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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, as usual, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, briefly and clearly made several important and cogent points. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made a long and detailed speech, although I should have thought that paragraph (c) of Amendment No. 73D, proposed by the noble Lord, was unnecessary because rock, snow and ice are natural features. I would not have thought that climbing over them was different from climbing over a wall or a gate. I may be wrong and the Minister will probably comment on it.
Amendment No. 73 makes no mention of hedges. Are thorn hedges, many of which have been planted and through which people may push and be injured, natural features if they have been planted comparatively recently? The Minister may also wish to comment on that.
Furthermore, what about boggy areas which have been created by occupiers in response to government grants for the creation of wetlands? A great deal of such work has been done recently. Those points need to be taken into account.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, perhaps I may add one or two points for the Minister's consideration. What is the landowner's position when he has an interest in a construction which does not belong to him? I am thinking in particular of electricity supply lines and water leaks, which occur in considerable numbers in access areas, particularly mountains. Although it is not immediately obvious that they pose a hazard, accidents can occur. Storms can bring down electricity supply lines and people can come into contact with them and suffer as a result. The same applies to leaks which during the day are obvious and can be avoided, but problems may occur as a result of night access. I am concerned about the occupiers' liability when they may not own the construction but when a rental may be payable to them.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for edging towards a more equitable situation than that which we discussed in Committee. The Minister spoke reassuringly about constructing a balance. Having listened to today's debate from all around the House--contributions coming from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and my noble friend Lord Peel--it appears that an unsatisfactory balance has been achieved.
However, it would be wrong for us to believe that the Minister was right in saying that we should be achieving a balance. People are being given the right to roam often against the wishes of owners and occupiers. Correctly apportioning liability in that respect is not a question of balance but of fairness. That is totally different. It is not a question of what is right for the person gaining access but of whether that is fairly balanced as against the landowner.
The landowner will undoubtedly be prejudiced by the Bill. As it stands, he will be faced with the dilemma of incurring additional costs in order to fence off old mine shafts, pull down buildings and reorganise his land in order to minimise the liability to which he might be exposed. The Minister ought to take the proposal away again because I do not believe that the owners or occupiers should be faced with additional liabilities as a result of the provisions of the Bill.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Government's Amendment No. 73 and believe that it has helped the situation. However, what will be the effect if, as we discussed on the first day of the Report stage, the 20-metre curtilage around a house is reintroduced? Is the proposal contained in the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, necessary? If we were also to create a curtilage around buildings, would liability
I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 73B and 73C. While they may appear to raise small points, at the moment Amendment No. 73 makes provision only for people who pass over or through the items listed. However, they may pass by a fence, perhaps carelessly, and have a nasty accident. Further, small people may pass under items. Although this may appear to be a matter of semantics, if one argues liability in court the fact that some of these words are excluded is important. We believe that it is much simpler to refer to any injury from these items.
As to Amendment No. 73C, the list of items from which people may suffer injury when crossing a boundary excludes, for example, bridges or stepping stones over water. In the areas with which the Bill is concerned water will form a good number of boundaries. Cattle grids are also common items on which it is easy to slip and break an ankle. We believe that there is good reason to include our wording in these amendments.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I agree with the observations of my noble friend Lord Greaves about rock features, to which I need not refer again. As to mine shafts, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, raised some interesting points. I shall listen carefully to the Minister's reply and give the matter further thought.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel. I thank the Government for having listened to the arguments in Committee. I am sure that the Minister is reeling from the suggestion that the Government should consider lifting all liability with regard to natural features. My noble friend quite rightly highlighted the important question of mines, which was well supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Landowners will be put to great extra cost if they must deal with the many mines around the country.
My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to one important issue which runs throughout the Bill: whereas the Bill gives people a right of access--which is welcome enough--it also places an extra burden, in this case a liability, on those whose land is open to access. We have encouraged the Government to move so far, but we hope that the debates around the House will encourage them to consider the valid points which have been made by noble Lords on all sides of the House.
However, I do not believe that these amendments are necessary in view of the provisions of the Bill and the Occupiers' Liability Act 1984. That Act already provides that no duty of any kind is owed to any person in respect of risks willingly accepted. Clearly, that would apply to rock climbers, abseilers and snow and ice climbers in the kind of situation to which the noble Lord referred. They are already excluded in relation to natural features, but they would also be excluded from rock faces in this regard. Therefore, I believe that their anxieties in this respect are misplaced. Likewise, landowners' anxieties are misplaced in relation to those who undertake such activities.
In any case, I am not prepared to sanction the blanket removal of liability in respect of all disused quarries or other rock faces created by man. For example, if there was a particularly dangerous disused quarry close to where people lived, it might be reasonable to expect at least a warning notice and, in some cases, fencing. We are not dealing here solely with rock climbers who knowingly and intentionally put themselves at risk; we may also be dealing with children or other walkers to whom there is some liability in respect of quarries. I shall return to other aspects of mines and quarries in a moment.
Although I understand the anxieties of the rock climbing community in this respect, I believe that they are already covered. To do what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggests and remove the liability will put others at risk when there is no particular reason to remove what is, after all, a pretty minimal liability.
Perhaps I may address the central issue in this group of amendments. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that this is not a matter of balance but fairness. I believe that we have been very fair to landowners. The general message is that we have reduced the liability towards people who are legally on their land to a level which is lower than that owed by other property owners to people who are illegally on their land; and, in respect of particularly hazardous or difficult areas, we have totally removed the liability. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, is wrong to say that that breaks all precedent. The noble Earl's proposal goes in the opposite direction. The precedent is the liability to
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