HC Deb 13 June 2000 vol 351 cc818-32
Mr. Green

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 38, leave out from first "the" to end of line 39 and insert "next 72 hours".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 27, in page 2, line 39, at end insert— '( ) Where a person becomes a trespasser because of a failure to comply with a restriction imposed under section 24, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.'. Amendment No. 103, in page 2, line 39, at end insert— '(4A) If without lawful authority a person fails to comply with Schedule 2 or with any restriction imposed under Chapter II, he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale'. Amendment No. 104, in page 2, line 41, leave out from "means" to end of line and insert— 'the period from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset'. Government amendments Nos. 200 to 206. Amendment No. 105, in schedule 2, page 42, line 3, leave out "30th June" and insert "31st July".

Amendment No. 83, in page 42, line 5, leave out from "dog" to end of line and insert— ', whether the person is on the access land or is passing or re-passing on a public right of way over the access land'. Government amendments Nos. 208 and 209.

Mr. Green

This is an important group of amendments. The five amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and me cover three key aspects in which the Bill is deficient and, in some cases, unfair: the penalties for abuse of restrictions on access; the restriction that we want imposed on dangerous night-time access; and—especially importantly—the extension of the dates within which dogs should be kept on a lead while they are on access land. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that those matters are especially vital, although the Government amendments that deal with potential criminal activity on access land are also important. I look forward to the Minister's explanation of them.

I first deal with amendment No. 7. The penalty proposed for breaking the restrictions on access land is merely for someone to be excluded from the owner or tenant farmer's land for the rest of the day. That penalty is inadequate and unfair because farmers will face criminal prosecution under the Bill if they discourage access. There is a need for the penalties to have a rough-and-ready parity.

I suspect, and I hope, that on this divide—if divide there be—the vast majority of farmers and walkers will be responsible, law abiding and sensible. The amendment deals with the small minority in each group. Both minorities should be treated roughly equally by the law, but, as it stands, they will not be.

A penalty of substance is necessary to control irresponsible behaviour. Instead of simply excluding the transgressor from the land of the owner or tenant for the rest of the day, the amendment would remove the transgressor's right to go on to any access land for the next three days. That not only would provide a more significant penalty, but it would prevent a farmer from being plagued by the same troublemaker day after day. All those who are responsible for working the land would find such a penalty fairer and more practical.

Amendment No. 103 and amendment No. 27, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), suggest that the transgressions covered by the Bill should be criminal offences. The hon. Gentleman is more draconian than we are in the penalties that he wishes to impose, but he will be able to explain the reason for that. None the less, the current drafting of the Bill is unbalanced and unfair on the penalties for transgressors.

Amendment No. 104 deals with the vexed issue of night-time access. I am sure that our proposal would affect a very small minority and we had a long debate about it in Committee.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

Unlike me, the hon. Gentleman is clearly not a bird watcher. If he were, he would understand that one of the joys of bird watching is rising before dawn and going out into the wilder areas of the countryside so that one is there as the birds awake. If one goes out any later than dawn, one literally misses the bird on the wing. I ask him to consider that point seriously.

Mr. Green

I have considered it. I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because she allows me to make the point that the amendment would not seek to restrict access to the period between dawn and dusk. We specifically say that access should be granted an hour before dawn and an hour after dusk. We understand that people want access for bird watching and for other reasons when the dawn breaks or when the sun sets, and that they need time to get on and off the access land. Our amendment is perfectly sensible and we do not seek the rigid dawn-to-dusk limit that applies in other countries, such as Denmark.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

The hon. Gentleman has not had a go yet, so I give way.

Mr. Levitt

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; perhaps it will be the first of many goes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) mentioned bird watching, and I have watched badger setts late into the night. It is a wonderful experience, but people will not have the chance to see badgers when they are most active if the hon. Gentleman has his way with the amendment.

Mr. Green

It depends on how many badger setts are on access land. However, let me put the case against the hon. Gentleman's view, because a balance must be struck. The Minister's draft of the Bill prevents camping even though that should be encouraged in certain controlled circumstances. Much of the land that is available for voluntary access allows for camping.

Against the more or less feeble arguments being advanced in favour of 24-hour unlimited access, I hope that hon. Members on the Government Benches recognise some of the problems. First, there are ill-intentioned people—potential poachers and potential burglars—who should not have the freedom to be in the vicinity of private dwellings at night, with every excuse to be there.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

We know what the hon. Gentleman is going to say about burglars, but what about people who want to get away from light pollution simply to gaze at the stars, or who want to see a shooting comet? Does the hon. Gentleman remember Hale-Bopp streaking across the night sky? To see that in pitch blackness would have been marvellous. What about the star-gazers?

Mr. Green

I remember seeing Hale-Bopp in my constituency—on private land, as it happens. There should be places where there is no light pollution. It is a live issue in my constituency, as it is in many others. Many villages work hard to ensure that there is no light pollution, so that star-gazing can be done, but to say that that has anything to do with the Bill and access land is nonsense.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

My experience of walking at night, which I do quite frequently, is that nowhere is light pollution more manifest than in open country at night, looking down from hills towards built-up areas. The advantages of getting away from light in that way are pretty limited.

Mr. Green

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing common sense to the issue.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) should not dismiss the point about burglars. He knows as well as anyone that rural crime is an increasingly serious issue. It would be perverse of the House knowingly to pass a measure that would make it easier for burglars in the countryside.

Secondly, there are safety risks to walkers. I tread delicately into the area of the Burns report, as I do not want to entice Government Members on to the subject, but those who have read the report will be aware that Burns points out that were hunting to be banned, killing foxes at night by lamping and shooting them would become a much more important method of pest control. It is a disturbing prospect that that could take place while inexperienced night-time walkers were walking over open land. [Interruption.] Hon. Members on the Government Benches find that funny, which is bizarre. If they think it funny that people going about their legitimate business—business that they are encouraging by their own action—might lead to someone being shot, they have not understood the seriousness of the situation.

There may well be a specific need for access in certain places in certain circumstances. That can always be negotiated with a landowner. Most landowners are responsible and allow voluntary access. The amendment deals with circumstances where the balance of advantage clearly lies against unrestricted access on all open land at night.

There are other countries with similar legislation. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) spoke about bird watching. In Denmark, the restrictions are stricter than those that we propose, but we believe that the Danes are too restrictive.

I point out to the Minister and his hon. Friends that the amendment is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who take seriously the point about crime, as I hope the Minister does. The amendment also has the support of those most responsible for looking after the welfare of animals, the National Gamekeepers Organisation. Ground-nesting birds are more likely to be disturbed by night-time access. With the best intentions, people are much more likely to disturb the birds in the dark, when they cannot see where they are.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall make progress. He has had several goes.

Amendments Nos. 105 and 83 deal with the control of dogs. Livestock and the wildlife of moors must be protected from unmanaged access, particularly with dogs. Farmers, moorland owners, the Game Conservancy Trust, English Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others have all said that there is an extreme risk from dogs, unless they are kept properly under control. Amendment No. 105 extends for a further month, until the end of July, the period during which dogs must be on leads. I shall not go into the discursive discussion that took place in Committee about which species will be helped by the amendment, but I know that the Minister is aware that there are some species, some of them rare, that will be breeding during that period. Dogs off leads could be extremely dangerous and damaging to them.

5.30 pm

Amendment No. 83 deals with controls on rights of way crossing access land. It, too, is a practical measure.

The three areas covered by the amendments are controversial, but extremely important. If the Government cannot offer any concessions on any of them, they will be producing a Bill that will be unnecessarily damaging to wildlife and to other important aspects of life in the countryside.

Mr. Bennett

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments in terms of dogs. If people want to take dogs on to access land, they should have them on a lead all the time.

The proposed night restrictions are ridiculous. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said that other countries in Europe had such restrictions. As I understand it, Denmark is the only one. The British Mountaineering Council says that, in the past, the Czech Republic had these restrictions when it was communist. It appears that that regime had something in common with the Opposition Front Bench.

Many people go out on to access land at night, and cause no problems. When people were trying to get access to areas such as Kinder in the 1930s, they either went on a mass trespass or went on a moonlight walk. That was done repeatedly. It is pleasant to go out at night—particularly in moonlight—and walk over access land. Problems will not be caused by doing so. The Opposition, however, will be causing many problems if they say to walkers that they can be on such land for an hour before a certain time and an hour afterwards. In mountain areas, there must be a margin of safety. In effect, we would be saying, "You must be off at least an hour before the time limit in case something crops up that is difficult."

One of the most important features of mountain safety is to teach people to map read safely in difficult conditions. People can be up in a fog during the daytime, but one of the ways of teaching people to map read in difficult circumstances is to let them go up a mountain at night with a compass to try to work out the way that they should go across it.

Damage would also be done to many long-distance walks that people try to complete, perhaps crazily, in 24 hours or within another certain time limit. One of the best ones—

Mr. Green

These are things that happen now. They happen on suitable land where landowners give voluntary access. The very fact that they are happening now means that they cannot be prayed in aid in argument for land that is not now used for them.

Mr. Bennett

A nice example is to try to walk, within the area of Snowdon, all the 3,000-footers. For most of the year, that cannot be done within normal daylight hours. If someone is very fit, he might get round at this time of year. However, for most of the year, it is necessary to start or finish in the dark.

Snowdon rocks are quite difficult to walk in the dark, but it is easy to finish the walk on the Carneddau in the dark. None of the tops of the Carneddau has public rights of way. Historically, however, there is access to those areas. Such access has been by virtue of the good will of the landowners. If that works there, people should be able to go for long walks in places such as Bowland and other areas to which we would like to have access.

Mr. Simon Thomas

Speaking as someone who learned to read a map and a compass at night on the mountains above Aberdare, no doubt on private land, may I point out that the fact that access to the Carneddau already exists undermines the hon. Gentleman's point? The 3,000-footers in Wales can already be climbed under current legislation and arrangements. Why should there be night-time access to private land, much of it comprising remote hill farms?

Mr. Bennett

That right exists de facto on the Carneddau, so why should it not exist on the Arans in Wales and in Bowland?

Mr. Levitt

My hon. Friend speaks with due reverence of Kinder in my constituency, but is it not the case that a night-time walk, avoiding land that is currently not open access land, but which would become so under the Act, could be more dangerous than such a walk under the Act when open access will apply to a greater area?

Mr. Bennett

Yes, I accept that point, but I am keen to follow the Whip's instructions and keep my remarks as brief as possible. I simply say that criminal sanctions would be wrong—both from the Whips and in the legislation. We do not want too much litigation in this area; we want co-operation and consent. The Government have got it right, and I hope that they will make it clear now that there will be no concessions on limiting night-time access and that no criminal sanctions will be applied on these issues.

Mr. David Heath

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said that Amendment No. 27 was more draconian than the Conservatives' approach. We have come to expect a certain wishy-washy attitude to the Bill from the Conservatives. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is wrong because, although the amendment suggests a higher penalty, it is on a narrow ground. I reject the view that there should be criminalisation of all those who find themselves at fault on the generality of the restrictions in the legislation because they could easily do so unintentionally or through ignorance. I want people to stick to the rules of the game, but I suspect that some will find themselves out of kilter with those rules and I do not want them to be turned into criminals as a result.

However, a penalty is required in the narrow area of a conservation closure to protect our most valuable conservation land, which will be clearly labelled and signposted. We need some sort of sanction in law to ensure that people take that seriously. They must realise that there is a total impediment to destroying what may be a precious habitat and that they do not have unimpeded rights of access. I hope that there will never be circumstances in which someone falls foul of such a sanction, but we need such a penalty to make a clear distinction between the most precious habitats that are protected in that way and the generality of land where such a penalty would be inappropriate. One can argue about whether the penalty should be at level 1, 2 or 3—I have no difficulty with that—but I simply say that it is something that the Government should consider.

I entirely agree with the view on dogs expressed by the hon. Member for Ashford. Current arrangements are weak and I expect them to be strengthened, if not today then at some future stage in our consideration.

We had a long discussion in Committee on night-time access. I do not propose to repeat that, not least because there is enormous scope for people to postulate various hypotheses. I do not necessarily accept that there should be a right of access at night. However, I hope that there will be access at night by agreement. Mountaineers and others have made a good case by rightly pointing out that there is a safety aspect to their activity. They may often find that they have to stay in a place overnight to be safe. I am confused by the Government's attitude. The absolute ban on camping overnight is a barrier to mountain safety. That should be reconsidered.

Mr. Grieve

On Second Reading, I thought that it was extraordinarily odd that the Bill would effectively criminalise such activity, which has been carried out with minimal disturbance for generations. The measure will create problems for those who go walking and climbing.

Mr. Heath

The hon. Gentleman is not entirely right to say that the Bill criminalises the activity; it discourages it. Nothing in the Bill prevents any activity about which there is agreement under existing legislation. That is crucial. However, mountaineers who gain access to mountains through the Bill will find that, unless they have premeditated an overnight stay, they will not be able to camp. That is a difficulty.

The main problem with a right of access at night is that it removes the ability to challenge a person who is on private access land at night without good reason. I do not refer to legitimate walkers and ramblers. The measure would mean that those who were there for nefarious purposes had a built-in, cast-iron excuse for loitering outside a property at night in the middle of nowhere. The Association of Chief Police Officers perceives that as a problem.

I want to comment on the general penalty of the removal of access rights in the 24-hour period. The current position is nonsense. In Committee, I challenged the idea of the same ownership. How on earth are walkers supposed to know exactly what land belongs to whom without access to a land register? The penalty is unenforceable in its current form. For that reason, and because the penalty is very slight, it is meaningless. We could either improve its ability to be enforced or make it a realistic sanction so that people at least thought twice before disregarding the rules under the schedule. The amendment is not perfect, but if it stresses to the Government that the matter should be reconsidered, I shall support the hon. Member for Ashford in the Lobby and advise my hon. Friends accordingly.

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)

I want to comment briefly on amendment No. 104. First, I shall deal with the point about potential criminality. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has a point in a sense, but the danger is no greater than the potential for criminality when someone walks along the pavement outside somebody's house. There is a risk, but we must ask whether it is sufficient to outweigh the rights that the Bill seeks to enshrine in law. I believe that it is not.

I say to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that the Bill would not prevent someone from challenging another person. If a farmer comes across someone in the middle of the night who appears to be up to no good, he can challenge that person although he can then claim that he is there to look at the stars or the birds. The Bill does not remove the right of someone who is worried to ask, "What on earth are you up to?"

I want to speak briefly against amendment No. 104. First, it has no logic. Existing rights of way, such as footpaths, are not subject to a dawn-to-dusk restriction. I do not, therefore, understand why such a restriction should apply to the new right. Secondly, as has been said, the amendment could be dangerous in certain circumstances. People might think, "We must hurry to get off the piece of land that we are on before we engage in unlawful activity", when it would clearly not be safe to do so.

Finally, the amendment seems to misunderstand the nature of the right that this part of the Bill provides, for which people have campaigned long and hard for many years. The opportunity simply to listen to the stillness, to hear the night, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said—to gaze at the stars is priceless. I do not see why the amendment should deny those who want to go out at night the right to enjoy those pleasures.

5.45 pm
Mr. Lepper

I want to say something about criminality. When the Government consulted on access, the organisations that currently manage large sections of open country said that they did not believe that new byelaws or, indeed, new criminal sanctions would be necessary if access were extended. The Association of National Parks Authorities, the National Trust and the Peak District National Park Authority all said exactly that in their responses. Indeed, when more crime than one would wish takes place, it tends to take place on agricultural land near car parks and buildings—land that would not be included in the access provisions.

When malicious damage is perpetrated, not just byelaws, but other parts of the criminal law already exist to deal with it. We have the Criminal Justice Acts and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—and, indeed, the Bill supplements protection already conferred by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Part III contains new sanctions applying to deliberate damage to wildlife and its habitats. Amendment No. 103 is not necessary, and is not thought to be necessary by those responsible for managing the kind of land that the Bill specifies.

Finally, there is a question of access at night. I will not read out all the poem sent to me by my constituent Mr. David Bangs, but I will quote from it. He writes: The stars still shine in country skies. The light that has travelled for millions of years reaches our eyes where house lights, street lights, entertainment lights, son et lumiere lights, security lights, car lights, industrial lights drown it … County stars, the scudding moon, and silk black night belong to us all!

Mr. Soames

I apologise for not being here at the beginning of this short debate.

I want to make just one point to the Minister. When we had a courteous and, I think, well-informed discussion in Committee about dogs, I made an observation that is reflected in the amendment. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have had to consider many other matters, but I want to reinforce one point.

During a breeding season for ground-nesting birds, especially game birds, like this year's—which has been astonishing wet on high ground—the extra month is critical to the well-being of birds and the successful rearing of chicks by hens. During that period, it is essential for the birds not to be disturbed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider with even more force what I consider to be the responsible and unanswerable case put by my hon. Friends and me in Committee.

Mr. Meacher

Before I deal with the non-Government amendments, I want to discuss amendments nos. 200 to 205, which seek to give effect to my undertaking in Committee to provide that the commission of any offence on access land should constitute a breach of a restriction under schedule 2. That would render the offender a trespasser and, therefore, liable to be removed from the land.

It is right that landowners should be able to ask those in breach of the criminal law to leave their land, whether or not it is access land. If a landowner suspects that a criminal offence may have been committed, he may well wish to report the matter to the police. I hope that the amendments will reassure landowners that the new right of access in no way obliges them to tolerate criminal activity on their land. We have always emphasised that those who exercise the new right should be responsible, and the amendments are intended to promote that message.

Government amendments Nos. 201 and 206 were tabled in direct response to amendments tabled in Committee, under which the Opposition wanted to add metal detecting to the list of restricted activities in schedule 2. Those found using or carrying metal detectors without permission will become trespassers and might be asked to leave the land. I hope that hon. Members will think those amendments sensible and welcome them.

Government amendment No. 208 will ensure that directions made under paragraph 6 of schedule 2 that end the application of any schedule 1 restriction to an area may be made in anticipation of its becoming access land. Government amendment No. 209 will allow the relevant authority to vary a direction under that paragraph with the owner's consent. I agreed to consider similar amendments that the Opposition tabled in Committee, and Government amendment No. 209 is consistent with that undertaking and with the power in clause 25(1) to vary a direction given under chapter II. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will appreciate the sense of those amendments, which, again, show the Government's sincerity in saying that we would sympathetically and carefully consider proposals made in Committee.

I shall now deal with non-Government amendments. Under amendment No. 7, anyone who breached restrictions on access under schedule 2 would be excluded from all access land for 72 hours. The Bill specifies that those in breach of restrictions should be excluded from the relevant land, or from other access land in the same ownership, for the remainder of that day. It is not realistic to assume that landowners will know whether a walker has breached restrictions in the previous 72 hours on someone else's land; nor would it always be appropriate to impose such a sanction on a walker whose breach of restriction might be extremely minor. Therefore, there is no reason why the ban on returning to access land should extend beyond the rest of the day or to access land in different ownership. Of course, criminal sanctions will continue to be available where offences are committed.

As with the other proposals to criminalise trespass on access land, we do not agree that those who, possibly inadvertently, breach restrictions under clause 24 and who may not cause any harm or damage as a result, should be subject to a potentially substantial fine, as proposed under amendment No. 27. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) referred to the fact that trespass itself has never been a criminal offence in this country, except in very limited circumstances. Parliament has declined to turn trespass into an offence unless some harm or potential for harm can be shown.

Criminalising trespass on land that is closed for conservation reasons would create a wholly unjustifiable inconsistency with important conservation areas that are not access land. To make that a criminal offence would, in our view, be disproportionate. I am not convinced that stepping off a path to take a photo or to admire a view should be made a criminal offence. Where identifiable harm or damage occurs, it will be subject to a criminal penalty. If a certain activity causes a problem, the local authority can make it subject to a byelaw.

Under amendment No. 103, it is proposed that those in breach of a restriction—trespassers—should be subject to a fine of £200. The Government remain pretty unconvinced that those who breach the restrictions on access land should be subject to a penalty that is greater than if they had trespassed in someone's front garden. Those amendments would make walkers who, perhaps inadvertently, break one of the more minor restrictions, such as bivouacking on a remote fell or swimming in a stream, into criminals. That would be ludicrous, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield rightly said, and I can see that he can barely contain himself about it.

We do not consider that it is necessary to impose a broad, wide-ranging penalty over all access land to penalise what may often be minor breaches of the restrictions. If an activity is not a criminal offence already, there is no reason why it should be simply because it occurs on access land.

I turn now to amendment No. 104 on access at night, which has been the main subject of discussion. As on so many matters, we had a useful and extensive debate in Committee about the merits of allowing the new right of access to apply at night. As the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), said, the argument is finely balanced, and I accept that. We have considered carefully the case for restricting access at night. In doing so, we have kept in mind the need to address the genuine concerns of those who own and manage land affected. We have also borne in mind the principle that restrictions should be applied only when strictly necessary.

Although most people who will benefit from the new right will wish to exercise access during the day, we should not automatically ban access at night. There are various reasons why some people may wish to have access to open countryside at night, and my hon. Friends referred to them extensively. People may simply want enjoy a sunset or sunrise, or to get up to enjoy the nocturnal or early-morning wildlife. More serious walkers may need to be on land very early in the morning, or after dark, if they are undertaking a long hike and wish to reach relatively remote areas. People may also need to shelter overnight, especially if they are caught out by the weather. In addition, some people will wish to challenge their navigational skills through night hikes. That is not unknown and, indeed, night navigation exercises are an important part of mountain leadership training.

I recognise that there are genuinely held concerns, which have been well expressed in the debate, about the impact of night-time access on security and people's safety, but they should not be exaggerated. We are talking about uncultivated land, usually well away from where people live, and we have specifically excluded buildings and their curtilage. The small minority of people who are intent on crime are unlikely to be deterred by the fact they do not have a right to be on the land at night. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but I shall perhaps deal with it in a moment.

Poaching is already a criminal offence, and we have made it clear in the extensive list of restrictions in schedule 2 that those engaged in such activities, or who carry equipment used for such purposes, will lose their right of access automatically. Moreover, as the National Trust recognises, legitimate and responsible access at night may well help to deter poachers, as there could be more eyes and ears about. That is an important point.

Perhaps most compelling of the arguments against a blanket ban on night-time access is the experience of those who already allow it. The Forestry Commission and the National Trust are prominent examples. They own and manage extensive landholdings in the countryside and have a policy of promoting public access, but night-time access has given rise to few problems and has not required blanket restrictions. Where problems arise, they are more likely to occur at so-called honeypot sites and car parks than in more remote areas.

Mr. Gray


Mr. Meacher

I shall give way just once because I can feel that the House wants to conclude.

6 pm

Mr. Gray

If all that is true, why are public parks nearly always closed from sunset to sun-up?

Mr. Meacher

Public parks are usually in urban areas, which is a different matter. We are discussing uncultivated and remote areas that may be miles from people's houses.

If, in a particular area—

Mr. Gray


Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way again.

If there is a legitimate reason to restrict night-time access, that can be dealt with through, for example, local restrictions on access or even byelaws. The Bill provides the flexibility to deal with genuine problems that may arise locally without the need for a blanket ban. Such an approach is easier to police than a blanket ban on all access land. I am not aware of calls to introduce night-time curfews in our towns and cities, where the risk of crime is significantly greater. For all those reasons, I am not inclined to accept restrictions on night access.

I shall quickly deal with amendments Nos. 83 and 105, on the question of dogs. Amendment No. 105 would extend the period during which dogs should be required to be kept on leads on access land to cover the period from 1 March to 31 July each year. As the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said—he was courteous as always—we had an animated but significant discussion of that in Committee. That restricted period is intended to protect livestock and wildlife from disturbance by dogs during, principally, the lambing season and the breeding season for ground-nesting birds. As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, explained in Committee, if, in the light of experience, the restricted period needs reviewing, the Bill allows that by giving the Secretary of State—and, in Wales, the National Assembly—the power to amend through regulation.

In addition, the Bill contains provisions for restrictions for conservation and land management to allow tougher controls on dogs where particular circumstances require that, including outright bans. However, we appreciate that there is very real concern about disturbance by dogs, both to wildlife and livestock. We are keen to ensure that the restricted period specified in the Bill is the right one. We are further considering that issue and remain open to the prospect of amending the length of the period at a later stage in our consideration.

Although I am sympathetic to reasonable amendments that would improve the Bill, for all those reasons I do not think that the Opposition have made their case in respect of a 72-hour exclusion or excessive fines, which are disproportionate, or night-time access, though I accept that we need to look further at the restriction on dogs. I hope that, on that basis, they will withdraw their amendments.

Mr. Green

I thank the Minister for the Government amendments on metal detecting and the other matters that arose out of amendments that we tabled in Committee. We are always grateful to see small improvements being made to the Bill.

We have discussed three major issues. I must tell the Minister that the stark fact is that the penalties are still unfair. He spent his time constructing absurdities, referring to people being criminalised for relatively trivial behaviour, but the Bill will criminalise people who put up the wrong type of notice. There should be fairness on both sides. On night-time access, he shot himself in the foot over public parks. If it is right to close public parks in urban areas, which may be near houses, for reasons of personal safety and crime prevention, it seems bizarre that it is not right to have restrictions on night access to parts of rural areas that happen to be near houses. There is an exact parallel between the two, but he fails to recognise that.

I am grateful for what the Minister said on dogs, although it was what he said in Committee: he is aware that there is a big problem, but he will return to it at some later stage. He has had a long time to think since the Bill was in Committee and I can assume only that the strength of our arguments is troubling him. I hope that, eventually, he will come round to our point of view and extend the restricted period. In that regard, I am grateful for the support from the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for the amendment.

The Minister's explanation of why the Government propose to take such action in those important areas is inadequate and I commend our amendments to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 156, Noes 285.

Division No. 228] [6.5 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Allan, Richard Browning, Mrs Angela
Amess, David Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Burnett, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Burns, Simon
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Burstow, Paul
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony Cash, William
Ballard, Jackie Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bercow, John Clappison, James
Beresford, Sir Paul Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Blunt, Crispin Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim Collins, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Cotter, Brian
Brady, Graham Cran, James
Brake, Tom Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brand, Dr Peter Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Breed, Colin Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Moore, Michael
Duncan Smith, Iain Moss, Malcolm
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Norman, Archie
Evans, Nigel Öpik, Lembit
Faber, David Ottaway, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Page, Richard
Flight, Howard Paice, James
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Paterson, Owen
Foster, Don (Bath) Pickles, Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Fox, Dr Liam Prior, David
Garnier, Edward Randall, John
George, Andrew (St Ives) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gibb, Nick Rendel, David
Gidley, Sandra Robathan, Andrew
Gill, Christopher Robertson, Laurence
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gray, James Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Green, Damian St Aubyn, Nick
Greenway, John Sanders, Adrian
Grieve, Dominic Sayeed, Jonathan
Gummer, Rt Hon John Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hammond, Philip Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Harvey, Nick Soames, Nicholas
Hawkins, Nick Spicer, Sir Michael
Heald, Oliver Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Steen, Anthony
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Streeter, Gary
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Stunell, Andrew
Horam, John Swayne, Desmond
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Syms, Robert
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hunter, Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Jenkin, Bernard Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Key, Robert Thompson, William
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Townend, John
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Tredinnick, David
Lansley, Andrew Trend, Michael
Leigh, Edward Tyrie, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver Walter, Robert
Lidington, David Waterson, Nigel
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Webb, Steve
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Wells, Bowen
Loughton, Tim Whitney, Sir Raymond
Luff, Peter Whittingdale, John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
McIntosh, Miss Anne Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Yeo, Tim
Maclean, Rt Hon David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David Tellers for the Ayes:
Major, Rt Hon John Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and
Maples, John
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Abbott, Ms Diane Begg, Miss Anne
Ainger, Nick Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Allen, Graham Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bennett, Andrew F
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Best, Harold
Ashton, Joe Betts, Clive
Atherton, Ms Candy Blackman, Liz
Atkins, Charlotte Blears, Ms Hazel
Banks, Tony Blizzard, Bob
Barron, Kevin Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Bayley, Hugh Borrow, David
Beard, Nigel Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gerrard, Neil
Bradshaw, Ben Gibson, Dr Ian
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Godman, Dr Norman A
Browne, Desmond Goggins, Paul
Buck, Ms Karen Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Butler, Mrs Christine Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Grogan, John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gunnell, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Caplin, Ivor Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Casale, Roger Hanson, David
Caton, Martin Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cawsey, Ian Healey, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Chaytor, David Hinchliffe, David
Clapham, Michael Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hoey, Kate
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clelland, David Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coaker, Vernon Humble, Mrs Joan
Coffey, Ms Ann Hurst, Alan
Coleman, Iain Hutton, John
Colman, Tony Iddon, Dr Brian
Connarty, Michael Illsley, Eric
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cooper, Yvette Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Corbett, Robin Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Corston, Jean Jamieson, David
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian
Cranston, Ross Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Darvill, Keith Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Keeble, Ms Sally
Davidson, Ian Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Kelly, Ms Ruth
Dawson, Hilton Kemp, Fraser
Dean, Mrs Janet Khabra, Piara S
Denham, John Kidney, David
Dobbin, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Donohoe, Brian H Kumar, Dr Ashok
Doran, Frank Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dowd, Jim Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Drew, David Lepper, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Leslie, Christopher
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Levitt, Tom
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Efford, Clive Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Ennis, Jeff Linton, Martin
Etherington, Bill Lock, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Fitzpatrick, Jim McCabe, Steve
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna McCafferty, Ms Chris
Flint, Caroline McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McDonagh, Siobhain
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McDonnell, John
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Foulkes, George McIsaac, Shona
Galloway, George Mackinlay, Andrew
McWalter, Tony Sheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mallaber, Judy Shipley, Ms Debra
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Singh, Marsha
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Maxton, John Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Snape, Peter
Miller, Andrew Soley, Clive
Mitchell, Austin Squire, Ms Rachel
Moonie, Dr Lewis Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moran, Ms Margaret Steinberg, Gerry
Morley, Elliot Stoate, Dr Howard
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Mountford, Kali Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mudie, George Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Taylor, Ms Dan (Stockton S)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Hara, Eddie Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Olner, Bill Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Organ, Mrs Diana Timms, Stephen
Palmer, Dr Nick Tipping, Paddy
Pearson, Ian Todd, Mark
Pickthall, Colin Trickett, Jon
Pike, Peter L Truswell, Paul
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pond, Chris Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pope, Greg Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Pound, Stephen Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Walley, Ms Joan
Primarolo, Dawn Ward, Ms Claire
Prosser, Gwyn Wareing, Robert N
Purchase, Ken Watts, David
Quinn, Lawrie White, Brian
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Whitehead, Dr Alan
Raynsford, Nick Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rooney, Terry Wills, Michael
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winnick, David
Rowlands, Ted Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Roy, Frank Wood, Mike
Ruddock, Joan Woodward, Shaun
Ryan, Ms Joan Wray, James
Salter, Martin Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sarwar, Mohammad Wyatt, Derek
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil Tellers for the Noes:
Sedgemore, Brian Mr. Tony McNulty and
Shaw, Jonathan Mr. Don Touhig.

Question accordingly negatived.

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