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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, but of course access to the higher parts of the Lake District is unrestricted, at least at the moment. There is already a right to roam both day and night.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I hope the Whip on the Front Bench will allow me to utter one sentence. My point is simply this. The criticisms being made of the right to roam at night apply in theory to the Lake District, yet there is no evidence that the present right to roam in that area is being abused in the way it is suggested it would be elsewhere in the country. It works in the Lake District. Nobody has proved that it does not and that surely gives the lie to the arguments that the Bill will be a tragedy for the countryside, for people or wildlife if we do not accept this amendment.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does not the noble Lord realise that there will be a tremendous extension of the area open to access and a considerable increase in the numbers of people exercising their rights? Therefore we are seeking in this Bill to prepare for the consequences of its operation.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I can accept, from these Benches, what the noble Baroness said. We are now into a dialogue across the Chamber and we should perhaps return to the amendment.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness says. I shall be brief. I gave way to some interruptions. I thought the noble Baroness was taking on the role of the Whip and telling me not to repeat arguments that we heard in earlier stages of the Bill, which I accept.
I simply want to say this. Safety in upland areas is obviously important. But the points made in relation to possible hazards to walkers apply in daylight as well as at night. If there is fog, mist, cloud or snow, that is a potential hazard to walkers both by day and by night. Most of the arguments on safety apply 24 hours a day.
I would argue that we need to give walkers advice. We need codes. We need to educate people who want to walk so that they conform to safety procedures around the clock, whether it is listening to weather forecasts, knowing how to use a map and compass or being suitably attired. Those are all matters of safety in the hills. I do not believe that a phone call to an anonymous telephone answering machine giving one generalised information about the area will add to the safety of walkers. We need to educate them and teach them how to look after themselves safely on the hills, with respect for the countryside, the environment and wildlife. That is what the Bill is about and this amendment will not help to achieve that end.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I did not intend to speak and do so only because I was asked. I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that if in fact a rare bird of the sort he described were nesting on access land, the current provisions both to put in wardens and prevent accidental disturbance would be perfectly adequate.
We know already that egg stealers are extremely devious and very professional. I do not believe that having to phone an answerphone and leave their name is the sort of thing that professional thieves--that is what egg stealers are--generally do.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend's amendment. I am conscious of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, but I believe that things have changed since the previous stage. The amendment refers to,
The situation has changed because, if what is rumoured in the press comes into force, hunting will be banned by the Government. That brings us back to the issue of lamping, which was raised earlier. If hunting is banned, foxes must be controlled somehow. One such way is by lamping at night with bright lights. I believe that the amendment should receive serious attention because we are trying to ensure that walkers are secure.
I take the point that circumstances are equally as dangerous when fog descends during the day. But many days are clear and bright, which is when people walk in the countryside. Therefore, the muddying of the issue as regards daylight and nightlight is not relevant because there are more nights than dark days. I hope that the House will support the amendment.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to find a solution to a difficult and thorny question. I realise that the Government have made a firm commitment but my noble friend's amendment will not compromise night-time access. I subscribe to the views of noble Lords opposite because the safety of walkers as such does not concern me. Of course I am concerned if someone damages himself, but I believe that the breath of nanny is a little heavy on this issue. If people want to walk at night and take the risks, that is entirely up to them.
My concern has always been the damage which might be caused to wildlife because of potential rustling, poaching and so forth. I am concerned with the criminal aspect. My noble friend had to table a compromise amendment and therefore it does not address that problem as perhaps he and others would
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, says that we have been impervious to his arguments. We have not been entirely impervious: at Report stage I said that there were some superficial attractions for prior notification. Indeed, I can see that in some unsafe areas a system of prior notification may be sensible. However, his amendment applies universally to all access land and notification is compulsory in all circumstances for night-time access.
Even if that were desirable, it would create a huge administrative effort to little effect. It is not clear what the access authorities would do with the information. Would they be required to notify the landowner? If so, that would be a huge bureaucratic requirement. One would not expect the walker to be able to identify every landowner over whose land he was walking and so forth.
Perhaps I may reiterate the point made by my noble friend Lord Dubs. There are huge areas of access land to which night access is familiar and frequent in terms of both statutory and voluntary access. If we were to require prior notification in the Lake District, for example, the telephone line would at certain times of the year be inundated with calls which would not be referred to the landowner or anyone else. It is therefore useless information.
We certainly need codes and maximum information, and the access authorities and countryside bodies already have duties in that respect. As was said by my noble friend Lady Young, if there is a problem of nature conservation in a particular area the Bill already provides for local closures or restrictions. I believe that to be the case in relation to problems of land management, vermin control and so forth.
In any event, the requirement would be virtually impossible to enforce. It would require the construction of a considerable bureaucracy and a system of notification thereafter. It does not appear to provide any great benefit to landowners because there is no requirement to notify them. Its effect seems obscure.
Moreover, all experience of access land so far suggests that a prior notification system for night access is not necessary and has not caused serious problems, but noble Lords should recognise that the proposal applies to all access land. It means that, for example, if after 4.30 on a December evening I wanted to walk on to the common land at the back of my garden I would have to notify the authority that I was going to do so. That is completely absurd in relation to a piece of common land within a country town. The same would apply to a great deal of down land.
The approach is far too comprehensive. Furthermore, some of the latter comments reflect the belief that people who avail themselves of night-time access are up to no good. We have had reference to poachers, rustlers and egg stealers and at earlier stages even to devil worshippers. I am not familiar with any of those groups of people but I do not believe that they usually check on the restrictions which apply to the land on which they are carrying out their nefarious activities. The argument that more people now have a right to be on the land can work both ways. In some situations, the more people who are there, the less likely it is that such operations will be carried out. We agree with those bodies who manage areas of access land. The National Trust, for example, indicates that allowing access to a large number of people reduces criminality in those areas.
I believe that the amendment is misplaced in that it misidentifies the problem. In any event, it would be impossible to operate and would apply so universally as to make a nonsense of short night-time walks in many parts of the country. It also adds to the occasional tendency to stigmatise those few people who might avail themselves of night-time access to the more remote areas. That is not to say that in some localities voluntary systems of access notification would not be appropriate, particularly in dangerous areas. At an earlier stage, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, explained the situation on Snowdonia. That may well be valid but as a general requirement it would not work, it is not necessary and it misidentifies the problem. I therefore hope that he will not press the amendment.
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