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Earl Peel: I return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I raised the important question of research to establish sufficient facts so that we know that access will not have an impact on ground-nesting birds. I was not certain whether the noble Baroness believed that sufficient research had been undertaken. If she does believe that sufficient research has been done, I should be interested to know where and how. If sufficient research has not been done, does the noble Baroness

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agree that it should be? In the mean time if there is insufficient research, does she agree that the precautionary principle should prevail?

5 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: The Committee will be aware that in Denmark there is the same argument about whether there should be free access above the existing footpath networks and at night over private ground. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, may be interested to know that there is twice as much ground in Denmark which is not part of farming, forestry or the urban environment as in this country. At present one is allowed to be on private ground between 7 a.m. and sunset, on public land and forest at any time, and dogs must be on a lead at all times. The Danish nature council has recently surveyed the population about whether increased access was wanted. The answer it received was that 32 per cent wanted increased access but 59 per cent would rather leave the legislation as it is. I am not aware whether the Government have taken any soundings at that level.

As regards research on the effect of disturbance, I do not know of any research on birds. However, in the Danish context there is research on disturbance to roe deer. I shall refer to that later.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned Ben Lomond and the enjoyment of Loch Lomond. If a mountain requires access from a footpath for more than an hour, a footpath agreement could be put in place to allow people 24-hour access to the mountain.

Lord Whitty: First, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who, in moving the amendment, indicated that she would not repeat the arguments on other clauses. I hope to follow her example. I regret that some other speakers have not entirely followed her example. Having commended her procedural rectitude, I cannot commend the amendment. Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I do not regard this as a small issue for reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. This is a major part of access to perhaps a relatively small number who seek access. However, for those individuals who wish to visit the remoter areas--they wish to see a sunset or sunrise, watch nocturnal wildlife, or take a walk which cannot be completed during the hours of daylight--access applies as much to them as to the rest of the citizenry.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that the Government have indicated that on certain areas of the Bill we are prepared to make concessions, adjustments in our position, to take account of the points made in the debate and amendments. This is not one of them. We feel strongly that this area should be an essential part of the Bill. When we come to groups of amendments on, for example, dogs and occupier's liability, we shall indicate that some movement from the Government will be forthcoming on Report. On the principle of this amendment, we will not.

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We also have to recognise that in the regrouping of the amendments this is the most extreme position--if I may say so without offending the noble Baroness--in that it proposes a blanket and total ban on all night-time access.

The right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others have listed a number of organisations which regard this as a vital and important part of the principle of access. I shall not repeat them. There is a whole community out there who wish in a responsible and sensible way to exercise access to the kind of land referred to in the Bill in a way which applies already to many thousands of hectares of land.

I should commend the noble Earl, Lord Peel, on the fact that he is spending all night on his birthday in the House of Lords. The noble Earl asked for more research. Everything benefits from research but we do not need research in this area in the way that we might in others. We have decades of experience over vast areas of the country on how open access works. We have found that it has not created a significant problem. My noble friend Lord Taylor spoke of the Forestry Commission. Others have referred to the National Trust.

Earl Peel: Is the Minister prepared to place in the Library any research which has been undertaken?

Lord Whitty: I am perfectly prepared to put what research there is (in the sense that the noble Earl means) in the Library. However, there is no need for the research to which he refers because we have years of experience over decades of how access works in those areas of the National Trust and the Forestry Commission where voluntary access is applied, and countryside where access has applied on a voluntary basis. There have been few problems. In the light of the experience of those landowners and institutions, why do we regard this extension of access as different?

Lord Rotherwick: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. I had meant to intervene earlier on the forestry issue but it did not seem relevant. However, the noble Lord has referred to it. In my experience when the Forestry Commission moves into grouse moors in particular, all the local environmental birds go. Just as the trees grow and a few more birds come into the area, the commission cuts them down and, again, the birds go. Anyone walking in woodland knows that birds are put off their roost at night by walkers. They become vulnerable on the ground to predators. That reference is not a good example.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord's point about the Forestry Commission relates to forestry management and has nothing to do with access. My noble friend Lord Taylor pointed out that for years and years there has been access night and day on Forestry Commission land, on National Trust land, on Dartmoor, in much of the Lake District and in many other areas that have voluntary access agreements without any of the problems that have been whipped up during the debate.

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I have some sympathy with the concerns of people in isolated areas of open countryside and others in rural areas who fear that access will lead to problems of safety and security and to crime. However, decades of experience suggest that those fears are largely unfounded. That is effective, real life, real time, real acreage research. In areas with a statutory right of access, such as the Lake District and parts of Wales, as well as abroad in Scandinavian countries, there have been no serious problems of the kind that have been outlined during the debate.

Of course there are concerns about security and safety, but the Bill provides for them to be met. For example, the right of access does not apply to buildings and their curtilage, to gardens or to parks. The privacy and security of places where people live will in large part be protected. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, the majority of dwellings in rural and urban areas are already tangential to rights of way or access rights. A generalised accusation that the right will lead to a rise in insecurity and rural crime is seriously misplaced.

Moreover, the Bill provides the means to address many particular problems. Landowners can use their entitlement to close land for 28 days for any reason. The Bill also makes provision for longer closures or restrictions by direction by the countryside agencies for reasons of land management or conservation--I recognise that those reasons will be important in some areas--or for reasons of public safety. That will take account of many of the issues that have been raised today in relation to wildlife and conservation, and safety and security. Particular problems can often be dealt with by applications for restrictions under those provisions or, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, by by-laws that could be used to restrict the right of access at night time or at any other time. That could apply when there were particular problems with a crime wave or poaching. However, we do not believe that those measures, which may be needed in particular circumstances, should undermine and seriously jeopardise the overall right of access at night.

There is a strange argument that the right of access would make poachers, rustlers and burglars more likely to engage in their nefarious practices. The rise in rural crime in recent years has not needed a right of access. Most of that rural crime occurs in areas that are not subject to the Bill or to access in general. Anyone who went on access land equipped to burgle, rustle or poach would immediately lose that right and would be committing an offence were they to follow that through. As the National Trust recognises, legitimate and responsible access at night might help to deter illegitimate activities, as a larger public presence can cause criminals to look elsewhere for easier pickings.

I am not convinced that any of the arguments that have been put forward on the amendment hold water. Any local circumstances in which those arguments apply can be dealt with by the provisions of the Bill and by-law provisions. I understand the concerns that have been expressed for the safety of walkers and the landlords' concerns, but those risks should not be exaggerated. They apply in current circumstances on

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access land and rights of way. Walkers and others who use the right of access have to take responsibility for their own safety.


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