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INTENTION TO REMAIN ON ACCESS LAND: OBLIGATION TO GIVE NOTICE

(" .--(1) A person who intends to enter or to remain on access land during any period from one hour after sunset on one day to one hour before sunrise on the following day shall give prior notice of that intention to the access authority.
(2) The access authority shall draw to the attention of any person giving such notice, the relevant sections of the code of conduct and other information issued by the appropriate countryside agency under section 20.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for returning to the subject of night access because I honestly believe that the Government are wrong in treating it in the same way as day access when plainly it carries more hazards. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I shall not describe those hazards or rehearse the arguments advanced during earlier discussions, except to say that I believe that the Government's imperviousness to those arguments arises in part from the fact that they appear to think that things will be much the same as they are after this Bill becomes law. They seem to take little account of the millions of acres that will become accessible to the public, much for the first time, or the unknown thousands of people who will take advantage of the access that will become available to them.

I believe that it is wrong--indeed, some might say irresponsible--not to seek to anticipate the consequences of the passage of the Bill and make the necessary provision to ensure people's safety in the exercise of their rights and the peace of mind of others who may be affected by such exercise. As we heard many times in the course of our discussions, it is generally accepted that it is good practice to inform others when venturing out at night in hazardous areas where accidents may occur. Clearly, there is a strong argument for formalising such good practice and giving such information to the access authority for a particular area which will be familiar with the hazards and can tell the visitor of them in advance.

The access authority will thus be able to draw the attention of the visitor to particular hazards or activities that he or she may encounter and give any other advice or guidance as appropriate. The authority will know the whereabouts of the visitor should an accident befall him or her and that may save valuable time if a rescue operation has to be mounted.

I am glad to say that the Government seem to have come some way towards acknowledging the principle that people require guidance. That is in the

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Government's new Clause 20 which prescribes codes of conduct for the guidance of persons exercising their right of access and others interested in access land. But those codes will be national documents drawn up on a countrywide scale by the Countryside Agency for England and the Countryside Council for Wales. Neither document is likely to be sufficiently detailed or up to date to assist the night visitor to a particular area on a particular day, although subsections (3) and (4) of the new clause open up the possibility of more detailed and specific guidance being provided by subsidiary bodies such as access authorities.

I was impressed by the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the second day of Report stage. He was dealing with Amendment No. 138 advanced by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, indicating, naturally, his preference for government Amendment No. 104. The noble Lord said:


    "It will cover not only the standing rights but also what have been described by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, as transient rights. There is an obligation to try to maximise the information in various ways. That includes all means from web sites to leaflets and notices in car parks. The obligation will be all embracing".--[Official Report, 7/11/00; col. 1463].

I drafted my amendment with those possibilities in mind. Incidentally, the countryside agency in the amendment should appear in lower case to cover both the Countryside Agency for England and the Countryside Council for Wales. Therefore, my amendment seeks to link the giving of prior notice of a night visit to the receipt in return of relevant guidance and information from the access authority. That is surely a sensible precautionary measure. It is difficult to see why the Government should resist it. It is easily practicable and at minimal cost. It might all be done on a telephone answering machine. There is no penalty for failure to give prior notice or liability on the part of the authority if the information it gives is inadequate. As I said on an earlier occasion, all we are trying to do in this amendment is to give statutory backing to current best practice. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I believe that all of us in this House are aware that this is a listening Government. I have proof of this and I am very grateful. Why, then, will they not listen to the question of night access and why, when they have understood so many issues, do they remain so intransigent on this one? I know that there are not many shepherds, hill farmers and gamekeepers living in the remote access areas concerned, but they still have voices. They are all nervous of people they do not know roaming about at night. I beseech Her Majesty's Government to hear their voices and the voices of animals and birds who live or roost in these areas and do not want to be disturbed at night. Their voices are sometimes difficult to hear. I am speaking also for them.

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Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the Government's attitude throughout this Bill to night operations is the biggest mystery of all. Everything we try to do is to help the person who is on the hill at night. They have the right to be on footpaths and so on, but to encourage persons in any way to walk across open moorland at night is the most foolhardy recommendation that one could possibly give.

When I was Minister for rural affairs in Scotland we had responsibility for mountain rescue. One knows of the tremendous and valiant efforts which were made by the Royal Air Force, the mountain rescue teams and the police looking for and finding people--often the bodies of those who had gone out at night or day, misjudged their timing and become lost in the dark and never returned home. Yet a simple notice left on the windscreen of their motor car, at their digs, hotel or police station, or any form of notification, might have saved lives. Not only that, but it would have prevented putting the lives of the rescue teams at risk.

We were often under pressure to make a charge for rescue but, rightly, the government said no; that their duty was to rescue and not make a charge or insist on insurance to cover the cost of rescue. We are here making a simple suggestion: that those who wish to be out at night--I am very much against making any kind of recommendation that people should be on open land at night if they are not sure what they are doing--at the very least should inform the appropriate authority of what they are doing and where they are, so that if they get into difficulties they can be assisted. Why the Government should resist this amendment is beyond my comprehension. I expect that they are going to accept it.

Lord Renton: My Lords, this is a vitally important amendment. Is not the worst feature of this Bill--it is a very good Bill in many ways--that it gives the right to roam after dark, which could result in tragedy? If there is fog, mist, cloud or snow and urban people have been given the right to roam but do not know their way about a particular moorland or other part of the country, that may cause serious danger and tragedy. That is such a possibility that in the next Parliament it is likely that, whichever government are in power, they will have to amend this part of the Bill if the amendment is not accepted. It is vital. People could become lost after dark, be injured, killed or fall ill.

Another problem arising from the right to roam after dark is that it will lead to an increase in rural crime, which is already bad enough in East Anglia. The right to roam after dark would be an invitation to burglars, poachers, cattle thieves and sheep stealers. The Government should therefore welcome the amendment. I hope my noble friend Lord Roberts will not mind my saying that the provision should not be confined to those who simply "intend" to enter or remain on access land; it should apply also to those who actually do enter or remain.

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If the amendment is accepted by your Lordships this evening, it would be no trouble to the Government to suggest in another place that instead of the words,


    "intends to enter or remain",

the provision should read, "enters or remains". That simple amendment would achieve the purpose. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy has done great work in tabling this amendment and I earnestly hope that it will be accepted.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I can respectfully remind noble Lords that arguments rehearsed in Committee and on Report should not be repeated at Third Reading.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I listen with care to what the noble Baroness says from the Government Front Bench. I was hoping that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, would have something to say on this issue because I want to raise a point which I certainly have not heard mentioned before.

I was one of the first to suggest, in Committee, that people who go on to access land at night should telephone their intention to an answerphone. Since then, having thought about the matter, it occurs to me that another danger arises when people roam at night which has not previously been discussed. Perhaps I can explain that in my constituency in the Lake District, we had the first example for many years of eagles nesting. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds--that is why I mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Young--each year mounted a watch on the nests of those eagles. I believe that is also done in other parts of the country for rare birds.

The society was protecting the nests and the chicks from nest robbers. As I understand it, eggs and chicks can command extremely high prices on the illegal market. If people are allowed to enter and roam about on land at will at night, then it is almost impossible for organisations like the RSPB to keep a watch on the nests of rare birds and protect them from nest robbers during the hours of darkness. That creates a huge problem for those wanting to protect the nests of rare birds in upland areas.

If a person is apprehended near one of the nests, perhaps having found out where the nest is in daylight and crept back at night to rob it, he could easily say that he is there because of his rights under the Bill. But if people had to give prior notice of their intention to be on that land at night, that would be a deterrent to potential nest robbers. This is a new point. I have not heard it raised before and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who has so much experience of these matters, will comment on it.


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