Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bledisloe: I support the spirit of the amendment, although I am puzzled by the word so carefully omitted by the noble Baroness in her speech. The amendment uses the words "quite apparent", but I am not sure whether she means "totally apparent" or "somewhat apparent", even though she carefully referred only to "apparent" when she moved the

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1702

amendment at the beginning of the debate. In my view the spirit of this proposal is very good, although that particular part of the flesh may be a little weak.

As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made plain when he responded to the earlier amendment, the rules will vary from one area of the country to another. It is that which gives me the greatest concern. How on earth will walkers know what particular rules will apply in a certain place? It is not good enough merely to say that it is their duty to know the law and that if they do not, they will become trespassers. That is because, first, if they do not know the rules and then break them, they will be fairly dusty when taxed with a breach of them. Secondly, the purpose of the rules is not to enable the landowner to create a fuss and turn people off his land. The rules are there to stop people doing undesirable things in the first place. Unless people know what things are undesirable in the first place, they will not be able to avoid doing them.

The Minister has been ducking and weaving about that point. He has not told the Committee how it is intended in practice that the rules relating to particular areas of access land will be made known to the general walker. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Greaves--who plans a complicated climb for several days, reads the books and so on--a much more casual, ignorant and inexperienced visitor will see a nice bit of land, park his car and start walking across it.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am mystified by the wording of the amendment. On first reading it, I thought that in stating that the by-laws should be quite apparent to users of access land this meant that they should be displayed on a signpost easily visible to the user of the access land. However, after considering the amendment rather more carefully, I can interpret it to mean that the by-laws should be published in local newspapers. I prefer the interpretation that the by-laws should be available and easily discernible by the user of the access land. To me, that means that they should be displayed on some kind of signpost, as many local authority by-laws are these days.

Lord Greaves: The noble Viscount kindly referred to the amount of time I spend anxiously reading guidebooks and trying to memorise routes--and trying to conjure up the personal courage to travel them and wondering if I ever will. That may be true in some cases, although, as I said earlier, in many cases the decision to go out is spontaneous. It is taken at short notice and depends very often on certain circumstances, particularly the weather.

The debate has moved away from the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Miller. I should like to make some points relating to the question of signing in the countryside in relation to points of access, rules and regulations, and general information. Much experience has been gained of signing, particularly in the national parks and in areas such as the south Pennines. It is done in a discreet and attractive manner which does not disfigure the countryside but at the same time provides a lot of information.

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1703

Many people going into the countryside want information. They do not want to know detailed rules and regulations. They want to know where the footpaths lead; they want to know the areas in which they can walk; and they want to be told about wildlife and so on. The key is to make sure that the rules and regulations are in the same place and on the same notice as that kind of information. The experience is that the message gets through to people in that way.

Perhaps I may now consider the question of how people get into access land. In general, there are two broad categories of land--although clearly they are not exclusive. First, there are areas which can only be accessed through a small number of access points--via rights of way, stiles in walls and so on. In such areas, those access points are the obvious places to put the information. Again, particularly in the national parks, much has been learnt about doing this in a sensible and discreet way. The obvious place to site the information in those areas is at the access points that people have to use because there is no other way of accessing the land.

The other category is land which can be accessed anywhere--for example, unfenced moorland which has a road crossing it. But even in such places, most people will use the same points of access as everyone else. They do so for two reasons: first, very often people travel to the access land by car or, if they are fortunate enough, by public transport, and they will all stop at a particular place, a car park. Those car parks are useful. They are the places to which a high proportion of people travel before going on to the land, for the obvious reason that they need somewhere to park their cars.

Secondly, no matter what rights are laid down in the legislation or what rights people have in existing areas of open access, the great majority of people will use defined footpaths. That is a fact of life. It is a fact which means that many of the fears that some people have about this legislation are probably unfounded; people will use the footpaths. Where there are not any footpaths at the moment, I hope that landowners will be sensible and define new footpath routes, which the vast majority of people would then use. So the sensible place to put information is where the main footpath goes into an area or where the footpath intersects with a road.

Lord Marlesford: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in a sense, makes my point. When I was on the Countryside Commission we spent years campaigning, first, for footpath signs, and, secondly, for signs that were carefully designed so as not to intrude upon the landscape. Various parts of England and Wales have different kinds of signing, many of them excellent. But they certainly do not include great lists of by-laws, warnings and so on. They could not include all that information and remain discreet and sensible. It simply is not practical.

Of course such information can be displayed in some places--the national parks have visitor centres where that kind of information is available--but if the noble Lord is saying that where there is a footpath sign this kind of information could be displayed, I strongly suggest that that would be undesirable.

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1704

Lord Greaves: There has to be a sensible compromise. If it is a sign saying simply "public footpath" or "access land", it may well be that one does not want a big sign. But, as the noble Lord said, there is now a great deal of knowledge--I do not think we disagree--about how to provide well designed and unobtrusive signing. I am aware that the Countryside Agency is working on new kinds of signs, which can be adapted to local circumstances by use of local materials but which, nevertheless, will be of a standard form throughout the country.

Often the national parks put the material that people want--information about local birds or local maps--on the front of signs and the by-laws on the back, with a little notice saying "Please observe the by-laws". By and large, people do, and the message gets through.

My final point concerns the question of who enforces the rules in the countryside. Members of the Committee who do not walk or climb may not be aware of the degree to which what might be called "peer pressure" operates among climbers and walkers. I am not referring to people like me--who happen to be Members of this House--telling people what to do, but people generally are concerned about sensible rules and regulations, which have been agreed, sometimes statutorily and sometimes on a voluntary basis, on the use of the countryside being observed by other users of the countryside. There are people who, if they see people contravening the rules, will point it out. Quite often they will not be as polite as Members of the House might be.

Lord Burnham: It is essential that everyone behaves responsibly and sensibly when they are walking. However, I must emphasise that we seem to be talking about some curious person called "a rambler". I am not a rambler; I walk. I would not go within a hundred miles of a ramblers' association; and not within a thousand miles of Miss Ashbrook, even though she is a fairly near neighbour.

I hope it is realised that in the places where I walk in the south there are footpaths which now have an efficient and discreet method of signposting. The same occurs in northern parts of the Lake District, which I know well. All the paths and directions are well signposted. People are told where they may and may not go, and where the paths lead to; but it is done discreetly and can cause no offence to anyone. I am not certain that anything further can be done. All large notices would be offensive purely in terms of their appearance. We have gone as far as is necessary.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: Before my noble friend responds, it may be helpful to the Committee if I report some thoughts from the Countryside Agency in the general context of giving information to landowners as well as land users. The agency states:

    "At all stages we will use a wide range of information techniques from colourful leaflets, activity packs and displays to websites, information boards and signs. We will consider the feasibility of a

5 Oct 2000 : Column 1705

    telephone information line and assess the scope for providing information to a range of local outlets, as well as on site. We also plan to commission a range of educational materials, closely linked to the National Curriculum, to help in teaching children and young people about their rights and responsibilities in the countryside, and about its management".

I use that quotation to illustrate that getting information across, whether in relation to by-laws or anything else in this context, has been, and is being, addressed by the Countryside Agency. I believe that fears are greatly exaggerated.

Perhaps I may take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. The noble Lord is right: not all walkers ramble, but all ramblers walk. I should like to defend the Ramblers' Association, which gives information to its members and makes sure as far as possible that they observe whatever restrictions are necessary on the land on which they walk.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page