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Lord Greaves: My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness's point. I shall now be as brief as I can. I believe that we must explain why we do not accept the arguments that have been put forward. That seems to me to be our duty.
The second argument put forward by noble Lords--I refer in particular to a speech made by the noble Earl--was that such a proposal would make it impossible to challenge people who went on to land. That view has been advanced again this afternoon. I do not believe that that is right. One may believe that a person is up to no good in any place--it does not have to be on access land. If one sees a person outside one's house and believes that he will break in or burgle the house, the fact that he is in the street--a highway--does not mean that he cannot be challenged. Therefore, the argument that people cannot be challenged does not wash.
The third argument put forward by the noble Earl and by other noble Lords was that one may be in a farmhouse or a cottage and see lights on a hill. If no access is allowed, one can assume that the people on the hill are up to no good or, at least, trespassing. If access is allowed, it will be difficult to come to that conclusion. I have thought hard about that scenario. Such a situation appears to present a much more serious argument, although I do not believe it to be an overriding one.
If one sees people on a hill, whether it is during the daytime when they can be seen individually or whether at night when it may be possible to see only their lights, in most cases the pattern of their movement will help to inform what they are doing. If two or three ramblers are walking across a hill or people are climbing on a
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I shall now be very brief. The noble Baroness intervened when I had virtually finished. My final point is simply that, of all the amendments to have been tabled, I believe that this one attempts to wreck the Bill, to wreck everything that it stands for and to wreck the principles behind it. I hope that the House will reject it.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I object to his last comment and ask him to withdraw it. There is no question of our trying to wreck the Bill. In fact, if we were more constructive, we should get through the Bill more quickly. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I shall repeat rather more carefully what I said previously. It is my view that, if this amendment were passed, it would wreck the principles and practice behind Part I of the Bill.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the rules of this House matter considerably and I shall certainly stick to them. I simply want to say that I have had the same experience as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I believe that people are more frightened by this part of the Bill than by any other. It concerns potential arson and I believe that the Government should pay attention to that.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I rise to support this amendment because of its flexibility. First, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned that there did not appear to be many complaints as a result of night-time rambling in the Lake District. I do not believe that we are comparing like with like. The Lake District is a largely uninhabited area in the uplands. People who go there go properly equipped and are used to walking in such areas. In this Bill we are discussing land which is much closer to populated areas. Such land would be more accessible to the casual walker who may interfere with what goes on in the countryside.
My second point is that earlier, when I ventured into the night-time argument, the Minister suggested that no single buildings housing animals existed without habitation being close by. That is simply not true. In marginal farming areas many people live away from their farm buildings with their animals. We are not necessarily discussing a farmyard scenario. The fact that such farmers may keep dogs to guard them makes it even more dangerous for people to go there at night. I suggest that problems would arise in relation to people being bitten.
Thirdly, because such farms are isolated, people often surround them with electric fences so that, if animals break out of the buildings in which they are kept, they will not venture further. Some electric fences are now powerful and supplied by the mains. They cannot be shorted so easily when farmers are not able to inspect them at every minute of the day. It can be quite frightening to come up against such a fence. I have done so at night and have floundered around a field, getting electrocuted in every corner. It is not a funny experience. I suggest that there is no reason to allow that type of situation to occur.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I wish to make two points very briefly. First, as one who is not immune to impatience, perhaps I may say that I have learnt--and the bite marks where I have bitten my lip bear me witness--that the times when we find it most hard to listen are those when it is most important that we should do so.
Secondly, I wish to put a question to the movers of this amendment which is asked in a spirit of genuine curiosity. How would the amendment impact on people in the position in which I was placed; that is, I was walking on the hills late in the afternoon when I sprained my ankle and was unable to make my way down before dark?
Lord Willoughby De Broke: My Lords, I intervene on behalf of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. His amendment specifically addresses the question of someone who is inadvertently unable to come down from the hill or the access area at the right time.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I should like to address briefly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He raised some interesting issues. We must remember that at the moment night-time access is precluded unless on footpaths. Any night-time access that has occurred in the Lake District has occurred through negotiations between those who wish to exercise that night-time access and the owners of the land. There is a world of difference between negotiated access and access that is to be provided through this legislation.
The reason I support the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is because it deals with all the points raised in Committee. It introduces flexibility and consultation. It allows the access authority to decide whether or not the land is appropriate for access. As such, it overcomes many of the difficulties and problems raised in Committee.
I am not going to answer the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who seemed to go through my speech in Committee rather carefully. I should like to make one point; that is, we must not lose sight of those people who manage the land we enjoy--the farmers, shepherds and gamekeepers. They work all hours to produce a landscape that everyone in this country appreciates. Are they now to be expected to be responsible for access at night as well as during the day? We are putting a tremendous onus upon them, and it is highly irresponsible to do so.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, it is clear from this amendment that it is more thoughtful than the amendments we discussed in Committee. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, it is an amendment about the principle of night access. Although it addresses some of the issues that caused concern in Committee, it is a matter of principle.
Noble Lords have clearly made the point that there is another option that would address the issues of wildlife and crime; namely, to close those areas of land where there are continual problems or there is a danger of unreasonable disturbance to wildlife.
Since Committee stage I have had many communications from a number of people, as has the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, but in a different vein. My communications were from people who shared with me their anger at being regarded as potential criminals. This debate divides us into two categories. There are those who fear the dark, quite understandably. Bad things happen at night. Overwhelmingly, there are also those who take pleasure in activities that can happen in the dark on open access land.
My point is that we should not confuse crime and the fear of crime, which is very real and which many people experience, with the fact that, if people do legitimate things they enjoy at night, it does not make them more likely to be criminals and it does not address the difficulty of the real criminals.
The bottom line with this principle is that it is basically unenforceable. I do not believe that the police will back a ban on night-time access. In the last resort it is the police who must enforce the law. If it proves to be unenforceable it will detract from their ability to deal with the very real crime in rural hamlets, villages and market towns, something they are finding difficult to do at the moment.
Lord Judd: My Lords, would the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, acknowledge that the Association of Chief Police Officers has gone on record as saying that a general curfew would be unenforceable and would not enjoy public support? It would be putting an immense responsibility on the police that they believe they cannot discharge.
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