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I should like to comment on this amendment because it is important. We are making a decision--it is an important decision--to put in place a substantial change in the conditions surrounding the ownership of access land. To that end, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, made a strong intervention at an earlier stage as regards this change and questioned whether the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a question which no doubt will be tested in the courts before too long.
In any event, it seems to me, as it has seemed to others who have spoken in the debate, that it is intrinsically reasonable that the financial consequences for owners and tenants, if clearly identified, should not be ignored and that where additional costs and expenses are incurred, they should be indemnified.
I shall speak only to Amendment No. 302, which is quite specific. Costs and expenses have to be identified and they must result from the consequences of the Bill. The amendment is therefore important and should be seriously considered for inclusion in the Bill.
The noble Lord has every ground to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, because she has spared him from a very long speech from me. Indeed, she put the case better than anyone else could have done, I am most grateful to her.
When the noble Lord responded to an earlier amendment on behalf of the Government, he somewhat gave the game away. He minimised the changes which are intended by the provisions of the Bill by commenting lightheartedly that he "seldom leaves a flank open". I was astonished by that remark. He suggested that, once the Bill comes into effect, if one were flying over the country and observing the land, one would see hardly any changes; indeed, one would observe only a few more people out walking, However, that neglects to respond to the major point in most people's minds--or at least among those who do not like the Bill--that the Bill represents an interference with land management. It is our fear that the Government are persisting in their belief that land management is an easy and simple affair. Plenty of noble Lords with greater experience than I in the Committee would be able to contradict that view. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at the amendment and will bear in mind what has been said so eloquently by the noble Baroness.
If anyone suffers financially as a result of a deliberate, thought-out, government policy--either through their property losing value or by being put to some unforeseen expense--they should be compensated. I return to the point made by Mr Meacher, the Minister for the Environment: if he is absolutely satisfied that no significant losses or damage to landlords will follow the legislation, there is absolutely no shadow of an excuse for not making that conviction copper-bottomed by accepting the amendment. I hope very much that the Government will do so.
As to the question of compensation, I have always taken the view that it will be difficult to establish compensation for a diminution in the value of the land. As my noble friend rightly said, if the Government feel that that is not likely to happen, there should be a copper-bottomed guarantee for the few cases that may arise. That seems quite logical, common sense and natural justice.
However, I should like to ask the Government about indemnity for costs arising from the right of access. I think I am right in saying that in the Peak Park, which has been involved in access agreements for a great number of years, an established pattern has developed by which the access authority pays the people involved in land management a certain figure per acre per year--I believe it is £4 per acre per year--to reflect the costs incurred through land access. If this practice has been established--which it clearly has been--under an experienced authority such as the Peak Park, I cannot understand why this should not also apply generally to other access areas.
Baroness Strange: I support this amendment on the grounds of fairness. If you go into a china shop, take down a cup and saucer and inadvertently break it, you are responsible for the breakage, not the owner of the shop. That is fair and reasonable. Likewise, if you are walking along the street and you drop litter, someone from the council will come and pick that litter up. But you have paid for that to be done in your rates and taxes. If people come into a particular part of the country where they have not been before, there must be a responsibility for any damage they do.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I hope that when the Minister replies he will give in full the Government's reasons for thinking that this part of the Bill does not contravene the Human Rights Act. My noble friend Lord Brittan is fairly convinced that it does and we have not yet heard an answer on that issue. I hope that the Minister is able to give one. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Renton plans to do, but I hope that he will not take this matter to a Division today. What my noble friend Lord Brittan said was very interesting, and I feel that we should have an opportunity to hear from him again. The Minister has certified that the Bill does not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights; I hope that he will give his reasons for that.
Like my noble friend, I was interested when the Minister said that if you looked down from an aeroplane you would not see any difference in the landscape as a result of the Bill. I am not sure about that. I have never had responsibility for running a commercial concern in an area where grouse shooting, deer stalking and so on takes place, but as I listened to previous debates I wondered whether the people who own that wonderful land will think it is worth the candle to go on doing so. If they part with the land and it becomes access land, with no grouse shooting upon it, the heather will not be burnt and there will be no commercial interest in taking care of it in the way that it is taken care of at the moment. We need to realise that there is a danger that people will feel that it is not worth it. At the moment they do it for all kinds of reasons, largely economic--both for the area and for themselves--and pleasure.
In Scotland, where there is no law of trespass, people walk about on land--but they walk about on it without all these bureaucratic arrangements that we are now setting up. They do so with an understanding that makes some of these rules and regulations unnecessary. I do not know how the legislation will be applied in Scotland. We have heard dire suggestions that it may be even more bureaucratic, but, as people already walk on the land in Scotland--no one can keep them off it--I am not sure that that will be necessary.
Lord Marlesford: I am slightly confused. My noble friend Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 302 rather than Amendment No. 303, with which it is grouped. On the other hand, Members of the Committee seem to have been discussing both together, so I hope that I am in order in referring to both amendments.
Amendment No. 302 refers to compensation for additional costs which fall upon landowners as a result of the legislation. My impression from last week's proceedings is that the Government have largely accepted this. We have already had undertakings that they will pay for signing, for the additional fencing that may be necessary, for the collection of litter and for other items of additional cost. It seems to me that the Government have accepted that principle already. Provided that there is careful scrutiny of claims to ensure that they are not spurious or exaggerated, it is obvious that that is a principle which is within the existing remit of public policy for such compensation to be made.
Amendment No. 303 is a different matter. It is a major issue. With great respect to the Government, I am not entirely sure that it will be an issue for them to decide. In his interesting interventions at earlier stages of our discussions, we had, as it were, a forewarning from my noble friend Lord Brittan that it will be a matter of the interpretation of the convention. As we all know, that interpretation is ultimately not for the courts in this country--although we have been told repeatedly that now that the convention is enshrined in British law it will be a great deal easier for the courts in this country to interpret it and obviate the need for appeals overseas. I can see why the Government may at this stage be reluctant to concede the principle, because it could be pretty expensive. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it will be hard for the courts to reject at any rate the fact that there will have been a diminution in the value of land. I should state that I have no personal interest in this matter.
I have already received, as no doubt have other Members of the Committee, representations from landowners who believe that they will be affected. I am thinking of one particular major public landowner. Those who have rented the sporting rights have indicated that they will not be prepared to pay the same rents for sporting rights once access rights come into force. I suggest that that would be a simple test applicable by the courts in deciding whether there has been a diminution in the value of the land concerned.
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