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Baroness O'Cathain: I should like to make two points. First, there is a general feeling, particularly in country towns, that with the increased use of CCTV in car parks, shopping centres and streets, crime is moving out from those places. People feel that the increase in CCTV encourages crime to move to areas where CCTV is not used.
Secondly, with increasing affluence in rural areas, there is more to steal in those areas. Many people have second homes in rural areas. Some cottages are now quite palatial. Many people keep pictures, works of art and various valuable items in cottages which up until relatively recently--30 or 40 years ago--were purely workmen's cottages.
Friends involved in the legal profession in Sussex are concerned that over the next few years there might be an even greater move of crime from the smaller towns, where there is increased surveillance, into the rural
Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the noble Baroness for putting me right. I believe that we are being somewhat complacent if we think that the increasing use of rights of way could not lead to an increase of crime in rural areas.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that we should use these powers sparingly; and that we should not use the fear of crime as a general means of restricting the rights of way. Nevertheless, we have to have some powers in this area.
I deal with Amendment No. 376. I do not think that there is much between us on the need to have measures to protect schools. Amendment No. 376, which would set an additional test to be met before an order could be confirmed, relates only to orders closing rights of way, not diversion orders. Therefore it would allow rights of way to be diverted where they cross school premises. However, only a small minority of schools are likely to need recourse to these powers. Moreover, the Bill already contains a number of conditions to be met before an order closing a right of way may be made.
We are not persuaded that additional tests are needed. The additional factors set out in the amendment may in some cases be difficult to apply. For example, I am not sure that whether premises pre-date a highway is the relevant issue. If there is a case to protect premises against crime it does not much matter whether the building was built before or after the highway was established.
The purposes of the provisions in Schedule 6 are to deal with problems which arise now, irrespective of the provenance of a right of way. It seems sensible that they are not confined by the provenance of the right.
The use of the separate provisions in new Sections 118B and 119B for closing or diverting rights of way to prevent crime in designated areas should never be a first option. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, says there are many other ways of dealing with such problems. Nor can it be easy. This requires a designation by the Secretary of State. It is not available to the local authority or the local police authority. In some areas the geography of rights of way can generate levels of opportunistic crime which may undermine policies aimed at dealing with problems of social exclusion. But they will be relatively rare and the procedure would ensure that they are used only sparingly.
As originally introduced, the powers provided under these clauses related only to designated urban areas. However, arguments deployed by both parties in another place persuaded the Government to widen the provisions by removing the word "urban". That is a slightly different approach from that taken in the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. As the Bill stands, it is clear that orders may be made only in order to tackle high and persistent levels of crime in designated areas arising from use of a right of way.
Additional tests must be taken into account by the confirming authority, such as whether an order would be consistent with any crime prevention strategy prepared under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The option of diversion rather than closure must also be considered.
The provisions are limited and would require a pretty rigorous procedure before they could be triggered. They are there to deal with situations of high crime, high potential crime and persistent crime. It is important that people are assured that we have those powers for use when necessary.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful for that reply and take some comfort from the fact that the measures will be a last resort and that there are a significant number of tests to be gone through. However, I remain a little concerned that the existence of the provisions in the Bill helps to generate a perception that there is a link between public rights of way and crime, which is far from proven. However, I take some comfort from the Minister's remarks and with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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