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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Peel says. Unless there is some way to deal with people who break the rules, the owner's only resort will be to go to the access authority and say, "Look, my land is open for access. People persistently break the rules. I cannot stop them. Therefore please give me a closure order in order to restrict these people coming at night, with dogs and so on". The legitimate people who seek to exercise their rights in a responsible way will lose their right of access because the irresponsible people cannot be policed.
There must be some way of dealing with the irresponsible; otherwise, if the irresponsible cause damage, the owner will have a cast iron case for requesting the access authority to withdraw access. The owner may say that his lambs are being killed or his rare flora dug up; that he has no sanction; that he cannot find out who these people are and therefore the land must be closed. The result will be that the well behaved majority suffer as a consequence of the inability to control the irresponsible minority.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I shall not oppose the Government on this issue. However, one point of the noble Lord's amendment deserves serious consideration. I refer to litter; it is a hobby horse of mine. I spend a good deal of my spare time collecting litter near my home. People throw glass into water where children swim. One person apparently has the hobby of depositing litter on the top of hills which the landlord or farmer has continually to remove. It is a national problem, not restricted to access areas. This is now by far the most common criminal offence in Britain for which there are only rarely prosecutions. Schools do not take quite so much care on this issue as they did when I was a schoolmaster. The schools were remarkably free of litter because the children had to pick it up. Now, apparently, that is a health and safety risk.
We need a culture change. Then the anxieties expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, may be less acute. But unless there is an enforcement of law--it is largely ignored--the problem will not only continue but intensify. If the Government will not accept the amendment, I hope that they will consider seriously the need to challenge the growing problem that litter presents to this country which makes us by far the dirtiest country in western Europe.
This is not about making trespass a criminal offence. It is not about inadvertent infringements of Schedule 2; the proposed 72-hour exclusion is probably all that is required. This issue relates to wilful and persistent infringement of exclusions which have been brought into place only when there has been a clear conservation need identified and after considerable consultation.
The provisions in Part III of the Bill can be used to take action after damage to nature conservation has occurred. But we need some provision in the Bill to reinforce the importance of Clause 24 exclusions and restrictions for the prevention of damage before it occurs rather than after it happens. Some species are now restricted to a very small number of sites. Once the damage has occurred, the species have gone, and we do not have a second chance. I urge the Minister to ponder on the point of the exclusion restrictions in Clause 24 if they can be persistently flouted.
I hope that the Minister will reconsider the issue of sanctions in specific cases of Clause 24 exclusions and restrictions. The very wide definition of access land was acceptable from a nature conservation point of view if there were adequate provisions for restrictions and exclusions to protect vulnerable sites. If those provisions cannot be enforced, it raises major questions about how wide the definition of access land should be.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I cannot remember whether the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, spoke when I moved Amendment No. 98 in Committee. It addressed the problem to which she refers. The Government believed that by-laws adequately covered the situation.
There is a difficulty as regards continual offenders. A farmer may have a right of way across his fields. He finds that people persistently leave the right of way, picnic in his fields and leave litter. I have perhaps more sympathy with lowland farmers faced with that situation; it is more common. There may be larger numbers of people involved than on access land where the problem may be less serious. I wonder whether the noble Lord who moved the amendment would want to implement the provision on low land? That would involve a culture shift. We on these Benches would not be happy with that. It might begin to "criminalise" the situation more and more.
Education is an important factor. I accept that that will never deal with difficult and persistent offenders. Access authorities will need, first, to develop with their wardens means of addressing the problem; and, secondly, to consider whether by-laws should be
Lord Bragg: My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to offer a view that I believe to be important and generally relevant. I agree that it is essential that property is safeguarded, that damage is not done and that despoiling and destroying are discouraged.
However, I should like to put in a positive word for the large tribe of British ramblers who I fear are in some danger of being misrepresented. Like millions of others, and many of your Lordships I am sure, I have walked in many areas of this country, sometimes frustratingly restricted as in the Lake District, for instance, where it is possible to walk round less than 10 per cent of the lakes and, as we age, walking along the lake shore begins to be powerfully attractive. I have walked in the Lake District every year of my life since the age of about 15 and for part of my life have lived in the splendid gaunt landscape of the northern Fells. Over those years the ramblers I have met--there must have been thousands--have, outside your Lordships' House, been the best mannered, most cheerful, careful, wholly admirable people it is possible to imagine.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that none of the measures in the amendments is aimed at ramblers. We are talking about a few people who persistently ignore the regulations under Schedule 2 and Chapter II. I did not table the amendments, but I am sure that my noble friends who did so agree that they are not designed in any way to be anti-rambler. We are dealing with a few people who persistently ignore the regulations and rules under the Bill.
Lord Bragg: My Lords, I accept what the noble Earl has said, but it has been my impression during the course of our debates that, by association, ramblers have been rather misrepresented. I continue with my point.
The first aim of the ramblers whom I know is to keep the countryside as beautiful, tidy and varied as they find it. In my view they are its greatest supporters. Their second aim in most cases is to attempt to lift restrictions and challenge oppositions that needlessly and truculently constrain a peaceful, quiet and healthy pleasure. I repeat my fear that they are in danger of being tainted by association. Once again, I recognise that there must be laws, but the British rambler is in danger of being presented as a thoughtless, uncaring menace, particularly when it begins to get dark. That is not my experience or the experience of many others. I wish to register that point.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I moved the amendment and I take serious offence at what the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, is saying. I greatly respect him in his professional life, but I do not know where his conclusions come from. I do not know how long he spent in the Chamber during the six days that we
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, these relatively straightforward amendments have been exaggerated--I do not mean by my noble friend Lord Bragg. Your Lordships seem to have a fundamental problem with the criminal law. Some of your Lordships seem to think that it is possible to pass laws that will prevent people committing crimes. The law has never been able to do that. It can punish people who commit crimes and other laws not connected with the criminal law can sometimes assist in the prevention of crime. Action by government, local government and citizens can sometimes assist in the prevention of crime, but a crime cannot be prevented by passing a law to say that it is illegal.
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