HL Deb 09 October 2000 vol 617 cc18-31

(".—(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 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.

Lord Williamson of Horton

I must be doubly refreshed from my weekend in the countryside because I am intervening for the second time this afternoon.

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.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I think we should all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for stepping in and moving such very sensible amendments.

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.

Earl Peel

I agree with my noble friend Lord Peyton. Certainly the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has put the case for natural justice as well as anyone could.

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.

There will be an on-going cost to owners. I should be interested to know why the Government have decided in their wisdom to refuse to pay any such costs to the people who will incur them.

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.

I follow the Bill with interest, not only for itself but for what it may mean for the future of the area in which I live. The noble Lord should not consider that the Bill will make no difference to the countryside. If owners or owner occupiers have to pay for all the things they may have to pay for, they may well pack it in, to coin a phrase. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider that. I look forward to his response.

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.

Lord Renton

In moving Amendment No. 302, I also referred to Amendment No. 303 and the need for it.

Lord Marlesford

That reinforces my intention to refer to both amendments. We should emphasise that they are totally different.

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. On the big issue of whether there should be compensation for that diminution in value, I suspect that we shall have to leave it to the courts to interpret under the convention.

Lord Jopling

I strongly agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I regard this as one of the most important arguments. Those who have assets whose value is caused to decline, or who have been put to some additional expense as the result of the proposed legislation, ought to be compensated. I hope that we shall divide the House at some stage during consideration of the Bill. We look forward to hearing the Government's response.

I had not intended to enter the debate at this stage; however it was stated that the look of the countryside will not be changed in any way as a result of the Bill. That is untrue. For many years in another place I represented a large area of the southern part of the Lake District. Anyone who cares to contact the Lake District planning board, or who goes through successive reports of its meetings, will see that one of the most serious problems that the national park authority has had to face over the years has been the way in which more and more people have come to the Lake District and used the paths. From miles away, it is possible to see the way in which the paths course across the fells and the mountains. Worse than that, when a pathway becomes established and is used more and more, particularly in an area such as the Lake District where there is high rainfall, people walking through the wet places turn them into muddy patches, so the next lot of people who come along divert from the path. I could take Members of the Committee to a great many areas—and officials in the Lake District National Park know of a great many more—where great scars are visible on the sides of hills and mountains where the paths have now become great strips, many yards wide, greatly marring the view. I suspect that the same is true in the Peak District and in other national parks.

Open access will result in books and articles being written about walks on the newly open land. I refer to people such as my former constituent, the great Mr Wainwright, whose books about walking in the Lake District are so well known and admired. People like him will set out advice to walkers as to where the best walks are to be found, and footpaths will be established. Without question, exactly the phenomenon that I have described will occur on other access land. I do not complain; I merely attempt to explain the inevitable result of this right, and argue with those who say that the look of the countryside will not be altered. It will be altered: the line of the paths will become a clear visual feature and will tend to grow bigger every year, as has happened with certain footpaths in the Lake District.

Baroness Byford

I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne and thank my noble friend Lord Renton for moving it on his behalf. If the Minister was in any doubt about the need for the amendments, the contributions from all sides of the Committee will have reinforced the case for them. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, expressed her concerns. Our debate has been diverted from the matter of pure fairness mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, to the whole question of the economic prosperity of the areas concerned. The Minister cannot argue that the new legislation will have no effect, not many people will use it, and therefore no provision will be made, against those who say that if it will indeed have no great effect, those who are affected should surely be able to seek compensation. In certain parts of the world, sadly, wars are still fought over land. I declare a "non-interest": we have land in East Anglia, but it is not access land. However, the Bill will affect some of our owner occupiers and tenants. I believe that the Government have underestimated the importance of Amendments Nos. 302 and 303.

As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, the amendments deal with two totally different issues. I hope that the Government will accept the strength of feeling on all sides of the Committee and that they will respond to the individual items raised—I have listed 10 or 11. I do not propose to go through each of the issues. If I did so, Members of the Committee might become restive. However, I should like to add weight to the sound views that have been expressed. I believe that the important difference that the Bill will make to those who live and work in the affected areas has been underestimated.

Lord Whitty

I agree that the two proposed new clauses are important. It is important that human rights considerations are addressed in our debates. However, I do not see any need for compensation in the general sense proposed, nor do I believe that that contravenes any human rights provisions.

The amendments would provide for compensation to be payable in three instances: for any additional expenses incurred; for increased liability; and for any diminution in the value of land resulting from the new right. Other parts of the Bill deal with those issues adequately. But let me address the Human Rights Act issues raised by—

Lord Roberts of Conwy

Perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene. He will have heard my noble friend Lord Peel refer to access agreements already established in the Peak District. I am aware of access agreements in other national parks. They mean that owners—farmers—have been compensated for any disturbance, diminution in value and so on. Is the Minister saying that those access agreements are no longer necessary and that those farmers or landowners will not be compensated further when their agreements with the relevant authority come to an end?

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty

Whatever is covered by the voluntary agreements within the Peak District, they do not provide the kind of access or the provisions to protect the interests of the landowner that are contained within this Bill. Indeed, they have much less generous provisions in relation to restrictions and do not remove the liability, for example, for natural features of the landscape, let alone the wider exclusion of liability for which we have indicated we shall bring forward a further amendment. Therefore, the position in the Peak District is, first, a voluntary position; and secondly, it is not access with the safeguards to the landowner, as provided for in this Bill. It is actually more widespread access than that provided in the Bill.

Perhaps I may address the Human Rights Act question because my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, on a previous occasion have laid great emphasis on this legislation not being compatible with the Act. I profoundly disagree with that interpretation. As the noble Lord indicated, the convention on human rights states: No one should be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law … The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest". We do not regard the introduction of a statutory right as "taking a property", but clearly it does fall under the second of those provisions that relate to the control of property. Where there is a taking of property, in almost all circumstances the issue of compensation arises. But compensation is not necessarily required to achieve the kind of balance stipulated in the Human Rights Act in the case of action concerning the control and use of the property, rather than the "depriving" of the property. Therefore, the issue is not black and white: it is an issue as to whether the balance is adequate; whether there is discrimination; and whether the procedures under this legislation comply with natural justice.

I turn now to each of the provisions for which compensation is claimed under these amendments. First, there is the additional cost. The Bill has been constructed and subsequently amended to minimise the cost impact on landowners. As my noble friend said, it is true that the evidence available prior to the introduction of this Bill showed that few landlords would be significantly affected. But even for those few the Bill's provisions are designed to allow for those effects to be either removed or minimised. Some of the amendments adopted in another place and here will reduce further the likelihood of any cost falling upon the landowner. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, acknowledged that fact when he referred to some of those amendments.

Given all those measures, the funds that we shall make available to ensure the proper operation of the new right and the provision as regards stiles, signposts and so on (which falls on the access authority and not on the landowner), we cannot see why there should be any significant additional cost to the vast majority of landowners. That includes the sort of indirect, economic cost to which reference has been made, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy; namely, that the effect would be to deprive the landowner of the economic income to which he is entitled. If anything, the provisions of this Bill will enhance the attractiveness of the land and not diminish it.

As to the kind of damage to which the noble Baroness—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I hope that the noble Lord will explain what he just said. I understood him to say that the effect of this Bill would, if anything, be to enhance the value of land owned by landowners. I fail absolutely to understand that statement.

Lord Whitty

I explained the position last week when the noble Lord was not present in the Chamber. First, in relation to the provision of the type of facilities that I mentioned, the landowner may well be able to gain significantly greater economic income from the land than he has hitherto. Secondly, as regards liability, someone may have access to the noble Lord's land at present under some free arrangement. The noble Lord is subject to full liability for that person should he be injured or should anything else befall him, whereas this provision provides for the minimal liability in relation to trespassers. Therefore, in a number of cases— though not all—the prospective costs for a landlord would be less as a result of this Bill than they are now.

As to the kind of damages to which the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, referred, most would be criminal or negligent damages and subject to the normal civil or common law. Therefore, they would not arise in this case. On the question of additional facilities, the Bill deliberately puts no obligation on landowners to provide any facilities for those using the access rights. They need not contribute to those facilities—such as gates, bridges, stiles, and so on— although some may choose to install them and create paths. However, that is their choice. Indeed, where such facilities are required, the access authorities would pay for them.

I turn now to liability, the second area for which it is claimed compensation should be paid. As I said, the liability is reduced to the liability that is owed to trespassers in this case, rather than being full liability. Indeed, we dealt with this point in our debate on occupiers' liability last week. The Government have indicated that we are prepared to remove even this limited liability owed to those exercising the right of access in relation to risks arising from, for example, common boundary features, as well as from natural features of the landscape. Again, the liability regime that we are proposing for access land will not give rise to any significant increase in insurance premiums and in some cases will actually reduce that liability. I give way.

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 we do not have such concessions before us. Therefore, it is most difficult to determine where such extra costs will be met and where they will not. I do not doubt the Minister's word for one minute but I am sure that he will understand why the confusion has arisen. It is difficult for those noble Lords who were not present on the previous occasion to understand quite what the Government are accepting and what will be left for the landowners or land managers to undertake.

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, in the same manner and on the same basis as provided under … the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949". It merely amplifies Amendment No. 302. I say with great respect that I believe that it is a sensible amendment for my noble friend Lord Brittan to have tabled.

Lord Whitty

I accept the inter-relationship between the two amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred. However, I made the point that the provision in the 1949 Act deals with an entirely different situation: where there is discrimination between landowners who own the same kind of land. Therefore, the issue of compensation arises as there is discrimination on the part of the planning authority in that situation. That authority is taking one piece of land into the provisions of that Act but is leaving parcels of similar land outside it. However, we are talking here about the whole of open countryside as defined in the Bill and as identified by the Countryside Agency in its mapping provisions. That is an entirely different situation.

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?

4.15 p.m.

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 is not quite the same as meeting the full costs. Can the Minister answer directly whether he can give a commitment that access authorities will meet the full costs to anyone who suffers those costs under the Bill?

Lord Whitty

The noble Earl will have to be more precise as to which costs. The costs of providing adequate access will fall to the access authorities. There will be no cost to the landowners of providing access.

Earl Peel

If a land manager incurs direct costs because of the access provisions under the Bill, will the access authority pay those direct costs to that individual?

Lord Whitty

I am still unclear what the noble Earl means by "direct costs". If he refers to the provision of gateways, stiles and facilities, those costs will fall on the access authority not the landowner. That is clear in the Bill.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

As I see it, the Minister has still not come clean on one point. The Government—both Mr Meacher and the noble Lord—appear to be confident that there will be no damage or loss to landlords as a result of the Bill and that, therefore, there will be no call for compensation. I do not think that I misunderstand in any way what the Minister said today. The question is this; if he is so confident, why will he not make a formal move to meet the anxieties of those who do not agree with him and accept the amendment or something very like it?

Lord Renton

Before the Minister answers my noble friend's point, perhaps he will bear in mind that in very dry weather people who are given the right of access may well set fire to land, plantation or hedges, and so on. That factor needs to be borne in mind. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to answer any of those points before I withdraw the amendment.

Lord Whitty

In that situation, as in those situations described by analogy by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, there are the normal proceedings of civil and criminal law and civil compensation. They do not have to be provided as a result of granting access. If someone who has access then causes criminal damage, we are in the area of criminal law. That is and will remain the situation.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

The Minister has not yet answered. My noble friend Lord Renton intervened. I ask the Minister to answer this single question. If the Government are so confident—we challenge it—that no damage or loss will follow as a result of the Bill, why do they not accept this simple amendment? It will not cost them anything.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

When the Minister replies, will he explain how unwitnessed damage will be compensated for?

Lord Shepherd

Perhaps I may intervene. We have been discussing the amendment for 51 minutes. I do not in any way decry the time the Opposition have taken on the amendment. However, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made it clear to the Committee that it is his intention not to press the amendment and that he wishes to withdraw it. In view of the fact that the noble Lord who was to move the amendment is not in his place, perhaps that might be a justification for the noble Lord, Lord Renton, asking the leave of the Committee for the amendment to be withdrawn.

It is quite wrong that we continue to debate the amendment when it is clear that the noble Lord does not intend to press it—unless some Members of the Committee intend not to listen to him and to press the amendment. I suggest that in fairness to all the other Members of the Committee who sit here for many hours we should let the amendment be withdrawn and move on. We should not abuse the position of the Government in the sense of time.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

The noble Lord speaks with the weight of a past Leader of the House. I accept much of what he says. However, the Minister has been faced repeatedly throughout the debate with a simple question, which I asked again just now. He has not attempted to answer it.

Lord Shepherd

That is not a new position in Committee. I have been a Member of this House for some 44 years. I have rarely, if ever, found myself with a satisfactory reply. I suggest we move on.

Lord Renton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 303 not moved.]

Earl Peel had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 304: After Clause 38, insert the following new clause—