be tampered with. I stand firm with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on that. At the moment voluntary restrictions are agreed by climbers--no one else is mad enough to scale rock faces. Where those voluntary restrictions relating to climbers are working, they should not be pushed aside by blanket and more bureaucratic statutory restrictions. I shall explain why.

By their very nature, such statutory restrictions, directions, and so on, are relatively blunt instruments. Perhaps I may tell the Committee what happens at present. Restrictions on climbing where birds are nesting are negotiated in detail--usually each year--by local representatives of the British Mountaineering Council and the RSPB. They are negotiated piece of rock by piece of rock, year by year, so that the restrictions are put on when they are necessary and removed when they are not necessary.

I shall give some examples. There is a crag in the Lake District where the restriction was provisionally put on in the spring of this year in case the peregrines nested there. However, the option was left open to lift the restriction. I believe that was done because the peregrines decided not to nest there this year. On a long stretch of limestone coastline in south Pembrokeshire the restrictions are put on year by year. It is done literally route by route, climb by climb. One can climb on one part of the cliff up to a certain point; one cannot climb on the rest until perhaps the end of July. That kind of flexibility can be achieved only by voluntary restriction. By its very nature, it would not lend itself to statutory restrictions. Plastic markers are put on the cliffs showing where one can climb and there is a good deal of publicity about it. The point is that it works. If it did not work, I would not be arguing for it.

I hope that the provisions of the Bill will not disrupt arrangements which work and work with the consent of climbers. They are enforced by peer pressure as much as anything else. Climbers know that if they climb on routes where there is a bird ban--for a certain month in any year--they put at risk the opportunity to climb on that cliff. Statutory restrictions would no doubt enforce such a ban, but the present system works by the consent of individual climbers, who are a very anarchic lot. They obey the restrictions because it is in everyone's interest to do so. The great worry is

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that if blanket bans are imposed, including bans on routes where they are not necessary, climbers will say, "The ban is nonsense", and then start to flout the bans. Then the whole voluntary system, which covers large areas of the country, works very well indeed by agreement and consent, and has the support of climbers, the RSPB and conservation interests, will break down.

I make those comments about the way in which the legislation should operate. I do not in any way suggest that the legislation should not be passed in its present form.

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