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Baroness Byford: I appreciate what the Minister is saying; indeed, I am sure that the Committee welcomes his remarks. However, this highlights one of our difficulties. During the early stages of the Bill we debated such matters and the Government indicated that they would return with some terms, concessions, understandings or even amendments to this effect. But
Lord Whitty: I accept some of the noble Baroness's strictures in this respect. Indeed, it might have been better if we had approached the matter in the way that we have handled Part II today and thereby shown how our intended amendments would apply. However, even in its present form, the Bill contains a significant number of measures that will restrict any cost likely to fall upon the landlord and ensure that other authorities meet the major costs rather than the landowner. Indeed, as we have gone through the provisions at some length, I indicated a number of other areas that would increase yet further the protection of the landowner in this respect. When taken together, those provisions are pretty generous. Moreover, if added to the provisions on restrictions and closures that do not apply in relation to voluntary access in most cases, it will be seen that they are pretty substantial as regards protecting the landowner from being faced with additional costs, liabilities or loss of value.
In relation to loss of value of the land overall, the claim suggested in Amendment No. 303 is that landowners should be able to claim for the depreciation in the value of their land five years after the right is put into effect. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, claimed as a precedent the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. But that precedent is more apparent than real. That Act concerned the opening of particular parcels of land upon the decision of a local planning authority. One landowner might therefore find that he had to give access to his land while his neighbour did not. In other words, the measure was inherently potentially discriminatory and therefore an issue of human rights could arise.
Lord Renton: If I may say so, the noble Lord misunderstood what I said about Amendment No. 303. All it does is to state how the compensation which would arise under Amendment No. 302, due to the right conferred by Clause 2(1), would be paid. Amendment No. 303 states, with reference to compensation,
Other parallel Acts which provide access do not provide compensation. The Law of Property Act 1922, for example, contains no provision for compensation although it introduced a wide right of access on the so-called urban commons. As the Committee will be aware, urban commons do not just mean urban commons but commons which were under the control of urban district councils and include a number of commons in the countryside. I take a more modern example. The Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 also contained no provision for compensation. If anything, the precedent lies on my side of the argument and not on that of the noble Lord, Lord Renton.
I am aware that there is considerable concern about the compatibility between the provisions we are discussing and the Human Rights Act. I believe that I have said enough on that matter now, although references were made in earlier stages of the Bill to particular cases to which we may need to return if this matter is pursued at a later stage. However, I do not accept that there is a need for general compensation in the Bill, nor do I accept that the provision is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment and that we can proceed with the rest of the Bill.
Lord Monson: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he accept that he has not yet responded to the point so well made by a number of Members of the Committee; namely, that if Mr Michael Meacher is so certain that there will be no diminution in land value in consequence of this Bill, the Government have nothing to lose by putting their money--or rather the taxpayers' money--where their mouth is and accepting Amendment No. 303?
Lord Renton: It is better to confess before one is found out--that is what I sometimes used to say to clients I defended. I therefore confess that it was not until two minutes before Amendment No. 302 was called that I realised that my noble friend Lord Brittan was not present. However, having had a quick glance at it, I felt strongly that that amendment ought to be discussed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, to my noble friend Lady Carnegy and to Members on all sides of the Committee for the powerful arguments that they have put forward in favour especially of Amendment No. 302.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, went to some lengths to attempt to defend his arguments. His main point seemed to be that other parts of the Bill deal with these matters. However, they do not. The nearest that we get to that is in Clauses 12, 13 and 28. However, there is no procedure among those clauses for providing compensation where it needs to be provided. Of course it will not be a matter of vast compensation on a fair-sized estate. However, damage can be done, as my noble friend Lord Jopling so wisely pointed out from his experience in the Lake District where public rights of way have been so heavily used that they have become scars on the hillside. I do not think that he used the word "scars", but he went pretty close to it.
This is an important matter which must be further considered. I do not propose to ask the Committee to divide on these amendments this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Brittan will want to consider the debate that has taken place, as we all shall. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will think again about this matter and will bear in mind especially what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said. With those thoughts in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Marlesford: Before my noble friend sits down, I hope I may take the opportunity as a non-lawyer to ask the Minister three, simple, common sense questions. First, does he agree that the premise on which the Government are putting forward this legislation is that there will not be a diminution in the value of land as a result of access? Secondly, does he agree that if someone considers that there has been a diminution in the value of land, it will be for the courts to determine whether or not that is true? Thirdly, will it be for the courts to decide whether there is liability for compensation for any diminution in value?
Lord Whitty: The Bill seeks to provide rights for the public as a whole to enjoy property which belongs to a limited number of people. It is the Government's right to pass such laws. In our judgment there will be no diminution in the value of land as a result of that access, but I cannot guarantee that that will be the case. However, I can guarantee that there will be no discrimination between landowners with regard to access. The Bill provides no liability for the state as a result of any reduction in land value. I do not believe that that is required by the convention on human rights; nor should it be. We are dealing here with the rights of people as a whole. The balance is provided not by protection of current values but by the payment of the cost by other authorities and the reduction in liability which is written into the Bill. That is the balance that is provided, not the balance of compensation. I believe that that conforms with the convention on human rights.
Earl Peel: I hope that I may ask the Minister a question which I do not think that he fully addressed when he responded to my noble friend. I think that I am right in saying that the Minister said that the Bill allowed for the minimisation of costs to owners. I believe that those were the words he used. But that
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