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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I refer to an issue which I do not believe has been mentioned--the danger of arson. When the hay has been cut in the summer, it is common practice to take it by tractor or trailer, when the ground is hard, to the hill to store. I have a small, remote Dutch barn full of hay that has been torched three times over the years. It has been burnt down, rebuilt with the insurance money, burnt down again and rebuilt again with money that was rather more reluctantly provided by the insurance company. There is always a danger of arson with remote farm buildings. If there is no Lebensraum or protective area around farm buildings--I think that I heard the Minister say on the previous amendment that that will apply only to residential buildings--there will be a danger of buildings being torched.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. I was not here during Committee stage and I realise that the House would lose its patience with me if I was other than very brief. However, I should like to contribute to the debate because so many people have shared with me their concerns about night-time access.
There is enormous concern in the countryside about crime. It will be unfortunate if we finish up with a Bill that does not fully take into consideration the concerns of people who live in the countryside. It has been regularly pointed out that we need to strike a balance so that the end product is largely acceptable to country dwellers.
If it is thought that night-time access will have comparatively little effect, because not many people will exercise the right to roam about at night, I wonder why we are going to all this trouble and causing so much concern in the countryside about it. If, on the other hand, the Bill's effects are going to be potent, we have to consider the wellbeing of people living in isolated homes in the countryside near access land. What about their peace of mind when they see lights at night in the open countryside close to their home, or when they hear people not far from their home? The police will not come, because they will feel that it would be a waste of time. Some have argued that burglars might be deterred from going on access land by the prospect of coming into contact with people who are exercising their right of access, but if the householders go out to see what is going on, ramblers and burglars alike will give the same response--that they are simply exercising their right of access.
Of course we must have proper regard to genuine country lovers. There are plenty of those who would no doubt wish to see the sunrise or the sunset. They are catered for by the amendment. There is no reason for access not to be granted during the hour after sunset and the hour before dawn. I cannot for the life of me understand why those who want to see the night sky cannot do so from the very extensive network of footpaths that runs through almost the entire country.
I am not exaggerating the concerns of people who live in the countryside. I hope that the Government will bear in mind their fears that they will not be able to take proper action or get the police to do so if they are worried by the sight or sound of people moving around near to their home.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before other noble Lords speak, I remind the House of the words from the Companion, quoted by my noble friend Lady Nicol. I think that those on both sides who were unable to be present in Committee have allowed me to be even-handed in saying that a little element of repetition of earlier arguments is now occurring.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, surely the point made in the Companion relates to a topic that has already been debated. We are considering an entirely new proposition. We have never debated a system of discretion under which night access was forbidden in some places and allowed in others. It would be highly undesirable to try to shut out debate on the issue.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am not seeking to shut out debate. I assure the noble Viscount that the issue of perceived problems with night access was thoroughly debated in Committee.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the last thing that I want to do is run foul of my Whip, so I shall be very brief. None of the speeches in support of the amendment, or similar amendments in Committee, has answered one simple question: in those parts of the country where night access is permitted, such as the Lake District, are the problems that they have mentioned manifest? I submit that they are not. Until those who support the amendment have demonstrated that night access does not work or that it causes the enormous harm that they claim, their case falls.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, there is an efficient warden system, but I have seldom seen the wardens about, and certainly not as it gets dark. If night wardens were the answer, the Government could have suggested that solution.
To answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, my experience is that nearly all the isolated farmhouses in the areas to which the amendment might apply have guard dogs, which draw attention to any walker or other person in the vicinity long before any farmer or resident notices.
Of course the issue is not clear cut and it might be necessary to restrict access in some circumstances, but the amendment is the wrong way round. The normal presumption should be that night access should be permitted, except in certain areas where there are good local arguments against it.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I recognise that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has produced a new proposition and in so far as it is different from what we have considered before, it is worth debating. For the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has just given, the noble Viscount has it the wrong way round and the Bill has it the right way round. The normal principle in this country is that if people have liberties, they apply in all cases except when it is thought necessary to remove them in the interests of the general public or of individuals. The noble Viscount seems to propose that the liberty to walk on access land at night should not exist except in certain circumstances when it is thought desirable. That is the wrong way round. The Bill provides an opportunity to deal with problems when they arise.
The noble Viscount said that there was no need to roam at night. Of course, there is no need for any of us ever to go on mountains, moorland or wherever else we go. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, may tell us that there is a need because it is necessary for us all to keep fit. However, I believe that that is the only evidence of need to have been produced in these debates. We are discussing whether people should have a new right--some might say an historic right restored--to walk on land which will be declared as access land. For the reasons which we debated at great length in Committee, that right should exist.
At the risk of upsetting the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the Whip, I want to revisit one or two matters that we discussed in Committee. I have considered carefully whether some of the things that were said in Committee should cause me to change my mind. I have looked at the matter in two ways.
First, I have considered whether we should return to the arguments that were advanced against those that I and other noble Lords put forward. The fundamental argument which we used and which has been put forward again by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is that the people who propose change are those, including noble Lords here, who argue for night-time restrictions. In Committee we argued that wherever access is allowed, whether by rights of access in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Germany on
I listened carefully in Committee to the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. He explained why, for example, it was bad to allow people on to moorland at night. His reasons related to crime and poaching and the fact that people would get up to no good. If I have understood the arguments correctly, I believe that the first has been dismissed as being fatuous; that is, that removing the fact of trespass will encourage people to go on to land and that a right of access will encourage criminals to go on to land. That is nonsense.