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Viscount Bledisloe: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. One has to get the authority's consent. If the access authority is available, that means that the owner can say, "Look, if anyone asks for consent during the next fortnight, don't let them go there because all my sheep will be penned on the land", or he may have dug many holes in the area, and so on.
In response to the point made by the right reverend Prelate, if landowners do not want to be bothered about this they can give a general consent by way of the modern media about which those on the Liberal Democrat Benches are so keen. They can just say, "Don't bother to ask me". They could also say to the access authority, "Feel free to give permission". It would enable them, first, to put down a marker if they are worried about something in particular; and, secondly, if they want to be so informed, they can ask the access authority to let them know about such requests.
Lord Dubs: I do not wish to pursue this argument in detail. It seems to me to be an extremely cumbersome and bureaucratic approach. I understand why the noble Viscount does not intend to move his amendment. Indeed, the proposal is so bureaucratic that I believe people will either not walk or will just ignore the requirement.
Finally, Amendment No. 79 refers to whether the individual "intends" to stay out an hour after sunset. However, much of this discussion is about the unintended consequence of a day's walk when one happens to be delayed by weather, or whatever, and one finds oneself being out later than was intended. I do not envisage that the hillsides will be full of hundreds of people walking about late at night. But there will be those who want to see a particularly beautiful sunset--and there are some spectacular sunsets to be seen from some hilltops--or those delayed by bad weather, possibly by mist, who are doing the prudent thing by proceeding more slowly and carefully and thereby arriving late. Those people cannot give notice because they had not intended to arrive late. I am totally unpersuaded by both amendments.
Lord Judd: I should like to make one point to further the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Dubs. It seems to me that these amendments could lead to a lawyer's paradise. Someone may wish to go
Lord Jopling: I listened to the first debate this afternoon, as well as this debate and the previous one. All of them deal with the business of night access. The Minister rejected the blanket ban regarding no access at all, but I thought I detected in the words that he used some sympathy with the considerable anxieties that have been expressed. However, if that is not the case, I hope that he will tell us so when he concludes this debate.
If I am not wrong and the Minister has some sympathy for the points made, for example, by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I wonder whether we can find some sort of a compromise that would go some way towards meeting the concerns raised by noble Lords on all sides of the Committee, as well as taking into account the interests of the users of the countryside--the walkers, the ramblers, the climbers, the naturalists and the sun-gazers. Indeed, I wonder whether we are getting a little closer to that compromise with these two amendments.
If we are moving towards a compromise, I suspect that neither of the two amendments will be suitable. However, it would not be a bad idea before Report stage to start to prepare some kind of a compromise which might be acceptable to all sides of the Chamber.
Unfortunately neither of the amendments we are discussing deals with the situation of people who want to go on to open land before sunrise. The previous amendments covered that point, but these two do not. If these two amendments were to form the basis of a compromise and were extended to deal with the hour before sunrise, that might be helpful.
With regard to the matter of giving notice, I was struck by the words of the right reverend Prelate who expressed his admiration--this has been sadly lacking in our debates--for the mountain rescue services. I have had close connections with voluntary mountain rescue teams, who are nearly always strapped for cash but who do an absolutely wonderful job rescuing people from fells and mountains around the country. I believe that my noble friend Lord Roberts mentioned the problems that result from people who go out on hills and mountains improperly equipped, particularly in terms of footwear. That is a complaint of the mountain rescue teams. They also complain of false alarms in that often they are called out only to find the following day that the people for whom they searched were safely tucked up in bed and had given no notice that they had returned safely.
I hope that I may make a suggestion which has occurred to me recently. It is surely not impossible for people who intend to walk on open land at night not necessarily to obtain prior consent, as mentioned in Amendment No. 79, but to give prior notice, as mentioned in Amendment No. 76. If they were to do that by leaving a message on an answering machine in the relevant authority's office, others would not be irritated by constant phone calls. One could dial a certain number to leave a message relating to a certain area of open country. Thus a record would be available to be consulted by anyone who was nervous or anxious about people roaming about in the middle of the night. Such anxious or nervous people could use a gadget--I am sure this will be familiar to the Committee--which enables one to access messages that have been left on a certain number. Modern information technology enables nervous people, who are anxious about whether certain people are meant to be in upland areas, to telephone a number to find out who has left a message to say that they intend to be out all night.
I apologise if I have spoken for rather a long time. I plead with the Minister to say that he is willing to seek compromises and ways to relieve the genuine anxieties which have been expressed on all sides of the Chamber with regard to people who wish to roam on open land during the hours of darkness. If he does not intend to accept a compromise, I hope that he will say so now and we shall not waste our time looking for one. I believe that a compromise can be achieved. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is sympathetic to that.
Lord Monson: I am sure that both the Government and the Liberal Democrat Benches will readily acknowledge that Amendments Nos. 76 and 79 are a great deal more modest than the earlier amendments relating to night time access and therefore in principle are much more acceptable to both of them. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has pointed out, they are technically flawed. After all, the calendar day starts immediately after midnight. Therefore anyone who enters land at one minute past midnight would be totally free from any of the restrictions that either of the amendments imposes. I am sure that that is not the intention of either the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, or the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. The only people to be caught would be those entering between one hour after sunset and midnight, but not anyone entering after midnight. I suggest, therefore, that they may like to tidy up the amendments before Report and submit revised amendments at that stage.
Baroness Gale: I believe that these two amendments would make matters extremely difficult for walkers. How can a person who is planning a walk determine what time it will end? Amendment No. 76, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentions giving prior notice. To whom is that notice to be given? How will the walker have all the relevant information available?
If people are to give notice of their walk, they will have to plan far ahead. A walker may give that notice, but what check is there that he or she has returned safely? Are we to have a system of "clocking on", as it were, when we leave on a walk and "clocking off" when we return? It is rather pointless for someone to give notice if we do not know whether he or she has returned safely. I make my next point with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. He said that, as the Bill stands, we are sending young people to their deaths. I believe that that is a great exaggeration. The Bill does not have that intention, even without the amendments.
A walker will have to be extremely well informed. He must know exactly where to report. It will make it difficult for people to go on spontaneous walks. The amendments would be impractical. It would be difficult for walkers or organisations to find out who owns the land on which they will be walking. On a nice day, one could not get up in the morning and say, "I want to go for a nice walk somewhere" because notice has to be given. That does not make sense to me.
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