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Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty-five minutes before nine.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.31 until 8.35 p.m.]

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Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 2.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 24:


    Page 2, line 39, at end insert--


("( ) A person who refuses to comply with an instruction from any person acting with lawful authority to enforce Schedule 2 or any restriction imposed under Chapter II, shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26. This amendment relates to an offence of obstructing someone who is attempting to enforce restrictions. It seeks to establish an offence of refusing to comply with the instruction from a warden, or other person entitled to enforce such restrictions under Schedule 2 and Chapter II. Such a provision is standard in existing by-laws for access agreement land on open country; for example, in the Peak District National Park. It is essential that wardens have effective powers to enforce the restrictions. I suggest that simply asking someone politely to leave the land is inadequate. A stronger sanction is needed where someone refuses, when asked, to stop abusing his or her right of access.

Despite what was said earlier this afternoon regarding repeating arguments that were made in Committee, I should like to bring forward a few points that I know I mentioned at that stage. The Bill does not appear to provide for an offence of obstructing anyone seeking lawfully to enforce the restrictions set out under Schedule 2, or any other restrictions under Chapter II. It seems to me that owners need to be able to point out to abusers that, if they persist in the activity, they will commit a criminal offence and be liable to arrest and prosecution. Owners need to be able to point that out to would-be offenders, offenders or abusers. However, we want clarity in everything that is happening. I believe that we need something on the face of the Bill that can or will be used in codes of practice and other documentation where people are learning about access to the countryside. Therefore, to cover situations where a warden, a landowner, a land manager, or someone in authority, may approach a potential offender or an offender and say, "Look here, if you persist in doing that you'll be liable to prosecution: you must stop it and go.", it seems to me that it is necessary to have some sanctions on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are in a not dissimilar vein. They deal with establishing a deterrent. First, we need to establish the offence. Then, having done so, we need to establish a deterrent. Perhaps exclusion orders could be used. That is an alternative route, but one that could be useful.

A similar amendment--Amendment No. 96--was not spoken to in Committee. Mr Meacher said in the other place at col. 230 of the Official Report on 11th April that exclusion orders could be used to tackle

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persistent breaches. Making this explicit in the Bill would enable it to be advertised as a deterrent in the codes produced for users. That would constitute an alternative to the civil procedures. Owners' only option under the Bill as at present drafted is to seek an injunction at their own cost to exclude a persistent trespasser. The amendment would apply to abuses committed on any day or days, not just within the same day. An exclusion order could be sought only by the access authority. This would ensure that the procedure is used only in the most appropriate circumstances.

New Section 40A(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000--if inserted as proposed by Clause 43 of the current Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill--provides that,


    "Where a person is convicted of an offence, the court by or before which he is convicted may (subject to sections 34 to 36 above) make an order prohibiting him from entering a place specified in the order for a period so specified of not more than one year".

Amendment No. 26 seeks to establish as a deterrent that a criminal offence would arise where anyone persistently--the emphasis is on "persistently"--ignored the provisions of Schedule 2 or restrictions under Chapter II. A similar amendment was not spoken to in Committee. If exclusion orders cannot be used, what further sanction, other than taking out a civil injunction at the owner's expense, can be imposed on someone who persistently ignores Schedule 2 or restrictions under Chapter II? This amendment seeks to establish a criminal offence with the minimum sanction a maximum fine of £200. It would apply only where Schedule 2, or restrictions under Chapter II, were repeatedly ignored on the same day. This is a targeted sanction for persistent abusers of the right of access on any one day. For example, I refer to a person caught driving a vehicle on moorland who returns weekend after weekend to have his fun until he is chucked off the land--which he probably regards as fun anyway. We consider that that action should be subject to a legal sanction. In such a case we consider that a fine not exceeding £200 is not likely to act as a deterrent and that an exclusion order would be much more appropriate. I hope that it is clear what we seek to achieve with the amendments. We seek to create some form of meaningful sanction. We also want to ensure that the public understand where they stand when a warden asks them to leave the land in question or to cease doing whatever they may be doing. I beg to move.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I accept that the Government believe in conservation, as I do. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, will remember that I piloted the Wildlife and Countryside Bill through another place. However, the message that the general public will glean from the Bill when it is enacted is that there is freedom of access with no sanctions. That is contrary to what the Government are trying to do. If sanctions are not established, we shall not achieve effective conservation. One cannot have it both ways. One must have some form of sanction against those who seek to disobey the legislation and commit

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offences that will impact on conservation. We have discussed impacts on ground nesting birds and so on. If we do not establish some sanctions, the message will go out that people can do what they like because there is nothing much that the landowner, the farmer, the tenant farmer or the gamekeeper can do to stop them.

We want to hear the Government mention again the fair balance that they have talked about. They have spoken of a fair balance, but at present the position seems to be totally weighted against those who are trying to conserve their own land in terms of habitat and wildlife. The Government should say that they will reconsider the matter before Third Reading to try to strike a fairer balance in the interests of habitat and wildlife. I am not talking about the interests of landlords if that is what is worrying the Government. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, will be aware, if no sanctions were established with regard to SSSIs, far more damage would occur. That is exactly what will happen on moors, open countryside and downland if no practical sanctions are established. We are not asking for draconian sanctions such as prison sentences; we are asking for some form of sanction that will bring to heel those who wish to break the law and make them accept that in the interests of conservation they cannot behave in such a fashion. We need to consider carefully the amendments proposed by my noble friend and the Government need to strike a fair balance and establish sanctions before the Bill finishes its passage through the House.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I support the essence of my noble friend's amendments and I echo what my noble friend Lord Monro has said. I understand that the Government do not wish to criminalise access. However, there is no question in my mind that there is a major flaw in the Bill in that it has no bite. There is no recourse for the owner or manager against those who persistently ignore the provisions of Schedule 2 and Chapter II.

The by-laws, regulations and closure orders are in the Bill for a good reason. The Minister has constantly told us that the Countryside Agency or the access authorities will respond sensibly to requests for those measures. I am sure that he is right. However, the authorities will not impose those measures unless there is good reason for that. If there is a good reason, it seems to me logical that the owner should have recourse to the law to thwart those people who persistently ignore requests to leave the land in question.

The position established under the Bill is totally different from the one that exists at present. Substantial acreages of land are to be opened up to the public for the first time. I suggest that as a quid pro quo for that we need new sanctions to deal with the few people--I acknowledge that they will be few--who will ignore the regulations established by the Bill. If we fail to establish those sanctions, there is a very real possibility that the message that the public will glean from the Bill is, "If you break the rules, the owner can resort to the civil courts". However, that is ineffective

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and expensive. We should not forget that. I urge the Government to consider seriously how we can introduce into the Bill a measure which will enable owners and managers to impose some sanction against those who persistently ignore the provisions of Schedule 2 and Chapter II. As I say, I thoroughly understand and appreciate that the Government do not want to criminalise access. However, as I said, the Bill introduces new access provisions. We need new sanctions to deal with any problems that may arise from that.


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