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Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 115:

Page 49, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) removes or defaces any notice or sign placed on or adjacent to the land,").

The noble Earl said: I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. It is a sad fact of life that notices and signs are too often removed or defaced by those who do not like what is written on them.

There is no question that as access points become an increasingly important part of the way that such areas are managed, they will have information. It seems to me absolutely imperative that it should be explicit in Schedule 2 that those signs will not be interfered with, defaced or removed. Therefore, I beg to move and hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

Lord Monson: I support the amendment. I suspect that the noble Baroness is about to say that this issue is already covered under paragraph 1(d) relating to criminal damage. The trouble is that a large segment of the public almost certainly does not realise that defacing or removing signs constitutes an offence. Therefore, I believe that it would be helpful if this amendment were to be included, even if in some sense it is a duplication.

Lord Mancroft: I, too, support my noble friend on this amendment. It is slightly exceptional as a subject in thatsignage will become more important as a result of this Bill and it will be important that people know access points and obtain the information that will be available on such signs; for example, telling them where they can and cannot go. From where I live in the

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country there is clear evidence that such signs are regularly defaced and broken. It is an awful nuisance, both for those who wish to use the signs and for those who must pay and take the trouble to put them up again. I believe that it would be immensely helpful if specific reference to the signs were on the face of the Bill because, as objects, they will play such an important part in whether or not the Bill becomes a successful Act.

Lord Rotherwick: Signage defacing is a major problem and it would give much comfort to emphasise that point. As a land manager and owner, I know that the continuous defacing of signs is one of our major problems. I hope that the Minister can go some way to sympathising with this amendment.

Lord Jopling: I do not want to sound disagreeable over this matter and, as I respect my noble friend Lord Peel--indeed, he lives very close to me in North Yorkshire--I hesitate to criticise his amendment. However, it occurs to me that before we reach Report stage he may like to review the amendment and table it again.

What if someone were to put up a notice on land belonging to my noble friend Lord Peel which said some very rude things about him? It seems to me that his first instinct would be to tear the notice down. However, according to the amendment as I understand it, he would be committing an offence if he were to tear down a notice which some dissident and disagreeable person had put up on his land saying rude things about the landowner. I may be wrong, but surely it is a rather important point.

I am wholly in favour of the intentions of my noble friend in this matter, but it seems to me that the amendment should go on to refer to who put up the notice. It should be an offence only to remove or deface a notice which had been put up either by the landowner or tenant or by the access authority. I may have got the matter wrong and I am sure that my noble friend will tell me in strident terms if that is so. However, I believe that the amendment needs a little more thought and a little rewording.

Earl Peel: I am pretty clear that if the sign had been put up illegally by someone who had no right to do so, the landowner, tenant or occupier would have a perfect right to remove it. Therefore, I do not believe that my noble friend's concerns about people putting up rude signs about me are quite so likely to happen--although they may happen--as he may believe.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that signs which have been put up legally, whether by the owner or by the access authority, are protected on the face of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Mancroft quite rightly said, signage will be such an integral part of the way that this whole Bill is to be interpreted in the countryside that, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, I believe that my amendment would pass the test.

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1.15 a.m.

The Earl of Caithness: Perhaps I may be allowed to take the Minister off at a slight tangent on this because my point relates to damage. I came across a case in the summer where the access stile over the fence from the highway leading to what would be access land had been wilfully damaged. I do not want to detract from my noble friend's main amendment but what would be the situation if somebody damaged, for example, a stile?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I begin by saying that I cannot believe--the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, must have a much more vivid imagination than I have--that anybody could ever contemplate putting up a sign that said rude things about the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I cannot believe that that would happen.

However, I must tell him that he is not able to claim that the purpose of the amendment is automatically that which he intended it to be. The meaning cannot be what he says it is. The amendment has the meaning which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, identified. So no signs could be removed by anybody were this amendment to be accepted. I am sure that on those grounds alone, he will consider withdrawing it.

Lord Marlesford: I listened very closely to my noble friend Lord Jopling and I looked at the Bill. But my understanding is that this relates to removing from people who commit those acts the right of access under this Bill. But my noble friend Lord Peel would not be having access under the provisions of the Bill; he would be having access as the landowner. I should have thought that that is quite different. As I understand it, he is in a totally different role.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Not necessarily, because the amendment refers to "or adjacent to" so the offensive notice with the unimaginable words about the noble Earl, Lord Peel, might not be on his land but could be adjacent to it, according to the wording of the amendment.

This is a very serious issue. As has already been indicated, the Countryside Agency will be publishing information telling people about restrictions and informing them as to those actions which would constitute criminal offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is quite right. Such an activity would be a criminal offence and would be covered by paragraph 1(d). It would also be likely to annoy other people engaged in lawful activity on the land, such as the day-to-day activity of the landowner, and would also fall foul of paragraph 1(p), or it could cause disruption to a lawful activity, in which case it would be caught by paragraph 1(o)(iii).

As I have explained, we want to keep the list of restricted activities at a manageable length and we want to be certain that we are covering all the activities which are likely to be harmful.

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I understand the point that has been made; that it is argued that we should add this provision even though it is already covered. The length of amendments that we would have to consider were we to start considering matters which are not necessary would be very long indeed. In the light of all those points and to secure his own intentions, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Peel: I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out that my noble friend's warnings are justified. For that reason alone I shall not press the amendment. However, I make the point that we already have duplicity under Schedule 2. I realise that it is a matter of deciding the priorities. I regard this as being an absolutely fundamental priority because, as has been said, signage is such an integral part of the way that the Bill will develop. Its effect on conveying knowledge to people will be so important.

I shall withdraw the amendment on the grounds that it is incorrectly drafted, but I warn the Minister that I shall certainly return at the next stage with an amended amendment because I believe this is such an important issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 not moved.]

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 118:

Page 50, line 5, after ("games,") insert ("outdoor meetings or sports arrangements which might cause significant damage or whose arrangements will require that land be cordoned off, as where competitors assemble, or the start or finish of a competition, or other areas where crowds may be expected to gather,").

The noble Duke said: This amendment is phrased in a fairly general way and deals with the recreational activity of orienteering. The wording in the amendment is taken from a translation of a clause contained in the Norwegian Act of 1957 relating to access to the countryside. That relates to access and outdoor recreation in Norway. I apologise if the wording needs some tidying up. It appears perfectly sensible to me, but from the legalistic point of view it may need alteration.

I do not make a habit of touring the Continent of Europe to find various parallels, but the Countryside Agency produced a paper in which it asked us to consider different types of access that is available in different countries, so I went to see what was behind some of the ideas.

Noble Lords may be well aware that orienteering is a healthy and satisfying outdoor sport in which the ages of the participants can range from eight to 80. People are asked to follow a course marked out on a special map using navigational skills and if necessary a compass. The course is chosen according to ability and they compete in terms of their success in achieving the task set out. The course can be two to three miles in length or up to 15 miles for those who are most experienced.

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There is a large supporting organisation in Britain. I believe it has 16 regions with numerous branches in each region. It is a sport that has popular support right across Europe. National and international competitions are held.

This amendment is not intended to interfere with the general rights of orienteers to go about the country using the rights that they will be granted under the Bill, but permission to carry out the necessary regulations that will be required to conduct a start and a finish would have to be sought. A branch meeting in my area may involve only 15 people, which would not cause a disturbance at all, but the Scottish annual rally this year involved 800 and the national and international rallies could involve even more. The experience of those in Norway is worth bearing in mind. They found it wise to have some regulation on gatherings of people of that number who follow that kind of activity. I beg to move.

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