Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 6:45 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, we have had a long debate on this issue as we did in Committee. The noble Viscount claimed that this was a reasonable compromise. I do not believe that it is a reasonable compromise. It effectively provides a blanket presumption that there will be no access at night. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, that severely restricts the right to access.

We have considered many of the issues raised in Committee, some of which were repeated here.

The arguments have hardly been put on behalf of those who would enjoy this access, for those engaged in hill walking and climbing for which night access is an integral part of their whole occupation and it goes right through to those who wish simply to observe the sunrise or sunset. In that context, it would take me longer than an hour to reach the top of a hill or mountain in order to observe sunrise or sunset. Therefore, we need some considerable additional periods even for that.

Beyond that, education and training establishments attach great importance to training at night time. The British Mountaineering Council advises that it is essential for leaders and individual members to have night time experience. Much of the training undertaken by the Mountain Rescue Service, referred to in Committee, is conducted at night. It is strongly in favour of not having a restriction at night.

English Nature has advised that there is no general concern over access during the hours of darkness. Many groups of naturalists require access at night in order to observe nocturnal animals and insects. Those people have special interests but they are exactly the kind of special interests to which the right of access should apply. They may not amount to very many people in total but they are important groups of people and the very fact that they may not amount to many people means that many of the fears and anxieties reflected in the debate are invalid. We are not talking about hordes of people crossing the countryside at night. We are talking about people enjoying the right of access for very specific purposes.

Very few will want to walk beyond the paths and tracks but there are some people who do. We have experience of these matters, and several noble Lords have referred to it. There are vast areas of the countryside where access by night exists at present--on Forestry Commission land, National Trust land and the Lake District to which my noble friend Lord Dubs referred. There is a wide variety of different types of land with different levels of population density and so on.

In all those areas, there has been no serious problem. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, in the Lake District, there are 1,000 square kilometres of open land where there are already statutory access rights 24 hours, day and night. We have not heard one single example of how that existing access has given rise to the kind of problems which have been raised today.