My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. I was not here during Committee stage and I realise that the House would lose its patience with me if I was other than very brief. However, I should like to contribute to the debate because so many people have shared with me their concerns about night-time access.
There is enormous concern in the countryside about crime. It will be unfortunate if we finish up with a Bill that does not fully take into consideration the concerns of people who live in the countryside. It has been regularly pointed out that we need to strike a balance so that the end product is largely acceptable to country dwellers.
If it is thought that night-time access will have comparatively little effect, because not many people will exercise the right to roam about at night, I wonder why we are going to all this trouble and causing so much concern in the countryside about it. If, on the other hand, the Bill's effects are going to be potent, we have to consider the wellbeing of people living in isolated homes in the countryside near access land. What about their peace of mind when they see lights at night in the open countryside close to their home, or when they hear people not far from their home? The police will not come, because they will feel that it would be a waste of time. Some have argued that burglars might be deterred from going on access land by the prospect of coming into contact with people who are exercising their right of access, but if the householders go out to see what is going on, ramblers and burglars alike will give the same response--that they are simply exercising their right of access.
Some say that it would be difficult to enforce a ban on access at night, but at least the householder would be able to take some action if he saw or heard someone lurking around by his home. He would be able to go out and challenge that person and tell them to clear off. He could also call the police.
Of course we must have proper regard to genuine country lovers. There are plenty of those who would no doubt wish to see the sunrise or the sunset. They are catered for by the amendment. There is no reason for access not to be granted during the hour after sunset and the hour before dawn. I cannot for the life of me understand why those who want to see the night sky cannot do so from the very extensive network of footpaths that runs through almost the entire country.
I am not exaggerating the concerns of people who live in the countryside. I hope that the Government will bear in mind their fears that they will not be able to take proper action or get the police to do so if they are worried by the sight or sound of people moving around near to their home.