Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report


10  Liability

Reduced occupiers' liability

73.  The CROW Act amended section 1 of the Occupiers' Liability Act 1984 by removing the liability of occupiers in respect of risks arising from natural features of the landscape. This exclusion of liability is subject to certain safeguards and does not apply if the danger is due to anything done by the landowner with the intention of creating that risk, or being reckless as to whether that risk is created. Clause 288 of the draft Marine Bill extends this exclusion of liability, as regards land which is coastal margin, to include man-made features. This was deemed necessary because coastal land includes many man-made features, such as war-time defences.[118]

74.  Most witnesses, including the CLA and NFU, welcomed the extension of reduced occupiers' liability, and recognised that the public must take some responsibility for their own actions when visiting the coast.[119]

Our views

75.  We note that simply opening up land that was not previously available for access increases the chances of people either intentionally or accidentally trespassing on nearby private land. It seems landowners would be subject to a higher level of liability on their private land (under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1984) than on the new coastal margin access land: they would be held liable, for example, if they did not take reasonable care that trespassers did not suffer injury on their land if there was a known danger.[120] This could potentially create an odd situation whereby landowners had to start dealing with hazards off the access land in preference to those on the access land.

76.  We support the Bill's proposals to extend the reduction of occupier's liability to include man-made as well as natural features. However, in its Response, the Government should clarify the liability position of landowners on their private, non-access land, who may now experience a higher number of trespassers because of the opening-up of nearby access land.

Mapping of spreading room

77.  Natural England will include a basic map of the trail as part of each report it produces for each stretch of the coast, along with "an indication of the extent of any spreading room to either side of the trail".[121] However, coastal margin land will not be subject to the same level of detailed mapping as CROW access land, and Defra said the access corridor would be "identified by description and signs on the ground rather than maps".[122]

78.  Both the CLA and NFU wanted more precise mapping to take place. The CLA noted that the landowner's liability towards people entering the land would change in different situations depending on whether the person concerned was a trespasser, invited visitor, or is using a public right of way, CROW Act land, or proposed coastal access land—"as such landowners need to be sure about what their liability is in each location". It did not believe signage alone would provide sufficient clarity to either landowners or walkers.[123] The NFU made a similar point, saying clarity on legal responsibility would be "essential" to protect the landowner/occupier and user, and called for "precise maps of the coastal margin".[124]

79.  We questioned Natural England about the liability and mapping concerns expressed by the CLA and NFU. The Minister said he was confident that description at the beginning of the process would be sufficient. To provide maps, he said, would be "very expensive" and unnecessary.[125] Natural England, however, told us that maps of spreading room might be produced in occasional circumstances if Natural England was unable to give "legal clarity with words".[126]

Our views

80.  We agree that landowners might require an official detailed map of the boundaries of spreading room to ensure they are aware of their liability situation. The Bill should state that Natural England has an obligation to ensure landowners and walkers have a clear understanding about the extent of spreading room. Landowners and occupiers should be able to make representations (in the same way that they can about the alignment of the route and spreading room) if they believe this is not clear, and formally to request the production of a local map.

81.  The Government should also hold discussions with Ordnance Survey and Natural England to establish how the former intends to deal with the creation of the coastal pathway. If Ordnance Survey does create maps of the access routes, it must be clearly established what status in law these will have in the event of any legal action resulting from the public's use of the access facilities.

SPREADING ROOM

82.  Natural England should hold discussions with farmers and coastal businesses about the practicalities of spreading room and produce further advice to Government about the implications of spreading room, for example for livestock farmers and coastal businesses.

Animals

83.  Mr. Stephen Crabb MP introduced a Private Member's Bill (Animals Act 1971 (Amendment) Bill) during Session 2006-2007 to clarify the liability of keepers of animals. The Bill—which was four clauses long—aimed to ensure that responsible animal owners cannot be unfairly forced to pay compensation, where they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent accidents. Under current law, owners of animals such as horses and cattle can face huge compensation claims, even when it is accepted that an accident involving one of their animals was not their fault. The Bill, however, ran out of Parliamentary time so was not able to progress to the statute book.

84.  Several witnesses, including the NFU, CLA, and Ramblers' Association expressed disappointment that Mr Crabb's Bill was not able to progress to the statute book.[127] The CLA and NFU both wanted the failed Bill to be incorporated into the Marine Bill, if possible.[128] When questioned on this matter, Natural England acknowledged animal owner liability was a "real issue" that required resolving in the future, but believed it might be difficult to incorporate Mr Crabb's Bill into the Marine Bill because of scope.[129] The Minister, however, appeared more open to this possibility. He told us he would like Mr Crabb's proposals on the statute book "whether it is this or other means", and did not rule out the possibility of changing the Bill's long title to enable Mr Crabb's Bill to become part of a new, wider Marine Bill.[130]

85.  As this is still only a Draft Bill, we recommend the scope of the Bill be widened to include amendment of the Animals Act 1971 along the lines of the Animals Act 1971 (Amendment) Bill of Session 2006-07.


118   Explanatory Notes to the Draft Marine Bill, Cm 7351, April 2008, p 370 Back

119   Ev 32, para 12.1; Ev 37, para 29. Back

120   Open access and public liability, Open Access [Natural England] website, October 2005, www.openaccess.gov.uk. Back

121   Natural England, Coastal access: Natural England's outline scheme, April 2008, p 6 Back

122   One of the key reasons why the Government and Natural England decided not to choose the CROW Act policy option to create coastal access was that the mapping of land required under that Act was considered too complex in the context of coastal land. Mapping was also one of the main reasons why the final cost of implementing the CROW Act was £69 million against the original estimate of £28 million. "Access to the Coast: Frequently Asked Questions", Defra website, 30 June 2008, www.defra.gov.uk. Back

123   Ev 31, paras 10.1-10.4 Back

124   Ev 38, paras 34-35 Back

125   Q 458 Back

126   Q 45 Back

127   Ev 37, para 31; Ev 32, para 12.3; Ev 76, para 9.4.  Back

128   Ev 52, para 6(d); Ev 32, para 12.3.  Back

129   Q 78 Back

130   Qq 464-465 Back


 
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