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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for acknowledging the parenthood of Amendment No. 95. He is quite right, of course, that as regards the Peak District National Park there is a similar offence to that which he wishes to propose; namely, the offence of intentionally obstructing any person acting on behalf of an access authority, district council or any person interested in the land.
And then he went on--and I am grateful for that as well--to discuss Amendment No. 97, although he will recognise that Amendment No. 97 is virtually identical to Amendment No. 86 which was not moved. Therefore, I shall gladly return to my arguments on Amendment No. 86 which I was not able to use.
First, I turn back to Amendment No. 95. The noble Lord is quite right to say that we have made provisions for wardens under Clause 18. Those provisions mirror those which have been operated successfully by the national parks authorities in the national parks. But they have been operated, with the exception of the Peak District National Park, without any special offence of the kind that is proposed by Amendment No. 95.
We already have a criminal law which contains numerous offences dealing with the use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour against another person. We believe that that law is adequate for the purpose. It is not a question here of adding by-laws. There is a criminal law and the offences which are identified in Amendment No. 95 would be, if proved, offences against the criminal. We do not see any need to impose an additional penalty of the kind which is proposed by Amendment No. 95.
Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for giving way. I believe that there is a difference. If you are attempting to remove somebody from your land who is there illegally and life gets difficult, you cannot send for a policeman; you are probably on your own; and you have no backing. Here we are looking for some deterrent. It is not quite the same as a criminal situation in a different area.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The amendment would make obstruction an offence. Obstruction is an offence. Threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour is an offence. It does not have to be a new offence in this
Viscount Bledisloe: Does not the noble Lord recognise that it is easy to obstruct without being threatening or abusive? Suppose I tell someone to leave my land and you, standing by, say, "No, don't go; there is nothing much he can do about it", you are obstructing, but you are not being threatening or abusive. One can be obstructive in polite language. Perhaps the Government believe that that is what some people have been doing anyway. There is no necessary connection between threats or abuse and obstruction.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, anticipates what I shall say on Amendment No. 97. My point on that amendment is that for hundreds of years there have been laws of trespass in this country. For hundreds of years we have had a Parliament which has had its full representation--I put it modestly--of landowners who would have wanted trespass to be a criminal offence and it has never been found possible to make simple trespass a criminal offence, with exceptions to which I propose to refer.
Earl Peel: I cannot wait to hear what the noble Lord has to say. The noble Lord constantly tells us that any sanctions are not workable, that they are impractical, that we cannot impose them and so on, and goes on to say that nothing has changed. But something has changed: we have a new Bill, a very important Bill. It is a Bill that gives extremely extensive rights to people over private land.
If we accept those changes that the Minister appears to dismiss as being almost irrelevant, I believe that we shall need new sanctions to deal with the new situation. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, but it seems to me that unless we have some common by-laws in place to deal with the sort of problems that we have been discussing, the landowner will have no redress at all against all such difficulties that other noble Lords have identified.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am simply not convinced that by providing a new category of access land, we are creating something that is different in kind, rather than in degree, from the existing situation. Already there is the possibility of trespass; already there are sanctions against trespass. For hundreds of years there have been attempts to criminalise trespass and that has always been found to be impossible. There are plenty of sanctions in the existing criminal law against trespass, which I continue to claim to be adequate for the purpose of this Bill. They cover the points that lie behind these amendments, and I insist that they are adequate for the purpose.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: One could argue that, but I do not believe that that would carry much weight. In this country the law of trespass is an ancient law. There are examples throughout the centuries of trespass being a crime. Trespass on land where a person is in pursuit of game, including woodcock and snipe, is an offence under Section 30 of the Game Act 1831 and Section 9 of the Night Poaching Act 1828.
I suspect that, when those laws were passed, the penalty was rather more severe than it would be now. I suspect that, if an offender was not hung by the neck until dead, he would at any rate be banished to Botany Bay.
My point is that, whether it is by-laws or other legislation, there are adequate sanctions to deal with aggravated offences of trespass. But to bring the criminal law into simple trespass on the occasion of this Bill would be a dramatic change which neither this nor any other government could accept.
Lord Glentoran: I am always interested in the noble Lord's responses, particularly when he and his researchers are able to give us such a pleasant history lesson in the process. I certainly did not know about the night poaching.
However, I am still concerned about there not being adequate deterrents. I think particularly of the situation in conservation areas where a trespasser could, within an hour or so, commit acts which would be at least aggravated trespass and there is no deterrent in place to make the general public take the trouble to apprise themselves of what the situation is.
As I said earlier this afternoon, we are trying to ensure that we do not encounter problems on the ground when the Bill is enacted. The most important thing of all is that all those who choose to avail themselves of this new right are "encouraged" to ensure that they know what their rights are and are not. It is amazing what effect serious deterrents can have in making people take a little more trouble to find out what they have done. It would be a tragedy if two or three people went into an area which was closed to access for the breeding season--a sensitive nature
That simply is not enough. I see the noble Lord shaking his head. But I do not believe that, as the Bill stands, there are adequate sanctions in place to protect not only the rights of the land managers, but also the countryside, the environment and the wildlife that inhabits it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps I may give two examples, one in relation to offences which other people may think to be trivial and the other specifically related to conservation. It is already an offence to uproot a wild plant; it is already an offence to leave litter in a public place. The noble Lord's amendments are proposing to criminalise simple trespass.