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Baroness O'Cathain: Of course we do not want to overload authorities. We are already producing far too many plans and strategies. But I believe that there is a case for accepting the amendment. Furthermore, I believe that subsection (2) should include the ambulance service, as my noble friend Lord Jopling suggested. If the amendment is not accepted, walkers and ramblers--many councillors are walkers and ramblers--will ask for a list as long as one's arm. At least the amendment would limit it, which would be eminently practicable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: What would the list as long as the noble Baroness's arm look like? I cannot conceive of what it would look like.

Baroness O'Cathain: I can. I have just had a quick word with my noble friend Lord Peel. In the extreme case, it might include the whereabouts of the nearest tea shop or where one could get water. Some of the questions one is asked when one is out walking are quite extreme. I can assure the noble Lord that some people would want "kitchen sinks" and the lot in the list.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That would be much more likely to happen if they went to their local authority and said, "I want this on the access land management plan". We have to get this in proportion. If one flies over the country once the provisions of the Act are fully in force, it will look the same. All we are doing is opening up land for not much more than walking purposes.

Earl Peel: The Minister is right. No one is suggesting that the Bill will have a major impact on the land itself. But he has failed to realise--the Government have failed to realise it time and again--the impact it may have on land management practices. That is the point.

Perhaps I may return to the amendment. Does the Minister envisage the possibility of some form of duty on the Countryside Agency to review after a period of time how the Act is working? That would give the agency an opportunity to discuss with access groups and owners all the management implications in order to see whether the Act is working effectively and whether ways and means of streamlining it and ironing out some of the difficulties, which are bound to arise, can be found.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The amendment is concerned with access authorities. I have already agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the role of the Audit Commission is relevant. It will have a remit in relation to access land and will be carrying out reviews. That is entirely welcome. The relevant authorities--the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the national park authorities--will be carrying out reviews and will cover the points of concern here.

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Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for that explanation. I am not totally satisfied. The amendment is about ensuring that all the restrictions and all the provisions of the Bill are properly and correctly carried out. I am surprised by the Minister saying, "After all, it is only a limited right. It is not really a very big thing". It is a very big thing. It is an unrestricted right over huge acreages of ground for a good many people in a way that has never been tried before. I suggest that the Bill really is a big deal. Noble Lords on all sides of the Committee are putting a great deal of work into trying to get the Bill right. It has been said time and again that, if the right management is in place, everyone will have fun, there will be no aggro and everything will be as everyone would like it to be.

I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, says about local authorities already being overloaded. But if they are already asked to make 40 strategic plans, is the Bill so unimportant that it is less necessary for them to take seriously a public strategy on how they wish the Bill to operate in their area?

I confess that I have little knowledge of the workings of local authorities in this country, although I have a good deal of knowledge of how they work in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that the Audit Commission will have a remit to carry out reviews. That is of some comfort. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that other organisations have to produce strategies which will be built into the community plan. How will access to the countryside be built into the plan? Who will write or produce the strategy which the local authority will incorporate into the community plan?

Many valuable comments have been made. I have heard what the Minister has said. However, I believe that we should take the matter further at Report stage. I hope that the Government will clarify that local authorities will be required to take seriously their responsibilities in relation to the Act. We know that many good local authorities will leap to it. We also know that others may be a little slow to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I certainly do not want to give any impression that we are not determined that local authorities should take their responsibilities seriously. I hope that nothing I have said has given that impression. But that does not mean that we support a plan. It would not really matter if the amendment were changed in order to remove some of its absurdities. The idea of a plan is fundamentally unacceptable.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I presume that the question directed to me by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was not entirely rhetorical. Perhaps I may say simply that, because of the way local access forums have been constructed by the Bill, I believe that they will play a fundamental role in feeding into any community plan drawn up by the access authority. I hope that the mechanism will work well.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble Baroness for that response. However, I understand that at present there is no hardline guarantee that access authorities will be set up; any more than there is a hardline guarantee that

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wardens will be appointed; and any more than we have been given details of the regional production schedules for regimes of restrictions and closures. These points have not been put on to the face of the Bill.

Having heard what the Minister said, I understand the Government's determination not to have anything to do with the amendment. Furthermore, I sense that the Government feel strongly that no requirement should be put on to local authorities to produce plans. We feel the opposite. We shall return on Report with a different form of words. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 302:


    After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

INDEMNITY FOR COSTS ARISING FROM THE RIGHT OF ACCESS

(".--(1) Any person with an interest in land shall be entitled to be indemnified for any additional costs and expenses reasonably incurred as a result of the right conferred by section 2(1), or for any increased liability or loss arising therefrom.
(2) Regulations shall make provision for the form and procedure by which such amounts may be recovered.").

The noble Lord said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, I trust that it will be in order for me to move Amendment No. 302 and speak to Amendment No. 303 standing in his name. It is not surprising that he is absent. I have just motored 70 miles in the most appalling weather conditions and it is clear that many noble Lords will suffer delays.

These two amendments are self-explanatory and, I should have thought, extremely necessary. We cannot assume that the right of access will never cause any damage or difficulty on private land. It may well do so. For that reason, I hope that the Government will consider the desirability of dealing with such matters in the way expressed in these two amendments.

The first amendment is clear. We need only refer to Clause 2(1) of the Bill, which grants the right of access. Amendment No. 303 makes the useful suggestion that any rights of compensation which may arise from trouble caused by access to land should be dealt with in the way that it is already dealt with under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. That legislation has worked very smoothly.

With those simple suggestions, I hope that the Government will look favourably on both amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu: Many of us who heard the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, before the start of the Committee stage were troubled by what he had to say as regards the Bill and how it will comply with the European convention. I support the amendments just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

Quite apart from the position in law, it is surely a question of simple fairness and of natural justice that if the law is changed to give more rights to the population in general over private land, then the

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owner of that property should not be required to shoulder the cost of the new legislation himself--where there is a cost.

As we all know, the Bill will extend the right of access on private access land to everyone. Surely, therefore, it would be unfair if the reasonable costs that necessarily must be incurred had to be borne by the owner. Why should the owner pay for what the rest of us will in due course enjoy? Equally, if the value of that land can be shown to have suffered as a result of the new access arrangements, fairness surely demands that the owner should receive some compensation for his loss.

I am aware of the view of Mr Michael Meacher which appeared in Hansard in March last year when, in a Written Answer, he stated that the cost benefit analysis study undertaken by the Government,


    "supports the view that landowners will not suffer significant losses or costs".--[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/00; col. WA 670.]

That may be so, but many people believe otherwise. If the Government are right in their view and there are no significant costs or losses then there can be no valid claims to compensation. However, the Bill should contain provisions to meet valid claims, should they arise, and of course to meet our obligations under the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998. For that reason, I support the noble Lord's amendment.


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