Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: My Lords, I mention two matters in support of the amendment which limit its effect and which the Government should bear in mind with some comfort to themselves. First, subsection (1) refers to,

I shall not go into the full details of Clause 2(1) because it refers to considerable parts of the Bill. It means that there are limitations.

The Government can take even more comfort from this second point. Subsection (2) of the amendment provides that the Secretary of State will be able to make regulations as to the conditions for entitlement

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1406

to the indemnity. That gives the Government very great power for limiting the application. With those two thoughts in mind, I should have thought that the Government would welcome the amendment.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, if the Bill is to be a success, the key word is harmony. I refer to harmony between the countryside and those who wish to have access under the new legislation. In order to help those farmers and landowners who put their fences, gates and stiles in good shape, it seems a small concession for the Government to be somewhat more generous than at present.

We have had some concessions from the Government, but nothing like enough. It would be a big step forward for those who will have to face expensive costs--the landowners or tenants of the land--if the Government were prepared to meet those costs. If the Government agree to meet them, let us try to cut out some of the bureaucracy which attaches at present to almost any application for any grant for any quango in this country. All noble Lords who speak from practical experience of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the NCC, English Nature or SNH and so on, know that it is a major task to obtain what the farmer or landowner may consider a legitimate grant.

If the Government are keen to make the Bill a success--from the efforts they have put into it one presumes that they are--it is right that they should support the amendment put forward so well by my noble friend Lord Brittan and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and demonstrate some support for the agricultural and land-owning industry which will undoubtedly be put to immense costs by the Bill. The Minister may say that the provision will affect relatively few landowners and farms. That is all the more reason that he should be more conciliatory.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Thornton: We have spent many days debating how to minimise the impact of the Bill on landowners and land managers, including the cost to them. I am still unclear why Members opposite feel the need for extra compensation. Many of our debates have centred on how to minimise the effects of the Bill and how to provide support through warden schemes and extra financial help. I am not convinced of the need for the amendment.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I wish to raise three points. First, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has just said, the Liberal Party spokesman has not addressed the amendment. Before we vote on the issue, I hope that someone from the Liberal Benches will address the amendment; otherwise it would be rather unreasonable to leave Members of the Liberal Party without guidance. I give way.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may clarify what I said. The amendment refers to "any"--I emphasise

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1407

that word-- "additional costs and expenses". It does not refer to exceptional costs and expenses. That is why I gave a broad reply. It is a broad amendment.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness has made that point. It brings me to my second point.

The amendment relates to specific costs, which have to be demonstrable and, therefore, a matter of fact. I am not a lawyer; we are surrounded by brilliant lawyers. But I understand that matters of fact in these cases are for the courts to determine, as the Inland Revenue is always telling us.

Thirdly, if the Government resist the amendment, do they not put themselves in a different position from other third parties which impose costs on others? I hope that they will deal with that specific point. If they are doing so, perhaps I may suggest to them that under the provisions of the European convention again it will not be for the Government but for the courts to determine whether liability exists.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I support the amendment. I was somewhat surprised by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton--she is normally very clued up--who implied that, as we have spent a great deal of time on the issue, the amendment is unnecessary. I am sure that I misunderstand her. She is a realist. In reality there is a problem. We have approved government Amendment No. 77 which states that there will be some burdens. The noble Baroness cannot argue that there will be no expenses when the Government clearly expect some. I do not follow her reasoning.

I shall not repeat the many points raised. However, if the issue will not affect many people, I do not understand why the Government shy away from it. Perhaps there are more hidden issues on the agenda than we have touched on. I do not anticipate that the Government will say no to the amendment. We have not given the Minister a chance to say that he willingly accepts the amendment. I shall encourage him to say that, having heard the many arguments, the Government are willing to consider the amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I deeply regret that I cannot respond positively in the way requested by the noble Baroness. We have discussed previously general provisions on compensation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, it is a somewhat open-ended call for compensation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and others, I acknowledge that the amendment is more precisely drafted than any that we have dealt with before on the subject. It reflects the concern that any right of access will give rise to substantial costs.

Everything that we have done in the Bill and in every amendment that we have conceded in favour of the landlords minimises the cost on landowners. Substantial costs will not arise in this case. The aim of the Bill is to enable people to walk over countryside that has limited--possibly important, but still limited--use without interfering with the ability of

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1408

owners or occupiers to use or develop the land as they did before. There is no requirement on landowners to become involved in expenditure to facilitate access to the land.

The impact of walkers on owners and occupiers will be minimal. The amendments to which we have already agreed will reduce that minimal impact still further. For example, the new restrictions on dogs and feeding livestock that we agreed the other day will limit the impact to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred.

6 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, am I right in believing that the amendments limit the impact of dogs only in fields and enclosures and not on the open hill? I was referring to lambing on the open hill, which is quite common.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it depends on the definition of "enclosure". In many cases, hill farming will include an enclosure. The noble Lord may be right in part in relation to dogs, but the main right is for people to walk.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I was referring to Amendment No. 118.

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, we are referring to the amendments that were debated the other day on dogs in the lambing season. There is only a limited likelihood of any additional cost being imposed on hill farmers as a result of a relatively small number of people walking on the land. Other circumstances, such as severe weather, are much more likely to have an adverse impact on open fell lambing. We do not see any reason to fund the building of lambing sheds or any other change in operations that the farmer might have to undertake.

If problems arose in a particular area and there was a serious impact on the landowner, the relevant authorities could make a direction to exclude or restrict access during the relevant period. I know that many noble Lords do not trust the access authorities or the countryside authorities to undertake activities in the landowners' interests, but that is a seriously misplaced and wrong judgment. Any impact that seriously affects the ability to carry out land management in the usual way will be taken seriously by the authorities in agreeing to a restriction.

The liability of owners and occupiers is minimal. It is a liability in relation to trespassers. That minimal liability has been further qualified by the many amendments that we have made during the passage of the Bill, which have been consistently in favour of landowners. The right of access will be tightly prescribed. We will finance the access authorities to fund measures to facilitate access. That cross will not fall on the landowners. The access authorities may well co-operate with landowners in establishing stiles or other means of access, but the cost for access purposes will fall on the access authorities. We also propose to

7 Nov 2000 : Column 1409

enable the Countryside Agency to operate a grant scheme for works to help landowners manage access in the best possible way.

We are providing a number of ways to avoid any costs falling on landowners. The demand that compensation should be paid in such a relatively open-ended way because of substantial costs to landowners does not stand up.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page