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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, part of my concern is that the amendment would require the access authority to take steps but does not make clear what those steps should comprise. As King Lear said:
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, it is an extraordinary position where in consecutive sentences from the Labour Benches, on the one hand, one is accused of being too wet and, on the other hand, one is accused of being too stringent. One might take that as a rather good demonstration that one had the position about right.
I say with respect that the Minister's answer is one of the most unsatisfactory I have heard in some years. But before I discuss that I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that we are only trying here to deal with wilful and persistent offenders. We include by-laws because it is a well-known fact that occasionally a by-law carries such a small penalty that an offender continues to offend because he considers that to be taken to court and made to pay a £5 fine does not matter. There are well-known cases of that. I refer to the case of a flower seller in Birmingham where recourse has had to be taken to a civil injunction because the penalty for breach of the relevant by-law was so small that the offender deliberately continued with the offence. He preferred to pay the fine rather than obey the law. That is why I included by-laws in the amendment.
However, if a prosecution under a by-law will suffice, that is the step that the access authority can regard as appropriate. It need only have recourse to an injunction if it decides at its discretion that the other steps that can be taken are not appropriate to achieve compliance.
The amendment does not provide enforcement against all trespassers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, it requires the local authority only to do what it thinks appropriate. If the local authority thinks that the breach is technical and harms no one, it can say, "Forget it". It may think that compliance can be secured by lesser means--writing a letter, visiting the man, or saying to him, "If you continue to do this, the result will be that you must stay off the land for 72 hours". However, the man may say, "You tell me I cannot come back within 72 hours, but I shall do so". Alternatively, the individual may come back and do the same thing after 73 hours. That provides little consolation to the owner.
In an extraordinary way the Minister then dragged in the criminal law and said that one seeks to "criminalise" the situation. The whole point is that the amendment goes down the route that the Minister has recommended throughout: of keeping to the civil law. The amendment simply provides that where the civil law is appropriate it shall be for the access authority to invoke the civil law if the occupier cannot or will not do so.
The noble Lord talked about the light touch. The light touch is all very well but it is not much good for dealing with the chap who gives two fingers to it. When the individual will not react to the light touch there has to be some scope for a slightly heavier touch. But the amendment does not seek to criminalise anything. It resorts to the civil law.
I have heard the Minister's answer. In normal circumstances I would divide the House. However, I accept that this is the first time the proposition has been mooted. I suggest that the Government consider the issue again. If they do not do so, I give clear warning that I shall return to the matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 92 lays down the timetable that the Government envisage for the implementation of the Bill because different parts of the Bill will come into force at different times. We spoke about that at some length in Committee. For instance, the general provisions on access, the definition of excepted land and the provisions for controlling the mapping process come into force two months to the day from Royal Assent. The right to enter on to access land and the restrictions to be observed by people doing so will not come into force until the Secretary of State says so.
We have heard many estimates of the length of the gap between those two enforcements. I have listened hard but I am not aware that the Government have been definitive, nor that they have taken serious exception to any of the intervals suggested, or even stated whether they intend to authorise Clause 2 over the whole country at once or area by area. Indeed, their thinking may have moved on since we discussed the matter in Committee.
On the other hand, many people outside this House believe already that the Government have granted open access to everywhere--lowland, upland fell land or cultivated fields. I have mentioned previously the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It mentions this phenomenon in its document on the implications of enhanced access to the open countryside. It states:
This situation is with us; it has not gone away. I suspect that it will not go away. Later amendments deal directly with the matter which needs to be tackled. There are issues of safety. Access land may require work to make it safe. There are issues of land management. The occupiers have not yet put into place the alterations necessary to accommodate the public, and have not moved to an alternative location things they wish to retain for themselves.
The only people who can make any impression on the problem are the access authorities. The Bill should make it abundantly clear that they have a duty to do so and quickly. We believe that our amendment is a neat method of ensuring that they do. I support Amendment No. 103 which my noble friend Lord Peel will move shortly. I beg to move.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I speak to Amendments Nos. 98, 100 and 103. I welcome Amendment No. 101 which the Minister will move. It is a help and provides for owners to be consulted before notices are erected on their land. But I wonder why the words "reasonably practicable" appear. I suggest that the precedent for such consultation is already well established in Section 27(1) of the Countryside Act 1968 which relates to signs showing where footpaths leave metal roads. That Act contains a simple reference to consultation with the owner or occupier and no mention of the words "if reasonably practicable". Why do the Government
I have no intention of going back over the arguments about the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act 1872 or the Quarries and Mines Act 1954. We had a good debate in Committee about liability and the additional costs that owners were likely to incur because of the access provisions. Amendment No. 100 is straightforward. It says:
Amendment No. 103 relates to signs and notices. In Committee my noble friend Lord Jopling demolished a similar amendment, rightly pointing out that it was defective, as it referred to any sign, regardless of its provenance. I hope that the new version will be more acceptable. It may not be necessary, but the point is so important that it needs some airing.
The notices and signs erected under Clause 19 will be essential in getting across information to the public. I hope that they will provide a comprehensive account of any general restrictions under Schedule 2 or Clause 2 and information on any by-laws and access land boundaries. I very much hope that the access authorities will also use them to provide general information about the land and why it is managed in the way that it is. That educational element could help to erode any conflict that might arise.
Unfortunately, signs and notices are too often defaced or removed. I speak from experience on that. Given their vital role for the successful implementation of the Bill, a criminal sanction is required to protect them, if one does not already exist. I look forward with great interest to the Minister's response.
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