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The Duke of Montrose: Before the Minister sits down, I seek further clarification. As I understand it, the question of animals not belonging to a dangerous species is not necessarily covered by the law of negligence. The information available to me is that strict liability is imposed. The keeper is liable for damage caused by such an animal if that damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, would be

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likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, would be likely to be severe. Unless one's animals are tethered, one will carry some liability.

Lord Whitty: It may be that I need also to seek further clarification. My information is that it is not just dangerous species that I am talking about; it is animals that are likely to be dangerous. In some circumstances that would include a bull. Therefore, although I suspect that 98 per cent of bulls would not be on access land but in fields well clear of access land, the provisions are clear that, outside of dangerous animals, one would have positively to prove negligence. That would be quite difficult when dealing with sheep or grazing animals on access land. There is a low probability of incidents in those fields.

Earl Peel: Returning to the point I made before, does the Minister accept that he needs to look at the liability on night-time access as a separate issue?

Lord Whitty: In general, I should have thought that the probability of an incident at night-time was dramatically less than in daytime. First, there would be far fewer people involved. Secondly, more animals would be locked up at night-time than during the daytime. There is no specific liability as a result of night access. That would also be the view--in so far as we have ascertained it--of the insurance company.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for indicating that he will look at the issue again. Perhaps I may clarify one or two points with him. In earlier discussions he accepted that a stone wall is a natural feature. In order to protect walls from getting knocked by the livestock, farmers sometimes run a strand of barbed wire along the top of the wall. I do not know how the Minister would clarify which part of the wall is natural. Obviously the piece of wire is an integral part of the stone wall. However, it would be more likely that more damage could be caused by the barbed wire part than the actual stone wall. Perhaps he would think about that. Quite a lot of farmers use barbed wire along the walls. Stone walls are not then the easiest of things to negotiate.

The Minister referred to dangerous animals. The instance that I gave of him was not of dangerous animals in our own fields. That was the tragedy. Our dog was elderly. She was at the other side of the field and did not see the cattle coming across. It was mothers with young calves. The mothers turned on the dog because they thought she was a threat to the calves. Therefore, it is not just a question of the animal itself being dangerous; it is sometimes that a mother wants to protect her calf if she is suddenly confronted with something she is not expecting. As we are returning to the question of access land, and particularly the question of dogs on access land, it is an issue that the Minister might consider before we come back on Report.

Perhaps I may take up my noble friend's point on night-time access. I am somewhat surprised that the Minister does not think that there would be greater

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difficulties during night-time access when people are unlikely to know their way around fields or physically to see as well as they do in the daytime. That is an issue for the Minister to discuss before we come back on Report.

May I suggest, in all sincerity, on the question of premiums that I think insurance companies will look again at those whose land is declared access land or which falls within that area. They will demand an increase in premiums. They will certainly be very wary of such land.

The Minister referred to what happens on existing land, particularly National Trust land and other organised land. What we are suggesting is that many people will go at different times. It will be very informal. My concern is that the difficulties that may arise are unquantifiable. I find myself in sympathy with the Government on that point. But one should not compare the position now with how it may be in the future, particularly if many more people take up the opportunity to go on to access land.

Perhaps I may make another point. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, reflected what is happening in society today. When accidents occur, people tend to say, "We will sue". The Government should be aware of that point. In the past, when something minor happened, people did not report it. They received first aid where they could and went about their business. Unfortunately, in this day and age people are much more aware of what is possible. I, too, am concerned about "No win, no fee".

I hope that my comments have been constructive. The Government have to address a large problem. I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that he will look at the matter again. I hope that I have highlighted one or two aspects that he might consider before we reach the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 199 to 202 not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 203:


Page 8, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) The occupier of the land is not liable if he accidentally injures another person on his land by the legal discharge of firearms in the course of land management duties.").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we come back to the question of night-time access and to the dangers of lamping, a subject on which I have read some incredible literature during the course of the proceedings on the Bill, with people being shot when they are wandering around on moors. It is a probing amendment. I am trying to find out what the Government think the legal position will be.

The amendment was inspired by some of the briefing material I received. I would be flippant if I said that the uplands of Great Britain might look like a wild west shoot-out, with bullets zinging past one's ears every time one goes out. It is not like that. Another description would make it sound like a break from Colditz, with searchlights coming down as well. What

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is the situation? Are people being hit now? If we are managing to hit livestock and buildings, we should know about it. If no one has heard about it, we need not worry too much. We can then consider it to be a side issue. I am assured by many noble Lords that the people who are doing this are experts. The chance of a bullet taking a deflection and hitting someone a mile away is astronomically small. I advise those who believe that you have to have some good luck to counterbalance your bad luck to buy a lottery ticket straightaway.

I do not think that this is a serious situation, but if the Government can give an assurance that if something of this nature were to happen by accident, no problems will be encountered, I am sure that we shall be able to forget about it and move on to other parts of the Bill. I beg to move.

7.15 a.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As the noble Lord has just said, Amendment 203 proposes the exclusion of liability for injuries caused accidentally by firearms used for land management reasons.

In these circumstances, we are discussing a question of negligence rather than occupiers' liability. There has been consensus so far that landowners should remain liable for damage or injury caused by negligence in the way in which they conduct their activities. This must be right, especially in respect of firearms, which are dangerous. We believe that few people would understand if we absolved those using them from taking due care.

Responsible landowners will close their land during a period when game shooting is taking place and therefore the situation should be no different from that which obtains at present. So long as the landowner has properly notified the closure and the guns take the normal care that would be expected of them, it is highly unlikely that he could be claimed to be negligent because of an accident involving a trespasser on his land.

We know that land managers are worried about lamping at night when there are nocturnal ramblers on their land. I can understand those fears, although the experience of the National Trust indicates that such fears may well be exaggerated. The National Trust carries such controls at night on its land where night-time access is permitted. The trust recognises the need to exercise care, but so far has not needed to close land. If there are genuine problems with lamping and access, the proposed system of closures and restrictions is the way to deal with them.

Mercifully, there are very few accidents involving firearms and third parties in the countryside because of the care that landowners and managers are scrupulous in exercising. We can see no reason why the right of access, with the safeguards that we have put in place, should alter that. In the rare cases where there are accidents, if the landowner or manager has exercised due care, he cannot be held to be negligent. But if he is negligent, it must be right that he bears the consequences. This amendment would have the

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unfortunate effect of absolving landowners and managers from all liability in respect of accidental injury to third parties on their land from firearms, whether or not due care had been exercised. This would be tantamount to condoning accidents caused by carelessness, which we are quite sure, having listened carefully to the noble Lord when he moved the amendment, was not his intention. I hope that, with those reassurances, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


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