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Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Viscount, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have all indicated that, with varying degrees of reluctance, they accept 20 metres, I shall not put the case for 20 versus 30. The government amendment responds to indications at previous stages of the Bill that there was a problem about the security of people who live in isolated cottages and other places in the countryside. Although I was reluctant at the previous stage to concede the point on the basis that most people live fairly close to a right of way, I recognise that isolated dwellings give rise to particular problems. Therefore, we believe that it is sensible to place a 20-metre circle around such houses. We have confined the amendment to dwellings. The question as to whether it should be extended to other buildings arises on the next group of amendments. In case the noble Earl is in any doubt, I shall resist it.
I believe that I have answered the point raised by the noble Baroness. The amendment relates specifically to dwellings, whereas some of the other provisions relate to all buildings. I shall move my amendment at the appropriate point, and I hope that the noble Viscount will withdraw his amendment.
However, there are many cases in which buildings have no curtilage and some dwelling-houses back directly on to access land. Particularly at night, very often those dwelling-houses cannot be distinguished from a barn due to planning restrictions or design standards. In a number of cases at night people will be unable to distinguish between a dwelling-house and a barn. That is why my amendment goes further and suggests that there should be a 20-metre restriction around all buildings.
There is also a security issue. Many barns and buildings contain valuable machinery--all kinds of agricultural hardware--and stock. It will give people a greater sense of security to know that those people exercising their rights under the Bill will keep 20 metres away from all such buildings. Therefore, it is not an unreasonable amendment.
I have another point; namely, with the additional access that the Bill will provide, the liability to owners and occupiers of trespass on land which is not access land will be enhanced. On the back of that I suggest that there will be increased costs. Although it is somewhat detached from the points that I am making, perhaps we should bear that factor in mind. My amendment will allow for an exclusion area of 20 metres around all buildings. That will give people the additional amount of security which they deserve. I beg to move.
I speak as someone who lives in a house where people can walk along the back wall of what is part of the house. So I do not get terribly worked up about these matters. I understand that in isolated separate dwellings in remote places people may become concerned. That is not a major problem, since the number of dwellings which will be affected is actually quite small. Clearly, some will be affected.
I have closely scrutinised the 2½-inch maps of the Pennines and the North Yorkshire moors. I can find very few dwellings or buildings which would be affected. As was discussed in Committee, in practice most of the buildings have rights of way quite near them and often going directly past them. So there is no major problem in gaining access to the access land.
There are two problems with the amendment. First, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said that people will find it difficult to distinguish between what is and what is not a dwelling, particularly if a dwelling is actually a building in which people are living as opposed to a cottage or indeed an old farmhouse in which people used to live. Some thought is needed on how that matter can be dealt with. However, I would not
There is a second, more difficult problem. How will people know where the boundary of access land lies if there is a circle 20 metres around dwelling-houses, particularly if it is not clear whether or not the buildings are lived in? The Bill rightly accepts the principle that in many cases the boundaries will be drawn along obvious features on the ground--banks, walls or natural features--rather than the precise features at the edge of what may be moor, heath and so on, as opposed to kinds of pasture. That principle is rightly established in the Bill. It is necessary for people to understand where the boundary lies of the land to which they are entitled to have access.
What is now proposed is an entirely arbitrary boundary. It will almost never be the case that a boundary 20 metres around a dwelling will coincide with any natural features. That may encourage people to erect fences where fences do not exist at the moment. That may be detrimental to the local landscape. It may be that they are not able to do that because of the constraints in the area. I am trying to find out how the boundary of access land will be established when that access land is an arbitrary 20-metre circle around a building which does not coincide with anything on the ground.
On a hill farm one often has a dwelling-house and then farm buildings 50 to 100 yards up the hill. If the farm buildings contain cattle there will probably be straw storage as part of the building. There will also be straw within the building. The great fear for those in the dwelling-house is that the people walking about at night with torches might set fire to that building. A long time ago that happened on three successive occasions on land for which I was responsible. If it was known that people had to stay outside a boundary, and one saw torches within less than 100 yards of one's house, one would know whether those people were walking lawfully across the land or whether they were trying to get into the building. It would be a great advantage if Amendment No. 10 were accepted. It is a small point. But it would simplify the whole arrangement in the minds of the public, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I wish to make two points in support of the amendment. First, of what benefit will it be to those people who want to enjoy the countryside to be able to walk around the buildings? They are there to enjoy the countryside. That is why we are giving them access to it.
Secondly, before the Minister tells me to go back to Northern Ireland--that is not relevant to this argument and I realise he did not do that last time--perhaps I may suggest that we have something from which the rest of the United Kingdom might learn just a little. Because of our problems in Northern Ireland,
It is extremely important that people do not surprise animals within the area of farm buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned rights of way. That is entirely different. Animals get used to routine. They will get used to a football match or a quarry blasting in the countryside. They will also get totally used to a right of way where children laugh and shout and to whatever else might happen on that right of way.
However, they are very susceptible to being surprised. In the farm buildings there will often be cattle--especially in wintertime--enclosed in close confines within metal bars, standing on slippery floors because of slats and so on. There may be sheep which are either about to lamb or have just lambed. So there may be lambs all over the place. When they are surprised, ewes abort their lambs and cows abort or give birth to dead calves.
I am not producing these facts out of a hat. We have had hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of claims. Those noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland, especially the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will know perfectly well that the claims arose as a result of people surprising animals at night. I often patrolled in Fermanagh at night. We were all farmers so we had some idea of what would happen. When you came up to a farm in the dark you had to be incredibly careful. Apart from anything else, animals gave you away if you were trying to be covert.
As I said, we have had claims for damages. I simply do not see why people who want to enjoy the countryside should be allowed to enjoy the farmyard when it is none of their business and there is an inherent danger. Indeed, if anyone is hurt, there will be a claim the other way. I support the amendment.
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