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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
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?
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
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:
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
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.
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