Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench 6:00 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, I take nothing away. I do not think that the Bill takes anything away; it merely states that under its terms access will be subject to certain provisos. It does not say anything about existing rights of access. To put at rest another concern that has been expressed, it does not in any way take away the power of a landowner to allow access, as many frequently do, particularly where the access has been sought by an organised body.

Under the terms of the amendment, with the exception of the person who is delayed by unforeseen circumstances, normally--I stress the word "normally"--there will be no right of access to the land between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise on the following day. That approach stems from the view expressed by many in Committee that there is generally no need for access to roam at night as opposed to access to footpaths at night. If and in so far as there is a desire to roam at night on the part of a limited number of people, the value of that desire is greatly outweighed by the manifest problems which night access can engender. Many mentioned those problems in Committee and may, no doubt, repeat them. They include disturbance to wildlife and stock--the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned that--fear engendered in those who occupy the land by people roaming around; the opportunities it creates for crime; the difficulty posed for those responsible for the land in knowing whether a person on the land at night is genuinely and honestly exercising his access right or has a more evil intent; and the interruption to legitimate night activities such as lamping for foxes. That is the basic premise of the amendment. However, it recognises that there may be land where those problems do not apply to which night access can be allowed safely and properly. It provides that after due consultation the appropriate countryside body can decide to allow night access to specific land. It can do so absolutely, or subject to certain restrictions or conditions--for example, restriction to a particular time of the year.

Thus for night access the presumption of the remainder of the Bill would be altered. Instead of access being allowed with the authority having power to exclude it in certain circumstances, the amendment provides that night access would normally not be allowed but the authority would have power to allow it where it believed that danger or problems would not arise. This in no way infringes on the fact that owners can give permission. They often do so when night access is by an organised body.

I hope that the amendment is a genuine, reasonable compromise which reconciles this difficult conflict. Unless that conflict is resolved by a provision such as this, it will be a major cause of friction, trouble and unhappiness and do much to damage the otherwise admirable principles of the Bill. I beg to move.