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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has impressed upon us how enormously responsible a climber and a walker he is, and as he has told us that he would not dream of being out at night on a hill without someone knowing where he was I assume that if he was liable to change his mind at the last moment he would carry the wherewithal to communicate that fact. This legislation cannot be designed around the eccentricities of one noble Lord!
Secondly, under this amendment such a telephone system would enable the caller to hear information about any special problems notified to the authority. There may be work in progress on the land or trenches dug that they could be told about. Night lamping may be taking place or there may be restrictions due to lambing. When someone telephoned to say that they intended visiting a particular site, there could be a recorded message saying that on such and such land there was a restriction.
Thirdly, an owner could access the telephone system and discover whether people had given notice that they would be on his land that night. Also an owner seeing or hearing movement on his land could check whether legitimate walkers had given notice.
This amendment has been designed carefully to answer all the difficulties that were raised in Committee. I venture to hope that the Government will regard the amendment as a sensible way of dealing with the problem of the information that is needed if there is to be night access.
Lord Judd: My Lords, the word "bizarre" has just been bandied around and I hope that I can introduce the word "philistine". The thought of the countryside being littered with people carrying mobile telephones ringing in to say where they are fills me with dismay. What are we turning our countryside into?
The problem which arises from the amendment concerns the cost. If the provision is to work well, it will be an extremely costly exercise. The information which will be needed at the control point must be assembled and the means must be found to disperse it to everyone who needs it. The question which the noble Lord did not answer in moving the amendment was what on earth the people receiving the information will do with it.
If we were introducing some draconian rule, I would resist it. I am happy to plead guilty to being pleased to share with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the eccentricity of his approach to the countryside; I find myself very much at one with it. Certain things may be desirable in terms of responsible conduct. But it is also true that if we are enjoying the countryside, trying to act as responsibly as possible, we make spontaneous decisions about what is possible on a particularly lovely night in a wonderful situation. It would be a nightmare at that point to find ourselves curbed by all kinds of restrictions and legal requirements.
The issue is: what would be done with the information? Is the cost justified? Surely, the money which would go into such an exercise could help landowners in a host of other ways; for example, erecting stiles, providing wardens and so forth for the positive management of the countryside. From the way in which the amendment has been tabled, I do not begin to understand why it is a priority that is preoccupying us at this hour of the night.
If I were to stay on the theme of inconsistency, I should have to remind the Conservative Benches how inconsistent they were on, for example, the AONB issue when in the other place they vociferously asked for it to be on the face of the Bill only to tear it apart when it came to this place. Therefore, I should not like to place too much weight on the consistency argument.
Turning to the amendment, it would be extraordinary to envisage how it might work. I declare an interest as a Somerset county councillor with experience of an access authority. Everything about the amendment makes it unworkable. For example, if the landowner failed to telephone the access authority to communicate an activity being undertaken on the land, who would be liable for the access authority then not being able to tell the person who telephoned that such an activity could take place? Would it be the landowner or the access authority?
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised the issue of the number of people required to operate the system. In the summer, even in a county such as Somerset which has a relatively restricted area of access land mainly in the Quantocks and Exmoor, a large number of telephone calls would be made from landowners to the access authority and from people intending to walk. The proposal is completely unworkable.
I understand the point which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, made about safety and of course it is important. But the fact is, as was debated in Committee, responsible people going on to access land to undertake activities usually leave a route plan with friends, family or at their hotel. Obviously, they should be encouraged to continue to do so and perhaps to do so more often. However, it is no good laying the responsibility on to national parks and county councils, which already deal with a plethora of immediate emergency situations. If this week during the floods in Somerset people had been telephoning the authority to report that they were thinking of going for a walk on top of Dundry Beacon, we would not have regarded it as a good use of staff time. We cannot therefore support the amendment.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I say a few words which in part reflect my experience as a schoolmaster. I am not unduly worried about Italian soldiers in the Brecon Beacons, who would probably receive a campaign decoration as a result. One is concerned here with young people. I do not know whether the Government agree with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. However, the subject-matter of the amendment should be given serious consideration. Even if the Government do not pay heed to it, before the Bill is implemented they must
One must also consider cost. Not many people have worked out the cost of sending helicopters to rescue people, who in some cases should have more sense. We do not have very high mountains in this country, but we have desolate areas which can be extremely cold and dangerous. Children should not be taken into those areas unless schools, education authorities and young people's organisations adequately brief, and set out the terms of conduct for, those who lead such parties.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord does not believe that education authorities take out young people without saying where they intend to go and obtaining permission for the trip. That is not my experience. No voluntary youth organisation or Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme would do it either. Those are not the kinds of organisations that one has in mind here.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, this Bill gives rise to a number of difficult issues which noble Lords have debated piece by piece at Committee stage and this evening. Probably the issue which causes the greatest difficulty on all sides of the House, but perhaps from different angles, is night access. I and my noble friends and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, were concerned at both Second Reading and Committee stage about night access. The Government believe that this is a matter of principle. If there is a principle, it is a fairly weak and pathetic one. I do not understand the principle, despite the fact that it has been explained several times. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, explained it to me outside the House last night. I believe that at the end I thanked him very much but said that I still did not understand it. Nevertheless, the Government regard it is an important principle.
However, if the Government want this important Bill they must understand that a large number of noble Lords have a real problem about night access. It would be a constructive move to find some way out of the problem without compromising the Government's principle. The Government should have their business, although God alone knows why.
When noble Lords discussed this matter in Committee my noble friend Lord Jopling (who I am pleased to see is back in his place) put forward the idea that a walker, rambler or whoever should inform someone. I believe that at that stage Members of the Committee on all sides regarded it as a new and interesting idea. Therefore, the proposal of my noble
A number of noble Lords have raised practical problems about how the system will work by the use of mobile telephones. My noble friend Lady Carnegy said that mobile telephones did not work in Angus. Certainly, mobile telephones work fairly well in most places in the south and north of England. But it should not be forgotten that that is only if you are on a hill. If you informed people before you went, presumably you will not be on the hill when you make your telephone call, unless you are the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, or Italian soldiers. Presumably, they do not have sleeping bags and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, does have a sleeping bag. Or if he does not have a sleeping bag with him to enable him to spend the night, presumably he did not intend to go on that access land at night. If he did not intend that then he does not need to inform anyone anyway under this clause. So there is not a problem.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, given that it is dark at half-past three in the middle of December, does the noble Lord accept that I may actually stay after darkness without needing a sleeping bag because I may be back at home by one o'clock in the morning in time to go to my own bed?
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