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Lord Addington: As I said, this is a probing amendment and I have no intention of pressing it. I think that the answer given by the Minister states that if the activities are conducted in the customary careful manner, taking all reasonable precautions, someone who behaves in a sensible manner will not be endangered. Furthermore, there will be no legal comeback. That is what I hoped to hear on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 204:

After Clause 13, insert the following new clause--


(" . The Secretary of State shall make regulations to ensure that where it appears that--
(a) any person having any interest in access land has suffered loss or damage by reason of the act or omission of a person exercising, or purporting to exercise, the right conferred by section 2(1) in respect of that land; and
(b) the person suffering such loss or damage would have a legal right to recover that loss or damage; but
(c) it is not practicable and reasonable for that person to enforce or seek to enforce that legal right, whether because the person committing the act or omission cannot be identified or served with proceedings or because there is no reasonable prospect of receiving payment of any judgment or otherwise,
compensation shall be payable in respect of that loss or damage.").

The noble Earl said: The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made it clear that he would not be able to remain in the Chamber until the close of our debates. He asked me whether I would move this amendment on his behalf. I do not propose to say anything about it because I feel that it is reasonably self-explanatory. It asks about the recourse available to an owner against someone who exercises their new access rights and then causes him a loss. It is an important question and I shall be extremely interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I suspect that the noble Lord knows what I am likely to say on this because we covered the issue at Second Reading. We strongly resist clauses that provide for compensation to be paid to landowners, both for any additional expenses or any losses incurred as a result of the new right.

We start from the position that we have deliberately constructed the Bill to minimise the impact on landowners. We cannot, of course, say that no landowner will ever be subject to any loss, however

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small, but the reports from our consultants, which I quoted at Second Reading and to which I referred in relation to our discussions on liability, confirm that only a very few landowners are likely to be significantly affected. The framework that the Bill puts in place is designed to allow even for these effects to be either removed or minimised.

With all the amendments that we have accepted, which have gone even further than we intended at Second Reading, we are reducing the impact on landowners and their costs still further. With the funds we are making available to ensure that there is proper management, proper operation and proper information available to the public and to landowners on the operation of the new rights, we are convinced that there will not be additional costs to the vast majority of landowners. For some landowners, the new rights will bring benefits of which they can take economic advantage.

As to the first question of compensation for additional expenses, the Bill does not impose any obligation whatever on landowners to provide facilities for those using the access rights. Landowners do not have to contribute towards the cost of facilities such as gates, bridges, stiles and so on where local access authorities consider they should be provided. So there is no reason why any landowner should be put to additional expense.

As to the second issue of increases in liability, that is covered by Amendment No. 302, which was originally grouped with this amendment. We have dealt with liability pretty fully in the debate. Liability, such as it arises, is subject to all the limitations we have been discussing and would be only the equivalent of liability towards trespassers. Indeed, many landowners--that is, all those who de facto allow access to their land--may benefit from a lower level of liability than they do now. Therefore there is no significant additional cost which might be reflected through insurance premiums. Again on the basis of our earlier inquiries they are unlikely to be significantly raised.

We do not therefore think that there are grounds for compensation and we would resist any clauses such as the one standing in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, to which the noble Earl has spoken. The Government's view remains strongly that this should not be and need not be a feature of the Bill.

Baroness Byford: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may clarify three points. First, he said very clearly that landowners will gain economic benefits and advantages through having access across their land. What benefits and advantages will they gain and how will they gain them? I do not understand that point.

Secondly, the Minister referred to landowners. As he knows, in some of these areas there are tenant farmers as well. It is important that we consider them as well as the landowners. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that issue.

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Thirdly, he added that some may experience a lower liability. I do not follow that either. Perhaps the noble Lord can clarify that point, too.

Lord Whitty: In relation to benefits, some landowners will be able to benefit if a larger number of people visit their land and their neighbour's land by getting money out of them through other means. That is one aspect. The other aspect I referred to earlier: where the access authority considers that access needs to be improved, it may well be to the benefit of the landowner as well as to walkers if a new stile is installed or a gate is repaired and so on. These are not huge additional benefits but they will apply in some cases. It is certainly not the case that all landowners will receive a disbenefit. My argument is that very few will; and there are a few who might actually gain a benefit.

Likewise, in relation to lower liability, as I thought I made clear, we are talking about those owners who, de facto or by specific agreement, already allow some degree of access to their land. They owe full liability to those people who come on to their land now; whereas under these provisions, if their land is designated as access land, they will owe only the liability due to a trespasser. That is why I say that there may be a lower liability in a number of cases.

So far as concerns tenants, clearly it would be wrong for me to do as the legislative jargon does and subsume tenants in the terms of owners. In some cases they will be in a slightly different situation. But in so far as one is talking about a tenant farmer who has full control of his own land, the same considerations will apply as would apply to a direct owner. Therefore, most of the arguments that I have put will apply to tenant farmers as well.

Earl Peel: The Minister is absolutely right. He gave the answer that I should have expected. However, among other points that he made in responding to this amendment, he said that only a few landowners would be significantly affected. He then tried to defuse that a little, but the fact that he said it sounds warning bells. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, with his legal background, will look extremely carefully at what the Minister has said. I shall also be interested to know what my noble friend Lord Brittan has to say about this in view of his comments in Committee last week. The Minister's words on the matter will need to be examined closely.

Lord Jopling: I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Peel refer in his final remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Brittan. I thought that the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, a week ago today, on the first day of the Committee stage, were powerful indeed. I have just looked up his remarks. He said:

    "I suggest that there is a powerful case that the grant of a right to roam without legal compensation would be held to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights which is about to become part of the law of this country".--[Official Report, 27/9/00; col. 797.]

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In summing up, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said at col. 812:

    "I do not want to respond to that matter now because when we discuss the clauses which concern liability and compensation I am sure that it will be debated at length".

However, I accept the central point that it is important for the Government to assure the Committee, and for the Committee to feel assured, that the provisions of the Bill do not contradict the provisions of the Human Rights Act.

We have not yet heard from the Minister--apart from a rather bland statement--the detailed case that the Government have to refute the powerful argument expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, a week ago. The noble Lord said that he was certain that these provisions do conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act which came into effect yesterday. The Minister said last week that he would not comment, but now is surely the moment when he must give us that full explanation. After all, that is the least we can expect. We must know precisely why it is that the Government are saying that this does not conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.

We must know where we stand before we reach the Report stage some time in the future. Can the Minister give us the full explanation as to why the Government are taking this line, which has been refuted by a number of highly learned lawyers?

7.30 a.m.

Lord Whitty: As I said on the last occasion, clearly it is necessary for the Government to be able to reassure noble Lords that this legislation does comply with the Human Rights Act. However, I do not believe that this is the time to do so. The two amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, were originally grouped with the amendment now before the Committee. They deal directly with the issue of compensation. Therefore, it would probably be better for us to deal with the matter at length when the noble Lord is present in the Committee. I presume that we shall deal with those amendments on Thursday, with a bit of luck. I shall be quite prepared to put forward the full case at that point. I hear the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, ask when, but I am afraid I cannot say at exactly what time that will happen.

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