I beg to move amendment 35, page 187, line 28, leave out 'is' and insert 'may be'.
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
'(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or'.
Amendment 34, in clause 297, page 195, line 13, at end insert-
'(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulation, set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may require Natural England to review a coastal access report. Reasons for review may include-
(a) proposed or actual changes in the use of land;
(2) The regulations referred to in subsection (1) must set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may make an objection under the procedure set out in Schedule 19 including objections against the refusal of Natural England to undertake a review, or to carry out the review within specified timescales, or to amend a coastal access report.'.
Amendment 33, page 197, line 49, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert-
'(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or'.
Amendment 40, page 200, line 32, at end insert-
'(10) The Secretary of State shall within 2 years from the commencement of this section lay before Parliament a report which shall appraise the progress made in establishing long distance coastal routes in England with particular regard to-
(a) the voluntary inclusion of parkland;
(b) the inclusion of the Isle of Wight;
(c) the addition of further islands reachable by ferry;
(d) the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path.
(11) In the report required in (10) The Secretary of State shall append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him as a result of its presentation.'.
Amendment 37, page 202, line 26, leave out Clause 300.
We move on to part 9 of the Bill, on coastal access. Many Members might feel, like me, that that part of the Bill has been bolted on to 300 clauses of very important marine Bill. That has risked diverting some of our energies and intentions away from an important part of the Bill. We all want to see more access to our countryside in all its forms: whether this was the right part of the Bill to do that is questionable, but we are where we are. It is most important that we be up front with the British public about what we can achieve.
"a study by Natural England, the access quango, found that the amount of public access to the coast, of one kind or another, was...84 per cent. Of the remaining 16 per cent., half comprises ports and harbours."
According to Natural England's own figures, therefore, we are talking about 8 per cent.
We could take up a lot of time arguing about maths. Charles Clover goes on to say that a place in his locality in Essex, Mistley quay, will not benefit from access as a result of the Bill. We need to be upfront about what will actually be provided, and how we can facilitate such provision.
Amendment 35 deals with coastal margin, or spreading room. As has been made clear throughout our debates on the Bill, it will be impossible to provide spreading room-or coastal margin-along the entirety of the coastal route. Safety, privacy and biosecurity have all been cited as real and legitimate reasons for a limitation being placed on it. Our amendment seeks to change the wording of clause 291 to reflect the reality of spreading room. If it is not to be placed along the entirety of the coastal route-as we have been reassured by Natural England and the Minister that it will not-the wording of the Bill should reflect that.
The issue of coastal margin in the Bill has raised concerns around the country, not least because there will be many areas of exceptions and restrictions. The concept of complete access along a coastal margin will simply not be achievable. The Bill should be amended to reflect reality so that the public are not misled, as they may have been by the perception that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 would create a universal right to roam.
I was heavily involved with the Bill that became the CROW Act. It gave no impression of a universal right to roam. Those of us who use and welcome our new right are very clear about the fact that there is no universal right, and the people who exercise that right do so in a very responsible way.
I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. What I am saying is certainly not a criticism of him or of anyone else who was involved in that Bill, but I assure him that many people immediately assumed that there was some new right enabling them to go anywhere, although we all know that that was not the case. Perhaps we can blame elements of the press for the way in which they reported what was happening. I am sorry if what was intended to be a fairly benign comment has excited a few people-
I thank my friend and neighbour for giving way. I am not excited, and I am always benign to him. Does he accept that the misinformation on the CROW Act came not from the people who were promoting it but from the Countryside Alliance and other interests, who deliberately set out to misrepresent what was in the Bill and the intention behind the campaign? I think he knows that that is the case.
I was not in the House at the time. May we draw a line under this argument? I did not intend to create such excitement-although, during what could have been a fairly dry afternoon, it has proved to be an exciting diversion. I should be happy to continue the conversation with the hon. Gentleman on the river bank.
The concept that all land adjacent to, and seaward of, the line of the route should be included as coastal margin is, as we know, unrealistic. While there is an intention to draw the route as close to the sea as possible, there will be circumstances in which that does not happen. In those circumstances, land types that are clearly not coastal-that are not foreshore or adjacent cliff, bank, dune or flat-should not be included as coastal margin. The Bill should properly reflect the lack of continuity of margin that will inevitably be the case because of physical features on the ground. We believe that a proper distinction needs to be drawn between the route itself and associated spreading room.
The current Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on the definitions of coastal land shows that there is an inconsistency of approach in its proposals. There is a failure to make a proper distinction between the route and spreading room, such as the proposed inclusion of land within 20 metres of a dwelling not simply to enable the route to pass over it where there is no practical alternative, but with the possibility of that land being designated as spreading room.
There is also still considerable concern among some groups over mapping of spreading room. The Minister has given the reassurance that he believes that Natural England should be sensitive to requests for maps. Is he willing to give a reassurance on the Floor of the House, however, as that would be very helpful? Given that it has been generally accepted by the Government that words will not always be sufficient to describe the coastal margin associated with the new coastal trail, will the Minister confirm that where a land occupier or landowner has made a reasonable request for the provision of a map for clarity, Natural England will be sympathetic in meeting such requests?
Amendments 32 and 33 concern the definition of an interest in the land. We believe that coastal access must be based upon local consensus where possible, and be developed at local level in order to ensure that this right of access takes account of the pre-existing rights of farmers, home owners, businesses, wildfowling clubs and other sporting interests, as well as the needs of conservation and public safety. This proposal follows concerns that we raised in Committee over the treatment of those with certain legal interests in land, such as those with sporting rights, that we felt were absent from the Bill.
I acknowledge that the Government have made some movement in this area, and have reinstated the right of appeal, under the CROW Act, where restrictions or exclusions are proposed. It has also been said that the representations made by holders of sporting interests, but not holders of other legal interests such as mineral rights, will be passed on fully to the Secretary of State rather than being summarised. There remains, however, a feeling among certain groups that Government concessions do not amount to equal rights. The Bill still does not give equal treatment to all those people who have a legal interest in the land, thereby creating a two-tier system among those with different legal interests. For example, the Bill includes those with grazing licences. That right of occupation could be for a very small amount of annual rent compared with, let us say, sporting rights, which could be of considerably greater value and require, as in the case of wildfowling clubs, huge amounts of conservation investment in both money and effort over many years.
The Bill currently provides that occupiers and owners will be taken into account both at the walking the course phase and when considering whether a fair balance has been struck between the interests of the owner or occupier and the interests of the public who may wish to walk a coastal route. However, there are some legal interests that do not have the same rights. In particular, holders of sporting and mineral rights will not be treated in the same way as owners and occupiers.
Particular concern arises in respect of the setting of the route and margin. If Natural England is not required to take into account some legal interests, such as mineral or sporting rights, it could set the route in a way that seriously impinges on those rights. Furthermore, it may result in the total loss of use of such rights without its being called to account, as there is no obligation on Natural England to take account of those interests in determining whether a fair balance has been reached. Throughout Committee stage, we agreed that the Bill requires us to take a great leap of faith in organisations such as Natural England. All my discussions with it have made me conscious that it is up to the task and is looking at this issue in entirely the right way, but we really do need some assurance-I hope, in the Bill.
Our amendment seeks to redress this imbalance by ensuring that the definitions of interest in the land include all those with a legal estate or interest in the land, as is the case under the CROW Act. We recognise attempts by the Minister to negotiate a route through this issue at his summit last month, and that he was not helped by a divergence of opinion among some of the groups present. He may have found a way forward and I am happy to support it, but I do want reassurances on this point.
Amendment 34 concerns the need for changes to the route to reflect a change of use of the land in question where it is affected by the route of the path or spreading room. The Government have consistently promised that the coastal access route will be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances; however, nothing in the Bill ensures that. How is Natural England to know that a development has been approved, and that it must alter its coastal access report as a result of that development affecting the coastal access route? How does the developer notify Natural England and ensure that the coastal access report is up to date and takes account of the changes that have been approved? The amendment would ensure that those with an interest in the land have the right to request changes to coastal access in future where there is a change in use of the land. At the very least, we need an assurance from the Minister that such a mechanism will be included explicitly within Natural England's coastal access scheme. We also need an explicit assurance that guidance will be provided to local planning authorities confirming the flexible nature of the coastal access provisions.
Amendment 37 concerns liability issues. Although it is Natural England and the Secretary of State who will identify the coastal route and areas of spreading room, clause 300 removes all liability from Natural England and the Secretary of State for any failures that may occur in connection with its coastal access duty. It is surely wrong for Government to try to restrict liability in this way. The Secretary of State and Natural England are both charged under clause 291 with exercising the coastal access duty. That duty should be carried out with due regard to public safety. If liability is removed, as proposed, members of the public will be unable to find any redress from the Government or Natural England for failures in identifying a safe coastal access route. Retaining liability at some level, at least, will act as a reminder to Natural England and the Secretary of State to determine coastal access carefully and remain mindful of their responsibilities toward the public. It will provide a powerful check and balance in determining the precise location of any coastal access.
I am not in the business of creating vast new burdens on any Government agency or on Ministers themselves, but the question of liability does need a reasoned response. The Minister may be able to give me some reassurances or suggest an alternative solution to my amendment. In fact, it is unclear in the Bill exactly where liability will lie. It would be helpful to have some words from the Minister in this regard.
I congratulate Mr. Benyon-his Front-Bench colleagues would do well to examine how he has approached this Bill and this thorny issue in particular-because the House has just heard an example of constructive opposition that will lead to effective change. On leaving this place, as I will shortly, it is nice to think that we have been the architects of effective change rather than just a handful of soundbites.
I shared the concern of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, recreational angling interests and Members from all parts of the House that some of the coastal access provisions, as originally drafted, could have had unintended consequences. Surely part of what we are about when we scrutinise legislation is guarding against and avoiding those. Nobody in their right mind wants to drive a coastal access path through a piece of land if that would put the public at risk or inhibit the legitimate enjoyment and sport of wild fowlers, who for generations have enjoyed their sport on many of the marshlands and estuaries around our coasts. The recreational angling sector, although less affected, had concerns about coastal access paths going past places of particular popularity with people who beach-cast. I am talking about guys who throw 4 or 5 ounces of lead some 200-odd yards from a beach, so it is not a good idea for a footpath to be immediately behind them-unless a member of the public wants to have a quick swim or possibly be seriously injured in some other way.
It was important that those sporting interests could be represented in the consultation mechanism in respect of the establishment of the path. Following some vigorous exchanges in Committee, which were based on amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury and me-there was support from other hon. Members-the Minister kindly agreed to convene a summit on
"I have therefore proposed that those with a sporting right (including holders of sporting tenancies), should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under Schedule 19 to the Bill, to ensure that their representations are given particular consideration by the Secretary of State...The effect of this would be that Natural England would have to take reasonable steps to give notice of a relevant coastal access report to those with sporting rights, and any representations which they made on the report would go in full to the Secretary of State".
That is important.
People have criticised this as not so much a victory and not so much a significant policy change, but they are the same bunch who misrepresented the CROW Act and one would not be surprised to learn that they are usually a little late on these issues. The fact that sporting interests will have the ability to make representations right to the very top of the tree-they will have access to the top of the pile-is one of the reasons why the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Angling Trust have welcomed the improvement made, the assurances given by the Minister and the conclusions of the summit held on
I wish to say a few brief words from our Front Bench in support of the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Benyon. I did not serve on the Committee, so this is the first time that I have been able to comment on this part of the Bill. Like him, I think it is regrettable that this whole matter of coastal access was put into a very important Bill dealing with marine conservation. Many other complicated issues have thus been raised and the subject deserved a piece of legislation on its own; I am totally in favour of providing coastal access, but such an undertaking should have been dealt with in separate legislation. I am sure that both sides of the House would have welcomed that and would have facilitated the passage of such legislation.
Coastal access is desirable, but, harking back to the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act, once again-I do not want to excite Paddy Tipping on this matter-most people want recreation in the countryside, on moorland and on the coast, but they want an improvement in our existing rights of way network. Footpaths and circular walks can be easily created and farmers can have sensible diversions for footpaths on their land-that is what the majority of people in this country want. When the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act came in, it diverted an enormous amount of money from and effort by Natural England, or whatever it was called in those days, to create the open access areas.
I can talk with first-hand knowledge only about my own area, Northumberland. We have masses of open moorland near where I live. The fell outside the village has been walked on by local people and visitors for years, but it was not included in open access. Pieces of ground that no one really wants to walk on have now been included for open access, so all we get is a lot of money spent on new gateposts with new signs on them, and the walking experience and walking environment in the area are not improved. In a sense, I regret the diversion that the opening of coastal access will cause Natural England with its core responsibilities of opening access to the public and creating better rights of way and bridleway networks throughout the country.
I would like my hon. Friend's amendment to be accepted because I am aware that wildfowling clubs and those with other sporting interests are extremely worried that their interests could be overlooked. I appreciate what a lot of progress was made in Committee; nevertheless, the amendment would be better for those groups. We are talking about organisations, particularly wildfowling clubs, that invested tens of thousands-even hundreds of thousands-of pounds over the years in conservation efforts to develop safe and responsible wildfowling around the coast. If that could be prejudiced in any way by the creation of the coastal path, they would clearly be extremely worried. I hope that the Minister will once again reassure them.
Let me mention another case that was brought to my attention. In one area, small inshore fishing boats, which are hauled up off the foreshore, are launched some distance from the coast. There is no legal right to do that, only centuries of customs and practice. I was interested to note those concerns, and I hope that the Minister can explain that those people have nothing to worry about.
The hon. Gentleman might be around later in the debate when, if we are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we might discuss the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771.
I was intrigued to see that an amendment to the White Herring Fisheries Act was coming up for debate. If one was in the habit of filibustering in the House, which we used to do, that would have been a marvellous subject to keep us engaged for several hours. I am quite sure that many hon. Members would wish to talk about that Act.
I hope that the Minister, if he will not accept the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, will give further reassurance to those who have wildfowling, sporting and other rights and interests that their interests will be looked after as the Bill becomes law.
This is my first chance, too, to speak on this Bill as amended in Committee, because of my required attendance at the Crown court in Sheffield for jury service when the Committee was sitting. This is my first opportunity to comment on the individual provisions.
The comments that have been made about the inclusion of coastal access in the Bill are unfortunate, because Natural England has been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that these provisions are in the Bill. Secondly, one of the points of the Bill in its entirety is to ensure that everybody in this country understands that we have a collective responsibility for the marine environment. Surely one of the best ways of ensuring that people understand that is to make sure that there is reasonable access to the coast, and that people can start to enjoy, understand and appreciate the coastline. By doing that, we may also help to develop a sense of collective responsibility for the coastline and the marine environment.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the vast majority of walkers who will want to visit a coastal path will not be the hardened types who want to do long treks round large areas of coastal Britain, but will want to go to a particular point, possibly by public transport, and walk part of the coast, possibly via a circular route, or possibly returning by the same route? We need to cater for the vast majority of walkers who will want to access coastal Britain like that, rather than being hidebound by the idea of a circular route as the ultimate aim of all that we are talking about.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but point out that it has been calculated that since the opening up of the long-distance path along the entire length of Hadrian's wall, there has been a 99 per cent. increase in the number of long-distance walkers using the path. The south-west coastal path has been estimated to generate at least £307 million annually for the regional economy, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. There is a wide range of walkers using any path, whether inland or on the coast, but there will be a significant increase in long-distance walkers once the provisions have been enacted.
On amendment 35, I should like to focus attention on the importance of the provisions for establishing spreading room for certain sporting interests. We have today heard comments about sporting interests, which were entirely legitimate, but there are other sporting interests with an interest in coastal access. The British Mountaineering Council, for instance, is keen to establish that the natural physical boundaries that are recommended as the boundary of the landward side of the margins recommended are included in the margin, not seen as the outer boundary of that margin. That is extremely important for rock climbers and mountaineers because there are rock faces and cliff faces that face inwards-landwards-on our coastline, and if they are to become the natural boundaries for the margin, it is very important that they are included in the margins, and that we establish these margins wherever possible and, if possible, along the entire coastal access path.
As my hon. Friend Martin Salter said-he is no longer in his place-amendment 32 makes a fair point. I am not convinced that it should be pressed to a Division, but many other sporting interests would be sympathetic to the sentiment expressed in the amendment. The British Mountaineering Council has made it clear that when there are temporary closures of coastal footpaths for various reasons, such as for nesting at certain times of year, or in order for conservation measures to be undertaken, those temporary closures should take place on the basis of voluntary partnerships at local level wherever possible. I should like an assurance from the Minister today that the least restrictive option will be recommended for the temporary closure of coastal footpaths for the reasons that I outlined.
Amendment 34 is about the inclusion of particular voices in the consultation process and potential objections to Natural England's refusal to undertake a review, and I reiterate the importance of ensuring that consultation on the establishment of any coastal path in any local area includes, at the earliest possible stage, those with a legitimate interest in the matter. The Ramblers Association, in particular, feels strongly about it, and the association has a fair point, so I should appreciate the Minister's comments on the matter.
The points that amendment 40 raises were debated at some length in Committee, but the issue of parks and gardens is ongoing, and I reiterate the point that was made in Committee, whereby there must be a distinction between parks on the one hand and gardens on the other. Surely no one in this House would try to argue that an individual whose private garden happened to be near the coast deserved to have ramblers, walkers and rock climbers on his or her land. That would be absolutely unreasonable. However, with large estates attached to large parks that, in many cases, go down to the coastline, there is a case for establishing coastal access that does not impact intrusively on park owners.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I remain disappointed that the provision for excluding parks and gardens from the Bill has not been removed. At this late stage, however, it remains for those of us who would have favoured such a change to the Bill simply to ask the Minister to reassure us that the matter will come back before the House within two years, with a report on whether the voluntary arrangements that the Government recommended have worked. I stress that if we find that they have not, we will need to think again about putting regulations-amendments-in place to deal with the issue effectively.
The Isle of Wight is a popular holiday destination whose value to walkers and tourists alike is well known, but it is excluded from the Bill. My hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead will have something to say about that, but I argue that the Isle of Wight, as the biggest island belonging to the UK and reasonably accessible by ferry all year round, should be included in the Bill's coastal access provisions. We look to the Minister to reassure us that an order will be made to include the Isle of Wight in those provisions.
The issue of ferries, and, in particular, whether islands that are reached by seasonal ferries should be included in the Bill, has not been satisfactorily resolved. The question is, when seasonal ferries do not operate, in winter usually, what do walkers who wish to use coastal footpaths do? Are they to face long detours, or will Natural England be encouraged to make alternative provisions to get around the fact that those ferries do not operate at certain times of the year?
Having said all that, I wish the Bill well and hope that the Minister will respond positively to the comments on the proposed changes to it.
I have spoken to the Bill only once before, on Second Reading, when I discussed its fisheries conservation aspects. I shall use this opportunity, however, to address its coastal access provisions. I have no registrable interests to declare, but my family, like the Secretary of State's family, have a tiny patch of coastline that is affected by the Bill. I do not wish to address that today, however.
I am intrigued by the amendment, which replaces "is" with "may be". Perhaps in tabling it, my hon. Friend Mr. Benyon was demonstrating his lack of faith that the Bill would deliver what the Government promise. If the amendment is proffered in that spirit, I very much want to support it, not because I oppose the principle of coastal access but because I think a lot of people will be disappointed by what the Bill delivers.
I am most concerned by what is excluded from the coastal access provisions under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 definition of relevant "excepted land". I must relate to the House a bizarre situation, of which my constituent, Charles Clover, gave a very good account in yesterday's Sunday Times, concerning the Mistley quay in my constituency. Mistley is a little town on the Stour estuary that has a quay on which it is recorded that boats unloaded fish as long ago as the 14th century. By some anachronism, perhaps, the quay has historically been privately owned. However, the public have always enjoyed access to it, so that barges and, in more recent decades, yachts and pleasure craft have been able to use the quay for their enjoyment. That was fine until the Health and Safety Executive threatened to prosecute the quay's operators under health and safety laws for providing insufficient safety equipment on the quay. The HSE gave the owner a choice between either putting up signs and providing suitable equipment such as lifebuoys and ladders or other devices by which people who fall in the water can get out or be rescued, or putting up a fence. It chose the cheaper of the two options and erected an 8-foot wire fence across that historic part of Mistley-across the quay. It is now impossible for ordinary people to access and use the quay.
What will the Bill do for those parts of the coastline that have historically had public access but that are excluded by the Bill? For those areas, the phrase "may be" is very much the operable sentiment, because the Bill seems to do nothing to strengthen proposals for public open spaces on the coastline in areas that are excluded by the Bill.
Let me emphasise how extraordinary the situation is. There has been a huge amount of public protest about this matter in my constituency. I feel sorry for Trent Wharfage, the owner of the quay to which I referred, for being caught up in all this, although I think that it has gone the wrong way about handling the situation and that it could have avoided a confrontation. It has blocked off historic rights that have existed for a long time, and it looks as though this matter can now be settled only through the courts and a complicated legal process that may not be successful. The Bill would do absolutely nothing to assist the ordinary population of Mistley in resolving this situation.
A few weeks ago, a dinghy capsized in the Stour estuary and a lifeboat was called out from Harwich. A rescue was undertaken and the lifeboat took the people and their dinghy to Mistley quay, but they could not access the quay and no helicopter could land there because of the fence. The fence had to be cut down, with the help of local residents, so that the rescue could be properly effected. What a great victory for health and safety and the HSE! I hope that the Minister will forgive me for placing this very unhappy situation on the record, but I want to know how the Bill will help to resolve it.
The Bill purports to solve all the problems of coastal access, but it demonstrates a thoughtless, rather broad-brush approach that a lot of people have complained about because it will hurt rural parts of the coastline, conservation, privacy and other vital things. Little has been said about how the exclusion of ports could lead to more situations such as that at Mistley quay. The Bill does absolutely nothing to help to resolve that issue, and I would be grateful if the Minister could address that fact.
I would like particularly to address my remarks to amendment 40, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt).
The Bill is progressing through Report with remarkably few major amendments having been tabled. That is a tribute to the fact that it came into this House as a very good Bill and, that during its passage, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken full cognisance of sensible efforts to ensure that it leaves us not just as a very good Bill but as an excellent Bill. The spirit of co-operation and sweet reason that has characterised many parts of the debates demonstrates the general feeling around the House that the Bill is essential for the marine and coastal environment of England and that it should be, and is, as good as it can be.
The modest proposal in the amendment underlines not only the spirit of negotiation and voluntary discussion that is a substantial part particularly of the coastal access elements of the Bill, but the notion that those provisions set out genuine principles and a real understanding of what it is to have coastal access around England. They belong honourably within a marine Bill. One cannot, in a discussion of shipping and ports, separate what is on the land side from what is on the seaward side of a ports' operations and activities, and the coast is an essential part of our marine environment in terms not only of public access but of how it relates to the marine environment beyond the shores and out to sea.
The aim of the Bill as regards the coast is clear and explicit. It states-no parties to this discussion have demurred from this definition:
"The first objective is that there is a route for the whole of the English coast which...consists of one or more long-distance routes along which the public are enabled to make recreational journeys on foot or by ferry".
Although it is true that most people will access only a part of that coast, the fact that a continuous path is aimed for underpins the whole nature of the access provided. The Bill sets out that ambition well-which, of course, the public understand cannot be fully achieved in all circumstances. In my area of the country, the public do not expect coastal access to mean that they can charge through berths 101, 102 and 103 of Southampton port, then transfer across to the car-handling facilities on the eastern docks, and then take a detour along the gravel extraction wharves further up the river. Nor do they expect to tramp through people's gardens and private property in the way that has been outlined in Committee and elsewhere. However, they have a reasonable expectation that the aim to ensure a continuous path will be achieved as far as is reasonably possible. That will be done, in the first instance, largely through negotiation and discussion and on a voluntary basis, and that is right.
The hon. Gentleman was a thoughtful member of the Public Bill Committee, and I respect his views. When the matter was raised in Committee, the Minister said that he would much prefer to see how things progressed, and he issued a challenge to any areas that were holding out against greater public access. In my tours around coastal Britain, the message has got home. If the hon. Gentleman were able to trust elements of rural Britain in coastal areas to pursue the matter, he might get what he wants without this rather top-down proposal. I was working on voluntary access agreements long before anyone thought of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and I know that they can be made to work best when they are agreed locally. Is that not the best way forward? Can we not work in that way first before trying to impose a measure from above?
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that the best way to achieve a continuous path with sensible and reasonable exceptions has to be negotiation and discussion. The purpose of amendment 40 is to act on the basis of trust with a purpose. It is clear from our discussions in Committee that Natural England, landowners and various other people will need to get together to ensure that there is a voluntary agreement. That is important and I welcome it, but that is in the context of a Bill that states that as far as possible, there should be a continuous coastal path.
We hope and believe that those negotiations will work, and I am reassured that most people have a clear understanding of what voluntary agreement means and what arrangements can be reached to ensure coastal access. However, if those negotiations do not work, the amendment says not that there should be top-down legislation but that the House ought to know about it. The House should know what has gone well and what has gone badly, which voluntary agreements have worked and which have not and whether there are serious shortcomings compared with the ambition behind the Bill and our discussions in Committee. If there are, the Secretary of State's report may need to point out what remedies are available.
In some instances remedies may be available by order and, in others, more detailed remedies may be necessary, but I am not saying that an enormous 16-tonne weight should come down upon the heads of all those who have not conformed to the extent that we might like. Instead, a measured response and a consideration of how well we have done with voluntary agreements should be brought to the attention of the House, and there should be measured thought about what remedies are necessary. If the voluntary arrangements work as well as I hope and believe they will, the report may well be literally about three lines long. However, we must respect the ultimate aim of the Bill and consider how it should be achieved.
I set out in amendment 40 a number of things on which the report might concentrate. The "voluntary inclusion of parkland", as we all know from the CROW Act 2000, is a difficult matter, because of the difficulty of easily conceding unimpeded access across any area of inland parkland to ramblers when that may cause a problem with a number of functions of that parkland. However, that is not an exact parallel with the question of coastal access, when access would necessarily be along the fringes of parkland. Provided one has a clear definition of privacy and proper safeguards for access, the problem should be resolvable.
The Isle of Wight, which is not included in the arrangements, is accessed by ferry, which goes from the doorstep of my constituency on a regular and reliable basis all year round-people can get to the island without any problem at all. In previous years, there was, I believe, a party called the Vectis Nationalist party, which was in favour of independence for the Isle of Wight, but everyone else will agree that the island is very much an essential and beautiful part of the English coastline. The fact that it is an island accessible by ferries should make its inclusion by order in the provisions a reasonably straightforward thing to achieve.
That leads to the question whether further islands that are accessible reliably and regularly by ferry ought to be included in the scope of the legislation and the question that my hon. Friend Ms Smith has already asked-namely, what happens when seasonal ferries do not run? Does plan B come into operation in that situation, or does plan A mean that access would be possible only during certain times of the year and not at others?
Those issues can all be resolved within the overall aim of the legislation by negotiation, but I do not want to face, in several years' time, a similar situation to that in, for example, the New Forest, where the Solent way, parts of which are 6 miles from the coast, continues to be called a coastal path.
I shall take the hon. Gentleman back slightly to when he mentioned the accessibility of island communities by ferry. Would he apply the same principle to clause 302, which provides for a very specific exemption for the Isles of Scilly? I must inform him, as I did in Committee, that the council of the Isles of Scilly is very content with the arrangements because there is full coastal access throughout the islands, and it fears the consequences of formalising that.
Having walked around almost the entire coastline of the Isles of Scilly and some of the uninhabited coastline that can be reached by arrangements with people who are not related to the families who run the main boats on the Scilly Isles, I can confirm that there is superb coastal access there. Indeed, one might say that, in any event, ferry access to the Scilly Isles is not exactly the same as jumping on the Isle of Wight ferry. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but there are other islands around the English coast.
Having used the Scillonian on more than one occasion, I entirely concur that it is not the same as using a ferry to the Isle of Wight. Is it not also the case that the Isles of Scilly have their own government to some extent? The Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Man are different from the Isle of Wight in terms of governance.
I agree. The fact that the Bill already includes a note about the Isles of Scilly should underline the point, and it is not my intention to ask the Secretary of State for a report in two years on why the Isles of Scilly are not included under provisions for access by ferry to the English coastline.
I would like a clear understanding that progress will be made on the points that I have mentioned. They are not major points in relation to the development of the coastal path. They are about a minority of coastal paths-8 or 10 per cent. of the length, but we should not deceive ourselves that coastal paths that do not look like coastal paths in certain parts of the country are really coastal paths and therefore can be disregarded. A coastal path is a coastal path, and we should get as close as we can to that definition in reality as soon as possible after the passing of this legislation. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that progress will be made and that he will be vigilant in ensuring that if progress is slow, he will have the remedies in place so that the aim of the Bill is not overthrown.
I thank hon. Members for a good debate on this group of amendments. I was especially keen to hear the views of Members on these amendments, and I was reassured by the general welcome on both sides for the coastal path and spreading room provision. Mr. Benyon understandably voiced his general concerns, as he and others did in Committee, about the process and the final outcome. He suggested that he was broadly in sympathy with our aims, but he is rightly testing us on how our thinking has progressed since Committee stage.
As well as the hon. Gentleman, we had contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West (Martin Salter), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), and the hon. Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), which were all different but illuminating in the detail that they tried to tease out.
It is worth remembering at the outset of discussion of this batch of amendments exactly why we are here today. Some hon. Members referred to the article by Charles Clover, whom I have come to know through his work on bluefin tuna. I commend him on his work and leadership in the public domain on that issue, and the Government were pleased to subscribe to that work and to help to push the boat far on it. However, I take issue with him on some of the detail in the article published at the weekend.
The point has been made that people already have great access, so why do we need to improve it. The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned the issue of statistics, and I shall come to that in a moment, but whether we are talking about 8 per cent. or 30 per cent., I remind him that the 8 per cent. in the middle of a jam doughnut is probably the nicest 8 per cent.-it is the sweet, juicy bit in the middle. We know that the coast is very popular with people for beach activities and wider forms of recreation. The evidence shows that walking is the single most popular activity on the coast, and all Members will be increasingly aware that access to good walking in the countryside brings not only physical health benefits, but mental health benefits. Improving access will give people not just the confidence but, to pick up on my hon. Friends' point, the certainty that wherever they arrive at the coast, other than on excepted land, there will be clear, well managed access in either direction and that they will be able to enjoy a rich and varied environment.
Let me turn to the Natural England report that underpins the background to the amendments. Natural England conducted a study of access to England's coastline. Its report, which was published in July, revealed that almost 1,000 miles of England's coastline is either inaccessible or lacks secure access-the pertinent point is about the confidence and clarity that there will be secure access. The findings did not come out of the blue, but arose from an extensive audit that Natural England conducted in partnership with 53 local access authorities.
The results of that study have been published in the form of maps and they show that there is no satisfactory or legally secure access to 34 per cent. of the English coast. That is bigger than the centre of the doughnut; indeed, we are missing a heck of a big chunk. In the north-west that figure rises to 56 per cent.-more than half the coast. I have remarked in the Chamber, in Committee and elsewhere that one of the best areas for progress is the south-west, where full, secure public access extends to 76 per cent. of the coast. However, I would not want to say that there were no areas in the south-west where we did not want to get our teeth into the jam in the middle of the doughnut as well, where that could be done.
My hon. Friend's references to the jam doughnut and the work of Natural England lead me to ask an important question. The late Sir Martin Doughty, who at his death was the chairman of Natural England, was a huge supporter of the coastal access provisions in the Bill. Will the Government think seriously about ensuring that a part of our coastal access provision is named after that much missed champion of access rights?
Although I would not want to prescribe it myself, that is an admirable idea for a part or all of the provision. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have advocated the idea of remembering Sir Martin Doughty, who passed away only this year, in that way, as having a genuine coastal path and spreading room was a major aspiration of his. If we succeed in introducing the Bill with cross-party support, the idea of recognising his contribution would have my personal support. Many of the organisations out there-whether the Ramblers Association, the British Mountaineering Council or others-would also welcome marking his contribution in some way.
Talk of jam doughnuts has excited me and inspired me to see whether I can get a couple of points on the record. Does the Minister agree that we want to go to the best bits-that is, to the jam-first? Natural England should be looking at prioritising areas that will enhance tourism-areas where the path is needed and asked for by local organisations, pubs, village shops and others who will benefit from the tourism that it will bring. Will he also confirm, as I think he did in Committee, that the way Natural England approaches the issue is vital? It needs to understand, for example, that in parts of the south-west there is an existing path, maintained in some cases by landowners at their personal expense and liability, that may not go exactly along the coast. However, if the route takes people across a cliff top, the walker gets a better view. The path will already be there, but it will not be driving the route across the front of a caravan park that is actually on the coast. That flexibility needs to be reflected in how the Bill progresses.
Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman recognises the nature of the Bill and how the coastal path provisions have been made, in that it starts from the walking of the route. The Bill leads from there to the engagement needed with the various landowners and those who are interested in the coastal path to ensure, very much with local determination, that the best route is picked. The work of the south-west access forums has been a good model of how that approach works. We want it to be rolled out further. I will return to that issue in a moment, but, where possible, we also want access to parks and gardens to be opened up.
The hon. Gentleman's amendment 35 seeks to change one of the fundamental principles underpinning part 9 of the Bill, namely the coastal access duty in clause 291. Here we come to the meat of the issue. I understand why he is probing, but I hope that he might consider withdrawing the amendment once I have explained my reasons. The coastal access duty requires the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure two prime objectives. The first objective, as my hon. Friends have remarked, is to have a long-distance route or routes for the whole of the English coast that is accessible to the public for journeys on foot, including by ferry if appropriate, which is an issue that my hon. Friends mentioned to which I shall return. The second objective, which is associated with the route or routes, is to have a wider margin of recreational land available for the public on foot for enjoyment in conjunction with the route.
Amendment 35 seeks to amend the second objective and would make the coastal access duty much weaker than the Government propose. It would thereby inhibit the delivery of the Government's commitment to providing access to the whole of our wonderful coastline. The effect of the amendment would be to make the requirement to establish the coastal margin not absolute, but discretionary. I therefore cannot support the amendment. It strikes at the very heart of the Government's vision of allowing people access to the coastline so that they can play, paddle, explore and gain an understanding of the wealth of our coastal environment. Realising that vision requires a route around the whole of the English coast that is accessible by members of the public for recreational journeys on foot as well as a margin of land accessible to the public for the purposes of its enjoyment by them in conjunction with that route or otherwise.
Agreeing to the amendment would curtail that vision to a route with much more limited access. It would also frustrate user groups and members of the public alike, including many user groups that have campaigned ardently for that coastal access provision. We have always made it clear that at the heart of our proposals for improving access to the English coast under the Bill is, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the extensive consultation process that Natural England will be required to undertake with local interests in proposing the coastal route. Land managers, local access forums and local authorities, both of which I have met repeatedly on the issue, as well as representatives of recreational interest, wildlife and other interest groups will all be a key part of the approach adopted in designing the access corridor.
As with open access, I recognise that there may be occasions where access to the coast might cause a problem. Natural England will have to consider the need for restrictions and exclusions. We debated that extensively in Committee, and it has been debated in the other place too. Those restrictions and exclusions will be considered as part of Natural England's coastal report for each stretch of coast that must be approved by the Secretary of State. After the initial alignment process, landowners and those with an interest in land will be able to apply for further restrictions if circumstances change and they will have a right of appeal if these are not agreed.
The Bill also requires Natural England to prepare a scheme setting out the approach that it will take in discharging its coastal access duty that must be approved by the Secretary of State. A draft of that scheme has already been published and, once again, Natural England will consult shortly on a further draft for improvements. Indeed, Natural England has invited representatives from a number of our key stakeholders to a meeting next week to discuss the draft scheme.
The Minister mentioned local access forums. They are feeling a little unloved at the moment, so will he give his leadership and ensure that they are genuinely consulted? Local access forums have a wealth of experience and understand what is required in delivering greater access, and they do that for next to nothing. They are a cheap and welcome addition to the expertise that already exists, but the Minister might like to put his weight behind ensuring that they feel part of the process.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I met the local access forums two weeks ago, and they want to play a pivotal role in the coastal routes' development. Their members have expertise, they are volunteers, and they know the routes and the lie of the land. I cannot conceive how local access forums would not be part and parcel of the coastal routes' development.
The ethos of the Bill is to use local knowledge from walking the routes to devise the proposal that will go to the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman wants leadership in saying that local access forums, in all different shapes and sizes throughout the country, should be part and parcel of the scheme, I give him that categorical assurance.
I do not know whether the Minister will return to the question of Mistley quay, but does the Secretary of State or Natural England have any discretion under the Bill if access is denied and included in the "relevant excepted land"? Is there any discretion or power that the Secretary of State could use to resolve a dispute such as that at Mistley quay?
I am pleased to say that I shall come to that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. I shall try to deal in detail with the various points that have been raised.
We have recently published a consultation paper on the contents of the order required under section 3A of the CROW Act, as inserted by clause 298 of the Bill. Through that order, the rights for open-air recreation will be created on the coastal margin and the route. Among other things, we have proposed that the description of land that will be specified in the order and to which the new right of access will apply includes the foreshore and any cliff, whether sloping or sheer, adjacent to the foreshore. The interests of walkers and climbers, and of the organisations that represent the interests of those who walk or climb-for example, the Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council-will be fully taken into account before any proposals for the route are finalised. Owners' interests will be taken into account in the consultation process, and in their ability to make objections under new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as inserted by schedule 19 to the Bill.
We aim to achieve a route around the whole English coast, and access to a wider margin of land wherever possible, while fairly balancing landowners' and users' interests. That has been the Bill's trajectory throughout. We discussed it ad nauseam in Committee, and that is where we are now. The word "balance" is vital and, as hon. Members know, clause 292 places a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to strike a balance between the interests of the public in having a right of access over land, and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land. I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the amendment.
"At first reading, I thought that this was a moderately benign amendment giving an exception but, now having read it three times, it seems to me that it would give all landward owners and others who fall into that category what amounts to a veto. As I read it, that would wreck the coastal duty. Therefore, we could not support that particular amendment."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 1 June 2005; Vol. 711, c. 13.]
On amendments 32 and 33, I welcome the support from hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, for the summit on sporting interests, which we held in the summer. It was attended by the Country Land and Business Association, the Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Angling Trust, and others. It was a constructive summit, and I shall say more about it in a moment. The proposals emanating from it are sound, and they were welcomed by the BASC, the Angling Trust and others.
The hon. Member for Newbury has raised an important issue in amendments 32 and 33, which we discussed in Committee. Their combined effect would be to delete the existing categories of owner and leaseholder in clauses 292(4) and proposed new section 55J(2) in clause 297, and replace them with a definition of a "relevant interest", which includes those who hold a legal estate or legal interest in the land. That was part of our discussion at the sporting summit, which my hon. Friend Linda Gilroy also attended. Natural England and the Secretary of State would have a duty to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land, which would now include those with any interest in the land, including the owners of sporting rights and easements.
Those people would be a category of persons who must be consulted before Natural England's report is drawn up, and be notified of Natural England's final proposals for a coastal route. They would be able to make objections to Natural England's proposals under the procedures for objections included in schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which schedule 19 inserts in the Bill. That procedure is available to persons with a relevant interest in affected land. In Committee, I said clearly that I want to take further steps to assure those sporting interests not only that their concerns are being listened to, but that we would, if we could, take further steps to assure those with sporting interests over land that they can continue to enjoy their rights when coastal access has been introduced.
We had a very productive meeting on
The concerns of those with sporting rights will be given full consideration by the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on Natural England's proposals. In addition, when a landowner's objection is being considered by an appointed person under the procedures in schedule 1A, and the appointed person is minded to determine that the proposals fail to strike a fair balance, a copy of the published notice, which invites representations in relation to the objection, and any "relevant alternative modifications" included in Natural England's comments on it, must be given to the holders of sporting rights and others.
I believe that our proposed regulations are the right way to go, and that our approach meets the concerns that have been raised. I am extremely pleased that as a result of the summit, the Angling Trust and BASC have welcomed our proposals as satisfying their concerns. I am confident that public access and public safety can co-exist with the continued ability of those with sporting rights both to enjoy their sport and to run profitable businesses. I recognise the role that sporting interests, such as shooting and angling, play in the rural economy. Significant safeguards are already built into the legislation to ensure that all interests, including sporting interests, are taken into account. The basis of the approach to coastal access is extensive consultation before Natural England's proposals are made. The Secretary of State and Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having a right of access and those of persons with a relevant interest in the land, as defined in the Bill. However, I stress that all interests will be taken into account when Natural England draws up proposals for the coastal route and the margin.
The Bill provides for extensive preliminary work and for consultation before Natural England draws up its recommendations. Natural England has said in its draft scheme that it will work with many interests, including shoot managers, when considering the best alignment for the trail. Natural England has also made it clear that it will draw up draft proposals, and these will include information on any exclusions and restrictions on access that it considers necessary. Natural England will also advertise the proposals and will ask for comment-it will not be hidden; it will be wide open. Everyone in the House now subscribes to the principle of transparency, and this will be more transparent than anything. It will provide the opportunity for anybody to make their views known and for those views to be taken into account by Natural England.
The scheme that I have described, which sets out how Natural England will approach implementation of the legislation, will be consulted on, is subject to approval by the Secretary of State and will be laid before Parliament. The proposals will include details of the route and associated coastal margin, and also any exclusions or restrictions on access to land included in it. Following the publication of proposals, anyone can make representations to the Secretary of State. The representations will go to the Secretary of State in summary form, and he must take account of them in deciding whether to approve or reject the proposals, or to approve them with modifications.
What I am proposing is that those with a sporting right, including holders of sporting tenancies, should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under schedule 19, so that their representations go in full rather than in summary form to the Secretary of State. In addition, experience of open access has shown that in most cases the best way to reconcile public access and sporting activities is through positive management techniques and engagement on the ground. That is the way it works. Where that is not the case, those with a sporting right will have an ongoing right to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access, where necessary, and a right of appeal if they are not put in place.
Those with a relevant interest, as defined by section 45 of the CROW Act, which includes sporting rights, will have the same rights as they do now on CROW land, to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access for land management reasons. Land management can include, for instance, management of a sporting activity-including, if appropriate, the sporting activity itself or the holding of commercial events. Such sporting activities might include shooting or fishing, and those with rights that enable them to carry out these activities on access land could apply for restrictions or exclusions, if they are necessary.
I believe-here I echo comments made by my hon. Friends-that that process has worked well under the CROW Act for open country and registered common land. We have issued a consultation paper on the new section 3A order required under the Bill. We made it clear in Committee and elsewhere that we have no intention to make changes to the categories of people who may make an application for restrictions and exclusions under section 24 of the CROW Act.
Given that different approach for coastal land and the consultative nature of the process, and given the approach that we have set out in the Bill-along with the commitment that I am happy to reaffirm today that those with a sporting right, including those with sporting tenancies, should be specified in the regulations under schedule 19-I urge the hon. Member for Newbury once again to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Let me deal with another issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, which we touched on in Committee, about those with interests other than shooting, including issues surrounding mineral rights. I confirm that Natural England will carry out an extensive process of consultation with local interests, as I have described-land managers, local access forums, local authorities, representatives of recreational interests, wildlife interest groups and so forth. When I met the coastal access forum a few weeks ago, I promised to consider any information that it could provide me with on who might hold mineral rights. We had a useful discussion. I have not been sent anything since the meeting, but we will consider the possibility of including those with such rights in the regulations in paragraph 2(2)(f) of new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which would be inserted under schedule 19. We will consult on those regulations in due course.
Let me deal now with amendment 34, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury, which would insert a new subsection into proposed new section 55E. It would oblige the Secretary of State to make regulations that would entitle a person with a relevant interest in affected land to require Natural England to undertake a review of a coastal access report on certain grounds. These may include a proposed or actual change in land use and a review of existing or proposed exclusions or restrictions of access. Applicants seeking a review would have recourse to the objections procedure set out in schedule 19, should Natural England not undertake a review or amend its report accordingly.
I understand the concerns of the House that the coastal access provisions should not prevent future changes in land use. For this reason, I have been talking to stakeholders, explaining how the provisions will work and providing reassurance that the Bill will be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land by preventing any future changes. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I want to make it clear that we are not in the business of allowing a coastal path to mean no future development, which would go against the whole ethos of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a path on single farm payments that I am wary of treading on. It is more to do with how proposals for future land use are developed. In my constituency, for example, an area has been designated for light industrial use for 20 years, yet there is no light industrial use on it. If we were to incorporate that sort of approach into the coastal margin, we could well end up with a coastal path or coastal margin without any integrity or coherence-a coastal path with big red lines all the way along it. There might be further proposals for every couple of miles along the path. We need to ask how one defines a proposal. Is something defined as a proposal because it features in a local development plan or a unitary development plan some years down the line? Is it a proposal if some supermarket or retailer has said that it might be interested somewhere down the line? I shall explain in more detail later why that simply would not work.
I understand the concerns, which is why I used the term sterilised land, about the idea that if a coastal path were put in place, it would mean that no development could happen. We do not want that. On the contrary, I believe that the Bill's provisions are extremely flexible in that respect. Let me explain why I believe the necessary safeguards are in place.
At the outset, before drawing up a report on a particular stretch of coast, Natural England will take appropriate account of any relevant local plans, such as local development plans and planned major developments, as part of its consultation with landowners, local authorities and others, including the Marine Management Organisation. As we are all aware, the MMO will be consulted on any plans that could affect the marine environment as a result of the Bill. It is likely to have a pretty good knowledge of what is coming down the track, including some of the much further afield national infrastructure developments. I encourage all those affected to engage in constructive discussions with Natural England at this early stage on the best position for the route.
As part of the local consultations on the route and spreading room, Natural England will discuss the need for any exclusions or restrictions on access. Any necessary exclusions or restrictions will be included in Natural England's report and put in place before the right of access to that particular stretch of coast comes into effect. If circumstances change at a later date, those with an interest in the land can apply for restrictions or exclusions under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act -for example, for land management purposes. The flexibility is built in there.
Once the route is implemented, under the provisions in the CROW Act, land can become excepted from the right of access at any time if some change or development occurs so that it falls into one of the excepted land categories in schedule 1 to the CROW Act. These include, for example, land covered by buildings or the curtilage of such land; land used for the purposes of railways or tramways; and land that does not fall within some other excepted land categories and is covered by works used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking.
Paragraph 9 of that schedule makes specific provision for development in establishing a category of excepted land as follows:
"Land as respects which development which will result in the land becoming land falling within any of paragraphs 2 to 8 is in the course of being carried out."
Paragraphs 2 to 8 include the categories that I have already mentioned. I apologise for being so detailed on the matter, but it is important.
In addition, it is worth reminding hon. Members that the line of the route is not fixed permanently. Powers in section 55 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 enable Natural England to review the route and associated margin and to propose changes to the Secretary of State at a later date-subject, once again, to full consultation, representation and the objections process. In those ways, the legislation is designed to take account of changes in use and future developments.
I consider it neither appropriate nor practical that a person with a relevant interest in land should be able to require Natural England to carry out a review of a report on the basis of a proposed development, or to have recourse to the objections procedure in schedule 19 to the Bill, if Natural England does not agree to amend the report on the basis of such a proposal. At the proposal stage, it may be several years before a determination on any eventual planning application is reached-we are all familiar with that in our constituencies-or the change of use is implemented or development begun, and the final agreed development may be significantly different from the original proposal in size and shape. Such an approach, which could preclude access for some time, would not be considered fair to the local community or other users, and would not help us to deliver on our aspirations for a coastal path.
As I have explained, if a change of use or development occurs so that land falls within one of the categories of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, it becomes excepted from the right of access. If land over which the coastal route passes becomes excepted land, I would expect Natural England to review its report and propose a revised route so that continuity is maintained. Indeed, it would be difficult to see how Natural England would be fulfilling its coastal access duty were continuity of the path not maintained.
I recognise the concerns of landowners and occupiers about any possible impacts of the right of access on future change of land use or development. Planning policy guidance recognises the importance of protecting and enhancing the character and landscape of undeveloped coastline and supports the provision of public access to the coast as a basic principle. However, where a coastal location is necessary for development-for example, to provide essential energy infrastructure-and access is not compatible with the development, it will be in no one's interests for the coastal route to be given undue weight in the decision. The flexible way in which the legislation will work will help to ensure that that is not the case.
Turning to the second reason cited in the amendment for requiring Natural England to undertake a review of a report, those with a relevant interest in land may already make an application to the relevant authority for exclusions or restrictions of access under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act. They must also be consulted when the relevant authority is considering revoking or varying a direction made on application under sections 24 or 25. When the relevant authority does not act in accordance with such an application or a representation, there is already a right of appeal to the Secretary of State under section 30 of the Act. In many cases, the sort of developments involved will have been discussed with Natural England when the proposals for the route were drawn up. If the process and scheme of operation works as has been explained, the issue will be picked up, and a contact will be available. In other cases, the normal routes to contact Natural England-via website, post and phone-will be available. The local authority might also provide a good way of making contact, as it will often have worked on proposals for development. Given those clarifications, I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he needs to press the amendment.
Amendment 40, tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Sheffield, Hillsborough and for High Peak (Tom Levitt), would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament within two years of the commencement of part 9 of the Act, with particular regard to the progress made on four issues-the voluntary inclusion of parkland, the inclusion of the Isle of Wight in an order under clause 295, the addition of further islands reachable by ferry under the same clause and the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path under clause 296. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him.
Let me discuss the four issues, and explain why I do not consider the amendment to be necessary. First, as I made clear in Committee, I recognise that the issue of parks and gardens is important for many people-it was raised during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and again during the Bill's passage in the other place. I have listened to the different arguments put forward. On the one hand, an individual's property rights and privacy should be protected-there has never been any withdrawal from that point of principle-and we want to make sure that the balance is right in that regard. On the other hand, the exception for parks and gardens could result in significant detours, not least where there are extensive parklands on the coast.
We have said that we do not intend to change the category of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, which covers parks or gardens, under which there would be no right of access to such land. There was cross-party support in Committee for our approach, in which, as I made clear, Natural England will seek to reach voluntary agreements with landowners to enable a route to be created through a park, where necessary, to provide continuity of access and to avoid a significant inland diversion. Hon. Members have related their experiences of being diverted miles inland to a route that certainly could not be defined as a coastal walk.
I have asked Natural England to try to secure access along the route by voluntary means, and in particular through the dedication of land for public access under the CROW Act provisions. The system that I have set out should be given a trial, which should investigate how great the problems are and how evident the good will of landowners and occupiers of parks is. Subsequent to our debate in Committee, individual landowners or representative bodies whom I have met have been clear that they are expected to deliver on that undertaking in a voluntary way. I recently met the coastal access forum, which includes representatives from a number of organisations such as the CLA and the Historic Houses Association, and they assured me, and have subsequently written, that they will work constructively with Natural England in such cases where parks abut the coast. However, it will be important that Parliament monitors the effectiveness of the voluntary approach proposed. Natural England has therefore been tasked to keep the matter under review.
We have already said that Natural England will report to Parliament on progress of the implementation of the route after 10 years. In addition, as I promised in Committee, I have asked it to undertake an earlier interim review and to report to Parliament specifically on issues that have arisen as a result of parks being excepted land, and on the success of any voluntary agreements to ensure public access along the route through parks. Although it is not a requirement in the Bill, we have asked that that report should take place within five years of Royal Assent. I also made it clear in Committee that the Secretary of State could amend the exception for parks and gardens if satisfactory progress is not made and significant issues remain. That would be subject to the affirmative procedure; it would not require primary legislation, but it would need to be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Let me make it clear that my proposals do not represent a pendulum, or an axe, swinging over landowners. Let me also say, however, that in Committee and in the changes that we have made to the Bill we have made clear our intention to open access-where we can-to some of the coastal gems that could be described as the jam in the doughnut. I believe that there is a willingness to do that, but I also believe that we must all work collectively, in the House and outside, to ensure that it is done.
We have already made a commitment, in Committee, to take steps to include the Isle of Wight in an order which will be subject to consultation: the legislation will not be rammed down people's throats. Natural England will consider other islands that cannot be reached on foot-again, after local discussion and consultation. I believe it is appropriate for islands that cannot be reached on foot to be considered individually, because all our islands are singularly different from each other.
As for other islands that may be reached by ferry, I know that the question of whether Lundy will be included has been raised before. The island is hugely attractive and people-including me-love to go there, but access to it is limited owing to the lack of any regular ferry service. I am aware that there may be a case for including it in due course, but Natural England will need to engage in detailed discussions with the National Trust and the Landmark Trust before we reach a decision.
I assure Members that I shall be happy to report back to Parliament on progress relating to the inclusion of other islands. I do not consider it necessary or appropriate to include in the Bill a requirement such as that proposed in the amendment, but I think I have made it pretty clear that we have not only provided powers in the Bill but would like access to be available-subject to consultation, as with the Isle of Wight.
My hon. Friends raised the important issue of seasonal ferries. Provisions in clause 296 enable Natural England to make a proposal to the Secretary of State on any estuary. It may propose that the route should stop at the mouth of the estuary, that it should stop at any point between the mouth of an estuary and the first public foot crossing-either a bridge or a tunnel-or that it should extend as far as the first public foot crossing. In deciding on such proposals, Natural England must have regard to considerations in clause 292(2) and a number of matters set out in clause 296(4), including the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river. At all times when discharging the coastal access duty, Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of owners and occupiers.
As I have said, Natural England will be required to undertake an extensive process of consultation with local interests as it develops its proposals. Estuaries will be an important issue for many areas. For example, the coasts of Essex and Suffolk and those of Devon and Cornwall are indented by estuaries. Natural England's discussions with local interests-which will include land managers, local access forums, local authorities, and wildlife and other interest groups-will be a key part of its approach, and the success of the design of the access corridor.
A proposal in a coastal access report relating to whether a particular estuary should be made up to the first pedestrian crossing point will be included on a case-by-case basis, and Natural England will consider that in the light of the detailed criteria in the Bill. I should make it clear, however, that we would not normally expect Natural England to stop the route at the starting point for a ferry that does not run throughout the year unless particular difficulties are involved in taking the route further upstream to the first public crossing. The Secretary of State will examine all the issues involved-including whether the use of a seasonal ferry for the route is appropriate-before making a decision on the report.
Natural England will prepare its coastal access reports over the 10-year implementation period, and will state in those reports where the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river has been a major consideration in its decision for the coastal route in any particular estuary. As I have said, Natural England will report to Parliament on the implementation of the route after 10 years. If the Secretary of State thinks that an earlier report should be made, he or she may ask it to make one, but I do not consider it necessary or appropriate for the Bill to include such a requirement. Clause 294 requires Natural England to complete a review of the scheme within three years of its first being approved by the Secretary of State, and I would expect such a review to cover the matters that the amendment seeks to require the report to include. Given that requirement, along with the requirement for a report after five years in regard to parks and gardens and the report to Parliament after 10 years, I urge Members not to press their amendments.
Amendment 37 seeks to remove clause 300, which states:
"No duty of care is owed by Natural England" or anyone acting on its behalf
"under the law of negligence... when preparing" or proposing the coastal route, in connection with any failure by Natural England to erect signs warning of hazards or in connection with any failure by it to restrict or exclude access. It also states:
"No duty of care is owed by the Secretary of State... under the law of negligence when... approving proposals" for a coastal long-distance route or giving direction for the variation of such proposals.
The matter was debated extensively in the other place. As Lord Hunt of King's Heath noted, we doubt that a court would impose such a duty of care, and the aim of clause 300 is to clarify the legal position. Let us be frank. We recognise that in places the coast is inherently dangerous, and we do not want uncertainty about the legal position to give rise to an over-cautious or nannyish approach that could result in warning signs unnecessarily dotting the landscape. That would be in no one's interest.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The British Mountaineering Council has made it absolutely clear that in sports such as rock climbing and mountaineering safety is the responsibility of the individual, and risk is part of participation in such sports. I believe that that is generally the right approach.
My hon. Friend is right. We do not want to wrap all outdoor activities in cotton wool. Part of the joy of experience of the outdoor environment is the risk that is inherent in, for instance, walking up a hill, along a coast or along a cliff. Those risks are part and parcel of sport, and of our development as adults or, indeed, as children.
As my hon. Friend knows, my constituency has no coastal path but does contain a huge number of well-established mountain-climbing areas. All the risks are thoroughly understood and agreed on by landowners and climbers, and there is no reason why the same arrangements should not apply to coastal paths.
Again, I entirely agree.
Let me give the House an anecdote to think about. On a memorable occasion, I walked through an area that Mr. Williams will know very well: Fan Hir, that marvellous ridge where the Brecons lift up before dropping off. The next mountains to be seen are the Cambrian mountains, further afield, in the constituency of Hywel Williams. I was walking there late one night, when the snow was coming down, and suddenly realised that I had run out of time. The rivers were in full flood, I could not return on the track I had arrived along, and the darkness was coming in. I rang my wife and told her not to worry and that I would be back home safely. She replied, "That's perfectly understandable, my dear, I'll see you later," and then put the phone down; I was, however, hoping that she would come out and rescue me when I got back down to the bottom. I finally returned home four hours later, in snow and the pitch black. I tell that story only to illustrate the point that the outdoor environment is inherently risky and that we manage our own risks.
The problem with this clause is that it is the Government position, rather than the user of the outdoors, that is being wrapped in cotton wool. That is why my hon. Friend Mr. Benyon has tabled his amendment. Will the Minister therefore allay our fears about the liability of landowners, as I suspect that, in the circumstances, they might be making parts of the countryside or coast unavailable because they are fearful of being sued?
I will happily do so shortly. Although that point is not pertinent to this particular amendment, I acknowledge that it has been raised.
The other reason why we do not want to take the approach I have been talking about is that we do not want to create a lawyers charter. We do not consider it necessary for people to waste their money instructing lawyers in order to test the position.
Clause 292 makes it clear that in discharging the coastal access duty Natural England and the Secretary of State are required to have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route. I therefore believe that the approach we have set out in clause 300 is proportionate to the specific circumstances. It reflects the position of many who responded to our public consultation on ways to improve access to the coast. We are not setting out through this legislation to change the nature of the English coast and make it safe in all circumstances; I know that the hon. Member for Newbury understands that. People must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety and that of children and others in their care, and come to the coast with that thought in mind. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that point, and consider withdrawing the amendment.
Bill Wiggin raised the issue of occupiers' liability, and there is also the question of whether owners will be held responsible for accidents on their land. When the CROW Act introduced the right of access to open country and registered common land marked as access land, provision was made on occupier's liability under the Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this has reduced the level of liability of occupiers to members of the public who are exercising their right of access on CROW Act access land, and that was the right and proper thing to do. For example, if someone sustains an injury on CROW Act land because of a natural feature of the landscape, the reduced level of liability means there will be no scope to sue the occupier. In addition, if someone sustains an injury by, for example, climbing over a wall or a fence, the reduced level of liability means that there will be no scope to sue the occupier unless the injury was sustained through the proper use of a gate or style, provided that the danger is not due to anything done by the landowner with the intention of creating a risk or being reckless about whether a risk was created. That is the clear legal difference.
My High Peak constituency has more open access land as defined under the CROW Act than any other constituency in England, and I am not aware of there having been even one case of liability. People have been relieved that the liability provisions of the CROW Act have worked, and there is no reason to believe that they will not work in this Bill too in a way that reassures landowners, users of the areas and others.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend on that. These provisions work very well.
I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough as a result of her representations on behalf of the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers and others, and I just want to put the following points on the record. I recognise that, as with open access, there may be occasions when access on the coast might cause a problem, and Natural England will have to consider the need for any restrictions or exclusions. These restrictions will be considered as part of Natural England's coastal report, which has to be approved by the Secretary of State. The Bill requires Natural England to prepare a scheme setting out the approach it will take to discharge its coastal access duty, which must be approved by the Secretary of State. Natural England will shortly consult on a draft of the scheme, and will establish that in any case in which it decides that action is necessary, its policy will be to adopt the option that is least restrictive of public access.
The hon. Member for North Essex asked whether the Secretary of State can do anything to give access to relevant excepted land. Such land is normally excepted for very good reasons. The key is to get the categories of excepted land right-we have been talking about that in this debate. That is why we are currently consulting on the appropriate categories of excepted land for coastal access. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that discussion and make suggestions as to the changes that we might propose, such as those to the categories of excepted land under schedule 1 of the CROW Act. Certain categories of excepted land are not access land for the purpose of part 1 so we have made some proposals.
First, we propose to remove some existing categories of excepted land that we do not think are appropriate for the coastal margin. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to offer his thoughts on that. Secondly, we propose to amend some of the existing categories to allow for the coastal route to go through them. That will be of relevance to many Members who are keen golfers. Thirdly, we propose to add some new categories appropriate to the circumstances of the coastal margin, such as formal camp and caravan sites. We also seek views on these published guidelines and on the meaning of the existing categories. I hope that is of some help to the hon. Gentleman as he has identified a relevant point, but this Bill and the reform of some of the excepted land categories offer us the opportunity to make the sort of changes to which he refers.
I thank the Minister for his comments and his helpful suggestion, which I think means I shall be able to take part in the consultation on what categories of exempted land shall be made. Perhaps areas where public access has historically been allowed could be included in that. In the meantime, however, may I ask the Minister just to have a word with his ministerial colleague with responsibility for the HSE? It seems that at present the Minister is trying to extend coastal access but the HSE does not give a monkey's about coastal access issues. It could therefore be encouraged to behave a little more responsibly in that regard.
I am sure that the HSE and relevant Ministers will hear those comments. On whether the Bill will provide access to Mistley quay, let me say that we are consulting on the treatment of quays specifically, and we currently propose that the right of access should apply to them. The landowner would therefore benefit from the reduced liability I referred to earlier in respect of clause 301. I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep the communication going and to keep putting points forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has been a keen advocate of coastal access and the coastal margins both in Committee and through campaigning outside this House, as have many hon. Members and hon. Friends. On amendment 40, I have described the role of the reporting function to Parliament after 10 years, but I want to clarify what I said earlier: if it is necessary for an earlier report to be made, the Secretary of State may, indeed, ask for that to be done.
I believe I have covered in some depth all the points that have been raised. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that tour de force, which went into some detail.
The Minister's earlier remarks on my amendment 35 left me mildly piqued. He seemed to suggest that I was intending by this measure to trash the whole concept of a coastal margin, but nothing could have been further from my intentions. I was seeking to be honest and transparent-as he says, we in this House are all interested in that at this moment-and in trying to be frank with people. We are not saying that there will be coastal margin everywhere in the delivery of this path. I was on holiday this summer in the north Norfolk area. As the Minister might know, there is a narrow strip of beach in many parts of north Norfolk, with a few dunes and then a vast area of marsh, before coming to solid land with houses, gardens and fields. As I looked at this, fresh from the Committee, I was struck by how difficult it would be to deliver in those areas coastal margin access that was either safe or practical. Through amendment 35, I was just trying to create some clarity and honesty. The Minister's remarks, which are on the record, have helped in that respect and I am not going to push the amendment.
On amendments 32 and 33, I pay tribute to the Minister for his Herculean efforts in seeking to find a greater degree of understanding and agreement on this issue; he should take the credit for that. His meeting with the relevant bodies has gone a long way towards clarifying the situation. I may have got it wrong, but I think he went a little further in his remarks today than he originally did. Specifying in regulations in schedule 19 is a major step forward. It secures the position of a whole range of interests in the land. I am grateful for his further comments relating not just to sporting interests but to those with mineral rights or options for such rights, for example. They will be reassured by his comments, so this is a major step forward.
On amendment 34 and the change of use, the Minister said that this provision would be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land. That is really important. Land should not be sealed in aspic; it should be constantly evolving. A whole range of options are open to land managers; they do not want them to be stifled by what could effectively be a charge on the land, which would prevent them from going down such routes.
I do not understand why an exclusion around agricultural buildings could not have been included in the Bill, as it was in the CROW Act. If we have learned one thing from foot and mouth and other more recent problems, it is that biosecurity is very important. A 20-metre exclusion around farm buildings would have been a good thing; however, I am not going to press the matter.
The Minister talked about exclusions, which have been used very effectively under CROW by a whole range of different land managers. The problem is that it is a big ask of walkers. Before going for a walk in the country, are people really going to sit down, log on to the local authority website, see which landowner has an exclusion because of lambing or nesting, for example, and find out where their land starts and finishes? It is asking a lot of people to follow through that process.
On the issue raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin-he told us about the rescue of an injured person-although the Health and Safety Executive has caused this problem, it could be the solution in that it might now say that action has to be taken to resolve such problems. However, this is a very important case study that shows how pressure points will be applied to this legislation. They will be resolved best locally, by local people and with the involvement of organisations such as local access forums and local authorities.
On the debate concerning parks and gardens, we discovered in Committee, as was discovered with the CROW Act, that a lawyer's charter can be created, with lawyers dancing on the head of a pin in trying to describe where a garden finishes and a park begins. Of course, when thinking about the Bill, hon. Members have in their minds landscapes by Repton or Capability Brown-vast landscapes miles away from any residents. However, we have to secure basic rights of privacy. We have to recognise that the wording is very difficult to get right, and the Minister is right to keep that exclusion in, albeit with his caveats about hoping to achieve more access.
The Minister said that this is not a sword of Damocles over landowners' heads. In Committee, a particular landowner was mentioned in relation to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. I have had conversations with that estate since, and it is taking the matter very seriously; for example, it makes considerable efforts to achieve public access in areas such as education. The language in these debates can easily demonise people who are in fact doing immense work to achieve greater understanding about the countryside and greater access for all sorts of people. The Minister's words will be well heard.
Estuaries are very complicated areas to which to deliver access. There tends to be a greater level of occupation: more activity going, more boatyards, more slipways and more residential areas. I liked the phrase that the Minister used-that this will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Again, we are putting a lot of hope in the idea that Natural England will approach this issue in the right way. All my discussions with it suggest that it will, but there will undoubtedly be problems and the Minister will on occasion be required to solve them. A three-year review of progress gives us an opportunity to see whether what the Minister wants-and we all want-is happening: greater access to the countryside.
On amendment 37 and liability, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the legal position. He said that we do not want to see an over-cautious approach to the issue of access to countryside. We live in a litigious society. Cycling and equestrian clubs now get members to sign disclaimers before any activity can take place. The degree of bureaucracy is becoming absurd, and to it can be added Criminal Records Bureau checks and the other checks that such organisations have to go through. We do not want to add an horrendous new tier of liability to the process of simply getting out and enjoying the countryside and coastal Britain. Of course, the Minister reminded us that under clause 292(2), Natural England and the Secretary of State
"must have regard to...the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route".
With that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment and allow the Bill to proceed to the next phase.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.