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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I shall be interested to hear the Government's views on the amendment. I suspect that the Government will say that the majority of these hazards in open country are already covered by legislation and that there are fences, markers, caps on mines and so on. But it may well be, as my noble friend Lady Byford implied, that many new crevices and so on will be a danger to the public as a result of the creation of access land. It is those hazards, which are not clearly recorded and marked currently, that we wish to be sure are made safe for the public visiting access land.
I know that in South Wales, in the Brecon Beacons and elsewhere--perhaps where the noble Baroness, Baroness Gale, takes her spontaneous walks--there are many deep, unmarked crevices resulting from old mine workings going back to time immemorial. I also know the Halkyn mountain area in north-east Wales where there were many tin workings. Again, the majority of those old workings are properly capped. Nevertheless, it may well be that with these provisions in the Bill we are opening up new areas where such hazards are not properly fenced and will therefore be a hazard to the visiting public.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, concerns the safety of those exercising the new right of access and how that safety should be protected. I should say at the outset that we had understood there was a general consensus that the new right of access should not lead to the disfigurement of open countryside by excessive numbers of signs and fences. We have made it clear that those exercising the new right should take responsibility for their own safety. That is one of the reasons why the Bill removes occupiers' liability in relation to natural features of the landscape, and we are considering what further changes might be needed to Clause 13.
The noble Baroness's amendment would require access authorities to assess access land in their area to see whether there is any source of danger on it, or from adjacent land, and to take action where necessary by
I hope that the Committee will agree that such dangers are part of the reason that many people wish to explore open country, and it is their responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary training and equipment to enjoy their visit. The Committee will be aware that we are removing all occupiers' liability in respect of features such as rock faces, potholes and any other natural features. In the region of the country where I live, that reassurance needs to be given wide publicity. Some of the local farmers--particularly in the Yorkshire Dales--believe that they will acquire a responsibility to protect people from the existence of potholes.
Clause 23 of the Bill provides that exclusions or restrictions may be directed to protect the public from danger arising from anything done or proposed to be done on access land or adjacent land. This includes activities which have occurred in the past. So if, for example, a disused quarry is mapped as access land, the relevant authority may, if necessary, direct that the land where the quarry is situated is closed to access.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the 1949 Act, which contained provision for areas of access land to be fenced off on grounds of safety to the public. However, that Act did not contain a provision similar to that in Clause 23 of the present Bill, which enables exclusions or restrictions to be directed by the relevant authority on such grounds. Nor did it eliminate landowners' liability in relation to some features of the landscape. That is the approach we have favoured in the Bill and it will enable the public's safety to be protected where necessary without unduly littering the landscape with fences and signs.
Access authorities have the power under Clause 19 to erect notices informing the public of any matters relating to access land. Such signs might indicate at points of access that there were hazards on the land, or could be placed near to hazards as a warning--perhaps to explain that access is excluded from the land surrounding the site. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is as aware as I of the kind of circumstance that arises in Swithland Woods in Leicestershire.
This power is sufficient to enable warning to be given where it is needed without placing the access authority under a duty to fence off any land which might pose a slight risk to public safety. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that there will be clear areas, where everything is black or white, but that other areas will be more grey and local judgment will
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. She always responds fully and with due care to the amendments. Her reference to Swithland Woods is because that area is part of an old quarry and some of it is quite rightly clearly marked. I thank the Minister for commenting on that and I accept what she said.
The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that land managers will not incur extra cost. As I am sure the Minister will understand, sometimes not even the land managers know exactly where some of these areas are, and that is the problem. The amendment seeks to ensure that if, for example, someone has a mishap on the site of an old quarry or whatever, landowners would not be liable, nor would they have to erect fences. I hope that I am not misinterpreting what the Minister said.
I, like the Minister, am concerned that our countryside does not become littered with notices. It would be a great tragedy if that were the result of this legislation. However, it was not clear to me from the Minister's response whether the example I gave would be included. We debated natural features two days ago and I accept the idea; however, I am not sure whether the example I have given would come within (I shall not say "fall" within!) the definition of such features. I am happy to give way to the noble Baroness.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: On this point I should be very cautious indeed, because of the range of judgments that have to be taken locally about the circumstances. We are talking about circumstances in which grants may be available which may not be used by someone for some other reason. I should not like to give a blanket assurance. I should prefer to write to the noble Baroness with detailed advice from the lawyers because in that way I can answer her question fully without giving a misleading blanket assurance.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. That is a sensible suggestion. This matter is difficult. As the Minister knows, there are areas where one is not sure where such problems might arise. Under these circumstances, I accept the Minister's response.
Clause 20(1) makes reference to the interpretation of exclusion or restriction of access in Chapter II. The amendment seeks to apply the definition of exclusion or restriction to the entire part, thus obviating the need for duplication elsewhere. I beg to move.
Lord Whitty: I am always grateful for drafting suggestions from the noble Lord; however, I am not sure that I share his concern. The amendment seeks to extend the definition to include all of Part I. The definitions of the exclusion and restriction of access are set out in Clause 20 at the beginning of Chapter II, which then proceeds to provide for how such exclusions or restrictions may be imposed. There is a special provision in Clause 19(2) which avoids any doubt that the exclusions or restrictions referred to in Clause 19(1) are indeed those defined in Clause 20.
Of course, it would have the effect that the noble Lord suggests if the definition in Clause 20 were to be applied to the whole of Part I; therefore, in one sense the amendment is entirely proper. But there is no particular benefit to be gained from such an amendment because the other parts of Part I refer forward to Clause 20 in any case. Therefore, the situation is already covered, albeit slightly more indirectly than the noble Lord would like. For that reason, his amendment would not make the provision any clearer than it already is. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that conclusion, and I should be grateful if he would withdraw the amendment.
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