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Lord Greaves: I understand that point. But it is also true that most of the dwellings in the areas referred to are already quite close to rights of way. The proposers of the amendment make that very point. They are saying on the one hand that they do not want people to be there at night, and on the other that it does not matter because there are plenty of existing rights of way for them to use. There is an illogicality in that argument which must be faced up to.

We have been told that there are bogs and cliffs in these areas. I do not know about bogs, but climbers seek out cliffs--so that is all right. The point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. Again, it is an attempt to stop us putting ourselves into positions of

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moderate danger with which we can cope by means of our own competence. I reject that as a point of principle.

We have been told that most public parks in towns close at night. I dispute that. I should like to see some statistics. The point was often repeated in another place and was introduced at Second Reading in this House. Since it was first made, I have been doing a quick count in relation to the parks that I have passed. I believe that the true figure for urban parks closed at night is fewer than 20 per cent. Nowadays, most are not closed at night, even though they used to be when I was a child. I grew up in Bradford and I remember the parks there being closed, but that is no longer the case. One reason some are no longer closed is that the railings were taken away during the war to put on the huge scrap-heap with which nothing was done. If people look at the situation today, they will find that most urban parks do not close. In any case, the argument is irrelevant. There is so much difference between most urban parks and the top of Pendle Hill that the argument does not stand up.

If the amendment were to be carried, there would be a great deal of confusion. There will be confusion anyway once the Bill is brought into effect because of different conditions applying on different areas of land. But the question of night access will give rise to huge confusion because it clearly would not exist in relation to Section 15 land, which is already subject to other enactments. For example, the provision would not apply to a great deal of the Lake District; but it would apply to some parts. That is a recipe for chaos. One assumes that the areas of negotiated access in the Peak District would continue as at present: night access is allowed; but that the other part of the Peak District, which one hopes will be opened up, would be subject to night-access restrictions. So there would be a great deal of confusion. That is a nonsense.

Lord Rotherwick: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but surely if the areas of access are marked on maps it would be relatively simple to add information as to whether they were open at night. A clear indication could be given, thus avoiding confusion.

Lord Greaves: I am aware that the Countryside Agency is presently discussing the question of exactly what will be put on maps and what will not. I am one of those who hope that as much information and detail as possible will be added to maps. Nevertheless, it would still be confusing if one piece of moorland were to be open to access at night and the next piece of moorland on the same ridge were not open to access at night.

There is concern on the part of those who want more access that compromises have been made on the Bill that have gone too far. This is perhaps the other side of the coin that noble Lords have mentioned. There is a concern that the standard rules set out in the Bill, which will apply to most of the access land covered by its provisions, will come to be the accepted rules for land generally. If the restrictions that are generally put on the new access are considerably greater than those

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that apply to access land at present, people are worried that there will inevitably be a loss of existing de facto rights on what has been described as "access by silent consent". There is no doubt that that will happen. The rules will be publicised so greatly that people will come to think that they are the general rules.

Finally, I should like to list some of the organisations that are strongly against the amendment. All the mountain rescue organisations are strongly opposed to the amendment. The Mountain Rescue Council has come out against it and has polled the views of all local mountain rescue groups throughout the country, which are also against it. The National Trust, which has considerable experience of managing access to its own land, is against it. The Guide Association mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is also against it, as is the mountain leadership training board. It is difficult to find anyone who is in favour of it, except those groups that are closely allied to the management of grouse moors. Indeed, the latter is what we are really talking about in this respect.

There may well be some instances where particular moors are so important from a conservation point of view that seasonal restrictions may be needed; for example, local specific restrictions. As I said on Second Reading, there may be small areas of access land in lowland parts of England--perhaps in the South--that are near villages where particular restrictions will be needed to cover local circumstances, whether they are managed by by-laws, regulations or whatever. However, I believe it is quite wrong to highlight those specific cases to try to impose a blanket ban on access at night across the country and then leave it open to kindly landowners to say, "Well, actually, we'll allow you access after all". Landowners generally will apply the rules of the new Bill to their land as if they are the standard rules.

Of course, the pieces land about which we are talking are those whose owners do not allow any access. If existing landowners allowed general access, there would be no need for this Bill. The only reason the Bill is now before us is due to the fact that a large number of what I would call "intransigent landowners" do not at present allow access to their land. Is it likely that contacting them will result in them saying, "Yes, that's okay. Come tonight"? It is most unlikely. Those landowners will use every restrictive detail that there is in the Bill to keep access on their land to the absolute minimum. They will be legally entitled to do so. I suggest that we do not give them any more than they need.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Denham: Before the Minister replies, perhaps I could make one quick point. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I was a member of the Countryside Commission, which was a statutory body set up to advise the Government on the early stages of the generation of this Bill. Like the right reverend Prelate, I am a tremendous supporter of access. Indeed, this is a wonderful new concept and one that

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will give people a great deal more freedom. However, it will work only if there is general agreement. To my mind, we would be absolutely mad to let this Bill go through with the one or two small points that really give rise to legitimate concerns on the part of people who will be affected by its provisions.

I hope that the Minister will do his utmost to listen to all the objections on this particular point of night access, as well as considering the various other points regarding dogs and whether people can sue landowners if they damage themselves on their land. Such points are terribly important and concern many people. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will feel free to give way on those issues and so allow the Bill to have the general agreement that will make it really work in the future.

Lord Williamson of Horton: Before turning to the substance of the amendment, I cannot forbear commenting on the rather malign sense of humour of the Government in scheduling a night session during which we can "roam", so to speak, over the right to roam during the night hours.

I should like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for tabling this amendment. It is essential for us to take a serious decision on this point. I declare an interest here as a member of one of the regional committees of the National Trust, whose land is open all the time. That seems to work satisfactorily. However, I turn to the substance of the issue. We must bear in mind that we are not interfering with the present position; that is to say, that there is access on footpaths and access by agreement, or tacit agreement, in many parts of the United Kingdom. That is the current situation and that will not be changed.

However, under the proposed situation, new areas will be covered by the Bill. Whatever the scheduling of the debate, we must consider the three possibilities: the first is a blanket ban, or almost a blanket ban, by way of by-laws, and so on; the second proposition--we shall deal with this under another amendment--is that there should be a requirement to have prior agreement; and, thirdly, it is suggested in a further amendment that prior notice should at least be given to the access authority.

It is difficult to envisage a situation where we change the current circumstances in a quite considerable manner without having at least one of those proposals in operation. I hope that the Government will give us a view on those matters. For myself, I understand the point underlying the amendment and have some sympathy with it. However, I believe that it goes too far in terms of a blanket ban. I should prefer a system where prior notice was required to be given to the access authority. I do not share the view that that is impractical. Indeed, it may cause a little trouble for some people but it is certainly practical. If we went forward with this discussion and the debate on the next amendment and the Government said that they would do nothing as regards any of the proposals, it would be a great pity. In my view, that would cause great difficulty. During the course of this and the subsequent

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debates, I hope that we can at least have some indication of where the Government feel it would be right to take account of some of the concerns expressed today.


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