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Earl Peel: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend in this amendment. I acknowledge the fact that we have lost the argument on night-time access, but that does not preclude us from considering dogs as a separate issue.
I remember well that, before we embarked on the Bill in this House, I organised a meeting for certain interest groups. Among those who attended was the Moorland Gamekeepers Association, represented by its chairman,Lindsey Waddell. I recall him saying that one of his greatest concerns would be night-time access with dogs. It would open up a whole range of new difficulties for farmers and gamekeepers; namely, those who are responsible for a great deal of the land covered by access agreements. It is clear that we shall see difficulties with poaching and disturbance of livestock, problems which have been identified on innumerable occasions by noble Lords during the course of the Bill.
This amendment is well constructed because, as my noble friend pointed out, although it deals with all the permutations, it does allow for the control of dogs in areas where they could create the greatest difficulties. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at this proposal. If he does not, this will become yet another burden to be imposed on those who are responsible for managing the land. Quite frankly, they will not be in a position to impose the controls they deserve in order properly to carry out their duties.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I, too, rise to support my noble friend. Noble Lords will have heard me going on about problems with dogs at night; indeed, they may have heard enough already. One of my main worries concerns the question of disturbance of wildlife.
A problem which the Minister keeps drawing to our attention is that we are passing legislation that will cover a vast array of different forms of countryside--mountain, moorland, heath, down and commons. One element of the amendment that strongly recommends itself to me is the fact that it allows the access authorities to permit people to exercise their dogs at night on commons. On Report, the Minister mentioned how difficult it would be to exercise one's dog within a 20-metre curtilage of one's house. However, most people who exercise their dogs at night do so along roads or other rights of way. Those options would still be in place for them. Commons would also be included and, indeed, any other areas that someone wanted to designate. I wish to support the amendment.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I should like to add a word or two of support for the amendment moved by my noble friend. Time and again we have won the argument and lost the vote on the issue of access at night. However, when it comes to access at night with dogs running loose, it is certainly time for the Government to think again and to appreciate that this amendment is both simple and reasonable.
The important point to make here concerns habitats and the wildlife occupying them. Perhaps one can control a dog kept on a short lead, but if it is roaming wild, heavenknows what will happen to ground nesting birds and wildfowl, in particular those on flight ponds who will be damaged if they are disturbed at
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I support the amendment. One of the Government's arguments in various parts of the Bill has been that we already have access in much of the countryside and that does not seem to be causing any trouble; and that if we have more access, it will not cause any more trouble.
But we do have trouble with dogs. They cause an enormous amount of problems in the countryside already--chasing livestock and the wildlife to which my noble friends have referred. Dogs are a real problem for farmers--and dogs get out of control very much quicker at night. As soon as they are out of sight--which is rather quicker in the dark--they go through a fence or go 50 yards and get among sheep. They already do far too much damage to sheep. Livestock farmers will tell you that the most damage of all is caused by dogs getting among sheep. Dogs are much more difficult to control at night. They get into gamebirds, they get into sheep, they get into anything.
By allowing this, we would not be creating a new problem but encouraging and aggravating a current problem and allowing it to get worse. Even though it is the eleventh-hour in these proceedings, it would be very helpful if the Government were to recognise the extent of this problem. The Ministry of Agriculture has recognised the problem and has referred to it frequently. This is something we could do to prevent an existing problem getting worse.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we need to have a sense of proportion about this. At times, slightly against my better judgment, I have conceded in good faith a large number of restrictions on the use of dogs. We have talked about a complete ban of dogs on grouse moors; we have said that dogs should be on a lead in the vicinity of livestock, and we have just passed an amendment which provides that it should be a short lead. So we have covered the issue of dogs worrying sheep, to which the noble Lord referred. We have also said that on all access land dogs should be on two-metre short leads between March and July. In those circumstances, those restrictions apply at night as they do during the day. We do not need another blanket ban which is likely to alienate a large number of dog owners.
I know that the noble Baroness thinks that she has built into the amendment some flexibility--which helps my case because her noble friend Lord Roberts was going to prevent me from going out of my back
When one is dealing with common land, downland and many other areas which are close to habitations where people own dogs, it would be a fairly absurd restriction if at half-past four on Saturday people could not take their dog out for a walk. That is the implication of the amendment, albeit a small amount of flexibility is built into it. It is the kind of flexibility to which noble Lords opposite have objected in all other terms. They said that the Countryside Agency could not operate such a scheme when we were talking about flexibility in restriction regimes.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I knew I was winning the argument when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, started knocking the Dispatch Box. He may be slightly irritated by not being able to win the argument, but I have to say to him--and I have enjoyed debating these issues with him throughout--that there are many people out there who will not find it a joke that dogs will be running loose and wild at night. I am pleased that the Government Chief Whip is in his place. He was originally a farmer by profession and will well understand some of the problems which occur on land.
I am sorry that the Minister does not take this issue more seriously. It is a real problem. If the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, were here, he would be jumping to his feet and joining the debate. I am very unhappy that the Government do not take this problem seriously. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.