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Baroness Mallalieu: When the Minister opened the Committee stage of this Bill he made it clear that there were a number of areas as regards which the Government were minded to listen to the arguments. This was not one of them but it is hoped that, having heard the debate that is about to take place, the Government will think again about this aspect.
Policing in rural areas only works because local people keep their eyes open. In many places the local village policeman has gone or will be going very soon. In my local village in Somerset the village policeman has just gone, the police house has just been sold off and the nearest police station is 40 minutes away.
Those who live in isolated places are now most vulnerable to burglary and to theft. Property and animals which necessarily have to be left in remote places are necessarily insecure. Local people need to know who is about, particularly at night. It is not possible to call a policeman to check. During the day a suspicious vehicle is more likely to be spotted, but that is not so at night.
Poaching is a real and growing problem--and it is not carried out by the loveable village rogue of folklore with his large coat and a pheasant for the pot; it is carried out by organised groups taking large numbers of game birds and particularly, and increasingly, deer for commercial gain. A neighbour of mine was badly injured last year when he challenged just such a group.
Sheep rustling in the uplands, until the collapse of the sheep prices and the increase in the price of diesel, was a very real problem, and my neighbours in Somerset have lost a considerable number of sheep in the last few years. It happens at night.
Thefts, even on the hills where one would think there was nothing to steal, happen regularly. Sheep feeding equipment, electric fencing and even gates are stolen. Isolated farm buildings are particularly vulnerable, as I know to my cost. Vehicles are taken from farmyards, particularly all-terrain vehicles which can quickly and readily be loaded into a van or on to a small trailer.
Those living in isolated rural areas need to know who is about at night. The sense of security and the quality of life is diminished if lights are seen on the hill and one knows someone is out there but it is not known who it is or what they may be up to, and one cannot call swiftly for help to find out.
Some people enjoy walking at night and I am one of them. Indeed, I spent part of the millennium night walking alone on the hills and had a superb time. Of course I first of all ensure that I walk either on a recognised path or that I have received permission.
It is said that night access causes no trouble. I live in a fairly remote farmhouse--not affected by this legislation. A much used footpath runs through the garden, and the only real trouble we have had in 20 years has been with night access. It was an organised all-night walk, of which we had received no warning, which woke the household from 4 a.m. One of our fields was used as an improvised night latrine, and a considerable amount of litter was left behind. A gate was broken because walkers had clearly not seen the correct route with a style. An electric fence that was in place at dusk had gone by morning. These are some of the problems that we live with now, but these provisions would make life far more difficult for those in areas to which the Bill applies and would boost growing rural crime.
Most public parks are closed at night. The difficulties of night access are recognised in our cities. They should not be imposed on our countryside. Those who own land, with rare exceptions, are not unreasonable. If one has a good reason to want access, if trouble is taken to find out who owns the land--and it is not difficult if local inquiries are undertaken--and if permission is asked, then unless there is a good reason to refuse it, in my experience it is likely to be given. In most cases the days have gone when one knew all the neighbours, but when one did know them, in my experience access was virtually unrestricted. As a child I can remember being able to walk or ride almost everywhere, provided it was done with consideration. But those who insist on night access as a right do not, I think, treat those who live and work in those areas with that consideration. It is a small sacrifice for the visitor to have to ask first and thus ensure peace of mind for those who live there permanently.
I rise to urge the Minister to resist this amendment which would prevent access by night. I do so knowing that some of the arguments are finely balanced, but I also know that I have the support of numerous groups representing young people and the training and the needs of young people, groups which have for a long time had a particular care and concern for the well-being and the safety of young people, organisations like the scouts and the guides, those who run the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme in the various areas, and the Youth Hostels Association. But I also speak at the specific request of one of the officers of the Lake District National Park, which has allowed night access to land for a long time. Indeed, I think that access to
It is a long time since I was a venture scout leader in Surrey but I well remember the training opportunities-- yes, the excitement, the pain and the fun of what we euphemistically called "night hikes". One would start somewhere near Hindhead, and, thinking one had travelled to a different spot by the morning, end up in much the same place having got lost.
I would also point out that if this amendment is accepted we are not making available to the general public who would like to do these things what is available in the training of the armed services and deemed to be a valuable experience for those young men and women.
Lord Northbourne: Is the right reverend Prelate suggesting that when he was a venture scout he hiked across private land without asking permission? I am sure that that is not so. My experience as a scout was that one was polite. All that is being asked is that people should request permission in a normal civilised and courteous way.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: Of course one did not do that because one hiked on land similar to that of which we are talking and which already had access. There is a considerable amount of land in the United Kingdom in the national parks and on the moors where that access is already available free of charge.
The amendment seeks to prevent such access and it is believed that it will prevent those who would enjoy that special experience, both adults and young people, being on the moorland at night, and for some that is indeed a very deeply spiritual experience.
There are three other comments that I should like to make. First, in a statement which was circulated to most noble Lords in July the National Trust took a contrary view to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and said that in fact greater access may indeed deter poachers. I would suggest that the National Trust has first-hand experience of these matters.
Secondly, the British Mountaineering Council raised the question of those who enjoy mountaineering but who cannot exactly time when they are going to come down from the peak which they have scaled. There are some issues there which need to be carefully addressed before it is decided that a blanket prohibition should be placed on access at night.
Thirdly, there is the question raised by the amendment put down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, about asking permission. I believe that that is a very noble ideal, but I wonder whether it is workable. If one tries to increase access for the ordinary citizen will he know, for example, to whom the land on the Pennine moors close to where I live belongs? For that and a number of other reasons, which I do not go into because many other Members of the Committee want to contribute, I hope that the Minister will resist the amendment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: As someone who was responsible for training guide leaders all over the United Kingdom for some time, I can assure the right reverend Prelate that he never went out with the venture scouts without permission being sought from, or warning being given to, anyone living in the neighbourhood; otherwise, the Scout Association and Guide Association would have been held in very great disregard.
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