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The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, my Amendment No. 10 is grouped with Amendment No. 6. Unfortunately it has not been possible for the noble Countess, Lady Mar, whose name also appears above the amendment, to stay . She has a great deal of experience with animals in rural situations. I probably need to declare an interest as someone who has been involved for almost 40 years in livestock rearing and in hill land management.
I have read carefully the Minister's reply to the amendment I moved at Second Reading. As I understand the position, it is a little more complicated than that reading of the Minister's reply seems to suggest. Under Section 2 of the Animals Act 1971, the keeper of an animal which causes damage has strict liability if three conditions are met; meaning, that there will be no need to prove negligence. The first of the three grounds is the one that I raised when trying to gain a better understanding of the Minister's reply at Second Reading. The owner is likely to be liable for damage if,
As far as concerns the access land proposed under the Bill, there will be no trespassers other than any who perhaps contravene or have flouted the stipulations laid down in Clause 2; and, of course, that would have to be proved to their satisfaction. Therefore, all this land will carry a totally new liability for the livestock owner unless an amendment such as that which I have tabled is accepted.
The types of ordinary livestock which might unexpectedly cause damage when faced with a stranger are bulls of any age, let alone those over 10 months, stallions of any of the many breeds of horses, rams, billy goats, geese, goats and flighty heifers or any species whose maternal instincts can be aroused in the protection of their young. If the alternative is that these animals must be housed during those seasons or continuously all the year round, that will require
I very much welcome Amendment No. 2. The fact that access may no longer apply to improved or semi-improved grassland gives considerable reassurance on some of my earlier worries. One person I spoke to in that context was worried about what would happen to people who tried to claim access to land on which young thoroughbreds were kept. That will no longer be such a worry. There is no doubt that some animals are easily upset and can easily cause damage.
There are still the Occupiers' Liability Acts which impose a duty of care when access amounts to trespass; and that always remains. In Committee the Minister said that 98 per cent of bulls would not be on access land. But now that there is a more generally accepted policy of leaving large numbers of male calves entire, those numbers are likely to change. I had thought that there might also be some need, when dealing with remote steadings in mountain and moorland areas, to ensure that there was in the vicinity some area of land other than the garden that is not marked as access land and could be used for excitable animals. Amendment No. 2 probably takes care of that situation and I am most grateful for it. Such animals may be perfectly peaceful with their customary handlers but can always be upset by strangers and particularly by dogs. I hope that my amendment or something like it will be found acceptable to the House. I presume that the stipulations on dairy bulls over 10 months of age, which were contained in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, will continue to apply but only to fields on which there is a right of way.
The increased use by the public of the New Forest has had a strange and interesting side-effect. I am not sure whether the verderers have strict liability for the New Forest ponies. But I have a sense of responsibility, if nothing else. Over the years they have culled any animal that appeared to have an excitable temperament. One of the verderers to whom I spoke is now worried that the breed may be losing its vigour. That factor has to be considered even with some of our domesticated animals.
I should like to ask your Lordships to consider the liability that exists with animals whose main potential for unpredictability comes under the situation described in the second condition of the 1971 Act. That deals with the likelihood of damage due to characteristics of animals that are not normally to be found except at particular times or in particular circumstances. Halsbury's Laws uses as an illustration that of a bitch with her litter. It would not take very much legal argument to extend that to any animal with its young. Some suckler cows have been traditionally kept on land which will shortly be defined as access land. With the current trend towards environmentally friendly management and grant aid, the policy being promoted means that these numbers are likely to increase.
The Bill as it stands will immensely increase the liability of the farmer or owner. The powers that be have unwittingly illustrated that. In March the Countryside Agency published a guide entitled Out in the Country. It may soon be the bible for all those enjoying responsible access. It states:
The proposed insertion in the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 contained in Clause 13 of the Bill creates the impression that the Government's intention is that the new right of access should not impose additional new burdens on landowners and occupiers. My amendment is necessary to achieve exactly that end.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, it is with some regret that I find that I cannot support Amendments Nos. 6 and 8. I welcome Amendment No. 7, which represents a small concession by the Government. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that it is a quite common practice to leave holes in drystone walls for sheep to get through. While the noble Baroness and I might find it difficult to get through such holes, smaller people can do so. Indeed, my daughter used to enjoy doing so while I had to lumber over the stile.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 suffer from one of the faults about which many noble Lords have complained during previous stages of the Bill. I refer to a lack of clarity and precision as to what exactly they mean. The phrase,
At a previous stage I said that I would have been happy to see the removal of the word "natural" from features of landscape. That remains my position. However, no amendment to that end has been brought forward. I very much regret the fact that the Government have found themselves unable to accept that principle.
When people, whether they are hill walkers, climbers or whatever, go onto access land--whether it is moorland or mountain--they should do so at their own risk. For that reason, the general principle should be that landowners and occupiers should not incur any liability unless they are being obstructive and trying to
However, I am glad that the Government have found practical ways of moving forwards in this regard. At a previous stage they accepted that owners and occupiers should not incur liability for water features. I only regret that they have not found it possible to extend that acceptance to rock features, where the position strikes me as being somewhat similar. I should like to ask the Minister what is the position in the case of rock features that are not natural. Last night I spoke to one of my noble friends who is a landowner. His land contains two quarries which may be of Roman origin but which, despite their great age, are not natural features. When he comes to reply, can the Minister tell the House what the owners or occupiers of land containing rock features which are not natural should do to absolve themselves of liability under the provisions of the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957? It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House what actions should be taken by owners in those circumstances.
Government Amendment No. 19, which we have yet to reach, will be helpful in this respect but it does not go as far as we would like. If the Minister is able to give the House a clear understanding of their intentions as regards what owners are supposed to do, that would be extremely helpful. As I have said, although I regret that the Government have not gone as far as I would have liked on the question of owners' liability, given the vague wording on land use contained in the amendments before the House, I regret that I cannot support them either. I thank the Government at least for meeting this point half way.
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