Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Peel: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am a little confused by his arguments. I believe that what he is saying is that the Government have not gone far enough. I would agree with that. However, he is also saying that the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend does not go far enough because the noble Lord would have liked to see the word "natural" removed from the Bill. That would have encompassed everything and thus would have removed liability altogether. Given the noble Lord's position, why is he opposed to removing liability from historical, traditional or archaeological features?

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I think that I explained my position. The words "historical" and "traditional" are not clear and would provide a recipe for litigation. Although many features will be plainly historical or traditional, I can think of many others where the definition could be argued. It is my view that, once the Bill has been enacted, the more that can be achieved by agreement and sensible discussion and the less through the law courts, the better.

Lord Monson: My Lords, even if the noble Lord is right to say that Amendment No. 8 is somewhat

23 Nov 2000 : Column 988

imprecise and could leave open the possibility of litigation, does he not agree that Amendment No. 10, tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, is extremely specific? Can he therefore support that amendment?

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I shall have to read it again before I answer that question. I must be honest and say that I have not devoted my close attention to the amendment. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to respond to it a little later.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend the Duke of Montrose in his amendment, in particular as regards dogs and their potential to cause annoyance to livestock and wildlife. As my noble friend pointed out, this can be a serious problem.

I do not believe that it is equitable for a landowner or occupier to be held responsible for an event that was first instigated by a dog belonging to a person walking on the land or even an animal belonging to a trespasser. The whole issue of dogs on access land was raised in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, promised to come back with a statement on the matter. To that end, he has written to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. I have had sight of the letter. It deals in part with the issues that have been raised, along with matters such as disease and parasites. I appreciate that this is not the time to discuss those points.

However, the Minister also stated that this might be dealt with by the relevant authorities. They will impose restrictions and develop codes of conduct. It might be appropriate now to suggest to the Minister that the issues with which we are dealing tonight should be included in those codes; namely, the irritation or annoyance of livestock by dogs. In that way, dog owners will be made aware of the problems when they are passing through areas being grazed by livestock. Owners must realise that dogs can be instruments of great annoyance to livestock and wildlife.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, because we have reached Third Reading, I shall not rehearse the debates that we have already held at some length on this matter. Mention has been made again today of the need to establish balance in the Bill. We feel that that point of balance has now been reached. At earlier stages there were many points on the matter of owners' liability which caused us concern, but we are grateful to the Government for having moved to meet those concerns both at previous stages and with the government amendments tabled today.

We felt that it was only right that the provisions in the Bill as regards owners' liability had both to add up and to be intellectually coherent. However, we were also concerned that the Bill should not tempt an owner to remove a feature, perhaps one that forms an important part of our traditional landscape. I am thinking of dry stone walls or bridges within an area of access land. My noble friend Lord Greaves covered

23 Nov 2000 : Column 989

that point well and has certainly made me think about the issue again. We were also concerned about natural features, but the government amendment tabled on Report has appropriately eased that debate. Similarly, as regards the features referred to in Amendment No. 6, we believe that the provisions contained in new Section 1A to the 1957 Act, as set out in Clause 13(3), are an appropriate way to deal with them.

Government Amendment No. 7 is similar to one which we tabled at an earlier stage. We were most grateful for the assistance we received from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. The Front Bench had in mind here features such as gates and stiles rather than walls. Indeed, we thought of it as the "Ronnie Corbett" rather than the "Greaves Junior" amendment. Nevertheless, the government amendment will work well.

Amendment No. 8 seems to be drafted rather too wide. Occupiers should be subject to a minimum level of liability and responsibility. Amendment No. 9 extends the issues to land or features adjacent to access land. I think that that would be inappropriate. We are dealing with access land in the Bill. For that reason, it would be wrong to extend the provisions.

As regards Amendment No. 10, I think that my noble friend Lord Greaves is a "rocks" rather than an "animals" person. My noble friends and I have not felt so far that an amendment of this kind was necessary. I wonder why, for example, the national parks authorities have not pressed for an amendment of this kind. National parks often maintain animals on land to which the public already has access. I can assure noble Lords that the ponies on Dartmoor and Exmoor are quite capable of being jolly vicious if they put their minds to it. Given that, I rather doubt whether such an amendment is necessary.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lord, I have some sympathy with the concerns expressed about the traditional, historical and archaeological features. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that Clause 13(3) really does cover owner liability. I am not convinced that it does. The rather subtle phrases about having regard to the fact that the owner should not be put under undue financial liability and that it is important to maintain the character of the countryside and so on, do not seem to go quite far enough in absolving owners from actual liability and responsibility for damage caused by those features. I have an open mind about the issue, but I am concerned about it.

The noble Duke has identified a problem that I had not thought of. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that national park authorities have not raised the issue, but you do not need to have a dog with you to be quite frightened by flighty heifers, never mind about other more aggressive animals of the male kind. There is a real problem here. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer the noble Duke in a convincing way, otherwise I shall remain quite concerned about this issue.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this is a fairly wide-ranging group of amendments. I shall speak first to the two

23 Nov 2000 : Column 990

government amendments. Amendment No. 7, to which other noble Lords have referred, relates to "under" a gate, style or fence. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we were concerned primarily with fences previously. But you learn a lot as you go through legislation such as this, and you discover that there are such things as hogg or hoggets holes, through which sheep can walk under stone walls. I had never previously heard the term "hogg" referred to as a sheep but, as I say, we learn. The amendment will provide for such a contingency and meets the anxieties which were expressed in relation to fences at the previous stage.

Turning to government Amendment No. 19, I should explain that regulations made under Clause 42 provide that the fact that land is subject to the right of access is to be disregarded in deciding whether or not the land is a "public place" for the purposes of a specified entitlement in other legislation provided for different purposes. The amendment will therefore clarify that such regulations can be made in relation to things omitted to be done as well as things done.

Amendment No. 19 will enable regulations to be made which would provide that access under the new statutory right may be disregarded in determining whether a disused mine shaft or a quarry is a statutory nuisance. I think that will clarify the position on a number of matters.

The remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Peel--and, to some extent, those of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves--tempt me into a further, quietly philosophical, debate about the question of liability and balance within the Bill. I spoke at some length on this issue at the previous stage; I do not intend to do so today. Reducing the liability of those affected by the extension of the right of access to their land--the owners and occupiers--to what would otherwise be the liability to trespass, is part of the balance of the Bill. Where even that relatively minimal liability makes them extremely vulnerable in relation to, for example, the natural features and the boundary features to which we have referred, we limit it yet further.

But I am not prepared to accept that there is no liability on the part of occupiers and owners of land, any more than I would in respect of owners and occupiers of any other property. The liability is low and is contained by omitting the most vulnerable features. By these further exclusions, I believe, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we have now got the correct balance in the Bill.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to achieve the obliteration of liability in almost all circumstances. For the reasons I have stated, I cannot accept the amendment. It would seriously undermine the balance we have achieved.

Amendment No. 6 deals with the issue of historical, traditional or archaeological features. We have already dealt with this. The guidance in Clause 13(3) would require the courts to have regard to the importance of maintaining such features. This would ensure that the liability arising from those features would, in practice, be very low indeed. The courts would have to take that into account, and that would

23 Nov 2000 : Column 991

involve an element of judgment by the court. It would also avoid the kind of definitional problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred.

I can see no reason to exclude all liability from such features, particularly as some will be fairly indistinguishable from other features of access land. Nevertheless, it is important that the courts are given the duty of taking into account the historical and traditional features as well as the question of putting an undue burden on the landowner. We have therefore covered the point--perhaps more indirectly than she would have liked--of the noble Baroness's amendment.

Perhaps I may now deal with Amendment No. 10 and the point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I think I now understand what he is talking about. However, the noble Duke's amendment would place users of the statutory right of access in the same position as trespassers if they were harmed by a dangerous animal. In general, the owners of animals are strictly liable--that is to say without proof of negligence--if the animal belongs to a dangerous species, or is known to be dangerous and causes an accident. As the noble Duke said, that strict liability does not apply to trespassers.

But an owner will be liable if he is negligent--for example, if he turns out a bull with known dangerous tendencies on land frequented by the public without proper warnings. The Animals Act envisages dangerous animals being kept to protect property. Given that we are introducing in the Bill a new right of access, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to remove this liability in the terms suggested by the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page