Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, I recognise that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has produced a new proposition and in so far as it is different from what we have considered before, it is worth debating. For the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has just given, the noble Viscount has it the wrong way round and the Bill has it the right way round. The normal principle in this country is that if people have liberties, they apply in all cases except when it is thought necessary to remove them in the interests of the general public or of individuals. The noble Viscount seems to propose that the liberty to walk on access land at night should not exist except in certain circumstances when it is thought desirable. That is the wrong way round. The Bill provides an opportunity to deal with problems when they arise.

The noble Viscount said that there was no need to roam at night. Of course, there is no need for any of us ever to go on mountains, moorland or wherever else we go. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, may tell us that there is a need because it is necessary for us all to keep fit. However, I believe that that is the only evidence of need to have been produced in these debates. We are discussing whether people should have a new right--some might say an historic right restored--to walk on land which will be declared as access land. For the reasons which we debated at great length in Committee, that right should exist.

At the risk of upsetting the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the Whip, I want to revisit one or two matters that we discussed in Committee. I have considered carefully whether some of the things that were said in Committee should cause me to change my mind. I have looked at the matter in two ways.

First, I have considered whether we should return to the arguments that were advanced against those that I and other noble Lords put forward. The fundamental argument which we used and which has been put forward again by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is that the people who propose change are those, including noble Lords here, who argue for night-time restrictions. In Committee we argued that wherever access is allowed, whether by rights of access in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Germany on what we would consider to be moorland mountain and not the flatlands of Denmark, or in this country, whether in the Lake District under other legislation or whether by what I believe the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, described as "access by silent consent"--a very good phrase--then no distinction is made between day and night. We advanced that argument and listened carefully for reasons why that basic principle should be changed. However, I have not heard anything which convinces me to change my mind.

I listened carefully in Committee to the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. He explained why, for example, it was bad to allow people on to moorland at night. His reasons related to crime and poaching and the fact that people would get up to no good. If I have understood the arguments correctly, I believe that the first has been dismissed as being fatuous; that is, that removing the fact of trespass will encourage people to go on to land and that a right of access will encourage criminals to go on to land. That is nonsense.

Secondly, the idea that criminals--