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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

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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--


(" . In exercising any function under Part I of this Act in relation to any access land, any access authority, the appropriate countryside body, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall be under a duty to give precedence to the conservation of the flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features, and any scheduled ancient monument, on the land.").

The noble Earl said: Noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be delighted to hear that I have no intention of taking up too much of the time of the Committee on the amendment. I have made most of the remarks that I would have made when discussing a previous amendment.

Noble Lords: The amendment has already been debated.

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Earl Peel: I have not withdrawn the amendment. I wish to make one brief remark. The purpose of the amendment was to see a commitment--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment needs to be moved in order for anyone to speak to it. It is either moved or not moved. It cannot be spoken to until it is moved.

Earl Peel: In order not to waste the time of the Committee, I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi): The amendment cannot be withdrawn if it has not been moved. It is best for the noble Earl to say "Not moved".

[Amendment No. 304 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 304A:

    After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--


(" . Schedule (Constitution of the Agricultural Land Tribunal) shall have effect.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 306A; the one following immediately upon the other.

The amendment concerns amending the constitution of the agricultural land tribunal. The new clause of the new schedule would make appeals under the access provisions to the agricultural land tribunal rather than to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. The agricultural land tribunal was established in 1947 to hear applications between farmers, landowners and, it was envisaged, the Minister on agricultural matters. It has functioned successfully for over 50 years. The tribunal sits with a legally experienced chairman, a farming member and a landowner member.

In order to deal with access matters, the tribunal should be re-formed to have a farming or land-owning member and a member representing users of access rights. A special panel of assessors expert in ecology, land management, nature conservation or heritage protection should be formed to advise the tribunal if specialist issues arise.

The amendments simply make these changes to the agricultural land tribunal provisions in the Agriculture Act 1947. The composition of the tribunal on existing matters is unaltered. If one gives it considerable thought, I believe that that could be a helpful amendment. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I am a little confused. We seem to be in danger of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear--if that is not the wrong thing to say in view of the difficulties of the pig farming industry at present. It is true that the agricultural land tribunals have worked successfully since 1947, although I temper somewhat the word "successfully". They are

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legalistic and rather slow. They have a slim, focused remit which the amendment would extend quite considerably.

The constitution proposed in Amendment No. 306A does not fit the bill. I presume that the new access assessors panel would ensure that ecological, nature conservation and heritage issues were taken into account. It would be unhelpful if it sat to one side and had no real role. It is unclear how the panel would be utilised. Would it be at the discretion of the chairman?

The principal parties should include bodies that have a role in nature conservation and heritage protection. It is unhelpful to specify only the landowners and those who wish to have access as the principal parties.

A tribunal is not the right mechanism for dealing with appeals, because it implies that, other than the chairman, there will be only the two parties between whom the dispute has arisen. That is not the right way forward, because all the relevant points of view need to be heard, not just two.

Splendid bodies though the agricultural land tribunals may be in other ways, for a variety of reasons they are not right in this case.

Lord Whitty: The amendments would make sense only if the noble Lord had pursued his amendments the other night to ensure that appeals under Part I were heard by the land tribunals instead of the Secretary of State. I am sure that noble Lords do not want to go over all the arguments again, but in essence we do not believe that the agricultural land tribunals are the most appropriate bodies for dealing with appeals under the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone has said, they deal with specific disputes between agricultural landlords and their tenants that arise under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.

The amendments would alter the constitution of the tribunals, increasing their work load and resulting in a much slower appeals mechanism than is provided for in the Bill. They would also increase costs and, potentially, the time-scale of appeals.

The Bill makes adequate provision for appeals procedures. The provision enabling the Secretary of State to delegate appeals will allow for the appointment of a person or body with the requisite knowledge, manpower and experience to deal with any appeals that arise. The agricultural land tribunals do not have such expertise and it would be undesirable to impose on them an additional duty along very different lines from their current remit and work load. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendments.

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