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Baroness Masham of Ilton: I should like to ask a question on Amendment No. 71. If someone climbs over a wall, fence, hedge or gate and damages themselves or that wall, fence, hedge or gate, who is liable? I should like a clear answer. It is relevant. Gates
These amendments raise the essential question, to which we have not yet heard an answer, of how the Government think the people who are intending to exercise this right will learn about the specific rules and regulations. For example, how will they know whether the 28-day closure is applicable to a certain piece of land? That point becomes more important when the Minister says in answer to almost every point: "That can be dealt with by a specific application and a specific by-law or order by the Countryside Commission relating to that particular land".
The more rules and regulations there are applying to specific areas of land or periods of time, the more important it is that the walker is aware of them. If one is planning a massive three-day hike across a large stretch of countryside, one may seek prior information from a newspaper or the agency as to where one can find the rules. But if a person is just minded to take a walk for two or three hours, he will not know what those rules are. As I see it, the only way in which those rules can be communicated to that walker is by requiring him to enter the land at a specific point and there erecting a notice board displaying the information, "Area X is subject to so-and-so. This land is closed under the 28-day rule for the month of March", or "This part of the land is closed for the month of March", or, "You may not go to such-and-such an area because special birds nest there".
If people can wander in anywhere, almost everybody will wander in, quite understandably, in ignorance of the rules. They will then be accosted by someone saying, "Did you not know that you cannot come on to this land under the 28-day rule?". The walker will then ask, "Where does it say that? I stopped my car in a lay-by at the side of the road and walked onto this land. How am I to know that?". Of course, if shooting is taking place, it may be dangerous. But, apart from that, the walker will be indignant at being turned away because of a rule about which he had no knowledge.
It is wholly unrealistic of the Government to say that these matters are covered because access can be excluded; that special rules can be obtained to relate to a specific area if it is affected by a particular problem, unless they can come up with a clear and workable method of ensuring that the visitor knows the rules before he enters. I shall be delighted if they can find some other way around this problem. But it is wholly unrealistic to say that walkers can go and look in a register or that the information will be in some special publication. Most people will not have recourse to that.
Also, the Minister cannot keep answering all the points being made by saying, "In special places where that is a problem, you can go off and obtain a special derogation", if he cannot convince us as to how the person seeking to exercise the right is to learn of those special derogations. There may be special cases, as the Minister is keen on saying, where land is not suitable for access only at designated access points, and exceptions can be made for those. But the general principle should be that, when a walker enters the access land, he should walk past a notice board explaining the rules. If the Minister is not going to accept these amendments, perhaps he will tell us how the casual walker will be informed of the rules.
In the last debate on night access, it struck me that the more we tried to discuss Part I, the more difficult it became until we had discussed Parts II and III. Until we know the details of those sections, we cannot know how the provisions are to be implemented and how they will work. And I am interested in trying to make this Bill work in real life when we have stopped discussing it.
It is essential that those who wish to take advantage of the right of access have a place at which information can be obtained and that it be requisite on them that they go to that spot to obtain that information. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is absolutely right. It distressed me also that the Minister has been saying, "Of course, we can make regulations under Part II of the Bill"; "That can be protected under Part III on the wildlife side". The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone--in a particularly peely-wally speech for her as head of English Nature (I hope she is a bit more forthcoming in her views when we come to Part III)--said that if there is likely to be damage to birds at night, we can make exceptions for those cases.
Sitting next-door to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, was the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who rose a moment later and said, "That is difficult because in Dartmoor they do not want different areas". Those were two completely different remarks and it indicated to the Committee what a muddle we could get into. These amendments were tabled by my noble friend in an attempt to stop that muddle in real life.
Amendment No. 78 asks that the person who makes use of the access provisions observes the by-laws which the access authority shall prescribe. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is back in her place. It is nice to see her back and discussing wildlife; it is a subject we have discussed often in the past. It is important that the
But there is another angle to this; besides providing the certainty, it will provide a mechanism which the police and the courts will readily understand should enforcement action be necessary. Many land managers found in previous cases that the police acted more firmly and more expeditiously when there were by-laws in place than when there were not. It is logical therefore to place a clause on the face of the Bill saying that observance of by-laws is required.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I do not mean to speak at length to these amendments. We tabled Amendments Nos. 103 and 124 which address the establishment of a country code and the dissemination of that country code, which we see as being extremely important in making the Bill work. Also, Amendment No. 224 requires local authorities to provide information points. I believe that Amendment No. 71 may be too restrictive. It does not take into account the fact that future technology may lead to a desire to change the access points. One may want the public to enter access land by a different route and new technologies may be very effective in that respect.
Lord Whitty: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for reiterating his support for the principles of the Bill. I have no argument about what he is trying to achieve with the amendment. We need to ensure that people who want to exercise the new right of access do so responsibly and with as full a knowledge as possible.
I know that the Countryside Agency shares that view and is already planning ahead. The National Countryside Access Forum has considered a paper produced by the agency on a framework for providing information on access rights and responsibilities. We are considering a number of ways in which people will be able to find out about access opportunities and restrictions. There are issues relating to the display of and access to information in a locality and there are remote sources of information such as telephone hotlines, websites and so forth.
Effective publicity and education offer the best way of ensuring that people understand and respect the way in which they should treat the land and the way in which the restrictions will operate. However, we shall return to that issue when we debate Amendment No. 103.
Having said that, I do not believe that the terms of the amendment are practicable. I am not convinced that we can enforce a statutory requirement on someone who intends to use the right of access to find
The responsible majority will be able to find out about closures and restrictions. It is important that those who abuse the right of access recognise that if they breach a restriction they become a trespasser. Ignorance of the restriction is no defence; they will be trespassing. Therefore, while I have sympathy with what is behind the amendment I do not believe that it is enforceable in practice. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that the Government are determined to ensure that arrangements will be put in place to deliver the education, information and publicity about responsibilities and the application of restrictions. We shall develop that in parallel with the mapping process so that it will be in place well before the rights come into force.
In reply to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, we want to see a general right of access but there are occasions when access will need to be restricted. We have the mechanism in the Bill to provide that. Those exceptions will be operated on a consistent basis because they will be either by application to the Countryside Agency or, in some cases, by by-laws which need to be approved. As the rights come into effect there will be a general understanding of the restrictions that may apply. It will then be a question of ensuring that people know where the restrictions apply and at what times.
We are interested in the idea of designated access points. The Countryside Agency is examining that and there will be such points in several areas where access will apply. We want to encourage that and want local access forums to address the issue and try to reach a consensus. We hope that such information will be available to those who want to access the land.
However, Amendment No. 72 moves from encouraging preferred access points to making them mandatory and there we part company. As I said on the first day of Committee--and it was said in another place--we would oppose a requirement for people to use statutory and obligatory access points. The Government's view has not changed. On much access land there will be wide access either from the road or adjoining land which is open statutorily or voluntarily to access. Confining access to designated points will restrict that right. We are not therefore persuaded by Amendment No. 71.
As regards restrictions, I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, because it is relevant to the operation of the system. However, in law, his amendment is not necessary because it will be a criminal offence to breach the by-laws which will be made by the access authority under Clause 17. There will be a penalty of up to £500. Under Schedule 2, any person who commits a criminal offence loses a statutory right of access and therefore the amendments are not necessary. There is no loophole as the Bill has the same effect as would the amendment.
We would also resist Amendment No. 71, which would prevent walkers from climbing over a gate or fence. We are not encouraging people to climb over fences and gates where they exist but the practicality of the proposal will be limited. We have not placed obligations on landowners to keep gates unlocked or to provide suitable means of access. We hope that many landlords do so provide and keep their gates unlocked but we accept that some will not either because they are unwelcoming or because they have a reason to keep them locked. The fact that the Bill does not prevent a landowner from locking the gate or putting a fence across the most obvious means of access means that as regards that side of the argument we are taking a light touch. The landowner is entitled to take such action.
However, there is a balance to be struck. If in this respect we are taking a light touch with the landowner we should also take a light touch with the walker. It is fair that walkers should be able to negotiate a wall or a fence or climb over a locked gate. The Bill contains the safeguard that they may do so only if they do not cause damage. If walkers cause damage they will lose their right of access and may well have committed an offence.
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