Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench 5:00 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, I wish to make two points in support of the amendment. First, of what benefit will it be to those people who want to enjoy the countryside to be able to walk around the buildings? They are there to enjoy the countryside. That is why we are giving them access to it.

Secondly, before the Minister tells me to go back to Northern Ireland--that is not relevant to this argument and I realise he did not do that last time--perhaps I may suggest that we have something from which the rest of the United Kingdom might learn just a little. Because of our problems in Northern Ireland, all military and police personnel have had access to the countryside throughout the hours of darkness and daylight.

It is extremely important that people do not surprise animals within the area of farm buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned rights of way. That is entirely different. Animals get used to routine. They will get used to a football match or a quarry blasting in the countryside. They will also get totally used to a right of way where children laugh and shout and to whatever else might happen on that right of way.

However, they are very susceptible to being surprised. In the farm buildings there will often be cattle--especially in wintertime--enclosed in close confines within metal bars, standing on slippery floors because of slats and so on. There may be sheep which are either about to lamb or have just lambed. So there may be lambs all over the place. When they are surprised, ewes abort their lambs and cows abort or give birth to dead calves.

I am not producing these facts out of a hat. We have had hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of claims. Those noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland, especially the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will know perfectly well that the claims arose as a result of people surprising animals at night. I often patrolled in Fermanagh at night. We were all farmers so we had some idea of what would happen. When you came up to a farm in the dark you had to be incredibly careful. Apart from anything else, animals gave you away if you were trying to be covert.

As I said, we have had claims for damages. I simply do not see why people who want to enjoy the countryside should be allowed to enjoy the farmyard when it is none of their business and there is an inherent danger. Indeed, if anyone is hurt, there will be a claim the other way. I support the amendment.