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Viscount Bledisloe: Amendment No. 79 in my name is grouped with this amendment, so perhaps I may explain it to the Committee. My amendment assumes that there is to be a right of night access and basically allows for its exercise. However, before someone seeks to exercise it, the amendment requires that person to seek consent to so doing. I stress that the consent can be refused only for good reasons, which may be those mentioned earlier when we debated night access generally: for example, there may be birds nesting, lambing may be taking place, or sheep may have been penned prior to going to market. It would also give the landowner or the person whose consent is requested an opportunity to say: yes, you can go onto my land
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that under the amendment there is no problem for the person who wants to exercise his right of night access as regards knowing to whom he goes for consent. If he does not know who the landowner is or cannot get hold of the landowner, he can go to the access authority. The access authority can then pass the message on to the owner but so far as the walker is concerned consent from the access authority suffices.
The amendment applies only to a person who intends to enter and remain on the land after sunset. Therefore, it in no way impinges on the person who, for example, inadvertently finds himself delayed or fog-bound and who therefore decides that it is safer to sit and wait for night to pass. It applies only to someone who consciously intends, when he sets forth, to be there for longer than an hour after sunset.
The great advantages of the proposal are, first, that it gives the landowner or the access authority the opportunity to say: no, you cannot do that at this moment, because it is just when the birds are all nesting or hatching, or it is just when the farmer has got all his sheep together and by walking across the land at night you will undo the good work that he has done for two days; or, do not go to that particular part because it is very dangerous and there has been a great deal of rain, and so on.
The amendment also means--this is important in relation to the points made earlier by the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Carnegy--that the owner will know that people are coming. Therefore, he will not be frightened. He will not have the need to wake up and chase them unnecessarily. He will not have the problem of people wandering round and have no idea whether they are legitimate walkers or people with evil intent. I stress that the consent will have to be given unless there is very good reason for not so doing.
The noble Lord may point out that the amendment does not state who is to decide whether the withholding of consent is unreasonable. The noble Lord nods, so I believe that I have anticipated part of his brief. In many cases, as for example in that of assignment in landlord and tenant law, that is decided by the court. I accept that it might be a rather lengthy procedure for someone who wanted to walk. It would perhaps be more sensible if the access authority or the Countryside Agency were to be given the power to determine whether or not the withholding of consent was unreasonable. It is not my intention to move the amendment at this stage; however, I urge the Government to consider whether--possibly redrafted to cover that technical point--the amendment might provide a "halfway house" to allay at least some of the fears expressed earlier in Committee but without depriving people of the right to walk at night where there is no reason for them not to do so.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I believe that both the amendments have a good purpose and they enable us to pay tribute to the mountain rescue and moorland rescue services. I should like to disabuse those who think that I am concerned only with rural Surrey. That was 30 or more years ago. The diocese of Blackburn has much moorland and I was brought up on the moorland on the other side of the Pennines--something about which I do not talk very often these days.
However, the mechanics of the proposal trouble me slightly. How will this actually be done? Having been a member of the Countryside Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, reminded the Committee, and now of the Countryside Agency and the National Access Forum, I have been through these issues over and again almost to the point of tedium. There are no easy answers to some of these questions. We ought to be honest and admit that. When we talk about the access authority and about informing the landowner, issues arise as to how that will be done.
With reference to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, surely it relates to what is presently accepted as good practice as set out in all the codes one can think of to do with mountaineering and moorland and country walking. All the green guides state that people must inform their relatives, their friends, their youth hostel or those at their hotel that they are setting out into quasi-dangerous territory or areas that can become so if the mist comes down.
If we add this provision to inform access authorities and landowners, my fear is that people will become scared of doing that and will simply go. They will not want to go through the bureaucratic process of contacting the access agency and they will not know who the landowner is. Similarly, they will not know in advance--say, three weeks ahead--that they intend to do so. So they will not be in touch with the agency, which can then inform the landowner.
I cannot speak for the Countryside Agency; indeed, it is not the practice of Members of this Chamber to do so. However, if the agency does not get its act together with regard to the publicity and use this opportunity to spread the word about all kinds of walking in the countryside, it will not, in my view, be doing its duty. There is an opportunity here for the present good guidance and practice to get a lift because of the very nature of our discussion.
I turn to the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that he does not intend to move. Do landowners really want people telephoning them at all hours of the day or night, especially at the popular times of the year when such activity will take place in the "honeypot" areas? I do not know whether you can have honeypot areas in mountains, because that expression really refers to the rather smart villages, but noble Lords know what I mean. If this amendment is passed, I wonder whether landowners will thank us for the incursion into their privacy. I have the kind of job where people often telephone me. They
I wish to make a serious point. The issue of safety is important, but the ensuing publicity may well deal with that, as may the suggested provisions. I seriously ask the landowners' representatives in this Chamber whether they really want the inconvenience of every would-be walker who will remain on the hill after dark ringing them up and asking them such questions. Another way must be found to inform people about the closure of land or the possible dangers involved. I question the value of these amendments, although I believe the purpose behind them is a good one.
Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may make some comments about mountain safety. I do so because the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spent most of his speech talking about it. If one goes into hilly, mountain areas, my understanding is that the advice one receives is to leave a note at the hotel or with one's friends as to the route that one is following and the expected time of one's return. That is the sensible thing to do. Then, if one has not returned at the expected time, the hotel or one's friends can alert the mountain rescue people accordingly. Those people will want to know the route followed and will then do what they can. Of course, if it is dark, it will be difficult to use helicopters in a search to find people.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that people should give prior notice. But the problem with that suggestion is that there will be no follow-up. How could an access authority know whether or not such people had returned from their walk? The key to safety is knowing whether people are missing, not whether they have set out on a walk. I am afraid that the noble Lord's proposition will not add to the safety of people climbing in Snowdonia, or in other areas.
Moreover, I understand that the access authority would be either the national park or the local authority responsible for highways. They are often large bodies and there is not much fine-tuning there. I do not know how many mountain rescue teams that there are in the Lake District, but there are quite a few. The noble Lord mentioned the large number of them in Snowdonia. If the national park or the county council is to be so informed, how can they follow up such information? For example, will Cumbria County Council employ night staff who will be waiting to hear whether or not people have returned? Frankly, this does not make any sense in terms of safety. To my mind, the argument does not carry any weight.
I very much share the argument advanced by the right reverend Prelate about giving prior notice. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said that there is an alternative here: one can either inform the owner of the land or the access authority. One would have a choice as between informing the landowner or the access authority. Again, that would not add much to the safety angle. I know that that was not the noble Viscount's specific argument, but a dual system would not improve safety. Indeed, it would simply add to the
What would happen if I were to telephone the national parks authority in, say, Kendal, and say, "This is what I am setting out to do tomorrow"? It does not make sense--
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