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The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, animals which are dangerous or known to be dangerous will still be the liability they are at present. I am concerned about animals which fall under the other three categories, where there is a possibility of people being injured or damage being caused merely by the size of an animal or by an animal's unusual reactions during a certain season. I am talking about ordinary animals which have no general potentiality to damage but for which, under these circumstances, the owner has a liability.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in such a case the court would have to decide whether it was reasonable to foresee a liability and assess whether the owner had been negligent in respect of the normally docile animal to which the noble Duke referred.
The noble Duke indicated that increased access to land is liable to increase the number of cases--I assume that is what lies behind the amendment--where such creatures would be provoked and, by stampeding and so on, would cause damage. The likelihood of that is relatively low but, were it to arise directly, the court would have to take into account whether the owner should have known that would happen and whether he had acted unreasonably in allowing those animals to be pastured.
I would not have thought that simply having the trespasser liability would prevent livestock from continuing to pasture on access land in normal circumstances--unless, of course, the owner knew that there were dangerous propensities in a particular animal or type of animal; otherwise, if the owner was acting reasonably in the way described by the noble Duke, he would not be found liable at court.
I have some sympathy with landowners who have concerns about injuries sustained by encounters with animals. We shall be looking to guidance from the countryside bodies to ensure that people appreciate that livestock--even docile livestock--can cause damage or injury if provoked, even if unwittingly provoked. The onus will be on walkers primarily to take sensible precautions. I would hope that greater information on this issue will follow as part of the general duties of the countryside authorities, and that a court would use its judgment in the kind of situation about which the noble Duke is concerned.
Amendment No. 9 would extend the exclusion to features adjacent to access land. I find it slightly odd that in dealing with a question of liability on access land we are now bringing in adjacent buildings. I have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, speak at length on this issue, both in this Chamber and outside. I understand his concern. However, the amendment would create a situation whereby a building that had not been directly affected by any right of access would change its liability. In most cases, all the landowner would have to do if a building was dangerous--as he would in relation to dangerous quarries, to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves--would be to put up a notice to that effect. But under the amendment the building would be on non-access land. It would be no different, therefore, from a building anywhere in the country. The fact that someone owns a building on a busy street that is about to become busier, does not absolve that person from liability for people who might, lawfully or unlawfully, enter that building.
I see no reason why owners of land adjacent to access land should be treated any differently from any other property owner in this respect. It cannot be right that someone who happens to own a building close to access land should be treated any differently. If we think, for example, of the safety of children, we could not accept that a house on the edge of a village that abutted access land should not have the same obligations as the owner of any other property within the village. If the building was dangerous or ruined, some elementary precautions would be the responsibility of the landowner. We should end up in an absurd situation were we to accept Amendment No. 9.
Earl Peel: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question on an important point. As I recall, when the Bill began its passage in the other place, the Government made a plain commitment that its provisions would not cause inconvenience or cost to owners and occupiers. However, it is clear from what the Minister has said that the Government now acknowledge that owners and occupiers will incur costs because of occupiers' liability precisely because of the access provisions in the Bill.
The Minister has made his case--he shakes his head. I know that he has gone some way down the line in dealing with the case of mines and quarries, but the occupiers' liability remains and that will bring a cost to the owner and occupier. I simply do not see how the Minister can deny that.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I deny it, as I did many months ago at Second Reading, when I referred to the vast tracts of countryside which are already subject to access provisions. For example, parts of the national parks have had arrangements with landowners that they would meet liability, but although they have some 5 million visitors only one case has been brought. That is a minimal change in liability. It is also the case in relation to the Peak District national parks. There has been a minimal number of cases, and a minimal number of successful cases.
I appreciate that we operate in a litigious society. Nevertheless, all standing experience suggests that successful claims for liability on existing access land have been negligible. I have no reason to believe that that should not continue to be the case with the increase in access land provided by the Bill.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, needless to say, I am disappointed with the Minister's response. However, I have some understanding of where he is coming from. During the course of debate on the Bill, the Government have given a great deal to various parts of the Opposition and they have helped, graciously and competently, to improve the Bill significantly. I am extremely grateful for that, as, I am sure, are other noble Lords.
I wonder about the Government's argument regarding liability. I do not believe that they are winning the intellectual argument. I think the Government feel that they have gone far enough and that they cannot give any more--particularly to
I turn, secondly, to my Amendment No. 8. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke to it at some length and asked the Minister a series of questions which went to the heart of the issue. In the past, I have taught people to climb and abseil on old and ancient quarries. I have taken parties down old and ancient copper and tin mines. It is possible to get into them; they are dangerous; people die in them and will, I dare say, continue to die in them. They certainly cause considerable problems.
Also, as a quarry owner when I was working for Redland plc, as a commercial enterprise, under the present law we were rightly forced to fence all our active quarries. There are a number of quarries--admittedly fairly small--and a number of old tin mines and the like which are not protected in any way as regards the general public. I want the Minister to tell me what the Government expect a landowner to do who has those features on his land. As I understand the Bill, the landowner retains liability for any accident that happens in those quarries, mines or whatever as a result of people having a right of access to the land.
The Government have not yet gone far enough. I am not sure that they have thought through the detail. I was grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, half admitted that she had not got to the core and the detail of the problem at earlier stages of the Bill. I hope that I do not misquote the noble Baroness. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I indicated in my previous remarks, I am not satisfied with the answer given by the Minister on the question of liability. I wish, therefore, to test the opinion of the House.